There's vibrato and then there's vibrato

December 8, 2006 at 07:51 PM · I recently saw a vocal soloist who I thought used too much vibrato. I didn't think she was bad otherwise, and I liked much of the rest of her performance. My point is that I have this opinion about virtually every operatic "classical" vocalist I have heard/seen. I don't really like classical opera, in part, because of the way the voices sound. I find the vibrato really distracting.

I sing in an amateur church choir, and I have no vibrato at all to speak of in my voice, and little to no idea of how to go about developing it. That's okay there, I guess, because I'm just one of the sopranos, and I can sing in tune and support the section. But one of the reasons I joined the choir was to become a better singer in order to be a better all-around musician. Often I have been advised to make my violin or viola playing sound more like the human voice singing.

So, I guess my question is, what kind of singing should I be trying to emulate when I play the violin? That operatic, vibrato-heavy style that I don't even enjoy listening to? That can't be right, can it? I do use vibrato on the violin, but I've been told it sounds too constrained and narrow, even when I think it's fine.

Are there schools of thought around this issue among professional musicians? How did the current conventions develop? I seem to remember and have observed that "early music" has less of this vibrato-heavy style. Is that a good place to look?

Replies (82)

December 8, 2006 at 08:17 PM · You will find a lot of historical information on this if you google it and so forth. That said, I think one way of looking at it is asking a question.

How and when does the emotional context of a piece, really justify the effect? One of the things I've learned is that to apply it to easier notes to start off, but as one advances, it should be used with a lot more sophistication IMHO.

Is/Are the lyric(s) doing a crescendo? Or is the meaning of the lyric communicating something with more passion? And sometimes just the flow of the music might define where it can be used, again IMO.

One of the first things I was told about violin, is listen to what the music would be doing if you were using your voice. Something along these lines I think.


December 8, 2006 at 09:36 PM · There's no simple answer to your question. It depends on the piece, on the style, and on the particular passage you're playing. It depends on whether you're playing solo or in an ensemble. And of course, it depends on what you happen to like. The important thing to keep in mind is what you're trying to communicate at any given moment and what choices of bowing and vibrato will give you the tone colors that best convey your ideas.

I realize that that answer isn't helpful, so I'll say a little more. One approach you might take, say in a Baroque piece, might be to use very little vibrato most of the time, but add a little shake on certain notes to change their color and "highlight" them -- perhaps the high point of a phrase, perhaps important notes in the harmony, perhaps to make long held notes a little more interesting. In another passage, you might add vibrato to follow the dynamic contour of the phrase, intensifying the vibrato as you crescendo -- but in a different passage you might go against the dynamics, say if you dropped to a subito piano but added extra vibrato to get a warmer sound. Another approach could be to make a choice of vibrato to use over an entire passage -- a vibratoless sound at the beginning of the slow movement of the "Death and the Maiden" quartet, for example, or in a different passage to get a thick, heavy sound you might be bowing at the bridge with a big, wide vibrato throughout the phrase.

Vibrato tends to sound less prominent at a distance as compared to how it sounds under your ear.

December 8, 2006 at 08:50 PM · How and when does the emotional context justify the effect?--yes, that's a good question.

But my gut's answer seems to be different from other people's. For example, that vocalist I referred to was singing the last movement of Bernstein's "Jeremiah" Symphony, which is called a Lamentation. And I would have thought the emotional content of that piece justified a much sparer, starker, grief-stricken effect than I heard.

December 8, 2006 at 09:21 PM · The issue, I think, is not "vibrato" per se, but "voice." There are violinists who don't necessarily use a lot of vibrato, but have a clear and compelling "voice," and a some who use a big vibrato that doesn't really carry emotionally. I think the issue is "voice" (whatever that means).


December 8, 2006 at 09:26 PM · Greetings,

the hsitory of vibrato use is fascinating. The conducter Roger Norrington cause a hoo haa by writing to the New York Ties that orchetsras using vibrato regularly is a recent phenoenon. Even up till the 1920s s oe it was rare for condcuters to ask for vibrato. A Brahs symphony played very white sounds copletely different. I've been condcuted by Norrington and the soudn he works with is actually a prodcut of a few oher variables too, but ts really interesting. then compare that with an article about a concduter on the featured blog about a week ago where the young condcuter talks mainly about how he works on differnet kinds of vibrato.

Issac Stern states taht vibrato is continuous unless youwant a white sound specila effect.

Width and amplitude are a question of taste. Where I think some players get lost is confusing vibrato with dynaic range at the expnes of the bow. As for singer, there is nothign more horrible than watching a young soprano ruin her voice and peoples ears by slapping a geriatric fat wobble on a simple tune because taht is 'what singers' do.



December 8, 2006 at 10:05 PM · Karen you said : "I sing in an amateur church choir, and I have no vibrato at all to speak of in my voice, and little to no idea of how to go about developing it". My answer is DON'T. Vibrato in choir is OUT unless you are a soloist! Now for violin play it's different, you need vibrato for a warm sound, how much of it varies and it is unique. Am still learning the complexities of it all myself!

December 8, 2006 at 10:51 PM · you can learn a lot about vibrato by detuning unisons with microtones. the closer you get to being perfectly in tune, the whiter the note. the further you get out of unison, the more natural vibrato happens. eventually you reach the point of a semitone which is very dissonant.

because of this acoustic effect, i personally believe vibrato is a way of fattening up a white note by detuning it. this is similar to an electric guitarist using a chorus box to detune notes and make the guitar sound bigger.

as for when and how to use vibrato? my personal advice is to use vibrato sparingly if at all. that flies in the face of what most violinists will tell you, but i don't believe in putting ketchup all over everything; neither is vibrato always suitable.

December 9, 2006 at 04:58 AM · D Wright,

You are confusing vibrato with harmonic beating. That is a completely separate issue. It is, however, a good observation & an excellent topic for discussion, since it begs the question "how precisely in tune (with each other) should an orchestra section be?"

As for the original post, there are two separate questions involved:

1: When is a little, a lot, or no vibrato aesthetically acceptable? This has been covered well by everyone above.

2: What situations make it hard for vibrato to be heard, thus necessitating extra modulation?

- I'll stay with the singing analogy already posited, above: As I tell all my voice students: I hate the classic "Bel Canto" approach to singing, primarily because it relies ona very heavy vibraot (and to a lesser extent because in over-emphasizes the "singer's formant") Both of thes aspects were developed back when an un-amplified singer had to reach the back of a large auditorium with bad acoustics. It had much less to do with "beautiful tone," even though that's the literal translation of the term. -But then it became tradition, and you know what a slave we are to THAT.

I think the same holds for violin, though to a lesser extent. I personally ALSO dislike an overly heavy vibrato, or a vibrato that starts immediately with the note. So do many others, while some actually prefer this sound. (and of course, some romantic music sounds better with it.) - but the point is that a heavy violin vibrato was likely developed for the same reasons - TO BE HEARD CLEARLY AT THE BACK OF THE AUDITORIUM.

In a chamber setting, or a recording, one may still decide that it is aesthetically pleasing (or not) but a more subtle aproach is a viable choice.

December 8, 2006 at 11:27 PM · I like what Sander wrote, as well-

There are other forms of modulation that can add beauty to a sustained note. Pressure, speed, angle of attack, lanes.... you all know what they are better than I do.

I imagine it might even be a useful excercise to purposely practise without any vibrato, and try to make the notes as complex & interesting as possible using only rt-hand techniques. One might even try MODULATING some of these elements. For instance, try to create a subtle TREMELO (rythmic volume change) by varying bow pressure or speed.

Hmmm .....

December 9, 2006 at 12:10 AM · I have to make one more point (or maybe I'm asking one more question, you decide)

There is also the issue of whether your vibrato should ever go past the note itself, that is, both under and over the base pitch.

Most books, DVD's etc I've seen say no, never, as did all my cello teachers years ago. Most of the great players I've seen (in my limited experience) go over once in a while, but are obviously trying to keep it under. Then there's Heifetz, who I don't think ever went over a note in his life. (but then, the guy wasn't a mere mortal, either)

There is no question that the answer is "no" when recording on pop tunes (my world) However, I realize that this is as subjective as anything else, and I'm sure there are varying schools of thought on the subject.

I have heard a few famous players use the "over and under" vibrato when soloing in front of an orchestra, or (even moreso) when playing sans accompaniment. Some may just do it all the time, but it seems others are well aware of what they are doing and make it a conscious choice. For example: On Joshua Bell's "Romance Of the Violin," he uses a wide, "over the note" vibrato on the first track. I find it displeasing, but admit it's a valid choice for that tune. On pretty much the rest of the album, he plays with a more controlled and "under the note" vibrato, so he is clearly in charge of the thing.

December 9, 2006 at 01:16 AM · allen, you were bang on about the bel canto style, i can't stand opera because the singing is so overdone.

i also find it hard to believe a 300 lb. soprano singing about dying of consumption, but that's another story.

December 9, 2006 at 04:09 AM · The main use of vibrato, on violin, should be to protect the sound. This is probably why it became more important as concert halls grew and the need to project grew with them. I saw Sarah Chang this summer and her vibrato was definitely too wide for me as she climbed up on the E string. I really couldn't tell the difference between her vibrato and her trills when she got up to a certain level.

December 9, 2006 at 01:52 PM · It makes sense that single performers in large halls need to find ways to project their sound. But how does vibrato do that? It's not intuitive to me. Something about the acoustics of a pure(r) sine wave of sound vs. a less pure one traveling further? Or what?

I guess I don't understand Stern's point that vibrato should be "continuous". Where I'm personally having trouble with it right now is vibrato during a phrase that requires a shift down from fifth to third position. The note that I come down to in third position seems like it needs a little vibrato for projection and emphasis purposes, but starting too soon makes the shift insecure and the note out of tune. It also makes it sound like I'm inappropriately "landing" on that note, accenting it too much. Doesn't that make intonation shaky and suspect?

December 9, 2006 at 02:49 PM · Shouldn't we accept vibrato as one of the means to turn a phrase, to add tension and colour to the line, to emphasize, sweeten or harden the sound we make? What kind of vibrato to apply is really a question of what is needed in the music. In this respect, Karen has asked a good, i. e. specific, question.

Historically, the spread of contiuous vibrato had to do with the effect it has on the ability of the tone to carry over longer distances. It broadens the tone in a way that cannot be achieved by bow-speed or bow-pressure or clever fingerings alone.

Another thing is that the tone hardens as soon as much pressure is involved. It was mentioned in a recent thread that Hilary Hahn used a continuous, and often instantaneous, vibrato. She varys it ever so delicately to turn phrases and make the lines sing.

I believe, however, there is one more thing behind that. She still plays her Vuillaume, and from listening experience, I found those instruments quite complicated and unforgiving to sloppiness in sound production. Unlike Italian violins, Vuillaumes apparently want you to work permanently on the sound. I think that Hahn's vibrato is a means of control in this matter, and it avoids the sound to become stern and hard, which it probably would the way she plays -- at the bridge, all the time.

Maybe this is an extreme example. But then, try to imagine Heifetz's, or Oistrach's, or, well, Stern's tone without this means of mellowing. It wouldn't work.

About width, I go with Ida Haendel in "The Art of the Violin" when she talks about Szigeti. He had a wide and sometimes slow vibrato, but also a focussed one.



December 9, 2006 at 06:31 PM · "About width, I go with Ida Haendel in 'The Art of the Violin' when she talks about Szigeti. He had a wide and sometimes slow vibrato, but also a focused one."

Friedrich, can you (or anyone else) explain what she means by "focused" in this context. I never quite understood this comment. Wide and focused seems like an oxymoron.



December 9, 2006 at 08:16 PM · Hi Karen,

Vibrato is a highly personal means of expression. Nonetheless, there are certain "conventions" that people follow, mostly for acoustical reasons. For instance, in the lower strings (particularly G), you must use a wider, slower vibrato, in order for the sound to carry. In the high positions (particularly E string), you must use a fast, thinner vibrato. This is also because the notes are closer together, and a wider vibrato distorts the intonation.

There was a time when vibrato by our standards would have been considered bad taste. Older artists (I believe like Erica Morini?) played with very little vibrato. Aesthetics have changed and will continue to do so!


December 9, 2006 at 09:00 PM · vibrato on the violin is much like distortion on the electric guitar. it's used so much that many people think it IS the sound of the instrument, but in reality it is an embellishment.

December 9, 2006 at 09:41 PM · Daniel,

I don't think your generalizations apply at all. In fact, in my experience wider works better at top, and thinner/faster on G, but regardless of my experience, all of this is highly personal.


December 9, 2006 at 09:52 PM · Missed your note Karen-sorry.

Emotional context is arbitary of course, but in general if one imagines how say a tenor would do a famous piece, where would they apply vocal vibrato?

Even that sounds arbitrary, but it isn't so much so if one (I think) has developed some sophistication in listening to what the piece is trying to communicate.

Though we live in a world where innovation, mixing and matching obscures alot of what is meant by a piece, it seems present and retrievable at least for classics.

A coach gave me a good pointer on playing a popular piece where she guided my imagery through the scenes that were being expressed in the song I was working on. That sort of thing.


December 9, 2006 at 10:15 PM · >Friedrich, can you (or anyone else) explain what she means by "focused" in this context. I never quite understood this comment. Wide and focused seems like an oxymoron.


I think she means that Szigeti's vibrato may be slow and wide in places, but that it still does not affect intonation and phrasing -- I might add, other than tremolos of elderly singers which just sound worn and tired.



December 9, 2006 at 10:21 PM · Thanks Friedrich, that makes perfect sense.


December 9, 2006 at 10:46 PM · Ilya,

There is definitely a personal element of decision involved here. That being said, our opinions aside, I want to bring up something that parallels music waves...Radio.

This is my opinion, and I think it's correct, but I'd like someone with an acoustical background to verify:

On the higher frequencies, the waves are shorter, meaning that the distances between the cycles per wave (known as Hertz) have to be shorter. On the lower frequencies, the opposite exists. Cycles on longer wavelengths "fill out the wave" at lower frequencies, simply because the wave is longer (measured in meters).

Violin is the same. Vibrato .

At a high frequency (and high strings), the waves can only hold so much before you get different frequencies. In lower strings, there is much more room for vibrato cycles in the longer wave, therefore, one must "fill out the wave" to make a note sound proportional to the higher ones.

This doesn't mean that you can't deviate from this "formula". On the contrary, to me, beauty is just that - constant change.

December 9, 2006 at 11:16 PM · Since you asked, I don't think frequency/wavelength would be an issue; but if it was it would be a complicated one of superposition of waves. One issue might be that for a given width of vibrato, in a low position it would cover less of a span between two notes than in a high position, just because the notes are closer together in the higher position. Maybe you mean wider vibrato in lower positions and tighter vibrato in higher positions? In any case, do what sounds best :)

December 9, 2006 at 11:41 PM · That's exactly what I meant in both of my posts. Wider vibrato is more of a luxury in the lower positions because the notes are farther apart. That being said, I was thinking about my last post and I think it's wrong (the part about waves contain information). It soon occured to me that vibrato changes the frequency, thereby changing the wavelength and cycles/second.

December 10, 2006 at 08:06 AM · Daniel,

I applaud your scientific aproach, even though your conclusion is false. It's false because the speed of vibrato is just too slow to ever have a harmonic effect. Even the fifth or sixth harmonic of a fast vibrao would still be inaudible to the human ear, and be incapable of beating with any part of the violins formant structure.

-But it was a good try!


As for this idea that "vibrato helps a violin's sound carry" well, I just don't get it(and I have a Masters in Acoustical Physics, FWIW)

Perhaps it's just semantics, since vibrato helps a violin to be HEARD far away, but that's no the same thing.

Perhaps some folks here don't understand the nature of sound waves: "Sound waves" aren't a "thing," exactly. They are more of a description of air vibration. Each molecule of air is consecutively, sympathetically vibrated along a straight line, until this domino effect reaches the ear drum. (that's why sound can't "travel" through a vaccum)

A sound's sympathetic, consecutive vibration happens in a bipolar sinus pattern, and it loses power (amplitude) with each consecutive air molecule. There is nothing that will help it carry large distances except for more amplitued. (more amplitude helps overcome dissipation within the air molecules, AKA air compression.

High frequencies get absorbed faster than low frequencies, which is why the sound is darker at a distance, and one of two reasons why you therefore don't notice the vibrato as much at distance. (our brains discern HF modulation easier than LF modulation, so a vibrato with attenuated upper harmonics will sound less intense.)

The other thing that affects perception at a distance is the preponderance of room reflections, which create a comb-filter effect. This filtering will be worse in a badly-designed room, and of course also gets worse the further you are from the source. Therefore, in the back of the room, some notes may well have their fundamental , or one of their important harmonics, completely nulled-out. You would literally not hear some notes, while others would be boosted, and yet others would simply sound "fuzzy" from partial phase-smear. A wide vibrato overcomes this phenomenon to some extent, since "some" of those pitches (contained within the vibrato) will likely fall into the "unscathed or boosted" slots of the comb-filtering.

And thus, a note that might have been inaudible in the back of the hall can now still be heard.

Still with me? They'll be a quiz on Monday. Class dismissed.

December 10, 2006 at 12:16 AM · and there you have it!!


December 10, 2006 at 12:56 AM · Well, I'm encouraged--I heard a lady singing on TV before dinner whose vocal vibrato is worse than mine on violin!.

December 10, 2006 at 02:29 AM · I always wondered whether Kreisler used arm or hand vibrato. Henry Roth (I think) in a book on violinists said that Kreisler used a "reflex impulse" vibrato (or wording similar to this). I think he was implying that Kreisler used mainly a finger vibrato. Does it matter either way? Probably not. I was just curious if anyone had actually seen Kreisler play on a film or in person. I have the art of violin DVD but you can't really see what he is doing.

December 10, 2006 at 02:43 AM · Thanks to Allan for his excellent post.

Some months ago I purchased a DVD by Stephen Redrobe (assistant to Erick Friedman from 1994-2004) entitled "Violin Secrets of the Old Masters." In the DVD Redrobe also states that Kreisler used a finger pulse vibrato and demonstrates how this is done.

Vibrato may not project sound, but it does make it more interesting or engaging, at least in certain types of music. BTW, in some of the masterclass clips on, Professor S indicates that various types of articulation help sound to project in a large hall.

December 10, 2006 at 03:40 AM · Interesting....

December 10, 2006 at 03:51 AM · Sorry guys--didn't read everything, but I loved Sander's comment. Here's what I've learned recently.

It DOES have something to do with voice. Sander's right. I used to vibrato more sparingly, mostly because I hadn't developed a "live hand." When I developed the live hand, I had vibrato on everything. Before the live hand, it sounded forced because there were notes that deserved vibrato that didn't get it. After the live hand it sounded forced because every note was getting vibrato. It sounded forced because it WAS forced. My lack of technique in the first instance and lack of control (or stifled creativity)in the second instance made me a slave.

Glad to be free now. I let my voice dictate vibrato usage--and when I'm doing that, it's easy and nothing's forced.

December 10, 2006 at 03:47 AM · I first said it "protects" the sound. Not a typo. This helps the sound "project." This is something Erick Friedman used constantly to tell my teacher, and when I brought it up at a lesson after seeing a video done by Friedman, my teacher joked that before he went on scholarship he had paid hundreds of dollars at a time to hear that same advise.

I am not an expert like yourself, Allan, but I believe you are analysing the wrong aspect. It is not the actual vibration in the air that vibrato proTects, but the one from the instrument. This is because when you play, let's just say, an A, there are certain spots within that A that the violin naturally vibrates more strongly on. This is different for every instrument. The vibrato makes sure that, while you have your intonation perfect at the top of the note, you also triverse a span that will encapsule the place where the instrument naturally vibrates its best at, and thus projects the best sound into the hall while staying in tune. Like I said, I'm not an expert and am sorry for trying to act like one and give an explanation that I think I read or heard somewhere. Regardless, before digital recording could graph the amplitude of a frequency, people such as Kreisler realized that vibrato had this effect without needing a scientific explanation.

Back to proTecting the an A without vibrato until you gradually get the sound to break. Add vibrato, and the sound will break at a point with more bow pressure and/or speed, thus "protecting" the sound.

December 10, 2006 at 07:33 AM · That's interesting Anthony. Thanks for mentioning the DVD. I also re-read Allan's post and I see that the explanation for vibrato providing greater projection in halls explains a lot of things. The vibrato provides a greater chance for the tone to reach the ears of the listeners at the back of the hall. And it sounds great (to those who like vibrato).

I listened to Kreisler a lot a few years back -- I went through a real 'Kreisler stage' -- and after a lot of experimentation with vibrato I convinced myself that he must have used a finger vibrato. But then I noticed that no one was talking much about or 'pushing' finger vibrato, and all the books only mentioned arm or wrist vibrato, so I figured I must have been wrong. I then put a lot of effort into developing an arm vibrato. Now I suppose its a combination of arm and hand.

I read the Roth book and was surprised by the talk of finger vibrato. Perhaps I was right in my intuition after all. It seemed to me then that a finger vibrato can be effective; perhaps especially in low positions and on the lower strings. And I found that gut strings help. I will try and buy that DVD!

December 10, 2006 at 08:37 AM · Brian,

You wrote, "It is not the actual vibration in the air that vibrato proTects, but the one from the instrument. "

That's an interesting point/concept. I don't think it supersedes what I wrote but rather adds to it. Thinking on it, I can see how it would indeed "proTECT" the tone by evening out timbre (yes, I mistakenly thought you wrote a typo) -and maybe even help proJect the tone to some degree. My thoughts:

You wrote: "This is because when you play, let's just say, an A, there are certain spots within that A that the violin naturally vibrates more strongly on."

What you are referring to (I assume) is the A's harmonic content. (the overtones above the fundamental pitch) This is dependent upon the type of string, but moreso on the violin's formant structure. -That's the set of overtones, of natural resonances, each instrument has, and as you say it is different for each instrument.

So, vibrato would help keep notes that have weaker harmonic content from sounding noteably duller than neighboring notes.

You wrote, "The vibrato makes sure that, while you have your intonation perfect at the top of the note, you also triverse a span that will encapsule the place where the instrument naturally vibrates its best at, and thus projects the best sound into the hall while staying in tune."

Makes sense. Yes, this must surely be another (though lesser) factor. Excellent point. If some notes were less bright than others, they would indeed be harder to hear at a distance, so the vibrato would even this out somewhat. A violin said to have great "carrying power" is in fact probably a violin with a fairly dense formant structure, and one that is evenly spaced so as to be evenly excited throughout the violin's note-range.

Based on this, one could even theorize that a violin (or voice) which contains a complex and even harmonic structure (formant structure) requires less vibrato to achieve the same definition at distance. I like it.

December 10, 2006 at 01:45 PM · Kimberlee, what's a "live hand"? And, back to singing, how do you "let your voice dictate the vibrato" if you have no vibrato in your voice?

December 10, 2006 at 02:00 PM · Hi,

Vibrato is an interesting issue. Buri makes an excellent point on the history of vibrato. I do think Buri, from my experience, that change of equipment has had a big role in this - the thick gut strings of the turn of the 20th century demand simply a different playing style.

People talk of amplitude, width, etc., but in general a vibrato has to be relaxed. It can be intense, but not tense. In most cases, what seems excessive comes from the tension.

As for generalizations, they do not work. Vibrato should follow the line, and is also, like someone said secondary to the bow.


December 10, 2006 at 02:52 PM · About "finger vibrato": I never figured out quite what it is. Is there really such a thing like creating a vibrato from the roots of one's fingers? Maybe I just cannot do it.

The quick and intense vibrato that can be heard on old recordings, by Kreisler, Hubermann, the young Menuhin, Heifetz etc. -- is it really finger vibrato, or does it rather come from the wrist?

On "The Art of the Violin", in several excerpts showing the old Menuhin, you can see his vibrato, which to me seems really interesting. He seems to use two kinds of vibrato overlapping, one coming from the lower arm, the other from the wrist. Maybe that's what makes his sound so interesting, and fragile at times. In the very beginning, when he starts the Adagio from Mozart's G-Major concerto, it is plainly visible.

To get more variety and spontaneity into my vibrato, I started including wrist vibrato into my scales routine, as the last step (after scales, arpeggios etc.). For me, it works.



December 10, 2006 at 10:41 PM · Mr. Redrobe's excellent DVD largely credits finger vibrato for the "individuality" of sound created by the great violin masters of the early 20th century, rather than their use of gut strings or any particular violin. The fact that a player with a unique or characteristic sound can sound the same (i.e., like him or herself) regardless of the instrument played also suggests that technique is largely responsible. Kreisler's vibrato, "fingertip impulse vibrato" according to Mr. Redrobe, is quite different from arm or hand vibrato and is not primarily intended to alter the pitch of the note, but rather to impart a kind of energy to the string, which energy can be infinitely varied and personalized.

Mr. Redrobe indicates that fingertip impulse vibrato is accomplished by alternately pressing the string with the fingertip and releasing. The string never leaves the fingerboard and the fingertip never leaves the string. His superb analogy is to imagine a woodpecker who has had the tip of its beak superglued to a tree. Try as it might to peck at the tree, it gets nowhere. It's the same movement as opening and closing the hand, driven by the tendons in the arm that operate the fingers. If the hand and arm are completely relaxed they will move in a coordinated manner not unlike the arm and hand movements of Yehudi Menuhin in "Art of the Violin" but the arm and hand movements are passive/secondary and not the impetus for this type of vibrato, the active movement coming from the fingers. Mr. Redrobe states that Kreisler used only this type of vibrato as confirmed by conversations with Henry Roth and privately by Yehudi Menuhin.

According to Mr. Redrobe, aside from adding interest and complexity to the sound, vibrato allows you to play louder by strengthening the string, enabling you to exert more bow pressure and pull a bigger sound from the violin.

The DVD and other info can be found at:

December 10, 2006 at 06:17 PM · My understanding of voice and vibrato: is that violin is the closest instrument to emulating the human voice. Therefore, using vibrato with sophistication means alot more than just picking out quarter notes where it may be applied. (I use quarter note as an arbitary note upon which for a beginner can realistically achieve a couple oscillations).

Vibrato is suppose to be to treatment on violin, as it would be for sophisticated treatement in voice. While singers who use alot of vibrato--Dolly Parton for example, sometimes do so just because they can, the spirit of the use still is suppose to be with taste, discretion and as a spice is to cooking--just the right amounts to communicate a song elegantly.

One of the young ladies singing in the video "Celtic Woman" does this elegantly. Sometimes her vibrato is prominant and vivid, sometimes it is subtle and soft according to the emotions being expressed in the song, or at least in the treatment the song is receiving at the moment.

For me, it is like the first versus the 10th time I listened to Paganini v-concerto-1. The first time I heard a series of advanced techniques strung together that were impressive, but a little hard to follow melodically. Time passed and this changed, but that was my listening becoming desensitized from all the Wow!...

Vibrato as related to singing is on a more medium type layer of building a song. It could be a technical hoop through which to jump, or it could be rose on the lapel--a nice contrasting complement to the expression.

Early on it was even suggested the note be heard first before the oscillations began. And just before that vibrato was seen as especially trendy. Though unsubstantiated, it 'appears' one of the earlier adptations to using vibrato with sophistication was to use the metaphor of the violin as a reflection of voice, and to learn to apply vibrato with sensitivity using this same

metaphor. And second to sensitivity was discretion.

Hillary Hahn chooses the notes which to apply vibrato as she sketches a piece from my memory of reading her site. An example of vibrato as a reflection of voice would be if she went back and resketched the piece after making it her own, and truly understanding the composers expressiveness--at least in her own mind.

And further, if in resketching the piece, her own creative juices created a fullness of treatment that showed mature understanding of the particular music and became a way to truly enhance the musicality of her treatment of the material.


December 10, 2006 at 08:06 PM · Some interesting modern history of vibrato from "The New Yorker"


Below is an excerpt from an article in the New

Yorker about the effects of technology and recording on music. The excerpt takes off in the

middle of remarks about the effect of the phonograph. At least one person noted the

role of recording, as well as Kreisler in vibrato's modern evolution.

It involved vibrato—that trembling action of the hand on the fingerboard, whereby the player is able to give notes a warbling sweetness. Until about 1920, vibrato was applied quite sparingly. On a 1903 recording, the great violinist Joseph Joachim uses it only to accentuate certain highly expressive notes. (The track is included on a CD that comes with Katz’s book.) Around the same time, Fritz Kreisler began applying vibrato almost constantly. By the nineteen-twenties, most leading violinists had adopted Kreisler’s method. Was it because they were imitating him? Katz proposes that the change came about for a more pedestrian reason. When a wobble was added to violin tone, the phonograph was able to pick it up more easily: it’s a “wider” sound in acoustical terms, a blob of several superimposed frequencies. Also, the fuzzy focus of vibrato enabled players to cover up slight inaccuracies of intonation, and, from the start, the phonograph made players self-conscious about intonation in ways they had never been before. What worked in the studio then spread to the concert stage. Katz can’t prove that the phonograph was responsible for the change, but he makes a good case.

Composers, who had reigned like gods over the dearly departed nineteenth century, were uncertain and quizzical in the face of the new device. Symes amusingly tracks the ambivalence of Igor Stravinsky, who styled himself the most impeccably up-to-date of composers. In 1916, the conductor Ernest Ansermet brought Stravinsky a stack of American pop records, Jelly Roll Morton rags apparently among them, and the composer swooned. “The musical ideal,” he called them, “music spontaneous and ‘useless,’ music that wishes to express nothing.” (Just what Jelly Roll was after!) Stravinsky began writing with the limitations of the phonograph in mind: short movements, small groups of instruments, lots of winds and brass, few strings. On his first American tour, in 1925, he signed a contract at Brunswick Studios, where Duke Ellington later set down “East St. Louis Toodle-O.” Then, in the next decade, he abruptly adopted the John Philip Sousa line: “Oversaturated with sounds, blasé even before combinations of the utmost variety, listeners fall into a kind of torpor which deprives them of all power of discrimination.” By the nineteen-forties, Stravinsky was living in America, and, seeking new avenues of exposure, he embraced recording once again.

December 10, 2006 at 11:11 PM · Anthony,

Thanks for that info regarding fingertip impulse vibrato. Fascinating.

I experimented with it today, and it certainly works. I had expected that it would simply result in a very narrow vibrato, since the finger tips spread wider with pressure. However, doing it very slowly shows clearly that the tone changes as well, and rather dramatically. It's fairly easy to do, and a wonderful technique to add to one's toolkit.

-I must admit that I never realized how much finger pressure affects tone, I'm really quite shocked. This obviously has ramifications well past vibrato techniques. Wow.

BTW - This IS an "over & under" type of vibrato, but it's narrow enought ot not cause a huge intonation problem. Still, one should be conscious of this when choosing to use it.


Albert, I enjoyed your several posts. Excellent thoughts & information, thanks.

December 10, 2006 at 11:01 PM · it's easy Allan-vibrato's been my obsession.... And I still 'ain't' there!. Getting there though ;). al

December 10, 2006 at 11:59 PM · That's a fascinating quote from Stravinski if it's a good one. Over the 4th of July, the BBC was broadcasting American composers or composers with an American influence. One of the pieces was the Italian Suite for violin and piano and I noticed at one point a cadence that's a standard one in Black gospel music. It occurs in the piano, just before a violin entrance, just the way it would occur before the entrance of a vocal soloist or choir. It adds so much power! I copied out the ten seconds or so and sent it to a couple of friends to let them hear. It's too complicated to be a coincidence I think, but hearing it would depend on how it's played; the accents and phrasing. The players were Russian or European, so I have to congratulate them:) Maybe not so much composers, but players are often afraid of a foreign genre, as if it was poison. And maybe it is! At least if you don't have a good philosophy behind what you're doing, or don't put much faith in it. It can take the form of tell me what's acceptable, please. So and so does it, so I can do it too; rather than a voyage of discovery like Stravinski's apparently was. It's anything but dilution if it's done the right way. It's essential, actually.

December 11, 2006 at 01:37 AM · As for your question about singing and what kind of singing to imitate. Sometimes the talk about singing and violin playing gets hare-brained. But if you wanted to know what kind of singing style to copy, you might for example think is it simple, or is it dramatic? Would you sing Wieniawski like an operatic soprano? That might be good. Would you like to sing a folk song in an operatic voice? Then do that if you want. The basics of operatic and everyday singing are the same, having breath control and resonance; a steady and pure sound. It's a matter where it goes after the basics. The best real connection between singing and violin playing that I know of is breath control. Breath control is a perfect analogy to bowing. They even feel similar when they're done right, like power coming from relaxation. Since you joined the choir to learn to sing, here's a link to a good free book on how to sing. It seems to be written early in the 20th century maybe. I think it's pretty helpful. Lots of information on vibrato from a singer's point of view too. Link Standard disclaimer: I am not a member of the Metropolitan Opera or the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra :)

December 11, 2006 at 01:55 AM · >And, back to singing, how do you "let your voice dictate the vibrato" if you have no vibrato in your voice?

Karen - I've sung in choirs since forever and it has always frustrated me that I couldn't develop a better vibrato. It seems to me to be a part of a person's voice. I've heard poorly trained singers with beautiful vibrato and excellent choir members whose voice doesn't carry a hint of it. I disagree with an earlier comment that the vibrato should be reserved for the soloist - how dull would THAT be?

It seems like my vibrato has grown better in the past ten years, which is ironic, really, b/c I'm singing less right now then I ever have. (Only at Xmas/Easter holidays, plus a few weeks' rehearsals before.) So I'm not even sure regular singing and scales would create a better vibrato. Do you sing alto, by any chance? ((Whoops - I see your first comments, and you sing soprano.)) It seems to me that's a part where not much vibrato is used. Then again, my choir director is an alto and her vibrato is just exquisite. (And we have a 1st soprano who belts out her vibrato and it's really quite hideous and uncontrolled.)

I'm only into year 2 on the violin and I'm soooo chomping at the bit to start working on vibrato, for that very reason: because I can. Because I can build it and make it better than the limits of my vocal cords will allow. Same thing with those high notes - I just love playing them because my voice doesn't falter on them.

I comfort myself with the knowledge that so-so vibrato or not, I'm a great addition to any choir because I have a steady voice, I can read music, follow direction and have years of experience. I'm willing to bet you offer the same. Maybe more vibrato will come, maybe it won't. Don't ever force or push it, tho. I've heard fellow choir members try and it's so not pretty.

Just came back from one of those "10 rehearsals a year" rehearsals - what fun to be immersed in a musical world where I'm more than just a beginner! Now back I go to the humbling violin.

December 11, 2006 at 03:06 AM · Regarding vibrato in choirs, the entire sum of my experience is that it is best not to have any at all. This holds even in gospel choirs, and it VERY important in dense backround tracks on pop records. The reason is because there's already enough modulation happening between all the unisons.

However, there are certainly other schools of thought on this, and additionally some choirs & backing sections have sounded just fine with a little vibrato - but it is a very dangerous thing and can turn to mush very quickly.



Two things you should be aware of:

1: Singing in a choir is much more difficult than singing solo, since you can't hear yourself very well. One must have dead-perfect technique BEFORE joining the choir, or else bad habits will likely get worse.

2: Vibrato must come 100% from the diaphram support, never, NEVER from the larynx or surrounding muscles. The latter is a mistake all beginners make, as well as many trained singers. Any tension in the throat will both harden the vibrato (not musically pleasant) and cause your intonation to go off.

You need a good teacher to develop this, it's one of the more difficult things to learn if it didn't come naturally.

December 11, 2006 at 03:21 AM · Hi Karen,

Back to your question about applying vibrato in shifting passages and such. Ultimately, you must do what sounds most pleasing to your ear. However, you want to be able to add continuous vibrato to any passage, but also be able to turn it off just as easily. Of course it depends on the context, but it can sometimes be pretty annoying when certain notes lack vibrato for no apparent reason. The notes stick out. The main point is that you make your choice about vibrato use for musical reasons, not for technical reasons. Be able to do various speeds and widths. Be able to apply it to half note passages or 16th note passages, passages in 1st position, or shifting from/to other positions. Then you can choose whether or not to apply these abilities to the piece being played depending on the emotional context. That's the fun of being a musician, getting to have an individual expression and voice.

As for voice vibrato, I don't sing, but I am learning ocarina (small clay or ceramic flute). I've been studying breathing techniques and vibrato exercises with a flute teacher. As a lifelong string player, it's been pretty interesting. If you ever did want to learn vibrato for voice, there are some pretty simple exercises you can start with, much like learning on violin. I'm sure it's slightly different for singing than for flute, but a couple of coachings with a voice teacher would get you started on such exercises.


December 11, 2006 at 12:32 PM · So, actually, I don't really want to learn vibrato in voice that much. I'm happy enough with how I sing in this choir; Terez put it extremely well--thanks. I'm a second soprano by range, but it's a small choir and sopranos are needed, even, or perhaps especially, ones who can just be a steady member of the section, support it by blending in, singing in tune, keep rhythm, etc. In fact, I'm probably going to lead another soprano sectional this week (for section intonation).

My issues around vibrato are sort of psychological, I guess. I think Laura's comments are very to the point: there are some times when I probably don't use vibrato for technical reasons rather than musical reasons, and I agree you don't want that.

But to a large extent that's because I don't like some of the current conventions. I don't think I enjoy listening to "continuous vibrato," for example. I'm in agreement with the previous posters who've said they don't enjoy "bel canto" singing. So I haven't really developed that technique because I lack motivation. Just as it's hard to prepare a piece and motivate oneself to practice if you don't enjoy listening to what you're playing, it's hard to work at a technique if you are only lukewarm about how the end result sounds in the first place.

I think that maybe what I need to do is find some artists whose vibrato I do like to listen to. Perlman is one . . . the Schindler's List theme comes up here relatively often, and I agree. I love it, and I love the way his vibrato sounds. I haven't actually listened to all that much Hahn (showing my age I guess; I haven't played the violin that much for 7 years and did most of my training in the 70's and 80's, with another burst in the mid-to-late-90's of violin and then viola), maybe she's another one.

December 11, 2006 at 03:21 PM · Karen,

I was responding to Sander's first point, so, I wasn't talking about the human voice, I was talking about the artist's own "inner voice."

For me, that means the way I hear it in my head. My pieces are always singing themselves in my head, but I've had to train myself to really listen for the details. It seems to come into better focus when I practice. I can always tell when I'm faking, forcing or when it's real and to the emotional point of things--of course, whether or not I admit this to myself is another matter :).

As far as vibrato is concerned, I'll give you a story. A couple of months ago I had a terrible lesson. I know my teacher--he prefers seamless bow changes, liberal use of vibrato and a subtle musical line. Therefore, I went about the job of interpretation trying to please his sensibilities. I'd never heard the piece before (teacher asked me not to listen to any recordings), so I was having to come up with my own interpretation based on historical knowlege and my understanding of what I thought my teacher was generally looking for in playing. The result? He hated it.

I got rebellious. "I'm paying HIM!" I thought. "I'm going home and I'm going to play the blasted thing the way I want to!" I did. The result? He loved it, and so did I.

Lesson? Sander's first post said it best. In my own experience, vibrato works when I'm using it for expression's sake--not forcing it into some rigid musical idea.

That being said, one must also develop the technique enough to be able to give oneself ultimate expressive freedom.

Oh, and a "live hand?" That means a continuous, instictual, intuitive vibrato--that you COULD vibrato every note if you wanted.

December 11, 2006 at 02:43 PM · I've stayed out of this discussion because there is generally lots of opinion and little knowledge at least at the vocal level but speaking as a singer here goes!

1) Vibrato is a natural consequence of a healthy vocal technic. A properly setup voice will have a vibrato of between 6 and 8 cycles/sec. Faster than that is a chatter which is frequently encountered in the stainless steel Viennese sopranos. Slower than that is a wobble Cornell MacNeill case in point. Both represent faulty technic and incorrect balance of the voice.

2) Vibrato and its nature is highly personal within the physiologic range and is as much a function of the singer's personality and what he/she considers to be a beautiful sound, which of course leaves a multitude of menu choices.

I can appreciate the problems of choosing a vibrato sound for yourself on the one hand but also recognise that part of the vibrato we have is a function of our bodies and where we fall in the range of 6-8 cycles/second. As instrumentalists we have some choice about amplitude and intensity but much of the equation is hard wired at its basis. I notice that when I try to insist on the rapid vibrato that D. Oistrakh uses I tend to accumulate much too much muscular tension. So I wind up with something a smidge slower. Meanwhile, I try to adjust my technic so that I can accomplish what I want within my boundries of the possible that my body can accomodate. [This is not a place for a discussion of miracle cures of spinal damaged individulas this is about physiology and the ways bodies work in the world 99% of us inhabit. I'm not talking about Christopher Reeves.] Having said all this I'm running and ducking.

December 11, 2006 at 03:30 PM · What for, Jay? You've got a well thought out and expressed idea there!

December 11, 2006 at 06:37 PM · Fun discussion! Most of points I would make have been made (and contradicted) by other posters already... Thanks, technically-minded, for considering both variations in frequency response even within an individual instrument (a reality) AND comb-filtering / acoustic idiosyncracies of rooms. Whatever you understand (or don't) about the physics of it all, simply as a matter of fact some vibrato does help a line to be heard. I think that also there is something subtle in the brains of listeners and physiology of cognition whereby a consistency of vibrato through a line helps the line to be heard and connected in the mind, even when the objective measurable volume might not seem quite sufficient.

On general themes of culture, tradition, taste, technique and ultimate CHOICE of how much and what kind of vibrato.... Vibrato obsession was my primary motivation over a decade ago when an er-hu was imported for me and I studied and played with the Seattle Chinese Orchestra. From Italy, bel canto singing and violins. From China, "Peking Opera", splash gongs, and er-hus. Different ideals of vocal sound production, and hauntingly parallel sounds from the bowed strings. The er-hu has no fingerboard: the strings are suspended in air. Thus, besides all the different ways of making a fingertip roll up and down the length of string, there is a very large and dramatic space for simply gripping and yanking the string perpendicular to its length-- a completely different character of vibrato, very Chinese-opera. Weird. Fun. Fabulous instrument, great sound. Strangest timbre. Lovely.

December 11, 2006 at 10:42 PM · there's alot to be said about doing the best with

it within one's ranges too.... Good point...

December 15, 2006 at 02:52 AM · During A master class in Chicago, Aaron Rosand was coaching a young violinist who played the Bach Chaccone. After the Chaccone was played once by the young violinist, Rosand asked him to listen to his very own rendition.

The Beginning chords were played with no vibrato at all and very much sounded like a small pipe organ. Rosand then went on to add vibrato to other variations and played gradual crescendos beginning with no vibrato and slowly adding vibrato as well as intensity as the volume increased.

The variations had a wide variety of expressive nuance which Rosand had worked out and the piece always sounded fresh with every new variation. The withholding of vibrato as a coloristic device was an astounding success.

Ted Kruzich

December 15, 2006 at 07:28 AM ·

The vibrato, to begin with, is one of the greatest of violinistic effects; but most violinists use it as Rembrandt does his dark yellow backgrounds. I look on it as an accessory of expression, which has to be carefully graduated in its use, like the crescendo, forte or accelerando ... It is best to think of the vibrato as a graduating means of expression. Then its occasional use for contrast is very effective, and much to be preferred to the terrible continuous vibrato which irritates the nerves.

[Huberman about vibrato]

I like that Rembrandt metapher.

December 15, 2006 at 09:29 AM · When I started learing vibrato on day 2 of my violin experience (no kidding--and it was as bad as it sounds), I soon read Mozart's father's thing on vibrato. I came to think not long after, that I wanted it to be subtle but effective.


looking at

it from a beginner's standpoint, I get to listen carefully as I begin to learn to apply it which is starting to happen now a little. Definitely noticeably more than the recent past.

So given the Huberman..., I recently discovered that it can vary alot within one song; whereas, it might be one sound in one place and different in another. But shooting for that variety in one song, sort of highlights subtle because there is a lot of contrast between applications.

So, it was good to reinforce Wolfy Sr. with the Huberman--especially at the moment.

December 15, 2006 at 01:55 PM · Paul Stassevitch, at one of my lessons and, using only one melody, once showed me the varieties of vibrato which he used.

He started with the whole fore-arm vibrato (from the elbow) which was slow and lusty, he then slowly graduated to a combination of the whole fore-arm with an added wiggle from the wrist. Gradually the fore-arm exited and the wrist took over with a faster and more intense wiggle.

He then continued by transferring the wrist vibrato to a meeker finger vibrato for very soft passages while the wrist vibrato slowly disappeared. Then he reversed the whole process and wound up with a melodramatic and loud whole fore-arm vibrato.

He told me that he learned these vibrato techniques from the many students who passed through Leopold Auer’s class in St. Petersberg.

Ted Kruzich

December 15, 2006 at 02:04 PM · Ted--

Did STassevitch then go on to teach you that kind of flexible vibrato or did you have to fend for yourself. I ask because the different vibrato technics affect left hand technic so completely that they require a virtual reworking of one's total technic. At least that is what it seems like to me.


December 15, 2006 at 08:42 PM · I have heard that the "constant vibrato" (which is what I was taught by my teachers as a teenager) was a relatively recent development (maybe started by Kreisler) that came about as a means of improving the recorded sound of violin? Anyone know anything about this?

December 15, 2006 at 08:45 PM · Oh, I guess you covered that already....sorry for the redundancy.

December 15, 2006 at 08:57 PM · Sandy I agree with your comments...As for Kreisler mentionned above, his vibrato was the most effective and perfect of all...Kreisler used the finger vibrato, the wrist and the arm all in the same time with a circled motion...vibrato has to be practiced on a long period of time before it becomes second nature...Kreisler knew a lot about human voice and made superb recordings with John Mcormick the tenor ( I forgot how to spell his name) and also with Caruso...these last recordings having been lost unfortunately...


December 15, 2006 at 09:25 PM · Marc--that is sooooo true... I'm not qualified to comment on Kreisler, because I intend on taking a different path--but the time thing....

Though of course, I want to apply it when I want to apply it, I'm hoping I don't get carried away with it. Some place Kreisler as that turning point when vibrato became continuous, and I hope to explore what it means to be especially subtle with it.

December 16, 2006 at 12:58 PM · The information about Kreisler makes a lot of sense. I was learning Kreisler (Sicilienne and Rigaudon, Praeludium and Allegro) as a teenager too, like a previous poster.

As an adult trying to pick up violin seriously again, I see one of my tasks as trying to untie some of the knots I got myself stuck in as a teen at a time when I got discouraged and de-motivated. I think Kreisler is in the middle of one or more of those knots. My teacher loved him, his music, his playing (along with Heifetz, my teacher's other hero), but I have yet to really learn to appreciate him. Thanks for the information about recordings and such. I think listening to those and learning more will help a great deal.

But, if he indeed was the one who set a standard for "continuous vibrato," I'm still feeling more than a little annoyed with him . . . I still don't really understand how one vibrates continuously and manages to play in tune at all. I remember trying that and shifting, string crossing, crispiness of fast notes, you name it, all went right in the toilet.

December 16, 2006 at 01:11 PM · So, an example. In Ralph Vaughan Williams' "Overture to The Wasps," there is a little four-measure-or-so solo for the concertmaster somewhere near the bottom of the first page. I had occasion to play this solo several years ago.

I approached it in the following way: I tried to keep it mostly on the E-string, which meant shifting up and down twice within the four measures. I thought keeping it on the E-string and having the shifts would sound "waspy." The image I had in my mind was to sound like a shape appearing through the fog. I didn't use much vibrato, either. Mostly this was because I wanted to make sure the intonation was correct, since the passage is pretty exposed, there were shifts, it's a solo, and I knew I would be nervous. The concertmaster role was/is not one I have often played or that I wear easily. But I thought it would help too with the overall "waspy" effect.

My teacher and the conductor were both fine with how it sounded--there's a horn solo around the same place that the conductor was more nervous about and spent more rehearsal time on--so I guess it turned out okay. But I sometimes still think of that passage as exemplifying my uneasy relationship with vibrato and its uses. I still have the nagging suspicion that a "real" violinist would have used more.

December 16, 2006 at 03:05 PM · >When I started learing vibrato on day 2 of my violin experience (no kidding--and it was as bad as it sounds)...

Albert, frankly that sounds a little creepy. Seems like you're pretty dedicated about your learning journey, though, so hey, if it works for you...

Karen, I thought of you and this thread last night - we had our Christmas concert performance. With and without vibrato. : )

(Seemed to depend on the style/era of the piece, in the end.) Hope you enjoy your choir experience as much as I enjoyed mine last night (and will again on Christmas Eve).

December 16, 2006 at 07:34 PM · Actually, it did sound a little creepy.. ;).

and crawly, and a whole range of adjectives--I have some more reserved.

My intent at that time was just to introduce myself to a range of techniques, but it was 'way' too early for vibrato.

December 16, 2006 at 07:58 PM · Albert - thanks for not taking offense to my "creepy" comment - kinda rude of me, in retrospect. And I'll confess, I experimented with attempting vibrato (at a much more respectable "way too soon" of six months of lessons) by watching Violin Masterclass, I think it was, and trying it myself. Now it's a year later and I have an uneasy feeling my violin teacher is going to recommend another year before I officially set to work on it. I am not the intrepid learner here. I'll just meekly follow what she instructs me. (And she's a wise teacher.) And so far, so good. Just... humbling.

December 16, 2006 at 08:25 PM · Terez--I play four or five other instruments, two fairly competently at least, beyond violin--so my approach is unique; and, as a lot of adult learners in general--I'm self-directed. No offense taken.

I found there is a huge variety of opinions on when to start what on violin, less among teachers, but still sigfnicant. So my condensed understanding and approach is that it's ok to start any technique's basic motor skills as soon as one wishes--with the understanding that it's a 'long-term' investment. I approach double-stops similarly.

The VMC video is a little misleading if one does not 'interject from somewhere' the reality that below 5th position the wrist shouldn't touch, the wrist should remain fairly straight, and the dynamics of getting the elbow under so the fingers can curl effortlessly across the instrument is very important. Summary: a little information 'can' be a dangerous thing.

I overlooked the f1 not touching, too long as well, but have that pretty much corrected.

Anyway... you're right-to each his own.

December 17, 2006 at 10:10 PM · Jay:

Stassevitch showed me how to narrow my usual full fore-arm arc vibrato by having me slowly engage the palm of my right hand. When doing this he slowly restrained my fore-arm every weeek in small graduations.

When, some weeks, the palm refused to make any more ark he let up and let the weekly lesson continue by tackling other issues.

He also worked on the flexibility of the fingers by making me flatten them and then making them spring out again.

In a few months, the wrist to fore-arm transitions then became quite natural after a steady regimen of such five minute exercises.

He then told me when I might apply the two forms of vibrato for special musical effects and we then focused on many different examples.

This kind of less intellectual and more physical training was quite common in the 1950s.

Ted Kruzich

December 17, 2006 at 10:37 PM · Greetings,

that`s interesting Ted. I often fidn thge fastest way to get from point a to point b is to simply move or restrain the body parts of the studnet as necessary. Or i have them place ther ehand son whichever muscles i am using so they can get a picture of what to do. I suspect it is much easier to use this approach in Japan than it is in the USA, given the propensity people have for sexual harassment charges (not all of which are unfounded by any means)



December 17, 2006 at 10:40 PM · That's interesting--is that left forearm, or 'vibrating' hand--I'm having a difficult time visualizing that. I can see the flattening of the fingers and springing to release tension, but having a little difficulty with the forearm. So, I'm just going to guess it's minimizing the arc of the vibrating hand's forearm?

Along those lines I'm scanning an article from Gutenberg where discussions and interviews were held with people like Ysaye, Auer, Heifetz, Kreisler in the early 1900's. The title is:

Violin Mastery

Talks with Master Violinists and Teachers

Author: Frederick H. Martens

The point is that your remark about physical--your words--getting the job done--my words, becomes really evident when listening to some of their comments. I'm not sure if it's repeating but here's the link: (probably again--I think I got it here).

December 17, 2006 at 10:51 PM · Not meaning to change the subject--but Buri's comment:

I also learned to practice sitting some, to help isolate my upper body as I work on general balancing of the instrument better...

December 18, 2006 at 01:29 AM · It is interesting to note that early in my violin studies I studied with a tall violinist who had large hands and long thick fingers. He had a wonderful slow vibrato starting at the wrist and also using finger oscillations. When he tried to imitate my elbow fore-arm vibrato he couldn’t do it without the violin shaking terribly and falling from his shoulder.

He also had a rough time with half step trills and playing intricate chords. Since I was only 5’ 8” we had very little in common. Psychically he never experienced many of my technical problems and I never experienced his. Since I was just beginning my violin study, clearly the time had come for another teacher.

My vibrato is fore-arm and also switching to wrist vibrato when intensity is needed. I never could develop any kind of finger vibrato so I gave that up as a lost cause.

Paul Stassevitch used all three and my second teacher (who studied with Carl Flesch) used mostly fore-arm. Both used the Russian (I refer to it as the wet lettuce leaf) bow hold.

Ted Kruzich

December 18, 2006 at 03:17 AM · I'm only 5'6 Ted, and can relate to that. And for reasons I won't repeat, just balancing the instrument and getting the left hand to complement the elbow flowing under were somewhat challenging--for extraneous reasons I think.

Anyway, I still am not sure about the forearm arc, but reduced mine trying to mimic what you were expressing in just wrist vibrato, and that motion or lack of (quieting the arm), also freed up my 1st joint--and way cooly--on all fingers. At the same time, the instrument became stable, and the sound (as mentioned) improved. I'm going to work with this for a few days and see where it goes.

I find, as a beginner, that I really have to play slowly for my vibrato not to revert to earlier poorly styled efforts--but when I do.... In my mind I'm always visualizing Oistrakh anytime I recognize tension, and 'this' seems to have taken me yet another step.

There is an exercise in Wohlfahrt that expressly asks that the left wrist remain quiet. I feel you were describing modified arm vibrato, but I think it also applies to wrist. And when I do start putting arm in place formally, will apply it there as well. Thanks.

December 18, 2006 at 10:16 AM · Karen here is the synthesized image of singing violin, probably one of the ultimate ones:

"Pas de trait pour le trait—chantez, chantez! (Not runs for the sake of runs—sing, sing!)" Ysaye

December 18, 2006 at 04:03 PM · Albert, I am impressed with your knowledge...Ysaie was indeed the first to extend vibrato as much as portamento after Sphor and Joachim ( who both disliked the use of it in a continuous way) Paganini did use it a lot in cantilenas as stated by Carl Ghur in an essay published in 1832 on "L'art de jouer du violon de Paganini"...In modern times, Kreisler was the first to reetablish the use of it in a continuous manner, even in fast runs...But Kreisler knew also how to use all the possible harmonics and undertones of the violin ( ringing tones)...that practice is almost lost today because some violinist use to much bow pressure and their intonation is not focused on the natural harmonie of the instrument...they even use vibrato to hide their deficient intonation...before using vibrato, you must be able to play with a ringing tone without it....


December 18, 2006 at 06:01 PM · Marc Villeneuve wrote: "before using vibrato, you must be able to play with a ringing tone without it...."

Bravo!! I believe that this is the true basis of tone production. One must do everything one can with pitch, everything one can with bow sensitivity, then, last of all, vibrato. The first two produce the real ringing. The first two are the pretty face of tone--vibrato is the makeup! Milstein's tone is a perfect example of this important principle.

December 18, 2006 at 06:58 PM · Marc, Thank you... I wish I could claim some greatness--I simply read a lot. Continuously, my ability doesn't match my understanding... But one day--at least as a generalist....

Was just practicing romantic standards, having checked out Vieuxtemps during practice last night--and sort of know where I want to go with this--now, it's in the getting there.

'This' is not easy--especially if done well.


December 18, 2006 at 07:17 PM · Oliver: and practicing like this for a while, especially when young, is the true answer to a distintive voice and never get dominated by an uncontrolled vibrato to cover up all the deficiency in the playing...and you surely have Oliver that very distinctive sound...

Best wishes,


December 20, 2006 at 05:13 AM · Karen a living example: Liebestraum on violin... Wow... al

December 21, 2006 at 06:35 PM · micha,

hubermann and i think alike. it's not so much the vibrato, as when to use it and which vibrato to use (if one has more than one vibrato working well).

December 22, 2006 at 04:22 AM · I've just seen Stephen Redrobe's DVD that talks about Kreisler's vibrato and other fascinating insights into techniques of that time. I think it's a great DVD.

Mr Redrobe comes across very well. He is also amusing at times. I like his understated manner.

His explanations have already helped me. The impulse vibrato can be hard to spot when a player uses it, as it can look like a combination of arm and hand vibrato. But I would say that it looks slightly different to both in that the impulse vibrato generates a slight rocking, sinuous movement at the wrist (but not really like hand vibrato), with both the arm and hand moving together in a flowing motion, even though the movement is intitiated in the fingers.

This could be why one famous cellist (can't remember his name) described Kreisler's vibrato as an arm vibrato. But Menuhin and Roth were both sure that he used only the finger vibrato.

Edit: that cellist was Leonard Rose I think.

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