when is vibrato typically introduced to beginner students?

August 18, 2009 at 07:35 PM · a few lessons ago, my teacher mentioned to me as i was packing up my violin that she usually doesn't like to rush with teaching students vibrato for the first time, but that i'm moving along pretty well (i've been playing since june 1st of this year) and is contemplating introducing me to vibrato fairly soon. thus far i'm very pleased with my rate of progress, and it's exciting to hear myself playing pieces that sound like REAL MUSIC!!! when i first started my lessons, i figured it'd be a really long time (over a year) before i'd learn vibrato techniques. the comment made by my teacher did get me wondering...how soon into one's training do these techniques begin to get taught typically? obviously everyone is different and i'm sure it depends on an individual's progress. but for students (particularly adult students), when did you first start learning to play with vibrato? for teachers, at what point do you decide to start teaching this? are there certain "milestones" that need to be passed or particular techniques that need to be perfected before a student learns vibrato? also, how long does it typically take to become skilled @ vibrato? what challenges are usually presented? i'm definitely not in a rush to learn vibrato, especially if i'm not technically ready, but the prospect of getting to start learning it in the near future has left me with the above curiosities, so thanks in advance for any insight!

Replies (18)

August 18, 2009 at 07:46 PM ·

I started my vibrato very early, but I teach kids when they can play in tune in first position (assuming their hand position is correct)...basically, when they're ready to begin exploring 3rd position. However, I start with the preliminary exercises (hand waves, etc.) from the earliest stages.

August 18, 2009 at 07:53 PM ·

 I'm very similar to Marty.  There are some vibrato exercises that are useful for other things (lh position, less tension) and so my students are already used to those things before I introduce vibrato.  Usually, I wait for reliable 1st position intonation in multiple keys.

Remember, just because you get to learn vibrato, does not mean you get to play with vibrato right away like a pro... =P

August 18, 2009 at 09:31 PM ·

I actually put a thread out similar to your question.  You may want to check it out.  It was earlier this year...I think?

August 18, 2009 at 09:37 PM ·

My first teacher introduced me to vibrato exercises, so that must have been at about 4 months in, but I had already started playing in 3rd position by then.

I didn't figure it out, I got scared, and I stopped.

My second teacher introduced it immediately, I'd stopped playing for about 6 months, so it was about 6 months into my learning, I still didn't get it.

My 3rd and current teacher introduced it at the beginning of my second year with her (so about 2 years all up of learning), and I resisted for 6 more months.  I was doing 5th grade, everything else that needed to be in place was, and I just didn't get it.

Eventually I had to commit to learning it, she committed to getting me there, but still it took 8 months before I could even start to do it in a piece.  Pretty much everything else stopped for that.

I think in my case, if I had had my current teacher from the beginning, I would have had vibrato by the end of my first year, of a sort. One of the biggest things I had to overcome in playing generally, and particularly for vibrato, was really allowing myself to make a sound. A big sound that could be shaped - self consciousness was the evil of learning for too long.

August 18, 2009 at 09:49 PM ·

There is definitely a link between being able to move your hand up and down the violin fingerboard and starting to learn vibrato. It is all about control. If the student cannot control the left hand and fingers well enough, trying to learn vibrato will be a "stressor" and can result in a death-grip shake. I have seen ?violinists" who retained that kind of totally ineffective "vibrato" all their lives - fortunately not too many!

So beware of too early vibrato.


August 19, 2009 at 02:07 AM ·

When done quickly, the tapping movements introduced during the first few lessons (whereby the fingers are placed onto the strings from the base knuckles at the back of the hand) create a kind of jiggle in striking the string that mimics the vibrato movement. This is a good precursor to the actual vibrato. Repeated tapping make the learning of the actual vibrato after the left hand position is stabilized so much easier. Also knocking backwards on a door helps develop the vibrato movement and that can be done at the beginning stages too.

August 19, 2009 at 05:05 AM ·

I'm probably one of the weired students here. I got the hang of hand vibrato (myself) about one month into the lesson (I had 4 lessons then). That doesn't mean I can do it perfect or acutally use it in lesson or practice. My teacher taught me vibrato on the sixth lesson, around 2 months since I began learning. (He taught me third position on A+E string on the 5th lesson.)

I've heard that teaching adults vibrato early is good in some way becuase they relax their hands. Well in that case, I'm the proof. My left hand used to grab the neck so hard, that I got tendinitis relapse. After I learned vibrato myself, I suddently realise that how hard I used to grab the neck.

But I think it really depends on the student, I'm well aware and concious about my intonation and the use of vibrato when playing. If I know I cannot get the intonation right, i don't use vibrato.

August 19, 2009 at 04:23 PM ·

Wow, then I guess that I'm the oddball here because I've been taking violin now for 37 months and my teacher won't even consider teaching me vibrato.  I have asked numerous times, and each time he answers," Not now.  By not learning vibrato, I am keeping you honest".  (Whatever that means).

I am in the Sevcik second book (changing positions on the violin), I've done first, second, third and am now in fourth position.  I am in the second Hans Sitt book of Etudes.  I am just beginning Vivaldi's SPRING in the Four Seasons (and interestingly, it is not the changing positions that is giving me trouble...it's the trills).  I am BUSTING to learn vibrato, but for some reason, I can't seem to talk my instructor into letting me learn it.

The other evening I was given a false sense of excitement when he said,"I'm going to show you something VERY important..."

It was where you keep your arm immoble, but move the wrist so that there appears to be no break whatsoever in the note when you change directions in the bow.  *sigh*

--Ann Marie

August 19, 2009 at 07:29 PM ·

My teacher started me on "pre-vibrato" hand exercises 9 months after I started taking lessons (I'd already started shifting a few months prior). Once I got the motion right, he had me practice doing vibrato on long, sustained notes, then I progressed to vibrato on scales. At first it was such an awkward feeling. I had to get the vibrato motion going before putting the bow on the string (if I tried it the other way around, I'd end up shaking the bow instead of my finger). It took a few months of practicing this way before I was able to vibrato and bow simultaneously. It took several MORE months before it began to feel natural. It's definitely a process and some catch on easier than others. I didn't catch on quickly but kept plugging away at it, and now I can vibrato without thinking about it. Ahhhhhh...

August 19, 2009 at 07:38 PM ·

Ann Marie, I wonder if "keeping you honest" means your teacher is worried you'll try to hide bad intonation in the vibrato?

August 19, 2009 at 09:46 PM ·

I don't recommend introducing vibrato until the student has a firm sense of intonation and "secure fingers". I also prefer to teach vibrato in third position first if I'm teaching wrist vibrato. I've also taught the basics of arm vibrato in first position before teaching third position.

Good luck!


August 19, 2009 at 10:51 PM ·

Hm I started learning vibrato around 7-8 months into formal lessons, my main hinderance was actually equipment. When I changed to a Flesch centred chin rest my vibrato came more freely, but I need to practice the motion more;  but I don't find developing vibrato a priority right now.

August 20, 2009 at 03:06 PM ·

Glenda -

After thinking about it awhile, I do believe that 'keeping me honest' has a lot to do with intonation.  My instructor is very "old school" if you will.  I do a lot of scales, shifting position, etc., before even getting into the Etudes.  If he doesn't like what he hears, we don't even DO Etudes during the lesson.

Many students that used to take lessons before or after me have dropped out saying that he is 'too strict'.  One instructor, after watching me play a short piece said,"Oh, I see you're being taught the Russian bowing technique."  I had no idea there was any such thing.  Guess I'll have to wait until I am deemed 'READY' to vibrato.  I don't mind.

---Ann Marie

August 20, 2009 at 07:38 PM ·

what is the criteria that has to be met before a teacher teaches vibrato?????

August 21, 2009 at 02:12 AM ·

Hi there!

I think its really important that vibrato is introduced at the right time. You can think of it as an embellishment on the note, and an extra layer of sophistication in a players skill. I consider the following milestones must be met by my students before I teach vibrato:

1. The student plays in 1st and third position with at least 95% of notes in tune.

2. The student has learnt to support the weight of the instrument sufficiently to allow general looseness and freedom of the left hand in different positions.

How long it takes each individual brings up that old adage: "How long is a piece of string?". Depends very much on how much practice they do. Could be six months, could be six years!

Happy wobbling!!

August 21, 2009 at 04:18 AM ·

The best time to introduce vibrato is when a student shows interest in it.  For a teacher not to introduce vibrato is asking the student to try it himself, with often incorrect results.  That said, vibrato exercises can be given to students that encourage them to sense what vibrato is without actually using it in one's pieces.  These exercises include exactly what Ron posted earlier and also other activities like 1. pretending to polish windows with both hands and then just left hand 2. scratching on the top of one hand with the other 3. placing a small rubber ball on the D and A strings and wobbling it lightly under the center 2 fingers of left hand 4. polishing the D string with a tissue under the second or third finger.

Other ideas can be seen in Paul Rolland's book, The Teaching of Action in String Playing.

Best regards, Lynne Denig, www.chinrests.com

September 2, 2009 at 09:11 AM ·

Hi everyone!

I'm all for supporting students curiosity and experimentation, but I think to teach effectively, we have to decide when to introduce something as important and engrossing as vibrato. Do we let students decide when we will teach them things like spiccato, sautille, triple stopping, flautando? Besides that, I have only once in twelve years of full time violin teaching ever have a student try to teach themselves vibrato before I bring it up myself. They are kept far too busy developing things that I would regards as pre-cursors to vibrato: Intonation, freedom of left hand, third position technique. Allowing them to try it before this would be bad-habit forming, and a waste of time...

September 2, 2009 at 05:17 PM ·

I like to introduce vibrato when the various (F major, B-Flat Major, etc) 1st position keys are in tune.

Sometimes students come into lessons with vibrato, or "vibrato", that they have tried to figure out at home.  At that point, I tend to let them run with it, giving them the starter exercises I use.  Raw beginners aside, of course.  The raw beginners will notice, and will ask about vibrato!  (Smiley face here)

Some students are independent-minded, some are passive, some a mix.  I've found the independent-minded students are the ones that mess around with vibrato before I introduce it. And it is the independent-minded ones that usually get the biggest motivation by at least trying to come up with "vibrato", or vibrato.  And, nicely enough, those are the students that are usually ready for it.



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