How to do Vibrato on the Violin

April 23, 2020, 4:53 PM · 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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April 23, 2020 at 11:41 PM · Laurie, thanks for this. I need to apply more effort and patience to my somewhat nervous vibrato. For inspiration I'd like to offer this video featuring two of three great Japanese jazz violinists that I know of, "Maiko" and Toshihiro Nakanishi (the third, not in this video, is Naoko Terai). Toshi Nakanishi, on the right, the elder statesman among Japanese jazz violinists, has one of the most exquisite, expressive and refined vibratos I know of. Enjoy!

April 24, 2020 at 12:41 PM · Thank you Laurie,you are a wonderfull and a very immaginative teacher.Fantastic the idea of pinkie taps the wood on the left of the fingerboard

April 24, 2020 at 02:49 PM · Thank you, Laurie! Striving for a true half-step in the one exercise you outlined has always been my downfall. Quarter-tones, here I come!

April 24, 2020 at 03:56 PM · Thank you, Laurie, for this excellent video!

April 24, 2020 at 08:37 PM · Thank you for sharing! I've been practicing vibrato for a few months now with very slow progress. Looking forward to trying these exercises!

April 25, 2020 at 12:52 AM · I don't have any plastic eggs, but realized that a plastic pill bottle such as the pharmacist provides your prescriptions in could work very well. Pick a size that suits you, and some have locking lids too. An empty vitamin bottle is another possibility.

April 25, 2020 at 03:47 AM · Great idea, Mark!

April 25, 2020 at 01:44 PM · Thanks for sharing this! I will send it to my students. I have several of them working on vibrato right now while they are staying at home. It’s a good time to master it when there are fewer performances to prepare for.

April 25, 2020 at 03:21 PM · Vibrato is a fluctuation in pitch. There is not one definitive way of producing a vibrato, it is all about the sound coming out of your instrument. Like you, I show my students different options and have them decide which method works for them. For some students I have them do a glissando of a whole step, then gradually shortening the length. This way they have immediate success. Since I also play cello, vibrato is super easy on the cello even through it is the same motion. I have my violin students sit on a chair and hold the violin between their knees like holding a cello. The more varieties you show your students, the more successful they will be at this most ardent skill.

April 26, 2020 at 12:26 AM · wish that I had someone to show me your exercises years ago...

I have been dutifully trying to imitate Nate's every move,

I seem to have too much swing and not enough ping, see

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