How to use impulse vibrato on gut strings?

October 25, 2014 at 06:07 AM · I tried to use my impulse vibrato today, but could not do so because the borrowed violin had extremely loose strings(dominant). We are talking so loose that first position required maybe half (or less!) the pressure of a med. gauge dominant to sound on a violin of similar size.


Replies (54)

October 25, 2014 at 10:31 AM · AO - can you clarify what you mean by the term impulse vibrato? I've heard it used for two quite different methods.

October 25, 2014 at 11:27 AM · Gut strings are thicker than synthetics or steel, so naturally will be closer to the fingerboard if you simply swap from synthetic to gut without making any other setup changes which most players don't bother with. The tension of gut strings is generally less than that of other strings - but more than half, I'd reckon. Combining these two factors it is apparent that less finger pressure is needed to bring the string into contact with the fingerboard than with other types of string, and certainly is so when all that is needed is to depress the string until the note sounds cleanly, which should ideally happen before the string contacts the fingerboard.

My conclusion from the above, backed up by my own experience, is that less finger/hand effort is needed when playing on gut, resulting in a more relaxed left hand and quicker movements, noticeably so in shifts, vibrato and fast trills.

October 25, 2014 at 09:10 PM · Edited post to clear up any confusion.

Recap: Strings on borrowed violin are so loose that I cannot use Heifetz style impulse vibrato, as the string simply mushes against the fingerboard.

October 26, 2014 at 04:59 AM · Hallo, I am new to this website, so please help me.. How can I post a question??

October 26, 2014 at 10:52 PM · Sure the owner has installed the correct gauges?

October 27, 2014 at 12:47 PM · Yes, the violin definitely has med. doms., but is supposed to be a violin that is easy to play.

The strings feel a lot like playing on elastic bands, and there is not enough tension to sustain an impulse vibrato. I simply get a warbly sound that cannot be sustained.

October 27, 2014 at 01:51 PM · A.O. Can you provide a photo showing in some sort of close-up the strings and fingerboard? I imagine it goes without saying that the strings are tuned to standard concert pitch.

October 27, 2014 at 02:32 PM · This post is now too confusing. The OP wants to know about the tension of gut in the header (and Trevor gives an answer concerning gut), yet the violin has Dominant strings on it.

If there are indeed medium Dominants on it (and they are the correct size) and the tension feels too soft, then either the nut or the bridge or both is too low. Frankly, I'm not sure how that would prevent vibrato or why it would matter. I can only imagine vibrato-any vibrato-to be easier.

It's possible that while the OP thinks the string tension is the problem, it might be the other dimensions of neck width or shape or angle that is disturbing his/her vibrato, especially since it's a borrowed violin.

October 27, 2014 at 04:49 PM · Thanks Scott.

Yes, the violin has med. dominants on it.

Yes, this can disrupt vibrato because Iam using Russian style playing with no SR as well as Heifetz style vibrato/

The vibrato requires a certain amount of bounce from the string so that the finger can tap at speed and get a solid sound.

I cannot do so because the violin is specifically set up to be very low tension when fingering, so all I get is an ugly warble.

October 27, 2014 at 09:54 PM · A.O. I'm starting to get confused!

If a string is tuned to a specific frequency, say A=440Hz, then the string string will have a particular tension to give that frequency.

Mathematically, the tension is proportional to the mass of the string, its length, and the square of the frequency. In other words, for a given pitch frequency, the only way to reduce the tension is to reduce the mass or its length, or both.

The lowest tension strings for the violin are probably light gauge plain gut, and with a normal instrument setup a perfectly good vibrato should be obtainable on such strings. If on the violin you are talking about - the one with medium Dominants, a fairly normal tension string - you are unable to produce an acceptable vibrato I am forced to the conclusion that either there is something very wrong with the setup (e.g. the strings almost touching the fingerboard), or vibrato technique is at fault.

Have you asked another violinist to play this violin?

October 28, 2014 at 03:23 AM · Perhaps my Amerikanski conservatory training has kept me sheltered, but I've never seen a vibrato that required one to tap and bounce from the strings. I've seen many of the Heifetz videos, including the corny one in slow motion and I did not see evidence of that. His vibrato looks like...vibrato, although a little faster than most players today.

The longer this thread goes on the more mystifying it becomes. Perhaps you are one who aspires to play without a SR but needs one anyway. I've noticed that vibrato is the area that suffers most with those who don't use a SR but should be.

October 28, 2014 at 08:29 AM · A.O, can you produce your "impulse" vibrato on another violin?

Anyway, the "tap/bounce" motion does not produce vibrato as such: it is more of an aural illusion, or a sensation in the fingertips, or at least an integral part of an integrated vibrato technique.

October 28, 2014 at 10:06 PM · I am not saying that my vibrato is perfect, what I'm saying is that the borrowed violin does not have enough string tension to provide bounce for the impulse vibrato. Same type that Mr. Steiner seems to use:

Alan Wittert wrote: "Would you describe in more detail what you described as "...a vibrato mechanism that is based on the impulse finger tapping"?"


Not easy to do in print, but I'll give it a try:

Start out by playing open D, and F natural above open D, in a dotted eighth and 16th rhythm repeated many times in a slur. Then do the same finger action, but with the finger remaining on the string. (Now you are playing a long F natural with the lightest finger pressure that sounds good, and with brief taps of increased finger pressure.) If you experiment with a range of finger pressures and keep the whole left hand super-loose, you'll find that the finger tapping can cause the hand to move. However, unlike other vibrato techniques, the hand movement is passive, rather than active. The trick is to get the passive hand movement by super-loose and light hand, rather than by overly powerful tapping. As in all technique, the focus of concentration must be on the listening. A key point is to try for maximum resonance change (vowel change) with near zero pitch change. Playing with the above mechanism, as a child plays with a toy, constantly trying little changes, you are listening for anything that sounds more beautiful to you as a cue that the change you just tried is a good one.

I was able to do it on a different violin with normal med. tension dominantish strings, but this one simply mushes under the impulse because the strings have almost no give under the fingers.

We are talking so little pressure that first position on the G can be pushed all the way down by mimicking typing slowly on a laptop.


October 28, 2014 at 10:09 PM · We are talking so little pressure that first position on the G can be pushed all the way down by mimicking typing slowly on a laptop....

Are the strings too low......???

October 28, 2014 at 10:09 PM ·

October 28, 2014 at 11:13 PM · Hi there, just quick note about gut strings in my experience: when I had an instrument converted back to Baroque setup, the luthier had to make a new higher bridge to account for lower tension of strings. Perhaps your instrument isn't set up for gut strings?

October 29, 2014 at 04:07 AM · Scott - it is real. Here is one famous teacher describing it:

Even Simon Fischer describes it (despite being a Delay product)

October 29, 2014 at 10:42 AM · All right, you win!

But Ole Bohn shows us that a finger vibrato on its own sounds "like a sheep" (his words); but as part of a hand or arm vibrato, it will avoid a siren-like wobble ("like an old singer").

October 29, 2014 at 01:39 PM · Not true. I got a Heifetz style vibrato just by staying super loose and relaxed, and it sounded similar to Heifetz and Nate Robinson, not a sheep. :D

I think the problem is that the violin has strings very close to the fingerboard. I will ask just to be sure.

October 29, 2014 at 04:48 PM · In that case I think some of us are confusing "finger vibrato" with "impulse vibrato".

Watching Heifetz (or Nate!) the vibrato has a definite along-the-string motion even if the finger motion has an on-and-off component.

But it is true that strings too low on the fingerboard will rub against it for the first millimetre or so next to the fingertip, and prevent a clear note.

October 29, 2014 at 05:18 PM · I wasn't convinced by Ole Bohn's video. Let's say someone has a vibrato that's too slow (regardless of the type of vibrato). My impulse as a teacher would be to first to see if the student could actually speed it up and/or narrow it. If the student couldn't speed it up, why? There might be a conceptual problem: perhaps they just don't like the sound of it--it's not their style. It could be that they need a basic shift to a different vibrato, such as to an arm vibrato. Maybe they need to hear themselves on a recording to realize the problem, or maybe they need a couple of years of muscular development.

The problem is that if a student really lacked the physical control to speed up or slow down a vibrato, then I see trying to get them to incorporate this bouncing motion to fix it as rather silly. It just introduces a new set of problems. Generally, when I ask talented students to to speed up their vibrato, they do it. If they lack physical talent, I'm not going to burden them with a new weird motion. They probably won't practice it anyway, along with the other stuff they don't practice anyway.

Ok--I'll admit that this vertical motion seems to be "a thing" In some schools. But I'm not convinced it's a useful "thing." When Bohn was showing different types of vibrato in the Mendelssohn concerto, he wasn't using the vertical vibrato. It's certainly not a Galamian thing.

It seems to me kind of a "thing" like the philosophy of moving the violin counter to the bow as Simon Fisher says to. In fact, he says the violin "doesn't want to be still," although I'm not sure why he knows what the violin wants or doesn't want. I've seen people who really get into teaching the counter motion of the violin, and many who don't. Ole Bohn, for example, holds his violin still and doesn't do what Fisher would advise. Does that mean Bohn's wrong?

Let's not forget that Joachim ruined many a student by insisting on a very low "broken wing" right elbow (if you couldn't hold a book with your elbow while playing you weren't doing it correctly...). A famous teacher that said stuff, much of which was probably good, and some that made no sense at all.

I'd like to see a modern violinist who actually uses this vibrato effectively. It may exist--I just haven't seen it.

October 29, 2014 at 06:36 PM · Scott - the impulse vibrato is not something you see, it is something you hear. And it is extremly rare for a violinist to use it alone, it is just about always used in connection with other types of vibratos.

How would you see it? The fingertip is moving less than 1mm up and down and when you combine it wuth other types of vibratos the visual aspect is lost.

But you can hear it as a kind of "knocking" sound, or pulsation. Most famous violinist that used it was of course Heifetz and Kreisler, but also Hassid, Szeryng and most others.

Today Perlman is a example of a violinist using it, and Zukerman does at times as does Chloe Hanslip and every one of Ericks students that I know of.

October 29, 2014 at 06:38 PM · And it is popular myth that Joachim ruined anyone with a low elbow.

October 29, 2014 at 06:50 PM · Place a finger on a string and then push and release gently with a bouncy type motion. IOW, let the finger rebound up from the force of the string rather than actively lifting the finger.

As you make this bouncy motion more dramatic and uncontrolled, you might find your hand moving back and your finger rolling on the string like a classic vibrato motion.

This is basically how I got the sense of the vibrato motion on the fingertip and the relaxed hand needed to execute it.

Some teachers use it for students who have trouble getting a feel for how the finger and first knuckle flexes.

October 29, 2014 at 07:03 PM · My first reaction was it's most likely a new violin made with very high neck angle/finger board projection, with higher than normal bridge height. This is probably to anticipate the neck drop within the first year or so when new violin settle in. I've played one fresh violin made by modern maker that had the neck set this way.

This will make playing very mushy under left fingers yet feels ok with the bow.

October 29, 2014 at 08:22 PM · Thanks Casey!

That sounds about right. I remember thinking that the fingers are mush, but the bowing is fine.

It also has to do with the fact that the strings are light gauge Dominants, not med. as I originally thought. :)

October 31, 2014 at 05:51 AM · "How would you see it? The fingertip is moving less than 1mm up and down and when you combine it wuth other types of vibratos the visual aspect is lost."

So how can you see it if I can't? I've never detected this in Perlman's playing, and I've been on stage with him. And the knocking sound you described is easily heard with a standard vibrato, especially when the pitch of the vibrato coincided with an open string. Why would Zukerman sometimes use it and sometimes not? I've also been on stage with him and never seen anything other than a typical vibrato.

October 31, 2014 at 01:00 PM · Scott, I quite agree that the on/off component is an integral part of a "normal" vibrato , but surely it is felt rather than seen.

And a teacher may well provide exercises to awaken and encourage these sensations in an imperfect vibrato. I know I do, but my patience and consideration has occasionally been qualified as "angelic".

October 31, 2014 at 03:11 PM · I use impulse vibrato only for slow tunes. For the faster numbers I switch to my warp-drive vibrato.

This has got to be the weirdest thread ever. Since when are Dominants made of gut? I thought they were synthetics.

I just looked at some string tension charts and the differences look rather small. I understand with something like violin strings that small differences are going to be held up as extremely important, but the whole range excluding a couple of really high-tension sets have total tensions (sum for the four strings) that pretty much all lie within a 10% range. The tension on the D string of the Dominant is fairly low, 9.1 pounds compared to 10.2 for a lot of string sets, but is this the kind of difference that causes one to be completely unable to do a certain kind of vibrato?

November 1, 2014 at 02:33 AM · Yes, bizarre discussion! A repair person could identify the problem in seconds (if there really is one). One hopes by now the OP has either changed strings or gone back to his or her own violin.

November 3, 2014 at 06:42 PM · For me, there's fair amount of confusion in this thread.

Just isolating the 'impulse vibrato', is it safe to define this as a finger on the string, making light contact with the fingerboard, then increasing / decreasing the finger pressure while maintaining fingerboard contact, along with a constant and unchanging bow motion?

And, depending on the power of finger impulses, there will be an increase in volume on the 'press', and optionally a minute change of pitch too if the 'press' is hard enough (because the fingertip spreads out)?

That's about as physical and technical a description as I can manage.

Please do correct me if I'm wrong :)

November 3, 2014 at 06:49 PM · I agree, Jim.

And, as the fingertip spreads, the bone will press harder, making for a clearer tone.

So I reckon vibrato affects pitch, loudness, and timbre..

November 4, 2014 at 05:11 AM · Scott, as I wrote - "the impulse vibrato is not something you see, it is something you hear."

December 12, 2014 at 01:17 PM · Its the oscillation between string on fingerboard and lifting off the fingerboard . When on fingerboard volume is full and when off volume is 0 to little . Oscillation betwee that

December 12, 2014 at 10:20 PM · Still sounds like BS to me

December 12, 2014 at 11:57 PM · Not true. Used by Kreisler, Elman, Nate Robinson, David Nadien and a few modern players. :)

December 13, 2014 at 02:25 AM · dont think elman used it . It was once mentioned somewhere here that elman had his vibrato going slightly higher pitch to give that high feeling.

December 13, 2014 at 09:48 AM · The videos of every single great violinist mentioned (including Nate?!) show a marked vibrato motion along the string. This will induce variations in both fingertip placement (pitch) and fingertip pressure (tone and loudness). So the "impulse" (on/off) component is an integral part of any effective vibrato.

I know amateurs with only the "impulse" part, and a frail, bleating sound. On the other hand, with no "impulse" component the vibrato sounds like a automobile burglar alarm.

However, there is more than one strategy for developing a vibrato. Especially on the viola, (which I find needs a wider vibrato and firmer finger pressure) I start with loose forearm swings before homing in on hand and finger. Works every time!

Others may start with the up/down impulse in the finger, and rely on flexibility to develop the along-the-string motion. Alex Marcus (in an interesting YouTube video on playing without a SR) tries (unsuccessfully..) to show this way.

But I often introduce a"tapping" exercise in my own teaching, as a component of vibrato, not as its source.

December 13, 2014 at 01:14 PM · Vibrato? What's that? I don't use it.

December 14, 2014 at 05:57 AM · How about this?

The vibrato is clearly too fast, but it shows that tapping the finger can cause a smooth and narrow vibrato that sounds like that of Kreisler and Nate Robinson.

What must be understood is that the tapping

only sounds weak/like a sheep if the pulse is kept even instead of being an uneven movement that mostly consists of relieving finger pressure right after pushing the string down.

This also causes the finger to slightly flatten the note, which would comprise the vertical motion. It looks like normal vibrato but has a distinctive rhythm that makes it sound fast even when it is fairly slowly for most notes.

P.S.: This also explains why no modern player but Nate has a 20th century sounding vibrato. :)


December 14, 2014 at 10:49 AM · Hi folks, I am an older novice player and have learned a great deal from the people on this site. Still struggling wth my little finger when it comes to vibrato. I use gut strings (Pirastro Olives and the G & D are a heavy guage) so I will try this technique to see how it goes. I know that vibrato is a rocking motion of the finger along the string at various rates to give a slight change of pitch. However when I first started my hands were a wee bit arthretic and I couldn't quite get the rocking motion going. So I cheated and tried a string drag across the fingerboard and I seem to have gotten a kind of vibrato out of that. Have any of you heard of or have tried that? If so does this technique have a name?

December 14, 2014 at 08:02 PM · Here you go:

Starting at 3:01

You can tel when it is impulse vibrato because the snap in it is faster, so it sounds rather like a trill. The mechanism of producing it is similar except for the finger lift done during a trill.

December 14, 2014 at 10:37 PM · Yes, exquisite playing from David Nadien. A fast, strong, nervous vibrato (like Heifetz, Grumiaux, Hassid..)

But once again, I see a very vigorous along-the string motion which includes an "impulse" component, like any good vibrato, but which can hardly be a by-product of such a compnoent.

However, I admit that Leland's book on Dounis' teaching suggests feeling the vibrato "under the fingertip". But then we all do that, don't we, whatever the concious source of the motion?

PS " This also explains why no modern player but Nate has a 20th century sounding vibrato. :)". Well done, Nate! But what about Hilary Hahn!

December 15, 2014 at 03:55 AM · Forgot that she is the one exception.

Problem is she only uses it for some notes, whereas Nate uses it exclusively from what I can hear. :)

December 15, 2014 at 02:21 PM · "Problem is she only uses it for some notes"

To my ears, this variety in vibrato is more than welcome!

Heifetz too had a wonderfully varied vibrato, (albeit a tad violent for certain music).

PS I feel we do well to emulate the original, but if you can already sound like Nate, you should do O.K.

December 16, 2014 at 12:00 AM · Your description is right on the money John. :)

This is why it sounds different than normal vibrato as well. If you tried to skip the lower pulse in other vibratos you wouldnt have one!

December 17, 2014 at 01:40 AM · Thanks for the link John! :)

The link had a slight mistype, fixed it for all that want to see:

December 19, 2014 at 10:06 AM · John, I had a good look, but I am sure that the various waveforms represent the vibrations of the string/wood (several hundred Hz) rather than vibrato (5 to 8 Hz). The vibrato shows as a gentle variation in amplitude and wavelength, but is not the subject of the article.

If course this does not invalidate your reflections on hand/finger motions..

December 19, 2014 at 10:55 PM · The oscilloscope traces under discussion are of the waveform with time along the X-axis (horizontal) and the power (usually in dB) along the vertical Y-axis. It is difficult to examine vibrato on such a wave form view. What you need is a spectrographic view with time again along the X-axis but with the frequency plotted along the Y-axis. You can see the various harmonic components of a sound plotted as frequencies, and see exactly how vibrato works. Variation in power is indicated by color, a common choice being red for the loudest, merging to shades of blue for the quieter frequencies.

On any decent audio editor you should be able to flip between the time-power (aka wave-form) and the spectrographic plots. On my PC I use the straightforward but nevertheless very well-featured free Audacity audio editor which allows flipping between views, and also very useful zooming in and out of views.

December 21, 2014 at 10:50 AM · John, I think we all agree.

Pitch vibrato on its own wobbles "like an old singer"; volume vibrato on its own bleats "like a sheep".

Tastefully combined, they can bring both fire and balm to our playing.

December 22, 2014 at 10:17 AM · The pulsating aspect explains why we usually say that the swinging aspect should be under the note rather than either side.

December 22, 2014 at 07:49 PM · Does it? Singers, who 'the violin emulates' generally vibrate above and below the note.

I'm listening to Hassid's 'souvenier d'un lieu cher' and it strikes me that he plays the note and then makes brief excursions below it for the vibrato. its as if he was doing vibrato below onto a fixed obstacle (set at the note). Would love to analyze that at high resolution....

December 23, 2014 at 08:50 AM · I think if a violinist imitated a singer's vibrato, the audience would take it as a comic turn. I find the timbre of the human voice allows for wider variations in pitch (espececially in faster pasages) that would be intolerable on the violin, with its multiple high overtones.

And on the other hand, I find singing with an on/off "impulse" vibrato also comes over as a caricature. I once heard Haendel's "And the Trumpet shall Sound" by a baritone whose on/off vibrato was slower than the semiquaver runs. Tear along the dotted line?

December 24, 2014 at 10:10 PM · Yes, the Golden Age Vibrato would do (e.g. Heddle Nash). I was tninking more of the post-Pears-Sutherland era.

Eric Tappy come to mind for an upside down vibrato: less satisfying to my ears.

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