Profesionals: arm or hand vibrato?

November 13, 2004 at 01:12 AM · I have yet another question about vibrato (oh yeah, and bty, I finally got it down).

I've been watching a lot of profesionals play, and it seems like they always use hand vibrato instead of arm. I'm worried because I only know how to do arm. Do all profesionals play with hand vibrato? Is arm vibrato just like a begining vibrato? Because I want to stick with arm, but I'm not sure if I can.

Replies (28)

November 13, 2004 at 03:01 AM · what do professionals use? maybe I'm a hermit (I say that with no sarcasm whatsoever), but I've never seen any professional violin player use arm vibrato. It makes sense to be using bigger muscles, but swinging the arm takes quite a bit of time (AND EFFORT) and you simply don't have time for it outside of adagios.

On a personal note, I never learned arm vibrato. When I was learning vibrato, I was given a film canister and rice to practice my hand motion. I recommended the same to my students, along with vibrating various rhythms to a metronome (one to a beat, two to a beat, triplets to a beat) so that they learn timed, even control.

An old

post on this same issue

An article on regarding the three different types of vibrato

November 13, 2004 at 03:29 AM · Hey Jenni nice article you found!.If I had to take a shot at this, it seems to me Menuhin, Stern, Rabin, Zukerman, Especially Heifetz used most of the time arm vibrato. Also Leonard Rose {cellist} said Kreisler used arm vibrato. Oistrakh looks like he uses more wrist, sometimes it seems he is uses the arm, whatever it's a sound that's unbelievable!

November 13, 2004 at 03:30 AM · if u look at any great violinists, they vary their styles of vibrato from arm, hand, finger, etc. it depends what ur playing and what u want to get across in the music

November 13, 2004 at 03:39 AM · Exactly.

Though I happen to notice most prof. violinists use arm vibrato saving wrist vibrato for more intimate musical gestures or to vibrate in higher positions. I've only heard one violinist who uses almost consistantly a wrist vibrato and is able to vary it enough to keep things interesting and beautiful without switching to arm vibrato.


November 13, 2004 at 03:41 AM · Doesn't Maxim Vengerov sort of use arm vibrato? He doesn't really shake the whole arm, but he shakes his entire wrist. Wait, that's the hand. But his vibrato is different from my hand vibrato (my whole wrist doesn't shake back and forth) and I certainly don't use arm vibrato!

I'm trying to achieve the kind of vibrato where you move the entire wrist instead of just like fingers. I can't do it though. Maybe my palms are too small and they just can't handle it. :(

November 13, 2004 at 04:05 AM · you need more than one vibrato obviously, any violinist worth their salt should know at least arm and wrist.

November 13, 2004 at 04:50 AM · Here's a stupid question. What actually defines the wrist? Is it just the joint allowing the hand to move at angles from the forearm, or does it include the hand (the thing to which the fingers are attached - I'm starting to doubt my ability to name any common body parts) as well. Someone told me the latter was true. I thought it was just the joint.

November 13, 2004 at 07:14 AM · I use neither arm nor wrist vibrato. I try to think of the vibrato movement more holistically. It is nearly impossible to divorce one part of the hand or arm from the other parts completely in the actual motion. So I would not worry about this too much and lose sleep over this thought. I get a kick out of some violinists when I ask them what types of vibrato they use? "I use 3 kinds of vibrato." I had someone else say to me "I use 5 different ones; finger, arm, hand, stiff finger, wrist." To me these methods just sound too complicated to be convincing.

The important thing to remember is not to press the fingers down as this reduces the movement of the joints and creates tension throughout the forearms. One of Heifetz's trade secrets to his vibrato was the entire relaxation he played with. Watch the left hand finger joints of his as evidence. Oliver Steiner brought up a great point a few months ago how Heifetz moved in many ways other players simply do not in response to someone I think commenting on how still Heifetz looked while playing. According to Friedman Heifetz had a lot of his other students fooled and they would often tense up while playing for him and as a result would perform with a huge drop off of level from when in the practice room. Heifetz at times I dare say would be amused to see all these people working so hard for nothing. Friedman however told me he caught on very quickly from observing Heifetz play and concluded in order to play at the very high level Heifetz did relaxation and being efficient were key. Watching Heifetz, Friedman recalled at one of my lessons "he hardly moved his hands while vibrating, it did not look like he was doing anything." One thing to keep in mind is that the fingers don't have muscle, they are mainly made up of bone and cartilage thus any pressure applied will trigger the muscles controlling the fingers in the forearm region to tense. The key is to leave the forearm out of the motion completely I think cause this will add too much width to the vibrato while at the same time the most important element of true pitch will be spoiled and give the sound more of a wobble rather than a center. There's a good old brass saying "What's worse than getting caught without your clothes on? Getting caught without your vibrato."

Vibrato application is very important also. First of all what do we use it for? Most of today's players use it for musical color. I'll say this with a little bit of authority on this subject Kreisler, Heifetz, or others of that era used it for a very different purpose. I will not disclose the details of what they used vibrato for however if you use unwound gut strings one is forced to learn this technique or else the sound will die. Vibrato is only one element of the sound, true pitch is a lot more important. Unfortunately many people do not keep this priority and abuse the vibrato and wave the hand out of control making the pitch sour. Center of pitch are the three key words to beautiful violin playing, vibrato is to sound what seasoning is to soup.

November 13, 2004 at 07:23 AM · Good points, Nate. The wrist is the joint that connects the forearm with the hand I would say. And, in hand vibrato (wrist enables movement) part of the forearm does move, it needs to remain flexible and limber--not stiff--and I would imagine vice versa (arm vibrato needs wrist open and agile). That said perhaps I do not fully understand what "arm vibrato" and "hand vibrato" mean. Finger vibrato, I'm good. Perfect for pieces 192 to quarter note or top of the fingerboard registers. So maybe we should get Buri in here to teach us all :)

November 13, 2004 at 01:28 PM · Greetings,

well erm, um, pooh!


For what it's worth the wrist can be located by running the index finger of the oppsite hand down the outside of the forarm until it gets to the knobbly bit. That is not the wrist. Thewrist occurs after the knobbly bit. It is a collection of little bones called metacarpals and fancy stuff like that. It is well worth getting an anatomy book and studying this thing very carefully. Many people have a mental misconception about where the wrist is which leads to a lot of problems.

I think there is a lot of value in adiscrete analysis of arm vibrato in which the wrist stays more or less as it is and a wrist in which the arm supposedly doesn't move. But this is all a bitof a misnomer because almost all examples of one kind actually cause a reaction in the hand or arm. It is more a question of ratio. There is also an arm rotation ovement which was very pronounced in Oistrakhs palying.

Having said the above, I am inclining more towrdas paying attention to relaxtion in the back, shoulder and elbow and then seeing what happens to the vibrato. Sometimes we get rather distracted by the 'what kind' question when the problem really is one of having a kind of energy released from the relaxed back muscles.

Stern compared this a bullwhip in which a large end released energy which emerged with speed and finesse at the other end.

If you are having trouble with vibrato then this is often the time to consider working on another type . I think this is fairly standard teaching.

Szeryng always argued that the best kind was actually a combination of wrist and arm, for what its worth,



November 13, 2004 at 01:41 PM · I might be wrong but does the impules for hand vibrato initiate in the base joint (joint closest to the palm), and arm vibrato impulses initiate in the back and elbow areas?

November 13, 2004 at 11:22 PM · Greetings,

origin of impulses is tricky, but personally I suggets the local origin of movement for wrist (hand) vibrato is in more in the palm.



November 13, 2004 at 11:41 PM · Jenni or any other individuals who are "in the know" about finger vibrato. How do you do it? Arm vibrato--no problem. Wrist, arm, bicep, elbow, hand--I'm game. Finger vibrato is a little on the illusive side for me. How is it accomplished?

November 14, 2004 at 08:16 PM · Hi Kim,

To start to see a finger vibrato you must first exaggerrate the motion in the first joint of your fingers.Usually we keep these joints arched out . so practice really bending them in. Next bring the wrist closer to the neck- almost like the way kids hold the violin. Now iinitiate move from the meta-carperal and keep the first -joint relaxed. Start with a really wide version(because exaggeration is the only way for physical actions to become natural) go way above and below the center note. Eventually you want to narrow the width but with a realaxed first joint. this creates just a wiggle in the fingers.

November 14, 2004 at 10:00 PM · Good post nate. I mostly agree, but there are definatly appropriate "labels", if you will, that aid in the discussion of vibrato. But I like what you said about thinking of it "wholistically".


November 18, 2004 at 05:20 PM · I always concerned with labels. Most violinists, including great violinists, use a vibrato that combines arm, finger and wrist in varying proportions. Nonetheless, every violinist has a predilection physically towards one type, but to say that professional violinists gravitate towards one type is quite erroneous and misguided IMHO. If you want a detailed discussions of the various types of vibrato and how to acquire one you don't have, then you could take a look at vol.1 of the Art of Violin Playing by Carl Flesch. There is a thorough and detailed discussion there.

November 18, 2004 at 07:03 PM · Didn't Dounis say that there is only one correct vibrato, and that that vibrato is hand vibrato?

I have never been able to accept that, and along with his torture exercises designed to cause the maximum possible damage in the minimum possible time, has been a reason why I have always looked at Dounis with some suspicion, mistrust, even downright hatred sometimes when he says that stuff about vibrato being only right if it is hand vibrato.

Okay, you guessed it: I CAN'T DO HAND VIBRATO - so if Dounis is right, then I am rubbish!!!!!!!!!!!!!

That's the reason I take offence at his comments!

But am I right in being led to believe this? Is it true that Dounis said this?

I'll bet you anything that if it is true, that he said that only a hand vibrato is correct, it'll mean naturally that he had a hand vibrato; and perhaps if, like me, he had been physically incapable of doing a fast hand-moving-at-the-wrist-only vibrato, and had instead had an arm vibrato - or rather, a vibrato like MINE, actually, where it is a bit of everything - he would then have said that the only correct vibrato is an arm vibrato!

November 18, 2004 at 07:21 PM · Christian,

I disagree. I think that the majority of violinist...great and not so great...gravitate towards one vibrato. The difference between the great violinist and the others is that they DO use a combination and they are so relaxed (most of them) that their vibrato is still going to sound great no matter how they...shall we say...shake it. *grin*

I simply view WRIST vibrato as many different types and varients of vibrato that originate with movement in the wrist. And ARM vibrato as many different types and varients of vibrato that originate in the lower arm.

Just because someone uses ONE of the above predominantly does not mean that their vibrato is dead and uninteresting. One can still produce a wide range of different vibrato...(vibrati? haha) while sticking to one of the main categories. Of course, if they have mastered vibrato that they can originate from either lower arm, wrist, and fingers/knuckles, then they are way ahead of the game.


November 19, 2004 at 12:01 AM · Thanks for all the feedback! I, now, think that a good violinist should know more than one vibrato. But I guess I just got too attached to the vibrato I learned first. Probably because I know how to do it and it's so easy to me now that I don't want to learn any other one. Have any of you experienced that?

November 19, 2004 at 01:59 AM · As a violin student, teacher taught me three kinds of vibrato: hand, arm and finger, the most difficult one. Since I have captured the skills, I would apply different kinds of vibratos for the same phrase so as to see which one fits best. I noticed that from concerts and video watching, some violinists tended to use one kind more than the others. However, the selection and application of vibratos should depend on the musicality of the works, not on the convenience of our skills. Violin books do mention that arm vibrato is comparatively easier to learn. By the way, I learn hand vibrato first. For arm vibrato, I think this actually involves arm and hand vibrato. Personally speaking, I think hand vibrato is a very logical step from shifting. If one masters the skills of shifting, it should not get too much problems with hand vibrato. Good vibrato needs lots of quality and regular exercises. Vibrato, just like scale, arpeggios, bow stroke ¡K etc., all compose as warm-up exercise before every practice.

November 19, 2004 at 02:01 AM · Greetings,

Angela, great point about shifting. That`s why if you practice the Doubis shifting exercises in Artists`s technique your vibrato should improve automatically,



November 20, 2004 at 03:27 PM · Dear Preston,

I do agree with you. Maybe I was not clear. By varying proportions, I meant that most great violinists use a combination of all types of vibratos but that yes, one type usually dominates. I think that it is possible to add some degree of the other types, and for me, as long as it is varied and interesting in range of colour and sound, no matter what the type, that is all that matters. Didn't Ysaÿe once say that one could play with his toes, and that he wouldn't care, as long as it sounded good...

November 20, 2004 at 09:31 PM · Greetings,

I'm not sur e if that grand old master could actually see his toes...



November 20, 2004 at 10:17 PM · It is essential to be relaxed and do what is natural for you.Your hand shape,size,finger length, finger pad size,etc. play a factor as to what is easier. Smaller hands may find it more difficult to get a full vibato swing using the wrist. However small hands will have difficulty using an arm vibrato in the higher register and should learn wrist vibrato, practicing in the higher register. Large hands can do ethier. As mentioned before,everything kind of works together at the same time.Speed, cosistancy, width are all factors.Intonation can be fixed with the vibrato. It is important to put the finger down on the high end of the vibrato swing and take it off on the low end of the swing.I wouldn't worry about if one is better or more professional. The answer is in the end product: Does it sound

good ? If yes , then don't change a thing unless it affects your intonation, technique, or is uneven, too fast, too slow, too narrow or too wide.

November 20, 2004 at 11:57 PM ·

November 21, 2004 at 09:22 PM · Greetings,

Good one Buri!!!


November 21, 2004 at 11:27 PM · As for vibrato, I have come to believe that when all is in balance with a violinist's physical setup (from the ground up) the fingers tips will easily be set into motion through the momentum of dropping the finger. Ultimately what counts is what happens at the point of contact between finger tip and string...if all else is well balanced/ relaxed, this motion should happen naturally and efficiently in accordance with the player's taste. To worry about arm, hand, wrist, finger seems misguided.

February 15, 2005 at 12:47 AM · Hmmm...somebody edited away something about a mouse's whisker, which was the most interesting part.

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