Adult vibrato after 40: a myth?

April 10, 2012 at 10:37 PM · So I started violin lessons as an adult learner five months ago. I pretty much read every thread on v.com concerning vibrato, so I guess pretty much all has been said about that.

My second teacher started me on vibrato exercises two months ago. I practice them religiously every day. There is now only one question left in my mind on this subject.

Are there actual people out there who started on the violin after 40 and got a decent vibrato eventually? I asked my teacher if he knew any, and he was honest enough to tell me no. Mind you, I am not asking about how long it takes, I don't care if it takes five years. Nor am I looking for more tips, I found plenty. I would just really like to hear from somebody over 40 who has actually done it.

Replies (21)

April 10, 2012 at 11:01 PM · Just keep things in perspective: even with younger students (say, 10), it can take many years till their vibrato develops fully. Maybe 6-8 years. So don't feel that if it doesn't happen immediately it won't happen.

Some of it may depend on whether you're trying to do the vibrato that's right for you. Most teachers start out their students with a wrist vibrato. However, many people, including me, can't do it, and must use an arm vibrato. Ideally, a teacher should recognize if something isn't working and have the student go in a different direction.

April 10, 2012 at 11:36 PM · Greetings,

It is perfectly possible to get a decent vibrato after 40. Actually 5 months is a little early to begin one anyway.

It's raining cats and dogs today so I am feeling feist enough for a little rudeness (apologies in advance)

Don't confuse opinion with correctness even if it's honest opinion as opposed to dishonest ones which are probably a contradiction in terms anyway.

Cheers,

Buri

PS Anyone know why this spell checker doesn't correct 'feisty'?

April 11, 2012 at 01:48 AM · I learned vibrato as a boy. My teacher really never showed me how to do it, he just encouraged me to keep trying and let it develop. Then when I started taking lessons again at the age of 44, after taking 25+ years away from the violin, and after a couple of months of lessons, my new teacher instructed me to stop using any vibrato when playing. Instead he gave me vibrato exercises. Then he allowed me to make vibrato on a few notes in each piece, etc., then I was given "vibrato pieces" to study, which included shifting ("Grave" by Benda, slow movements of Handel sonatas, etc.) Now my vibrato I think is developing very well, and I can both hear and feel the difference when I am doing it correctly.

In other words, not only did I learn vibrato at the age of 45, but I had to un-learn incorrect vibrato. It's still sometimes hard to avoid lapsing into my old kind of vibrato in certain situations, but I am determined, and it's getting better.

April 11, 2012 at 03:13 AM · It's a totally weird set of muscles to cultivate, I grant you that. But you can cultivate a weird set of muscles at any age. I'm in my 40s and doing yoga. So I know!

But more to the topic, here's an exercise I came up with (probably someone else has come up with it, but at least I think I did!) that's pretty easy but goes directly to at least one of those vibrato muscles. Find a wall and put the back of your forearm against it, hand up. Keeping your elbow and wrist against the wall, knock the wall with your knuckles. Trying knocking 50 times a day, maybe get up to 100 times. If you have any pain, stop. Don't overdo it. But be regular about exercises that your teacher gave you, that's what'll do it.

April 11, 2012 at 03:48 AM · Yes! It is totally possible. I have met people who started after 40 and did get their vibrato to work. At the beginning don't worry so much about whether or not it sounds like a vibrato. Just try to get the hang of the motion and keep it relaxed. Vibrato only really works well if your hand is relaxed. Laurie's knocking exercise is very effective and good. Later on all of this and the exercises you do will sort of congeal into something you can refine into a vibrato.

There's not much in our daily lives which uses the muscles in the wrist that we need for vibrato, so they might be a bit dormant but you can wake them up. Anyway, I just wanted to put a word in and let you know that I've seen it done. You'll get there :)

April 11, 2012 at 06:52 AM · A little bit of a divergence - but I think its important for the OP. I get the impression on V.com that wrist vibrato is somewhat favored and arm vibrato is the opposite. Its not stated outright but there is definitely that impression.

I learned arm vibrato as a child and when I returned it came back with effort - but I also started to learn wrist vibrato encouraged by my first teacher. My impression is that these are rather different beasts musically, with their own unique sound and both are useful - though I naturally revert to the arm which I find more focused both when I do it and when I hear others.

April 11, 2012 at 09:53 AM · Hi Yola, it's not a myth. I'm 45 and I've actually managed a pretty good vibrato, although it has taken over a year to learn this, practicing like mad every day. My teacher didn't push me at all, she just checked occasionally that my technique was correct and left me to it. Of course, it is still developing and will continue to do so for many years, but I can now put it into pieces, here and there, without messing up the music. She wouldn't let me start learning though, until my intonation was fairly exact, which took about two years. So here I am, 3.5 years on, finally with vibrato. Yay!

BTW, at this stage it is still wrist vibrato.

April 11, 2012 at 10:58 AM · I shouldn't worry about whether it is wrist or arm vibrato. There are many successful players who don't use arm vibrato.

This raises a question in my mind. Historically, is wrist vibrato the default? My guess, and it is no more than that, is that arm vibrato started being used when the violin acquired the "rest" additions, the chin rest in the early 19th century (Louis Spohr), and the shoulder rest approximately in the middle of the 20th. My surmise is that arm vibrato would have been seen to be more accessible, and therefore attractive, when the player was using one or both of those rests.

Any comments?

Btw, I don't want to see this discussion turn into yet another tossing to and fro the merits or otherwise of rests!

April 11, 2012 at 11:09 AM · ...yes but we could create a whole new double-headed monster of wrist vs arm :D

April 11, 2012 at 02:38 PM · I'm developing a vibrato...of sorts...but it will never have the fluidity of someone who started young and learned it properly.

However, I'll never be in danger of falling in with those who 'over-vibrato'...so that's my consolation...;)

April 11, 2012 at 04:19 PM · Guys - I started 10 years after the 40's. I'm developing a nice vibrato, according to my teacher. Don't stress of it and just work on it a bit each day.

---Ann Marie

April 11, 2012 at 05:01 PM · "Adult vibrato after 40: a myth?" Don't scare me like that! I'm 61 and have been playing for three years (although I have played several other instruments for some time). After no real progress on vibrato for the first couple of years (my first teacher said not to worry, that it'd just happen), I started searching the Net for hints on how to _make_ it happen. (Todd Ehle's videos are good, by the way.)

My current teacher is more helpful - but the movements involved in vibrato still feel unnatural to me. Unless I'm doing exercises where I'm specifically concentrating on vibrato, almost nothing happens - it's as if when I'm doing other exercises I don't have enough brain cells left over to do vibrato as well. Hopefully that will change.

I find it easiest to do a wrist vibrato with the first finger close to the nut (F on the E string or B-flat on the A string). In that position I feel a springiness in the string that I can work with. I have a harder time with other fingers, higher positions, or on the D or G strings. In those cases I'm substituting an arm vibrato - but I haven't quite worked out the finger and wrist linkages so I usually hold the violin firmly enough under my chin that my fingertip is the only part of my left hand touching the neck. This makes it almost impossible to put enough pressure on the fingertip to stop the note cleanly.

I guess this is another of those "10,000 hours" things, so I'll just soldier on. Meanwhile, there's always the baroque repertoire...

April 11, 2012 at 05:28 PM · I re-started the violin at 55 after 40 years of not playing, and the few things I remembered were mostly wrong and problems that had to be corrected - including my very poor vibrato. I was fortunate to have an excellent teacher, and I now have an excellent vibrato.

I have posted exercises here several times. Find them and do them. You'll have a good vibrato in a month, and with 6 months of further practice for 10 minutes a day, you'll have a terrific vibrato. Vibrato has nothing to do with age. It just takes practice with the proper exercises to work through the muscle control / muscle relaxation issues.

April 12, 2012 at 01:18 PM · Surely one has to use all three vibratos, namely, finger, wrist, and arm?

I think if you are over ninety then it might be hard to get one (a vibrato that is) but under ninety should be no problem.

April 12, 2012 at 02:35 PM · I'm working on learning all three...

But it IS a problem...esp. for those of us who less limber. Perhaps for those who are just more fluid in their physical make-up it's less of an issue.

April 12, 2012 at 03:04 PM · I manage it with only one and a half brain cells and I'm 92.

April 12, 2012 at 06:05 PM · You are a genius! I bow to you! (Pun intended).

I apparently need one and half brains...and training wheels...

April 12, 2012 at 06:36 PM · When you are just learning vibrato, don't immediately get stressed out about "I have to learn ALL THREE TYPES!"

Gravitate toward the one with which you are finding the most success, and build on that. So if you are finding the nicest-sounding and most relaxed wiggle with arm vibrato, go for it. If it's wrist, go for it. Then go into it, just get it as varied as possible, wide, narrow, fast, slow, etc. One day you'll realize, "By golly, I can ride this bicycle, no training wheels!" Then expand your horizons and learn the other types. In my experience, learning the other types is not as difficult, once you have mastered at least one type.

And always remember, there is just learning, no "right way" to learn. Do what works. The goal is well-defined, but you can get there any number of ways.

April 13, 2012 at 03:35 AM · Greetings,

As Laurie says.One of the dangers of getting too stressed out on the different kinds is failing to recognize that they are not actually that distinct. Hand vibrato inevitables generates some movement in the arm and vice versa. It then becomes a question of degree of emphasis. So called pure writ or arm vibrators are actually quite rare. A. Nice combination of wrist and arm with the ability to vary developed over time works very well. Szeryng was quite vociferous on this point and insisted a combination vibrato was the best kind. For a good example of writs look at Akiko Meyes and Ida Haendel. For arm turn to Francescatti. If one becomes too obsessed with the divide it can happen that one loses track of the origin

Pof the vibrato which is in the back. The energy is generated from their elite the handle of a bullwhip. The energy is then released through the fingertip . Problems with vibrato more often than not originate in tension of the shoulder rather than discrete mechanical failures.

Cheers,

buri

April 13, 2012 at 09:24 PM · Hi,

Thanks to everyone for their input to this thread. It has been very interesting to read all the contributions. I've added Lauries exercise to my daily violin menu, and otherwise will take the advice to just keep on practising, without worrying about exactly which kind of vibrato will develop eventually. Michael, I enjoyed the way you described the process. Buri, I would like to understand why it is early to start vibrato after 5 months of lessons (on my teachers initiative, not mine). It is a fascinating realisation that the impulse for vibrato actually comes from the back, I will try to be aware of that. Charlie, I'm sorry, I never meant to scare anyone. And btw, I really love baroque music, especially Bach, but for now, that's way out of my league. As far as I can judge from the profile information, I guess you are the only late started (not re-starter) to respond.

April 13, 2012 at 09:49 PM · Greetings,

There is no standard time for beginning vibrato. I use certain criteria which include very precise into national awareness, relaxed and efficiently positioned left hand, thorough knowledge of both first and thirt position and fundamentAl shifting between these positions grasped. There is a subtle connection between shifting and vibrato.

On top of this the us elf the bow must be well grounded. Trying to impose vibrato on top of sloppy use of bow be ause it superficially makes things sound better is the rocky road to ruin. The essence of violin sound is in having excellent solid bowing from the beginning. this takes absolute priority over vibrato which is essential just a kind of make up. The cheek bones are actually much more important.

Cheers,

Buri

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