V.com weekend vote: Was your vibrato self-taught, or did you need help?

March 15, 2019, 1:42 PM · Developing an effective vibrato is a long-term project, for pretty much all string players.


For this vote, I'm focusing on that initial phase of developing a vibrato, when you "get over the hump" and are able to vibrate reasonably on any note that you wish to. After this phase comes a long period of refining it, learning to control it and make it go at different speeds and oscillations.

In Paul Stein's blog last week about Visualizing Vibrato, he wrote that teaching vibrato is a little like teaching the mechanics of walking, it's just not done.

I absolutely see his point -- you don't tell a baby where to put his or her feet! And yet I do think that sometimes those mechanics are taught, both in walking and in doing vibrato. I'm thinking about those times when people, say, lose their ability to walk and then have to re-learn it, using a lot of help from physical therapists and the exercises that they give them. For many people, learning vibrato might require a lot of help and special exercises from a teacher or other teaching resource.

I think vibrato can go either way, and I see this in my students. Some try vibrato on their own and get the motion without a lot of extra help. Though I might try to tweak things here and there, I generally let this natural process unfold. Being left-handed myself, my vibrato was self-taught in the beginning, and I practice it on tables. Though I have a nice vibrato, the quirky exercises I came up with for myself don't always work when I'm working with students!

Many students find the motion of vibrato to be rather mind-boggling. After all, it's an awkward motion, using a strange set of usually-underdeveloped muscles. Sometimes it's necessary to do some special exercises to get the brain to activate those muscles and to develop speed and precision in that motion, and it helps if your teacher can give you a number of them. (If your vibrato is well-developed, just try putting your fiddle in your right hand and doing vibrato, to see how difficult it is for a beginner!)

For this vote I'd like to ask whether vibrato came naturally to you, or whether it required more work and analysis from a teacher in the beginning. Please participate in the vote and then tell us in the comments, about what helped you get that vibrato motion working.

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March 15, 2019 at 07:09 PM · I voted "self-taught" but it's a little more complicated than that. I initially learned wrist vibrato on my own (I had no teacher at the time), but first finger vibrato remained awkward for many years. Eventually I went to a teacher who gave me some finger flexibility exercises (which cleared the way for good first finger vibrato as my index finger had simply never become relaxed enough) and also taught me an arm vibrato that I now find useful in certain situations.

When first learning vibrato, I got the knack by practicing it with my viola held like a guitar, rather than with my arm stretched out.

March 15, 2019 at 07:55 PM · What's vibrato?

Just kidding, of course. I was self-taught, but I'm pretty sure my teacher at the time was ready to start me on it if I hadn't.

March 15, 2019 at 08:37 PM · Playing vln and vla, I have to 'adjust' for each....mostly finger vibrato for vln but with a monster vla, I use a wrist/arm vibrato....and have mostly taught these two 'flavors'....especially when gals with tiny hands come in with a 16" viola....I have 'em stand near a wall, hold the scroll anchored, and use the wrist/bicep motion that does yield a viable vibrato...and as we all know, the pith differential should always be BELOW the desired pitch...so posture and hand position are significant.

March 15, 2019 at 09:01 PM · Actually it just "happened" I went to a lesson and my teacher commented: "How did you learn vibrato?" The prior lesson I had no vibrato, the next I just did. That being said, mine isn't fancy, it is basically wrist/finger, I tend to use it on longer notes and not on every note, I can speed it up or slow it down but how I "learned" is a mystery to me.

March 15, 2019 at 09:18 PM · I wouldn't have dared learning vibrato on my own. My teacher would have reacted with disapproval. I think she would have been right--in my case at any rate.

BTW I disagree with the walking analogy: Why don't you tell a baby where to put her feet? Because her language skills are not up to that yet. If you had to teach an adult to walk (say somebody born disabled who had had successful surgery. In this case it would be malpractice not to use language as one of the teaching tools available. Same goes for vibrato. Plus: I have no doubt our ability to vibrate on a stringed instrument is a byproduct of faculties that evolution gave us for different purposes. While walking is very much basic to life as a human animal--at least it was basic before the invention of the automobile...

March 15, 2019 at 09:32 PM · I'm learning it now. I was waiting for my teacher to tell me I was ready. Also, I had read about different types of vibrato but didn't know how to implement each one or which one to start with, so I welcomed the teaching.

March 15, 2019 at 10:18 PM · I was taught whole arm vibrato. I have a student currently who is almost ready to learn it. She tried to learn it before with another teacher who was trying to teach her wrist vibrato. She was tending to try to do whole arm naturally and was told it was wrong, so may pick it up more naturally from me.

March 15, 2019 at 10:23 PM · I started vibrato unusually early... I tried experimenting with it and then my teacher caught me and said I needed to learn it properly. Turns out that learning vibrato early wasn't a big issue.

March 15, 2019 at 11:06 PM · I also am learning it now. After five years of lessons my teacher felt that my hand and fingers were finally relaxed enough to learn the movement. Can’t say that I’m having an easy time of it though...baby steps!!

March 15, 2019 at 11:06 PM · After I'd been into lessons about 3 months, my first teacher felt I was ready for vibrato. She was right. This was about the same time I began position-playing and shifting. I don't remember all we discussed about beginning vibrato, but I do recall my teacher saying something about pinching the string off and on with the left-hand fingers as a first step.

From there, vibrato came to me quite easily. My own desire was to emulate the sound my teacher drew from her own instrument -- a sound that had captivated me from the very first lesson. Keeping this goal continually in mind helped.

March 15, 2019 at 11:12 PM · I’d been playing for several years and my teacher said, ok you can do some vibrato now. So I just developed on my own. Used it a bit intermittently. Only in last couple of years have I looked at specific exercises to develop it.

I am naturally a wrist vibrato, but find the first finger difficult so tend to morph into a bit of arm vibrato for that one. I’m still working on colour, width and speed and would some input on how to develop those. There is lots of info for beginners, not so much for developers.

March 15, 2019 at 11:16 PM · I'm a 59 yo Suzuki book 2 violin student. I have no musical background and started from the very beginning about 2 years ago. I have an excellent tutor who at this stage doesn't encourage me working with vibrato. I watch professionals playing, am curious about this technique and want to try it. Discourse on this website has been of major assistance in my studies, especially about the little things they don't teach you in textbooks. Should I try vibrato before my tutor thinks I'm ready and if so how should I start?

March 16, 2019 at 03:02 AM · I've been playing for 20 months. I've never given vibrato any thought one way or another. I just take it as it comes. Once my teacher says it's time to learn vibrato, I'll add it to everything else I'm trying to accomplish. No rush..

March 16, 2019 at 03:20 AM · My vibrato came naturally after 2 months or so of playing. 4 years in and working on the Bruch and solo Bach, never had to correct anything with my vibrato. I noticed vibrato watching a clip of Heifetz, and I imitated it, showed up to a lesson and my teacher asked how I learned it. Using the right intensity, speed, and method of vibrato for a passage always came just as naturally to me as any other aspect of expressive playing, and it's probably the strongest quality of my sound.

March 16, 2019 at 05:24 AM · I learned wrist vibrato from myself as my teacher didn't really teach me vibrato seriously.

March 16, 2019 at 05:27 AM · I voted "I have not yet learned vibrato", but in truth I'm in the process of learning wrist vibrato. Sadly, it's self-teaching using ewechube videos at the moment because I don't have a teacher.

The main two resources I've used/am using are Violinmasterclass and Nicola Benedetti's recent"With Nicky - Vibrato. I've also just started looking at Max Baillie's Max Baillie teaches Vibrato series.

Progress is slow. Ohhhh soooo slowwww.

March 16, 2019 at 01:59 PM · Well, I don't know about you, but I've already got a long list of things to keep me busy while I'm learning how to play a violin. I'm not even going to consider vibrato until my teacher says I'm ready.

March 16, 2019 at 02:19 PM · I started vibrato with the help of my teacher. I do arm vibrato and started by putting the scroll against the wall and doing it that way. As an older adult I think it took me longer than most. I kept reminding myself that there are thousands of people who do vibrato so I can too.

March 16, 2019 at 03:06 PM · Kinda in the middle for me, I started doing in on my own, got some tips on how to proceed and exercises but I was also taught that it's something I need to master on my own

March 16, 2019 at 03:14 PM · I have been playing for 4 years and can now play using vibrato with my scales and tunes with whole notes. I have trouble playing vibrato on half notes and quarter notes. Always find if I slow the tune down, I can master it, but up to speed, it is really difficult. Found the tune “Vibrato Swing” most helpful. Trying to keep my vibrato going right to the end of the note. I will keep plugging away.

March 16, 2019 at 03:54 PM · Wrist came naturally, arm not. Everyone says concentrate on a better arm vibrato and leave wrist, why?

March 16, 2019 at 07:23 PM · Mark:

I keep hearing that arm vibrato is easier for adults to learn... maybe that's why?

You may also be hearing from people with longer arms or larger hands. From what I've seen, people with longer arms and larger hands commonly find arm vibrato easier, while people with shorter arms and smaller hands often find wrist vibrato easier.

March 17, 2019 at 06:16 PM · My teacher said I shouldn't waste my time with vibrato exercises, because it would often come by itself when intonation would be okay and I would be comfortable and relaxed enough. And so it was. As soon as I felt comfortable with shifting and could do that smoothly, there it was. Only thing he told me was to focus on arm vibrato.

It's not great what I've achieved in that field and will need years of further exploration and refinement (like any of my vln/vla skills), but I can modulate it well enough. My major "problem" is that I'm still not able to use it on shorter notes without messing up intonation a bit. Also it's difficult to modulate vibrato and bowing/soundpoint at the same time to get all the expression out of it. But I'm confident this will come - mastering an instrument is a journey, and I'm enjoying it.

March 17, 2019 at 07:27 PM · I remember instinctively using vibrato because it released a lot of the tension in my arm and hands. I was probably about 6 or so. Keeping a pure perfect note was stressful, so using vibrato is like waving goodbye to all that stress. Similarly, singing in church you learn that the way to loosen up your straining throat muscles is to waver a bit, which results in a very natural vibrato. Controlling it so that you can create color and intensity is a different matter; that's when you start dissecting it and thinking of it in technical terms, like arm versus wrist versus finger vibrato. A vibrato that is wide and intense is exhausting with finger vibrato, so your body starts figuring out which combination of techniques is most relaxing.

March 18, 2019 at 12:52 AM · I was never formally taught vibrato as a young cellist because my cello teacher told me it would come naturally as I got more relaxed in my playing, especially with regard to shifting. I think vibrato started to arrive in my second year of lessons. I would have been copying my teacher.

Forward many years to when I started playing the violin and then learning it properly (note the order!). My violin teacher said much the same as my cello teacher, and it's true. The secret is that relaxed posture, L/H hold, fluent shifting and vibrato all go together, and the basis of it all is posture, which needs face-to-face teaching to get right.

As my relaxation in playing progressed so vibrato sneaked in under the radar, and is now there for use with any finger in any shift position. I don't use arm vibrato, and my teacher didn't try to force it on me, although she did demonstrate it. Wrist vibrato feels more natural, and my teacher was quite happy with that.

T Jennings

March 18, 2019 at 11:15 AM · Often for a lot of things, I believe including vibrato, the basics can be taught by the teacher, but the real learning some from the child watching another child in the studio who's a few years older and a serious student. That's what made the biggest difference for my daughter on the cello. She was able to watch the details fairly closely at studio classes and recitals and she picked it up from there.

March 19, 2019 at 08:38 PM · I started playing violin at 59, and it took six years before I got anything resembling a decent vibrato. It turns out I was pressing the side of my index finger against the neck for stability, which locked my hand in place and prevented the required movement. Even today I have to concentrate on holding my left hand just right to let it vibrate, although I do have moments where it works well.

March 22, 2019 at 02:42 PM · Someone in one of the posts mentioned a tune called “Vibrato Swings-“ anyone know where to find that?

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