Fritz Kreisler's Vibrato

July 29, 2011 at 01:03 PM ·

 I have heard a lot of Fritz Kreisler's recordings, and wonder just what kind, or combination

of different kinds, of vibrato he used. To me, it is different from any other violinist that I have

heard. Sometimes, it is so fast, that it would seem to rule out wrist or arm vibrato.

Your opinions appreciated.

Replies (38)

July 29, 2011 at 01:15 PM ·

 It was a miracle!

July 29, 2011 at 02:08 PM ·

 fritz kreisler, together with heifetz, elman, nadien, rabinof, kaufmann, friedman used a correct vibrato. All im going to say, it is neither arm nor wrist :) 

July 29, 2011 at 03:46 PM ·

I believe it is called impulse vibrato.






July 29, 2011 at 04:35 PM ·

  the SECRET is out! no! no! - :)

July 29, 2011 at 04:42 PM ·

I cant find any video of Fritz Kreisler. Only a photograph with a recording. It sounds like Menuhin's vibrato and I was just wondering about his vibrato yesterday. I always thought it is a fast wrist flick but watching Menuhin's hand more closely on youtube it looks more like hand muscle? Like the motion is from the knuckles and it makes the arm move a little. Thats wierd. Im gonna have to try that alot.

July 29, 2011 at 04:47 PM ·

Sadly, only silent video is available on youtube, but it's still fascinating and informative.

The impulse vibrato, or finger vibrato as Flesch called it, is described on p. 22 of The Art of Violin Playing, Bk. 1, where he prescribes it as a remedy for an "...excessively wide and exclusively wrist vibrato...."

July 29, 2011 at 05:47 PM ·

Menuhin's vibrato is peculiar in that it seems to rapidly oscillate from a wrist vibrato to an arm vibrato and back again (or something like that), constantly, especially in later years. Maybe that's what gave his sound its unique and unusual quality.

But I believe that the so-called "impulse vibrato" is a matter of a translation of all movement to the fingertips. Years ago, my teacher taught me a little finger exercise that I use to this day, and it has definitely had a major impact on my vibrato (which is primarily arm). Since the only point of contact with the string is the fingertip, that first finger joint above the fingernail is key. It should be flexible and almost loose.

Place your left hand on a table, palm down, fingers curved so that that the finger is literally at 90% to the table. Then, with only the slightest of pressure to keep the fingertip in place on the table, slowly and evenly (without forcing anything and without any tension) wiggle the finger back and forth so that the first joint literally wiggles almost of its own accord.

Do this (on a table, on your knee when driving, or wherever) with each of the four fingers of the left hand for a couple of minutes at a time, 4 or 5 times throughout the day, until that joint loses any sense of stiffness. If you don't notice a significant improvement in your vibrato (no matter what kind it is) within a couple of weeks, I'll be surprised.

Cheers, Sandy

July 30, 2011 at 01:54 AM ·

Sander - I think impulse vibrato is quite different from the others.  From what I read before it is not generated by the flexibility of joint but by a rapid up and down motion of the finger towards the finger board without leaving the string (and hence creating a trill).  I think thats how the bel canto violinists were able to do such a fast vibrato - and it has its uses such as up against the nut.

And if I'm wrong on this I'm sure there are plenty who can straighten me out at the first joint.... :D

July 30, 2011 at 02:54 AM ·

 Very interesting discussion.!!!  I tend to think he used mostly impulse vibrato. At times, it was very fast. I just could not see him obtaining this speed with the wrist or arm. I could be wrong though.

The silent pictures of Kreisler on youtube mentioned above are from the DVD " The Art of Violin. 

He is playing " Liebesleid ".  There are many pieces, of him playing on youtube that you can hear.

He had a way of making the violin speak, almost like a human voice.

Thank you for the replies received. i hope there are more.




July 30, 2011 at 03:51 PM ·

this is professorV's clip on impulse vibrato

he does say that its a way to later get the wrist/hand vibrato going but he ackhowledges that kreisler used it.

Sander, its almost exactly the kind of motion your teacher prescribed...first joint  in the role of the hinge. i tried it on the table, its one of those physically unnerving things for me. like someone scratching a blackboard with their nails. are you sure it doesnt have negative reprecussions? the first joint is just not used to that sort of motion. also i think it helps if you have longer fingers for this sort of vibrato. the joint hinge would not be that close to the fixed contact on the fingerboard so you can have more leverage.

July 30, 2011 at 05:00 PM ·

thanks for that tammuz - I learned something.  However, I'm also confused because he called this both impulse AND finger vibrato.  Are they the same thing?

July 31, 2011 at 03:42 AM ·

I think that part of the confusion in this and other subjects (including non-musical ones) is that sometimes different people may use the same terminology to mean different things. The first person I came across to use the term "impulse vibrato" was the very knowledgeable violinist and critic, Henry Roth. In his book, Violin Viruosos from Paganini to the 21st Century, Roth had this to say re Kreisler and vibrato on p.39:

Kreisler used what I have chosen to call an "impulse vibrato"...his vibrato was generated from some point within the arm to the oscilating fingertip, which had an extemely narrow point of contact. The result might be likened to an electric current, enlivening each note he played to whatever degree he chose.

So I would say that basically finger-centered and impulse vibrato can be thought of as the same thing. (I would quibble about it emenating from "some point within the arm." At least in my case, it pretty much starts and stays in the fingertip. If we could have asked Kreisler I bet he couldn't have told us, as he was such a natural, instinctive player.) But the fascinating thing about vibrato is that it forms an important aspect of our tonal 'handwriting'. And just as we learn penmanship in school the same basic way as children, but eventually develop our own handwriting, so with vibrato. However we learn it, there will be some degree of individuality - and vive la difference!

Another thing to consider is that some people combine more than one aspect of vibrato. I have a hand-centered vibrato that combines fingertip and wrist. Even as an advanced beginner, I so wanted to vibrate before my teacher felt I was ready for it, that I actually developed a finger vibrato on my own, somewhat similar to that professor v. video. My teacher eventually taught me vibrato formally with the wrist approach, and I combined the two. The finger vibrato and the wrist, when done in a rocking arc, do have a verticle aspect. For this reason, with many players - some more than others, eg Perlman - you can see their violin move up and down as they vibrate. As long as it isn't extreme, it won't throw off the tracking of the bow or cause any other problem.

BTW, another excellent book I'd like to recommend, that includes an extended discusiion of vibrato, is Violin Left Hand Technique - a Survey of Related Literature by Ernest Neumann. It compares and contrasts a number of different opinions on each subject.

July 31, 2011 at 07:21 AM ·

 proffesor v does not have impulse vibrato, as he might claim

July 31, 2011 at 08:38 AM ·

Ausar, then what is an impulse vibrato exactly...i mean how do you produce it?

i dont really believe in mystification, if kriesler and a bunch of others performed this vibrato then its in the knowledge pool. it would be helpful if you can show/describe and demystify it than to say "All I'm going to say, it is neither arm nor wrist :)"

July 31, 2011 at 02:44 PM ·

Hi John, interesting observations. I think your conclusions are consistent with what I believe happens physically. I think the impulse type vibratos are 'pressure' vibratos (or 'push, push, push...' as you so aptly described it); the pulsation is caused by the finger depressing the string, whether the motion is generated from the finger itself (using the lumbricals, instrinsic muscles of the hand), or wrist, or forearm, and releasing with a backward passive swing (more swing for some, less for others, and if not quite a passive motion, at least a secondary one.) So for Flesch, even the wrist vibrato is to be practiced (using the Rivarde exercise) with a forward push of the hand:

A very flattened (shape, not pitch) first finger is set on the string; the hand executes a forward motion with an inclination toward the left without allowing the finger to leave the string. This produces an amalgamation of the finger and wrist motions with a slight "rolling" motion of the forearm from the elbow joint."  (The Art of Violin Playing, Bk. 1., p.22)


You must feel soft in all the joints and be aware of the vertical pressure on each finger in turn. This sensation should be cultivated on every note of every scale and arpeggio in every part of the fingerboard.

The difference between a wide and a narrow vibrato (and a violinist must command every width and every speed of vibrato) is regulated by the relative firmness or softness of the finger joints. When they are soft (though always rounded) they release and encourage a wider sweep in the wrist and arm. When they are firm they prevent this freer movement... (Violin: Six Lessons, p. 122)

Constantakos on Dounis:

The vibrato that Dounis advocated "starts in the finger tip and progresses to the wrist through the hand." The finger motion of the vibrato, when performed slowly, begins with an up and down movement of the fingers on the srings. The fingers never leave the strings, but depress them to the fingerboard and release the pressure allowing the strings to recover to their orignal positions. 

... As the violinist increases the speed, the fingers do not leave the fingerboard, and the actual motion of the finger decreases considerably.

...The second motion involves the wrist.  (Demetrios Constantine Dounis: His Method in Teaching the Violin, pp. 64-65)

By contrast, Galamian taught a 'swing' vibrato (or 'pull, pull, pull...'), an active motion toward the scroll generated at the wrist, or elbow, which flattens a passive fingertip:

The finger elongates itself as the hand swings backward toward the scroll and then resumes its original curved position as the hand returns to its starting point. (Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching, p. 38)

The principles underlying ... the arm vibrato are much the same.... The impulse, instead of coming from the hand, now comes from the forearm, and, in this case also, the finger has to yield passively. (Principles, p. 40)

For Galamian, the finger vibrato is unrelated to the other types and a very different kind of vertical finger motion:

...the illusion of vibrato can be created by flattening the fingers and letting them break slightly in the knuckles immediately after the note is sounded. The elbow is placed more to the left to flatten the fingers and the fingers themselves move in a lazy fashion... (Principles, p. 41)

So for Galamian, the first joint releases as the finger is pushed into the string; for Flesch the first joint remains firm as the finger is pushed into the string and releases as the finger pressure is released. 

Samuel Applebaum and Paul Rolland also promoted a swing vibrato. Though Rolland mentions Flesch's "pressure pulsation" as a possible means to an "acceptable" vibrato, he thought it could also produce "uncoordinated finger pressure fluctuation" and advised using swinging wrist and arm motions without delay. (The Teaching of Action in String Playing, p. 155)

It's possible to learn both types, but most players seem to lean toward one or the other. Although it's difficult to be certain from the silent video of Kreisler, I would guess he used an arm/finger pressure vibrato.


July 31, 2011 at 04:37 PM ·

 Tammuz - You are correct, there is no mystery. Just that the tast of vibrato has changed. There is a different tone ideal today. If you campare to the violinists around 100 years ago, almost all of them had the impulse vibrato (to a certain extent), all kinds of slides and a certain kind of rubato.

The way of playing back then is not harder, just different. Both Perlman and Zukerman has a kind of impulse vibrato, but their main vibrato is not the impulse.

August 1, 2011 at 12:05 PM ·

Does anyone know a way to slow down the speed of a Youtube broadcast? That would be very interesting for looking at various things such as vibrato, shifting, sautillé, etc.

In the first documentary about Heifetz, made c. 1950, there is a segment showing Heifetz playing some of the Wieniawski Scherzo Tarantelle in slow-motion. Though it was a very quick passage, you can still see some vibrato, and it seems a bit different from what many others have advocated (if I remember right, as I haven't looked at it in a long time). He seems to move his fingers in a kind of eliptical way.

August 1, 2011 at 01:37 PM ·

Hi John, I spent some time watching/listening to some slowed (to 50%) footage on GOM player. I agree with your original assessment. Kreisler always places fingers at pitch, then dips below. That may add to the perception that he spends more time on the higher pitch. But it does seem more like a knocking sound, as if the finger snaps back to pitch. As for pulling vs. pushing, I think it'd be easier for most to place a finger faster than swinging the hand/arm back. Listening to Perlman, his vibrato doesn't always hit each note at pitch and his wobble sounds more spread out and evenly distributed (and obviously wider in general.) 

Hi Raphael, I saw that Heifetz footage recently and was a bit surprised. He uses a lot of finger tip rolling. Slowed down his vibrato sounds more like Perlman's than Kreisler's. Fascinating...

August 2, 2011 at 06:42 PM ·

hi Mattias,

yup...i came across this website citing redrobe's comparison of kreisler's impulse vibrato to a woodpecker in action with its beak superglued to a tree. but does it originate in the fingers axially vertical  completely independent of the hand or arm? i'm wondering whether the vibration originate from the rest of the hand with possibly subtle contribution from arm.

but  i find it difficult to believe that the fingers can be so mehanically active, and independent, in 'pecking' at the fingerboard at such speed and regularity.  i dont even have a decen wrist or arm vibrato yet, but for the sake of trying it out...i tried to achieve such a narrow 'pecking' vibrato without leaving the string and i found that if the upper part of the hand..the finger-webbed  part and attached fingers were "shivering" at a constant fast speed and with a torsional movement...feeding off from  a tense 'pent-up' feeling in the arm below the shivering might be possible to achieve a fase and narrow kind of vibrato tha relies more tapping (well more like shivering-pressing the fingertip on) the string than sliding on teh string. or i might be delusional. :o)


August 4, 2011 at 01:22 PM ·

August 4, 2011 at 06:33 PM ·

 TRUST ME LOL ITS POSSIBLE - watch this 3:02

August 4, 2011 at 06:47 PM ·

John, I don't think that Ausar said that the fingertip 'controls' the hand,wrist, arm. he said themovement of fingertip activates the rest. if i understand it correctly, this is more to do with inertia give and take between the different parts involved requiring the initial ignition of the finger than something being active  and passive per se.

and about the pent up tension, i meant in the sense that the arm would contain a readied reserve of energy with the finger/hand shuddering as its catharsis. sort of like the arm being a cable feeding energy to the vibrato.    when i look at the hand of kreisler in that clip, its not like the wrist vibrato or arm vibrato with an active swing. it looks more 'nervey' than 'muscular' if that makes sense

August 4, 2011 at 07:56 PM ·

this is very nice as well

his fingers are also so acutely bent above the fingerboard

August 4, 2011 at 11:12 PM ·

Ausar, I could not get your YouTube link to open. Please try another post.


August 5, 2011 at 02:22 AM ·

I'm not going to be pretend that I know exactly what's going on in this discussion, as it's so difficult to describe vibrato in words. But if I'm understanding Ausar correctly, I have the exact same thing. One day I was playing an arrangement of the largo from the New World Symphony. I was really getting into it, and my finger moved up and down. It was like putting the tip of your finger on a table and moving it up and down without the skin ever leaving the tabletop. Suddenly I had a vibrato. It didn't work with the first and second fingers as well, and the fourth was hopeless, but as I experimented more and more, I was able to get all of the fingers to do some alteration on this motion. It all came so easily that I went to my teacher and asked if I was faking it, because as far as I knew, learning vibrato had to occur over a long period of time and involved exercises with the wrist and the arm and the elbow. But no, I wasn't faking it, and this is the vibrato I rely on to this day. Nowadays though I tend to think of the movement as more horizontal than vertical; there's less tension that way.

Was this the vibrato Kreisler had? Don't ask me. But the type that originates in the finger certainly exists. The finger leads the wrist. The wrist and arm is relaxed and may go back and forth, so from a viewer's perspective, it looks as if the motion is coming from them. But it's not. The impetus comes from the finger. If I want something wider, I shift the impetus to the wrist and wag the wrist back and forth.

I'm also very double-jointed at the tips of my fingers. I'm sure that has something to do with why I can do this so easily and other people have a lot of trouble doing it, let alone visualizing it. (That sounds like I'm bragging...eek. I'm not. It's just that this type of vibrato is the ONLY thing I've EVER understood instantly on the violin. And the double-jointedness is not very nice to have when you're in a high position on the E-string, trust me.)

August 5, 2011 at 06:14 AM ·

i was also watching this

correct me if i'm wrong please, this is new for me

i think the vibrato mostly used is whats being called impulse, but doesnt he also incroporate different kinds of vibrato . a lot of it is impulse, but then around 1:04-1:08, where he ends one reclining phrase  and begins an ebbing other, he uses what looks like a hand vibrato and there is a clearer slide of tones (then again, its a slower less intense vibrato to reflect the music)...but then transitions to ebb in a more pointlistic 'breathless'  intense one, an impulse vibrato then? what is most effective is that, with this vibrato, the notes are very piercing and i think its because his violin is responding to his intonation and to the pulses of his vibrato. i dont think this vibrato would be so effective with not so exacting intonation. maybe swinging vibrato would be easier to hide behind, the fingers have more time and a choice of locations to find the tone? :o)

also, notice that at points his finger joints do bend , albeit in a less overt manner, akin to the prof.V's clip posted here.

August 5, 2011 at 08:52 PM ·

Can anyone please comment on Ysaye's vibrato here:

August 5, 2011 at 11:41 PM ·

Not about Ysaye's vibrato – I don't really know enough to comment sensibly on exactly how he did it – but I love his beautiful controlled slides, both rising and falling.  So vocal and typical of the pre-war period (the Casals-Thibaud-Cortot Trio, for example), and sadly you almost never hear it done today; I don't know why.

August 6, 2011 at 12:28 AM ·

Who could not be affected by that playing?  Unpretentious, relaxed, understated, musical, masterful, individual - and its hard to resist listening to the end.  Perhaps the most lasting impression is that 'I've never heard this piece played like that before'. 

Sorry, I don't know how he is doing the vibrato either - it does not sound like a wrist or arm version though - the amplitude is small and the frequency is high.  I'd guess a finger vibrato (the wobble, not hammer, kind we discussed above). 

August 6, 2011 at 12:53 PM ·

John.  BRILLIANT - but not the whole story - the secret of Heifetz's - he WAS the toyota automated violin!!!.

Finally, that problem solved and we can relax in the comfort that perfect technique really IS impossible.  

August 6, 2011 at 05:33 PM ·


i'm not really qualified to say...but by the sound of the trill-like pulpitating vibrato i would say it most likely an impulse, but maybe the experts will chip in and tell us :)

its also a really wonderful recording, thanks for posting it. he even makes the playful parts of the humeresque, which could sound stompy and arrogant,  sound doe-eyed and  flirtateous.

i don't know if there is an answer to this q, but when did the discrete fingers/wrist/arm vibratos come into play? who was responsible for introducing which, or at least who defined each discretely?

August 6, 2011 at 09:02 PM ·

 Nate - Good post! Thanks :)

August 6, 2011 at 11:52 PM ·

John: the 5 cents value must also have a duration - though I am not sure which way.  Was it determined with two tones given with a gap between?. Vvibrato is an oscillation, not a step between two absolute values.  Since most of our sensory receptors accomodate (adapt to sustained stimulu) they may well be more sensitive to a vibrato-like oscillation.

Do you have a citation for the 5 cents standard?

August 7, 2011 at 12:37 AM ·

Somewhat off topic, but very much related to tuning ... in Haydn's Symphony Nr 60 in C ("Il Distratto"), at  bar 16 of the 6th (sic!) and last movement, the Prestissimo, the music comes to a sudden and unexpected halt, there is a 2-bar silence and then the firsts and seconds spend the next 12 bars solemnly tuning their fiddles, paying particular attention to tuning their bottom string from F back up to G.  This tuning process is carefully written out in the score, bar by bar – like a formalized exposition of 18th century violin tuning (same as we do today, of course). Two more bars of silence and then the frantic Prestissimo resumes.

I'd love to play in a performance of this piece when the audience doesn't know the joke Haydn is about to perpetrate and there's no spoiler in the programme notes.

August 7, 2011 at 04:17 AM ·



I wish I knew the answer to your fascinating question... it's most interesting, because I have read that Ysaye was the violinist who introduced continuous (and rather wide) vibrato into the playing habits of the 20the century -- but this exquisite recording of Humoresque tells otherwise.

I've heard the few Joachim recordings and there is very very little if any vibrato present. In fact, my understanding is that when he debuted the Brahms concerto, it must have been a very very different thing than our ears are nowadays accustomed to -- I imagine it had little vibrato if any.


Surely there must be an existing book -- or a musicological doctoral thesis -- out there on the topic!

August 7, 2011 at 03:38 PM ·

This, I believe, is the Santa Fe lecture John was referring to:

August 8, 2011 at 01:34 PM ·

It occurs to me that since violin vibrato is a frequency modulation of a note, sideband frequencies will be generated. Some of these sideband frequencies will be in the audible range, like harmonics, and if they have sufficient amplitude to alter the quality of the perceived sound then you get an enriched quality of sound.
There is some deep mathematics underpinning the theory of the generation of sideband frequencies. What it boils down to is that the shape of the original vibrato-free wave form gets changed by vibrato and if the changed shape is analyzed mathematically by a process known as Fourier Analysis it is found that the changed wave can be broken down into its original form plus a number (potentially infinite!) of other sound waveforms which are the sideband frequencies giving the richer tone. The quality of the violin itself will presumably support and enhance the resonances of the sideband frequencies.

August 10, 2011 at 03:04 AM ·

In actual fact Kreisler once did play a trick on an audience by substituting a trade fiddle for his Stradivarius. He fooled them all.

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