Vibrato help!

March 3, 2017 at 08:14 PM · Been playing for over 30 years and I'm really wanting to improve my vibrato and utilize more arm vibrato instead of finger/wrist only which is how I was taught. Any suggestions? Wondered if I should just go way back to the basics and saw there are some technique books out there.

Replies (19)

March 3, 2017 at 09:03 PM · No teacher? Try this:

Best video I have seen on vibrato.

Next, practice practice practice!

March 3, 2017 at 09:04 PM · Do some basic exercises. I just want to point out that it's okay to move the wrist more than the arm, but the arm should at least move somewhat. You can do both arm and wrist vibrato at once. You can search the site for "arm vibrato." Others can give you more technical pointers.

March 3, 2017 at 11:26 PM · Thank you Erin! And to the OP, is there a good reason that you want to get away from what you were taught? More arm may not necessarily be better!

I once had someone take a lesson with me for just this reason: wanting more arm vibrato for a "fatter" sound, or so they said. When they played for me, I told them I'd be happy to "fix" their vibrato for free, as long as they told me how in the world they had such an impressive wrist and finger vibrato!

March 4, 2017 at 12:59 AM · Hahaha, I am looking for a "fatter" sound! My vibrato is mostly finger and I can barely use my 4th finger to vibrate, it's weak. Even using more wrist I think would help what I want to achieve.

March 4, 2017 at 01:41 AM · That video is excellent by the way, Erin, thank you!

March 4, 2017 at 02:32 AM · Nathan, do you balance the violin between shoulder and hand? I prefer to play like that, without a shoulder rest, but my teacher insists I won't master vibrato unless I can keep the violin on my shoulder, clenched down with chin, without any help from the left hand.

March 4, 2017 at 10:32 AM · Dexter, I woukld agree, but Nathan's video proves me wrong!

March 4, 2017 at 07:32 PM · Vibrato actually sounds better no sr because the finger must subtly roll while vibrating, whereas an SR tends to not implement this (since the hand is not propping up to counteract the weight of the violin).

March 4, 2017 at 07:48 PM · How does the SR prevent the finger from subtly rolling?

March 4, 2017 at 09:00 PM · It doesnt. But when you fix the Violin via a SR, you are not forced to that "active rolling" and most people learning vibrato without the guidance of a really good and persistent teacher end up with a rather stiff and passive finger movement which in the worst case they have to unlearn again to build up a propper vibrato technique - while without a SR it's impossible to vibrate without that move; you'd just pull the violin away from you or drop it. - A.O., do you think I got that right?

You CAN do that rolling also while using a SR, but you take part of the violins weight off the SR and on your left hand, so if you are able to play that way, you might also play restless right away and don't have to take the burden of a (in this case useless) accessoire...

I'm still using a SR, so please form your own opinion what I'm thinking about my vibrato technique... ;-)

March 4, 2017 at 10:06 PM · Thanks A.O. And Nuuska but I'm still confused.

March 4, 2017 at 11:17 PM · Since I only stopped using a shoulder rest a couple of years ago, I obviously learned vibrato with the rest. It didn't kill me! :) But in order to play without a rest, it's necessary to support the instrument with the left hand. So I've enjoyed letting my vibrato develop with more active participation of the hand and fingers.

While I was still using the shoulder rest, I ended up putting in way too much physical effort (involving lots more arm) to achieve my vibrato. So in my case, playing without the rest awakened my hand to some new possibilities. I could certainly do those with a rest now that I know how they feel.

Hopefully that's another way of saying what the last two posters did!

March 5, 2017 at 02:51 AM · Yes, Nuuska and Nate are right.

Without SR, the finger itself must subtly make a small movement on the string because the left hands is actively holding up the violin.

With the sr, you can just flap the hand and the finger moves back and forth as a result, while missing out on the 'rolling' part of the fingerpad's skin on the string.

March 5, 2017 at 11:51 AM · May I quote from myself in an old (and unusually long) post? BTW I use a shoulder rest.

"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 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.

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

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...


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."

So, there you are, arm+hand+rolling-fingertip vibrato. Quick to learn to do, a lifetime to learn to use!

March 5, 2017 at 07:25 PM · Yes Adrian, I read this some months ago, and I think this is really a good way of mental visualisation as you teach it. And yes, feels like a lifetime project indeed...

From my former teacher I learned vibrato at a very (too) early stage. I was taught to only use arm vibrato, with as less wrist action as possible (ideally this would mean zero...), and the last finger joint blending and extending only passively following the arm action. It felt quite weird and unnatural, though at her playing it worked. Then I quit (and after a while found a new teacher), but Nate, it was you and your video that gave me some feeling of understanding (at least...), and put me on the track to Simon Fischer, what again helped me quite a lot. Now im slowly developping, though there still is a lot of stiffness in my movements - hard work to unlearn... - but actively involving the finger and allowing the wrist to stay relaxed already makes a big deal! Thx a million!

March 5, 2017 at 07:33 PM · Does anybody know if Simon Fischer uses a SR? The videos of him playing on YT are kind of blurry and I can't really tell.

March 5, 2017 at 08:21 PM · In the video "Simon Fischer, Raymond Fischer, Tschaikowsky Melodie" you can clearly see it.

March 6, 2017 at 12:37 AM · Mr Heath, do you by any chance have a video of the method you explained above for teaching vibrato, with the different pressures? I sort of follow the general idea, but I'm too visual to really grasp it otherwise.

No pressure though (pun intended)!

March 6, 2017 at 11:22 AM · I'm setting up my Zoom Q3 to do this, but I'm looking for a nice wig!

Edit: I am not ill, just a bit decrepit.

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