Vibrato with no shoulder rest

January 3, 2009 at 06:26 AM ·

To those of you who support the instrument with the left-hand and use a hand vibrato - can you tell me how you do it? 

When I support the instrument with the left-hand, which I often do now during passages where no vibrato is required (I still use a shoulder rest), the support of the neck really comes from the base of the first finger (the first finger that one uses for fingering, i.e. the one next to the thumb). 

And since this area is supporting the instrument, it cannot freely swing as is required for a hand vibrato.

Can some of you explain how you accomplish a hand vibrato when you support the instrument this way?


Replies (29)

January 3, 2009 at 01:56 PM ·

 Well, for me, I support the violin equally between my left shoulder, chin, and left hand.  The weight of my chin keeps the violin tucked in.  The violin rests upon my shoulder.  My thumb and my first finger support the neck of the violin.  I developed a callous on my thumb and on my hand where the first finger starts which, without any strain from me, hold the neck of the violin up.  I am able to shift freely and vibrate freely.  I can do both arm and wrist vibrato.  And I still have that little hole between my thumb and first finger.  You need to have a hole and make sure you are not supporting the violin solely with your left hand.   You need some support from the bigger muscles.  For wrist vibrato, I think it's easier to accomplish when supporting with the left hand. Just watch how some fiddlers do it. 

January 3, 2009 at 04:30 PM ·

 If you perceive a vibrato to be a wide motion of the fingers moving with nothing but fingertip contact then you can't vibrato without shoulder/chin support. 

If you rethink your vibrato as a more subtle motion that is more in the fingers and arm then, with patience, you can develop a very lovely vibrato.

January 3, 2009 at 04:48 PM ·


Now we get to the real problem with the "commando" approach: vibrato. Shifting isn't really the problem. Holding up the instrument isn't really the problem. Sound quality--THAT's the problem.

Vibrato with a shoulder rest is often a very different motion than one without, and that's why so many people fail when they take the rest off. I think the reason some are successful is that their vibrato motion is compatible--maybe more of a hand or finger vibrato rather than full arm.

I've known many violinists who should have left the should rest on, and lack of control over vibrato was the giveaway.

So the question is not whether the instrument sounds slightly better, or what the old masters did, or what the current fad is in your orchestra, but whether you can vibrate well. 

January 3, 2009 at 05:17 PM ·

I agree Scott that it is all about sound. The wah wah vibrato that is all over the pitch map is really ugly and if dropping the shoulder rest will kill that ugliness then one can claim success. 

January 3, 2009 at 05:56 PM ·


Generally, dropping the shoulder rest doesn't kill that wobbly vibrato--it leads to it, especially if the musician has been developing a certain vibrato since an early age with a should rest on. Maybe sometimes it frees them up, but I'd wager the sound usually takes a nosedive.


January 3, 2009 at 06:22 PM ·

Losing the rest has not hindered my vib - if anything, I have a greater range amore control now.

Those of my students who have lost their rests successfully, have also seemed to me to have improved all aspects of their sounds including their vibrato.

However, some players don't get it, and you leave them with their rests, though there is still much to incorporate from the restless approach.

The biggest problem as I see it is, is to do with clamping the fiddle at either end, and that hinders vib with or without the rest. A violin only weighs a couple of pounds, and we can hold it up quite easily without too much effort. The arm weighs much more, as does the head.

Lighten up the left hand hold, as wel as the head on the instrument, and the vibrato will flow more easily.



January 4, 2009 at 01:29 AM ·

Has anyone noticed an increase in volume from going restless?  I don't do without unless I have to, or to scratch a curiosity itch, but I do feel more sound coming out when the violin is hanging looser.  Perhaps that is because the vibrato makes the fingerboard and bridge wiggle just a little, and that affects the interaction with the bow.

Anyway, theories and/or observations welcome.

January 4, 2009 at 02:28 AM ·

Scott - "commando" - LOL!

January 4, 2009 at 04:03 AM ·

Have you tried balancing the violin's neck solely on the thumb?  This will free up the index, which will in turn give you lots of room for a relaxed, focused vibrato.  I've only been playing this way for a couple of years, and it was the best solution I've found for the problem you describe.

Basically, swing your left arm as though you are throwing a ball over your shoulder.  Your palm naturally faces your chest when you do this.  Now don't change this position as you pretend you are holding your violin.  If you relax your hand, the palm will be cupped. While maintaining that cupped shape, make a backward "L" shape with your index finger and thumb.  Point the thumb toward your shoulder, so that it's opposite from the second finger.  In this position, you can make a nice ring shape with your second finger and the joint next to the thumb's tip.  The violin's neck rests on the joint below this one, where the thumb connects with the rest of the hand.  The neck is not in the flabby part, mind you; you will still have a mousehole of daylight there. 

Your second contact point, which is at the base of the index finger, becomes less of an actual support for the violin when you have it balanced on the thumb.  You can actually remove the finger from the neck of the violin when you vibrate, and you are no longer clamping the neck between your thumb and index.


Hope this helps.  It's difficult to explain on line.  I should post a photo.

January 4, 2009 at 05:01 AM ·

Emily, if you post a photo I'll be you best friend! (hint, hint).

January 4, 2009 at 05:35 AM ·

I'm trying, but my camera battery was dead so now I'm charging it.  But you can still be my best friend if you want.

January 4, 2009 at 08:23 AM ·

Okay Anthony, the first photo depicts the violin neck resting solely on the thumb:

The second photo shows the index finger making passive contact with the neck.  This position is useful for fast passages:

The third photo shows the position I use for vibrato, with the neck resting solely on the thumb:

I can play either way without changing very much at all.  You can also see how this position is beneficial in shifting.  It is practically impossible to hop; you just slide the thumb up and down the neck while the fingers remain free. 

January 4, 2009 at 08:51 AM ·

Thanks  Emily.  The pix are very instructive - worth three thousand words, so to speak. Guess this means I'm your best friend for life.  Spooky, huh?

January 6, 2009 at 03:08 PM ·

Emily, could you possibly repost your pictures?  They no longer seem to be viewable.

Thanks to Emily and everyone else for your input!

January 6, 2009 at 03:31 PM ·

Andrew, the pictures are still perfectly visible. You may want to clear the cache of your browser and then reload the page. If that alone doesn't help, quit and relaunch your browser.

January 7, 2009 at 12:39 AM ·


Jasmine said

>You need to have a hole and make sure you are not supporting the violin solely with your left hand.   You need some support from the bigger muscles.  

Mmmm.  I don`t really agree with this but it`s a very flexible issue;)   I do support tyhe violin solely with the left hand and so do a lot of players- <ilstein and Clayton Haslop spring to mind.

I think it is not so much that you are wrong as that the issue needs o be explored in much greater depth in general.  What does one mean by `support the violin? `    

First of all ,  in my opinion, the violin needs to be held sufficiently high for the srings to be parallel to the ground.   This mmediatley throws the weight of the instrument to its arse end.  Why do we nt talk abbout the collar bone and perhps the shoulder (in some cases) as supporting the violin?  What then stops the violin from falling down?  It is not actually a physical action by the thumb/1st finger,  it is the -presence-  of the thumb  /first finger and nothing more.  Are they -supporting the insturment-? Only in a veyr limited sense of being there.

The point being missed is thta they are part of an overall structure thta inlcudes the arm,  shoulder area,  spine and ultimately legs.  Unless all these fucntion in harmony one cannot play to one`s full potential.  Working from this position one is actually supporting the violi with the whole body.  s far as I am cocnerne dthis is the only genuinly safe position to work frm.  So,  is one actually using large muscles to hold up the instrument.  Yes, in the same way that the body has `being` muslces that stop one collapsing into a heap of jelly on the floor. Thes ehave no conscious volition. Then we have ding muscles hat offer minimu assistnce as one uses the back musckles as a counterweight to the arm alowwing it to float freely and in a relaxed manner.  The danger is in thinking of large muscles as doing something such a slifting the violin which causes overuse,  misus eand tension of the body.  In this sense,  we don`t really use large muscles ot hold up the violin,  which does after all,  weigh virtually nothing.  Kato Hava explains this point beautifuuly in her 12 lesson course.

Hopes this isn`t to fuzzy. I`m just working my way into the new year...



January 7, 2009 at 02:42 AM ·


I guess what I am trying to say is that I do not hold the violin up solely with my left hand.  I rest my chin (head) on the violin, therefore, like a balancing scale effect, the violin is supported somewhat by the weight of my head.  My left hand, of course, brings the violin up the rest of the way, which is a lot.  I play without a chin rest and a shoulder rest, so I think for me to rely solely upon my left hand for support would be hard (for me).  However, I am sure it can be done, as I have heard that Milstein could put the violin on his chest and play Bach Solo perfectly.  Right now, I am not capable of such genius.  It is the weight of head and my shoulder which acts as a shoulder rest, so to say.  Therefore, my vibrato, for me, feels more stable and comfortable as well as my shifting.

Hope that clears up some things.




January 7, 2009 at 03:15 AM ·

I have just realised that I don't think we hold up the fiddle at all. It's the ARM we hold up.

We hold up our left arm, and the fiddle rests on it, at the left hand, and also at the collarbone

quite a different way of thinking


(inspired by "What does one mean by `support the violin? " Thank you Buri - I didn't read any further, but you almost imply the same thing)

January 7, 2009 at 03:40 AM ·


almost imply...!!!!!!!!!!!!!??????

That`s precisely what I meant a s part of the big picture;)


almost Buri

January 7, 2009 at 05:29 AM ·

Emily -

Thanks for the pics!!!!  Your thumb/hand placement is interesting to me.  This may be the answer to some of my own vibrato challenges... I'll have to give it a try and see what happens!


January 7, 2009 at 06:32 AM ·

I give credit to Dylana Jensen and Lisa Marsnik for teaching me that setup.  It's a Milstein thing.

January 7, 2009 at 06:41 AM ·

For doing it without a shoulder rest I'd suggest initiating the vibrato motion not from the muscles of the hand or the wrist, but rather from the rotational capability of the elbow/forearm. Imagine turning a doorknob slightly back and forth.

Of course, for this to work, you can't have your left wrist bent outwards in any fashion, and have to be willing to hold up the violin with the left hand to a certain degree (and sometimes without *any* gap between the bottom of the neck and the space between your thumb and index finger).

(I play without a shoulder rest, just a thin cotton cloth as a barrier from the wood of the chinrest)

November 14, 2009 at 04:52 PM ·

I am currently working on this same issue. A FANTASTIC resource is the book "Violin: Six Lessons with Yehudi Menuhin". He describes exactly the answer to this issue. He explains how to hold your instrument without a shoulder rest (surprisingly simple and freeing) and support the neck with the thumb in a way that leaves the left hand free for vibrato. Definitely worth a look. Good luck

November 16, 2009 at 02:08 PM ·

 Although there is a danger of this post becoming a shoulder rest against a non shoulder rest discussion, and I have come in late to the discussion, I would like to add a few comments. 

The photos from Emily show to me that the thumb is "supporting" the weight of the violin probably while resting on the collarbone.  That looks good to me (and seems to be how Perlman plays for example). Notice how it is sticking out to the side rather than upwards. This is how Varga taught. I also use a chin rest with a significant lip (a Varga chinrest) so as to avoid the problem of it shooting out when shifting or using vibrato. This is a problem that is not encountered when using a shoulder rest as the back of the violin rests against the shoulder through the shoulder rest.  

I was taught to use a wrist vibrato early on in my training ("English school") which means that an arm vibrato to this day seems to be a more 'conscious' activity. I tend to think that if taught to use a wrist vibrato before and arm vibrato it becomes very difficult to adapt both.  That would be an interesting discussion!  

In the end whatever you are taught you will still find a way to progress if you have ears and an active mind! 


November 16, 2009 at 04:23 PM ·

I find this a fascinating discussion as I have recently been experimenting with just a cloth, albeit folded and layered a bit, and it has totally changed my vibrato.  My thumb is supporting more, my wrist vibrato  is unbelieveably freer and much more consistent!  My arm vibrato, however, simply down't work like it used to.  I haven't spent much time rebuilding it wasn't consistent in the first place and I haven't fully convinced myself that I'm sticking with this setup...but the wrist vibrato is so far a much better replacement! 

Aside:  I have found it so interesting to read various viewpoints on this site; even on the "convtroversial" issues--most of which I do have a leaning one way or the other, but the comments from both sides always give me a broader understanding of the interrelationships of the big picture.  It's all about finding the balance, and understanding how things interrelate to affect tha balance.  Thanks all for your contributions!

November 17, 2009 at 01:50 AM ·

Wow! I've noticed that my thumb sticks out, and thought I should change it but never really managed... It's good to know that maybe it's not a bad thing and just how I'm coping with no shoulder rest! (I play viola with a shoulder rest, but when I'm teaching violin in school I grab a spare with no rest) It just seems to work, having it sit on my thumb.

November 18, 2009 at 12:42 AM ·

I am always changing how I hold my violin, when I want to vibrate I let it float on top of my thumb, though when I hold my violin without intending to vibrate, my thumb will stick stick up and its a combination of both thumb and finger ... Well, I don't know anymore! I Feel violin deprived while at work .. I had to resort to coming on to the website T.T

November 18, 2009 at 04:15 AM ·

So my chin vibrato, if I ever get control of the pitch, could actually sound good?

November 18, 2009 at 05:21 AM ·

I missed this thread last winter.  Thanks for bringing it back into the light of day. 

Emily, your photos are helpful beyond description.  Thanks for taking the time to post them.

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