Vibrato Help!

December 20, 2004 at 06:13 PM · I'm so frustrated right now! I am 13 and I have been playing for 6 years. I'm at the level of Wieniawski concerto #2. But the sad part is I still can't really do vibrato well.

I have tried a variety of methods. I used the book "Viva Vibrato" and I have also tried doing vibrato using a metronome. But it's still not fast enough or strong enough. It's especially hard on the pinky finger, because my pinky is weaker than the other fingers.

Maybe it's because I don't relax enough. How do I get my hand to relax? How do I make my vibrato faster? My teacher sometimes says that he can't even tell that I'm doing vibrato. Do you have any suggestions?

Replies (17)

December 20, 2004 at 06:46 PM · hmm, i'd try this. Practice vibrato using so little left hand vibrato that the notes dont even form. Keeping your whole arm totally relaxed and breathing do slow motion vibrato and gradually speed it up. the left hand pressure is very important ot give a brilliant vibrato. Also you dont do a nice fast vibrato by tensing, that will give it that tight laser gun sound.

December 20, 2004 at 06:46 PM · Hi Grace:

Not to sound offensive, but... a good teacher helps you to learn things and analyzes what problem is occurring and teaches you how to overcome it. That said...

Vibrato is the act of hitting a pitch and going under the pitch and coming back to it. If you drew a sine wave, the top of all the waves would be the pitch. So it becomes like a "knocking" sound on the pitch. Careful of vibrato that goes above and below the pitch because you will just sound out of tune and somewhat like you've been plugged into an electric socket. ;-)

So, how to do that. If you can get a copy of Shirley Givens' "Adventures in Violinland" Book 2C (carried by SHAR) there is a beginning guide to learning vibrato that is basically Galamian technique written for kids. Though it will seem elementary, it will go through several important steps that you may not have yet accomplished.

If that is easy for you, or has no new information, you could take it up a level. I generally practice vibrato in IVth position just because it is an easy conformation of my hand to the fiddle. Also the ribs help my wrist to stay stable. (By the way, I should mention that what I am describing is technique for wrist vibrato - I don't do arm vibrato and therefore, don't teach it.)

I use vibrato to practice correct arm position: thumb aligned with second finger, wrist straight, fingers on pads and centered.

Now, go back to the sine wave illustration. If you draw that out for yourself on a paper you will have an easier time understanding my next description.

First, you just want to be able to learn this without the metronome, although it is designed to do with the metronome. At the top of each wave is the pitch (count that as a beat), then at the bottom (going slowly, about 1/2 step back) is the bottom part of the roll of your finger - at the bottom-most part, count that as a beat.

First exercise: Vibrato in 2's: Top (1), Bottom (2), Top (1), Bottom (2), etc.

Then 3's: Top (1), Bottom (2), Top (3), Bottom (1), Top (2), Bottom (3), etc.

Then 4's, 6's, and 8's. Be sure to make the roll as smooth and seamless as possible - no jerky movements.

I use this exercise with the metronome and I start around 60 (but in the beginning you can start slower) and work up to about 72. This exercise (which I believe is Galamian's) renders a very even pulsing vibrato. I do it on all strings and all fingers in a scale pattern (that way in the beginning you can use your third finger to strengthen your fourth).

In addition, there is an exercise which I fondly call (to myself) "bouncy fingers" or "fuzz tones." If you do long slow bows it will help you to concentrate on your fingers for this one. Play a note with your finger. Hit the note with a lot of firmness and a good arch in your finger. Then IMMEDIATELY AND AS FAST AS POSSIBLE release your finger to rest on the top of the string to produce a fuzz tone. (Like a harmonic.) Rest there, breathe, let your hand relax, gather concentration to do the next very fast note. Pop off the fingerboard as quickly as you can: what you will hear is the note sounding very short and immediately a fuzz of a pitch. Don't ever leave the string with your finger - you shouldn't pop off the string entirely. The result of this exercise is that your fingers will be supple and relaxed, but move with precision (left hand articulation). You can move your thumb around during the fuzz part to find the most relaxed place for your thumb while holding that particular finger's position.

This exercise is designed for speed, but it is good for vibrato and shifting as well. For vibrato, it will give you the feeling of release that your hand needs to move back and forth. If you clench down, you won't be able to vibrate, and will have trouble with your intonation.

Happy practicing!

Lisa

December 20, 2004 at 11:03 PM · Dear Grace,

I agree with Lisa's advice. For me, I have a couple of questions for you...

1-What kind of vibrato do you have?

2-There seems to be a contradiction between the fact that you say it's slow and that you teacher say he/she cannot hear it. Can you explain?

Thanks and cheers!

December 20, 2004 at 11:28 PM · Greetings,

well if it`s too slow but can`t be heard then that sound slike like of range of motion in the fingertip joint.

Grace, do you have tight fingertip joints or soft? Youc an check by resting the fingertip on the string with no pressur ein 3rd position and collapsing the joint in. Is it easy or difficult?

Cheers,

Buri

December 21, 2004 at 06:12 AM · I've had some good results speeding up my students' vibratos by having them temporarily disregard the speed entirely, and just work at getting the vibrato narrower. However narrow your narrowest vibrato is, try for half the pitch excursion. Then try for half of that! See if you can get a vibrato that is so narrow, you can barely see it, barely hear any pitch excursion and barely feel that you are doing a vibrato. (I call this a micro-vibrato.) The micro-vibrato is a useful sound to have in one's repertory of vibratos...especially in conjunction with a pianissimo, but I mention it in response to your question because it is also often the doorway to a faster vibrato.

December 21, 2004 at 06:36 AM · I would have to agree with Oliver sometimes less is more. Often times a slow vibrato is correlated with a wide vibrato and vice versa. The whole point of vibrato is to vary the pitch ever so slightly. If it becomes too wide and becomes a mask for bad intonation and tone production it defeats its purpose altogether.

December 21, 2004 at 08:21 PM · Thanks for the comments!

Lisa, I will try those exercises. Hopefully, my vibrato will improve. You also said that it's hard to vibrate when you clench down. My violin teacher actually said that I should press my finger down harder on the string. But that makes me tense up.

Christian, I use a wrist vibrato. And when I try to make my vibrato narrow (like in the first note of the wieniawski concerto #2), my teacher says that he can't tell whether I'm doing it or not. So then I try to make it wider, but then he says that it's too slow. Isn't narrow vibrato automatically fast? I'm confused.

He also says that my vibrato is kind of "vertical" and that I should make it more "horizontal". So I'm trying to work on moving my hand sideways faster. But then my entire arm becomes tense. I'll try the exercises that you guys mentioned that will help me relax.

I think that I have soft fingertip joints. Sometimes, unfortunately, when I'm playing a note at the tip of the violin (where the string is higher off the fingerboard) with my third or fourth finger (especially the pinky), the joint collapses. My teacher said that my fingers are weak. But I don't know how to fix that. And I also find it incredibly difficult to do vibrato when I'm high up in the fingerboard (towards the bridge, I mean).

December 21, 2004 at 08:41 PM · i dont know if one or the other is definetely fast or slow but its a lot easier to do a fast narrow vibrato just because of the laws of physics, its a lot less movement. you might explore arm vibrato, i think its good to be able ot use a fusion.

December 21, 2004 at 08:56 PM · Grace,

Just a couple of questions:

Do you consider your instrument hold to be comfortable?

Have you had any problems now or the recent past with holding your violin while playing? (think of anything, even a small thing might be relevent).

-A

December 21, 2004 at 09:09 PM · Well... ya, I think that holding my violin is comfortable. My shoulder rest supports it well. Long time ago, my violin teacher would tell me to hold my violin "flatter" and to open my shoulders more. But I do that now.

December 21, 2004 at 09:33 PM ·

Reading through this thread I get the hunch that you may be dealing with a slightly out of sync hand/finger/arm/instrument position.

What leads me to believe this is your problems with fingers buckling, the little finger in keeping a good pressure on the fingerboard/string and that you may be playing "flatter" than you had been previously -which does necessitate an adjustemt in arm/hand/finger/instrument and body positioning.

The finger joints really only need to produce a little strength to prevent sideways movement. What they really do is transfer the power from the arm, wrist and hand through to the string. With proper positioning, this should not be difficult. I'm inclined to believe that there is someting in your instrument hold that is off enough to not allow this natural transistion of energy. The hold may also be interfering with the freedom you would need to execute a range of vibrato technique, which amplifies the problem.

December 21, 2004 at 10:54 PM · Greetings,

I agree with Andrew.

Grace:

>Lisa, I will try those exercises. Hopefully, my vibrato will improve.

In this kind of situation it is actually sometimes better to stop doing vibrato all together for a while and then work out how to introduce somehting dfferent from what you were doing, not juts physically but psycholgicaly. Unfortunately this is easier said than done unless it is somethign an individual teahcer feels strongly about. However, as a kind of compromise you might consider the follow approach.

Assume that your practice is divide dinto technical and musical work, roughly speaking (not my favorite division;)) During your technical work which -will- include slow expressive passages, do not use any vibrato watsoever. Make sure you can play everything with the absolute abilty not to vibrat. This will automatically improve your technique as you have to work on very precise intonattion , bow division and so forth. Make a ratehr small percentage of your practice time performance, running through longer chunks. During this time reintroduce vibratoa a musical device to supplement the non-vibrato work. Since you have already done the most importnat work (intonation, shifting, bow speed and pressure, dynamics and phrasing ) without vibrato you should be a litlte freer to experiment on your vibrato in purely musical terms.

>You also said that it's hard to vibrate when you clench down. My violin teacher actually said that I should press my finger down harder on the string. But that makes me tense up.

Greater finger pressure does increase speed of vibrato but if it makes you tense then don"t do it.

>Christian, I use a wrist vibrato.

I have a feeling it might help to work a litlte on arm vibrato.

And when I try to make my vibrato narrow (like in the first note of the wieniawski concerto #2), my teacher says that he can't tell whether I'm doing it or not. So then I try to make it wider, but then he says that it's too slow. Isn't narrow vibrato automatically fast? I'm confused.

No, vibrato can be any combination of width and speed. Narrow/fast is a default setting but you have to be able to do anythign with it.

>He also says that my vibrato is kind of "vertical" and that I should make it more "horizontal". So I'm trying to work on moving my hand sideways faster.

Aha! Look at your wording. The hand doesn"t move sideways, but flaps backwards and forwards. I think you need to go back tothe sliding exercises usually refrred to as "polishing the string' to help you reconceptualize what you are doing.

>But then my entire arm becomes tense. I'll try the exercises that you guys mentioned that will help me relax.

It might be the the isnide of your left upper arm is coming too close or actually touching your body.

I think that I have soft fingertip joints. Sometimes, unfortunately, when I'm playing a note at the tip of the violin (where the string is higher off the fingerboard) with my third or fourth finger (especially the pinky), the joint collapses. My teacher said that my fingers are weak. But I don't know how to fix that.

Weak fingers are actually often a manifestation of not using the base joints or tension rather than a weakness per se.

Violin playing is not about strength but rather neuromuscular coordiantion. So, what you need is mental work. The Galamian scales are one example but also try the first Kreutzer trill etude. This oen etude is a lifetiems work...

>And I also find it incredibly difficult to do vibrato when I'm high up in the fingerboard (towards the bridge, I mean).

Hey...so does everyone else!

I think it would really helpyou to get a copy of Basics and take your own vibrtao to pieces andfind out which exercises work for you. It won"t dela with the kind of problems Andrew is talking about but it sure as hell helps.

Cheers,

Buri

December 22, 2004 at 02:23 AM · its useful espeecially for fourth finger vibrato or maybe 3rd finger way up high to actually not have the pad of the finger totally rooted on the fingerboard but to let it "slide" a little. Careful how you use that, its a double edged sword.

December 22, 2004 at 04:29 PM · Grace:

folks are probably correct when they say that this is an indigenous problem to your position, but since you probably won't change all that with this teacher you have now, here are some more suggestions:

Go read the post I just wrote in the shifting thread. That hanging idea will help you. There is a difference on violin between pressure and WEIGHT. You are probably clenching trying to achieve what your teacher said about pressing down hard when you do vibrato. My finger is very, very firm on the string also, but I am not PRESSING. My arm is very heavy and PULLING down. My finger would slide off if it weren't in a strong arch like I wrote in the other post. This is the difference between relaxation and tension.

I agree that you shouldn't be making a sideways motion at all! The motion should always be from scroll to bridge direction, never from side to side.

And I agree, to a degree, with Buri - that stopping vibrato practice and concentrating on slow, tonal practice for intonation and bow would be good. But I would have a tendency to say, do what he described and the vibrato exercise also, just as an exercise - not in the context of your music.

I also disagree with all the advice on narrower, faster vibrato that you've gotten in this thread. First of all, if you listen to singers, you will rarely hear a narrow, fast vibrato. The norm is a slower, fuller vibrato (not completely slow and wide, so everyone doesn't have to jump on this...). This helps to make the resonance more relaxed. BUT that said, you can increase the speed and narrowness of your vibrato with the exercise I gave as you increase the number of pulsations: 6, then 8, then free and the tempo (from 60 to 72 and even faster if you would like). That way, you are practicing a consistent, even, controlled vibrato at a number of speeds that you can use in different musical situations.

Let me also be a little more specific about the exercise. While your beginning vibrato practice should be slow and the movement should cover a full half step of motion, that is not the end result. You need that in the beginning though to learn the rocking motion on your finger pad and to learn TO MOVE YOUR WRIST and not your finger! Very important. Right now, I'm guessing that you are not getting a result because you are trying to wiggle your finger (just a guess). As you increase the tempo of the roll, you will narrow and focus that roll more close to the pitch. When I vibrate, my finger is very centered on the note and there is very little motion "around" that note - BUT the motion comes from my wrist and hand and not my finger. The finger (arched) is moved by the hand, just as the hand is moved by the elbow... etc. The goal of vibrato is to achieve that rhythmic pulsing. So, again, whatever helps you to achieve that works for you. (I tell my students they can do whatever they want if it works. I also tell them that what I teach will cause them to do what they want in a shorter, more efficient time frame! LOL Their choice.)

I really would recommend that you order Book 2C of Violinland. It is a very good step by step beginning vibrato book that will really cement the ideas in your mind. Do every page as if you are a beginner and see if it helps. For the time being, don't worry about your vibrato in the Wieniawski, just worry about being able to do a successful vibrato.

Lisa

December 22, 2004 at 05:22 PM · I can't agree with you on that Lisa. First of all there's a very practical reason we do not want to use a vibrato that gets too wide and this mainly has to do with what vibrato can do to pitch. Vibrato can become a mask for the actual note if applied incorrectly and sound simply out of tune. Listen to Nathan Milstein for example he had a true understanding about center of pitch and not hiding behind the vibrato.

Lisa, out of curiosity which singers might you be referring to? I know many great operatic singers that don't cover intonation (i.e. Galli Curci, Caruso, Boerling, McCormack, Wunderlich, and many other singers) by using a vibrato the size of Texas which many singers tend to do. Is it correct just because a majority of singers use a wobble instead of a vibrato to hold them up as genuine examples of what we should emulate as string players? It sometimes gets so bad with some singers when it comes to vibrato you cannot even tell which note they are singing :) This I think is very unmusical and simply out of tune, or is there another term for it?! I think it is important to remember vibrato is simply an ornament and a single element out of the many to create a full rich sound.

December 22, 2004 at 06:13 PM · I actually think that I might have been just trying to wiggle my finger, instead of my wrist during the slow exercises!

December 22, 2004 at 06:35 PM · i doubt she's advocating a massive nauseating vibrato, but many of the really great players had the ability to do a large full vibrato. I think the ability to do both is essential, but once you really understand how to properly do one of them the others will be very easily.

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