Continuous Vibrato (CV) - should we? And going from a half- to an eighth note?

January 10, 2011 at 08:28 PM ·

I'm a bit confused with this.  According to my teacher I have a pretty good vibrato (combined arm/wrist) for my stage and I am able to change its speed and its width according to the mood and note.  However, I am confused with the call for continuous vibrato - I read that Paganini did it and Kresler too and there seems to be a suggestion that all modern violinists do. 

What happens if you are doing CV and you go from a long languid note with slow wide vibrato to a series of short ones - do you suddenly speed and shorten the vibrato or maintain the same pulse, in effect giving each note a vibrato fraction?

In my own playing though I find that some notes sound better without it and some going from no vibrato (not even subtle) to strong wide, it seems to be the most powerful tool (more than volume) for dynamic range so why not permit its full range?   

Replies (23)

January 10, 2011 at 08:34 PM ·

Regards vibrato ... I plan to take most of my cues from singers when I get there.  Which will be a while.  :-)  But nevertheless, that's where I'll be listening most closely.  And I've heard some do a continuous vibrato, and others not.  I tend not to like it.  I prefer a vibrato to be used with judgment and for a specific purpose, rather than just a switch that you flip on the side of the instrument.  I've heard so many different kinds from various top singers -- not just wide vs. narrow and slow vs. fast, but how quickly to ramp it up, whether to make it die out, how to approach it ...  I've heard singers with as varied and carefully employed a range of vibrato techniques as their range of pitch.

Who knows, it might be a matter of just mechanical technique for some, what's most comfortable and easiest for them to execute.

January 10, 2011 at 08:47 PM ·

I'm long influenced by the folk fiddle music (English and Irish) that I play regularly. It has its roots largely in the Baroque and vibrato is either non-existent or is used as an occasional ornament. Irish dance music is for the most part too quick for vibrato to be a sensible option. Having said that, I turn it on as necessary when playing in my chamber orchestra or when working on non-baroque pieces with my teacher. 

It was a little amusing at last week's chamber orchestra rehearsal when our conductor ran us through his new arrangement of three of John Dowland's lute pieces and required us not to use vibrato. Most of us had no problem with that, but there were a couple who were clearly having difficulty in ridding themselves, even for 15 minutes, of their continuous romantic-period vibrato!

January 11, 2011 at 02:10 AM ·

Elise: the best answer about continuous vibrato is explained by Carl Flesh in the art of violin playing. It is him who mentionned that Kreisler made the revolution and it is very well explained. Flesh heard Sarasate, Ysaïe, the very young and mature Fritz Kreisler ( in his letters and memoirs, he mentionned that he heard Kreisler play at 12 the Faust Fantaisie by Wieniawski and never encountered such a prodigy after.)

Continuous vibrato is more an illusion than something purely physical. A circle of vibrato always has a start and an end... you just bound the circles together by starting a new circle on the same note, if it is very long, or when you are playing another one.Think about different circles and kind of waves in the sound and adapt it to the specific mood of the music. If you play for instance a slow piece like Grave by Fritz Kreisler (Neveu,s recording) , Clérembault's Largo in c minor( Heifetz recording) or Bach Air, all 3 pieces being played mostly on the G string, try to use as many kinds of vibrato you can , depending of the musical line. Use faster vibrato gives the illusion of an acceleration of the tempo but you do not,  and it sounds more passionate. In profond and deeper passages, use a larger vribrato to enhance the gravity of the music... Also May Breeze (Mendelssohn) arr. by Fritz Kreisler , uses the entire G string and is very rewarding... Now, the big secret from the Franco- Belgian scholl as thaught by Alfred Dubois to Arthur Grumiaux, from Ysaïe to Dubois, from Wieniawski to Ysaïe and finally from Lambert Massart to Wieniawski, Sarasate and Fritz Kreisler: learn and play all these fine pieces also in the same position on the D string, the A string and finally the E string... Be as much expressive and free in your movements as possible... But master them on the G string first... You will also discover why Paganini wrote so many pieces for the G string alone... it does give great skills... and the vibrato is much more easier after on the other strings, believe me. But master the subtilities of the G string with ease in the motions or movements , without any contraction. Practice the feeling of entire freedom, and when this done, you will reach your soul ant adapt it to your instrument. As a human being,you must transcend your violin and feel that wonderful sensation of ease and freedom in the endless world of musical expression... That secret I own to my very first teacher, Noël Brunet, who studied at the same time as Grumiaux with Alfred Dubois... He was during the 40,s concert master at the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and made his debut in Carnegie Hall at 18 playing the Paganini concerto under the direction of Leopold Stokowski. He studied also with Joseph Szigeti.

Now, Flesh also stated that the innovation of Kreisler was that he also used vibrato in fast passages... He advises to play easy studies like number two of Kreutzer and similar studies and play them slower than usua,l with a definite vibrato impulse here and there, where accentuations are required and where it  sounds appropriate musically speaking.


I would advise strongly after having mastered the single notes to do the same with double-notes, like thirds, sixths, and octaves...

Depending of your skills, it takes about five years to master the continuous vibrato. You must be very ptient and never satisfied about the result, even if they are astonishing. This is an endless work in wonderful universe of sound and colors.



January 11, 2011 at 02:48 AM ·

Marc.  Fantastic.  Your posts are so musically inspiring... I take it the idea is to express the vibrato through the phrase and not through the note.  In which case each short note really does get a fraction of one vibrato cycle...

Interestingly I do remember playing as child and realizing that I never played without vibrato - indeed the scary discovery that I really did not know where the correct note was.  Now I want to start from the stillness - even if the sounds lacks depth and richness.  I want the stillness first so that when I add vibrato it really means something.

January 11, 2011 at 04:24 AM ·

Marc, I'm not a big fan of continuous vibrato myself, but your post is insightful and beautiful. Thanks! The undifferentiated vibrato we hear so much of, which Anner Bylsma likens to thickly-applied mascara all over the face, too easily makes one forget the possibilities of vibrato. What a terrific reminder.


I do want to call into question the idea that Paganini played with continuous vibrato. The quotations you refer to mostly seem to suggest merely that he had a vibrant and rich tone; the few that clearly refer to vibrato may indeed indicate that he vibrated more than many of his contemporaries, but I find it hard to believe that if he had played with continuous vibrato he wouldn't have had imitators. Also, though Paganini would be the exception if anyone would, remember that continuous vibrato without a chinrest is a sticky proposition!

January 30, 2014 at 11:12 PM · Resurrection time for this old thread.

Our new chamber orchestra conductor asked us in our last rehearsal to use CV over a whole phrase in certain pieces, rather than the start-and-stop vibrato for each note which many were using, presumably because that was the technique they had been taught.

CV enables a better flow of tone through the phrase. We did as requested, and it does indeed work, with a significantly better sound from the orchestra.

January 31, 2014 at 12:11 AM · I did read a while ago that whilst the virtuosi of my childhood and youth followed Kreisler in using vibrato all the time, the next epoch, rather than going back to Kreisler's predecessors use vibrato as the norm and its ABSENCE for special effects. Of course, the more you can vary the speed, amplitude and type of your vibrato the more expressive power you have. Huberman was apparently exceptional here.

Elise, nice for you to be in a position where the primary meaning of CV is Continuous Vibrato. Or DO you have to go through people's CVs every now and then?

January 31, 2014 at 06:48 AM · I was taught to use vibrato as much as possible.

I do not know how to use vibrato on the open G string. I use vibrato often, but sometimes no vibrato at all. Especially when playing harmonics. I speed up my vibrato at times and slow it down at other times. I make vibrato changes as I feel the mood of a piece calls for it. Sometimes I use a wide vibrato pattern and other times I use a tight and faster vibrato. What Clifton Jackson taught me was when I get advanced enough to do vibrato continuously and correctly, I could then cut back and deviate any way I feel it is best for the specific music score. When I played Hansel and Gretel recently, I started out with no vibrato and played very softly to show sadness. As I advanced into the score, I raised the amplitude and changed to some rapid short stroke vibrato, to indicate some intensity and excitement. At the end of the score, I went to a wider pattern and softer vibrato, which, to me, seemed appropriate for the dying scene.

Clifton Jackson, was my violin teacher. Even though he has since past,I believe he would have approved of my vibrato omitions and deviations, as long as I best fit the music Score. In my opinion, you do not have to use vibrato continuously. Playing on a G string, using harmonics and on the open strings it is acceptable to play without vibrato, provided you play these open notes with expression and really, really well. Sara Qwak said to me last year; "It is ok to deviate vibrato...and even omit it at times, but when you do use it, really pour it on... it is a beautiful gift we can pass on to our audience."

January 31, 2014 at 08:41 AM · Elise seems to have hit on this notion :- wobble all the time and the short notes might be attacked at the wrong part of the cycle, and be registered by the listener's ear as out of tune.

For slow melodies, the player can indeed vibrate continuously, but when playing rapid passages, it's as well to keep the vibrato demon well under control.

There's a a Canadian conductor who, in his concert-master days liked to say to us "Center the note". Trevor Jennings knows him, I think !

BTW I thought that famous pedagogue was Carl Flesch, not Flesh.

Sorry to be pedantic.

January 31, 2014 at 10:54 AM · As you will find if you go to one of Elise's other discussions (the one on Einstein), Flesch was a bit more than a pedagogue.

As regards vibrato when playing an open string, my father taught me to do a left hand vibrato on the octave on the string above (theoretically, you can also vibrate on the same note on the string below, except, of course the G-string, but then why play an open string in the first place?). I have also read about people using bow vibrato.

I have never read about people using peg or adjuster vibrato, but then, particularly with the newish Wittner Fine Tune pegs, there could always be a first time! And I don't know whether anyone's ever experimented with tailpiece or scroll-area vibrato (the latter would probably shorten the life of the string, as would, almost certainly, peg vibrato, which leaves tailpiece as the only reasonably conservative option of the three, unless there's another snag I've not thought of, varnish under the bridge, perhaps?), either.

January 31, 2014 at 12:07 PM · I think in discussions on this topic we should be careful to distinguish between two meanings of "continuous vibrato".

The first is the one referred to by our new conductor in which continuity of vibrato is maintained from note to note in a phrase, giving more of a vocal effect - like a trained operatic singer singing a Mozart aria (which in my opinion should be required listening for any aspiring violinist).

The second is using vibrato all the time, no matter what the circumstances. The problem with this is that it can only too easily be applied without thought in the wrong context. Worse, it can become a habit, even to the stage, which I've seen happen, where a violinist has difficulty in killing it when required to do so.

The key to musical vibrato is being able to control it, in all its different variations, at all times.

David, our new conductor does indeed have a Canadian accent, and he is inspirational.

January 31, 2014 at 01:08 PM · At first I didn't like vibrato becaus I couldn't do it! Now I really enjoy vibrato-less playing (folk, baroque etc.) where all the expression comes from the bow.

I now teach a continuous vibrato that works immediately on crotchets (quarter-notes!); then we are equipped to vibrate when we want, and not just when our hands allow it. I find vibrato sometimes sounds like an afterthought; it should enrich the tone "from within" and be infintely flexible.

A low tension violin actually rings better without vibrato; however, a "continuous" vibrato allows the tone to detatch itself from its surroundings, and project the tone without harshness.

In singing, we often want little or no vibrato in a vocal quartet, but an opera singer without vibrato would sound like a fire alarm!

February 1, 2014 at 09:14 PM · In my previous post I mentioned the benefits of listening to Mozart arias sung by a trained singer, something which has been recommended on a number of occasions by others here.

A while ago someone mentioned a German website which has all of Mozart's works available for listening to on-line by streaming audio. Information about this extraordinarily useful resource can easily disappear down the cracks, so here it is again for reference:

The website is in German and is also probably not the easiest in the world to navigate, so here is how you get to the streaming audio:

On the website's Home Index Page click on the rightmost one of the two boxes to the right of "System Gruppe -5-". This will take you to an index of all the streaming audio files. The Index is arranged in 45 sections, starting with "Earlier Symphonies" and progressing through to the opera sections 26-44. Section 45 is for "Rarities and Surprises", the final one of which is supposed by some to reveal a little of the secret of Mozart's genius - but I have my doubts.

If it is examples of arias with vibrato you want I would be inclined to ignore the opera "Bastien & Bastienne" because the performance here uses practically no vibrato - the opera was apparently intended for children. All of the other operas contain numerous arias.

In the website's database each movement of every piece has its own audio file for streaming. As far as I am aware there is no provision for downloading the files - there is a considerable investment to be protected.

The performers, who are clearly of the highest caliber, are strictly anonymous, presumably for contractual reasons. One can only wonder at the extraordinary time, effort and expense taken by the organization behind the mozart-archiv website to record what I estimate must be in the region of 2,500 audio files, for the public benefit.

A few items that came to my attention while browsing mozart-archiv ... There are at least two more authentic solo violin concertos, with K numbers, beyond the five everybody is familiar with. One of these extra concertos is unexpectedly hidden within the "Haffner" Serenade. Mozart also composed a double violin concerto, and a triple concerto for violin, viola and cello, but its 11-minute first movement is the only part extant.

February 1, 2014 at 11:58 PM · Trevor, thank you. And thanks to Elise for starting the thread back when.

February 2, 2014 at 02:57 AM · continuous vibrato?... takes all the fun away!

February 2, 2014 at 07:19 AM · Perhaps continuous vibrato, but not continuously, then?

February 2, 2014 at 02:35 PM · Thanks for resuscitating this Trevor, I don't think we wobbled to the end of the subject by far.

Trevor wrote: ..two meanings of "continuous vibrato". The first is the one referred to by our new conductor in which continuity of vibrato is maintained from note to note in a phrase, giving more of a vocal effect. ...the second is using vibrato all the time, no matter what the circumstances.

The latter is what one might think with little knowledge of playing but the former is the general understanding of the term. Still, I should have defined it at the top so better late than never :)

If you truly do 'continuous vibrato' you are in essence trying to hit a moving target with your fingers - the violin is hard enough already to play in tune to add that complication. Its my impression that 'real' continuous vibrato is done only when one finger is already in contact with the keyboard and the placing of the second can be done with some confidence even though the hand is vibrating. Once the violinist shifts position the continuous vibrato is replaced with a very rapid stop-shift-vibrate sequence with one more addition, a short glissando so that the stop is masked. Continuous bow contact and seamless changes are also necessary to maintain the note texture.

The effect is like liquid music - which is like voice as Trevor highlighted.

February 2, 2014 at 02:41 PM · David wrote: ..wobble all the time and the short notes might be attacked at the wrong part of the cycle, and be registered by the listener's ear as out of tune.

That was my concern - but its sort of silly because a vibrating note really is out of tune all the time. We get away with it mostly because of the listener's brain which, I believe, picks out the in-tune moment and goes with that - a property that may explain why one ardent group insists that you should wobble up to the tone of the note and another that you should wobble about the note. Neither seem to have noticed that they BOTH sound in tune. Lets hear it for the cerebral cortex.

So sometimes you can think things through too much. It may not matter that some of the notes are not exactly on pitch during a continuous vibrato run, as long as some are and whatever notes you hesitate on are. I don't think the mind is really thinking about purity of pitch - and maybe that's one of the reason singers vibrate - perfecting every note is too darn hard. Of course we violinists are guilty of that too - if you are not sure about the pitch of your note vibrate - it won't cure it for real audiophiles (my teacher for example :P ) but it might through up a smoke screen to the lesser ear!

February 2, 2014 at 03:26 PM · Here is a streaming audio link to the soprano aria "Al destin, che la minaccia" near the beginning of Mozart's opera 'Mitridate' K87/74a, composed when he was 14(!):

In this performance, which is but one step from a concerto movement, you can appreciate the power of the singer's vibrato attack right at the start of a note.

Vibrato enriches the tone because it is a frequency modulation process that generates side-band frequencies (or extra harmonics in layman's terms). You also get the bonus of more power and projection.

February 2, 2014 at 05:20 PM · Trevor J. has referred to his new conductor's advice :- "continuity of vibrato is maintained from note to note in a phrase, giving more of a vocal effect - like a trained operatic singer singing a Mozart aria".

All depends on which Mozart aria !! The big, high, "Queen of the Night" aria from the Magic Flute has lots of repeated, staccato notes - there's hardly time for the singer to get the operatic wobble going on each of them.

It's a different ball-game altogether for the slower "Dove Sono".

So by all means massage your CV (as Elise calls the continuous vib.), but do adjust it to each passage in question - not forgetting that if your wobble is thoughtlessly mechanical - like the tremulant stop on an organ - it will be far too wide in the higher positions.

I have just sampled Kreisler, recorded playing Beethoven Sonatas, and for the life of me I cannot hear any vibrato on the semi-quavers (little short notes, for you across the pond). Am I getting too old ? Or is that reputation for a CV a bit of an exaggeration ??

I have no recordings of Paganini, I'm afraid.

February 2, 2014 at 05:28 PM · I'm not a fan of continuous vibrato. Perhaps my ears are at fault, but it seems to me to have created a tendency to sameness of sound in recent generations of violinists.

February 2, 2014 at 05:29 PM · Trevor - I'm listening to the link you just provided and its amazing how she manages to hit the fast running notes and yet still keep the vibrato going - almost as if a different part of the voice is (can be) used to generate the tone and the vibrato.

To expand on your explanation of vibrato - is part of the effect due to the carry-over of the note in your minds so that the beginning of each vibrato wave in essence is retained in the later part. If so, it could explain why you really need a minimum frequency for vibrato to sound more than just an up and down modulation - you know at a certain frequency you get this totally new quality.

February 2, 2014 at 07:36 PM · There is no reason why "continuous" should mean "monotonous".

In minims or crotchets (= 1/2's & 1/4's), a gentle vibrato, at say 4 to 5 cps, can continue through the note changes if it's not too wide. At the other extreme (7 to 8 cps) seems to my ears (and fingers) to start with each clear drop of the finger, as part of the impulse: in semiquavers(1/16ths), slurred or detaché, we won't have time to hear an actual vibrato but the short notes can still seem less mechanical. I have in mind Grumiaux, Heifetz, Hahn etc.

But I do wish some of the greats would find quite a different enunciation for e.g. the Brahms concerto slow movement, which can sound very febrile..

"..almost as if a different part of the voice is (can be) used to generate the tone and the vibrato". Indeed, I find that violin vibrato comes from the wrist, the elbow, the shoulder, and even a magic spot somewhere between the shoulder-blades. It is, of course, felt in the fingers, but certainly does not originate in them.

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