Printer-friendly version
Mendy Smith

A New Angle on Vibrato

November 29, 2008 at 2:08 AM

How I love these long holiday weekends!  Plenty of time to work a technique for hours without feeling pressed for time. 

This weekend's project - freeing the base of my first finger from the fingerboard on the lower strings so I can finally achieve some vibrato down in 1st position with my first finger on the lower two strings.  Piece of cake!  Humphhhh!  My teacher jokingly suggested that I chop off the length of the fingerboard by 3 inches to get the perfect left hand frame on the lower strings in first position since my hand frame in third position was "perfect".  However, this would just turn me into a violinist, and not a violist.  Hilda would be aghast to be shortened from a full 16" down to 13" so brutally!

I started yesterday in "guitar position", first getting a good vibrato in those lower positions, taking note of the relation between my hand and the fingerboard.  I experimented with my finger touching the fingerboard firmly as it normally is, and then lighter and lighter until I was happy with the vibrato I was getting.  I took a moment to sketch and note down that ideal left hand frame.  Ready for step 2 - doing this in playing position.  Deep breath, stay relaxed.

Over several hours over two days, I experimented with my viola position, trying to reproduce that ideal left hand frame to vibrate on the C string with my first finger in first position.  I finally found the vibrato sweet-spot.  For me, the viola must be angled so that the strings are at about a 70-80 degree angle to my nose - viola far to the left,  nearly flat along my upper chest, with the A string angled a bit more towards the floor.  In this position, the base of my first finger is free from the fingerboard on the lower strings, and a nice vibrato just happened without any effort.

However, this advancement in vibrato comes at a price.  Bowing perpendicular to the strings in the upper third of the bow is nearly impossible.  Once I pass the mid-point of the bow, it started to angle towards the fingerboard.  My arms simply are not long enough to pull a straight bow in this position.  Tomorrow I will try holding my bow a little higher up on the stick.  I've seen other professional violists hold the bow this way when the voila is more towards the left.  This may help compensate for the position of the viola and my short arms (short for a full sized viola). 

Luckily, no other aspect of my playing besides bowing in the upper third seemed to be adversely affected by this new angle.  I could still shift easily, and even a little more smoothly on the C string from first to third and back down again.  Intonation with my 4th finger was a little sharp at first, but that is a simple thing to adjust for; far better than being flat and trying to develop a larger stretch.  Chords were easier to play, especially the difficult ones in Suite #3 Sarabande (G#,D,B & G#,F,B).  String crossings from C to A were easier to manage as well.

My cats have recovered from this experiement over the past two days and came out of hiding.  My oldest even forgave me for torturing his sensitive ears and is now sitting on my lap.  Little do they know that this all starts again tomorrow.

From Ruth Kuefler
Posted via on November 29, 2008 at 3:40 AM

I agree — holidays are the best times to simultaneously relax and get some good musical work done. :) I'll need to try these ideas next time I'm practicing viola . . . I'd like to get my vibrato a little wider (compared to what I normally use on violin). Hopefully your cats will understand someday. :)

P.S. I just realized I kind of stole your blog title - by accident, I promise, haha! I wrote it and then was like, hmm, Mendy and I are thinking alike today . . .

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted via on November 29, 2008 at 1:21 PM

"when the voila is more towards the left"

I love how "viola" and "voila" are almost the same word :)  Sometimes it just seems appropriate to say "viola!"


This entry has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases Business Directory Business Directory Guide to Online Learning Guide to Online Learning

Dominant Pro Strings

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases


Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin



Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine