Semiquavers (eighth notes) and vibrato

July 26, 2010 at 11:51 AM ·

Paraphrased quote from a very famous fiddler ----

"There is a tendency to vibrate on only on long notes. This resuts in eighth notes (semiquavers to some of us) having a dead sound.

With Kreisler, Heifetz and Oistrakh there was never a dead sound. Although we sometimes want play with no vibrato, remember that vibrato gives life to the sound."

Discuss ... (This may bring back memories of another vibrato thread, and that's OK. I'm not bringing any of this up as being set in stone. Just give your views, and I promise not to SHOUT!!)

Peter C.

Replies (28)

July 26, 2010 at 12:00 PM ·

 I think you mean sixteenth notes Peter!

July 26, 2010 at 12:17 PM ·

 Stay clear of the French terms - an eighth note is a croche

July 26, 2010 at 01:19 PM ·

Well he, the famous fiddler (it was Rugerrio Ricci by the way) said eighth notes, but maybe he did mean semiquavers. Its in his book called Ricci on Glissando.

Now I'm not sure. But let me put it this way ...........

Do you vibrato on very short notes, or only on quavers, crochets and whatever the equivalent is in Americanese?

July 26, 2010 at 02:01 PM ·

 It's a good point to consider. I was taught to think it even if the tempo was too fast to realize a vibrato on short notes. At a very slow tempo such as quarter note/crotchet = 36, a sixteenth note/semi-quaver is going to last about .41 seconds, so if an "average" vibrato (if such a thing exists) is around seven cycles a second then there'd be enough time for about 3 oscillations. There no doubt comes a point where there's not enough time to fit in one (or even two) complete oscillations.

July 26, 2010 at 02:14 PM ·

On short notes very little vibrato - on longer notes, I let the note sound cleanly then tail off with a little vibrato for colour.


July 26, 2010 at 02:55 PM ·

In regards to what Nigel mentioned, is an average violin vibrato really 7 cycles a second? That's pretty insane. I've been playing for 13 years and have rarely had to vibrato that quickly. When you're playing faster sixteenths (maybe quarter = 90bpm), it almost seems counterintuitive to disrupt your intonation with messy albeit quick vibrato...or maybe I just haven't played enough? :D


July 26, 2010 at 03:29 PM ·

 The 7 cycles a second was rather unscientifically reported, just something I read in a book on playing ages ago and have since forgotten the source, but it seemed plausible in certain situations. obviously the speed is going to vary considerably depending on context, style of music etc. Perhaps there's an article available somewhere where actual vibrato speeds have been analyzed in detail. 

July 26, 2010 at 03:37 PM ·

I don't know if this is often an issue, but when I record pieces, often I notice

a sort of cat-sound accompanying the vibrated note in case it is in a quick passage.

I usually try to avoid vibrating there then...

July 26, 2010 at 03:50 PM ·

Wow, Peter, you're willing to jump into the brambles here!  Tempo is a huge issue, of course.  The other issue that comes into play is fashion- different eras will have different answers.  The whole period-instrument movement has called all sorts of technical issues into question.  Personally, i think that's where a lot of the agony over shoulder rests comes from. 

Currently, it seems mandatory to perform baroque music, even on modern instruments and bows, in the style of the period instrument people.  (You're not going to hear the massive Stokowski arrangements of Bach in a concert hall any time soon.)  Probably most, if not all players, would use less vibrato for baroque than for, say, some of Kreisler's short pieces.

July 26, 2010 at 04:57 PM ·

Well, Lisa, I'm a sucker for punishment!! I suppose a few stings might not hurt, I'll probably get over them. I'm expecting Gene to come on here soon with all guns blazing ... I'm sure he will have useful comments.

To put this into some perspective, I'm reading and trying out techniques in the Ricci on Glissando book. Some of it I don't quite get, but a lot of it is interesting. He's saying lots of the old methods were good, like creeping around the fiddle, no sudden shifts, holding the instrument pointing at the floor, only using one position, having the left hand flat along the kneck, and using the same finger lots of times, only changing hand positions a little by moving only semi-tones or tone. No left hand tromboning. Don't go from 1st to 3rd position, Playing scales using only one finger. Ear training!! etc., etc.

He thinks a mixture of new style technique and old is best.

July 26, 2010 at 05:41 PM ·


"On short notes very little vibrato - on longer notes, I let the note sound cleanly then tail off with a little vibrato for colour."

This is frowned upon by Ruggerio Ricci in his book, and he specifically rails against it.

However, I know some soloists do it, notably Du Pre on the cello, used to.

I think sometimes such a thing can be musically good, but as a general technique I tend to dislike it.

But then in your style of music maybe its OK?

July 26, 2010 at 07:13 PM ·

It is not correct to say Baroque performers thought vibrato was to be avoided.  Baroque violinists did not use continuous vibrato, but they used vibrato often as an embellishment on a note or two to enhance emotion.  A bit of vibrato on a long note at the end of a sad phrase is an example.  This is not speculation.  We know this from many accounts of Baroque performances and from "lesson sheets" that described embellishments to be used while improvising in a solo.

July 26, 2010 at 07:37 PM ·


I think I was meaning to refer to present day Historically Informed Performance Practice where a lot (but not all) of the players seem to think vibrato a bad thing.

Or at least that is how it often is in the UK, the period music lovers rail against any vibrato.

I don't know what went on 250 plus years ago as I was not there, or if I was I missed it!!

July 27, 2010 at 03:08 AM ·

An acception regarding use of vibrato in the Baroque era would be Geminiani, pupil of Corelli. Mark Villeneuve had mentioned in a previous post the following:

"After having read Geminiani's complete work on the art of violin playing, published in London and same by Spohr published quite later, there is great questioning about the use of vibrato. Mozart was himself in disapproval on that particular matter with his father Leopold.. Like Geminiani, he believed that violin was extension of the human voice and that vibrato should be used as often as possible. Spohr did not understand the process, Joachim either. In Germany, Austria and France, this was not settled until Kreisler. Spohr dissapproved the use of it alla Paganini. In Italy, vibrato was in use since Vivaldi and Corelli. Tartini published also a very important work and with circles indicated in some of his music how to do it, and it seems to a be continuous one with ideas closed to Geminiani's own who clearly advocates to make a use of it as often as possible. You would learn a great deal also by reading about Farinelli and other famous singer of the time. Vocal technique included vibrato, this was the true tradition. Spohr and Joachim thought it was a kind of spasmodic movement applied once in a while like an ornament. Even Spohr was doing a kind of wave with his bow to simulate vibrato. You can read also Auer on that subject matter who thought it was simply an embellishment and complained about his own students, influenced by Kreisler, who did not follow his advice ( Elman,Seidel and Heifetz). Milstein made a compromise and was using both ways in Bach. Szeryng was in symbiose with Milstein and I believe both understood how to use vibrato in Bach music.

Followers, Kremer and Mullova do have highly interesting approach and great ideas about conciliating the dilemma ( baroque-modern approach)"

July 27, 2010 at 03:54 AM ·

Wasn't there some conductor at the Proms last year who asked an orchestra to play an Elgar piece sans vibrato?  I think I remember reading that. How did that work for him, anyway?  Seeing as a lot of violinists can't stop their vibrato to save their lives, he must have been frustrated. Vibrato is one of those techniques that nobody thinks anybody else does right- too much, not enough, too wide, too fast, too nervous, too slow.  Whether it's OK to start it part way through the note is one of the hot-button subjects.

July 27, 2010 at 08:27 AM ·


The conductor at the Proms was Roger Norrington, much hated by lots of people including most musicians. He had only partial success as the orchestra was not his, and he knew he couldn't insist. He's a very controversial conductor.

I think someone who cannot switch vibrato off has a problem. We should be able to use and also not use vibrato. For instance in scales, many will practise these without vibrato.

July 27, 2010 at 11:11 AM ·

Peter : "On short notes very little vibrato - on longer notes, I let the note sound cleanly then tail off with a little vibrato for colour. This is frowned upon by Ruggerio Ricci in his book, and he specifically rails against it. However, I know some soloists do it, notably Du Pre on the cello, used to.I think sometimes such a thing can be musically good, but as a general technique I tend to dislike it.But then in your style of music maybe its OK?"

I think it is. Most of what I play these days is what I write, which tends towards fairly busy 4/4 snazz with mostly short notes in strict tempo. At the end of some phrases on a long note, I tend to let the note ring out, tailing off with a little vibrato for colour. To vib. the whole note would make it sound too busy, after having played a cluster of short notes in regular time.

It's always contextual - I wouldn't use it much in the Thais Meditation, for example. I always keep the amplitude quite narrow too, unless I'm attempting the Heifetz-style spoof vibrato he did when he was in a fun mood and imitated bad players :) 


PS What is the name of the book by Ricci that you mentioned?

July 27, 2010 at 12:45 PM ·

Interesting discussion - enough to put the learning player into rigor-handus!  There is a mention of 7 Hz as the normal vibrato - but how fast CAN a hand vibrato - and would it be possible (or desirable) to adjust the speed of the vibrato for the length of the note?  I realize that a blanket application of htat might sound very odd indeed, but if we can vibrato at 20 Hz it might make Mozart happy on the 16ths.... 

July 27, 2010 at 01:31 PM ·

...this is begging a new thread titled "Which virtuoso has / had the fastest vibrato (in cycles/second) ... well, I was going to say Josef Hassid, but then I thought I'd better not :)


July 27, 2010 at 06:37 PM ·


It's called "Ricci on Glissando"

But be warned, its not for the faint hearted!! I'm still struggling a bit with it.

July 27, 2010 at 09:26 PM ·

I would take much of what's in "Ricci on Glissando" with a grain of salt.

July 28, 2010 at 12:45 PM ·

The long quote above about vibrato presumably is factual (I have not checked all of them), but covers a wide spread of time. Mozart performed in the 1700s; Elman and Heifetz performed in the 1900s.  The question is what did Baroque solo performers do?

Lets go to some Baroque sources.  Leopold Mozart wrote: "There are some players who tremble at every note, as if they had a chronic fever. One should use the tremolo (vibrato) only in those places where Nature herself would produce it."  C.P.E. Bach wrote: “A long, affettuoso tone is performed with a vibrato. The finger . . . is gently shaken.” Bach then went on to give examples of both portato and vibrato notation.  These are but a few examples.  It is very clear from a large body of descriptive accounts, composers comments, and score notation that vibrato was done in Baroque performances.  It was a Baroque ornament for use in improvising a solo.  Continuous vibrato came into common use about 150 years later and has been causing controversy ever since!

July 28, 2010 at 12:51 PM ·

About the vibrato controversy - I'm wondering if it's more to do with the amplitude (high or low), thus giving a very different sound, than whether or not it should be used, per se? Just a thought.


July 28, 2010 at 04:52 PM ·

 I don't think of CPE Bach or L. Mozart as baroque era musicians.

I like the reference to what is known about vocal styles of the period.  I think in every time and culture the instrumentalists gain much knowledge about performance from the singers (and, to some degree, vice versa).

July 30, 2010 at 11:09 AM ·

Vibrato seems to me to be vastly overdone.  It's almost as if a violinist, violist or cellist  doesn't do vibrato with every note then they aren't as good as the ones who do...

If you listen to vocal, vibrato is done towards the end of long notes and very little on short ones.  If it's done with all short notes as well,  it just sounds like a lot of wavering and can be very annoying after a while.......

July 30, 2010 at 12:12 PM ·

Veronica - you are right!  REAL (should I say macho??) violinists don't use a shoulder rest and vibrato from the first note to the applause.... :D

I'd rather listen to a real musician ;)

July 30, 2010 at 04:30 PM ·

Adding vibrato to your playing is a bit like adding spice to your meals; you have to know the right proportions. You can't put pepper, curry and salt on EVERYTHING you eat. Looking back on the history of teaching and playing, continuous vibrato is an obsolete concept. Along with incessant glissando's, continuous vibrato belongs to the late 19th, early 20th centuries, when everything had to sound candy sweet for the grannies to sob promptly. So, leave it there... it's a museum exhibit.

Not every measly-dangly 16th note deserves 7 cycles per second. There's no time!

July 30, 2010 at 10:48 PM ·

Well continuous vibrato is certainly appropriate on music from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, if nothing else. Still that's quite a significant part of the violin repertoire.

I still don't understand why people get so worked up about vibrato. It is one tonal technique amongst literally dozens. If you're even a moderately musical player of the violin you are able to develop a subtly different tone and style for each piece in your repertoire. 



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