'Selective' vibrato

August 3, 2011 at 06:55 PM ·

I've been told from a few teachers that I do something called "selective" vibrato. In other words, I'll play a passage and only vibrate notes that I want to, or feel more comfortable vibrating.

It may sound ridiculous, but it really is hard to focus on vibrating everything because then I'll focus only on that. Then everything just sounds bad.

It's especially been evident in slower passages of different pieces I've been working on.

I feel that when I slow down and do focus on vibrating what's necessary, not only does the sound production go downhill, but my arm/wrist tenses up. Which is just a hot mess of bad things...

Are there any suggestions of what I can do to work my way into solving this? Much is appreciated :)


August 3, 2011 at 08:37 PM ·

August 3, 2011 at 09:07 PM ·

Hang on, is intermittent vibrato a Bad Thing?  Seems to me vibrato on everything could be a problem in itself since you might loose the ability to play a pure note. 

My question is - when you do vibrato is it on all the notes that you want to or is it only on those that you can.  If the latter then, yes, you have a technical problem but if its the former perhaps you have an individual style that you are going to try to erase because its not in fashion...

Listen to Milstein ...

August 3, 2011 at 09:16 PM ·

I'll second the advice regarding 3-octave scales.  Although we can't see what you're doing, I'll share a few other things in my daily warm-up that help me keep this part of my technique in shape:

  • Adequate heat and moisture for quick traction and easy grip.
  • Basic finger gymnastics on each string in turn -- E-A-D-G -- nothing strenuous, just enough to get the blood pumping -- about 1 minute total.
  • Full bows, vibrating on each finger, 1-2-3-4, on E-A-D-G in turn, to open up the hand still more.
  • 3-octave scales -- NOT FAST -- in broken 3rds, four or eight notes per bow.  I start on open G, going up to 10th or 11th position sul E to reach top D or E; then back down all the way to open G.  Basic principle: Keep each preceding finger down as you place the succeeding finger -- 1-3, 2-4, 3-1 -- for better stretching and smoother string-crossing.
  • Basic Sevcik or Schradieck finger exercises in rotation, small doses, not the same ones day after day.  This helps to keep the hand and forearm muscles in shape and helps to maintain finger independence.  I find it a big help in maintaining quality vibrato.

BTW, I do the above routine in 3rd position, then repeat it in 1st.  This opens up my hand more gradually than just starting in 1st.  Especially check out the difference in vibrato before and after a 5-minute session of the broken-3rds scales.  Ditto for before and after a few minutes of Sevcik or Schradieck.

Beware the left-thumb death grip -- it will defeat your purpose and make your warm-up far less productive, if not totally useless.  Be sure to review this with your teacher.  Hope this will be useful.  Let us know what develops.

August 3, 2011 at 09:29 PM ·

Yes, Elise i agree completely. I was once in the orchestra for a viloin competition. One guy played the Beethoven with a beautiful sound - but it was the same beautiful sound throughout. It was actually boring to listen to. Long notes - if you start "plain" and then add vibrato, the note seems to grow. Yes - please vary the sound, PROVIDED it's a conscious choice and not "I'll do vibrato on my third finger because I can, but no chance on my first".

Listen to the great players of the past, when you could tell one from the other instantly from their sound, and the variety in their sound.

August 3, 2011 at 11:29 PM ·

 Elise, Malcolm, I 'third' that.  Vibrato is a flavor/color of violin, not a nutrient element.  

Of course, Mitchell, if you are not vibrating a note because you can't, that is one thing, but if your musical instincts tell you it needs less/no vibrato, that is an interpretive choice, and entirely justifiable.  Mindless on/off vibrato is frustrating to listen to, but intelligently selected, it becomes a powerful part of interpretation.

It's easier to play with vibrato than (perfectly) without, and the current fashion for steady-state vibrato may stem from that, in some players; for most, though, I think it's just the fashion.    




August 3, 2011 at 11:30 PM ·

I dont think that anyone here is suggesting that one play with a repetitive, boring,  unimaginative vibrato. But to be able to sustain vibrato through a phrase, to be able to choose when one wants one's vibrato on or off is a valuable thing to have within one's artistic palette.

August 3, 2011 at 11:30 PM ·

double post. Looks like Nate has already responded though.

August 4, 2011 at 06:03 AM ·

I definitely agree with you all. As some of you have pointed out, the continuous vibrato should be used when appropriate.

I just think that before, I fell into the 'mindless on/off vibrato' category.

As Malcolm had said about the Beethoven performance, I'm not saying that I need continuous vibrato for everything, just for particular phrases where I think is needed. Because sometimes, non-vibrated notes do stick out...

By the way, thank you all for your responses. I feel like I'm gaining something :]

August 5, 2011 at 10:17 PM ·

Thanks. My vibrato was the "convenient" type, since I mainly use arm vibrato and prefer not to tire my arm out.


Your advice definitely helped. The tremor definitely helped me develop a continuous vibrato or, at least, a semblance of it.


I tried some of the things you mentioned. Mixed results, maybe because of the short-term trial period.


I do vary the vibrato especially on long notes. Reinforced the point.

August 6, 2011 at 09:22 AM ·

Mitchell, I have the same problem.  You might want to check out a book called Viva Vibrato.  It introduces the concept of practicing vibrato with a metronome.  Basically, you vibrate twice per quarter note (1/16 notes, up down up down vibrato on each quarter) and gradually increase the speed of the metronome.  This develops not only a steady vibrato, but also a vibrato that you can control and vary the speed.  It has helped me a lot.  But, dont expect it to happen overnight.  It could take weeks or months to see a big improvement.

August 6, 2011 at 11:42 AM ·

Hi Mitchell, just being aware is the first step, so you're well on your way. As for the physical aspect, it just takes time as others have said. Along with what's been already mentioned try the following.

If you have trouble with tension, I highly recommend rhythmic practice as you'd do with trills. Whether you're working on a pulse type vibrato or a swing, wide or narrow, finger or hand or arm, it helps to develop control in a measured way. Set your mm=60 and play duples (press/release for a pulse vibrato; vertical/flattened for a swing vibrato), triples (p/r/p, r/p/r; v/f/v, f/v/f), etc., until you've reached the smallest rhythmic subdivision you can control, followed by free vibrato.

If you have trouble with continuous vibrato, you can take the rhythmic exercises above and practice placing two fingers at a time (whether along the string or across two strings). Make sure you place/lift fingers at the same part of the vibrato (i.e. place or remove both fingers at the press/vertical phase of the vibrato cycle OR at the release/flattened phase.) On even subdivisions the place/lift should happen at the same phase of the cycle; for odd subdivisions, it will alternate.

To further your awareness of how to apply vibrato in a harmonic context try practicing scales against a drone. Listen to the relative tension or calmness/stability of each degree of the scale against the tonic and add an appropriate speed/width to your vibrato accordingly. Keyboard harmony will help you further with hearing tension/release, dissonance/resolution. Next, play a sequence of tendency tones, e.g. (in degrees of the scale) 1, 6, 5... 1, 4, 3... 1, 7, 2, 1... 1, 8, 1, and see how you might apply vibrato to express tendency and rest.

If you need to develop continuous vibrato after shifts focus on vibrating freely (at lease 3 full vibrato cycles) on the bottom note, immediately followed by a smooth, released slide for the shift, followed by a free vibrato on the target note, immediately followed by a smooth, released slide back down. If you want to practice shifting at the same time, you'll want to measure that too (8 beats, 4, 2, 1, 1/2.) Practice same finger as well as different finger shifts. You can then take Sevcik Op. 8 or a Dounis exercise ("Cultivating the Feeling of Balance Between the Fingers of the Left Hand", which I think is from Fundamental Technical Studies on a Scientific Basis for the Young Violinist -- I don't know if it's in print right now,) and use them to balance the vibrato between fingers. If you find that it's difficult to vibrate equally on the weaker fingers you can try balancing on that weak finger (that is allow it to curl and let its baseknuckle open as much as possible while letting the rest of the hand follow it, even if it means the hand goes out of position to do so, or you need to lift other fingers, even let them hang over the other strings/fingerboard; balancing fingers in this manner is especially helpful for slow, lyrical passages.) 

Hope it helps,


August 8, 2011 at 01:55 PM ·

I agree with Nate- scales played slowly are the perfect tool to use for this!  In fact, scales can help teach us all sorts of techniques beyond just intonation.

To achieve the constant vibrato, you need to 1) make sure your hand is relaxed (no tense thumbs) and 2) make sure you are using a smooth, legato bow with stops inbetween notes.  I find these two often go together- if our bow is used to unconsciously slowing down at the end of a bow or stopping before changing the bow, our left hand will follow suit by keeping a constant motion.

I would suggest starting with 2-octave scales where there is no shift.  A teacher of mine in high school suggested playing the scales slurred with constant vibrato, changing up the rhythm for each key area.  Here's a general outline (note: there will always be two beats on each bow)
1) GM/gm: metronome at 60 playing in quarter notes, two quarter notes to each bow
2) AbM/g#m: dotted quarter-eighth rhythm, or eighth-dotted quarter rhythm (still two beats to each bow)
3) AM/am: using a combination of two eighth notes and a quarter note (such as eighth-eighth-quarter, or eighth-quarter-eighth)
4) BbM,bbm: eighth-eighth-dotted eighth-sixteenth

You can use any number of rhythms (check out the rhythmic variations for Kreisler #2).  The point of varying the rhythms, starting with very slow quarter notes, is that you warm your hand up, using continuous vibrato, and proceed to ever faster rhythms.  You will soon fine that even in fast eighth note passages it will be easier to keep up a constant vibrato.

And an interesting point about constant vibrato: listen to GREAT singers.  Most of them employ a constant vibrato and only rarely choose to sing a note without vibrato.  However, they vary their vibrato almost constantly to suit the phrase or the tone of what they are singing.  I always listen to opera as a source of inspiration for my sound (particularly in romantic-era pieces).

August 8, 2011 at 02:41 PM ·

Another great thread here that makes me think. I agree with the comments about listening to singers, (read that one in book on improvisations years ago) and have some favorites (Sinatra of course, Aretha, Gladys, Billie, Muddy) that really drive the point home for me about all those choices to be made in musical expression.

Years ago when I returned to lessons I had the opposite problem (in a way) of not being able to stop the vibrato, and that it always sounded the same (BAD). It's all about control and choices for me. I am not at the same level as many here and never will be, but one thing that helped me get more conscious control over my vibrato was playing simple old jazz tunes with the intent of making my instrument sing the way those great singers do, and listening to Stuff Smith making his violin as expressive as any voice as an inspiration.

August 8, 2011 at 04:52 PM ·

Rebecca- great point about the jazz!  If you're interested in listening to some great jazz sounds on the violin (both jazz-wise and vibrato), listen to Stephan Grappelli.  He could make a violin sing those jazz licks like no other!

August 9, 2011 at 01:43 AM ·

Oh, Christina, love Grappelli, how could I leave him off the list? Kind of intimidating though too!!

August 9, 2011 at 08:42 AM ·

@Smiley: I actually had Viva Vibrato in middle school! Thank you for reminding me of its existence! Lol

@Jeewon and Christina: I tried more rhythmic practicing as you both have suggested. Thank you very much for your suggestions. It just further widens the possibilities of practicing successfully :)

@Christina (again) and Rebecca: I LOVE listening to singers. Being a singer myself, I can somewhat relate to how they phrase, etc..

August 10, 2011 at 09:56 AM ·

 Practising double stopping vibrato is a good way to improve continuous vibrato with single notes. Here's how it works. 

Let's assume for now you want to practice changing from 1st to 2nd finger, and back again. Firstly, play a perfect 4th across two strings (for instance, in 1st position, 1st finger on A string (B) and 2nd finger on D string (F#). Vibrato both notes simultaneously. 

Now move the 2nd finger onto the A string (C#), keeping the 1st finger down. Vibrato both fingers as before. Obviously you'll only hear the C#. Now practice lifting the 2nd finger, and putting it back down, keeping the vibrato continuous. Hopefully, this should feel quite straightforward. 

August 18, 2011 at 07:13 AM ·

I would also agree that vibrato on every note can sometimes be a bad thing :) But I know the pain you are going through!!!!!!

August 19, 2011 at 09:45 AM ·

 It sounds wonderful what you do already..isn't vibrato the key to expression? Use it wisely and judiciously. Practice plenty without vibrato to make sure vibrato is always a choice, not automatic.

Good luck!

August 21, 2011 at 09:49 AM ·

There is nothing wrong with selective vibrato as long as it doesn't become contrived. On the other hand, there's everything wrong with trying to neurotically vibrate on each measly note in a presto passage.

Firstly, find a middle ground. Vibrato benefits from a range of amplitudes (wideness) and frequencies (speed).  Just as we use varied pitch to speak in an expressive manner, so must vibrato be of varied nature. And just as you can pronounce a word without any inflection at all to make it special (flat emission is also a form of expression), so too can you make a note stand out or have a new meaning by not vibrating it.

Secondly, not everybody has the muscle stamina to sustain a permanent vibrato. Finding the right places where you can do less of it or none at all is the best way to keeping your hand fresh and avoiding muscle fatigue.

It's really not that complicated!

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