vibrato with the fourth finger

August 14, 2011 at 04:52 PM ·

I heard from a violin teacher that vibrato with the fourth finger happens differently than with the other fingers. He didn't say how. Does anyone know?


August 14, 2011 at 09:59 PM ·

Well, my 4th finger is weaker than the others, and also with a lesser finger length, you will have a narrower vibrato. Advice from my teacher was to make sure the third finger is down as well, and this will strngthen the vibrato (and the sound in general).

August 15, 2011 at 12:15 PM ·

I gotta say..I avoided my pinky for like 5 years. but now I kinda force myself to vibrate on it. After a couple months, my pinky was strong enough to vibrate like all others, maybe not as quickly or as broad but it can do pretty much the same

August 15, 2011 at 01:54 PM ·

Good, balanced hand and forearm muscle strength is a big plus in maintaining quality vibrato -- especially on 4.  This is only one of the many reasons I find Sevcik and Schradieck so valuable.

I will second what Nate said about practicing vibrato on 4 each day.  Vibrato practice is one of the first things in my daily warm-up routine -- right after tuning and about 1 minute of basic 3rd-position finger gymnastics to get the blood pumping.

I start sul E, 3rd position, and give equal time to vibrating on each finger, using two full bows for each note.  Then I repeat the same steps on A-D-G.  Next come basic Sevcik or Schradieck finger exercises in 3rd position.  When done, I start over in 1st position -- vibrato exercises, then more finger gymnastics.

The whole routine takes me 20-25 minutes.  When I'm done with it, I can vibrate more easily on 4 -- even sul G in 1st position.  For really intense notes, I prefer to substitute 3 or even 2 for 4.  4 has its limitations, but with regular maintenance, it can do what it needs to.  EDIT: Picking up on John's point -- I find 4 especially useful in high tones sul E.

August 15, 2011 at 06:36 PM ·

IT's definitely harder and less comfortable, and you need to practice for reasons stated by the other posts.  However, my reaction when I am faced with a long note to vibrate on fourth finger is to wonder what I am doing in that position on that string.  Sometimes you can't avoid fourth finger vibrato, but if you are repeatedly being faced with long notes on fourth finger, you may need to find another fingering in another position.

August 16, 2011 at 06:48 AM ·

Thanks all for your answers! It's not exactly what I expected, but perhaps I didn't formulate my question very well.

John, I use sometimes a straightened, sometimes a curved fourth finger. I find that the width of the vibrato is larger when the finger is curved, because the joints are all free.

Of course I agree that the fourth finger is narrower and tinier and all that, but that doesn't necessarily mean 'weaker' and therefore more difficult to vibrate. From the base joint it is actually quite a free finger. I sometimes find that the finger is not stable enough however, because it's seems so free in the base joint. Because it so easily moves, you might get too many movements, and some wrong movements, that cancel out the vibrato. I'm thinking, perhaps that's where the difficulty lies. I find muscletraining for the fourth finger necessary (although if you just simply use it - in the right way, however that is - you well get muscles anyway), question is: which muscle to use, in what way, etc.

I'm experimenting a little these days with using straightened pinky and curved pinky (as John mentioned, however I don't use a different surface of the finger pad), and I'm experimenting with how the other fingers should behave in the air while one of them is down. Sometimes the first finger seems to have to aim a little more to the left side while one of the other fingers is down, sometimes I use a straightened fourth finger in the air to balance the vibrato of one of the other fingers, etc. One of my temporary conclusions is: it's easy to balance the 1st, 2nd and 3rd finger with any other finger in the air, but the 4th finger doesn't seem to be able to find a balance so easily through the same trick. The other fingers don't seem to have so much influence on the 4th finger. Anyone came across the same conclusion?

Happy to hear more!


August 16, 2011 at 01:58 PM ·


I think with vibrato, you have to use your thumb as support under  the neck.  I was taught to place my thumb under the neck to support the violin.  I was taught not to place my thumb on the side of the neck.  So, with my thumb under the neck as my support, I find it is easier to use my fingers, their joints and my wrist to  play vibrato.  

When I play high notes, and can not use my thumb under the neck, I use my fingers and their joints and  wrist movement to play vibrato, but my thumb is still supporting my hand in some way.

August 17, 2011 at 02:20 PM ·

Isn't it also true that with some violinists, the 4th finger vibrato is more like a cellist's vibrato, i.e., the vibrato is more sideways than back and forth. This is definitely the case with myself. Looking at the masters, it is not true with Hillary Hahn who has a formidable pinky, but it is true with David Oistrakh for example. It also is consistent with what Sarah writes about the free base of the pinky, it has much more liberty to go sideways. Or is this a wrong movement which should be corrected? If so, I would be interested in good exercises to avoid the sideways pinky vibrato.

August 17, 2011 at 03:10 PM ·

MIchael Tree, violist with the Guarneri Quartet, told us to let the fourth finger be supported by the third when possible so that the greater length and support given by it would help the fourth finger vibrate better. It was like having a double finger.

If you allow your hand to rotate gently as your elbow swings more sideways ( not too much out)  toward your ribs but not stuck against them, your arm will be better balanced to allow the fourth finger to be on, pardon the pun, more equal footing with the other fingers. Its distance from the string will be equalized with the other fingers above the same string so it is technically not shorter and in need of a greater reach to find its note. This makes the vibrato ( especially hand vibrato) easier on the fourth finger.

August 17, 2011 at 07:44 PM ·

Ronald, I'm not sure whether using the third finger is a very good solution. I've noticed I do it sometimes, but the circumstances only occasionally allow for it, that is, if one plays in the lower positions and nothing fast. The thing is: Where does one put the third finger? At a semi-tone's distance? Semi-tones on the violin are smaller than on the viola, usually we can't put the two fingers comfortably next to each other. At a tone's distance? Requires quite a lot of muscle strength. Somewhere in between? Easy to start playing out of tune the next time we have to use the third finger for real!
Your second paragraph though interests me, because you seem to have found how to keep the fourth finger at an equally advantaged position as the other fingers, only I didn't quite understand it. Could you paraphrase it, please?
I find myself - only I'm not sure yet whether I'm going to consistently apply it, because it's rather unorthodox - that buckling the wrist slightly so that the hand falls more in the direction of your face, brings the fourth finger in a more advantaged position than when you keep the wrist just simply straight, as the book says. Also, it tends to cancel out the sideways motions in the vibrato, if indeed these are undesirable - good question, Jean! Another point of attention is the forearm. I think if the inner side of your forearm is facing your body, it's all right, but if the right side (side of the pinky) is facing your body, it's too twisted and vibrato tends to happen sideways. However, my observations so far are a bit muddy and I don't want to steer this discussion too much in one direction, so keep the comments coming!

August 18, 2011 at 12:43 AM ·

Sarah,  I agree totally with your observations. The third finger as you say can only be used this way in a few circumstances, and not in fast notes. I find that when I apply this principle it is more that all the fingers, the third being the one closest to the fourth finger, are kind of vibrating along in the same direction as the fourth and that I start from a position to the left of center of the finger pad. So all the fingers are working in the same direction and this seems to provide strength and support to the fourth finger. The third finger is never really attached to the fourth finger. That would certainly create problems in adjusting to different intervals, half steps and whole steps included.

 I have seen some violinists let their first finger move in the opposite direction when playing with the fourth finger but I'm not convinced this is necessary and possibly not desirable. The exception seems to be when trilling with other than the first finger and many a violinist lets the first finger go up in the air or away from the fingers involved in the trill.

 As for another way of explaining the balances in the arm, the generally curved finger, instead of stretching its way to the string, is brought over to the string by a combination of gently turning the hand while the arm ( elbow) moves slightly right and also in towards the ribs. These combined motions place the fourth finger at an advantageous angle making it reach the string more easily. Many violinists let the violin move to the left so that the arm can already be at a better angle when shifting up high and then planning to vibrate. It's as if they are feeling their shifts more left to right rather than up and down and this helps them avoid a twisting in the forearm that might tend toward the pinky side as you put it.

 Some players feel that these "elbow levels" are not necessary and that the arm is automatically balanced if it falls straight down, but I feel that the nature of the fourth finger being both the shortest and furthest away from the hand necessitates some kind of hand/arm movement so it can be the same distance from the string as any other finger. We are not talking about a huge twist by any means- just a way to direct the balance to make the fourth finger's job easier. In fact, I teach my students to think of "swing and drop". Swing the hand/arm and then drop the finger onto the string.  When playing faster passages that involve rapidly changing fingers, the elbow finds its level based on the finger furthest away in the hand  because it would be impractical, beyond a certain speed, to constantly change the hand and elbow for every finger. At slower speeds though, each finger can be balanced by the appropriate "elbow level".

 Does that make this movement any clearer to understand?

August 18, 2011 at 03:11 AM ·

i think the 4th finger has the most beautiful vibrato. maybe its not as fat, juicy or volatile as the others, but it has a certain je ne sais quoi. i use it all the time

September 22, 2011 at 07:11 PM ·

I arrived here today with questions about how to correctly execute 4th finger vibrato...if the thread is still relevant, I'd like to add to it.  

I'm working on arm vibrato, 4th finger.  (other fingers, no problem)

My problem is that my 4th finger is sliding along the string.  I have relaxed to allow the joint to move, but because (for example on the E string on the note: b) my finger is coming in at about a 45 degree angle to the neck, when I move my arm to vibrate (toward and away from my body along the line of the neck of the violin) I'm not exactly working "in line" with the 4th finger joint.  Yes, the other fingers also come in at an angle but not as severe.  I find only fleeting moments where my 4th finger joint will flex and allow my finger tip to roll back and forth on the string.  The sliding occurs when the joint stiffens and although it sounds like a nice vibrato, it bothers me that the finger is sliding.  I think there is limited control over sliding around and is probably incorrect technique that will only cause more problems down the line.

Can anyone tell me (as if drawing a vector) where the direction of motion takes place for 4th finger, arm vibrato?

September 23, 2011 at 12:32 AM ·

 Try practicing in the fourth position (e harmonic) but would recommend a wrist movement in conjunction with the finger mvt. You can use the upper (right) shoulder bout of the instrument as a kind of anchor. It takes a while to build up the strength and flexibility in the finger to gain a sense of control. Oh, and a great strengthener is left hand pizzicato exercise, done in a fairly methodical manner. Don't try to break the strings, just think of as a form of finger independence and agility training.

September 23, 2011 at 09:46 PM ·


Fourth finger vibrato can be enhanced by slightly flattening out a very loose 4th finger and transferring to a wider arm vibrato. Curve the bow so that it plays on very little bow hair while bowing as close to the bridge as is possible without becoming scratchy.
This was taught to me by two Russian School violin teachers. It is complex in that all of the above instructions must be done simultaneously ... Ted Kruzich

October 11, 2011 at 01:35 PM ·

 Try Dounis Daily Dozen. The exercises in the book will make your fingers strong, even the non-sounding ones.

I don't understand how any student would want to avoid the use of pinky. It should be used more frequently so you won't have a handicap in your technique. 

October 11, 2011 at 05:28 PM ·

 Try left hand pizzicato exercises, very good for the fourth finger. By the way, are the Dounis exercises still in print?

October 11, 2011 at 09:56 PM ·

 Hi Paul,


I'm not sure if Dounis is still in print but you can get a free copy from

October 11, 2011 at 11:33 PM ·


sorry I`m coming into this dicsussion late and I don`t have time to rea dall the repsonses.  

Yes, it is true the little finger is somewhta weaker thna others,  but in generla it is not so weak a speople imagine.  One of the reasons for this belief actually lies in the fact that it is the only finge rwhihc is physically linked to the index finger.  For this reason,  if ther eis tension in the base joint of the the first finger the fourthi shandicapped.  very often I fins that when a studnet cannot move the fourth finger fast enough what they need is not more Kreutzer in f major with different rythms,  but rathe rsimply to pay attention to the ocndition of the index finger. The other error is having the hand too close to the scroll. This places the balance of the hand of the firts and second fingers and the fourth is forced to stretch.

In fact the whole cocnept of the left hand postion and shape should be base around the comfort and balance of the fourth and thrid finger. Thus it is importnat to set the hand up with a nicely curved fourth finger,  remember the sensation and then place th elower fingers.  Working on scale sin thirds in this way is very benifical.

However,  as far as vibrato is concerned,  first avoid long importnat notes on fourth fginger, Use the third.  his wa s acharactersitic of Kreiler`s playing.  Second,  pay a lot of attention to what Ronal said.  If you can`t use the third use nay finger thta is free.  As much as possible avoid vibrating just on the fourth with no other support. This latter leads to possible instability and injury of not careful, and it doesn`t actually sound as good.  There is a greta dela to be gained form leanring to vibrate with four fingers down and it will massivley improve your sound quality playing things like Bach fugues as well as generla overall relaxation.

As far as the Dounis is cocnerned you can find it on the Internet,  but in fact all of Dounis workds are published in one volume which can be bought at the Strads web site.



October 14, 2011 at 12:05 PM ·

Hi guys and collegues the pinky finger mhas many uses in playing I used a technique that milstein and many others great violinist and i mean violinist(NO MONKEY SEE MONKEY DO MOLD TYPE) 3 and 4 figer goes down together when using the pinky vibrate down 3 and 4 at same time will get a strong vibrating 4. I have a ? have yopu my friends seen kreisler using the PINKY my answer NO he has so much heartly feeling playing he doesnt need to used it intead used thje 3. But yes dont forget the pinky we all violinist and viola cello bass player need to practice at least 25 min of gym. God gave used 5 fingers one just to hold the neck the next one to point you out the next guess 3g a good romantic vibrato and the pinky pick up your nose. NO NO LOL

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