I'm getting frustrated. I've been taking lessons for two years now (building on a background of guitar and mandolin), and although I'm making steady progress, I still don't have a proper vibrato. My first teacher would tell me not to worry, that it'd just happen but it might take a couple of years. Well, it's been two years now, and the closest I've gotten is a very tense, narrow, and rapid wobbling that just doesn't qualify.
A couple of months ago I changed teachers - not because of the vibrato issue but because I felt I had gone as far as I could with my first teacher. I had built a lot of repertoire, but there was relatively little focus on technique. I had developed some technique along the way, but I was at the point where I could do a mediocre job on a lot of pieces, and I felt I needed a teacher who would focus more on the technical aspects of playing. A trial lesson with a new teacher was promising - she stopped me before I played a single note and made two corrections to my bow hold.
So now I'm concentrating more on technique, working my way through Suzuki book 3 and the Wohlfahrt etudes. But at a recent lesson my
new teacher said, "OK, let's warm up with a G major scale - with vibrato." I replied, "I can't do vibrato." I think she was somewhat taken aback, but she couldn't come up with a definite plan of attack.
It seems as if everyone thinks of vibrato as something that "just happens". But after two years of daily practice, I've arrived at the conclusion that it's _not_ going to just happen. I'm going to have to make it happen (or, to use current jargon, become "proactive").
I've watched many people play, and marveled at the smooth, easy movement their left hands make while playing vibrato. My left hand locks up, and the only sort of movement I can get is like striking a coiled spring. I've watched all sorts of Youtube videos on vibrato but there's something about it that I can't seem to grasp.
The best results I've had so far come from Todd Ehle's videos, where he describes exercises to develop flexibility in the last joint of each finger on the left hand. Translating this to the violin neck, though, gives me trouble: as soon as my thumb touches the neck, my hand locks into one position and my fingertip can't roll on the string.
The other night I came up with a trick that might break me out of this particular rut. I found that I could hold the violin securely enough under my chin that I could stop a string without touching the neck with any part of my left hand except the one fingertip. While doing this I can do a rudimentary arm vibrato and get that last finger joint to flex properly. It's not a permanent solution - I can apply barely enough pressure to make a note at all, and only in first position. (Even when playing normally, my teacher says I need to apply a bit more pressure on the string to get a good tone.) But it's a start - perhaps once I get used to letting that joint flex I'll be able to figure out how to add my thumb without locking up.
Does this sound reasonable? It's the only thing I've found that offers any hope.
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