4th finger vibrato with narrow fingertip

June 18, 2018, 2:01 PM · Just to give some context, this question is from the perspective of an advanced player:

Do any of you with narrow pinky tips (and short overall pinky length) resort to wrist/hand-vibrating AROUND the primary pitch rather than only down from it, when using the 4th finger? (and when I say "around," I mean maybe 20% up and 80% down)

When using the tip of the pinky with a rounded finger formation, the lack of space on my tip makes it so rolling only downward makes the vibrato rather weak and narrow. I can overcome this by engaging arm vibrato rather than wrist, but the problem tends to arise when the note is too quick for arm vibrato or when the position is such that my overall balance and form would be compromised by engaging arm movement on that particular note. Thus, I have these "voids" of quality vibrato when listening back to recordings of myself, and they're always on 4s.

To overcome too narrow of a vibrato with my other fingers, I simply place them at a more flat angle to the fingerboard so the finger can "pull" downwards more, which allows much more width, but this isn't practical with the 4th finger since it's both narrow and short, so it's a bit too weak to effectively flatten like the other fingers, and also would cause problems on chords or anything with constant string crossings.

The only solution I've found thus far is to use the tip of the pinky with a rounded finger formation, and to wrist/hand-vibrate both down AND up around my intended pitch, since this gives me just enough more movement for the vibrato to sound wide enough without compromising my hand's frame or the strength of the pinky on that particular note.

I haven't experimented enough with this because it's a relatively recent discovery, but I'm just looking to get some input on the concept and to see if anyone else has resorted to this technique and if you've found the pitch distortion to be too prominent for the technique to be worth it. Perhaps you ended up just substituting 3s for 4s?


Replies (15)

June 18, 2018, 2:34 PM · I too find that rounding the finger-shape allows more vibrato motion, but why should it be above-&-below vibrato? Surely the tip can be placed sufficiently further back to make it below-only vibrato.
Edited: June 18, 2018, 7:35 PM · I've seen a few variations on the vibrato motion with the 4th finger. Two that have worked for me...

1. There is considerable distance between the string and the fingerboard under the 4th finger starting at first position and increasing rapidly in the higher positions. If you finger the note so that it is the desired pitch when the string is flush to the board, then simply relaxing the 4th finger so the string is allowed to move upwards from the fingerboard will have the same pitch lowering effect as rolling a finger towards the nut. With some practice one can get a decently wide vibrato by simply varying the downward pressure of the 4th finger on the string.

2. You can finger the note below the desired pitch and tug on the string sideways to raise it up to pitch, then ease the tug to lower the note. This note bending is common when playing the guitar and I find it rather easy to execute on the violin.

June 18, 2018, 9:07 PM · Adrian, I think I must subconsciously do what you're talking about, because otherwise I would be hearing a different primary pitch from my 4th finger when vibrating, and I don't.

However, I think the other factor I need to consider here is the amount of *time* spent above and below pitch.

I think I may be "bursting" the 4th finger above pitch and then rolling it below pitch, but the amount of physical time spent above pitch may be small enough that it doesn't change my perception of the intonation of the note.

In other words, I'm thinking that it may be acceptable to go slightly above pitch on vibrato as long as the above-pitch note is very short. Almost a "pulse" that occurs on the above-pitch movement, followed by a more natural and gradual roll to below pitch.

June 18, 2018, 11:48 PM · I have a short 4th finger, I've tried this technique before, and I found it awkward. For me it's usually less awkward to just use 3rd finger. YMMV.
June 19, 2018, 1:28 AM · In what position? Because for me it's not possible to play the tip of the pinky in first position... I need it completele stretched and flat on the string to reach the note. And there's no bending from there. The only way I can vibrate there is by 100% arm vibrato (practice in progress...)
June 19, 2018, 1:47 AM · Carlos, that means your hand position is not optimal. Try to ease in the wrist a bit and also try to manoevre the elbow a bit to the right, bring the hand a bit higher, ... it could be a combination of all that.
June 19, 2018, 2:28 AM · Jean, he could also have shoulder flexibility issues or may need to hold the violin to the left more. I can also think of a few more potential causes.

Carlos, please post a pic of your left hand reaching from a B to an E on the A-string (keeping the 1 down while reaching to the 4). Make sure the pic includes your whole left arm if at all possible.

Edited: June 28, 2018, 9:52 AM · Even when the pinky is not yet strong enough to use continually, I always show how to set the 3rd and curved 4th fingers first. The second may need to curl under itself for a "low 2", and the index may lean back even for a "square" 1st, let alone a "low" 1st.

I tell my young ladies to watch videos of Midoori or Kyung Wha Chung: too many demos are done by people with big hands.

Edited: June 19, 2018, 4:58 AM · Possible good point by Andrew Hsieh. I remember years ago reading some music edited by Yehudi Menuhin in which it appeared to me he did what he could to avoid using the 4th finger on sustained notes. Moving the hand up one note to use the 3rd finger is not a big deal.

If you have weaknesses you find ways to compensate. A lot of violin issues are quite personal and experience (and some thought) can lead to cures. I think 4th finger vibrato can improve as the result of increased vibrato skill with the other fingers. Also, some reexamination of accessory hardware (chinrest, shoulder rest) and "postural" issues might lead to improvement in this area (the angle of the violin relative to the player's body in the horizontal plane has a major effect on vibrato - in fact on all left and right hand issues).

Furthermore - what I have read recently indicates that the idea that we violinists vibrate downward from the pitch is actually fiction (i.e., not true). Recent measurements of acoustic frequency show that during vibrato professional violinists are above the pitch about 40% of the time even when they are sure they are not. Of course, we all know that if we try to vibrate above the pitch it sounds sharp and awful! Apparently professional cellists have known this for a long time. I have hopes that by the time I finish reading James Beament's book "How We Hear Music" I will have a better understanding of how we hear vibrato - but it may be a fool's errand.

June 19, 2018, 9:58 AM · When you say "down" and "up", do you mean towards the scroll and towards you, respectively? I make the active motion of my hand a waving motion towards me, but I was just recently watching a video where the violinist Kolja Blacher seemed to make the active portion of his pinky finger vibrato towards the scroll, but I couldn't tell if he was doing an arm vibrato. The guy also seems to have freaky spider fingers. I have to play with my whole hand positioning quite a bit to balance my pinky's tendency to collapse through the joints. Sometimes I can get some weight into my pinky by trying to get my hand above it as much as possible.

I think if it sounds good, then that's a better guide than some hard rule about downward or upward.


June 19, 2018, 11:33 AM · Even when your 4th finger is as strong and as fast as your other fingers, it is still shorter and narrower. You will never get as much pitch variation with 4th finger vibrato as you will with 3rd or 2nd finger. So; substitute 3rd or 2nd for long notes, and when you want 4th finger vibrato on passing tones, get more leverage and independence by lifting the other 3 fingers off of the fingerboard. The 4th finger should land curved, rounded, just like the others. If it lands straight and rigid, then I would call it a 4th finger extension, and vibrato is almost impossible.
Edited: June 19, 2018, 12:49 PM · I find that almost all soloists will change their hand-shape for long notes with vibrato. My description of opening the hand backwards from the pinky applies to rapid passages where the fingers must drop onto their notes. The vibrato impulse can still be present, even if there is no time for a real vibrato.

And Victor is right: we may work on our vibrato on-and -below the note, but in real playing it goes some way over.
I confirmed this by recording a well-vibrated note on my viola and analysing it with Intonia: one can clearly see the intensity and pitch "bulges"going either side of the desired pittch.; and by taking instant spectra at different points in the "wave", I find the brighter tone to be at the crest of the said wave.

June 20, 2018, 8:37 PM · @Erik Williams: You were right. My posture was very wrong in all the possible ways. I am being corrected by my teacher short after your comment. Violin too much to the right, banana thumb, elbow much to the left, etc...
Proper posture has improved my finger position and ease of reaching the notes. Luckily, I have very good muscular memory and it is not difficult for me to change my body movements., though the problem will be in the "radar" for practice.
Thaks for the tip.
June 20, 2018, 9:47 PM · Good to know, Carlos!

I'm really picky about how my students' 4th fingers look so I'm pretty adept in looking for causes of difficult 4s.

June 20, 2018, 11:51 PM · Thanks again. It seems that starting from good posture, and confident about that, my focus on other things (the bow wrist, and bow angle, the vibrato, shifting, etc), have been deteriorating my posture last months.
Difficult to improve all at the same time. So it may happen again but now I know how to notice it.

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