Warming Up has become the go-to material for busy professionals and amateurs alike. In particular, the vibrato exercises have become ubiquitous. Aside from Simon’s own videos, Nathan Cole has produced an exemplary version them too (See his video, How to develop a flexible, effortless violin vibrato). I strongly recommend taking a look. The vibrato exercises provide an wonderful means of understanding and improving the mechanics of the vibrato action itself.Since its publication 10 years or so ago, Simon Fischer’s slim volume
However, there are two aspects of the issue that they do not address which I am going to explore in this blog. These are, the problem of continuous vibrato from note to note, and stability.
I have found the issue of continuous vibrato to be not only an extremely widespread problem, but also one many teachers do not seem clear about how to resolve. Advice such as "vibrate on every note" is often heard, but if a student does not know how to do this it is not going to help that much.
The other day I found a delightful video by Max Baillie (How to Get Magic 'Left-Hand Legato'), demonstrating an exercise that I think provides an effective solution. I will assume that if you have read this far then you are interested enough to watch the video so I will not explain it here. Remain intrigued…
Having got this far, I would like to hesitantly suggest that vibrato also has another problem which is almost never discussed. I suspect that some of the difficulty of vibrato actually lies in the notion of stability. That is, if we are exerting minimal pressure from the fingertip, or rolling back and forth with a pressure release, in some senses the finger is balancing on a very narrow area. Metaphorically speaking, it is somewhat like a tightrope walker.
I suspect that for some people, this very slight sense of insecurity might actually be having a detrimental effect on the vibrato itself. A sort of minuscule yet very real sense of insecurity. The initial comment that started me on this train of thought was Rodney Friend demonstrating in his videos on practicing in 5ths, how this heuristic leads to greater "stability" in the vibrato.
While this concept was percolating in my subconscious, I was looking at the videos of vibrato tips provided by the brilliant pedagogue Daniel Kurganov. (15 Ultimate Violin Vibrato Tips). Lo and behold, his Tip No. 3 (right at beginning!) is practicing in fifths, although he doesn’t explicitly talk about the stability issue so much.
However, I think he is making the same point: when the finger tip is balanced on two strings it feels secure, and the small muscles of the hand and arm have a chance to function well, leaving the mind unhindered to direct the vibrato action. Then, when one goes back to "normal," things feel a lot better.
These days I am doing more and more fifths practice above any other method. One of my favourites that intermediate players might like to try is Kreutzer 29, played in fifths. Not only does this have a marvelous effect on the left hand but, the initial point of the etude (smooth string crossing) immediately begins to self-correct because the bow moves more clearly in the direction of where it is supposed to go next.
Another interesting example I found the other day is the opening of the Bach E major concerto. I am not too fond of the fingering 1-1-3 but it is perfectly legitimate. In order to make the shift and subsequent 3rd position B in tune, practicing the shift over and over in fifths and an E major tetrachord in 3rd position works wonders. The bowing issue is something else! Aside from these examples, one might practice Warming Up in 5ths I suppose…
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