Vibrato Elixirs Part III: Developing the Motion

July 15, 2020, 10:39 AM · This is Part III in a three-part series; click here for Vibrato Elixirs Part I: Refining Speed, Width & Flow and click here for Vibrato Elixirs Part II: Enhancing the Swing.

Today we are concentrating on learning the fundamental movement of vibrato, which is more of a reflexive than a controlled motion. Vibrato is initiated by the hand (in the case of wrist vibrato) or forearm (in the case of arm vibrato), but the swing seems to find its own rhythm of back and forth.

The following exercises can be used as “pre-vibrato” learning tools, or to relearn a vibrato that has gone off the rails. The routines emphasize a loose and elastic feeling in the hand through a variety of entry points.

Introduction & Taps

This next routine is one of the most popular ones out there. This is how I remember learning vibrato when I was young. I have gone back to it often through many decades of playing to open my swing and also as a warm up exercise for loosening all the joints from the shoulder to the fingers.

Slides

Many pedagogues describe vibrato as a motion and a release, rather than a back and forth motion. “Bounce the ball” takes advantage of our knowledge of other reflexive motions - in this case tossing a ball. The exercise is designed to minimize tension and get the larger muscles out of the equation.

Bounce the Ball

My experience in teaching vibrato has been that some exercises work for certain students, while others do not. This has been true for building vibrato from scratch, remediating vibrato when it has gone awry, or refining vibrato for more advanced players. It’s often a mystery to me why one exercise works so well, and another seems to do nothing for a particular student.

I have come to accept that as one of the beautiful mysteries of teaching and learning - we are all searching for those little “aha” moments and they eventually do come through one portal or another. The three-part vibrato series shows you the range of exercises that I like to have at the ready - something I can call upon in teaching and in my own practice. If you have vibrato exercise ideas you can add to the list - either describing it in words or posting a link to a video - please comment below! The more tools we have in our toolbox, the better. And as always, happy practicing.

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