How do you make music shimmer on the violin, how do you enhance your tone to make it gorgeous, how do you make people cry grateful tears of emotion when they hear your playing?
It's all about vibrato - that's the secret sauce. Of course it is important that you have your basic foundation and you are playing in tune before you start learning vibrato. In terms of Suzuki Books, I usually start teaching students this skill somewhere in Book 2.
So once you are ready, how do you do vibrato?
It can be a rather elusive skill, but I aim to de-mystify it by describing various kinds of vibrato and then giving you some concrete ways to work on learning to do it, including:
Keep in mind, vibrato is not a skill that you learn in a weekend; it is a long-term project. You'll make the most progress with the feedback of a good teacher, who can see what you are actually doing and personalize your practice approach. That said, here is a general description to get you on the right track.
Kinds of Vibrato:
WRIST VIBRATO: The hand oscillates from the wrist while the forearm remains relatively still.
ARM VIBRATO: The wrist remains immobile and the motion comes from the entire arm. This is an especially handy kind of vibrato for double-stops and very high notes.
In all likelihood, one of these kinds of vibrato will feel easier to you than the other. For me, wrist vibrato was always more natural, so I developed that, then later added arm vibrato. It is best to eventually develop both kinds of vibrato, as they serve in different situations.
FINGER VIBRATO: The movement is mostly in the fingers. I don't use finger vibrato; most people don't. Some argue that finger vibrato doesn't really exist. I can think of one instance: Itzhak Perlman is the rare violinist that occasionally uses finger vibrato - and uses it well!
In any kind of vibrato: you vibrate up to the note and not past it. So your vibrato goes below the pitch and back.
How to exercise the seldom-used muscles that produce vibrato
These exercises will mostly prepare you for wrist vibrato.
How to optimize your posture to enable the vibrato motion
A lot of your teacher's requests regarding posture will suddenly make sense, once you start doing vibrato. If you have failed to heed those "bad habit" warnings, you may run into a wall that you can't get past until you make a few posture-related revisions.
No gripping the side of the instrument: If you are gripping the neck of the violin with the side of your hand, you are impeding your hand from moving. It's normal to touch the violin with the side of your hand, but when you do vibrato, you will let go. That doesn't mean you need to move the hand far away from the neck, you just have to let go with the side of the hand.
Straight thumb: Generally, if the thumb is bent, it can often be a sign that you are gripping the violin. Also, a bent thumb causes more tendon strain with the vibrato motion.
Straight wrist: Start with a straight wrist and rock forward. A collapsed wrist limits your motion.
Fingertips: Flat fingers don't rock. The more you place your fingers on the fingertips, the easier it is to rock the finger. When it is rocking, it rocks on the tip and somewhat on the pad.
How to expand your vibrato palette once you get it started
After you have figured out the basic motion of vibrato, you can work on how to vary its speed and width. The basic options for vibrato include: fast and narrow, fast and wide, slow and narrow, slow and wide. You want to be able to do any of those, and change from one to another.
For speed: One exercise you can try is to set the metronome on 60, then try one oscillation per beat, then two, three, four, six, eight, etc. Keep in mind that you will not change the pitch an entire half step - your ear may kind of "ask" for that, resist! The pitch will change a quarter-tone or less, so be prepare your ear. This will allow you to practice vibrating at different speeds.
One you get adept at the different speeds, you can vary the width. So you can do the entire exercise with a narrow vibrato. Or the entire exercise with a wide vibrato.
I would NOT recommend this exercise until you have mastered the basic motion.
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