Vibrato Tempo - How fast is fast enough?

January 31, 2013 at 11:46 PM · I'm trying to increase my vibrato speed for a more intense sound and am practicing with a metronome. At about what tempo would four vibrations (forward-back-forward-back) be considered a fast vibrato?

Replies (42)

February 1, 2013 at 04:29 AM · I don't know the answer to your question. You could measure the speed of the vibrato of the players you like. Some of the earlier generation of players had constant, motor-like vibrato (for example Arthur Grumiaux). Some modern players have vibrato that varies quite a lot (Anne-Sophie Mutter), which I like much more actually.

February 1, 2013 at 04:33 AM · Six to seven cycles per second is pretty normal, just depends on the amplitude.

February 1, 2013 at 05:41 AM · Marty, when you say six to seven cycles, do you mean back-forward-back-forward-back-forward, or double that? Thanks!

February 1, 2013 at 01:25 PM · hi VM, just listen to a lot of violin playing by good players so you will get an appreciation of what is the range. listen to Heifetz for fast vibrato, listen to Elman for slow vibrato, listen to the contemporary players. on Spotify you find a lot of music so you can listen to a great variety there.

February 1, 2013 at 02:53 PM · Vibrato that create tense emotion isn't entirely determine by the speed of the vibrato cycle. You also need to create strong pulses and usually together with wide amplitude to get the effect.

February 1, 2013 at 09:23 PM · I have a '60s LP of two of Beethoven's quartets. I always thought the recording sounded slightly odd, and it was a while before it dawned on me that the vibrato was consistently a shade faster than what I would have expected. It was only then that I checked the pitch with a tuning fork - it was more than a semitone sharp on both sides. It wasn't my record deck at fault, either, because I cross-checked with other LPs, and they were all at the correct pitch.

What seems to have happened was that the recording engineer needed to get both quartets on the two sides without reducing the dynamic range to an unacceptable level, and the only way it could be done in those days of analog master tape was to increase the speed, thereby decreasing the length to something that would comfortably fit onto the LP. The increased vibrato speed revealed the cheat.

In recent years I've been able to copy that LP onto my computer and digitally adjust the speed to the correct pitch. Not only does the vibrato now sound completely natural but so does the reverberation of the instruments.

I can only assume that the musicians were unaware of what happened after they left the recording studio, and would have had no say in the matter anyway.

February 3, 2013 at 11:17 AM · V.M, 7cps means 7 back-&-forth movements per second.

Which is, of corse, slower than many semiquavers (16ths?) that we have to play..

February 3, 2013 at 02:10 PM · "What seems to have happened was that the recording engineer needed to get both quartets on the two sides without reducing the dynamic range to an unacceptable level, and the only way it could be done in those days of analog master tape was to increase the speed, thereby decreasing the length to something that would comfortably fit onto the LP.

In recent years I've been able to copy that LP onto my computer and digitally adjust the speed to the correct pitch. Not only does the vibrato now sound completely natural but so does the reverberation of the instruments."

I think you are just making this up as you go along.

Proper musicians adjust their vibrato to the music, to get "colour", which maybe something to do with that largely absent thing today.

It's called...

MUSIC and MUSICAL INTERPRETATION.

There is NO SUCH THING as a correct vibrato speed, unless of course you want to sound like a machine...

Vengerov anyone?

February 3, 2013 at 06:01 PM · Gareth, the recording in question was Supraphon SUA ST 50916. It is possible I may have been inaccurate in my assessment of vibrato, but there was no escaping the increased pitch of the recording.

February 3, 2013 at 06:41 PM · Gareth, I think I can, like Trevor, tell the difference between a usally fast vibrato (e.g. Heifetz, Grumiaux) and the slightly jerkier, bleating effect of the vibrato on a speeded-up recording.

To say "I think you are making it up as you go along" is just childishly rude, in my not so humble opinion.

February 3, 2013 at 07:43 PM · It's a sad fact that very few musicians can actually even tell the difference between 440 and 442HZ blind.

It's also a sad fact that few are capable of understanding how awful analogue tape recording masters could be, supraphon & melodia being some of the worst.

And you are saying what? you can actually judge that stuff through all the tape noise, bad edits and goodness knows what else?

February 3, 2013 at 09:25 PM · Yes. Can't you?

February 3, 2013 at 09:33 PM · Long live the troll.

February 3, 2013 at 09:39 PM · I've also heard recordings that sounded like they were slightly too fast, at least in the old days of vinyl records.

I wonder if that still happens now, in the age of the MP3.

February 3, 2013 at 10:00 PM · The 440 v 442Hz argument is irrelevant in the case of the Supraphon LP because it was my initial suspicions about the vibrato speed that caused me to check the pitch of the recording with my tuning fork. It was a half-tone sharp on A440, which suggests a pitch of about 466Hz, and incidentally that I don't suffer from perfect pitch :).

Like Adrian, I'm not particularly concerned by background noise on old recordings and radio. I am able to listen through the noise, which my brain apparently filters out somehow, to the real music behind it. I have recently acquired some mint LPs from the '70s that are compilations of music recorded on 78s in the '20s and '30s. I can listen to these performances with as much pleasure as I do to live performances today, knowing that what I'm hearing through the hiss and crackle of 80-90 years ago is an unedited live take by a fine musician that hasn't been "cleaned up" by well-meaning people afterwards.

I agree generally about the quality of the old Supraphon recordings. They sounded reasonably clean (when new), but not up to the standard of EMI or Decca when compared side by side. However, money was tight in those days and it was a case of either buying a relatively inexpensive Supraphon recording of the Prague Quartet in action, or going without.

February 3, 2013 at 10:16 PM · I'm just a listener, not a player, so I don't know what the word of the ascended masters is on this, but I always get the feeling that the pulse of the music is reinforced when the frequency of the vibrato makes some rhythmic sense with the beat of the music, rather than having some odd relationship to it. At slow speeds it would be tasteless and strange, of course, but faster it just seems to blend in with the flow better.

February 3, 2013 at 10:28 PM · "I've also heard recordings that sounded like they were slightly too fast, at least in the old days of vinyl records..."

Perhaps it was quiet simply in the case of the cutting head when they made your "defective" supraphon" recording was not running at 33 1/3rpm, or that the masters were error ridden...

You know "always blame the engineer" is the lastest smart blame game.

It's on occasions grossly ignorant or wrong, but people love to have a pop at the producer too.

As for this one

"I wonder if that still happens now, in the age of the MP3"

If you know anything about the format...lossy mpeg. You will know it distorts everything including pitch.

It's truly "the end of the world" but everyone loves this German developed trash from Fraunhofer!

The only thing that actually sounds worse is Musicam used on DAB, and that is already a hard act to follow.

It's all an audio equivalent of a train wreck.

Now to come back to Vibrato...

February 4, 2013 at 05:07 PM · @Trevor, "and it was a while before it dawned on me that the vibrato was consistently a shade faster than what I would have expected. It was only then that I checked the pitch with a tuning fork - it was more than a semitone sharp on both side"

You're saying you noticed a 6% increase in the frequency of the vibrato? With the variability in playing styles even at that time I'm not sure that would have grabbed me. It just goes to show how sensitive the "feeling" of a piece can be to these parameters that are (hopefully) within the control of a performer.

And I know what you mean about listening through the noise. My ears ring constantly, so whether it is a scratchy old Dinu Lipatti recording or the very latest modern player, the difference in sound quality is much less noticeable. For this reason I also do not bother with whether I have the snazziest hi-fi system, most of which I think is a waste of money for nearly everyone.

February 4, 2013 at 09:08 PM · "It's a sad fact that very few musicians can actually even tell the difference between 440 and 442HZ blind."

Really? I have two tuning forks, 440 and 442 and even my 7-year-old can differentiate the sounds. She recognizes that both are A's but have their own distinctive qualities, they are not the same.

February 4, 2013 at 09:31 PM · "It's a sad fact that very few musicians can actually even tell the difference between 440 and 442HZ blind."

true!

February 5, 2013 at 06:22 AM · "I have two tuning forks, 440 and 442 and even my 7-year-old".

I was waiting for this one as it's as unscientific as you can get & the perfect example of an invalid test.

If you take a pure sine wave it's different matter.

The tuning fork is not, and even by nature of the material is a dead give away.

The overtones particularly are false (non equal temp), 884, 1668, 3536, and any kid can hear them ringing compared with 880, 1660, 3520.

Being as I was interested to see if musicians can manage without those stupid "electronic tuners", (and the even dumber I-phone apps), I was astonished to see, if they don't have a needle waving at them, they are unable to tell the difference!

Unfortunately you don't have a needle waving at you when you are playing!

Are you now suprised that orchestras particularly when playing a piano concerto, play more and more sharp?

Soloists want "projection".

It makes me laugh, but there is no surer way to get it, than to tune the instrument sharp and make the overtones stridently non equal temperament.

An audience brought up on the distorted ears of modern synthetic cone loudspeakers, exaggerated equalisation on classic FM, and mp3 players, think it's just GREAT, and will applaud wildly.

Vibrato is much the same.

The soloist with an intense not much varying vibrato is regarded as more passionate and lyrical than one who varies it to almost nothing,

(especially if they combine it with making all sorts of facial expression and acting/sexing it up!).

In fact the reverse is true, they are often hiding the complete lack of musical innovation with a "beautiful sound" signifying nothing,-

playing in modern oversize concert halls, to greying old people who are going deaf.

J Jansen, C Tetzlaff or J Bell anyone?

February 5, 2013 at 07:39 AM · i remember menuhin said about enescu that unlike the other players, he had a pallet of vibrato much like they had tempos. my personal opinion is that aiming for the fastest, just for the sake of being fast is pointless to say the least. vibrato has to be adapted to the piece you are playing.

the 2Hz discussion is beyond my understanding.

February 5, 2013 at 12:12 PM · "It had a crackly background noise so I made a diluted mixture of soapy liquid and covered the record surface to lubricate the grooves."

oh grief! one idea a minute!

And when that lot had all re-coagulated and that sticky mush had all been hammered into the grooves by the diamond....what then!

Does no-one remember vinyl, and all the magic spells?

February 5, 2013 at 12:47 PM · I play regularly for folk dancers in a band. The leader of the band plays a button accordion having two banks of reeds tuned 2Hz apart on his instrument (other models may vary). So when he plays an A you hear A440 and A442 together, giving a quasi-vibrato effect; I would therefore play A441 on my violin :) The main purpose of this "wet" tuning is to give more projection in noisy environments such as a dance hall. On many accordions the player can switch off one of the banks to give a drier sound, but his button accordion does not have that provision, and neither does mine.

Oh, and I do remember vinyl, very much so. At the last count I have about 150 LPs, and I treat them with due respect and reverence, not least because many are not available today in other formats.

February 5, 2013 at 01:48 PM · Being as the only other decent format is DVD-A, but no-one wants to author it, and that the totally failed horrible sounding SACD was an attempt by Sony to grab & burn...

It doesn't leave an alternative even if you have access to masters.

TBQH a lot of the best sounding stuff ever was MONO 78rpm, esp as it didn't have that stupid multi micro stuff, designed to destroy classical music root & branch!

I mean just LOOK at that utter bu.l.sh..t at ABBEY ROAD.

(tripped the dirty word filter!!haha!)

DO they have the slightest clue what they are doing with 60(?) microphones?

I reckon they're even stuffed even in the conductor's socks!

Do you realise the recording industry has TOTALLY devastated classical music with their make believe fantasy recording techniques?

Abbey road & Tony Faulkner being some of the greatest disasters of all..

If you don't believe me, read up a little about Michael Gerzon*.

However:-

Just try to find a studio 78rpm player today with a decent cartridge....HEN'S TEETH!

Nothing about vibrato of course but interesting all the same.

I'm sure he* would have had plenty to say about that too!

http://www.michaelgerzonphotos.org.uk/images/ambisonic/(1)%204.-Gallery-G%20web.jpg

http://www.michaelgerzonphotos.org.uk/microphones-calrecs.html

February 5, 2013 at 03:54 PM · Perhaps it's off topic but the issue of the two tuning forks needs clarification. There are two scenarios.

(1) Someone play an "A" (a single tone) and, without external reference, you can tell whether that single note is 440 or 442. This ability is perhaps not so common even among musicians.

(2) Someone plays, simultaneously, a 440 and a 442 pitch and you can hear the "difference" in the form of a "beat" that occurs twice per second (2 Hz). I think if you cannot hear this you should not try to play the violin.

February 5, 2013 at 04:12 PM · Poor V M - thirty replies and it looks like only three address your question!

Wish I could help but I'm still in the learning stages of vibrato. One is "real slow." The other is "not so slow." They are both works in progress and once I apply it to pieces versus exercises, it's utter hit and miss.

Wishing you good fortunes in your own vibrato efforts, and hope you were able to glean some good ideas from these response.

February 5, 2013 at 05:11 PM · "Someone play an "A" (a single tone) and, without external reference, you can tell whether that single note is 440 or 442. This ability is perhaps not so common even among musicians..."

Do you realise what you are saying?

That professional musicians are actually incapable of tuning to a correct A...and can't tell the difference?

You are in fact saying if I tune my fiddle to 442 instead of 440 I/generally speaking others can't tell the difference?

Are you commonly playing in pro or amateur orchestras?

Just curious.

btw it is relevant to vibrato.

It's all about nuances of intonation,- which of course any singer will tell you, that is what vibrato is all about.

In fact listen to Emma Kirkby a bit, & you will soon learn about vibrato.

February 5, 2013 at 05:31 PM · Every Christmas I play in a carol concert in a big local church. Each instrument in the 16-piece band has its individual mic (so does the conductor), six mics cover the 16-voice choir, several more for assorted soloists and speakers, and a few suspended high above the congregation, presumably because the concert is being recorded for a local radio broadcast. The only thing missing (thankfully) is A*t*T*n*. All very much OTT imo, but they feed and water us well.

In contrast, I was at an orchestral concert in Bristol's 2000-seat Colston Hall. The BBC were recording it, and as far as I recollect, there were just two mics covering the orchestra, another for the soloist, and one or two covering the audience.

Yet another contrast: a professional recording studio where my violin teacher and her 4-piece band record their CDs. The band records in the same physical configuration as they do on stage, no headphones, no individual glass cubicles - just eye contact and listening, as if it were a live stage performance. Sound engineer and mixing desk in the same room as the musicians. No post-dubbing or editing other than sound balance. Rarely more than one take per track - result of the band's intensive preparation and 20 years of working together.

February 5, 2013 at 05:59 PM · Paul, there is another scenario that I experienced once in a small string orchestra rehearsal. The leader, instead of playing an A on her violin as she usually did, produced an Instrument Of The Devil, to wit an electronic tuner-metronome, which she waved in an arc from one side of the orchestra to the other as if performing some strange ritual blessing. Some bright spark (unfortunately not me on this occasion) complained "I can't tune from that, I'm getting a doppler effect back here", at which everyone collapsed in hysterics, including the leader who promised not to use said IOTD in public again.

February 5, 2013 at 07:32 PM · "Each instrument in the 16-piece band has its individual mic"

Crazy!

So the engineer pretends to know what he is about with 24 mics?!!

FYI, by far and away the best recordings over many years have been made with 2 Bruel & Kjaer mics and a dummy head.

How about a whole Brahms requiem with 8 then?

This was recorded beautifully in multi channel surround sound btw...so that took out 2 for the rear!

Come back to vibrato...

ALL violinists should be forced to attend and watch classes for singers.

It cures many, if not most violinistic diseases.

February 5, 2013 at 07:46 PM · Thanks for all the replies! Personally, I usually tune to 442, but that's just due to personal preference and the fact that many of the pianos at my conservatory are at 442.

I was wondering if a faster vibrato would generally make one's playing sound stronger more "sophisticated." When I play a lot of the major concerti, they sound fine technically, but lack some life to them. My fastest vibrato is typically on the order of 4 sixteenths (back-forth-back-forth) at ~126bpm. However, I've noticed that a lot of professionals seem to sound a lot faster, and was wondering if it was the vibrato that give the music a bit of edge and excitement.

February 5, 2013 at 09:04 PM · I think this was a great question to begin with, as I've been curious in my life as to the metronome speeds of some of the great vibratos. As I recall, I measured Heifetz's "comfortable" speed at around 140, but that was counting in 3 back-and-forth cycles. So up-down-up-down-up-down at 140 bpm. Now that's of course only one factor in his incredible sound, but I did want to know and to compare my "comfortable" speed, which was between 110 and 120. So I spent some time experimenting with a faster vibrato with the metronome, and it did me some good. Vote for variety!

Important to note, too, that the great vibratos are not a straight, or even, up and down. There's a "bump" at the top; in other words, the finger rocks very quickly up to the top and hits the peak, then comes away quickly. It slows down as it reaches the bottom, then speeds toward the top again. It's not conscious of course. But that's what you'll hear if you slow down a great soloist's vibrato. What to take away from that? Vibrato can't feel "labored", as if each cycle is being created from scratch. It's a rebound feeling that can add life/excitement to the sound, but should nontheless feel relaxed.

February 5, 2013 at 10:04 PM · I agree, Nathan, and the "peak" you describe must have a slightly brighter sound than the "trough" since it happens when the fingertip is a little more vertical, and the bony part holds the sring more firmly for a fraction of a second. (Breathe)

February 6, 2013 at 06:56 AM · I thought the best vibrato was at 440 hz?

February 6, 2013 at 01:20 PM · "hear the "difference" in the form of a "beat" that occurs twice per second (2 Hz). I think if you cannot hear this you should not try to play the violin."

i have seen 13 year old boys that could barely read, playing an oversized violin that had a bridge cut out of a chunk of wood 2cm thick. these people could play on silver wire instead of real strings and 2hz wouldn't make a difference. in our quest for perfection we forgot the real purpose of music. if perfection is all we are looking for in music, then we are not worthy listeners.

February 6, 2013 at 08:26 PM · You appear to admire some of the same people.

Is it possible you have been listening to a bit too many gypsies?

They don't seem too bothered about vibrato speeds they just PLAY!

February 8, 2013 at 10:41 AM · I dion't think Trevor was showing off his aural acuity; vibrato on a speeded-up recording has a different character from a naturally fast vibrato: more jerky and nervous.

It occurs to me that vibrato serves not only for expressive intensity, but also for a soloist's tone to stand out from an orchestral (or piano) backing.

February 8, 2013 at 01:43 PM · VM sez: I was wondering if a faster vibrato would generally make one's playing sound stronger more "sophisticated."

Not necessarily. It depends on the piece: even the phrase.

Check out: Sassmannhaus' take on vibrato in which he talks about varying speed.

Sometimes, on a last note that fades away to nothing, I will start fast and wide, then during the diminuendo, decrease both the speed and width of the vibrato, so everything vanishes at the end.

There are pieces where you really don't want a "nanny goat" vibrato. But then, we could be opening up another knock-down-drag-out fight here -- because it's a matter of interpretation.

I think of vibrato as a tool of expression, not as a hard-and-fast rule.

February 8, 2013 at 01:53 PM · Gareth, I think if one violin was tuned to 440 and everyone else to 442, obviously everyone would notice. If a violinist showed up late to a rehearsal and the orchestra deviously tuned a couple of Hz higher than they ordinarily do, I'm not sure the violinist who was late would notice until he or she started to tune up and realized he or she was a bit low. I don't think it's really worth arguing about without testing it though. I pose it as more of a question, although my hypothesis is that a significant number would not notice. Probably professional violinists who have that "A" drilled into their heads would do better than a "mere amateur" like myself. On that note, I think I would add that we could have lived without the snarky, uppity tone of your posts.

February 8, 2013 at 01:54 PM · I think there are players who use fairly constant vibrato speeds and I think it would be interesting to try to measure some of them. Grumiaux comes to mind as someone whose vibrato sounds motorized.

February 8, 2013 at 02:49 PM · Not to mention Heifetz! Both were supreme artists.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Violinist.com Business Directory
Violinist.com Business Directory

Violinist.com Guide to Online Learning
Violinist.com Guide to Online Learning

Dominant Pro Strings

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases

Fiddlerman.com

Fiddlershop

Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Violin-Strings.com

Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin

Warchal

Barenreiter

Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine

Subscribe