Do I change my vibrato or not????

January 7, 2011 at 08:59 PM ·

A couple years ago my last teacher told me I had a wrist vibrato, and that I should be using my fingers instead. She gave me some exercises to do and I've been doing them off and on. I came to to find exercises I could do at work since my practice time is extremely limited, but it seems that most people don't do finger vibrato anyway.

I picked vibrato up more than learned it back when I was 8 (my teacher said she never taught it until kids were a little older, but I wanted to sound like her and did it anyway...) so it always seemed natural and I never thought about it much. Four teachers later, only the one who gave me the finger vibrato exercises commented on my vibrato technique, so I assumed I was fine, but now I'm not sure. If nothing else, picking it up "naturally" can't possibly be good technique, right???

Is finger vibrato the ultimate goal or is my wrist vibrato perfectly fine? Do good violinists use each kind of vibrato in certain instances? If I should be doing it, are there any good exercises I can do while at work, driving, etc.? Any red flags besides tension and overuse that I should be looking out for?


Replies (21)

January 7, 2011 at 09:22 PM ·

There's probably been numerous discussions/blogs on this-- here's one for example. I remember reading somewhere that all 3 types of vibrato are good, depending on the expression you want--so that's what I aim for. Wrist and arm vibrato should include some finger movement. IMO, solely finger vibrato is probably the least common.

January 8, 2011 at 02:22 AM ·

Don't use just one, use them all singlyor in combinations.

January 8, 2011 at 04:01 PM ·

Without hearing your vibrato it's hard to say why your teacher wants you to rework it.  I agree with all of the above, a combination of all three types not only sounds lovely, it's HANDY!  It's pretty difficult to use wrist vibrato while playing in some of the higher and highest positions.  I would encourage you to study finger vibrato, in the long run, it's a worthwhile investment of time and skill.


January 8, 2011 at 04:29 PM · A nice-sounding wrist vibrato can be all you need, especially if you can change its width & speed for expressive purposes. Finger vibrato is fairly rare, in my experience. I personally would not fuss at a student w/a nice wrist or arm vibrato to spend time developing the finger vibrato. Sue

January 9, 2011 at 09:57 AM ·

The only thing that can be said about vibrato with certainty is that its a shining example of the rotten state of violin pedagogy.  I'll give several examples:

1.  Sassmannshaus in a workshop on Youtube says that the finger vibrato that is explained on page 40 of the Galamian book is not finger vibrato at all, its simply a very narrow wrist vibrato.  In other words, he is of the opinion that the finger vibrato DOES NOT EVEN EXIST.  He also stated that if a student learns arm vibrato first, its extremely difficult to learn wrist vibrato.

2.  Todd Ehle utilizes the common starting point (for the wrist vibrato) of using the ribs of the violin to develop the pulsing action of the hand.  Drew Lecher in his 'Viva Vibrato' article says its the worst thing you could possibly do. 

I don't think Flesch or Fischer's books are that helpful either in clarifying a number of controversies.   The question of the wrist vibrato is:  Whats the point of it when the motion of shifting is a very wide arm vibrato? 

January 9, 2011 at 02:59 PM ·

Thank you Frank Ross!!! Hear Hear!!! I bet teachers of other instruments would laugh at the vigor with which we violinists defend out ever-so-slightly differing versions of the same set of basic principles.

Hello Stephanie and everyone. Sorry, here comes a rant. 

Vibrato, quite simply, is the rolling of the fingertip on / along the string through a loose, or, relaxed last-knuckle. Do we all agree?  

It doesn’t really matter whether this loose-knuckle-rolling is generated by the wrist or arm, “finger” or left knee for that matter – if the rolling works, then it’ll sound good – that is, as long as the resulting sound is what you are aiming for!!

As for finger vibrato, theoretically it shouldn't be able to exist. Why? Vibrato is a three-piece puzzle. We have the ROLL-ER (hand or arm), the FACILITATOR-OF-THE-ROLL (the loose knuckle joint) and the ROLL-EE (the finger-tip).

The definitions of “Finger vibrato”, according to the literature, imply that the ROLL-ER is taken out of the equation. Could anyone actually imagine trying to play the beautifully fluid, relaxed and velvety experience that is vibrato by isolating essentially the entire arm and hand - excepting the finger-tip and knuckle? I'm trying it now as I type, and failing miserably. Further, this idea actually goes AGAINST the principles of Galamian and Rolland – all parts interacting harmoniously together etc. 

Something’s got to actually generate the movement, since the ‘finger’ is the one BEING moved in a relaxed and passive manner. So can it be the MOV-ER as well as the MOV-EE… ? I struggle to work that one out.. 

So, if there is anyone out there who CAN vibrate gloriously moving ONLY the knuckle and the fingertip, PLEASE post it on YouTube and lets settle this once and for all.

And as for teaching vibrato LATER in a student’s tuition; it is interesting to note that most teachers say that then fingers need to be ‘strong’ before the student can start vibrato – yet at the same time, vibrato is a technique requiring a completely RELAXED finger. Beginner students come to the violin with completely relaxed fingers (some people call this ‘weak’), so wouldn’t this situation be the BEST time to introduce vibrato?


Anyway back to Stephanie’s post - sorry!

 I think it's fair to say that:

Both good and bad violinists often use (isolate) only one type of vibrato – either the wrist or arm. Both good and bad violinists have both techniques at their disposal and interchange them.
Both good and bad violinists use a ‘mixture’ vibrato – everything moving.


The determining factor is whether the vibrato: a) actually sounds good or not, and b) is able to convey their artistry in a convincing manner.


And whether they are good or bad depends, of course, on heaps of other stuff as well.


So, whatever the issue with your vibrato is, focus on the fingertip rolling action. Get IT right, and then see whether arm, wrist or mixed is the best way (FOR YOU) to go about it.


Maybe find out also WHY your teacher wants you to change vibrato...?


Tension usually arises from stasis (Rolland) rather than movement. In fact, according to this definition, it may be logical to assume that a combination vibrato is the most ‘tension-free’ way to go.


Szilvay (Colourstrings) advocates beginning vibrato on harmonics – try it – if you roll (not too widely) on a harmonic, it sounds just like stopped vibrato. In this manner, the finger is very relaxed, you can then gradually add weight to the string as you get used to it.


Anyway, I bet you ARE a good violinist. I bet you have a nice vibrato too.

 Cheers all, 

Andrew Baker

January 10, 2011 at 12:36 AM ·

Fingertip rolling by whatever means leads to the interpretation:  F<---$--->S.  The '$' is the correct note, and 'F' and 'S' refer to flat and sharp respectively.  The other problem is that you can roll the fingertip without flexing the final joint on the finger.  Vibrato is not simply rolling or rocking because there has to be a orginating pulsation that results in a real vibrato unlike mechanically moving the hand back and forth from F<--->$.    What I don't like about Ehle's video on wrist vibrato is that his use of the ribs to develop the pulsing effect of the hand seems to encourage the adoption of a collapsed wrist inwards posture when transferred from off the wood into another position towards the scroll.  When the wrist is straightened becomes difficult to vibrate like before.  Anyways, I think there is a conceptual difference between arm and wrist vibrato and I'm not sure they are compatible:

"[Arm Vibrato] But the player is usually taught to think of vibrato as a natural attribute of every tone sustained long enough to be vibrated.  [Wrist vibrato]When viewed instead as a specific ornament (as it was before the nineteenth century), vibrato takes its place as a very narrow, relatively rapid oscillation--just one member of a large family comprising shakes, rolls, and oscillations of various widths."

January 10, 2011 at 02:08 PM ·

Thanks everyone! This has been immensely helpful. Reading the posts, I think she wanted me to change vibrato because she was one of the rare people in the finger-only school (it's been a couple of years since I had a lesson, and we both moved so I can't really ask her; I know self-taught is sub-optimal, but that's where I'm at right now). I'll keep doing the exercises trying to improve my finger strength and flexibility, but won't make switching up my vibrato the focus of my practicing for the next few weeks! I'll also be having some fun experimenting with different vibrato types, never really thought to do that.

In the meantime, it looks like I've got a couple Youtube videos to look up! Thanks again for all of the input.

January 10, 2011 at 03:28 PM ·

 i am not a violinist or violin teacher, but a self crowned critic under my own roof by default (you know what they say about a critic:).  i would like to throw in my 2 cents, in reference to some things covered by frank and andrew.  my randomly picked reactions are what i can recall, thus not comprehensive.

1. the teaching of vibrato is confusing, misleading due to the different schools of thoughts or principles.  

i disagree with that sentiment.  it is not rotten, but it is certainly not a cookie cutter. it is actually facts of life where in any credible, worthy, academic pursuits there are ALWAYS different ways of looking at things, different ways of information sharing.  it all started with individuals with different perspectives, sometimes opposing views.  but that makes learning particularly exciting since now we have a buffet of knowledge to benefit from and build on.  instead of having just one way, we have many ways with which to experiment and explore.  joe may progress faster with track A and jane may progress better with philosophy B.  in the end, both reach similar outcomes or realize their own best potentials.  what will be disturbing is somehow there is only thought C and A and B people have to fit in.  that is a bit like the central planning under communism where everyone wears the same blue garment of the same size.  no more confusion.

2.  if the movement of the joint next the nail (DIP joint) causes vibrato, does it really matter if the power source is from the elbow, wrist or somewhere in the finger?  yes, it does.  a pure vib from the elbow does not sound the same as a pure vib from the wrist.  it is physiologically impossible for most people unless we are talking about freaks of nature.  how come?

because of different muscle functions.  looking at the upper limb, going from proximally to distally,  from shoulder girdle to finger tips,  we see that  muscle function changes to adapt to different locations.  closer to the shoulder regions, muscles move slower but can handle load better.  conversely, near or in the hand, muscles move faster and are suited for finer motor function.  in other words, based on physiology,  pure wrist vib should be finer sounding than arm vib:  the os freq should be higher and the amplitude lower,  and with  better control.  therefore, in some passages, eg, some mozart phrasings, wrist vib would be much wiser choices than arm vib:  light, in control, in and out with ease.   of late, my kid was working on that gypsie tune; some endings can use more of wrist vib, but she is not that good at it yet.   with arm based vib, it is like stepping on the brake of a 18 wheelers instead of a sedan.  but some lines/passages require wide and deep vibs,,,better delivered with more recruitment from the arm.  so, a better way to argue is really not the question of wrist vs arm,,,but at any one moment, in what proportion should the player make use of them...and why.  that is when one can easily tell a beginner apart from a veteran: the level of sophistication of the understanding and application of a medley of vibs all over the entire limb.  here is an analogy.  lets say we made a big scratch mark on our violin.  when we hand it over to a novice, the repair job is probably done in 6 seconds, with one big broad stroke of varnish.  when we hand the violin to an artistic restorer,  it may several days. with finest motor control of the hand, with finest brushes, perhaps hundred of strokes applied over time, in layers, the repair matches the original varnish.  imo, vib should be handled similarly, being aware of the physiological advantages.

does finger vib exist in theory and in practice?  well in theory anything exists, but in this case, finger vib exists.  perhaps some nutty profs will prefer to run through an entire symphony with pure finger vib to make a point (i have to ask why), but, in and out short phrases can certainly use finger vib if one can deliver.  in addn,  some high e string notes can certainly use finger vib because physiologically and physically it makes sense.  imo, many people with decent wrist vib tend to stop there and do not explore further.  for the most part i can understand,,,why bother?  but if a person can move the finger at the MCP joint without much difficulty, that joint can serve as the power source and the base of finger vib.  


January 10, 2011 at 03:46 PM ·

I find your message makes a lot of theoretical sense - but maybe not so much practical?  IM(also humble) opinion there (er, perrhaps I should say should not be) any such thing as 'pure' arm, wrist or finger vibrato only forms that are dominated by one of the other.   Since we all agree that the rolling of the loose terminal digit is what makes vibrato and (I think we all agree) you need muscles operating in a relaxed arm to get a fine vibrato, all three elements will contribute to some extent with (generally) either arm or wrist as the predominant source of the hand and hence, finger tip movement.  Again IMO its probably the WORST thing to do to try to do one form or another purely - that would require stiffening the opposite joint and contradicting the relaxation.

I learned arm vibrato first (as a child) but after returning a well meaning teacher tried to teach me wrist (dominant) vibrato, which she felt was superior.  This became a year long pursuit - I would practise while driving (which I had to do a lot of) and through a lot of frustrations.  However, for me (and this is only me) wrist vibrato gave an odd sound that was more hurdy-gurdy than my old staple and eventually (with support from a new teacher) I went back to arm-dominant V. However, I believe the excersize was not in vain since I think I used to freeze my lower arm when I did arm-V - in essence almost pure arm vibrato.  So in a way the first teacher was right - I'd love to think that was actually her intent since now my arm vibrato is complemented by a lower intensity but definite wrist one.

Thus, I am a proponent of the arm-wrist vibrato (AWV) as the ideal!  And if you want to add finger in there please feel free - just make sure it sounds good :D

January 10, 2011 at 03:55 PM ·

The vibrato is a combination of finger, wrist and arm all together...

January 10, 2011 at 03:58 PM ·

 hello elise,  in fact we agree with each other on that point,,,that it is a mixture in reality, thus my line, which probably got buried inside that  verbose paragraph :)

 "so, a better way to argue is really not the question of wrist vs arm,,,but at any one moment, in what proportion should the player make use of them...and why.  that is when one can easily tell a beginner apart from a veteran: the level of sophistication of the understanding and application of a medley of vibs all over the entire limb. "

i chose the modifier "pure" in that instance to delineate the differences in wrist vs arm vib, based on physiology, in response to an earlier post which suggests that they may produce the same effect.  

like you, my kid also started on arm vib,,,not by choice, but because she was too small and weak to find wrist movement comfortable and sustainable.  she is getting stronger so she is exploring wrist vib more.   at least to me, her arm dominant vs her wrist dominant sound very different.

you mentioned that wrist vib gives a sound you don't like.  same thing happened with my kid in the very beginning and up until not long ago.  with her, i have tried to encourage her to try wrist v for a long time; but each time,  since both she and i were expecting it to sound nice and it did not, she gave up and i gave up.  so we have been forever picking it up and dropping it immediately.

what made a change is this:  we worked on trying to PURELY move the wrist (no arm at all), VERY SLOWLY, the  entire range of motion that wrist can allow.  a complete, slow, full roll of the finger.  you can imagine that it sounds horrible,,,a slow grinding noise of a heavy door or a fire engine siren in slow replay.  

so now, no anxiety to sound good because we set up to sound "bad".

the wrist is not tired anymore because the movement is done on purpose very slowly and as tolerated.  

i can testify that after a week of that, perhaps 3 mins per day of that, this "stretching exercise" has loosened her wrist and further loosened her DIP joint in the finger.  whereas before, she cannot do wrist v in isolation, now she can.

i think it is worth a try for you, elise.  eventually you may enjoy your arm/wrist combo more because the whole thing will be looser and uses less energy. 


wish both of  you luck! :)


January 11, 2011 at 10:57 PM ·

The question of the wrist vibrato is:  Whats the point of it when the motion of shifting is a very wide arm vibrato?

Leave Anna Karkowska out of it!  :-)

January 16, 2011 at 10:49 AM ·

 Hi all, what an interesting discussion! thanks all for spending so much time here.

Some further thoughts...

vibrato is a combination of the wrist, arm and finger: probably, usually, it is... but there are players who isolate either the arm or wrist. so in reality this is a generalisation, and perhaps an ideal.

the connection between shifting action and vibrato: the movements are similar; Havas and Rolland write about using the shifting action to refer to / introduce vibrato: but in practice, this similarity is only really useful in that context. if vibrato were to be modelled on the shifting action, then it would be simple! everyone would play with an arm vibrato!

finger vibrato: still far from convinced. I don;t believe it exists in a pure form without some impulse from elsewhere in the arm / hand. anyone found any youtube clips of it yet?

Another interesting point (for me) is the teaching practice, that is refered to here, of telling someone to 'change their vibrato' without much explanation, and perhaps sound reasoning, as to why. I think that the common answer "it is how i do it... how i was so & so does it..." really doesn't cut it. Why not asking the student questions like "what feels easiest for you? what do you think sounds best?"

cheers from Australia, Andrew



January 16, 2011 at 11:52 AM ·

Hi Stephanie, I find this discussion very interesting because I am beginning to learn vibrato for the very first time.  After reading up books and internet sites and watching youtube sessions on how to learn vib, I was all gung ho to start arm or wrist vib, but not so. Teacher threw in the wild card and wants me to do finger vib only.  She has showed me how to do this with relaxed fingers moving softly from the joints, but there is also some wrist movement, which she says is fine. I was told to be careful not to allow the wrist to collapse under the fingerboard in the process. Her view of vibrato is that it is somewhat overused and overplayed and she believes that in most cases, a medium slow vibrato is all that is needed (depending on the piece being played, of course). When I watch her do vib, both her wrist and arm move a little, as well as the fingers.

So at first I practiced every day but am finding it not to my liking. I understand it won't sound fantastic for a while yet, but it also doesn't feel very comfortable, and as you can guess, my enthusiasm is waning and practice is going by the wayside.  I know that is because I still grip the neck of the violin way too hard, and am not relaxing enough, but I'm struggling to let go.  I will pursue this issue with Teacher in the new term, but in the meantime, if you can make it work for you, then congratulations.  I hope we can both get there in the end, too.  Greetings also, from Australia.

January 17, 2011 at 07:56 AM ·

G'Day Millie,

where in OZ?

i think you can achieve a 'beautiful' sounding vibrato even at the beginning: find the perfect wave shape, the perfect proportion of width vs speed - even it it is really slow.

the sound is paramount and can be achieved straight away in my experience.

Hi all, 

for what it's worth, just to make a point relevant to the previous discussions, it's not a finger vibrato if the wrist and / or arm are involved - otherwise all vibrato is finger vibrato...


January 17, 2011 at 10:52 AM ·

Al, if it was as trivial as you state, instructors would not tell students "it could take up to a year" to learn either kind of vibrato.  I just think a lot of the difficulty of violin playing originates in the lack of appreciation of the *physical* difficulty of doing anything, really, and the importance of developing all aspects (eg. finger strengthening) of relevant muscle tone and flexibility in both arms/hands/fingers/etc BEFORE trying to learn anything.  Kind of like a hockey player who had figure skating lessons prior to taking up hockey.  Otherwise, you end up ingraining incorrect physiological patterns.  Get the beginner on day 1 to put his left arm in violin playing position and keep it there for a full 30 minutes without pain, tension, and fatigue occuring.  Heck, can't do it for 30 seconds.  How can you do anything then?   Imagine doing 3 months of physical prep work (as outlined in Menuhins book "6 lessions...") before laying down a note with accurate intonation in mind.  But you can't.  Its all about playing in tune,  no matter the consequence.  Thats the problem with typical instructors and lessons.  The viewpoint of vibrato as a bolt-on accessory requiring only a bit of joint loosening is absurd.  .  Producing fitness via long hours of technical work (scales, etc) does not work because there are a plethora of students who have been studying with instructors for years and still have the same trouble developing a decent vibrato.

January 17, 2011 at 01:28 PM ·

 frank, i have written several posts, based on my understanding, not as an instructor, so there may be things you or other instructors do not agree, but nowhere do i intend to describe any process in the understanding or learning of vibrato as trivial.

in fact, it is anything about trivial.  perhaps a good way to confront the reality is that if you think it is trivial, you may have underestimated it; if you think it is too complicated, you may have overestimated.  "it" being the study of vibrato.

further, i have no ax to grind against instructors or the teaching prof.  each instructor is different and has something to offer, at least i believe so.  no one is perfect.  therefore, as a student (you) and a parent (i) we need to keep our eyes open and think and decide what is the right elements to acquire at any moment,,,which direction is more fitting.  we may end up in misunderstanding or misstepping, but at least we have tried our best given the circumstances with an open mind.  based on my kid's progress, i would like to think she and i have done more right things than wrong ones.  there is always room for improvement and therefore i am here, to peel off yet another layer of this onion.

since i have not seen how you play,,,i cannot comment on that.   

January 19, 2011 at 10:13 AM ·

Thanks Andrew, I'll give your suggestion a try. It sounds like I'll need to take a deep breath and start again but instead of focusing entirely on technique, I'll go more for sound.  I'm from Wodonga Vic, and I see you are from Orange, also regional.  I'll bet that has its challenges.  I have found that whilst we locals are lovely people by and large, we are not so very cultural and that true good instrumentalists here are few and far between.

I do agree that it probably isn't 'finger' vibrato in its purest sense, but a combination of wrist and arm movement with the fingers also moving in a supple way.  But finger vibrato is what my teacher called it.  My concern for Stephanie is not so much the accurate definition of vib, but the effort she may need to put in to alter her style.  I know from painful experience the difficulty associated with changing thumb and hand position later in life, when an earlier method had already been consolidated.  It can take years as it is too easy to regress when one has a short break or concentrates fiercely on learning a new piece. If she is learning this to complement her other style, then well and good, but if it is to replace it, then why she was asked to learn it is an important question, and whether the time and effort is really worth it in the long run.  But then, let's hope she's a faster learner than I!

January 19, 2011 at 12:45 PM ·


Cheers Millie.

and, the 'perfect' sound obviously means everything and nothing at the same time, so what I am referring to is a sound that YOU think is great... maybe it's modelled on a particular player you've heard, doesn't matter.... hope that makes sense...

Yes, regional music making has it's challenges!

combination wrist and arm mvt with fingers moving sounds great.. Would be interesting to ask your teacher what "isn't" finger vibrato then..?

yes.. it's hard to change styles..




January 19, 2011 at 01:13 PM ·

Hi all, getting general now,  

the association of violin playing with 'difficulty' connects with the rise of the virtuoso, alongside the emergence of elitism in european art music (late 1800's)..

rightly or wrongly, the teaching of the violin is embedded with the idea of 'achieving' strict sets of technical goals, that once 'mastered' leads the student to the top of the virtuosic mountain - the reward for which (in the eyes of the teacher / audience maybe?) is 'natural' and 'effortless' violin playing - an ideal that is perceived to be rarely 'truly' reached.

Isn't it perplexing that 'natural' has to be 'achieved' through a commando course of challenges?

I think vibrato is a good example of a technique that is taught along these lines. teachers have very fussy opinions on what it should be like, how it should be taught and i dare say rarely consider what might be easiest or most practicable solution for an individual student.

And, at the same time, we sit here and wonder how some of the truly great players play while 'breaking' the rules? One of my teachers used to say things like "well, when you sound like Heifetz, then you can lift your little finger off the bow.."!!!!!! aarrrrrgh!!!

Below, I have pasted some quotes from Frederick Neumann (1969) that i reckon sum things up:

regarding the the 'breaking' of the rules:

"The challenge is met by admitting fine results in spite of a wrong approach. The right to break rules is reluctantly conceded to the genius and to him alone … how much better he could play if he would only do it the ‘right’ way…"

regarding the insistance on following strict rules within methods without flexibility to cater to the individual students:

"The excellence of a master’s playing is accompanied by a pattern of attitude and movement, and his interpreters believe that only a faithful copying of this pattern in all its outer detail can show the way to the same excellence … Impose the outer shape, by applying the prefabricated mold of the system, method, or school … and then expect that the inner life, the essence of the art, will come by itself. If it fails to come … the explanation is very simple and convenient: lack of talent on the part of the student, of course."

and finally, one more... my favourite!

"Each school has its own rigid set of rules; each school’s disciples are convinced theirs are the only and right answers…So the student finds himself cast into an exact mould patterned by his school’s precepts. Any change from a teacher of one school to a teacher of another invariably subjects the student to a complete revision of his playing habits. Too often it does not in the least matter whether his old habits are a hindrance or help to his progress; the fact that they are different is sufficient ground for condemnation." 


lovin' the discussion; thanks to all! well worth it i'd say..



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