Is there such a thing as good taste concerning vibrato?

November 10, 2015 at 01:53 AM · In a modern orchestra, who decides how much vibrato is used and where it is used? First chair? The Conductor? The score?

I once heard a college orchestra (violins/violas) do a full bar of vibrato and the result was horrible!

Replies (57)

November 10, 2015 at 09:55 AM · A conductor might ask for a specific kind of vibrato, or particular approach to something which implies a particular kind of vibrato.

Otherwise, it's the usual mixture of "follow the leader" and the natural evolution of collective style based on listening to those around you.

November 10, 2015 at 05:37 PM · In orchestra I've had conductors on a number of occasions tell the orchestra to go easy on the vibrato because we were playing baroque, or perhaps because he wanted a special effect - examples of conductors who are thinking.

Here is an example of a somewhat extreme vibrato by a soloist, not an orchestra. Again, a type of vibrato that is very much a matter of taste. However, when developing one's vibrato I think there are things that can usefully be learned from the video. (at many places from 2:50 onwards)

Btw, the soloist in the video is perfectly capable of producing a normal vibrato.

November 10, 2015 at 10:17 PM · Haha... I try to understand, what it is actually happening in that video!? Other than some nice staccato I hear terrible bow technique and very ugly sound?! How come she plays with a major orchestra!? Even they are laughing.

Ok calm down...

About vibrato. I think it is important to be able to merge into the sound of a group and to be able to do different kinds of sounds with the bow and the vibrato. For great orchestra playing you have to have a big palette of colours (wich I don't say, that I have them). For a good, but not world class orchestra merging into the group and be asupportive player to the sound of a group is the most important.

I am just remembering the most beautiful violin section sound I heard so far. It was the prague symphony orchestra I think. I dont remember what they played, but at one point it sounded like a choir of women! Actually like a good alto section. It was just magical. And i don't say this too often. I think it was a combination of discipline vibrato wise and very strong attention on the sound of the whole section by every player. This affect is so fragile. If one sticks out with harsh sound its ruined and we are remembered, that we are on metal and synthetic strings.

Taste of vibrato varies in orchestras I believe. There will be some who are more aware of this and others who are less aware.

edit: Ok, listening to other stuff of her it seems like she is not really capable of playing any different other than with her sooo wide and slow vibrato. But some places remind me of the sound Misha Elman produced, like her catching the string. Very unique. But also a little crazy to sound like that today! :D

November 11, 2015 at 12:08 AM · ...she does have some strange bow technique. But hey she's performing with the London Symphony Orchestra and probably making big bucks, so maybe she knows something I don't. ;)

On vibrato, my personal opinion is that in an orchestra you shouldn't use it unless the music specifically calls for it (in older scores it used to be marked when to use vibrato but its use has grown to become standard so nowadays it's assumed you use it on every single note you can). Didn't Mozart's father write something complaining about musicians doing vibrato looking like they're having an epileptic attack?

If you're a virtuoso/soloist, that's a different story. That role allows you to play the music the way you feel it should be, to add your personal touch to it. You may make it awesome or may ruin it, but that's your problem.

Personally I think vibrato is like a potent spice is in cooking: Use it sparingly and with the right recipe; not every dish needs it!

Use it to help convey emotion appropriately, when /you/ exclusively are being heard. That's my 2-cents. :)

November 11, 2015 at 12:39 AM · This thread makes me recall the time I heard a Bulgarian touring opera having maybe 6 or 7 violins. During one musical interlude, all violins played some long vibratos but not loud and they seemed to be in sync! Great results! I never again heard a similar sound.

I wondered if the Bulgarians were leaders in the disciplined orchestra?

Incidentally, listening to Anna K. Can be habit forming!

November 11, 2015 at 12:56 AM · "...she does have some strange bow technique. But hey she's performing with the London Symphony Orchestra and probably making big bucks, so maybe she knows something I don't. ;)

quote end>

I dont think so actually. It seems to me, that all this is bought and someone had rich parents. Getting a really fine violin *and bow probably, just for the project, getting the london phil just for the project, getting abbey roads studio just for this project... everything is buyable. And while I must admit, she certainly spend time in the practice room, I dont believe that a fine orchestra would play with her ever again. I think it was like a birthday present from her millionaire family members or something. Not being jealous, just counting together 1 and 1. Some places might be nice, but mostly her use of the bow and her intonation and cleanlyness is not up to standard by any means. Sound is ok as far as balance goes, but hey: abbey roads studio. She would never ever come through live with that bow usage!

November 11, 2015 at 01:01 AM · Anna Karkowska is the poster child for bad taste.

November 11, 2015 at 04:42 AM · i just realized there was a new Karkowska album titled Virtuosity Through the Ages with an emotional version of a Stephen Foster standard. ( itunes)

Clip available.

Schlick at its best.

November 11, 2015 at 06:20 AM · Well, she certainly has a very "unique" sound:

In the introduction it is mentioned that A. Karkowska graduated from Juilliard.

In my opinion, her grotesque vibrato is not just a matter of (bad) taste, it kills the music.

November 11, 2015 at 09:20 AM · Yeah I'm sorry, can't say I like her style. And her technique... I the only one horrified to see her use the violin as a pillow on that video? What is she doing with her face over the instrument like that? Do they teach that at Julliard? Did I really see that, or was it perhaps the camera angle...?

November 13, 2015 at 02:44 PM · Wow I could only listen to about 15 seconds of that before starting to feel seasick. Her vibrato is about a minor third wide and she is able to produce it on very short notes. It's actually kind of instructive to look at the close-up video shots and see how she manages finger pressure and hand position to achieve this weird parlor trick. I get the impression that she could have become a decent violinist had she really wanted to.

November 13, 2015 at 03:51 PM · What utterly awful vibrato, overwhelming everything about the music with a bizarre special effect. Might maybe be a useful thing to do in some moments of flashy music (including obviously Paganini) but.... ugh.

Insert Leopold Mozart's comment about "shaking with the palsy" ad libitum...

November 13, 2015 at 04:58 PM · Next she needs to figure out how to do this vibrato whilst playing left-hand pizzicato.

November 13, 2015 at 05:53 PM · Perhaps, a genius before her time? If not, what/who is the next level?

Besides, the classical classical is becoming too common for all my interest.

November 13, 2015 at 10:20 PM · Well, taste varies between generations.

I can't help but feel though that the no- or low-vibrato school of playing is making a bit of a comeback thanks to historically informed performance and that the 20th century will be seen as a strange deviation into vibrato land

November 13, 2015 at 11:19 PM · It's not vibrato - it's 'string polishing', as used to good effect by some blues / jazz players (often on electric violins). There's no contact between the string and the fingerboard.

She does it on purpose, but it's not 'fit for purpose', as I'm sure you'll all agree.

November 14, 2015 at 08:33 AM · Of course there's good taste when it comes to vibrato. It depends on the context, the composer, and the wishes of the conductor. In orchestras if you manage to pass through the audition process and make it into the orchestra you have been deemed to have good taste when it comes to vibrato. Also, anything you do in orchestra that is considered bad taste is not long tolerated. In orchestra it's either "get in line" or "get out". There are hundreds of people who want your job and they have no qualms with showing someone the door for exhibiting bad taste.

November 15, 2015 at 12:05 AM · I would describe Anna's music as Gypsy music on steroids but I've heard other ethnic music that also offends my Western ears but thrives locally.

November 16, 2015 at 09:16 PM · In a string or vocal quartet, less vibrato is preferable; to blend with others in an orchestra, almost none. An extreme case is a consort of viols, wher expression comes mainly from supple bow strokes.

To "project" a solo in a large room, with no vibrato a singer will sound like a foghorn, and a violinist like an unlubricated ball-bearing.

November 17, 2015 at 12:20 AM · Your mention of string quartets reminds me of 2 seasons when I bought passes to a string quartet summer series.

At times I wanted to hear a little more emotion but the groups excelled for precision.

The end results left no doubt about artistry and competence. Vibrato just would be out of place. Audiences were very satisfied overall.

November 17, 2015 at 02:32 AM · I notice no one has talked about any of the rules per se,

Very off topic, shame on you all! ;)

November 17, 2015 at 02:41 AM · Greetings,

there is a rule, but it is, alas, one of thumb rather than thumbscrews: if you are constantly aware of a players vibrato rather than the music itself then it is overdone.



November 17, 2015 at 01:22 PM · I would assume that the more liberal notion allows audible vibrato for notes covering a bar(s)?

long bow = vibrato ?

November 18, 2015 at 12:34 AM · No matter how you slice it vibrato produces a "Wah-Wah" type of sound. You have to consider why you are doing it.

By varying the pitch of the fundamental (scored) tone you engage overtones of the neighboring notes of the vibrated range. at proper vibrating frequency this can add brilliance, volume, and projection to your sound.

Good taste demands that one vibrate at a decent speed, over a reasonable range, and with consideration of the phrase and the musical context of the composition and the ensemble. Another factor to consider is that vibration of higher fundamental tones should cover a smaller range than lower tones.

Finally, different violins have different overtone amplitude spectra, so vibrato should be adapted to each specific instrument you may play. An experience player can make this adjustment by about the 5th "shake." Viola and cello call for somewhat different vibrato than the higher instruments, but still the vibrato to best bring out an instrument's sound will vary from one to another. I recall one awful borrowed cello I had to play an orchestral solo part on 52 years ago......


November 18, 2015 at 01:14 AM · Honestly, if she wants to vibrate like that, then so be it.

What I can't stand is the tone quality. It makes me feel like someone is stabbing into my ears with a rusty butter knife.

November 18, 2015 at 01:41 AM · Adrian said - "In a string or vocal quartet, less vibrato is preferable; to blend with others in an orchestra, almost none." Tried that at tonight's gig. Thanks. My vibrato happened to descend from the land of the liel and I narrowed it and restricted it's use a bit and I think it worked out better.

November 18, 2015 at 05:55 PM · Andrew

I really like your answer but not because it is similar to my opinion ...... But that helps!

I have heard some terrible examples and seen embarrassing

showmanship involving vibrato. I can not however imagine a violin without a richness similar to a flute.

November 18, 2015 at 06:44 PM · Darlene,

It is my understanding that wind instruments have less complete overtone spectra than strings and double reeds different than single reeds and brass//-whatever.

So you would expect vibrato on those instruments to sound different and different people probably have different auditory sensitivities that result in different "tastes."


November 21, 2015 at 05:24 AM · I'd like to apologize for taking what I hope will be a brief detour off of the OP's question, back to Anna K.

What the living @%#&^*@#$><~`!)*(%+=-_?":;',./][\|}{ is that?

Let's not be diplomatic, please.

I hear that she also played normally for some stuff. Ok, good.


Look, she may be a fantastic violinist; but by non-ironically or sarcastically, not intentionally humorously recording that, but rather recording it seriously... I'm sorry, actually, I take that back, I'm not sorry, but she does not deserve the kindness some of you above are giving for her "music"-making. As Hagrid would say to HP, RW or HG... "codswallop!"

By the way, let me remind some of you, and perhaps rebuke you a tad; there is being gracious and then there is respecting a most disgraceful sin, one for which there is a 10th circle of hell; the sin shall not be named, but she most definitely commits it. It is a shame, a crying shame and an evil disgrace, made by an infallibly shameless and evil Voldemort follower. That is, an evil one-who-shall-not-be-named follower. It is simply repugnant.

I am greatly ashamed and embarrassed at this atrocity committed in the violinist community. Simply shameful, I tell you!

November 21, 2015 at 05:38 AM · Her playing reminds me of the Cinderella story... but not in a good way. By the way, someone said she has good technique, without vibrato... I have yet to see video evidence.

It sounds as if goat and violinist genes were mixed in a lab, and this is the offspring...

Yes, that is insulting. But so is her music.

I'd make such a great music critic.

November 21, 2015 at 05:46 AM · This has to be a joke. I must be in a parallel universe. Not a good one, either.

She plays as one possessed; not in a good way. Get an exorcist please.

A lot of the videos and responses linked in older Anna threads are mysteriously gone.

I have a theory. She is an agent of a foreign government, posing as a violinist, and this is how they established her cover. They didn't do a good job, people started asking questions... They threatened some people and made the "virtuosity video..." Notice, not a single audience member in any of her videos. A few have "audience aura," I call it; background noise that makes it sound as if there is an audience.

Honestly, it's the only theory that makes sense. Then, they get a few fake endorsements from people that would never endorse her, fake accounts are set up on forums such as this one with people claiming to like her stuff... and response and spoof videos taken down. The people that put them up probably kidnapped and at a secret prison somewhere, with a clone replacement standing by.

That, or she's doing this with a lot of money, and paying to have fake accounts set up claiming she played Mozart well in some phantom video...

November 21, 2015 at 05:58 AM · According to one video of her and her sister somebody said she was better than perlman. But on the plus side I now have a wonderful torture device by way of the saint saens for when any students misbehaves. Just make them listen to it.

But it's plausible people would think she plays wonderfully and she very well could, if she did something besides the sound effects. Myself, nor my wife could listen to the video for more than a couple of minutes yet our cat seemed to enjoy it.

November 21, 2015 at 06:13 AM · One more piece of the puzzle: that's not the London Symphony Orchestra.

Yes, the players do look alike. And the conductor kind of looks like the current Choral conductor of the LSO... who took his post in 2012; and not Wallfisch, either.

But it's not them. Look closer... I think it's all fake...

Mostly, I just can't believe the LSO would record that kind of stuff.

I stand by my theory of secret agent with a poorly put together cover story.

Probably a cover used to get into some cocktail party. Get some non-violinist security guard to look her up online real quick, looks legit, she gets let it, steals secrets. It's the only thing that makes sense. Ok, rant over. I'm done.

November 21, 2015 at 08:21 AM · >>That, or she's doing this with a lot of money, and paying to have fake accounts set up claiming she played Mozart well in some phantom video...<<

...are you saying she's the Florence Foster Jenkins of the violin world? ;)

November 21, 2015 at 04:55 PM · Tell us how you really feel, Mark!

November 21, 2015 at 07:13 PM · I think she may be... The Florence Jenkins of the violin world.

I feel... hurt... but entertained. No, honestly, I think it's a little funny. I watched her videos again, made my day. Better than any late night TV. Went to bed in a really good mood.

BUT... How do you feel? (gets notepad out, looks over glasses at patient)

November 23, 2015 at 01:46 PM · By what fundamental criteria is Anna's music "bad"?

Consider music that may exist in other cultures.

Is "button down" still a possibility?

November 23, 2015 at 05:23 PM · Assuming that Anna's vibrato would please an audience soaked in (for the sake of argument) vodka, it semms "inappropriate" for Classical Repertoire. After all, if I play some folk dances in a classical recital, I may wear a "folky" smock, but I will not wear muddy boots or stink of manure.

Even Ravel'e "Tzigane" is not real gypsy music, but a refined pastiche.

The style I successfully developed in my tango days would seem sickly sweet in a sonata.

Top operatic singers sound too heavy in Broadway musicals. The best pop singers sound slipshod in classical repertoire. (I find Sting's Dowland album not charmingly different, but atrocious..)

I think Anna's horrid vibrato, like Vanessa Mae's shapely legs, distract from the music (and from their fairly ordinary playing!)

November 23, 2015 at 08:41 PM · Frankly, Anna is not on any of my play lists but I respect what she has done.

However, I find overwhelming the general defense of the status quo!

Could it even be healthy to hear something different?

November 23, 2015 at 09:43 PM · It's just that distortion and distraction do not replace expression.

November 24, 2015 at 03:13 PM · The replies on this thread will, of course, reflect the background of those responding. Who should I, a delicate beginner, be trying to copy?

Total number of members responding not including my own posts:

19 (profiles)

2 British (UK)

2 Germany

1 France

5 Active teachers

5 Profile only gives state.(USA)

13 Lurking amateurs.

I can only conclude that even some advanced players will chime in on frivolous topics just for the sport of it all!

(Tally accuracy +/- 25 %)

November 24, 2015 at 09:11 PM · BTW, the "1 France" is a Brit expat, so an abuser of that Irritating British Humour.

Behind which hides an insufferable snob!

November 26, 2015 at 01:31 PM · The list and the topic........there is probably no contributor less than 30 years old based on profiles. An alarming situation and not the friendliest arena for (poor) Anna!

November 26, 2015 at 01:56 PM · Age does not matter, Ms. Roth.

That said, there is definitely "good taste" regarding judicious vibrato use. One just have to understand that there are also different schools of thought, and many people are also used to a specific type of vibrato they like either in their own playing or from someone they enjoy listening to. There are too many variables in what's supposed to be good, and hands ARE different from player to player (never mind repertoire style, etc.)

Too slow and wide of a vibrato akin to a wobbly aging singer voice is generally not something to strive for. A motion that doesn't produce vibrato-just a pulse-is also not great sounding. Sounding out of tune when in tune due to an exaggerated oscillation that goes too much forward (towards the bridge) can safely be stated to be incorrect, except when desiring a particular-and probably exceptionally rare-effect (the lady above is a good example of the latter, but it *seems* to me she's intentionally making a parody of it, not being serious about the effect... I wouldn't take her vibrato use in those vids as a "valid" performing option at any level, and I do not mean to belittle her at all.)

November 26, 2015 at 01:56 PM · We old fogeys were young once, though..

And our elders were often horrified!

November 27, 2015 at 01:16 PM · I think the answer to my original post is that there are traditions but no convenient rules.

What would someone think having no knowledge of classical music? (See recent Philippe Quint blog re classical music.).

November 27, 2015 at 01:39 PM · Help

Looking for fantastic gypsy violinist who has more tricks than Anna but just is not showing in my searches?

Tall man and has beard. Peasant wardrobe.


November 27, 2015 at 03:51 PM ·

November 27, 2015 at 04:47 PM · I was originally wondering about rules for vibrato but the thread became an Anna K infomercial.

However, I did find an answer from a few remarks and was ready to bail out when I thought about the examples in the pro ranks ..... the unidentified gypsy is a showman without equal and never attacked like A.K. .? .

November 27, 2015 at 06:21 PM · Post Script. Curiosity satisfied. Rules.

Y. Menuhin "A true violinist for the 21 st century."

Gilles Apap. YouTube. AMAZING CADENZA 2.

November 27, 2015 at 07:35 PM ·

November 27, 2015 at 08:50 PM · Gilles Apap's playing responds to the music rather than swamping it.

November 27, 2015 at 09:30 PM · That is true but still an unusual style.

I wish I could be around in 50 years to know how popular classic survives?

November 28, 2015 at 01:13 AM · It's okay Darlene, us youngsters will send you a message about it through the spiritual realm. Hopefully it will be one saying that all "hip youngsters" came to find their sense of refinement, and now classical is thus the ONLY music of the masses. :)

(If my sense of humour offended you, I am sorry and will remove it ASAP).

November 28, 2015 at 03:30 AM · No problem. I've seen too much.

Would you believe that my Walmart once had four stacks of cassette classics and now it's a few Cd's behind a fire sprinkler pipe!

Woe is me

November 28, 2015 at 09:22 AM · Back to the thread, I don't believe most replies are defending the "status quo"-if anything, I am not a fan of blind tradition when it restrains the performer far "too much"-as there are myriads of ways to perform vibrato "correctly" depending on personal bias, hands, phrasing, dynamics, repertoire, etc. What's not advisable is to be a bit extreme in this "freedom" we have as performers and make the effect a hindrance to proper music enjoyment, rather than another great interpretative tool.

In short, there are no strict rules, as long as the tool is used "correctly", within the context of the music being performed. Shouldn't be made an issue about "iconoclasts" vs "conservatives", IMHO. There's great leeway about proper vibrato already that one needs not experiment with doing things differently for their own sake, rather than because of what's needed in the score.

November 28, 2015 at 02:53 PM · I actually agree with you about good taste but there is another aspect of rules.

I like rules because they reduce the need for decision but I don't want everything to sound like an etude.

I'm not aware of touring professionals straying far off the beaten path. If "status quo" sounds too dull, I would settle for a description of "traditional". ( in general, not vibrato specific )

For now, I'll go with the "well tempered" vibrato!

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