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Drew Lecher

Viva Vibrato!!!

October 28, 2007 at 8:10 PM

Always keep the “straight, pure note/tone” in your inner ear/mind.

Like a plumb line to focus on, it keeps one from “drifting.” It is not uncommon for the violinist and violist to drift/go sharp due to tension causing a slight closing or drawing of the left arm toward the body — keep the arm and hand out there.

Use the 3rd and 4th Positions on the G & D strings (viola one string lower) and the 4th and 5th Positions on the A & E strings. In these positions the left arm, hand, wrist, and fingers and thumb are more easily put into the perfect balance and shape or form. I prefer the sequence of training to be 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 1st finger. It is also far more successful when using “Multiple-finger Vibrato” (2 or more fingers at a time) — this immediately assists in the coordination and linear aspects, and easily maintains balance and proportions in the left hand.

DO NOT BRACE THE LEFT HAND ON THE SOULDER/RIBS OF THE INSTRUMENT — THIS CAUSES CONTRADICTORY MOTION. The arm will tend to move toward the player when the left hand pushes/rolls away and vise versa. With the left hand’s rolling back and actually down, the left arm pulls up and in. It also makes the Multiple-finger Vibrato far more difficult, affecting the proportions and balance of the hand and fingers for intonation.

Now, say you are in the 3rd Position (smaller hand) or 4th Position with 1st & 2nd fingers a whole step/tone apart. Keep the 3rd finger relaxed and floating/hovering over the same string with the 4th finger, also relaxed and hovering, over or near to the next higher string. (If done on the III String you can take advantage of the open string below to maintain focus of intonation.)

1. Line up your 2nd. 3rd & 4th fingers’ knuckles approximately with the sting’s plane.

2. Move your left arm as in shifting down with both fingertips rolling and the fingers slightly lengthening/flexing. Keep the strings parallel or slightly ascending from you. Leopold Mozart mentions in his treatise on violin playing that the left hand should be approximately mouth, nose in height.

3. Do only 1 or 2 even “shifts” down-and-return with each bow stroke — note, below, note, below, note.

4. Maintain a smooth and even slow-motion action.

5. If point #3 above is too tight and restricted in the left arm, actually shift with an extremely light slide using a larger interval — even all the way to 1st Position — and returning to the original note. Do not flex finger during this shifting action. As you make the sliding/shifting interval smaller, add a little more weight to the fingers — notice how they want to flex due to the extra resistance. Use this sense of flexing touch upon arriving at the desired note/tone to add just enough pressure in the next outward move so that the fingertip rolls instead of slides. Let it be a very small amount and return the rolled finger via the arm’s return to the starting position.

The best vibrato incorporates the finger, hand and arm to varying degrees creating the desired musical character. The joints, or hinges, must always be free and agile with all degrees of intensity and relaxation.

Perhaps this excerpt from my recently published books will assist you.

Vibrato: The sibling to shifts.
Complement to character of the phrase.

Primarily accomplished by the rapid shifting/pumping of the arm , in line with the string, along with the flexing/rolling of the fingertip. These two are sympathetically joined via the wrist.

(There must be no contrary action to these simultaneous moves.)

1. The direction is from the pitch to below and return again — the ear picks up the higher tone.

2. The wrist should have a pro-active flexing action — controlled, yet a loose, free quality of movement. It relates in feel to shaking dice in the hand or shaking the fist (use a relaxed, slightly open hand) — do not let the hand flop beyond the wrist in either direction.
a. The hand must not go in an opposite direction to the forearm via the wrist.

3. The easiest positions to first achieve vibrato are the 3rd through the 5th positions.
a. Do NOT brace the base of the hand against the shoulder/rib or back of the violin — this creates opposing actions that are counterproductive.

4. In essence: play the note and simultaneously “shift down” while flexing and rolling the fingertip, then “shift up” with the returning finger motion. (Do not actually change position.)
a. Practice Slo-Mo/Fast (Slow Motion then Fast).

5. Vibrato has any number of speeds and intensities with various depths of range all to be employed in the most refined manner and style of interpretation.

Note: There is one other seldom taught, but most useful, technique where the finger is actually shifted/slid back and forth to give an exceptionally full vibrato — it is generally confined to the 4th finger and should be used wisely and sparingly, so that the listener is unaware.

Hope this helps ––
Author of Violin Technique: The Manual, How to master… and Viola Technique: The Manual, How to master…

From Penny B
Posted on October 29, 2007 at 3:17 AM
Thank you, Drew! Just what the doctor ordered! I had also wondered if you have advice for those of us who are almost to the point of learning vibrato? (I ask with great trepidation!)
From Drew Lecher
Posted on October 29, 2007 at 4:41 PM
You have wonderful hobbies and I wonder if the tying of flies for fly-fishing could actually help ----–– use your fingers in a very active, nimble and flexing manner working from the knuckles. This might frustrate the speed in which you are able to tie the flies, but I think it will give even more dexterity to the hands –– good for the bow hand, too!

Also do slow-motion fingertip-flexes against the thumb (kept stationary) or another stable surface.

Then do “Air Vibrato” –– without the violin, sit or stand tall and erect, ALERT WITH NO TIGHTENING OF MUSCLES.

Lift your left arm, with the hand mouth/nose high, as though playing the violin and do some “Air Shifts.” (Vary the rotation of the forearm and hand as though on different strings.)

Gradually shrink the motion to less than a half-step interval and simultaneously allow the speed to increase due to the shorter distance traveled –– very important aspect of playing for both hands and arms. DO NOT ALLOW INCREASE OF TENSION ALONG THE ARM INTO THE SHOULDER.

Do this periodically throughout the day for perhaps a week and then apply it to the other info of the “Viva Vibrato” blog.

Let me know if you have any further questions.

Have fun ––

From Christopher wexler
Posted on October 29, 2007 at 10:13 PM
Thank you, Penny, for asking what you did for those of us starting out with vibrato. And thank you very much, Drew, for an informative post and response.


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