How can I Achieve a much more Romantic Vibrato?

July 25, 2012 at 01:12 AM · Hello again everyone! Long time, no speak!

Today, I bring forth a question about vibrato. My vibrato is 'nice' sounding, but I know I can do better. When I was trying to achieve a more romantic sounding vibrato, my teacher watched how I vibrate on the string. She said I use an arm vibrato, where as a romantic vibrato usually comes more from the wrist.

Now, changing my vibrato at this stage is something we both know would be a huge, time consuming challenge, but if it's the only way, I think I might have to bite the bullet and face the task.

What I'm asking you guys is whether there is any way I can alter my vibrato only slightly to achieve the much richer, romantic sound we are after? And as I have the whole summer off and away from my teacher, does anyone know of exercises which would free my wrist up more... I do have a little bit of a tendency to shake the violin too much.

Thanks for your help!

Replies (30)

July 25, 2012 at 01:38 AM · If you go onto YouTube and type in ViolinLab vibrato I think those videos would help you a lot. They helped me a bunch and I hope they have the same affect with you :)

July 25, 2012 at 01:56 AM · Hi,

A quick response to your post...

"She said I use an arm vibrato, where as a romantic vibrato usually comes more from the wrist."

- That's wrong. A good vibrato comes from a combination of arm, wrist and finger tip. Controlling the amplitude and speed determines how you want to apply it to music not how it is produced.

"Now, changing my vibrato at this stage is something we both know would be a huge, time consuming challenge, but if it's the only way, I think I might have to bite the bullet and face the task."

- Once again, the answer is no. Almost all vibrato issues come from a problem of placement of the left hand and arm, as well as tensions due to pressing the thumb against the neck of the violin. Fixing those is relatively simple and if you need to add more wrist, there are simple exercises that can get it done in about three weeks. I would suggest that you look into the Art of Violin Playing by Carl Flesch. There are many great suggestions on left hand placement and vibrato that should solve most if not all of your problems.

"What I'm asking you guys is whether there is any way I can alter my vibrato only slightly to achieve the much richer, romantic sound we are after?"

- The answer is yes. In my experience as a performer and teacher, the above is the best route. How long it will take is more a question of focus and application that time.

Cheers and best of luck!

July 25, 2012 at 02:33 PM · Let me give you another idea. Use the fact that the subconscious usually fixes what needed, and forget about vibrato.

Pick a violinist whos vibrato you really admire.

Pick an easy piece played with this violinist. Learn the piece, and try to do the phrasing of the bow, the dynamics, the intonation. Simply, try to feel it in a similar way as the violinist does. Work on this every day for a couple of months.

Then pick another piece.

You will notice, that whether you want or not, your vibrato will have changed over time more into the direction of your favorite violinist, even if you will consciously not include any changes. It happened to me this way, and I was astonished by what the subconscious can achieve even without the involvement of the thinking mind. I had not planned to work on vibrato in any way, but it "just happened", and opened up a whole range of possibilities in expression that I did not know existed.

July 25, 2012 at 05:10 PM · Eloise, The thing we must always keep in mind is that tone comes primarily from the bow and secondarily from the vibrato. If you want to develop a big luscious romantic tone and style, I would suggest that you devote most of your time and energy to refining and amplifying your use of the bow in order to find all the ways you can achieve the sound you want using bow technique. Then you may be amazed at how your vibrato will come along.

I, personally, was hung up for years trying to get the sound I wanted from the vibrato. It seemed that the harder I worked the worse my vibrato got and the worse my tone got. Finally I said "the hell with it" and let the vibrato go and started working on my bow tone. Within a very short time my tone improved dramatically and people started saying -- Wow. Your vibrato is sounding really great.

July 25, 2012 at 05:26 PM · Roy - what a great post! Get a great note and then worry about embelishment next. I wonder if learning vibrato is one of the curses of the violin since it makes it possible to produce an good sound from an average bow command.

Besides, I think a lot of the older romantic violin playing didn't even use the same vibrato methods we now do - Kreisler used 'impulse' vibrato for example.

July 26, 2012 at 01:38 PM · "How can I Achieve a much more Romantic Vibrato?"

Read lots of romantic novels ...

But at your age I shouldn't really be encouraging you!

Don't worry too much about vibrato, get a really good sound from the bow. (Roy's advice is excellent).

P S Which music school is it that you attend?

July 26, 2012 at 01:51 PM · If, as you claim, your vibrato comes entirely from your arm then I would recommend you explore wrist vibrato "in your spare time" to see if it could add some richness. Remember that as the finger tip rolls backward and forward, not only the pitch but the timbre of the sound changes too as you go from a firm stop to a more fleshy stop and back again. I agree with the other posts that the better the tone you can generate with your bow alone, the more your vibrato will be enhanced. I think the reason is because a richer overall tone contains more overtones and these too are modulated when you vibrate.

There is a grain of truth in Peter's suggestion to read romance novels. One should always be reading something, but there are better things to read. I also recommend studying the paintings and sculpture from the periods of music that you are studying as these often connect stylistically to music more directly than literature -- that's been my experience anyway.

July 26, 2012 at 04:35 PM · Thank you everyone for your encouraging responses. I think you're right in saying that my bowing could be improved (a lot, actually - I had a complete re-vamp in left hand technique this year, and next up will be bowing).

I hadn't thought that it could be tied in with other aspects so you've all given me food for thought. I've got a course in just less than two weeks, so I'll 'fiddle around' (excuse the pun!!!!) before and during then to see what sounds I can achieve!

Peter - I go to Chetham's School of Music in Manchester. I'm not, however, a first study violinist - in fact, I am squeezing it in as a third study! I'm primarily a vocalist these days, but still stay involved with a lot of orchestral bits and bobs as my passion for violin is just as strong as it is for singing!!

July 26, 2012 at 04:47 PM · "Peter - I go to Chetham's School of Music in Manchester. I'm not, however, a first study violinist - in fact, I am squeezing it in as a third study! I'm primarily a vocalist these days, but still stay involved with a lot of orchestral bits and bobs as my passion for violin is just as strong as it is for singing!!"

Ah, ha!! We know people that teach there and students that have gone there on some of the courses. It has a pretty good reputation.

July 26, 2012 at 04:55 PM · Hehe, yes, I think it's hard for people not to know past students and teachers from the school. It does indeed have a good reputation, and I've had an absolutely fabulous time there so far. :-)

July 27, 2012 at 12:15 AM · Thanks Elise and Peter. Following through - I've found it wonderfully useful, and sometimes eye-opening to try playing some intensely romantic singing passages, with no vibrato at all, trying to make the music as gorgeous and expressive as you can, just with nuances of the bow, dynamic and rhythmic shaping, agogics, and of course stunningly beautiful tone quality.

July 27, 2012 at 04:07 AM · "Don't worry too much about vibrato, get a really good sound from the bow. (Roy's advice is excellent)."

Sorry, but I don't agree with either of you. Vibrato, just like using your bow well or playing in tune, doesn't happen by chance for most people.

Even if you have great bow control, without vibrato you sound like an amateur or student, especially when a few notes here and there are dead. For most of us, it takes a focused effort to get the speed, width, and continuous note-to-note vibrato that produces a shimmering, compelling sound. This is especially true for not-so-great violins: the lesser the quality of violin, the more the sound depends on an active vibrato. Concentrating on one technique at the expense of another doesn't usually make the second any better--it just delays its apotheosis.

Frankly, I'm not sure what a "Romantic" vibrato is beyond the simple fact of using it continuously as most modern virtuosi do. There is fast, narrow vibrato a la Heifetz, Rosand, and Staryk, and there are slower and wider vibrato like Salernno-Sonnenberg. Romanticism has more to do with the amount of rubato.

July 27, 2012 at 03:53 PM · Scott - Finally, someone pointed the real problem - what is "romantic" vibrato anyway?

I agree a good vibrato need good bow control to start with. But the vibrato itself also need lots of attention. Vibrato is like personal signature, however I do hear that there are "good" and "not so good" vibrato regardless of the quality of the instrument. A "good" vibrato, is vibrato with pulse, instead of sine-wave-like motion which lead to a rather dull vibrato.

July 27, 2012 at 06:46 PM · By "romantic" vibrato I imagine the original post meant the kind of vibrato you would apply to romantic pieces like the Canzonetta from the Tchaikovski Concerto, or Meditation from Thais by Massanet, as compared to the kind of vibrato you would apply to a piece by Handel or Corelli.

I distinctly remember having a lesson on the second movement of the Handel F Major Sonata in which my teacher caught me trying to make all of my tone with my left hand -- he was so right about that! I had to stop playing vibrato for the last few bars of the movement which just has a series of simple notes played martele, and work on generating tone with my bow. That was such a valuable lesson!

I think if you are a singer then you are in a wonderful position to think about the different types of vibrato that are applied to different styles and by different performers.

Scott's comment in which he categorized different players vibrato as fast-and-narrow vs. wide-and-slow really struck a chord with me. I remember listening to the Doc Bubble as played by Arthur Grumiaux and thinking that his vibrato was very rich but also very constant, like a mindless motor. Scott's right that it's not easy to do that. But if you listen to something like the Franck A Major Sonata or even the Bach A Minor Concerto as played by Anne-Sophie Mutter, you will see that her vibrato defies such easy description. She enjoys a broad palette of different vibrato speeds and textures (including striking passages played without any vibrato -- listen to her play first movement of the Franck!!) and this incredible control gives her music a wonderful dimension that I believe many other so-called great violinists of the past largely ignored.

@Casey I liked your idea of "pulse." I wonder if part of the "pulse" of vibrato comes from intonation. Vibrato brings the note in and out of tune, and if the overall intonation is quite exact, then when it comes to it's in-tune part of the cycle, the resonances will be picked up and you will get that pulsation.

July 27, 2012 at 06:49 PM · Scott, I'm not sure that I don't agree with you too!

Roy - there are limits you know!!

But, maybe it's in the mind - or somewhere else - but Eloise is far too young to know about that ... (wink)

Paul, you are taking all of this far too seriosuly !!! (wink)

July 27, 2012 at 09:44 PM · Scott and Peter, I certainly don't mean to imply that anyone should perform the Bruch Concerto without any vibrato. That would be absurd. But as an exercise and a tool for learning it can be invaluable -- for developing awareness and sensitivity to tone and to the role that the bow and the vibrato play in tone production. Also for developing the quality of the bow tone. And then when you restore the vibrato, you will develop a heightened awareness of how to use it. I went through this process myself and I learned so much from it -- I couldn't believe it would be possible. Let me urge you folks, especially the skeptics, to give it a try in the privacy of your own practice room.

Paul, I'm very glad you mention ASM. From my POV she is the exemplar of artistic use of the vibrato, as opposed to the twentieth century standard of constant, intense, unvarying vibrato.

July 27, 2012 at 09:46 PM · Peter: But where are those limits and who determines them?? :-)

July 28, 2012 at 06:17 AM · Roy, I'm not disagreeing with any of those ideas. The limit thing was joke. Probably not very funy, I admit.

I certainly think we should be in full control of our vibrato and often work through passages without any.

ASM I think is probably Anne Sophie Mutter? The only problem for me is that I never find her playing and interpretations at all interesting or satisfying, musically or technically. But that may well be down to me. Yes, she does vary the vibrato, but I find her sound a little unsubstantial, and the playing uncommitted. But as I say, the problem is probably me.

July 28, 2012 at 03:31 PM · Paul - My take on the pulse thing is the actual motion rather than the intonation. The difference between a vibrato with and without pulse is very subtle actually, but definitely audible.

This kid for example, has beautiful pulse to his vibrato, at the same time you can imagine what kind of violin he played:

And if you observe the kid doing the vibrato slowly you can see the left hand did not moved in linear motion. To me it looked very similar to this, watch from 1:56:

Apart from the visible motion, my personal observation tells me that there's also subtle changes of finger pressure on the string during the vibrato motion. Not going to go deep into that as a profile-less v.com member. ;-)

July 30, 2012 at 12:42 AM · Casey, that's very interesting stuff, thanks for sharing.

August 4, 2012 at 05:45 AM · I work on vibrato every day and have an inventory of people whose vibrato I admire that runs into almost a thousand recordings and videos. Every time I pick up my fiddle I am not sure what kind of vibrato is going to come out but here are a few general objectives I have found can be worked into the moment.

- too wide is disconcerting to listen to

- everyone says that vibrato is from the note and back (flat) but the wrist/hand is much easier to control if you think of it as a forward motion

- try starting the vibrato with a forward motion and then go into the back/flat part

- the idea that vibrato should never go into the sharp range of the note is nonsense

- vibrating forward (sharp) actually makes it sound better

- vibrato should be constantly changing...too long with the same thing and it starts to sound irritating

- the violinmasterclass video where the boy plays at different oscillation frequencies ignores the most important one, 6 beats per second. Most vibratos that you hear are too slow. If it sounds good but slow that is because somebody very carefully took a fast vibrato and started and stopped it by slowly adding/reducing amplitude and also went above the note. Compare it to a metronome if you are unsure.

- If you are trying to manage/achieve a certain number of beats/sec it is easier to adjust the metronome to always require 4 beats per quarter note than try to synch your playing with some other frequency (e.g. violinmasterclass where everything is referenced to metronome 60)

- do it in front of a mirror or in the bathroom where you may get lucky and have a mirror that shows you the outside view and then in another mirror over the sink you can see the inside view at the same time..mirror inside of mirror

- I think violinmasterclass is great so i am not sure how i ended up heavily critiquing it here -- I have learned a ton from it.

August 4, 2012 at 08:25 AM · > the idea that vibrato should never go into

> the sharp range of the note is nonsense

If playing sharp is acceptable to you, then by all means go ahead.

However, the concept that vibrato must oscillate downwards from the desired pitch in order to preserve the perception of being "in tune" is easily illustrated by anyone who can vibrate. If your vibrato motion moves above your desired target pitch, the note you produce will be perceived as being sharp.

I'm not disputing that there might be reasons why you'd want to play sharper; for example it's much easier to be heard in front of an orchestra if you play a little bit "high" on pitch. However, if you're sitting *in* a string section of an orchestra, or playing chamber music, landing high on pitch, regardless of the cause, will be recognized for what it is: sharp (for your colleagues, that means out of tune).

I've had to grapple with this because I am also a clarinetist, and in performances of the Brahms (Op.115) and Mozart (K581) Quintets it's nigh-impossible to stay in tune with a string player that vibrates above pitch, as the clarinet traditionally doesn't play with vibrato. If I play at the center of the pitch, it clashes. If I play sharper to match, entire chords disintegrate.

So, the concept isn't "nonsense." It depends on your specific playing situation.

August 4, 2012 at 08:35 AM · Eloise, I'd like to throw another idea out here: consider the source motion of your vibrato. Which muscles or groups of muscles are you using to start the vibrato?

For me, it's possible to achieve finger, wrist, and arm vibratos entirely from variations in speed of a single generating motion originating from the area around the elbow.

August 4, 2012 at 11:08 AM · .. I take it you mean all three together, not each by itself?

August 5, 2012 at 04:25 AM · Now that you have all the reasonable answers, its time for me to chime in.

The most romantic vibrato can only come when playing nude on top of the Empire State Building at the New Year.

August 5, 2012 at 06:44 AM · Either separately, or combinations of two or three.

August 6, 2012 at 03:42 AM · I suppose vibrato technique is at some level like religion....a topic never to be discussed with strangers... In any case here is David Finckel's take on the question of vibrato getting into the sharp range. The good thing about violin is that if you have one you can try the same thing yourself in real time and decide if you concur/non concur.

http://vimeo.com/11011776

August 6, 2012 at 05:12 AM · I don't disagree with his video, it makes lots of sense. A soloist playing with a pianist, orchestra, or whatever ensemble, usually sounds better playing slightly high (but not too high) on pitch regardless of how that is achieved because it gives the primary line a bit of brightness. There are even string quartets where the players will individually do this, especially on viola where it is more difficult to come through the ensemble texture. However, that's a separate concept from vibrato.

From a purely physical standpoint, you have to consider that on cello, with the pitches being further apart, the range in which one can vibrate in the equivalent physical motion is smaller than that of a violin. So while it works as demonstrated that Finckel can vibrate to reach the high side of the pitch and have it sound good, I don't think it works as effectively on violin.

It's much more stable to set the absolute highest point of the desired pitch (and that can be anywhere, flat/centered/sharp) and oscillate downwards, than it is to leave that determination of the high point up to the physical range of the oscillation.

August 7, 2012 at 07:03 PM · It's ironic that while most of us agree that vibrato generally shouldn't go sharp, a big exception is opera, where it seems to be standard practice. Why is this? It causes the sound of many singers to be (to my ears) so jarringly discordant that it's one of the main reasons I can't get into opera.

August 11, 2012 at 01:04 AM · A detail that seems stupid but... for me, my vibrato became prettier the minute I tried to put more finger pads in it...

I have tiny fingers and am a fan of these wide and "golden" wrist vibratos unfourtunately!

But, working really hard on finding a violin with a suitable tone (tone is important in what we may called romantic playing/sound too IMHO) and work to flatten my finger pads when I play (more contact surface), it helped a lot.

Good luck!

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