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Clayton Haslop

The Unruly Vibrato Fix

February 11, 2010 at 7:16 PM

After a bracing early morning walk and training session with our new pup, I did my own training session, on the violin.  It’s amazing how similar the work ethics are to produce good results in each.

And recently I’ve been focusing on vibrato, this after uncovering some unruliness in mine.  It’s something that just goes with the territory.  Guess I’d simply call it skills maintenance.

Yet whether you are reconditioning this particular skill or training yourself to it for the first time, the following little exercises can be very helpful.  Of course to begin with you do want to ensure that your hand and wrist are relaxed, and that the motion of the hand is clean. 

So the exercises to ‘top-off’ your vibrato have to do with gently, yet firmly, conditioning it to be constant and even.  And I do it at two speeds.

Now which speed you begin with has to do with the natural rate at which your hand oscillates.  If you have a lot of fast-twitch muscle fiber you will tend toward a fast vibrato, so begin at the faster speed.

If you suspect the opposite, then let your hand begin with a slow vibrato.

The exercises consist of playing adagio – think slow walk – whole note scales.  First position is fine.  And as you play I suggest you count the beats, quietly.

If you are in the slow vibrato mode you will be listening for 3 oscillations of the hand per beat.  In the fast mode listen for 4.

Remember, the idea is for the hand and wrist to be absolutely as relaxed as possible.  No tension in the fingers that are off the string, and the minimum of pressure to make a good tone for those that are on the string.

The challenge is to maintain the speed of oscillation through all 4 fingers.  Once you have it at one rate of speed, switch over to the other.

Now, you can do the scale with only one finger in contact with the fingerboard at a time, and you can do the scale where fingers remain on the string as you ascend.  Both are very useful.

Of course you will note that having all four fingers down while you play a 4th finger will necessarily limit the range of motion of the vibrato.  It needn’t affect the rate of oscillation, if the hand remains relaxed.

For an additional ‘variation’ you might move between forte and piano dynamics as play, noting that forte only requires a slight increase in pressure from the finger being sounded. 

When I began doing this a few days ago I felt somewhat challenged doing all that I have outlined here.  In fact, it was a couple days before I could pick the fiddle up cold and execute a two-octave scale without glitches at either speed.

Interestingly, just like training a puppy, the ‘pack leader’ is most effective when a clear vision precedes any choice of action.  When I raise the violin to my chin whilst seeing/feeling my hand relaxed and in the rate of speed of my choosing, success follows very quickly.

All the best,

Clayton Haslop

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