vibrato down or up?

October 8, 2011 at 07:55 PM ·

Dear all,

I just realized by reading some violin technique books that I have been doing part of the vibrato technique all wrong ever since I started!   Or am I?

Through my entire playing life, I have started my vibrato up (sharp) and then rolled down, and the two books I've read said to start the roll down (move flat) on the pitch.  I tried the "correct" way and it does seem to sound fuller, but I'm not sure if that's just wishful hearing.  None of my prior teachers even mentioned it because I suspect they never noticed it and/or that I have a "good" vibrato; I don't take lessons now (hence the books).  My playing level is that of a mid-to advanced player (but certainly not pro) - ref:  working on Bach's Chaconne and Kreutzer now with pretty good success.  Concertos are beyond me but my goal.

What are your thoughts about the correct way to start the vibrato, and if it is, why is that?

Yours,

Kan

P.S.  On a side note, I've noticed that when I play those open string notes on another string, that the synchronization vibrate my open strings so much that it actually hits the side of my finger I'm playing on that other string.  Ex. playing G or A on the D$ vibrates the G,A string.  This is a new violin.

Again, the open string vibrates laterally so much that I get a buzzing sound because it hits my finger!  I have flattened my fingers so that I have stopped the vibration on the open string, which makes the note sound warmer and fuller so I'm good with that but I'm just wondering what that's all about.  It didn't happen on my older (and lesser quality) violin and I was playing the notes in tune then, too.   During the new-instrument 6-month tune-up the luthier didn't say anything about it, although I didn't mention it.

Replies (22)

October 8, 2011 at 08:05 PM ·

Oscillate downward from the target pitch.  This is the way my teachers showed me, and there's plenty of input from teachers -- and non-teachers -- here on v.com to back this up.

The highest pitch is what's going to stand out to the listener.  If you oscillate upward, the note is going to sound sharp.

October 8, 2011 at 08:06 PM ·

The pitch is the top boundary. Vibrato rolls back from there.

Here is an amazing video from my good friend Beth Blackerby of violinlab.com.

It's got slow motion vibrato images from all angles. Waaaaaaaaay cooool.........

http://www.youtube.com/user/violinlab#p/a/u/0/s8OT7EFKE78

Smiles! Diane

October 9, 2011 at 07:13 AM ·

 from the note to below the pitch and back.

October 9, 2011 at 01:19 PM ·

 Or on the spot :P

October 9, 2011 at 01:46 PM ·

 Imagine there is an invisible wall infront of your vibrating finger.  Thus any vibrato you perform,be it finger,wrist or arm has to be executed so that the finger may not hit this wall.  The finger should feel as if it is rocking backwards.

 

October 9, 2011 at 04:41 PM ·

 The start  also allows for the portamento effect which is basically a slide onto the note.

 

???

Keep in mind that vibrato (I think Nate and I are in agreement on this) is not really a change of pitch but a change in intensity. We change do the pitch, but in a manner that attempts to fool the ear. A vibrato motion that rocks back and forth in an even manner instead of pulsing tends not to sound as compelling.

October 9, 2011 at 06:26 PM ·

From a physical perspective, vibrato is an oscillation in pitch, regardless of what abstract terms we want to attach to it. There are dozens of technical approaches (and many equally effective ways) to achieving a vibrato, though I think many of us are in agreement that the manner in which one "fools" the ear by obtaining what sounds like a pulse is more effective than one that actually sounds like sliding up and down on pitch.

The human ear tends to perceive the highest pitch in a group of frequencies (ever wonder why one piccolo player can be heard above all the brass in the fourth movement of Beethoven 5?).

If you start in tune and vibrate upwards, your pitch will be perceived as being sharp. Keeping your vibrato to a downwards oscillation from the desired pitch will yield a result that sounds more "in tune" to your audience. It's up to you to determine the speed and width of your vibrato from there.

October 9, 2011 at 06:49 PM ·

Dear all,

Thankseveryone  for all the good (and confirming) advice.  Diane, the video was fantastic and I definitely will come back to violinlab for more research in the future; lots of informational nuggets there.  I like the analogies some of you mentioned and the nuances some of you brought up with vibrato and its interplay with expression and audience interpretation.  I am just in awe on how something like this can be so complicated but I understand that the nuances are what makes a  great tone and sound that a true study of the violin makes distinguishable from students like me, who are striving to achieve that.

In case you're curious, in the few hours I have practiced using the proper technique, I have noticed 1) that I was starting a little flat before so maybe that's why no one ever said anything about intonation 2) w.r.t. John's point of the ending, I was subconsciously ending the note in tune with the "sharp" vibrato and  3) there's a definite adjustment I'll have to do now but it appears I should be able to adjust eventually with some good work.  I see that I am having some minor problems here and there now with some intonation due to placing my fingers too flat at times, adjusting my vibrato in  higher positions like seventh and above, and with doublestops.  Although conversely, some notes I got better in tune because of the change. 

This is good stuff.

Yours,

Kan

October 9, 2011 at 08:32 PM ·

"I am just in awe on how something like this can be so complicated …."

I know what you're driving at, but vibrato really isn't complicated.  At least, I never thought it was.  It may not be easy at first, but "easy" and "uncomplicated" aren't the same thing.

As kids, we have a way of assimilating certain things and doing them -- you know, "JUST DO IT" -- without making a big deal of them; whereas our adult selves have a way of complicating matters and setting up mental roadblocks.  If the teaching is good, so much the better.  If the teaching is poor, pity the learner, whether kid or adult.

October 10, 2011 at 05:00 AM ·

<sarcasm>

Well John, you see the thing is, playing out of tune is no longer an undesired characteristic...it is now a style of playing.

How dare you criticize!

</sarcasm>

 

:P

 

October 10, 2011 at 11:07 AM ·

Actually, I find this thread rather confusing.  I know from reading v.com that the vibrato should be flat and roll up to the note, but I've never even thought about it.  Either the note sounds in tune or it doesn't.  I don't believe violinists think in such detail (e.g., starting below the note and rolling up to the correct pitch).  We just play and make adjustments until things sound right.  At least that's the way I do it.

As pointed out by other posters, if the vibrato rolls above the note (e.g., sharp), then the ear will latch on to the high point and the note will sound sharp.  Here's what really confuses me.  If Kan Pai (the OP), used to roll above the note, then every time he/she applied vibrato, wouldn't the note sound sharp?  I would think the brain would automatically adjust to make the note in tune.

One other point that I'd like to get clarification on, also relating to vibrato, but slightly different issue.  When applying vibrato (especially in a slow passage), are the pulses synchronized with the beat?  If so, then would the first pulse be going upwards or downwards.  For example, if you have 3 pulses on a note, would the vibrations be applied as:

hi-lo-hi-lo-hi-lo

or, would the vibrato be applied low note first:

lo-hi-lo-hi-lo-hi

Or does it not matter?  I have been practicing from a book called Viva Vibrato, and they recommend the first, always vibrato rolling up to the note.  Any thoughts on these two issues?

October 10, 2011 at 11:42 AM ·

"Actually, I find this thread rather confusing.  I know from reading v.com that the vibrato should be flat and roll up to the note, but I've never even thought about it.  Either the note sounds in tune or it doesn't.  I don't believe violinists think in such detail (e.g., starting below the note and rolling up to the correct pitch).  We just play and make adjustments until things sound right.  At least that's the way I do it.

As pointed out by other posters, if the vibrato rolls above the note (e.g., sharp), then the ear will latch on to the high point and the note will sound sharp.  Here's what really confuses me.  If Kan Pai (the OP), used to roll above the note, then every time he/she applied vibrato, wouldn't the note sound sharp?  I would think the brain would automatically adjust to make the note in tune."

That's exactly as I see it, play in tune and let the vib take care of itself.

October 10, 2011 at 10:54 PM ·

I agree with the other responses here, that our ears hear the top frequency of a vibrato as the pitch. But when this subject has come up on the ICS (Internet Cello Society) discussion board, many professionals have responded that the vibrato should surround the desired pitch. However, I have not found any reason there should be a difference.

Many years ago, when I was the principal cellist in our community orchestra and my own cello was unplayable, I had the misfortune of having to play in a performance on an old Kay cello (made of plywood and extremely non-resonant, the sort of wooden box better suited for floating out to sea) and I found myself vibrating so hard on a solo passage that my hand actually flew off the neck (an embarrassing instant).

And this brings up an interesting vibrato point that Joseph Curtin addressed in an article in The STRAD magazine some years ago. Vibrato serves the purpose of enhancing and equalizing the tonal qualities of an instrument across the frequency spectrum. You see (according to the article, and any string-instrument response spectrum you may see), the amplitude (loudness) of frequencies from our instruments looks like the peaks and valleys of a very jagged mountain range. Vibrato serves to bring the power of some of the overtone peaks to pitches whose overtones lie in the valleys (so to speak). And so, when i had that trouble with the Kay cello, (unbeknownst to me) my sense of the sound was trying to maximize the power and the evenness of the pitches - as Curtin would have had me do (in his article, written some 40 years later).

And, for this reason, one would likely vibrate differently on different instruments to achieve ones "own sound."

Andy

October 11, 2011 at 02:06 AM ·

October 11, 2011 at 02:47 AM ·

You may wish to check out these videos by eminent cellist David Finckel- he does discuss singers and violinists vibrato and he covers amplitude, direction, and speed and how to vary these things to suit the mood of the music.

Specifically regarding your original question:

http://artistled.wordpress.com/2010/04/17/cello-talk-76-vibrate-above-good-or-bad/

and elsewhere:

http://vimeo.com/4773549

http://vimeo.com/4775275

http://vimeo.com/4835335

http://vimeo.com/4835478

http://vimeo.com/4945994

http://vimeo.com/4958856

 

 

 

October 11, 2011 at 09:34 AM ·

'And, for this reason, one would likely vibrate differently on different instruments to achieve ones "own sound."'

Andrew

I think this is totally true, one bows and vibrates on a given instrument to try and get the best sound from it.

October 11, 2011 at 01:38 PM ·

Something to be aware of when comparing violin and cello vibratos is that with the cello the fingertip rolls from side to side (which is up and down on the cello fingerboard) whereas the violinist's fingertip moves forward and back with phalange joint movement, again up and down the violin fingerboard.  Two different movements; it can be seen that  the cellist can vibrate either side of the pitch, as well as "up to" or "down to".
As an aside, arm vibrato is common with cellists. Compared with the violin, vibrato on the cello is easier for the beginner to acquire.

October 11, 2011 at 03:08 PM ·

Would love to hear a response to Smiley's question -

For example, if you have 3 pulses on a note, would the vibrations be applied as:  hi-lo-hi-lo-hi-lo or, would the vibrato be applied low note first: lo-hi-lo-hi-lo-hi

Or does it not matter?

October 11, 2011 at 06:14 PM ·

 You should always start on the note.

October 12, 2011 at 04:48 PM ·

Todays famous soloist on the radio was hitting lots of sharp notes in a short Paganini piece.

Sounds like a problem with your radio.

October 12, 2011 at 09:14 PM ·

 mattias is correct

October 12, 2011 at 09:25 PM ·

It doesn't make sense  to me if you don't start on the correct pitch before vibrating on it. It seems you would need to do that to test that you have the center of the pitch correct. Every coach and teacher I've been with or observed has had students play without vibrato  to find correct intonation and then add vibrato after that. That would seem to imply that one does need to start on the note then go  from there to create the vibrato. If you deliberately put your finger flat or sharp to the pitch and then vibrate it would seem that you'll be out of tune right from the start.

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