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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: Did you have trouble learning to do vibrato?

December 22, 2012 at 5:16 AM

Shake it, baby!

If only vibrato were so simple. But it's not: It's an odd motion, using a strange set of usually-underdeveloped muscles to create something that at first sounds about as lovely as a broken car alarm.

And yet, your playing suffers if you neglect this technique. You have to get "over the hump" and make it second-nature. There are many ways to get going on vibrato, and in fact, just this week Liz Lambson wrote an excellent article about the topic.

As a teacher, I always first try the following approach, before going into exercises and elaborate explanations:

"Try it. Go!" Occasionally someone gets it fairly naturally, and even if they don't, I learn where we're starting.

Personally, being left-handed and being a complete violin nerd, I experimented quite a lot on my own, and it came quickly to me. How about you? Was it difficult to learn vibrato, or did it come pretty easily?

From steven su
Posted on December 22, 2012 at 5:37 AM

I voted no because my former teacher never really "taught" it to me? He just showed me and told me to try it and yea...that was the full extend of my vibrato lesson. :P Now, I have just started studying with a great teacher and he noticed how underdeveloped my vibrato is so I guess I'll be working on it soon :)

From Annette Brower
Posted on December 22, 2012 at 5:38 AM
I voted "No" but I think it would be more accurate to say it required effort but wasn't traumatic.
From Patrick Tinney
Posted on December 22, 2012 at 5:46 AM
At about 1 year and 9 months of study I am only starting to get vibrato. And that in a very limited manner and speed.

Admittedly I seem to stress the bow more than anything else and so I don't always specifically practice vibrato on a day to day basis, until just recently.

I still think it is mainly a psychological limitation. Being an older (59) beginner and former guitar player (totally different vibrato) it may take some time but I'm sure I'll get it.

I once read it takes up to five years to get a good sound out of a clarinet. So I figure in another three years if I still don't feel like I can play the violin in front of my musician friends I switch to the viola.

Just kidding, I really do want a viola next. My nine year old wants a cello after a little more piano. My poor wife.

From Anne Horvath
Posted on December 22, 2012 at 12:21 PM
Mine was learned very fast, for a bunch of reasons:

I am left handed (smile), I was an old beginner (10), I modeled the older students in string class, my teacher would demo with vibrato, and, having grown up listening to both live opera and the Saturday Met Opera broadcasts, I had a vibrato sound already in my ear.

I'm also with you on the naturalistic approach with students. I have a few simple exercises (senza bow) that seem to help to get things started. Less is more...

Merry Christmas!

From Paul Deck
Posted on December 22, 2012 at 12:54 PM
I learned it very naturally and easily. Then 35 years later I realized that I learned it all wrong. Unlearning it and relearning it at the age of 45 was pretty hard. I think most amateurs can continue to develop their vibrato just like anything other part of their playing.
From Jim Hastings
Posted on December 22, 2012 at 1:07 PM
I voted no. I began learning it with my first teacher after the first few months -- right about the time I began learning 3rd position and basic shifting.

I was an impressionable kid and greatly admired my teacher's playing. As we know, kids have a way of picking up things and assimilating them without being able to explain them -- especially those things they admire; so for me, it was akin to a child picking up language skills -- from hearing the speech of those around him.

From Eric Won
Posted on December 22, 2012 at 2:00 PM
Vibrato has been a part of my musical palette as far back as I can remember: it was just simply there, like intonation, articulation, and dynamics. In part, I believe it was because my teachers always focused on the effect to elicit, rather than how to get the effect. I don't recall them using mechanical terms like "wider", "tighter", "faster", "slower", "more wrist" or "finger tips". I had to experiment and discover what worked mechnically for me to gain an effect. When I look around an orchestra, it's easy to see that everyone's solved the "mechanics" of vibrato in a different way: some use more digital action (bending at the knuckles); others use more wrist action; others use more arm action.

Also, as I grow older, I'm noticing that my flexibility and dexterity are changing, so my body has to do different things to maintain expressive vibrato. I've learned to use more arm, because my finger and wrist joints are not as flexible. I would think that if one doesn't adjust technique as your body changes, the fact that you're aging will be noted in other people's ears. The vibrato will sound more strained and tentative, less modulated and more measured.

From Mendy Smith
Posted on December 22, 2012 at 2:19 PM
It was the most difficult thing for me to learn to do, made that much more difficult learning it as an adult. My 1st finger still refuses to cooperate.
From Asher Wade
Posted on December 22, 2012 at 7:03 PM
I learned vibrato as an adult & found it astoundingly easy {had a great teacher, of course]; and he taught it to me in less than 15mins. - He took me over to where we have a thick curtain {which covers the front hallway to the front door & is used only during the winter against strong breezes}, had me hold [push]the scroll of my violin up against the wall (with this thick curtain between the scroll & the wall, for protection), drop any left-thumb contact with the backside of the neck of the violin and simply had me "roll" the note, first, with the middle-finger (I bowed any note I wanted) up-&-back for several minutes (then later with the index-, ring- & pinkie-fingers). He said by doing this for 5-10mins. a day, within the week "your 'muscle-memory' will be trained so well, that you can back-off of the wall, add your left-thumb to the back of the neck (as usual) and you're "off-&-running". It didn't need even a week, within a day or two, once I had that "muscle-memory" [feeling in my fingers], I simply applied it whenever I had a doted note, or a whole note for that wonderful emphasis. "Wiggle away !!!"
From M.L. Scott
Posted on December 22, 2012 at 9:43 PM
where's the option for "it was so long ago that I can't remember" :)
From Simon Streuff
Posted on December 22, 2012 at 11:59 PM
still working on it!

From Jayanthi Joseph
Posted on December 23, 2012 at 5:53 AM
No, vibrato did not come easily at all! Since my first violin teacher didn't help me develop correct vibrato, I developed small-amplitude finger vibrato that took ages to unlearn. We tried wrist and then arm vibrato but neither seemed to catch on. So I learned all sorts of exercises to help loosen my wrist and practiced a very slow vibrato in fifth position for about 2 years. My vibrato is only now beginning to arrive...So no, it did not come easily; but took time and effort to develop. :) And like someone else in this thread said, it's an ongoing process.
From Charlie Gibbs
Posted on December 28, 2012 at 12:30 AM
Did I have trouble? I still do! After three years, vibrato is still not something that comes naturally. There's probably something not right about my left hand position, but so far I haven't found a teacher who can tell me exactly what. To use a medical analogy, perhaps it's time to see a specialist. (Is there such a thing for violin?)

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