Vibrato query

December 2, 2004 at 08:20 AM · A new violinists' website asserts that when we use vibrato, we oscillate behind the correct pitch (flat) and back to it. However, I've heard other definitions which claim we oscillate *beyond* the correct pitch (sharp) and behind it (flat). I can't imagine this is a matter of interpretation, since there's surely a scientific explanation for the overall pitch of the note we hear. Does anyone have any evidence to back up their view of vibrato and its mechanics? P.S. I don't!

Replies (39)

December 2, 2004 at 10:05 AM · Only behind the pitch, not beyond - unless one wants to imitate a nanny-goat( Michael Tree's quote).

December 2, 2004 at 11:58 AM · Greetings,

the reason Thomas is correct is that when two pitches are heard in rapid succession the ear wil pick on the upper of the two as the main focus. Thus an above vibrato player will sound sharp all the time. Bloody awful which is why they are so few and far between these days,

Cheers,

Buri

December 2, 2004 at 02:21 PM · Are there some kinds of music that tend to go sharp instead of flat? I had the impression a couple of times when randomly hearing jazz music on the radio thatI was hearing vibrato going above the note and that it sounded "right" in that context. Or maybe it just happened to be the same musicians playing each time(?)

December 2, 2004 at 10:01 PM · I hear operatic singers do this a lot, which is possibly why I'm not an opera fan.

December 2, 2004 at 11:09 PM · Many of them just have an overly wide vibrato which sounds unpleasant, but I'll have to listen to going above the pitch. I'm also miffed that they get away with sliding into notes from wide intervals which a choral singer is never allowed to do. But with the jazz, I had the impression it's actually expected because once I noticed it, I started listening, and all instruments and singers seemed to come from above and one begins to identify the note from that way. So do we naturally "hear" the note from its highest pitch in vibrato, or have we been trained to do so?

December 2, 2004 at 11:22 PM · When you play guitar you can only do vibrato sharp, which doesnt make it sound out of tune. I started on guitar first, and violin vibrato sounded very odd for me at first, but now feels and sounds very natural, but I still teach guitar, and If I do vibrato it feels weird. But it is very fast an narrow on a guitar, not wide and slow like some violinists do. So perhaps its a case of what one is used to. But you should definately not go above AND below the note - this just sounds plain daft.

John

December 4, 2004 at 04:51 AM · Guitar vibrato is very different from violin vibrato. I classify it as pitch-bending, not necessarily vibrato. Now that you mention it, I'm picturing the sound in my mind, and I suppose we've come to accept sharpness from a guitar since that's the only way to go. If you did this sound on the violin, you would sound like a guitar.

I personally disqualify opera singers as being any good when they swing all around the note until there's not a single recognizable pitch. They need to spend less time in the make-up room hiding their flaws and more time improving their ability.

Speaking of opera singers, does vibrato actually increase volume, or just create the illusion of loudness by intensfying sound?

December 4, 2004 at 09:59 AM · Vibrato is essentially a function of rhythm, not volume.

December 4, 2004 at 04:44 PM · You can make the pitch go down slightly on guitar if you press harder and lean a little more into the fret. Most guitarists don't do this--they wiggle the string back and forth across the fingerboard instead of in line with the string, so they can only go up in pitch.

December 4, 2004 at 09:43 PM · "You can make the pitch go down slightly on guitar if you press harder and lean a little more into the fret. Most guitarists don't do this--they wiggle the string back and forth across the fingerboard instead of in line with the string, so they can only go up in pitch. "

The first technique is commonly used by classical guitarists, and is a very subtle but brilliant vibrato. The other is used by metal, blues, and any other music using solos.

Both techniques only vibrato sharp, it is impossible to vibrato flat and sharp on a guitar as the frets impede this process.

It would be nice to have authoratative information as to the proper form for violin vibrato is (I would think it would depend on the player).

December 5, 2004 at 06:04 AM · I personally prefer vibrato that doesn't pass the actual pitch. Either Galamian or Flesch wrote about this concept, I think. Does anyone know the reference? I don't have my books with me.

December 5, 2004 at 06:49 AM · Yes, Galamian wrote that pitch should always go down, and then back up to meet the pitch, like everyone else on the post has said.

December 5, 2004 at 07:20 AM · Greetings,

Flesch wrote the same in his 'Art of Violin Playing.'

Cheers,

Buri

December 5, 2004 at 07:50 AM · It is very possible to do pitch dow vibrato in the violin way on the guitar. That is how I do it.

December 5, 2004 at 10:16 PM · "It is very possible to do pitch dow vibrato in the violin way on the guitar. That is how I do it."

It does not vibrate the pitch down, as the frets dont allow anything below the note your pressing. Only way to bend down is to push the neck, or with a floyd rose tremolo system.

December 5, 2004 at 11:10 PM · Ed,

I am sitting here with my classical guitar, bending the pitch down and back up as I described. It is possible. I haven't tried it on my steel string guitar, but I will do so later.

December 5, 2004 at 11:13 PM · Ed,

if you lean forward and downward properly it will actually increase the tension on the rear side of the string and decrease the tension on the front side, therby lowering the pitch. It works, try it.

December 6, 2004 at 03:54 AM · I agree with Mike, although it is more subtle than on the violin. Merely over-pressing and relaxing a pitch on Spanish guitar will give a lowere then center pitch.

December 6, 2004 at 05:56 AM · Personally, I think that the important thing is the pitch center. If the pitch is centered and the sound rings as the note is in tune, then the vibrato is fine, if not, then there is a problem. Any other point is kind of moot IMHO. Cheers!

December 6, 2004 at 07:05 AM · Leopold Mozart wrote in his violin method'with the violin family of instruments one may attempt to imitate this natural trembling by pressing one's finger strongly down on a string and making small movement with whole hand;which,however,must not move sideways but forwards toward the bridge and back towards the scroll'.I don't advocate it,just food for thought.

February 14, 2005 at 09:32 AM · The important thing is that you will be listening to what you're doing and adjusting it as you go. So in reality above/below is just an academic question anyway.

As for guitar, there is no way in hell to go below in an acoustic guitar vibrato unless you do something like bend the neck forward loosening the string in the process. When someone says lower the pitch by pressing the string harder I wonder if they can hear the difference between higher and lower. Pressing the string harder can only raise the pitch, and then only if the frets are borderline too tall. Guitars try to use equal temprement, so the requirements on vibrato could be different.

My personal belief is that vibrato can be above/below and sound fine. Some fine-sounding professional violinsts and students here support that idea. I don't think the ear perceives good vibrato alone as a variation in pitch, which implies center is the important point.

There's more muscle available for the forward half-cycle of the vibrato so potentially the finger might creep forward, raising the centerpoint. Or a particular vibrato might cause the finger to lean more forward than the same note without vibrato, I've seen a lot of that, raising the centerpoint.

February 14, 2005 at 06:08 PM · "if you lean forward and downward properly it will actually increase the tension on the rear side of the string and decrease the tension on the front side, therby lowering the pitch. It works, try it. "

It does work, but I do not believe Segovia would have wanted to do that onstage :P

More practicly, the arm movement is done on the classical guitar, and only raises the pitch up.

February 14, 2005 at 11:55 PM · This is true about singers and their overall sharpening of the notes. I've always found it odd that this was acceptable in the operatic world. It's almost ironic how we are always told that our instruments are extensions of our voices and that we should "sing" with them, but when we try to vibrate like a singer, we're scolded for being above pitch...Interesting. But overall, you should not go over the pitch...it bothers the ear.

February 15, 2005 at 11:25 PM · "This is true about singers and their overall sharpening of the notes. I've always found it odd that this was acceptable in the operatic world. It's almost ironic how we are always told that our instruments are extensions of our voices and that we should "sing" with them, but when we try to vibrate like a singer, we're scolded for being above pitch...Interesting. But overall, you should not go over the pitch...it bothers the ear. "

I find that very true and I demand answers.

I believe changes in standardization vs. poetic expression/tradition tend to war.

February 15, 2005 at 11:37 PM · Greetings,

I thing `demanding` things tends to war ;)

Cheers,

Buri

February 16, 2005 at 12:02 AM · " `demanding` things tends to war ;)"

Heh, it sure does. Yet I merely wanted answers from a higher authority (that being an almost fictional request).

February 16, 2005 at 02:15 AM · Greetings,

I have found fortune cookies to be very helpful on most issue s of violin playing,

Cheers,

Buri

February 16, 2005 at 04:24 AM · I have found fortune cookies to be very helpful on most issue s of violin playing,

I find that answer to be most cryptic, much like the aforementioned pieces of paper.

February 16, 2005 at 07:08 AM ·

February 16, 2005 at 06:18 AM · That might explain why flutes have to be careful not to drop in pitch during a dimenuendo.

February 16, 2005 at 08:34 AM · Hehehe... maybe! Or maybe a drop in pitch is the first sign that the floutist is about to pass out :)

BTW: Jim, your posts are hilarious. You're the Dave Barry of violinist.com

February 16, 2005 at 09:28 AM · I've been told before I'm like Dave Barry. Mostly by people who hate him.

November 20, 2005 at 05:30 PM · Hi there,

On the suject of vibrato: I have only really started playing the violin since September. Not being a fan of "getting lessons" (nothing makes me lose interest quicker), I am trying to teach myself. In very basic terms: Does violin vibrato involve moving the finger horizontally (parrallel to the string), or, as in most guitar playing, vertically, putting a bend in the string slightly?

Brett

November 20, 2005 at 06:39 PM · Brett,

The truth is that most violinists use a diagonal "path" in their vibrato, but the pitch-changing effect comes from the horizontal component of that motion (parallel to the string). A diagonal path is used simply because of physiology - it is very awkward for most to truly oscillate parallel to the strings. That said, actively pushing the string sideways, as in guitar playing, is simply not done in 99.99% of violin technique (taboo?)

I would like to return to the original topic (I'm actually researching it for a class at the moment). To everyone here: Do you strive to vibrate above, below, or around the pitch? Why? I'm also interested in what everyone perceives as the relation between vibrato and absolutely perfect intonation - can vibrato ever be used to "mask" intonation problems? How?

Thanks for your thoughts.

November 20, 2005 at 06:47 PM · I was sitting in on a master class which the Emerson Quartet quartet was coaching, and one of the members of the Emerson Quartet had an interesting thing to say to the first violinist. The student had a melodic solo above a texture set by the other three voices, and he was told to vibrate just the tiniest bit sharp to penetrate clearly above the texture. Since then, I have listened to solos by concertmasters and whatnot, and seem to hear that they do the same thing for projection and brilliancy purposes...but I don't know for sure. Did anyone here go to that masterclass and remember this? It was at CIM this September, I think.

November 20, 2005 at 07:21 PM · 'scuse my interruption...Jim, you certainly can make a guitar string "go flat," and it doesn't have anything to do with bending the neck.

Come on by, I'll show you how it works (I think I explained it months ago, above).

November 20, 2005 at 07:47 PM · Mike, If you're talking about guitar vibrato, I think I remember it. Think about it. To lower the pitch you can either lenghen the stopped lenght or make it looser. No other way. You can't change the length because it's determined by the fret. You can make it looser by bending the neck or some other part of the guitar (which also effects the lenght some).

Maybe you're magic and physical reality doesn't matter to you. Explain how you cast your spell.

I don't use vibrato anyway except with a slide of course, and that a whole different ballgame:)

November 20, 2005 at 09:01 PM · I hit the note so that it is in tune without vibrato (often on a long note, you'll start without vibrato and add it later for expression, which would make this necessary - but I think I do it even if I'm playing with vibrato from the start). I guess this means I probably go above and below the note. But basically, I just make sure I play so it sounds in tune, whether that means I'm going above the note or not. Whether that means I adjust and flatten the note so that the vibrato is in tune, I'm not sure. I don't think so. But it doesn't really matter, so long as it's in tune, right? Just use your ears.

November 21, 2005 at 01:42 AM · Jim,

the fret divides the string. I push forward, towards the bridge, creating more tension in the back part of the string and less tension in the front part. The pitch drops a bit. I was taught to do this on classical guitar by Klondike Steadman, a fine guitarist/teacher in Austin, Tx.

As I said, it's much harder to achieve the affect on a steel string--there's much more resistance. The nylon string is more like a rubber band, and if you think about a rubber band being pulled in the middle the result would be one half stretched tighter and the other more slack. I know this is the opposite of violin vibrato movement, but I swear it works and I'm guessing the fret makes the difference.

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