Do you need different types of vibrato?

February 5, 2015 at 08:30 PM ·

Replies (50)

February 5, 2015 at 08:34 PM · Greetings,

the answer is `yes and no.` As far as is possible one should try and learn every possible approach to vibrato even if one cant get to grips with all of them. then the ability to vary speed with and th elike for artistic purposes should also develop even if one is ultimately only able to use one basic approach.



February 5, 2015 at 09:16 PM · Greetings,

serious players have to rework things from the beginning. In a sense that is what playing the violin for a lifetime is about. The trick is finding out how to make the time, but one cannot afford not too.



February 5, 2015 at 10:21 PM · Another way I like to think about vibrato is it's purpose, that besides using it for color, it adds a different acoustics element to your sound and relaxes the hand, and I think all this will naturally lead one to explore how to release and spin out sound with that will incorporate the arm, wrist, and fingers in various combination depending on context.

I was taught to use a combination of wrist and arm and was rather appalled when I discovered some people can vibrate only one way or the other, which seems to be sadly limiting!

February 6, 2015 at 03:30 AM · If it's a physical issue, fatigue, pain, irregular motion, then yes, I think it's best to take things apart, analyse motion and coordination, before putting them back together.

If it's a sonic issue, I think Flesch is all you need, work on a pulsing, trill like motion to speed things up (and make more narrow) and Rivarde exercise to loosen the finger tip, slow down, and make wider. Once these motions are more automatic, opposites can be worked on: slow and narrow; fast and wide. These exercises will work regardless of what part of the arm (i.e. part(s) of the whole arm, from tip of shoulder blade to finger tip) you use to generate vibrato.

Finally, perhaps most importantly, exercises must be done to connect vibrato to harmonic context, shifting/portamenti and bow speed/density to develop your palette.

February 6, 2015 at 09:54 AM · Just my 2 centimes d'euro.

To start with, I teach a forearm movement, but with a flexible wrist and fingers: the elbow leads the wrist which leads the knuckles which lead the fingertips. Visually, the effect is rather like an underwater plant, waving to and fro in a gentle current. As the motion speeds up, the hand vibrates a little more than the forearm, but something is still happening in the elbow. The fingers stay slightly passive, but tonic enough not to slip.

February 6, 2015 at 10:29 AM · The short answer to the question in the thread title could be; it depends on how loud you want to play, and then how comfortable you want to be doing vibrato at the loudest dynamic.

February 6, 2015 at 01:24 PM · Wow Adrian, that's exactly how I used to conceive of a fluid arm vibrato! Akin to a fluid detache. I've never come across another source (teacher or text) that (who) described the 'wave' vibrato.

After studying viola almost exclusively for 3 years (using mostly wave motions) many moons ago I found my arm had almost forgotten how to speed up vibrato on the violin, for which, at M. Flesch's prescription, I used the pulse exercise. As with a colle motion involved in fast, percussive bow strokes, wrist flexion becomes more in sync with pressure onto the string. Physically, with speed, there is more general tension in the arm (more wear and tear?) so we'll see how long it lasts... I still use the wave motion for a warmer, slower vibrato, especially on the thicker strings, and now and then find myself pining for darker, warmer, viola days.

February 6, 2015 at 01:47 PM · Recognition at last!

Jeewon (or Kim?), my "underwater plant" motion is mainly to find that subtle synthesis of tonus and flexibilty. For a faster, maybe narrower vibrato, my "plant" get a little stiffer, but only just enough.

I have never practiced a "finger" vibrato as such, so I am still learning! But in the highest postions, when the whole hand is leaning over the violin's shoulder, my vibrato is more vertcal than along-the-string; up there it has to be narrower anyway.

February 7, 2015 at 03:07 AM · It's a great vibrato motion--I'm glad you brought it up Adrian. Striving for a more shimmery sound, I've got to a point where, as a default, I think my wrist and elbow flex simultaneously with finger pressure, for better or worse. I'll have to observe more closely next time. Not the pretty wave vibrato it used to be.


February 7, 2015 at 12:03 PM ·

February 7, 2015 at 09:50 PM · Yep!

February 8, 2015 at 02:18 PM ·

February 9, 2015 at 01:39 AM ·

February 9, 2015 at 09:45 AM · Me.

February 9, 2015 at 05:06 PM · C'mon everyone, I can't be the only one!

February 9, 2015 at 07:28 PM · Why do we talk about wrist vibrato when the wrist is a joint? The elbow is a joint too, so why not talk about elbow vibrato?

February 13, 2015 at 10:08 AM · "Combo approach"?

Depending on the student, the weather etc, I find I can choose between an "analytical approach", mastering individual elemets separately before combining them; and progressvely refining global movements in a "combo" (Gestalt?) approach.

I hasten to add that my wave-motions are done without the bow to begin with!

February 13, 2015 at 12:47 PM ·

February 13, 2015 at 01:37 PM · "So maybe a vibrato that is a combo of arm and wrist is where it's at?"

Liz, though I've not built a vibrato from scratch in a very long time, if I had to do it now I think I'd be inclined to work with what comes more naturally to the student. Conceptually the combo approach is appealing but I'm not so sure all students would take to it equally (sorry Adrian!) Perhaps if nothing came naturally the combo approach would be most effective, but along the way it seems most people tend towards one or the other. I think one aspect of vibrato motion I would pay closer attention to is the difference between pulling the hand and/or arm toward the body v pushing away from the body, a distinction I wasn't aware of until I started tweaking my own vibrato motion. I suspect students might have an inclination for one or the other in this regard as well.

Other than that I think most issues can be solved by looking at coordination between curling/extending the finger with extending/flexing the base knuckle with what happens with the thumb, training pressure and swing rhythmically, and balancing between fingers.

February 13, 2015 at 02:37 PM · No need to apologise!

I have had a few students who have found a beautiful vibrato on their own: my approach tries to give the others this possibility.

I'll try to describe briefly what I do:

- Pressure Zero. One finger on each string; minimal or no contact between the base of the index and the neck; no pressure; a gentle back & forth shifting/sliding motion.

- Pressure No1. Slight finger pressue with equally slight thumb counter-pressure; the strings descend halfway to the fingerboard. .

- Pressure No2, a little more pressure; the strings arrive on the fingerboard, the fingertips drag more on the strings; as the forearm approaches, the hand leans back and the finger curl; as the forearm recedes, the hand leans forewards and the fingers stretch.

- Pressure No 3, only just enough to stop the fingertips sliding; the complex motions of Pressure No2 have become a combined arm & hand vibrato, with equal pressure from all 4 flexible fingers.

Excess tension, e.g. from the middle finger, or from the thumb, will block the wrist and stiffen the whole process.

It usually works!

Hope this is comprehensible...

To refine the vibrato, read all the dozens of other posts on the subject!

February 13, 2015 at 03:28 PM · Great minds Adrian! That's exactly what I used to do too! Next step, I would assign actual notes to shift between with a rhythmic acceleration as the interval got smaller and smaller.

E.g. on A string, second finger:

E and C, half notes

E and C#, quarter notes

E and D, eighths

E and D#, triplet eighths

E and D# + quarter tone, sixteenths

vibrato on E, six tuple sixteenths

vibrato on E, thirtyseconds

or something like that.

February 14, 2015 at 09:21 AM · Just to add that I have not worked at initiating the vibrato from the fingers. I sometimes try this, to re-sensitise the contact with the string, but on my viola I often want a broader vibrato. The hand-vibrato part of the "wave" has an up & down component though, especially in the higher positions

Oh, I seem to have said that further up the page. Sorry.

February 15, 2015 at 10:28 AM · Concerning the "patting head & rubbing tummy" syndrome I have found that on long bowed note, the student's right arm wants to join in the vibrato when both elbows have a similar opening (usually mid-bow). This is normal: when we hold something in both hands, (e.g. a tray of drinks) they work in perfect sychronisation.

I try a de-sync exercise: a quick flapping motion in one hand, plus a long, slow arc in the other arm, so slow, that one can keep an eye on both sides at once.

February 17, 2015 at 12:54 PM · And Jeewon, we agree on the "homing in" process, narrowing and speeding the vibrato..

The only risk is increasing the finger pressure (and thumb counter-pressure) to Nos 4,5,6 etc without realising.

February 18, 2015 at 02:42 PM · After years of years of playing and hearing others play, I have narrowed vibrato down to two types or classes.

Class one : arm, wrist, finger vibrato (I shall qualify this later).

Meaning, my criteria is the end result, which is pretty much the same : constant finger pressure on the string, and the action of the left hand 'pulling' the violin away (of course the violin does not actually move away, because it's held firmly in place by chin pressure), resulting in the fingertip rolling (not sliding) downward slightly, causing a drop in pitch. 'Pushing' the violin back restores the fingertip position, and the original pitch. That's the full cycle.

People differentiate between arm, wrist and finger vibrato, but to me they are all used to the same end, although obviously the pivot points are different for each one.

Class two : the 'other' finger vibrato I'm aware of is the 'impulse' or 'jackhammer' vibrato, where (theoretically) the finger rests lightly on the string, is then pressed down hard, then pressure released again, with the string maintaining contact with the fingerboard all the time. The result is a variation in volume only (again, pitch can change fractionally too).

It is my belief that class one vibrato can be achieved when pivoting from the elbow alone, so that the wrist and hand stay straight and always in the same position. The speed and amplitude of the vibrato can easily be varied using this method.

I'm sure there will be disagreement on this, depending on who was taught by whom, who learned which first, and for how long.

February 19, 2015 at 01:07 AM · Jim, I have to point out one thing about class 2 vibrato.

The fingertip can and does leave the fingerboard, but does not leave the string surface when vibrating.

This vibrato does not work properly if your finger does not leave the fingerboard, as it will be impossible to get enough counter snap from the string as you push it down. For this reason, it will also not work with very low tension strings (not gut, just very loose. E. g.: A very detuned G string)

February 19, 2015 at 08:46 AM · A.O, you're absolutely right. My mistake. I meant to say "finger maintaining contact with the string" instead of "string maintaining contact with the fingerboard". Thank you for the correction.

February 19, 2015 at 04:55 PM · Your welcome, Jim.

Anybody like this vibrato more/use it instead of the typical type?

So far, I am the only one here that does it seems. Lonely... :)

February 19, 2015 at 05:23 PM · A.O. (short for "Anonymous"?) it interests me precisely because I don't use it!

I seem to remember you saying that this finger-initiated vibrato makes you sound like Nate Robinson. Well, you could do a lot worse!

Now, when I try this vertical fingertip motion with a flexible wrist, my hand does indeed respond, but not my forearm. In Nate's U-tyoob videos, his vibrato is fairly narrow and fast, but it seems to involve the whole forearm. I do not know his opinions on this, but I would guess from watching that it's really an arm vibrato resulting in a "pulsing" finger contact.

But I am still learning!

Edit.I just checked a few "finger vibrato" videos. Mr. "Professor V" shows how the finger vibrato become a hand vibrato as it speeds up. The other videos are much less help.

As I have described, I start with an arm movement, but I am still experimenting..

February 19, 2015 at 05:52 PM · "Anybody like this vibrato more/use it instead of the typical type?"

I'm not a great fan of it. Some fiddle players use it as the only vibrato they know, and do it well. Nothing wrong with that, it's just not to my taste.

That said, I hear this amazing 'throbbing' fast-pulse vibrato now and again - eg in the few recordings of Joseph Hassid. I don't know if it's class 1 or class 2 vibrato, as I've never seen him on film.

His vibrato, also Ricci's, were quite unique in my view, even though some of the recordings ended up being speeded up with the result of raising the pitch by a semitone.

February 19, 2015 at 06:12 PM · Hassid appaently found his vibrato too slow (!), but by the time he made those eight angelic recordings, he had studied with Carl Flesch in London. I must delve onto Flesch's treatise when I get home tonight. Someone on the other thread mention "pulsing"...

February 19, 2015 at 07:03 PM · To me, Hassid sounds like he uses impulse vibrato from the finger, but widens it with arm motion.

Same thing with Jascha Heifetz, whereas Fritz Kreisler and Mischa Elman sound lsike they only use the finger motion with no arm movement (as can be seen in the 1962 Wieniawski video of Elman on youtube).

February 19, 2015 at 10:54 PM · I still think ('cos I like to be right!) that the vertical motions in the 1962 Elman video come from the hand vibrato, rather than be its source.

I feel the same about Kreisler, Heifetz, Grumiaux, Hassid, all of whom have that quick, narrow , shimmering vibrato. There is certainly a on/off component. Which I shall work at. In spite of being right all along.

Remember, though, that these demi-gods all played , or started, in the 78rpm era, their playing shining through a hailstorm on a tin roof. This takes quite some finger-pressure, throughout the vibrato. What we find in our own homes or studios can be much more lightweight.

So, to my Flesch treaty, & then to bed!

But I promise to give it a try..

Hey though, how about trying my "combo" vibrato, and reporting back?

February 19, 2015 at 11:19 PM · No thanks.

I am good with mu incorrect mechanism. Now I just have to add arm motion and it will sound like the old masters... :)

February 20, 2015 at 02:40 AM · Sometimes vibrato can be an elusive thing... I had developed a fluid and rich vibrato, somewhat slow but carefully controlled width. It worked well for most interpretations until a disability made it impossible.

While I no longer perform concerts, I am experimenting with other types at home, specifically a faster, narrow finger vibrato. I miss my old vibrato!!! While I have never cared for the rapid, "nervous" tone, it's better than no vibrato when used sparingly for certain works.

February 20, 2015 at 09:27 AM · Well, A.O, I had a quick look at Flesch, Galamian & Fischer. All 3 describe the finger vibrato, so it's not "incorrect"!

Galamian even shows a "fake" finger vibrato, where the free fingers flap up & down, causing a variation in pressure of the playing finger. Elman's 1962 video could be an example? It's a pity we have no videos of him as young man, when his tone was at its best.

Galamian also maintains that arm vibrato is quickest, hand vibrato slower, and finger vibrato is slowest. I find this true for myself, but not for my very few friends who use an exclusive finger vibrato, and who have the bleating quality that you seem to avoid. But they are mostly my age, or well over..

And I wasn't asking you to change your vibrato, just show a little curiosity!

February 20, 2015 at 01:44 PM · And Nigel, Galamian makes the same point: he calls them Arm, Hand, & Finger vibratos.

Although I suppose we could say, Elbow, Wrist and Knuckle vibrato?

February 20, 2015 at 02:23 PM · Adrian, I think Galamian comes to his conclusions because of how he conceives of vibrato motion, as a swing away from the body with an active pull away followed by a rebound back to pitch. By contrast, Flesch (Menuhin, Dounis) conceive of vibrato as an active push toward the body, to pitch, with a passive relaxation away from pitch and body.

Here's a thread from a while back where I posted my findings.

The most important aspect of vibrato has to do with a rhythmic, consistent motion, both horizontally and vertically, but the action is asymmetrical. It's hard to describe in words but the sound should have a discernible pulsation (kind of like beats between slightly out of tune pitches, but less mechanical) with a clean edge to the rise into pitch and a soft flattening away from pitch. Which is why, Jim, vibrato requires a release of pressure regardless of how it is generated. Equal pressure sounds like a siren when slow, and beats (or bleats) when fast.

I think most people have a tendency toward one way over the other. So to the OPs question I would say, while you need a variety of sound in vibrato, it's not necessary to learn all the various ways of generating the motion, since variety can be achieved by focusing on combining speed and width. But as has been suggested, exploring the various ways might introduce possibilities in expression not yet imagined. On the other hand, much of the colour palette is achieved in combination with bow speed, density and volume.

February 21, 2015 at 02:20 AM · @Adrian: Thanks! Its nice to be backed up. :)

I find that finger (a. k. a. my vibrato) is the slowest in terms of how many times a second the pulse can be maintained, but the particular snap of the vibrato makes it sound faster than the other types unless an effort is made to make it VERY slow.

February 21, 2015 at 11:33 AM · Oops!

February 21, 2015 at 11:35 AM · Another wonderful violinist with impulse vibrato was Elvino Vardaro, who played in tango quintets with the likes of Pichucco or Piazzolla. I much prefer him to the more "slurpy" successors (Paz, Agri). Sweet but intense, without a trace of vulgarity...

February 23, 2015 at 09:58 AM · Maddening! Now I can't find the description of the "flapping the free fingers" vibrato, neither in Flesch, Galamian, Fischer or Roland.

In fact Galamian's "fake", or "fingertip" vibrato is a softening of tip joint in fast passages, to take the edge off things.

But I definitely read it somewhere.

Some of my aging amateur friends use it together with a finger vibrato. On our violas it sounds like a sheep with a sore throat!

But all these descriptions of pulling back, pulsing forward, waves etc, are highly stimulating. I should love to sound, at will, like the young Kreisler, the older Kreisler, Szigeti, Enescu, Grumiaux, Zukerman, Hahn (sigh!) the younger Tertis, Primrose, et al.

February 23, 2015 at 02:50 PM · [Which is why, Jim, vibrato requires a release of pressure regardless of how it is generated. Equal pressure sounds like a siren when slow, and beats (or bleats) when fast. ]

Jeewon, I'm not sure what you are trying to say here. Perhaps class 1 vibrato *does* have a release of pressure for a very short time, at some point between the action of pulling the violin away and pushing it back again, but I don't think there's a conscious release of finger pressure by the player.

A bit like the fact that if you throw a ball against a wall, it does actually *stop* before rebounding. But that's splitting hairs :)

Maybe I've misunderstood you. It's difficult in text only. I'd like to see two examples of the vibrato.

February 23, 2015 at 03:41 PM · Nope, you got what I was saying. On the violin, a split hair can make all the difference ;)

Once a ball leaves your hand you no longer have control over it. Finger pressure is more like the hand that does the bouncing. I'm sure a basketball player is not aware of the pressure applied to the ball to control the dribble. But no matter how imperceptible the change, the ball is being controlled by changes in the action of the arm that does the dribbling.

Try it Jim and let me let me know if you can produce the 'sirens' and the 'bleats.' Conscious choice is simply a matter of shifting attention and acting on what is noticed (whether you notice something for yourself, or it's pointed out.) If one is not aware of colours or tone quality, all matters of sound production remain unconscious, and can become random. I have encountered students who can control sound instinctively. For them perhaps the technique remains largely unconscious. For others who remain unconscious of sound production, I've had success correcting both the sirens and the bleats with pressure exercises, by developing technique and directing their attention. Once technique is habitualized it becomes largely unconscious. But a large part of interpretation involves choosing colours; and much of it has to do with controlling pressure (in combination with speed and frequency, and amplitude, in both left hand and bowing.)

Edit: it's not just colour. It's phrasing, articulation, speed, shifting, coordination, volume, bow changes, sustained sound, tapered sound, abruptly changing sound... I would suggest 99% of everything we do on the fiddle involves pressure control. Music, after all, is the manipulation of pressure waves.

February 24, 2015 at 12:10 AM · Greetings,

it's like life. Constant pressure without release and we drop dead.

Today's cheerful thought,


February 24, 2015 at 08:42 AM · Jeewon - I have tried what you suggested and I still can't seem to make it sound any different. My normal (class 1) vibrato sounds fine to me, perhaps a little tight, but I've never had it evaluated by a master.

I am able to deliberately produce horrible vibrato by playing it slowly, with wide amplitude, lots of 'wobble', and going above the initial pitch on return, instead of returning to the exact staring pitch, but as for pressure release, you've lost me :) Sorry ...

February 24, 2015 at 12:42 PM · Perhaps describe finger vibrato as an unsuccessful trill?

February 24, 2015 at 01:45 PM · And/or unsuccessful vibrato... I'm not aware of finger vibrato (of either kind) being prescribed by any teacher other than as a corrective exercise. All the written accounts clearly describe vibrato as involving a combination of the various parts of the arm/hand.

Jim, I'll give it a try later today. I remember hearing a difference but I'll try to reproduce it. But quite apart from the sound, as Buri suggests, to avoid an early vibrato death, it's a good idea to incorporate a release into the vibrato cycle. Death by vibrato...

February 24, 2015 at 02:06 PM · The motion for finger vibrato is the same as a trill, but the finger keeps contact with the string and does not snap up as quickly or lift up as high. If done right you should get a sound that sounds like a singer's vibrato: even when fairly slow, it sounds intense because of the quick snap in it. :)

February 24, 2015 at 06:44 PM · Jeewon - here is an example of my normal vibrato. Just a little bit of noodling, straight off the cuff.

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