Learning Vibrato

August 11, 2006 at 06:33 AM · When is a good time to start learning vibrato??

Replies (17)

August 11, 2006 at 12:36 PM · i don't know but i started after playing for two weeks.

I think that if you take lessons your teacher would want you to get the basics right first to make the vibrato come more easily but it takes a while to learn the violin anyway so i don't see why you shouldn't start practicing vibrato from the begining. I have a different method in learning the violin ofcourse since i don't have a teacher.

Even if you don't practice vibrato with your teacher yet, you can play with vibrato at home instead. Just put on a cd you like and improvise along with it!

I have played the violin for ten months now and always used vibrato.

I believe there are 3 types of vibrato.. first i learnd vibrato using only my fingers then i learnded to use the wrist as well and then the arm.. i guess that after a while i'll discover something else about the vibrato but this is what i know so far. Good luck!

August 11, 2006 at 04:47 PM · I tend to be somewhat conservative, wanting to make sure that basics are well in hand before progressing to somewhat more advanced techniques. So take my comments in that light:

. it depends on the student and how well the basics are known -- left and right hand positions, good control of the bow, etc. Some students may be ready in a year, others not till (perhaps much) later. Adding vibrato instruction to someone that doesn't yet have the basics will add another distraction, risking proper focus in the fundamentals.

. in particular, a student should demonstrate good intonation _without_ vibrato before starting to do vibrato. Vibrato should be used to accent and color the sound, not correct bad finger placement. Though it's handy for this also to correct the occasional placement error, the person shouldn't become dependent on it. Again, the time this happens will vary from player to player.

. the student must _want_ to learn vibrato. It can be tricky to learn and asking someone to do so before they express the desire can just lead to frustration with little apparent benefit from the student's point of view.

August 11, 2006 at 09:15 PM · This is a question that I've always pondered, since I can't remember clearly how I learned.

I think I had been playing for 2 years or so, and I remember being frustrated at not knowing the reason for this new "wiggling". In Suzuki we learned by putting a tissue over the fingerboard and literally sliding the finger back and forth. I ended up with a total arm vibrato, go figure!

May 24, 2010 at 03:08 AM ·

I'm Hijacking this ancient thread beacuase i have a similar dilemma...

My strory is this, i've been taking violin lessons for about 5 months now and in yesterday's class my teacher informed me that she will be introducing Vibrato in next week's lesson and i have been scared spitless ever since ... maybe it's because i've been breezing through my lessons from day one, picking up everthying she's taught me with little effort, and this might be my first major hurdle.My teacher's really happy with my left and right hand techniques so far but i'm afraid that she might be over estimating my talents because she's comparing me to the rest of her adult students(who happen to be much older than me w/ families and other commitments demanding their time and can't put in as much practice as i do). 

My question to the rest of you is this, do you think(as i do) that's it's too soon for me to tackle vibrato? I know i'm going to find it challenging because my right hand seems to be very fond of the vibrato and simply refuses to just bow and leave the vibrating to the left hand. Should i politely ask her to shelve the vibrato until i'm mentally ready( am i ever gonna be ready?!!!! ) or should i just give it the old college try?

P.S: i'd like to hear tips and tricks that helped you master the vibarto, also links to intructional videos will be appreciated. If any of this has already been discussed on v.com kindly just post a link here.


May 24, 2010 at 05:45 AM ·

 Hi, I really don't know 'when' it is a good time to learn vibrato but I have not started on it until 3 YEARS after I've started lessons! and reaching ABRSM grade 5 level.....

but I think one should not really started until intonation is overall well centred, I am not talking about spotless all the time as that will take many many years to achieve but 'overall' ok.  Then don't know what else should be in place, but I am just like you very interested in finding out :)

May 24, 2010 at 05:47 AM ·

 sorry, I should also add: I had NO desire to learn vibrato until 3 years after starting lessons, until then I was VERY HAPPY to avoid it, I then started developing a natural interest/wish at that stage....

May 24, 2010 at 07:14 AM ·

Vibrato isn't a scary thing, at all! I've been playing for a little less than two years, and I sort of  learned vibrato a few months ago. I can manage a decent wrist vibrato, which I think enhances my playing somewhat. If you can't do it at first, don't worry, it's quite tricky to do for some people and comes easily to others.

May 24, 2010 at 11:22 AM ·

 I find that the average student ,depending on age ,can learn vibrato at a year 1/2 .The two basic movements ,finger bends and hand shifting can be taught to students much earlier to help loosen the hand.

May 24, 2010 at 12:32 PM ·

There are a number of exercises for the left hand that you can do w/o bowing that lead to vibrato production, and as Charles points out, help keep the hand flexible. I prefer to teach my students to play harmonics, shifting/gliding to & from 1st position fingers to harmonics (also gradually using each finger for the harmonic), and to play acceptably in 3rd position before  adding vibrato, but I don't think it is necessarily wrong to learn vibrato ahead of those skills. One trick to get your bow arm to not do a mirror-motion tremble is to start the bow first, with several long smooth strokes, then add your vibrato motion.  Sue

May 24, 2010 at 02:10 PM ·

I only start students when they have reached 3rd position. For one thing, students who have not reached 3rd position have many other problems to work out. Also, in 3rd position, vibrato can be practiced rhythmically with hand contact against the violin.

People should not be intimidated by vibrato. After all, it's the heart and soul of one's sound. Without a decent vibrato, one has virtually no chance of advancing as a string player. However, a poor or incorrect vibrato is VERY difficult to change. I have students come to me that have acquired a "grab-and-shake" tension vibrato, or a vibrato motion that runs perpendicular to the strings, or a deeply ingrained wrist vibrato when they clearly should be using an arm vibrato. 

There is NO rush to learn vibrato, and it must be done correctly.

May 24, 2010 at 03:56 PM ·

Thank you all for your replies... a couple of the posts mentioned being able to play third position before trying vibarto, i've been doing that for weeks now. I guess my teacher is the only one who can really judge my capabilities...and she thinks i'm  ready so i'm going to give it a try.

Sue, thanks for the tip about starting the bowing first before i start to vibarto.

May 24, 2010 at 04:48 PM ·

My teacher started me on vibrato exercises around 3 months into my violin learning. Earlier ones are exercises off the violin that helped me loosen my wrist and finger joints, or get a feel of the motion. One of them, which I found most helpful, is described in this thread. As for the exercises on violin, I did start in 3rd position, which included things like polishing strings with a tissue, and rolling a ball up and down between D & A strings with no arm movement (wrist resting on the violin body), etc., then the actual vibrato in third position, then bowing with vibrato, and finally in 1st position. I found the chapter about vibrato in Simon Fischer's Basics extremely helpful. My teacher also encouraged me to try both the hand and arm vibratos.  It took 6 months before she asked me to incorporate vibrato into my playing and start practicing vibrato with scales.  So, don't be too anxious about learning vibrato. Just because she will start teaching you vibrato doesn't mean you have to get it right away, or you get to use it any time soon. ;)

BTW, here is another old thread about when to introduce vibrato.

May 24, 2010 at 05:17 PM ·

I appreciate this thread!  I don't teach vibrato particularly early, though I do often get the basics going around the same time as third position and tend to teach it independently of third position, reasonably good results so far.  Usually when I sense that the student wants it, and that it will either fit naturally or that working on it will actually help their hand/arm technique.  But I have had several "pushy parents" over the years (mostly musicians) who really were like "where's the vibrato, where's the vibrato" and it is nice to hear from some of you with more experience that it really is not the end of the world if not all my second and third year students are there yet!.... :)

May 24, 2010 at 05:29 PM ·

Vibrato reminds me of a mile stone moment. 1st learning to; ride a bike, drive a car, cook a meal on your own for others, swim.....

May 24, 2010 at 10:17 PM ·

Scott: "People should not be intimidated by vibrato. After all, it's the heart and soul of one's sound. Without a decent vibrato, one has virtually no chance of advancing as a string player."

This is one of the most ridiculous and self contradictory statements I've ever read.

Of course I was totally intimidated.  If I couldn't get a vibrato, I couldn't have a heart or a soul.

In reality, I think vibrato at its most basic is just another movement technique.  For those learning it - get this crap about "heart and soul" out of your head immediately.  It will not promote or encourage your vibrato to develop.  It will deter and frustrate and scare you.

Listen to your teachers and do what they say for as long as they are telling you, and have faith that the action can be learned.  And then, just as your bowing gradually develops its sound, so will your vibrato gradually add the colour and life to the music that you want it to.

Buri's advice helped me muchly: if I could figure out how to lift a cup and drink from it, I could figure out how to do vibrato [paraphrasing, but the thread's in here somewhere".

I avoided learning vibrato for three years, until my teacher stood her ground.  And then, with absolutely daily practise, it only took me ...... 7 months!  to get the basic action correct and in a very simple piece of music.  Nothing else I have attempted has been this hard.  I was learning the Handel sonatas, for cripes sake, I knew enough to be able to learn it, and it was so hard. Even now, I have to do the polishing exercise every few weeks or so. It was an excellent thing to have done, because the tension in my left arm decreased, and my intonation improved, so if your teacher thinks you are ready, then listen and do exactly what is instructed.  My teacher often says that she needed to approach vibrato very differently for me, one day I'll ask her what she means by that.

May 25, 2010 at 02:18 AM ·

 Thats not fair Sharelle, Scott doesn't deserve that.I wouldn't say that vibrato is the heart and soul of ones sound. You don't require vibrato to make good  music, but vibrato ,like any other technique, helps bring out ones heart and soul.

May 25, 2010 at 03:55 AM ·

Hi sh sa,

It sounds like you might benefit from focussing on larger motions in your arm than smaller motions at your wrist. There are three traditional approaches to learning vibrato: 

1. Focus on curling and flattening the finger along (as parallel to the string as possible) the string.

2. Focus on moving (throwing) the hand away from you and letting it spring back. When you throw the hand away, the finger releases to the surface of the string and is flattened by the motion of the hand. As the hand springs back to its start position the finger places on its pitch again. Some teachers will ask you to do this motion evenly and rhythmically, others will focus on throwing it back quickly, in pulses (e.g. 1 throw back = 1 pulse; counting in four, do 1 pulse per beat; 2 pulses per beat, 3 etc. until you have as many pulses as you can fit into each beat; presto! you've got a vibrato)

3. Focus on moving the whole arm as in a big shift. E.g. shift smoothly and evenly from 1st to 3rd position on 2nd finger: from C to E. Make sure you don't actually spend any time on either note, in other words you should be continuously moving up and down between notes, playing glissandi. Your finger pressure will be light enough to slide smoothly, with just enough friction to allow the finger to curl on the way up and flatten on the way down. Shift smoothly, and continuously over a count of 4, then 2, then 1, then 1/2 beat (eighth notes). Then gradually make the interval smaller and smaller; if you want you can just decrease by semitones: C to E, C to D#, C to D, C to C#, vibrate on C. Keep your wrist soft, i.e. as you shift up, your finger will drag and be curled; to help your finger curl, release the wrist so that it caves in slightly (if will help if you allow your thumb to release at its base knuckle as well); as you shift down, let your wrist lead ever so slightly as your finger flattens.

Based on your comment about the response in your bow arm, it might help to try 3. first as it's exactly the same motion as a detache, except that your hand is flipped on its back.

The last type of vibrato which isn't mentioned much is another pulsing motion which is kind of like trilling without lifting your finger. I think some may call it an impulse vibrato. This is perhaps the easiest way to speed up your vibrato (whereas a loose arm motion is the best way to slow it down.) In this approach, rather than starting by flattening the finger (whether actively with the finger or passively from the wrist or arm,) all you do at first is depress and release the string. Do this rhythmically at first (e.g. in quarter pulses, eighth, triplet eighth, sixteenth, etc.; also short-long/long-short rhythms), and then like a trill (you can also start with a trill then gradually lift the finger less and less until you don't leave the string at all.) If you're having difficulty trilling, it might help to think of pulsing the thumb as well -- but the proper thumb motion is not in it's opposable motion; rather let it pivot away from you toward the scroll as you depress the finger. This will result in a kind of twisting motion as if you're turning a deadbolt or your tuning with your peg. This pulsing motion is also a good exercise for getting a feel for proper pressure (you need to be able to release your fingers to the surface at will for shifting.) Also, note that bending of the pitch happens on the release of the finger in every approach -- vibrato should never make your hand clamp, which is why studying it is often the best way to relax a tight left hand. Once you're comfortable with pulsing on the spot, release your wrist/arm away from you as you release the finger to the surface to widen your vibrato. If you have difficulty controlling the pressure of your finger, practice it very slowly: place lightly on the surface of the string and depress the string slowly and continuously over 4 counts and release over 4 counts.

Obviously many combinations of the above are possible, but it might help to go with the approach that works for you, play to your strengths, as you experiment with the others. Any kind of coordination problem benefits from stop motion work; e.g. once you've got a few wiggles down in your vibrato, even one wiggle, play it with a staccato bowing; divide your bow into 1/4s and play one (set of) wiggle(s) for every 1/4 bow (4 down bows, 4 up bows): time the wiggle with the 1/4 bow staccato; stop; next wiggle + 1/4; stop, etc. Then play half bow with 2 wiggles; stop; play half bow + 2 wiggles. Next day (week) divide the bow into 1/8s. It may be frustrating at first if the timing doesn't come right away, but the stopping gives time to reset and have another go in an organized fashion -- at first you can stop for as long as you want, just count yourself into the next timed event. Then stop for multiples of the beat and gradually eliminate the rests. All you're really doing is reorganizing your brain maps a little bit at a time. But it's important to have clear impulses and send clear instructions to your brain.




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