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The Basics of Violin Vibrato

Thomas McGregor

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Published: August 29, 2014 at 7:16 AM [UTC]

a rapid, slight variation in pitch in singing or playing some musical instruments, producing a stronger or richer tone.

Vibrato is by far the technique that eludes many students. Some students have voiced that that vibrato is unreachable or unattainable. It seems that the taboo surrounding vibrato is based in how it is perceived. Once vibrato flows naturally, it is perceived as a fluid whisk of the wrist that looks majestic and seamless. This creates a perception for students that makes it seem out of reach because they are not yet at that place. Vibrato is kind of an elusive technique, it's mysterious, and amazing to watch. Therefore, because of this vibrato can seem more challenging than it really is. In this article I'm going to break vibrato down to three easy steps, just to get you started. Even though I will include some nuances, this is not an ultimate guide. More, this is an starter guide. I'm going to make this as simple as possible. Foregoing the technical terms that can seem to convolute the essence of vibrato. Enjoy this process and, remember that it's not near as out of reach as it may seem.

Common Questions
Q: Which finger should I start with?
A: Second
We start with the second finger mainly because there is good range of flexibility being a center axis of your fingers. Also, with the second finger there is a lesser need to rotate your wrist in order to get a fluid motion.

Types of Vibrato
*Wrist Vibrato: Wrist vibrato is when the focus is on a wrist motion. This means that the flexibility and vibration is operation from the wrist.

*Arm Vibrato: This is where the vibration is accomplished by moving the entire arm by moving it back in forth so as to make the fingers flex and create the vibratic sound.

1. Fundamental Movements
The fundamental movement of vibrato is in flattening and re-curving of the finger that is currently on the string. Meaning, your finger, when on the string, should be curved, reaching up and on top of the string. Therefore, the motion that is a result of either accomplished by using your wrist or your arm, should accomplish the flattening of that finger then reestablishing the curve, or the original position of the finger. Your finger will look like as though it "hooks" onto the string. When you flatten your finger, you bend your hook and the bottom of your finger is looking at at you. This may seem drastic but just remember that we are learning the basics here, nothing more. In the future, your finger will rock back on forth on the tip like a buoy in the ocean rocks back and forth in the water easily. Your wrist will naturally start to want to flex back and forth in order for your finger to bend properly.

*Stage One Practice Steps
1. Place your finger on the string. Check to see that it curves, as if to "hook" onto the string.
2. Flatten your finger as if to point your finger back towards yourself.
3. Return your finger back to it's up-right position, returning it to it's "hook" look.
4. Flex your wrist in order to establish finger flexibility.

2. Basic Practice
When practicing this transition from hook to flat finger, it's most important to focus on making everything as flexible as possible. Your basic should be with a metronome at 60bpm(beats per minute)flexing your finger with each beat. This means you will flatten your finger every time your metronome makes a song and then returning to the upright position when it makes a sound once again. Take it slow and easy and take mental note of every nuance as your wrist and finger become more flexible. Practice will be key as you strive to make your finger transition fluid and seamless. This will also take time and focus. Muscle memory will take over once your muscles of repeated the movements enough times. When muscle memory takes over, you will stop thinking about each motion your wrist and your finger make. However, don't try to rush the process, and ensure that you are make a clean transition from curved to flatten finger and then back again to curved. In practice, you should focus on consistency in movement. This will occur the more you do it and as the muscles build in your fingers and wrist.

*Stage Two Practice Steps
1. Start by practicing your flexing of your finger on the outer rim of your violin when your violin is in playing position. Meaning, your violin is on your should, and you place your finger on the outer top rim of your violin and then flatten and curve and flatten and curve and continue this motion to build up strength.
2. Start practicing with a metronome at 60 beats per minute, attempting to reach 120 beats per minute.
3. Allow for your finger and wrist to relax into a natural swinging motion. This will allow for your finger and wrist muscles to naturally strengthen and for you to feel the looseness that will eventually become the norm.

3. Application
This is when you get to use your bow while playing with vibrato. Take this slow and without the metronome. What you are going to is is set your finger on your string(my suggestion: 2nd finger on a/C), play one long bow, flex your finger and your wrist as you've practiced. The tone of the your note should alter by dropping. Once transitioning becomes constant, you will first here the note you selected and then a half step lower note. This is what vibrato does. Vibrato is a fast(eventual)altering of the note you selected. Example; C, or 2nd finger on the Aing, with vibrato will look like this: C, low C, C, low C -- continued. As you become more comfortable with how it feels and the motion you are making with each note, this will become less noticeable and start to sound more like one vibrating note versus two separate notes.

*Stage Three Practice Steps
1. Start with long bows when applying your vibrato. This will give you less to think about on the right hand bow side of things.
2. Listen for two separate songs when flexing your finger.
3. Work to speed up your flexing as to create one note vibrating, transitioning from the two separate notes.
4. Focus in on a holistic approach toward your left arm and hand when working on flexibility. You want your entire left arm to be as a jellyfish; flexibly but in control.

Future Considerations
Becoming fluid with vibrato is a long and sometimes tedious process; stay with it! Keep these fundamentals in mind and you will have a solid guideline for vibratic success. The end-game idea is to have your tone to sound like the human voice. For each not to sound as if it is a vocal chord vibrating. Conveying the message you want in the most elegant of ways possible. Stay the course, keep checking your actions, listen for what you want to hear.

Good luck!

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