a question about continuous vibrato

May 17, 2015 at 08:50 PM · I am trying to include continuous vibrato in 3-octave scales, and my teacher says to keep the wrist moving the whole time. But when I do that, my hand frame goes straight to hell, and intonation along with it. How can I possibly hit the right note when I'm constantly waving my hand around? I feel like I'm trying to use a wet noodle to play.

Replies (34)

May 17, 2015 at 09:33 PM · Maybe your vibrato is too wide; since the notes get closer together as we go up the string, the vibrato has to be narrower to get the same effect. And a wide wrist vibrato will disturb hand placement and intonation.

May be your hand is too loose, and needs more tonus, but without gripping.

May I suggest trying a forearm vibrato for a while, with a straight wrist, before adding a little of the hand movement that you seem to find easy.

Sometimes it helps to focus one's attention for a while on the sensations in the fingrtips: whether they roll back & forth, or maybe have a motion more on-&-off the string..

May 17, 2015 at 10:30 PM · Greetings,

AdrIan's comments are spot on as usual, but I think in general we tend to have either wrist or arm vibrato (actually a hybrid that emphasizes one over the other) it might prove to be a little frustrating trying to develop an arm vibrato now if it isn't your type, as it were.

I think you need to simplify the problem by working on individual notes rather than scales. have a routine of five or six rhythm patterns that you do everyday. I do this as a matter or course because that is part of the routine in Warming Up which I describe in a recent blog.

Where I deviate from that is that I do a purely vertical finger movement. I find this contributes a Greta deal to the development of either wrist or arm vibrato. At speed it is not that much different from an extremely narrow and fast wrist vibrato...

The other thing you might consider is your mental concept of the sound you what to produce. At the moment it may be something along the lines of an oscillating sound that waves up and down to some degree or another. This si quite normal but I am not really convinced it is the best conceptualizaction in many cases. Try reframing it as the same sound as spicatto or sautille. In other words your aim is to produce a series of pinging sounds on the same note rather than actual pitch fluctuation. Model the sound ,with your bowing before you do the vibrato itself.



May 17, 2015 at 11:20 PM · what is the purpose of this exercise?

Continuous vibrato is useless in music making. Have you ever heard of singer vibrating all the time?!

If a hidden purpose is to relax your hand while playing double stops, it does not have to be done this way.

May 18, 2015 at 12:06 AM · I agree about continuous vibrato - it can so detract from the music. I heard a surprising instance of this on the radio the other day. It was a famous cellist (anonymous, but well-known for the Kodaly solo sonata) playing the Brahms #2 cello sonata with an intense non-stop vibrato for the duration of the piece. To my mind it was musically unnecessary, distracting, and eventually just plain irritating.

May 18, 2015 at 12:06 AM · Almost all opera singers I hear vibrate all the time. Some of them vibrate so much that I cannot discern the notes they are singing.

May 18, 2015 at 12:23 AM · One reason why opera singers in particular use a strong continuous vibrato is because it helps projection in an opera house sans mic. Another reason is that it enriches the tone by setting up side-band frequencies. Yet another reason with some opera singers is that it may have something to do with intonation; but since this is not a singing forum I shall say no more ;)

May 18, 2015 at 12:35 AM · Since violin playing imitates the voice to a certain extent, all the points mentioned are applicable to violinists and so a continuous vibrato is a worthy trick to have unless one plays exclusively baroque.

The thing that I find annoying is to hear the same vibrato from beginning to end without nuances.

May 18, 2015 at 12:35 AM · [double post deleted]

May 18, 2015 at 02:05 AM · Is that really Ultraman?

May 18, 2015 at 02:37 AM · Greetings,

I seem to recall Primrose advocating scales should bepayed with continuous vibrato. Personally I agree with the OP and think they should be practice both Witt and without. If you can play a scale well with continuous vibrato you have I think mastere da skill which you can then choose to apply or not apply in pieces.

I thinks there are enough players and pedagogues who -do- advocate continuous vibrato even it becomes microscopic at time, to make the discussion more one of taste, values and technical beliefs than a blanket right and wrong situation.



May 18, 2015 at 05:58 AM · Playing with no vibrato needs subtle and varied bowing; and a continuous vibrato need subtle variation too! Even the likes of Heifetz or Hahn vary their rapid vibrato wonderfully.

Vibrato gives a shimmer to the tone in a larger hall, and allows the tone to "detach" itself from a piano or orchestral accompaniment. And playing (or singing) ff without any vibrato will often be intolerable.

Practicing continuous vibrato makes it available at all times, to use at will, and avoids "dead" notes followed by an irritating vibrato "bulge".

And as Buri says, living tones come from both hands!

May 18, 2015 at 06:23 AM · Absolutely. Hahn's ability to vary the speed and width of her vibrato is awesome. one of the worst non vibrato faults is, I think, to play the last note of a phrase that is is dying away without vibrato be ause the mind is on the next phrase and is not paying attention. Conversely to use the same intense vibrato as on the pre ending note while dying away with the bow sounds ridiculuous. I think someone once called it shouting in pianissimo. Hahn is a master of regulating phrase endings with vibrato.



May 18, 2015 at 07:28 AM · All excellent advice.

However, the bow produces the quality of the sound. The vibrato is merely the added perfume.

And we all know what we think of people who use too much perfume ...

May 18, 2015 at 10:50 AM · "Continuous" vibrato is more a philosophy than a technique, imo. I teach my students that they need to land the note, then start the vibrato, and stop it on the pitch. If we listened in slow-mo to players who seem to have a continuous vibrato, I think we'd find that's what they're doing, just fast. I prefer variety in vibrato speed, width and intensity, and the conscious choice to use little or none, as well.

May 18, 2015 at 11:02 AM · Greetings,

Sue, I think your description is accurate and your point is well taken . But it seems to me that refers to the continuity of vibrsto between two notes. What I am talking about ,I think, is playing a note with vibrato and then playing the next note with vibrato an d the next. I am not sure that is the same thing. your description to me reads as the means of getting over that gap Have I misunderstood?

Cheers buri

May 18, 2015 at 11:09 AM · Well, I'll have to try slowing down some recordings. But there are also passages which sound well with a vibrato that continues through the change of note, (but without starting the note out of tune). This need practicing as such.

We also need a "living hand" to allow the inevitable minute adjustments in intonation.

May 18, 2015 at 11:36 AM · If the listener is consciously aware that there is vibrato (except on very passionate G string passages) - then something's wrong.

Most singers have too much vib, and that's all you hear. A damned big wobble.

Listen to a singer or a fiddler from some distance, and if all you are aware of is the vibrato, then it's bad.

That's why a lot of people, and especially those with no enthusiasm for classical music, hate opera so much. It's nothing but a bl**dy big wobble! That's all they hear.

Here are some of the fiddlers with unsavoury vibrato in my opinion:

Vengerov, Mutter, Tasmin Little. That's just for starters!

May 18, 2015 at 11:50 AM · Great advice and thoughts from all. There's a lot to digest here. I will add the following:

1) this is viola, not violin, and I am likely guilty of a vibrato that is both too wide and too slow.

2) My goal is not to play everything with continuous vibrato, but to acquire it as a tool in my toolbox, so to speak. That's why I'm incorporating it in scales. I would love to be able to do what the violist does in this video.

3) yes, that is really Ultraman.

May 18, 2015 at 12:07 PM · I find her vibrato a bit intense. It's more of a violin vibrato with a lot of bow pressure. It gets a bit boring after a while.

Which brings me on to the different techniques needed to play the violin as against the viola. (I've played both).

A viola vibrato is necessarily a bit larger than that ideally used on the fiddle. Maybe a little slower as well. I use a much smaller vibrato on the fiddle (apart from passionate bits on the G string, but I'm too old for passion, it stops me sleeping at night, and I then only dream about beautiful female viola players, and I've known millions of those! )

So I would say that the viola can tolerate a slightly bigger and wider vibrato, but within the bounds of good taste.

May 18, 2015 at 12:48 PM · I hate wobbles. Many singers sing nothing but wobbles. Very annoying.

May 18, 2015 at 01:41 PM · Hi, Buri, Cheers! Been off here for a while. I'll give it a little more thought, but I think what I wrote applies to both the ideas you bring up.

May 18, 2015 at 06:36 PM · I compare vibrato use with certain bowing articulations:

- "<>", a vibrato swell on each note;

- ">", vibrato on the finger-fall, dying away;

- lastly, slurs, where the hand vibrates continuously as the fingers rise and fall.

I practice all three, to be able to pick'n'mix! or not at all.

BTW, I too loathe four-note-wide operatic wobblato.

May 18, 2015 at 07:10 PM · No discussion here of width of vibrato can possibly be complete without a reference to Anna Karkowska, who surely has the last say in the matter in her performance on


May 18, 2015 at 07:32 PM · snorted up my breakfast there. Good job the cat is a born floor cleaning device.

May 18, 2015 at 07:42 PM · Wow. Is she a gypsy violinist?

EDIT: The assistant concertmaster looks a bit disoriented here. And a big smile on his face at 7:10.

May 18, 2015 at 08:59 PM · @Kevin, Anna Karkowska is Polish, won awards in Poland including the loan of the Guarneri del Gesu "Sennhauser" violin (an indication of her talent), and then studied at the Juilliard in N.Y. under the top names. When needs be she is quite capable of playing as a soloist with a perfectly normal vibrato and a very good technique.

The jury is still divided about why she is exploring this extreme vibrato technique - is it a serious investigation, or is it an extended prank?

May 18, 2015 at 09:05 PM · I refuse to believe that it is not a prank. When I clicked on your link, I thought my sound system was broken.

May 18, 2015 at 10:16 PM · That recording of AK has been floating around since 2011, I wonder what she is doing now?

May 18, 2015 at 10:22 PM · Hi Karen, try using accelerating rhythm patterns for continuous vibrato. The idea is very similar to trills, but instead of just lifting and placing you add the complication of wiggling in between the placing and lifting.

Start with half notes, then quarters, then triplet quarters, then eighths, followed by triplet eighths, sixteenths, triplet sixteenths, thirty seconds and so forth. I like to set the metronome at quarter=60. Of course, if you prefer you can stick to one subdivision and accelerate the metronome instead.

At first focus on 2 fingers at a time, then 3, then all, then add string crossing, then add shifting (scalar motion, followed by shifts, small and big, arpeggios.)

In fact start with trills starting on the upper note. After you're able to play continuous, measured trills in 32nd or 64th notes, do it in continuous vibrato, where instead of lifting, you flatten the pitch, at first just a little, working up to a wide vibrato, then varying width, and finally speed (rhythmic subdivisions.) Once you're able to do a continuous vibrato rhythmically over a full scale, you should then be able to work yourself up to a free vibrato. But even during a free vibrato you should be able to turn it into a rhythm against a metronome and measure its frequency. If you can do that, you have full control over your vibrato.

Through all of this what's most important is the quality of the motion. You need a smoothly alternating, rhythmic, measured, controlled action for which pressure control is of prime importance, hence Buri's exercise. After you can do the vertical motions in rhythmic accelerations, proceed to releasing pressure when flattening pitch. If things seize or get out of control, you go back to basic vibrato motion exercises for the finger which 'lost it' so to speak. Also, as always, when using all four fingers, make sure to balance the motion of the strong fingers with the weak fingers. Of course when you're working on color as the focus you wouldn't limit motion to the capabilities of the pinky, but rather try to mimic the motion of the middle finger in developing the pinky.

Keep in mind the mantra, "progress, not perfection." You don't need to be able go through the full rhythmic acceleration for all fingers in a single day. You might work up to sixteenths in the first week, 32nds in the second week. Maybe work up to a complete scale of free vibrato in a month or so.

E.g. on trills starting on upper finger:

Half notes each finger: 1010 2121 3232 4343, 4343 3232 2121 1010

Quarters: 10101010 21212121 32323232 43434343, then descending

Triplet Quarters: 101010101010, 212121212121, etc.

For vibrato, where - denotes flattening of pitch:

Half notes: 1-11-1 2-22-2, etc.

Quarters: 1-11-11-11-1, 2-22-22-22-2

Triplet Quarters: 1-11-11-11-11-11-1, 2-22-22-22-22-22-2, etc

Remember to release pressure (to near harmonics pressure) when flattening the pitch, when you extend the fingertip (or roll it, depending on your motion.) For both trill and vibrato exercises, you can add regular accents with the bow (and left hand) to make sure you're in sync.

Your 'wet noodles' description sounds to me like all you have to do is coordinate the wiggle with finger placement, so that it starts immediately upon finger placement. Everything on the fiddle is coordinated with rhythmic practice and a metronome. It can be tedious, but it's always effective.

May 18, 2015 at 11:52 PM · Again, very informative replies, much appreciated.

Buri, what do you mean by "purely vertical finger movement"?

May 19, 2015 at 02:16 AM · don't do anything horizontal. : )

In other words, usually when we play a note we depress the string witha finger. It is fairly common for a player to depress it all the way to the fingerboard and play that way for the rest of their career. As a result they suffer from injury, lack of facility and a mediocre vibrato. It is very important to train the left hand fingertips to be sensitive to how much pressure they are using to depress the string, and also that it is less common cases such as pizzicato where the string needs to be squashed onto the fingerboard. It is amazing how many players haven't got theoint that the backward motion of the fingertip in vibrato should include a release of pressure so the string returns slightly to it's normal position. On the forward motion the pressure is once more applied. Not by any extra muscular effort but by the fact one is simply rolling the fingertip onto the string. Vibrato then is not really a back and forward motion by the finger tip but rather a circular one.

In Oder to develop this I divide the minis ule space between string and finger board into five parts. Some people use only three. Then I frequently practicing an exercise on one finger where the string is depressed corresponding to a sequence of numbers. IE

5-1-5 means that I start with the finger resting on the top of the string with no pressure as 5, I depress the string all the way to the fingerboard as 1 and then I return to the surface position. Any combination is good. 1-5-3, 1-3-4 and so on.. This exercise uses vertical finger action in the sense the finger pushes the string to various positions in relation to fingerboard and/ or the string pushes the finger up tooam Try to feel that sensation.

So a vibrato rhythm exercise done vertically simply means you depress the the string perhaps three quarters of the way to the finger bboard and then release, depress, releas sect in various simple rhythms done to a metronome. This or respond sin some degree to what you may have seen called fingertip vibrato. The movement is very small but you wil find that daily practice of this exercise will radically affect your ability to control the speed and width of your vibrato. There Rae good rhythm patterns in Fischers Warming Up. That book pays a great deal of attention to these kinds if things with good reason although the vertical only routine is my idea. In the original Simon has you practice three different kinds of vibrato movement and then you practice your unique , personal kind of vibrato using the rhythm patterns and a metronome.

Hope this clarifies,

Best wishes,


May 19, 2015 at 05:26 AM · Karen,

I just realized there is something in your OP that might not be helping. You talk about continuously waving the wrist. very often it is our mental conception , as expressed in the language of description, which is messing things up. You might try something as simple as imagining the palm of the hand waving as though it is the body of a spider and the fingers it's legs. Keep the 'wrist think' out of it and see what happens.



May 19, 2015 at 04:58 PM · Buri, thanks for your explanation of "vertical-only" and also the suggestion concerning wrist motion. My vibrato - such as it is - is from wrist as opposed to the arm or finger, and you're right, I've been getting too caught up in the image of a hand constantly waving from the wrist.

I tried the vertical-motion exercise this morning. Very interesting. I can see where this will be helpful. As it becomes more natural, I will add the exercises that Jeewon suggested.

Thanks again.

May 19, 2015 at 07:57 PM · Greetings,

glad things are helping. There is nothing too awful aout the notion of wavig from the wrist . It is a fairl standard way of talking about vibrato when teaching it. Traditionally the hand vibrato is called `wrist vibrato.` However, Galamian and quite a few pedagogues who followed him have switched to taking about `hand` rather than wrist vibrato simply becaus eit is the hand that is waving backwards and forwards , not the the wrist and I do believe this point is quite importnat. When you think in termsof the hand waving that has a certain clarity and ease. But when we focus on `waving the wrist` to make the hand shake or something like that ther eis something rather unnatural going on and one can feel the bodies confusion.the arm too, often seems to tense p a little becaus eit is not sure what is being asked.



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: Check out our selection of Celtic music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

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

Thomastik-Infeld's Dynamo Strings
Thomastik-Infeld's Dynamo Strings

National Symphony Orchestra
National Symphony Orchestra

Violins of Hope
Violins of Hope

Violinist.com Summer Music Programs Directory
Find a Summer Music Program

Violinist.com Shopping Guide
Violinist.com Shopping Guide

ARIA International Summer Academy

Borromeo Music Festival

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop



Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian 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