Comparing Types of Vibrato, Part One

April 11, 2012, 1:17 PM · I am still in the integration phase with my newly acquired wrist vibrato, which may take a few more months to fully establish, and a year or two to become fully automatic, but I'm willing to wait :-)

The good news is that it is getting easier every day. One point I'd recommend is to go overboard on the wrist motion when going from arm to wrist vibrato. Arm vibrato takes almost no wrist movement so it feels really strange to then be waving your wrist around on every pitch (really, this is normal?) So err on the side of overdoing it. Your oscillations will be more pronounced and make you happier.

Below is the first part of a letter from my father-in-law Michael Heifetz, sent to me March 30th, 2012, which compares the different types of vibratos (arm, wrist, and finger). I am still in the integration phase, which needs a whole letter or diary of it's own, but I thought this may also be informative.


Comparing Types of Vibrato (Part One of Three)

There are three basic types of vibrato: wrist (more properly “hand vibrato”), arm, and finger.  There is also a fourth type: a "simulated" vibrato called fingertip vibrato.  There is no consensus agreement on which type of vibrato is “the best,” and there are excellent violinists who rely on one or another as their primary type of vibrato.

Each type, however, can be particularly useful for certain expressive effects and technical challenges.  Because of this, a violinist may wish to develop all types of vibrato to have as part of his/her technical arsenal. Ideally, a player would be able to vary the speed, width and intensity of various types of vibrato to suit the music and personal preference. You could vary your vibrato (including the type of vibrato) to suit the period, composer, piece, movement, or specific phrase. For example, when playing Haydn or Mozart, you might choose a narrower vibrato.  For romantic composers such as Brahms, you might typically choose a wider, slower vibrato. 

Wrist and arm vibrato are the two most basic and commonly used types. They both allow considerable variation in speed, width and intensity.  Finger vibrato relies on quick impulses from the finger. It is inherently a quick, shaking, narrow movement.  You cannot attain as wide a movement with finger vibrato, as with wrist or arm vibrato.

It is also helpful to have several types of vibrato "on call" to overcome various technical challenges. Examples: 
-  When playing in the high positions - especially on the G string - it is very difficult to use wrist vibrato.  But arm vibrato is relatively easy to use in this situation.  
- You may wish to use vibrato in a fast passage, where wrist or arm vibrato simply cannot be applied quickly enough. In this case, the illusion of vibrato can be obtained by simulating a finger vibrato - it's called "finger tip vibrato".  Ivan Galamian (“Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching”) describes finger tip vibrato in this way: "The illusion of vibrato can be created by flattening the fingers and letting them break slightly in their knuckles immediately after the note is sounded...The elbow is placed more to the left to flatten the fingers and the fingers themselves move in a lazy fashion, lifting but little and slowly, and dropping also slowly; after touching the string, the finger-knuckle gives in."

Next Time: Part Two: Developing Various Types of Vibrato Vs. Playing Music


This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine