Vibrato Elixirs Part II: Enhancing the Swing

June 24, 2020, 10:58 PM · This is Part II in a three-part series; click here for Vibrato Elixirs Part I: Refining Speed, Width & Flow and click here for Vibrato Elixirs Part III: Developing the Motion.

I’m back for a more detailed look at some vibrato exercises - see part one of the vibrato series for the first four videos. Today we are concentrating on part II - releasing the swing of your vibrato. For a beautiful vibrato, flexibility in the hand is essential. Even when we have good vibrating motion, the vibrato swing will not transfer all the way to the finger pad if the hand is stiff and or the joints are locked. The result is the right look of a vibrato, but without the characteristic lush and warm sound.

When working on releasing, I have a very targeted laundry list of “less pressure” checkpoints:

Does the inside of my palm feel relaxed, almost like liquid?
Is my thumb loose and visibly “jiggling along”?
Are the fingers that are not touching the string released and sympathetically vibrating as well?

Here are some exercises to help unlock the hand and train our joints to be supple.

“Tissue vibrato”, as I like to call this exercise, allows us to be connected to the fingerboard, but with much lighter pressure than we are used to. I think it is effective as a training tool not only because it gets us to lighten up, but also because the “swish” sound can help guide us for regular and consistent motions of the hand.

This next one is a student favorite and usually brings forth giggles in the studio. The aim once again is to learn to disconnect the sensation of swing from the sensation of undue pressure on the fingerboard.

A common scenario in the violin studio is a great vibrato motion in vitro (by itself if you will), but one that "seizes up" in the context of an actual piece. This next exercise is an old fashioned trick that can serve as an intermediary point between learning a vibrato motion and actually vibrating in a piece.

Alternate String:

Shifting can be another great entry point for releasing finger pressure and allowing the hand to be free. This exercise is also great for working on a more continuous vibrato.

So, too much pressure and clamping down on the fingerboard is always an achilles heel. Too much pressure also leads to problems with facility, shifting, and intonation. In the worst case, it can lead to pain and injury. So having the patience to work on loosening and releasing has many payoffs beyond a beautiful vibrato itself Next week’s blog will be dedicated to pre-vibrato exercises, and learning the actual motion. In the meantime, happy practicing, but don’t overdo it - be happy with small victories that you can revisit the next day!

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