First Time Teaching Vibrato

May 22, 2017, 4:35 PM · I'm just finishing up my Junior year of high school, and I currently have 6 violin students ranging from 6 months-2years of experience. I've been playing for 7-8 years, and been teaching for 4. I've figured out some really good ways to teach most things, but 2 of my more experienced players are interested in learning vibrato.

My issue is, I'm not totally sure how to do it. My first teacher and middle school orchestra teacher both had a method of teaching vib that was pretty much like this: go parallel to the string, watch good players, don't hold extra tension. None of this is bad advice, and I feel like I have figured out a pretty good arm vibrato using it. The problem is, this took me FOREVER (and a lot of tears) to figure out. I want to make this easier for my students, as well as teach them a wider variety of vibrato, including more wrist. (I also would like to figure this out for myself for auditions next Feb.)

Any suggestions or method books you would recommend?

Replies (16)

May 22, 2017, 4:44 PM · Go up to the upper bout (as if you were in 5th position) and have them do the vibrato movement on the string, with the wrist more down under the violin instead of the actual 5th position. This probably sounds confusing, sorrry.
May 22, 2017, 6:38 PM · Not 5th position for me. I have them start in 3rd position, using the wrist as a hinge (this can be changed to an arm vibrato later).

1. Finger rolls back from pitch. I tell students to really relax the finger joints and let the finger be pulled and pushed by the rest of the arm/hand.
2. METHODICAL. Start with 4 slow even pulses per up bow and 4 per down bow. Every finger, every string. 3rd finger can support 4 if 4 needs it.
3. Go on to 6 or 8 pulses, a little faster. Make them control it--don't let it get away and become and uncontrolled twitch. They must be able to control it.
4. After the technique becomes comfortable in 3rd position, go down to first and do the same thing.

May 22, 2017, 7:26 PM · I wonder if you have seen Nathan Cole's YouTube video on learning vibrato:

Edited: May 23, 2017, 7:39 AM · The professor V videos are good.

Also Gerald Fischbach's Viva Vibrato

Edited: May 23, 2017, 7:39 AM · The 'trick' to learning a fluid vibrato is to teach some finger muscles (they're in the forearm) for each finger to relax and flex, while others are contracted, at the same time, to press the finger down. Nathan Cole's exercises are useful, but some students grip the neck so firmly they can't do them properly.

My teacher started me, as follows.
1. Fold a washcloth, put it against the wall at shoulder height, and press the violin scroll into it. Hold the violin in place only by leaning towards the wall.
2. Place the fingers lightly on the fingerboard and flex them back and forth, as widely as possible, at the first joint (nearest the finger nail). Do this one finger at a time. The little finger is different. This much is similar to Cole's exercises. The big difference is that the thumb should not grip, or even touch the neck at this stage. No bowing. Do for 3 to 5 minutes daily for a week.
3. Same as above, but allow the thumb to grip, gently. Do long bows.
4. Hold the violin in a relaxed fashion, paying particular attention that the left thumb does not grip tightly. Do long bows on each vibrato note.
5. Start using vibrato in slow scale exercises during warm up.

May 23, 2017, 8:31 AM · I had to teach a large group of beginners vibrato at the beginning of this school year, and this seemed to work fairly well for them:

1) Place your forearm on a desk or other flat surface with only your elbow and middle finger touching the surface
2) Slowly and rhythmically move your forearm without moving your elbow or finger, letting your finger move back and forth at the knuckle
3) Once this feels natural, repeat while keeping the knuckle straight, forcing the pad of the finger to move back and forth
4) Motion should transfer to the violin when the only contact point is the finger. Dealing with the contact points on the thumb and side of the hand will be an issue if the left hand is tense
5) Work on speed and consistency

I have no teaching experience outside of this type of thing and sectionals in orchestra; I just went with my own exercise since the established exercises I found involving holding the violin didn't seem to be working for them (thought eliminating variables might help). Figured I'd drop this in to add a backup and see what others thought of it in case I need to teach it again later.

May 23, 2017, 8:56 AM · Go here and watch the great pedagogue Kurt Sassmanshaus leading an introductory vibrato exercise.

Be sure to scroll to the bottom and see the source of the video!

May 26, 2017, 9:12 AM · I have really appreciated Simon Fischer's approach to teaching/learning vibrato (as well as many other violin techniques). You can find a discussion of vibrato in his "Basics" book and in his "The Violin Lesson," but what I think I found most helpful (perhaps along with these books) is his book and accompanying DVD, "Warming Up."

Nathan Cole, in the video referenced above by Erin Sabrini, recommended Simon Fischer's approach in "Warming Up" but did not mention the DVD of the same name that is also available. In the DVD Simon Fischer demonstrates teaching all of the exercises in the book. I would highly recommend "The Violin Lesson" and his book/DVD sets "Warming Up" and the "Secrets of Tone Production" to anyone serious about teaching the violin (see other discussion on of Simon Fischer's contributions to violin pedagogy).

May 26, 2017, 12:28 PM · Paul, you win the thread.

Gary, I agree that all of Simon Fischer's stuff you referenced is awesome. Warming Up is probably the best 20 pages on violin playing ever put together--just practicing some of those exercises every day for the last year has advanced my technique by multiples.

May 26, 2017, 1:26 PM · One of the most important aspects of learning vibrato is to accept that it will usually take MONTHS to get decent vibrato from a student who hasn't done it before. Some students learn it quicker, but most don't, and it also depends on how advanced they are.
Edited: May 26, 2017, 9:34 PM · Shirley Givens' has a book series called "Adventures in Violinland." Book 2C, called "Meet Vibby Vibrato" teaches the technique in a step-by-step approach with many games and exercises. She starts in 4th, then goes to 3rd, then to 1st. Worth a look!
May 26, 2017, 9:36 PM · Does Shirley's method work if you play restless?
May 27, 2017, 7:24 AM · I started on vibrato 2 years ago. I never learned it when I was a kid. It took me really long to get my hand just to do the right movement. After that I did all exercises I could find/ my teacher gave me, watched all the videos mentioned above, almost on a daily basis. After some more month I could do arm and hand vibrato but only slowly. And my bow stopped doing awkward things in parallel.
I thought I would never make it. Finally my teacher told me to stop thinking about it and just to do it wherever possible. Now it starts to blend in nicely.
I am happy with my progress learning to play the violin. But vibrato seemed to be for the longest time really out of my reach. As stated in the beginning, it took me two years just to be able to produce a quite even, often noticeable vibrato.
I am really thankful that my teacher always stayed optimistic and insistent on using it.
I guess my brain/muscles needed all the time and exercises to learn and to become flexible and then it was most important to kind of forget it all.
So if you have a student with a slow vibrato learning curve don't give up.
Edited: June 18, 2017, 12:08 AM · May I quote from myself, as I don't see my approach elsewhere....
This quote is unusually long for me, sorry! It works every time, but the student will soon adapt it towards a personal vibrato.

To start with, I teach a forearm movement, but with a flexible wrist and fingers: the elbow leads the wrist which leads the knuckles which lead the fingertips. Visually, the effect is rather like an underwater plant, waving to and fro in a gentle current. As the motion speeds up, the hand vibrates a little more than the forearm, but something is still happening in the elbow. The fingers stay slightly passive, but tonic enough not to slip.

My "underwater plant" motion is mainly to find that subtle synthesis of tonus and flexibilty. For a faster, maybe narrower vibrato, my "plant" get a little stiffer, but only just enough.

I have never practiced a "finger" vibrato as such, so I am still learning! But in the highest postions, when the whole hand is leaning over the violin's shoulder, my vibrato is more vertical than along-the-string; up there it has to be narrower anyway.

Depending on the student, the weather etc, I find I can choose between an "analytical approach", mastering individual elemets separately before combining them; and progressvely refining global movements in a "combo" (Gestalt?) approach.

I hasten to add that my wave-motions are done without the bow to begin with!

I have had a few students who have found a beautiful vibrato on their own: my approach tries to give the others this possibility.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

I'll try to describe briefly what I do:
- Pressure Zero. One finger on each string; minimal or no contact between the base of the index and the neck; no pressure; a gentle back & forth shifting/sliding motion.
- Pressure No1. Slight finger pressue with equally slight thumb counter-pressure; the strings descend halfway to the fingerboard. .
- Pressure No2, a little more pressure; the strings arrive on the fingerboard, the fingertips drag more on the strings; as the forearm approaches, the hand leans back and the finger curl; as the forearm recedes, the hand leans forewards and the fingers stretch.
- Pressure No 3, only just enough to stop the fingertips sliding; the complex motions of Pressure No2 have become a combined arm & hand vibrato, with equal pressure from all 4 flexible fingers.
The only risk is increasing the finger pressure (and thumb counter-pressure) to Nos 4,5,6 etc without realising.

Excess tension, e.g. from the middle finger, or from the thumb, will block the wrist and stiffen the whole process.

It usually works!
Hope this is comprehensible...

Concerning the "patting head & rubbing tummy" syndrome I have found that on long bowed note, the student's right arm wants to join in the vibrato when both elbows have a similar opening (usually mid-bow). This is normal: when we hold something in both hands, (e.g. a tray of drinks) they work in perfect sychronisation.
I try a de-sync exercise: a quick flapping motion in one hand, plus a long, slow arc in the other arm, so slow, that one can keep an eye on both sides at once.

How about €0.03 ?

June 17, 2017, 2:57 PM · I've bought the Viva Vibrato book, and it looks good from a brief readthrough, but I'm wondering how it has worked with actual real life students and teachers. Should I just return it and get a different book?
June 18, 2017, 12:13 AM · I'll have to order it!

When a student asks me "when do we start vibrato?" I often reply "the day you ask, so today!" with a few of the motions I described in my marathon above.

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