It would appear to be a miracle that vibrato doesn’t shake the violin. Yet, on closer observation, there’s a simple law that keeps the hand and the violin steady – even, balanced motion and controlled direction keep the violin from moving side to side.
Some players may be concerned that how they grip the neck will cause the violin to shake. Actually, if the movement of the arm is even, the violin will keep more or less still. Firmly holding the neck with the thumb and the side of the first finger won’t rock the boat. It will even help stabilize the vibrato. There are far more important reasons why the violin will wobble.
Shaken Violin Syndrome
How does vibrato cause the violin to rock around like an unevenly distributed washing machine? Violinists need to shore up the hand to keep it from tipping off the side of the violin. If the hand feels unbalanced, it will transfer its chaotic movement to the violin.
Here are the possible areas where the vibrato can be vulnerable and resemble the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
1. Distributing the balance when changing strings – After playing on one string, the hand can feel like it’s been thrown off a “platform” by a change in string. Care must be taken to place a finger on the E string with a stable foundation in the hand, so that slippage is avoided. Because of the curvature of the fingerboard, one should keep the shape of the fingers by making them the same height and strength that an engineer would accord a bridge.
2. The start of a vibrato should resemble that of a top being spun with one quick motion. If the beginning thrust is slow or hesitant, it will tend to wobble and travel different distances on the fingerboard. Vibrato, like a top, is a ball of energy that resembles a perpetual motion machine. The design is a guarantee against tipping over. The continuous movement and small motion, coupled with a low center of gravity, keeps the vibrato in a stable silo.
3. One obstacle that keeps the vibrato from starting quickly is being uncertain about playing the correct pitch. To correct this, measure your intervals carefully so you know exactly which spot to go to. The decision where to place the note and when to start vibrating take place virtually at the same moment. While the mind allows only one thought at a time, it has an unlimited ability to arrange thoughts in their most efficient and effective manner. The more clearly you think, the faster you’ll be able to link thoughts.
The Lower Foundation of Vibrato
How stable is the lower part of your hand when you’re vibrating? To achieve the quality of firm flexibility, here are three components that will keep vibrato on solid ground:
1. The hand shouldn’t be as limp as a monkey paw. It should expand from a thumb that is lowered to support the violin’s neck, to fingers that raise themselves upwards from the neck. The heightened fingers are necessary to maneuver around the four strings and up the fingerboard. Think of the hand at attention, in which the thumb and the fingers are poised and ready to do their jobs. Since the fingers are spanning an area that requires numerous directions, I like the term “attention span” to combine these two elements.
2. How much does the hand move to cover all the strings and the span of four fingers? A great deal! In fact, the hand should move before the finger is placed. Sequences of movements matter, and the extra step of getting the hand in place will pay huge dividends. Once the hand is in the new position, it’s secured by holding the air around the new position. To wrap your mind around such a concept, remember that a firm shape can be as strong as the grip between the hand and a physical object. When it comes to the violin, which is held lightly by thumbs and fingertips, the shape of the air takes on great importance.
3. Direction of the vibrato changes from string to string and finger to finger. It’s especially noticeable when you skip one or more strings. Spend a few minutes every day observing these changes. Stop occasionally to absorb the slight differences, and the very big ones as well.
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