Stiff vibrato

April 6, 2005 at 07:05 AM · How would you help someone to loosen a very stiff vibrato? And what are other related problems and cures of tension in the left hand?

Replies (11)

April 6, 2005 at 11:59 AM · Hi,

I'm constantly trying to help myself with that ;-)

Things that keep me from succeeding:

  • Trying too hard
  • Using too much pressure
  • Fear of making a mistake

What helps me:

  • Doug Adams' (Hitchkiker's Guide to the Galaxy) famous quote: "There's a certain knack to flying: You have to fall and miss the ground" - how to translate this to violin playing: play like you were really able to execute the technique in question and be surprised by the results.
  • Playing lots of slow, emotive tunes with the best vibrato I can do at the time
  • Pseudo vibrato using any handy hard surface - like the dinner table - to loosen up my finter joints
  • When traveling (as opposed to driving!), making an O with my thumb and each finger one at a time, then wiggle the first joint after the finger tip in and out
  • A stubborn refusal to abandon all hope
  • Watching my progress - it's glacially slow, but measurable

My teacher says that it's a good sign if my fingers slide to a higher pith when doing vibrato exercises - it proves I'm not pressing too much.

Good luck and even more patience, Juergen

April 6, 2005 at 02:50 PM · You should avoid tension like the plague, last week I was really tense when practicing for some reason, because I was trying harder than usual. My playing improved to a point where I could play difficult music with ease, but I've wrecked my arms and wrists in the process! On both hands! After cutting down to an hour or so a day of light routines, I havent had any sensations of pain, just slight aching. But the extra effort I was putting in caused the tension, and if you practice a lot while tense then this type of injury is one of the problems. Breathing exercices help with relaxation, id like to hear other people's theories on avoiding tension also.


April 7, 2005 at 02:28 PM · Greetings. I think the topic of 'tension' is a good one. But on the contrary, rather than 'avoiding' it, I think it's best to give your brain as much info. as possible, in terms of the bodily sensations, both good, bad and ugly. This was a tool I learned from reading 'The Inner Game of Tennis'by Timothy Galway many years ago, at a point when my playing was riddled by tension/anxiety. It actually involves a process of observing the 'problems' with the realization, that if you give your brain/kinesthetic intelligence enough info. it can actually correct itself naturally. This is actually the process by which we've learned many complex movements, including walking, as a young child. Fortunately we were too young to judge ourselves in the process, which is why we could readily master walking and other body movements, that actually require a tremendous amount of balance/skill and coordinated tension/release movements.

April 7, 2005 at 02:35 PM · Does anyone have exercises they can suggest to improve flexibility both of the wrist vibrato and of the arm vibrato?

April 7, 2005 at 02:45 PM · In regards to left hand tension:

I've seen my current teacher, many times, prescribe a week or two of "whistle" practice. This means lightly placing your fingers on the string, NO pushing down allowed! Of course, if you don't push the string down to meet the fingerboard, you don't produce those lovely violin sounds, but rather harmonics, fluff, and white noise. When you add the "pressure" or finger weight back to the equation you will find you need far less, and therefore need far less tension to support the violin under all that weight. If I find my hand getting tense and tired even 20 or 30 minutes of whislte-practice takes care of the problem. If you can't slide a piece of paper under your finger between the string and the fingerboard when you play "normally," then you are pushing the string down too hard. Weird, eh? I didn't beleive it at first, but it's true... try it! Less tension and lighter fingers equals more relaxed vibrato.

'Erie (-:

April 7, 2005 at 05:38 PM · I dunno what type of vibrato you are using, but if you are using hand vibrato, do some controlled trill exercises.

April 7, 2005 at 05:39 PM · Hi,

Alice, two of the best excercises that I know are silent and related to the stuff Erie mentions. (i.e. no bow!!!)

For wrist: Go to 4th position and place the hand against the body of the violin. Using only the wrist, glide the finger touching the string with no pressure up and down. Do that with all four fingers on all four strings (take about 1 minute - 3 times a day for two weeks; third with the finger on the string but using finger weight, not pressure).

Arm: do the same thing of gliding on top of the string. First two weeks, do that 3 times a day using only the arm and glide each finger from first position until you "hit" the body of the violin, then back down. Then, third week, gliding only above first position lightly.

For finger: in any position really, place the finger on the string and let fall into the fingerboard and back up to being on top of the string. Works wonders.

Hope that helps!


April 7, 2005 at 11:00 PM · Can anyone help me on this one:

I have got my violin so that I touch the fingerboard with marginal pressure (I barely even use my thumb). The problem with that is vibrato, in order to do it I have to press down a bit more, and then the chinrest and neck hurts. If I try using my thumb to support the violin then my vibrato is the stiffness that is being described.

April 8, 2005 at 02:40 AM · I spent months 'whistling' last year in the name of combatting tension. However, once I returned to proper playing I found I couldn't maintain this light touch if I wanted a good sound and a strong vibrato - my finger just wobbled off-pitch immediately, and my teacher at the time was unable to suggest a solution to the problem.

Back to the initial question, yes Alice, there are plenty of exercises to loosen up your vibrato. First of all, stop using vibrato in your playing; the only way to replace one technique with another is to abandon the old one *first*, otherwise it's like plastering over a leak. Once the old vibrato's of the way, you can begin to replace it.

Firstly - and crucially - the Rivarde exercise and variations on it. I like these ones, which I think of as sit-ups for the fingers: Place all fingers lightly on the A string in first position. 1) Pull up vertically with the finger joints, onto your fingertips. Make sure you always keep the wrist aligned. Then relax the fingers completely, dropping the hand/arm down towards the floor (your fingers should flatten against the fingerboard as you do this). Pull up, drop down etc. 2) Pull up onto tips, then drop *back* towards the nut, flattening your fingers back at an angle. Repeat. Do these exercises on all strings, ensuring the action is initiated by the *fingers*, not the wrist, elbow or anything else. Five minutes every day, using a mirror to make sure it all looks good.

Secondly: I personally like the knocking-on-the-wall one, but you might prefer to skip it. I find it useful for speed control and moving the hand from the wrist. Holding your left arm in violin position, minus the violin, stand with your forearm against the wall, elbow-to-knuckles. Keeping your hand relaxed, knock gently against the wall with your knuckles, operating from the wrist. Use a metronome to increase your speed, always aiming to stay relaxed and maintaining an even rhythm.

Thirdly, and also crucially, all the vibrato exercises in Simon Fischer's Basics: you really can't go wrong with these. My favourites are the exercise where you twist yourself into a bizarre position with your hand around fifth position, your left elbow way over to the right and your hand bridging the fingerboard to tap on the left side of the violin's body. In your case Alice, remember to operate from the wrist. It sounds utterly ridiculous, and you'll look like an idiot doing it, but it's amazing. I taught all these exercises on my teaching diploma video, and we got to this last one. My teenage student nearly gave herself cramp and hissed, 'Did *you* invent this??'

Also the rapid shifting one where you gradually decrease the span of the shift as you increase the pressure, and wind up vibrating around third position. Don't bother following his notated version; just use it as a rough guide. What's important is the action... and if you're after a wrist vibrato, remember to let the wrist take over from the arm when you arrive at a secure point. Once you've got the hang of this, practice oscillating using one finger at a time in third position (use finger 2 or 3 first, followed by 1st, then 4th). Use a metronome on slow and practice one back/forth movements per beat, then two, then three, then four etc. As with the wall, aim to maintain a regular rhythm while staying relaxed.

Omg, I've written a novel... hope these suggestions are helpful.

April 8, 2005 at 11:09 AM · Hi,

Sue: That was a prize winning novel! Great!


April 9, 2005 at 08:47 AM · yes sue thankyou!!! very articulate responses... and the ones on shifting great also

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