Moving from an arm vibrato to a wrist vibrato

January 6, 2018, 9:32 PM · I really would like to develop a nice wrist vibrato, but I'm finding it quite difficult to do so. I have a good arm vibrato, but every time I try do a wrist vibrato I get unwanted forearm movement. I've tried everything to correct it. I don't think the issue is tension unless it's some deeply hidden subconscious tension that I haven't considered. It almost feels as though the muscle needed to do the wrist vibrato might be too weak and that is what's causing this unwanted wagging of the forearm. This problem is what caused me to switch to an arm vibrato in the first place, but now I've come to the realization that I need to develop a good wrist vibrato to get that very elastic, springy vibrato. Should I revert back to bracing my palm against the ribs of the violin and doing the motion back and forth with the metronome? I had hoped all this time with an arm vibrato would make it easier for wrist vibrato, but if going back to the basics is what it takes I guess I'll have to do it. Any tips or insight is appreciated!

Replies (10)

January 7, 2018, 3:52 AM · May I quote from myself...

Learning vibrato.

To start with, I teach a forearm movement, but with a flexible wrist and fingers: the elbow leads the wrist which leads the knuckles which lead the fingertips. Visually, the effect is rather like an underwater plant, waving to and fro in a gentle current. As the motion speeds up, the hand vibrates a little more than the forearm, but something is still happening in the elbow. The fingers stay slightly passive, but tonic enough not to slip.

My "underwater plant" motion is mainly to find that subtle synthesis of tonus and flexibilty. For a faster, maybe narrower vibrato, my "plant" get a little stiffer, but only just enough.

I have never practiced a "finger" vibrato as such, so I am still learning! But in the highest postions, when the whole hand is leaning over the violin's shoulder, my vibrato is more vertcal than along-the-string; up there it has to be narrower anyway.

Depending on the student, the weather etc, I find I can choose between an "analytical approach", mastering individual elemets separately before combining them; and progressvely refining global movements in a "combo" (Gestalt?) approach.

I hasten to add that my wave-motions are done without the bow to begin with!

I have had a few students who have found a beautiful vibrato on their own: my approach tries to give the others this possibility.

I'll try to describe briefly what I do:
- Pressure Zero. One finger on each string; minimal or no contact between the base of the index and the neck; no pressure; a gentle back & forth shifting/sliding motion.
- Pressure No1. Slight finger pressue with equally slight thumb counter-pressure; the strings descend halfway to the fingerboard. .
- Pressure No2, a little more pressure; the strings arrive on the fingerboard, the fingertips drag more on the strings; as the forearm approaches, the hand leans back and the finger curl; as the forearm recedes, the hand leans forewards and the fingers stretch.
- Pressure No 3, only just enough to stop the fingertips sliding; the complex motions of Pressure No2 have become a combined arm & hand vibrato, with equal pressure from all 4 flexible fingers.
The only risk is increasing the finger pressure (and thumb counter-pressure) to Nos 4,5,6 etc without realising.

Excess tension, e.g. from the middle finger, or from the thumb, will block the wrist and stiffen the whole process.

It usually works!
Hope this is comprehensible...

Concerning the "patting head & rubbing tummy" syndrome I have found that on long bowed note, the student's right arm wants to join in the vibrato when both elbows have a similar opening (usually mid-bow). This is normal: when we hold something in both hands, (e.g. a tray of drinks) they work in perfect sychronisation.
I try a de-sync exercise: a quick flapping motion in one hand, plus a long, slow arc in the other arm, so slow, that one can keep an eye on both sides at once.

Sorry it's so long, but it works!

January 7, 2018, 4:13 AM · Try in banjo position.
January 7, 2018, 5:28 AM · I should have thought that on the banjo, the fingers are aligned perpendicular to the strings (as on the'cello or the guitar)?
On the violin they are much more diagonal to the strings, and the joint and muscle motions are rather different.
January 7, 2018, 8:12 AM · What does your teacher think (that's if you have one)? My thinking is that whatever vibrato you use should suit the music well. It doesn't specifically have to be an arm vibrato, wrist vibrato, etc. It could even be a combo vibrato.
January 7, 2018, 10:05 PM · The concertmaster of our chamber orchestra has the most amazing vibrato I have ever heard - and in concerts over the past (almost) 70 years I have seen and heard some of the greatest violinists (and of course, I have beaucoup recordings of almost everyone). Today, when she was performing a viola concerto with us I got a chance (since I was sitting in the viola section looking at her straight-on) to really watch her. Although she basically uses a wrist vibrato, there is also some forearm motion. This may account for the amazing sound her vibrato gives her - possibly a kind of compound-pendulum effect that allows her to engage more overtones. Previously I was not sure she also had any forearm motion - but she does, at least at times.
Edited: January 7, 2018, 10:27 PM · That's exactly what my vibrato's like. Works very well.
January 7, 2018, 11:15 PM · Yea, I guess I shouldn't try to fix what isn't broken. Now that I think about it, a lot of the recordings of the masters has them wearing long sleeved tuxedos, so it's nearly impossible to see what their forearm is doing.
January 8, 2018, 2:31 AM · The advantage of the "wave" exercise I describe above is that nothing is ever stiff or tight or restrained; wide motions "home in" on the notes, with just sufficient muscle-tone. The result often looks like a hand vibrato, but there is a flexibility which often goes right back to the shoulder-blades.
January 8, 2018, 8:08 AM · There is a U-toob video of Arthur Grumiaux playing the Mendelssohn concerto.
In the first movement, his forearm and hand vibrate together: an arm vibrato?
In the second, slow movement, his forearm vibrates less than his hand: a hand vibrato?
January 8, 2018, 8:49 AM · "I have a good arm vibrato"

Then don't screw with it.

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