Help with arm vibrato

August 29, 2015 at 03:27 AM · Hello,

Recently I have been trying to learn arm vibrato. So far I have practiced by sliding each respective finger across the strings as if I were polishing them to help me get the forearm motion. Sadly, after about a week of practice I am still unable to do so. I also have trouble with switching the weight from the left side of my finger tips to the more "meaty" part of them.

Some things about me: I'm double jointed in my arms and I have trouble with my thumb and side of my index finger clenching the neck of my violin.

I would like some guidance on better practices for arm vibrato, posture, any some tips that may help me accel. in my goals.

Thanks in advance!

Replies (33)

August 29, 2015 at 07:40 AM · Why do you want an arm vibrato? No great violinist uses that as the basic vibrato. When people think they want to vibrate with the arm, it's almost always because they are so tense in the hand they can't vibrate. It's important to understand that the vibrato is a system. Firstly, the finger tip joint must be completely loose. Secondly, as with all other finger action, the origin of the action in the base knuckles. If you squeeze between the thumb and the playing finger, you will not be able to vibrate at all. Your desire for an arm vibrato almost certainly resides in your belief that you can't play unless you tense up. That belief is not only totally false, it is the source of almost all of your problems. If you want to improve significantly, take lessons in the Alexander Technique.

August 29, 2015 at 07:04 PM · Hi Charles,

Wow, that wasn't helpful at all now, was it? I mean, what you say about tension has validity, but telling someone that no one primarily uses arm vibrato (not true actually) and they shouldn't want to learn it, what? Can we be kinder and gentler to inquisitive people who are just trying to improve their playing?


I certainly see nothing wrong with seeking to learn arm vibrato. The more kinds of vibrato you learn, the better. Some people begin with a wrist vibrato and then learn arm. It's a little harder to start with arm and then do wrist, but it's not impossible. If you have serious issues with being double-jointed, your path to learning vibrato may be different than the typical path.

Here are a few good ideas:

These exercises from Shakeh Ghoukasian are ultimately aimed at wrist vibrato, but ideas about having loose joints, being able to rock on the fingertip, etc. are the same and can be related to arm vibrato. Or, they might make learning wrist vibrato easier, after all!

Look at section B in this article by Anna Stafford:

I hope some of those things help!

August 30, 2015 at 02:38 AM · Hi, What great violinist uses an arm vibrato primarily? Not Heifetz, Menuhin, Oistrakh, Nadien, Kreisler, Nadien. I'm sorry, Laurie, that you felt the need to be abusive about my analysis of vibrato. Perhaps you didn't understand it. All of the teachers I had studied with Dounis. Try reading what he said about vibrato.

August 30, 2015 at 09:28 AM · Wayne, I hear that vibrato can be tricky for double-jointed folks. I found a while ago a video with a player who talks about not only the different types of vibrato but also vibrato concerning double-jointed players...

Also don't be discouraged if you couldn't get it to work after a week of trying. Vibrato is tricky! Some people get it right away and elevate it to virtuoso levels, others work on it their whole lives to learn and maintain the technique.

August 30, 2015 at 03:42 PM ·

Practice your arm or wrist vibrato in harmonic position(lightly touching the strings), then practice it with a light touch or touching the string but not the fingerboard.

Are the tension issues there all the time or only when practicing arm vibrato.

August 30, 2015 at 03:50 PM · Thanks for posting this thread, Wayne.

I am on my 'third go' of playing the violin, and in childhood & young adulthood could not pick up wrist vibrato at all - am now having a little bit more success because I found out about arm vibrato, and have looked at a few videos on the subject. I just find it suits me better.

So I am looking forward to reading some good advice about how to achieve it/ make it better.

Lucky for me that I don't aspire to be a great violinist! I just want to learn a vibrato that I can manage.

Hope you get the help you need, and good luck.

August 30, 2015 at 04:17 PM · Hi Charles Johnston: I just felt the need to point out that my previous teacher was a big advocate of the Alexander technique system, and yet he used arm vibrato and encouraged me to do the same. I actually ran into issues with my wrist vibrato. I had been using it for years, but something about it didn't work quite right for me. I was really tense, and after a while, it just shorted out. I then had to rebuild my vibrato, and it came back as arm vibrato. It was much more relaxed.

There is no wrong or right in this. Use whichever vibrato works best for you and the music.

Hi Wayne: you've got a great idea sliding your finger back and forth on the string, it's very close to an arm vibrato exercise one of my teachers taught me. The exercise is this: pick a note (for example, B on the A string). With a loose left hand, not playing with the bow, slide your finger between the B on the A string and the D on the A string. Don't actually press down on the string, just glide along the top. Use a metronome at 40, going back and forth, each destination note (the B or the D) being a click. After that motion becomes comfortable, switch between the notes in a sixteenth note beat, so that BDBD will be one click at 40, still just gliding along the top of the string. Resist the urge to tense up at the faster tempo, and don't try to push down on the string as it will also result in tension. When you're used to that motion too, sink your finger onto the B in first position. Keep the relaxed hand from the previous part of the exercise. When your finger is set, draw the bow across the string imagining that your left hand is still sliding between the B and the D. Don't try to reach the D, just use the same motion you were earlier. The arm vibrato won't come immediately, but this is a good exercise for it. Don't to too much of it each day - maybe five minutes. You can do it on any finger. It takes a little patience and a lot of repetition to make it work.

The other bit of advise I have is to practice arm vibrato in third position. Plant whichever finger you're practicing on, and slowly move your arm back and forth, paying attention to relaxing your joints. The special thing about doing this in third position is that you can gently tap your arm on the body of the violin at the "up" part of the vibrato pattern. This is a useful reference point.

Good luck! Happy practicing!

August 30, 2015 at 04:39 PM · Hi Wayne

I think when we get stuck it's often because we have the wrong picture of a movement in our heads.

For me, it was the idea that we "do" vibrato, rather than let it come through balance and release.

I found that the usual progressive steps like your sliding exercise got me nowhere very much - I was still too rigid and forced.

Then I read some advice from Kato Havas about what I think she calls "natural" vibrato. It's about getting the left arm and hand soft and well balanced and then simply letting the vibration come - almost of its own accord.

Once I got the feel of this, I suddenly had a half-decent wrist vibrato without going through any of the intermediate steps. We're talking 5 minutes here - it was a mental shift rather than a physical thing. Same with arm vibrato, though I find that much less useful and only use that for a very slow and wide vibration in sentimental Victorian airs!

I've worked through some of the Basics exercises to check I'm on the right track and to try and refine it a little (I still don't have as much control and variation as I'd like).

But for the basic movement, I still find it's based on a sense of "releasing" rather than "doing".

August 30, 2015 at 10:30 PM · I notice that no one has named any violinist of stature who uses an arm vibrato. The fact that someone is a big advocate of Alexander Technique does not mean that he or she knows anything about violin playing. With respect the the person who putatively uses an are vibrato with some success, what does that vibrato sound like? Can it be varied? Can the player vibrate on every note, including fingered octaves and tenths?

August 31, 2015 at 12:01 AM · The teacher in question graduated from the San Fransisco Conservatory. He was able to use the vibrato effectively and vary it, as well as use it on all chords. Some truly great violinists that use arm vibrato include Hilary Hahn, Joshua Bell, and James Ehnes, and Janine Jansen appears to use a combination. To me, this suggests a generational difference.

I can understand your complete adherence to your beliefs about arm vibrato vs. wrist vibrato, and they might indeed be fully true for you, but they most likely won't hold true for everybody. I still stand firmly with the belief that whichever type of vibrato works best for one person, physically and aesthetically, is the vibrato they should use. Of course, it's always good to be able to do both.

August 31, 2015 at 04:22 AM · Charles - That is crazy talking. While most violinists you mention used the impulse vibrato as their basis - All of them used it in combination with arm vibrato higher up tahn the 4'th position.

And I can't think of one modern violinist that only uses handvibrato.

An other thing. Dounis might had some great teaching ideas, but wasn't a great player. Just as "Alexander" (whoever he was ;) )

August 31, 2015 at 09:03 AM · Agree with Mattias.

Hard to find a good player who doesn't use arm vibrato at some point.

August 31, 2015 at 04:10 PM · I can only think of one major soloist who uses arm vibrato in a primary and exclusive way - Elmar Olivera. There are indeed a number of violinists who use aspects of both, including Heifetz and Dicterow. But in fact most use what I like to call a primarily hand-centered vibrato. By this I mean wrist and or finger, which is what I do. I'd add to Charles' earlier list, Szerying, Grumiaux, and Rosand - who is quite emphatic about using a wrist vibrato.

I just looked at YouTubes of Hahn, Bell, Ehnnes and Jansen - on the contrary, hand-centered, all! We may have different ways of interpreting what we're seeing. We are inter-connected. Just because someone uses a hand-centered vibrato, it doesn't mean that the arm won't move at all. And just because someone uses an arm vibrato it doesn't mean that the fingers won't move. It's a question of where the most basic impulse originates. When it comes to vibrating in the high positions I would suggest that a fingertip impulse vibrato is most helpful. There isn't a whole lot of room to move the arm or the wrist too much way up on the neck and fingerboard. If we try, we are likely to adversely affect our intonation, where the spaces are so small up there.

The legendary pedagogue, Leopold Auer was known to say "play it with your nose - as long as you make it sound alright". Some believe that vibrato can't be taught, that you have to just get it somehow. I do teach my hand-centered vibrato in a systematic way in about 10 steps. The fascinating thing is that learning vibrato is like learning penmanship. Eventually everyone develops their own hand-writing.

PS If anyone is interested, I'd be willing to give away step 1 for free. It may seem like nothing but nothing can be something. After that I'll have to charge a, er, Auer-ly rate! ;-)

August 31, 2015 at 04:38 PM · A week was obviously not enough time for you to develop an arm vibrato. Some 68 years ago, when I wss 13, I was introduced to arm vibrato and told to practice it as you have. It took me about a month. I was told not to attempt the vibrato when playing for at least 2 weeks, and if I did not have it yet, just keep practicing the motion, but not to use it when playing.

Unfortunately, for the past 30 years, I have been unable to sustain arm vibrato after suffering 3 pinched nerves in my neck. I find a wrist or hand vibrato (and finger vibrato in higher positions) much more manageable at this stage. Also, arm vibrato uses much more energy than other varieties, and "energy conservation" is one of the keys to tolerating aging.

My advice would be to work on the arm vibrato for another month or two - just don't try playing with it until you have the motion working right, but develop other vibrato motions as well - if you live long enough you will probably need them.


August 31, 2015 at 04:57 PM · This makes me think that perhaps this whole debate was caused by a difference in definitions. Different people have different opinions as to what makes something "arm vibrato" and "wrist vibrato". It's entirely plausible that people on this forum (myself included in that grouping) think of the different types of vibrato differently. For me, arm vibrato is vibrato that uses the movement of the lower left arm as an integral component. Of course the hand, fingers, and wrist can move too - they should! Relaxation is key, and the whole elbow-to-finger unit is a system. When that whole system moves together, I view it as arm vibrato.

Can we at least agree to disagree before this turns into a flamewar?

I'd also like to point out that this discussion started out as a search for arm vibrato exercises and advice, and I think it would be prudent to return it to that path. If anyone wants to continue the arm vibrato vs. wrist vibrato debate, perhaps they could do so in another discussion.

August 31, 2015 at 07:19 PM · Wise advice from a young person! But this is v-d-com (which stands for "violence does commence") and so, we don't agree to disagree here. Just kidding! Sometimes we do.

August 31, 2015 at 10:26 PM · I tend to think of the architecture of vibrato like rolling your "r's" in various languages. In linguistics we study (and practice) the roll starting at the tip of the tongue and slowly take it back down to the "r" rolling in your throat, sort of like gargling.

I've always thought of vibrato as a whole range of motions, based on the effect you want to achieve, what best appeals to your physiology, how much energy you might have, how much lactase may have concentrated in your muscles, and so on... To be able to have the greatest options at your fingertips (pun intended...), you should work on the entire continuum of motions, trying every option to see where your comfort zone lies.

"Finger", "wrist", and "arm" are, to my mind, just goal posts.

But that's just me and no one's watching me on YouTube...

September 1, 2015 at 03:14 PM · Learning violin as an adult, it took me two years to be able to use arm vibrato with the help of my teacher, and internet videos. I seriously thought it would never happen. Fiddlerman has a very helpful exercise to help prevent thumb clenching, which was my main problem. I find arm vibrato very relaxing and it doesn't take much energy at all. It should feel effortless. It's an elusive feeling when just learning. One day it just happens with no effort, the next it's gone. It's very frustrating but worth it to keep trying every day. It took another few months for me to be able to vibrate on command at any time without 20 minutes of warm up exercises. It's hard to describe the feeling of vibrato- one of those things that you'll know when you have it, but it's hard to teach.

September 3, 2015 at 04:24 PM · No great violinists use the arm vibrato.

Wait how many people talk about it on here?

Doesn't matter, still no! ;)

September 5, 2015 at 08:20 PM · Just for the record (and beacause I find arguments stimulating), the only time I saw Grumiaux live, I was surprised to see a mainly arm vibrato!

My own vibrato, which works well with my very varied students, come from the elbow, but with a flexible wrist and fingers; what you see is a wrist vibrato with sympathetic forearm motion. Which is what I see in all the great soloists mentioned!

Let's not confuse apparent motion with its less apparent source.

September 5, 2015 at 10:00 PM · Simon Fischer, in his book Warming Up, includes a page on vibrato exercises that works four different "arc" motions. All of these combined in some proportion will produce a personal vibrato. 3 of the 4 are based in the hand/fingers, and one the arm as a whole. I find that a nice starting point for a fluid, versatile vibrato.

September 6, 2015 at 12:16 AM ·

If Grumiuaux did not play with a mostly hand-centered vibrato I'll eat my hat. (But since my hat is made out of a taco shell, I'm not too worried either way. And either way he had a particularly beautiful vibrato - on that I think we can agree.) It's amazing how differently some of us are seeing things.

An exclusive arm vibrato will look like this: imagine shaking hands left-handed. Now raise your hand and turn it so that you are miming the angle for playing while keeping that motion going. Here's Elmar Oliveira who, by his own admission uses an arm vibrato. It's not quite the obvious had-shake motion but you see some of that. And the motion of the fingers is more back and forth rather than rocking on an arc.

An exclusive wrist vibrato will look like this: imagine waving to someone with an up and down motion. Again, while keeping that motion going, twist your arm into a mime of the playing position. There you are. (That's also my first free lesson.) It describes an arc, kind of like rocking chair. With finger vibrato there is added independent and smaller motion. Aaron Rosand exemplifies the wrist vibrato and stresses it in his teaching

Hand and arm combos look somewhat eliptical. Here is Heifetz:

At 4:15 you can see him in slow motion. True it is mainly a fast passage from the Wieniawski Scherzo but here and there you can see a vibrated note in what I call a somewhat eliptical motion.

September 6, 2015 at 05:40 AM · Greetings,

Nathan, Im so glad you mentioned the combination Simon has worked out. It's one of those weird FisCher things that you don't need to analyze too much that does get everything working wherever you want to place the emphasis.

I do think somewhat similar remarks by Bron (controversial as it might seem , I find most vibrato problems originate in shoulder tension) and Stern (vibrato is like a bullwhip with the actually energy being released from the back and filtering down the arm to the tips of the fingers) are quite significant.

Vibrato is an expression of the energy that passes through and enervates our whole body. On an even more arty fatry level it is our spiritual representative . So if we can use our bodies with freedom and release all the relevant small and slightly bigger joints with exercises like Simon's then the individuals vibrato is probably going to emerge sooner or later and if the teacher is unhappy becaus eit doesn't look like their ideal it is they who should step back and be honest about letting it be.

In the end it has to be driven by the sound concept we have in our head not the technical concept that we have read about or had thrust upon us.



September 6, 2015 at 06:01 AM · "It's amazing how differently some of us are seeing things."

There I agree, Raphael!

At the beginning of Grumiaux's Mendelssohn video, his sleeve moves as much as his hand, and the hand does not tilt, so I maintain this is a predominantly arm vibrato, suitable for fast passages..

In the slow movement, his forearm still moves, but his hand more so, so I call that a predominantly hand vibrato.

If I see something, it's probably there; if I don't see it, maybe I don't want to?

But we agree on the sublime beauty of his playing!

Nate, your own excellent vidoes show your forearm vibrating nearly as much as your hand, and in the same direction (even in an Adagio)...

And Buri, I like Stern's remark; I have often felt that the motions of both hands originate somewhere in the back, perhaps somewhere a fraction lower than the shoulderblades?

September 6, 2015 at 12:30 PM · Yes, Adrian, we can certainly agree on the sublime beauty of Grumiaux's art! In his wonderful book, "Violin Virtuosos from Paganini to the 21st Century" Henry Roth devotes a whole chapter to Grumiaux. He talks specifically about G's vibrato in its sound and effect, but not about how he thought G produced it. He did mention that Szerying particularly admired G's vibrato. As to Nate, I'm sure he knows how he produces his vibrato and again, we are interconnected and focusing from one area doesn't mean that the other area won't react somewhat in a natural way. Is the dog wagging the tail? The tail wagging the dog? Maybe that's the problem we're having in observing others. For sure there is wagging going on - but how and from where?

My concept of vibrato is very similar to Rosand's - not because I studied with him; it was already like that. I think mine looks somewhat like Elman's and according to one teacher I had, sounds like Menhuin's. I didn't hear that, but accepted the rare compliment.

It's interesting that in the current Strad, Roby Lakatos insists that wrist vibrato is best and that using the arm just tires the arm unnesesarily for a motion that doesn't need it, which is my view. He may "just" specialize in Gypsy music but he's an amazing violinist by any standards. Which reminds me, once at a lesson with one of my other great teachers, Glenn Dicterow, who combines wrist and arm, he said that he found it unusual that mine was only hand-centered. "But" he added, "your arm probably doesn't get tired that way". And it doesn't. Not at all. My fingers sometimes might - especially if I'm vibrating intensely w.o. being 100% warmed up. (And doing all this typing before starting my practicing isn't the ideal thing to do! But one last thought:)

Vibrato really means life. The word is related to vibrance, viva, vivace, vivacious, etc. Where does life ultimately come from? This is getting too profound to consider before I've had my breakfast!

September 6, 2015 at 01:00 PM · Nathan Cole wrote "Simon Fischer, in his book Warming Up, includes a page on vibrato exercises that works four different "arc" motions. All of these combined in some proportion will produce a personal vibrato. 3 of the 4 are based in the hand/fingers, and one the arm as a whole." Are these described in Basics?


September 6, 2015 at 01:31 PM · Indeed, we see what we see, but can only guess at how the other feels it.

For example, I find working on the forearm (and upper arm) encourages a freer motion and less tension in wrist and finger-joints. But you might not guess this if I didn't say so, as my hand moves the most, and my fingers have a little of that "impulse" thingy..

September 8, 2015 at 09:57 AM · Wayne, to be more helpful, may I quote from one of my old posts..

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.

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.

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!

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...

May 27, 2016 at 01:39 PM · Michael Rabin, Zino Francescatti, and Pinchas Zukerman use an arm vibrato.

May 28, 2016 at 11:02 AM · Older post but I'll about Gil Shaham? I'm sure he can use both or a combination for different rep but I see no break in his wrist in this performance of the Barber-

May 28, 2016 at 12:55 PM · I like his 3rd movement mostly "on the string"; I actually hear the cross-accents and drama better.

May 28, 2016 at 05:42 PM · His 1994 recording of it is my favorite and I've been obsessed with the concerto in general for the last couple of months, listening to every rendition available. Overall his broad sound, and his creative ideas in pacing and dynamics on that recording are almost always the best for me. I actually might prefer Perlman's 3rd movement though, because it's so gritty and articulate. The apex of the 2nd movement (the main melody theme played by the solo violin) has what Zukerman would call a few "dead notes" (notes w/o vibrato) and they just slay me; brings me to tears everytime. I heard his latest recording of it which is incredible bc it's live performance but it wasn't as interesting to me. James Ehnes' version is flawless but it's too delicate for me and his sound is very bright.

So do you think Shaham just uses the arm vibrato in the video above bc it's a "romantic" piece w/ wide expressive vibrato or is that his general motion?

September 22, 2016 at 05:49 AM · Sarah Chang...

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