Can this be called vibrato?

April 27, 2018, 5:18 AM · Yesterday, I was fooling around with my violin by making weird sounds when I decided to hear what kind of sound I would get if I pressed my finger down and pulled it back up again and again very quickly. It sounded somewhat like vibrato. Can this be called vibrato as it is making sounds similar to it? Perhaps even the same but my bad intonation is to blame? Please try it on your own violins and tell me if it counts.

Replies (10)

Edited: April 27, 2018, 5:33 AM · Violetta, that sounds more like a trill than vibrato, if I am understanding your description properly.
April 27, 2018, 6:08 AM · In its most general definition, vibrato is a rapid, continuous and relatively small variation of the frequency of a note. This can be accomplished by varying the pressure of the finger on a string by moving the finger up and down without letting it loose contact with the string.

You can find videos on youtube of Heifetz using this technique to execute extremely rapid and narrow vibrato.

In certain musical contexts, "bending" the string by pulling it rapidly back and forth sideways, a common technique with guitarists, creates a very pleasing adornment.

The typical way of executing vibrato, striking the note and rolling the finger back towards the nut to decrease the frequency then rolling forward to the original note, has technical and musical advantages.

It allows for a large variation of the frequency while still maintaining a continuous variation if frequency, unlike a trill, where the effect is a series of rapidly changing but distinct notes.

Playing chords with vibrato seem to sound more pleasing when rolling the fingers back to lower the frequency.

You can get an asymmetric variation in the frequency which the human ear seems very sensitive to, thus increasing the "projection" of the music into a large space. I think this is one of the major reasons for using continuous vibrato when performing before a large audience.

It is possible to use the rapid finger lift method to get most of these benefits except a wide vibrato.

Edited: April 28, 2018, 8:35 AM · Violetta, what you are talking about is what might be called "loudness vibrato," which is typical of lower cost synthesizers (keyboards). The vibratos of "real instruments? and especially the bowed string instruments are caused by pitch variation and might be called "pitch vibrato." A proper vibrato will have sinusoidally varying frequencies of about 1/5 to 1/4 of a second and a pitch variation of about 1/6 of a semitone (i.e., about 1/72 of an octave)**. Wider vibratos, as frequently produced by singers (especially aging ones) are pretty unbearable )at least to me).

The important things about vibrato are not the "wa-wa-wa" change in sound that is is obvious if that is what you are looking for bit rather:

1. The increase in sound volume and projection listening ears hear because of the additional cochlea that are activated by the rapid pitch changes
2. The remarkable way that hearing focusses on the "right pitch" among the spread of frequencies created
3. The increased uniformity of heard sound volume that occurs when vibrato is used, even though the amplitude of the instrument's un-vibrated sound would not be that uniform.

Much of this is due to the way vibrato activates overtone frequencies of all fundamental pitches within the vibrated range. Experienced players will use vibrato in such a way to achieve (or attempt to achieve) "their sound" on any instrument they play (sometimes it is not possible).

I suggest watching the new movie "ITZHAK" to watch a great vibrating hand up close - and see and hear it playing some different violins. If you can't get to a theater playing it, I read it will be broadcast by PBS-American Experience later this year. (I just wish they had shown more of Perlman's bow hand, because his giant hand must have problems holding a standard violin bow in a conventional way - I see no evidence that he actually uses the bow the way he "teaches" on his YouTube.)

** ("How We Hear Music[The Relationship between Music and the Hearing Mechanism]" by James Beament, The Boydell Press, 2001)

EDIT::SORRY: I was busy writing this when Carmen posted pretty much these same thoughts.

Because the frets on guitars (and fretted bowed string instruments) rise above the fingerboard, the vibrating sound players of those instruments produce by periodically changing finger pressure on the strings (near the frets) actually changes the pitch by changing the tension in the vibrating string.

Edited: May 19, 2018, 7:28 AM · This "finger vibrato" is also a "timbre vibrato".
And to some extent a component of the usual hand/arm swing vibrato, since the contact with the string varies as it rolls from near the nail towards the fingerpad.
April 27, 2018, 10:54 AM · I agree with the above post. Steve, who produced a DVD 'Violin Secrets of the Masters' based on years of thinking about vibrato and the way it changed over the years and tended to become wider, used the phrase 'impulse vibrato' for this kind of vibrato, though it was not Steve's phrase, and it first appeared in print in Henry Roth's writing. Roth suggested it was typical of some very fine players, such as Nadien. Steve told me that having learned a regular mainly wrist vibrato from his teachers, he felt that when he returned to what some would call a vibrato mainly affecting timbre, with a big element of finger pressure, he was rediscovereding something he first discovered when very young, and which some of his teachers had trained him out of. So to your question, Violetta, is 'Can this be called vibrato as it is making sounds similar to it?' I would suggest a good answer might be, 'if you like the sound, don't let any tell you it is wrong.' Of course we have to be careful not to let vibrato intefere with intonation.
April 27, 2018, 2:13 PM · Violetta, there's a thing called the "gypsy trill", or "Tzigane trill".

It's basically a trill, but the fingers are very close together. Example : the 1st finger plays the main note, and the 2nd finger moves down tighly over the fingernail of the first, in a 'down-up-down-up' repeated movement.

That's the trill. Now, sometimes you can vary it by just touching the string with the 2nd finger - not enough to press the string down completely, but just enough to raise the pitch by a fraction.

This gives a similar sound to vibrato, although it raises the pitch above the main note, whereas standard vibrato lowers the pitch below the main note.

It's a unique sound, quite eerie too, although it may earn you a rap on the knuckles from your teacher!

April 27, 2018, 3:30 PM · Classic vibrato involves repeatedly going flat from your primary note. This is done by rolling the finger towards the scroll and then back up again several times per second (either through the action of the wrist, the elbow, the hand, or some combination of those). It's learned initially by doing it maybe 1x per second, and then increasing speed once you can.


With that said, if you enjoy the sound produced by the heretic-vibrato you're doing, why not do it? Just like Sul Tasto IS indeed a valid technique when you're TRYING to do it *on purpose*, whatever you're doing is probably a valid technique if it creates the sound you're trying to achieve. Don't let others define what you consider good sound, unless of course it's your goal to please others rather than yourself (which admittedly IS the goal of many players, including myself).

April 28, 2018, 2:09 AM · Thank you for the amazing responses. I thought that what i asked was a silly question and was going to delete it but wow i had no idea that it's a thing. ??
It's nice that I've discovered something easy to get a sweeter sound but it makes it harder to hear the flaws so I guess I'll work on my intonation first.
Thank you all
April 28, 2018, 8:28 AM · After thinking about this some more let me add this: depending on the fullness of the flesh of your finger pads*, varying the pressure of the "sounding finger" on the strings will slightly change the pitch - more pressure will raise the pitch as sounding flesh moves toward the bridge. This will create a pitch vibrato effect as long as the finger remains in contact with the string.

I know we violinists have been told to vibrate downward (in pitch) from the correct pitch AND that if we attempt to vibrate around the pitch it sounds like a bad singer. BUT professional cellists seem to advocate vibrating around the pitch and arguments about this ensued on line at Cello Chat some years ago. Recent audio-spectrum measurements have shown that professional violinists also actually vibrate around the pitch even when they think they don't. I would estimate from the spectral displays I have seen that the violinists' vibratos were actually above the pitch about 40% of the time.

My advice on this is to vibrato so that it sounds in tune to you!

* The great piano virtuoso and pedagog, Josef Hoffmann, wrote of how using different regions of the finger pad can affect the sound of a piano because of the softness of the flesh - and indeed in my own experience with a fine piano (my son-in-laws Beckstein) even I can hear the difference in sound from this effect.

April 28, 2018, 9:23 AM · Andrew Victor - I'm not sure I understand what you mean about the piano.

Isn't the note pitch always fixed and unchanging, as in a hammer striking the string? (obviously the volume changes depending on how hard the key is struck).

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