Vibrato and the bending of the first knuckle

July 1, 2008 at 04:35 PM · I carefully watched everyone's vibrato at my orchestra class (we were doing string quartet groups) and I payed extra attention to the best violist and the concertmaster's vibrato. They sound really good! One question, I've seen Prof V (Todd's video on youtube as well as the masterclass's video, they always teach that your first knuckle (the joint closer to the finger tip) should collapse and rebound and it's important to have it super soft. I did not see this with any of their fingers. Am I missing something? My knuckles will not bend like that when it's on the string, i can do it say on the table, but when i have to do it on the violin, it doesn't work. Any advice?

Replies (25)

July 1, 2008 at 09:51 PM · So, does most people not bend the knuckle when they do vibrato?

July 1, 2008 at 09:54 PM · I think most do use the knuckle. In fact, if you really slow the vibrato motion, it can appear that the first joint is really doing the work. As the vibrato speeds, the hand, wrist, and arm begin to play more significant roles. But having a very flexible first joint seems really key to me.

July 1, 2008 at 10:36 PM · There are 3 main kinds of vibrato (or as I was taught and have observed).




A person can isolate any of these joints and use them singularly, or use them all together as a team. Most often, I see vibrato as a combination of wrist and fingers. While you may not "see" the first knuckle moving, if you're using a Romantic style vibrato, it is quite flexible.

July 1, 2008 at 10:35 PM · Greetings,

the firts joint of the finger is central to any vibrato. It regualtes the spped of the vibrato itself by the degreewhich it bends back and forth. If players are not using this joint then usually they have a fake vibrato which they cannot control to any real artistic end. Thus development of the ability to flex this joint in response to an impulse which actually originate sin the back is fundamnetal. However, be careful of generalizations such as `soft.` The joiint can be too soft , in which case certain excercises for easing movement in the joint are actually contr indicated. I have written about this issue many times on this site. If you do a search for the `Rivarde Exercise` you should be able to find the infomration you need. Also read Drew Lecher`s blog `Viva Vibrato.`

I think when Mr Turpin said this kind of vibrato was `diifuclt to produce` he was referring to what is called `fingertip vibrato` which is not the issue here. Fingertip vibrao is generlaly held to be the most difficult for a beginner o master. I teach hand vibrato to most of my studnets (no point incalling it wrist vibrato since it is the hand that swings ;)). I then teahcv arm vibrato, although it is more a question of spectrum. It is virtually impossible to do one without some element of the other in it. The book Basics has the most extensive colleciton of vibrato exerices around. A simple exercise thta improves vibrato is the chromatic scales usingtraditional fingering 112233n etc.



July 2, 2008 at 12:37 AM · It is indeed desirable to have the joint nearest the fingertip unlocked (flexing with the vibrato). *Sometimes* freeing a locked first joint may be merely a matter of using a lighter finger pressure. It is certainly worth trying. Sustain a single note with vibrato for many bows while you play around with the finger pressure. You might possibly, as you lighten the pressure more and more, find the formerly locked joint starting to flex. If this happens, you are on your way to greater beauty and expressivity in your vibrato.

July 2, 2008 at 01:35 AM ·

July 2, 2008 at 01:32 AM · Greetings,

just to respectfully embellish what Oliver suggests- very often the excess pressure is not so much overall but in the fact the student has not realized thta the presusre is -less- on the backward movement of the fingertip. It is the sustaining of an equal pressure during the whole moveemnt of the tip back and forth taht is a major caus eof tension in the left hand.

Incidentally, you may also be having difficulty because your left upper arm has crept too near your rib cage.



July 2, 2008 at 01:37 AM · My little finger doesn't want to flex the first joint but always flexes the middle joint:-(

July 2, 2008 at 02:04 AM · Greetings,

that will be a genuine finger vibrato....



July 2, 2008 at 02:45 AM · Buri, I never quite understand finger vibrato. Actually the first joint of my little finger does flex a bit, but it doesn't collapse the way other fingers do.

PM, I used to have problem with the first finger too but I followed some of Buri's earlier advice and it was soon fixed. My little finger is a different story.

July 2, 2008 at 03:58 AM · Greetings,

I think it would help to work on multiple finger vibrato. Never leave that pinkie around unsupported so it can collapse on you. Sort oif like my cat...



July 2, 2008 at 05:25 AM · I see. My 3rd finger is the best vibrato finger and it'll help the 4th I'm sure.

Buri, one of my cats does the same thing with his claws out sometimes...

July 2, 2008 at 05:54 AM · Greetings,

is a `paws` the same as a `furmata?`



July 2, 2008 at 07:50 AM · Oliver Steiner took the words right out my mouth. That is excellent advice. A vibrato of great intensity doesn't necessarily require a whole lot of physical exertion in my opinion.

July 2, 2008 at 01:57 PM · The "finger vibrato", the one that uses the whole finger and starts at the base knuckle, seems to have fallen out of fashion. You can sometimes see good examples of how it works by watching classical guitarists who use a vibrato; theirs are quite likely to be this kind. PM, for a novice like yourself, a vibrato that starts at the wrist or the elbow and avoids tension in the fingers seems like a better plan. Sue

July 2, 2008 at 09:46 PM · Imagery can lead or inspire the physical skill. Fischer's "Basics" describe vibrato as a circular motion. Menuhin's "Six Lessons" describes a waving motion. Gerles described the relationship between big and small muscles, vibrato engaging the bicep, hand and fingers. To fulfill imagery, the first knuckle will bend.

But for all that to happen, the discovery of my basic alignment - left shoulder, arm and elbow, was key to have the relaxation required to get the vibrato to vibe. Hope this helps.

July 2, 2008 at 10:32 PM · Greetings,

Jason is absolutely right except he missed out the neck and back relationship. That`s why Alexander Lesosns are so helpful.



July 3, 2008 at 01:16 AM · Buri, are there any texts that correspond Alexander and violin technique? I would love to investigate this further.

July 3, 2008 at 01:23 AM · Greetings,

Jason, the biggie for musicians is Alcantara-Indirect Procedures. However, the fastest way to get an undertsanding of the significance of AT for musicians is to take some elssons. Incidentally, one deifneitly does not nee dot go to a teache rspecializing in musicians. I have, with the exception of my main teacher who thought the violin bow was called a `cue`, always had the most fantastic lesosns form dancers.



July 3, 2008 at 01:37 AM · Thanks Buri, I'll try it!

July 3, 2008 at 02:26 AM · Thanks Sue for explaining the finger vibrato! I do it often without knowing what I'm doing.


There is nothing better than having a qualified/certified AT teacher to help you understand what is good use of your body. Thanks to Buri’s recommendation, I've done AT for almost a year now and I have made noticeable positive changes to just about everything in my life. I’m surprised to find out how many professional violinists in town know about or did AT.

If you want to read about it, here is a list of good AT books:

- Indirect Procedures by Pedro De Alcantara

- Body Learning – An Introduction to the Alexander Technique by Michael Gelb

- The Alexander Technique by Wilfred Barlow

- Principles of the Alexander Technique: The Only Introduction You'll Ever Need by Jeremy Chance

- How to Learn the Alexander Technique: A Manual for Students by Barbara Conable

- What Every Musician Needs to Know About the Body: The Practical Application of Body Mapping & the Alexander Technique to Making Music by Barbara Conable

- The Complete Illustrated Guide to Alexander Technique by Glynn MacDonald.

- The Resurrection of the Body by Edward Maisel

Good luck!

July 3, 2008 at 03:33 PM · Thanks Yixi. I've had occasional problems with my left rotator cuff, which compelled my slight, but revelatory change of alignment. Pain was the teacher! Better to learn without the pain. These books look terrific.

Do you or anyone know of a good AT teacher in the Jersey City(NJ) or NYC area?

July 3, 2008 at 06:17 PM · Take a look at Hillary Hahn in the "Profile" DVD as she plays the Korngold concerto. I especially noticed in the high positions you can see the first knuckle flexing during her vibrato. It just looks textbook.

July 3, 2008 at 10:36 PM · Good AT teacher in New york

Anne Holmes Waxman Tel: (212) 787-8198

124 West 74th St. #2R

New York, NY 10023


July 4, 2008 at 01:55 AM · Thanks Buri!

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

2023 Authenticate LA: Los Angeles Violin Shop
2023 Authenticate LA Shopping Guide Shopping Guide


Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine