Arm and wrist vibrato

October 9, 2004 at 12:38 AM · Any opinions on arm and wrist vibrato? I'm effectively choosing between the two, at least which to use normally. Vibrato hasn't quite worked out for me in the way that other aspects of technique have.

My impressions of the two types when they are perfected is that arm vibrato gives a wonderful tone (Kreisler had this I think!) but hand vibrato has more brilliance and clarity, and more flexibility. Is this justified? I like the arm-vibrato sound, but somehow hand-vibrato seems more natural when playing Mozart say.

What about long-armed and fingered people being naturally disposed to arm vibrato?

(My situation: For many years I had an arm vibrato. My last teacher put me through a regime of changes to do with reducing tension and overall body control - he practiced the Alexander technique, which Mr. Brivati is a proponent of here. I changed to hand vibrato because my arm vibrato seemed to be a source of tension. The changes in general were very fruitful indeed but I never quite got the hand vibrato. It's not flexible, and it is very slow, which means I don't have any leeway to adjust it expressively. I'm not sure whether to try to get it right or go back to arm. I notice watching the Art of Violin that I'm missing flexibility in the joint nearest the fingertip and the circular motion that Basics talks about.)

Replies (24)

October 9, 2004 at 01:40 AM · arm vibrato is used in the upper positions. I prefer wrist in the lower positions.

October 9, 2004 at 03:25 AM · Arm vibrato can be used in lower positions, too.

It is good to use and perfect both kinds of vibratoes. You will need both when playing.

October 9, 2004 at 03:46 AM · I think there's more nuance with wrist vibrato. You have more shades (width, etc) and its easier (for me) to control.

October 9, 2004 at 03:49 AM · I think people technically do more of a wrist vibrato when placing your hand and thumb up against the violin in the 3rd, 4th and 5th positions more than any other hand and arm positions.

I was taught more of an arm vibrato in all positions, but the wrist/hand (whatever you all call it!) seems very unique. It teaches you more contol and awareness of your body when playing.

I am still trying to achieve a wrist vibrato in all positions to add more skills to my technique.

October 9, 2004 at 04:28 AM · It depends on what you do best. Do both or stick to the one that is best for you. If something fits you more likely you'll be able to get it.

October 9, 2004 at 04:32 AM · I have been to countless master classes where I have heard perfect technique explained to me, quite forcefully. The one thing i remember is that You need to be able to do both depending on the sound you want. Arm vibrato is generally used more in the lower positions, and wrist/hand in the upper, because the space between notes is smaller, and the vibrations need to be smaller, which is easier to do with the wrist than the arm. Or so says Thomas Moore. (at SSMF)

October 9, 2004 at 04:51 AM · You all have it backwards. Arm vibrato is used in the Higher positions and Wrist in the lower.

When you're in the upper position your wrist in bent in, making wrist vibrato impossible (if you attempted wrist vibrato your fingers would lift up and down, not with the length of the string).

Check out Kurt Sassmannshaus's website:

October 9, 2004 at 05:19 AM · I like wrist vibrato better and I think it's to be used everywhere. It's easier to control and does have more shades. With arm vibrato, it seems that the main thing one can accomplish with arm vibrato is extreme intensity which is good in some things (but wrist is still better) but terrible for slow pieces. Even though it can sound good with a really clear wavy sound, alot of times it comes off as too intense and I see that in Gil Shaham's playing even though I really like him.

October 9, 2004 at 02:02 PM · I'm currently trying to do an arm vibrato, and seems to partially work for me. I think that with wrist/hand vibrato, it's easier to get a noticable tone, but when starting out, it's not as fast as arm vibrato. At least for me, anyway.


October 9, 2004 at 06:08 PM · I have to disagree. Arm vibrato is too big to be used in the upper positions.

October 10, 2004 at 01:10 AM ·

October 9, 2004 at 07:43 PM · Jake, you can't use wrist vibrato effectively in upper positions. You have to use a narrow arm vibrato with a loose wrist.

again, check out

October 9, 2004 at 09:00 PM · its not such a claer distinction i dont think, but marty is right, wrist doesnt work very well up high. also arm is necesarry for octaves and such.

October 10, 2004 at 12:39 AM · Thanks for the comments everyone. Looking again at my new DVD Grumiaux and Szigeti often used a hand-vibrato in high positions, and Ostraich switched between both types in high positions. Others follow Marty's wisdom somewhat.

October 10, 2004 at 02:25 AM · i use arm vibrato normally, and wrist vibrato when its P or PP

October 11, 2004 at 03:00 AM · I'd keep working on the wrist vibrato. Arm vibrato very often leads to tension problems in the left arm. Some well known violinists who use/have used an arm vibrato have ended up with significant physical problems as they have gotten older. I know of one accomplished player who confesses to having had cortisone shots to combat the physical difficulties caused by an arm vibrato. Luckily, that person was able to learn a very nice wrist vibrato. The long-term impact of an arm vibrato should also be considered. When one is young, he can get away with certain things that end up being troublesome later on. So it may work fine at 20, but what about 30 years later?

October 11, 2004 at 03:09 AM · arm vibrato can be used in upper positions and lower positions, but I'm not sure about wrist vibrato being used in upper positions, except by few players like Perlman. I know that Oistrakh used a wrist vibrato in the lower positions and arm in the upper positions. If you bring your elbow in enough, it may be possible to do wrist vibrato in upper positions. Ida Haendel used only finger vibrato, and she was very successful with it.

October 11, 2004 at 04:21 AM · I can see no connection between arm vibrato and injuries. The longest concertizing high level violinist was without doubt Milstein, and he was the Arm guy.

But of course, if you need tention to vibrate you will get hurt.

January 14, 2005 at 06:13 PM · Very interesting discussion! I've been in the throes of an arm-versus-wrist battle for about a year and a half, so here are my thoughts. For me, wrist vibrato sounds great in Mozart. It can sound light, easy, and quick. It also works in mournful dirge-type works, like Shostakovich. And it is great for tapering out a note -- arm doesn't cut it in the same way. But even though I've been using wrist for a long time, sometimes it just feels wrong to use it -- in the Tchaikovsky concerto opening, for example. It just does not provide the necessary intensity and tone. What's more -- if you break it down slowly, wrist vibrato ends up using LESS of the top finger-knucle bending motion. It is more of a diagonal rolling-motion. Fundamentally this changes the quality of the vibrato tone.

A danger of wrist vibrato is vibrating sharp (forward) rather than rolling back the hand -- many people do this in order to maintain straight hand position, but it ends up sounding agitated. Flesch recommends that wide wrist vibrato be corrected by thinking of the vibrato more vertically -- vibrating into the fingerboard will narrow it down a little. But it still shouldn't vibrate sharp, as this gives the impression of wobbliness. And yet you still want to be playing on your fingertips with a straight hand! Point being: while I find wrist vibrato has the potential for a lot of expressive change and control, it only goes so far, and there are definitely places where the different sound and flexibility of arm vibrato seem necessary. It's just a question of speeding it up and having enough dexterity without getting tight.

For me in high positions, the wrist vibrato changes into a finger impulse vibrato that ends up *looking* like it comes from the arm. Getting the arm vibrato going fast enough in high positions has been pretty tricky for me. Pure wrist vibrato does get pretty wide up there. Sassmanshaus reccommends vibrating no more than a quarter-step -- thinking of this consciously helps.

For me the coordination of arm vibrato while bowing was the hardest thing to overcome. Somehow pulling the bow parallel to the bridge and thrashing the arm perpendicular to that made me incredibly tight and slow at first. Yet I could do the motion properly with minimum tension and fast enough without the bow. What I did was start the motion without the bow and every couple of seconds play for a beat or two and try to maintain the same motion once the contact with the bow occurred. This helped. Flesch has another trick for this: play an open string and do the arm motion without pressing any fingers to a note -- just with the fingers lying above the strings. These tricks definitely helped my coordination brainfart.

As far as arm-vibrato and injuries go, I certainly know some people who have gotten tendonitis repeatedly from using arm vibrato. When I see them play it seems obvious that it's because they're pressing too hard with their fingers and therefore the finger knuckle isn't breaking at all and neither is the wrist. One thing that helps me keep this at bay is something a violinist from the Ysaye quartet suggested: think of the vibrato as originating from the left side of your back. Somehow taking the focus off of "throwing your arm back- and-forth while your finger is holding onto the pitch for dear life" helps everything fall into place. Anything done incorrectly or with *too much* tension will cause injury -- so I don't think arm vibrato itself is a danger. It is just laden with risks to be overcome and revisited with age! (I've noticed that older players across the board use a wrist vibrato because the arm gets too slow. Or maybe they are just out of practice and fundamentally there is something easier about keeping it in the hand... who knows!)

January 14, 2005 at 09:34 PM · Is it possible to combine both arm and wrist vibrato? Just curious...

January 14, 2005 at 10:15 PM · Hi,

Yes, sara, it is possible. I do it all the time, especially with the first and second finger. Ideally, I think that one should have a mixture of both (Szeryng did that later in his career, as does Heifetz at all times). Having both alone, or in combination gives you more range of colours, I think.


January 14, 2005 at 10:26 PM · Greetings,

to second what Christian said, Szeryng was adamant that this was the -best- vibrato of all. (nothign like a stronmg opinion!)



January 14, 2005 at 10:58 PM · I find this discussion interesting because I've been attempting to switch from wrist vibrato to arm vibrato. My violin teacher, while noting that wrist vibrato isn't "wrong", insists that arm vibrato is "better." Well, she never used the word "better", but she's been trying to make me use arm vibrato a lot more. Is there a particular school that advocates arm over wrist vibrato?

January 15, 2005 at 01:16 PM · Greetings,

no, but you shoudl be able to do both. Then you have more colors and tehcnique at your disposal,



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