Vibrating Freely and Fully

June 16, 2020, 11:40 PM · In the best of all worlds, vibrato is simply a hinge that swings freely. However, it’s one thing to demonstrate it away from the violin, and quite another to try It on the fingerboard itself. Could it be that there are invisible obstacles that block the movement?


Introductory exercise for arm and wrist vibratos:

  1. For an arm vibrato, keep the wrist from moving and pretend you’re shaking dice. (Pretending to shake your fist at someone else also works.) Try holding a matchbook filled with rice (uncooked!) to simulate the sound of the even rhythm of vibrato. Maximize your movement from the elbow – think of the great distance at the bottom of a pyramid.
  2. For a wrist (AKA hand) vibrato, let the hand swing freely from the wrist. Keep the motion from the elbow to a minimum. HINT: Swing slightly above the wrist so you don’t get tangled up in the wrist itself.

Bottle-Neck: What Happens On the Fingerboard

Do you ever feel comfortable vibrating on one string, only to find the next string over feels like a foreign country? That’s because it is. Now, certain types of minds absorb the change of string angles. For example, going from the E string to the A string, the hand inhabits a higher altitude on the A string. The elbow will rise considerably to accommodate the change of string. To make the adaptation complete, the wrist will morph as if it were made of ball bearings.

For those minds that take longer to process the different angles and altitudes (16 of them if you multiple four fingers by four strings), take heart. Strive to see the alteration of the terrain in your mind’s eye. Be patient and the hand will find the exact shape. You’ll be surprised how far the distance is from one string to the next. If you can visualize it, there’s no need to analyze it. Even if there were 64 angles, that’s not a dauting task for a hand built with ball bearings.

Exercise for Transferring the Vibrato from One String to Another

  1. Vibrate the first finger on the A string. Remember that the movement is a three-dimensional path, not a straight line. In other words, feel spacious, not constricted.
  2. As you transfer to the second finger on the D string, make the movement in slow motion so you can relish every part of the space. To make slow motion a fluid feeling, move as if you’re floating. A hot-air balloon is a nice image (hopefully without turbulence.)

Ignition – Starting the Vibrato

For years I thought of the image of starting a lawn mower to replicate the beginning of a vibrato. It supplied what was needed – a very sudden thrust followed by energy that coasted on itself.

Then I found a $5 gadget in a party store that made an Easter egg open up, oscillating within a small radius around a cute bunny. I was ready to pay far more for it. This was even better than the lawn mower. Less gas, less effort, and less space involved.

These two images take care of the beginning of vibrato and the renewal of energy by coasting. What happens, however, when the vibrato starts and stops and never starts again? The vibrato shuts down.

Exercise for Continuing the Vibrato Throughout the Note

  1. To vibrate for two beats, support it with a slower bow while you hear the beats in your ear. Vibrato dies quickly without bow and beat support.
  2. For a series of short quarter notes with separate bows and different fingers, remind the arm to not stop vibrating even when the bow changes direction. We shouldn’t expect any vibrato to take place unless we give it permission, consciously or subconsciously.
  3. One reason the vibrato tends to stop is because the arm is traveling in conflicting angles. It thinks the direction is parallel to the violin’s neck. The correct angle is an oblique one because of the offset placement of the hand.

To develop a smooth, non-interrupted vibrato, keep the fingertip light on the fingerboard. Have the distance from the lower to the higher pitch equidistant, like a swing. These two points are easy to overlook. Since there aren’t a lot of moving parts in vibrato, be careful to spot-check each of them regularly.

Because of the vagary and subtlety of vibrato, we tend to use it without thinking of the details. Yet it’s just like any other movement in sports or music. Concentration on one detail will pay off and give you more rhythmic control and greater tonal beauty.


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