Vibrato Tips and Advice

July 31, 2018, 5:10 PM · Hi everyone,
I'be been playing violin for nearly a year now and my teacher has started me off on learning vibrato! I'm excited but also struggling and was hoping someone could offer some advice or techniques to help pick up the movement.

Thank you,
Peter

Replies (28)

July 31, 2018, 5:22 PM · Good for you - and your teacher! Are you working on an arm vibrato or a wrist (or hand) vibrato?

My experience was that it took me about a month before I had a "reasonable" violin arm vibrato motion. I was 13, but had started violin lessons more than 8 years earlier. I did my best early-violin-vibrato practice with my bow still in my case. It was not something that should be heard. I was no longer taking violin lessons, but my father (who was a decent amateur violinist) gave me the exercises he had been taught).

A couple of years later I started cello lessons and developing a decent cellist vibrato came almost immediately - during that lesson.

Violin vibrato is DIFFICULT!

Now that I am an old man, who has had some cervical spine related nerve problems, I can no longer do an arm vibrato and I have had to develop a wrist vibrato for violin and viola. It seems to require less energy and fewer muscles than arm vibrato - but still not easy - but I recommend it!

July 31, 2018, 5:40 PM · She said that she tends to use a mix of the the two, I think it is arm vibrato that she has set me off trying.

I have to say it does look easier on the cello, however I think this maybe due to the more natural arm position (do correct me if I'm wrong)

I doubt that this will be a quick learning process for me but was just hoping there might be some ways to make life easier I guess.

July 31, 2018, 5:58 PM · It is the arm position that makes it easier, just as it is with guitar.
Edited: July 31, 2018, 6:16 PM · Vibrato on the cello may indeed be a little easier to acquire than on the violin, but to get the sort of vibrato that a cellist would, for example, use in a concerto to aid projection in the concert hall will nevertheless take a lot of work over a period of time. Same applies to the violin.

A major part of the vibrato secret for both instruments is relaxation from the shoulders to the fingers. Shifting and vibrato are in fact linked at the relaxation level. Get to the stage of fluent shifting up and down the fingerboard without having to think about it and you shouldn't be surprised if vibrato starts to appear naturally. To get this level of relaxation when playing the violin, which it has to be said is not as ergonomic as the cello, a good posture taught by a good teacher is essential.

I was a cellist for decades before I took up the violin.

July 31, 2018, 6:12 PM · As far as I know (which might not be too much), most teachers try to teach wrist vibrato first. The reasoning, I think, is that arm is easier to incorporate later. Something good to think about is: "What is moving during each vibrato 'stroke' and by how much?" For example if the back of your hand is moving a farther distance than the tip of your finger, then your fingers need to be straightening out and then bending again. If so, then which knuckle should bend most?
July 31, 2018, 6:26 PM · Trevor, I do tend to find that I am quite tense whilst playing and I think that tends to come from the position we hold the violin still feeling foreign. I guess I'll have to work on that a lot more than I am at the moment.
I think you may have hit the nail on the head though Paul, I'm looking at what I'm doing now and I think I'm moving my wrist a lot but not my finger tip. I think I'm going to have to just very slowly work on getting my finger to move more.
Thank you guys so much for taking the time to help
August 1, 2018, 9:03 AM · May I quote from myself? It's a bit long, though. But it works!

"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...

PS
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.

August 1, 2018, 9:51 AM · I really like the image of the motion being like an underwater plant, helps me visualise how relaxed the movement should be. I'm at the point now where I think I've firmly got the movement down at a very slow speed, I just need to work on speeding up (however I will wait to do that with my teacher).
Thank you!
Edited: August 1, 2018, 10:34 AM · Yes, speeding up the motion without stiffening or tightening.
Even when only the hand is quivering,there is still a reaction in the forearm.

I use a similar approach to tremolo bowing.

Edited: August 1, 2018, 11:28 AM · Developing a good classical (there are others) vibrato technique requires tremendous patience. I ‘ve read a lot of articles/discussions on it on the internet. Some people say they learned it in a few weeks/months. They’re lying, and their teacher would probably say it’s still far off. Not saying this to discourage you, but it’s at least one year of very serious practicing to get it to start sounding acceptable although 6 months of intense practice will also yield noticeable results but nowhere near a pro level. Probably 2-3 years before it reaches at a true professional level. That’s every day working on it! Every discussion I’ve had with high level players confirmed the same thing. It takes a looong time!

You can see the proof by watching videos of young violin prodigies like Leia Zhu. She started violin at 3 and a half. Her teacher probably didn’t teacher her vibrato til she was maybe 4 and half or 5. By the time she is 6 her vibrato is starting to be coherent but not quite it. By the time she’s 7 it’s a whole lot better. When she ‘s 8 , it’s a full fledged vibrato.

So all this to say: be patient

August 1, 2018, 11:21 AM · I think I'm going to have to take it eve slowly because when I have tried doing it at speed I ended up with a lot of wrist movement but no vibrato, baby steps I guess.
August 1, 2018, 11:31 AM · What usually happens is this:

You work on vibrato one finger at a time, like you described: just getting the motion down very slowly carefully with yoru teacher’s guidance. I hope your teacher understands your body structure to make sure that you learn it in a way that works for you (everyone’s different, and it took me 3-4 teachers until I found the one that showed me how to do it in a way that really worked for me).

Once you get the motion down (probably a few months of practice), you start to try to apply it on actual pieces (key word being try so the first few months worth of attempts may be miserable), That’ll take another few months maybe. Then once that’s down, you start to try to do continuous vibrato , another few months, and then it’s just making it better and better (more control, more musicality, etc).

August 1, 2018, 12:16 PM · To be fair-and if it's any consolation-the infant/young virtuoso kids that can play almost anything usually lack on the vibrato department or its artistical application. It's something not merely technical, but that takes years of musical experience in its judicial use. The "eureka!" moment for vibrato may take more than a few years, even having the proper motions in place.
August 1, 2018, 1:54 PM · "a lot of wrist movement but no vibrato"
This is why I start with wide arm movements and sliding fingertips; then "home in" on the desired spot. pressures 1,2,& 3, i.e. just enough.
Maybe you are at No 6 or 7 without realising?
August 1, 2018, 2:10 PM · Vibrato- It's still a controversial topic best not learned on-line or from books. Whatever the mechanism, the result should be the same; the finger-tip rotates, pivots. It is not a sliding motion, contrary to what at least one book teaches.
August 1, 2018, 2:32 PM · This is a topic that interests me a lot, but I do want to add one other important point that the OP raised that is very relevant to adult beginners: the instrument feels very foreign.

It feels very foreign to anyone who picks up for the first time, but even more so to adults of a “certain body type”. It’s why some people say that violin can only be learned when you start as a child because you “grow” up with the instrument. Some people believe this. It’s of course, not fully true, nor is it completely false.

When kids are very young, their body is extremely nimble and can contort in very unnatural ways. I recently saw a fairly chubby boy easily put both his feet behind his head! When they pick up the violin early and are taught correctly, they maintain extremely awkward positions and then grow up that way , so these strange contortions feel natural to them.

When we become adults, our bodies become less flexible and therefore some of the positions that we adopt for playing violin can be difficult. Some people are more nimble than others, some people do yoga, etc... but many adults will have to take extra time to get used to some of the awkward shapes that many pro violinists who started young take for granted:

https://youtu.be/0jXXWBt5URw

If you look at Sumina’s left arm position, i m sure to her and to many violinists here who started young, it doesn’t seem like anything special, but to certain adults , this position is extremely uncomfortable. So they have to slowly take the time to develop this nimbleness, and it’s an extra obstacle.

I’m sure all violinists will agree that to execute a good vibrato, your left arm/hand needs to be as relaxed as possible. Well, therefore this extra obstacle has to be worked on as well for many adult beginners.

August 1, 2018, 3:41 PM · I respectfully disagree, Denis.

It's not a body type issue with adults. As an adult returner, picking up the instrument after 25 years felt natural. The key difference between kids and adults is mindset, and to a lesser degree flexibility. A child's hands are more flexible, so that's a plus in their favor.

Vibrato can be learned at any age. It took me 6 months of daily practice just to get the motion to "work" and of course I still have to work on control of speed/width, improving quality of vibrato, etc.

Adults carry more tension that children (bills, job, less time, etc), which inevitably trickles into playing. But an adult can quickly learn to deal with the un-ergonomic instrument.

August 1, 2018, 3:50 PM · Fair enough, but you yourself say you’re an adult returner, therefore you played as a child. I would invite you to carefully reread what I wrote.

I also specifically said that some adults manage to maintain nimbleness and maybe you are one of them as well, in which case, great. But there are also adults who are not as nimble. The OP certainly mentioned that he’s still getting used to the instrument. But yes of course, practice and mindset are far more important than nimbleness (which can be trained)

August 1, 2018, 4:58 PM · I have to agree with you Denis. It can be a certain amount of inflexibility that happens naturally as we age, add to that some of us are not quite as lithe as we might have been and stuff just gets in the way of that upper left arm.
As an adult beginner this and an "unconnected" left forefinger knuckle are issues I have to work on.
August 1, 2018, 6:17 PM · :-)

I only wrote what I wrote above because the OP mentioned that it was still feeling foreign to him and I also wrote it because a lot of teachers (and let's face it, all good classical violin teachers pretty much started young) take certain things for granted.

The advice I hate the most from certain teachers is " oh just relax". Of course, just relax, but learning to relax can be extremely difficult and people forget how unnatural the violin is!

I've done this test with other musicians who play other instruments proficiently (bassists, guitarists, etc...). I try to get them to hold the instrument and then to adopt the position that Sumina had in the above video. Many of them feel extremely tense and are surprised at how awkward and unnatural it is.

And again, I repeat , certain nimble people will be able to do it just fine, but many will not. Nonetheless, this position can be learned but it takes a lot of time and patience and the student will have to be the best judge as to whether practicing too hard or not. There's definitely going to be some discomfort until they get used to that position and it definitely requires a lot of every day practicing.

That would then lead me to another subject which I'm afraid would completely derail the OP's question. Should violin teachers even try to teach adult beginners try to play violin in the "proper" classical way? Because there are folk fiddlers who have their own technique (which by classical standards are very wrong) and manage to make music quite fine, and they manage to do vibrato in their own "wrong" way.

Jay can certainly play the music he needs to play quite well despite doing almost everything "wrong":

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kZASM8OX7s

August 2, 2018, 5:53 AM · I find this series of videos by Max Baillie very useful for vibrato:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DnX86Ef0PYY

Edited: August 2, 2018, 1:23 PM · My violin teacher didn't just tell me (a mature adult - ahem!) to relax; she taught me how to relax. This process was over many weeks, extending into months, but it worked. In retrospect, I believe there was Alexander Technique at the root, although I don't think she mentioned it explicitly at the time.

Learning to relax, especially for playing a musical instrument, should be taught face-to-face, because it depends so much on the individual.

August 2, 2018, 5:55 PM · It took me six years before I had anything resembling a decent vibrato. In trying for a secure and stable hold, I was gripping the neck between my thumb and index finger to the point where my hand could hardly move. I'm better now, but I could still use some improvement. It's a paradox - you have to relax your left hand enough for it to move freely, while keeping it firm enough to hold the strings down and stay in position.

I mostly do wrist vibrato, but try to do enough arm vibrato to keep in shape. I find arm vibrato is easier when stopping the string with the third finger, while wrist vibrato is easier with the first finger.

Edited: August 3, 2018, 5:08 AM · Hello,
I too have been learning violin for 2 years. Surprisingly, I was able to produce vibrato within a night.

I suggest you develop wrist vibrato. In arm vibrato, you lose the flexibility of the wrist, so if you later decide to learn arm, you’ll have a hard time.

I started with wrist, but switched to arm after 2-3 months.

Here are the videos that helped me:

For wrist, https://youtu.be/QgjZmxW4oXo
(Contrary to what the lady in the video suggests, I found it much easier to produce vibrato in the first position. The third finger on A string helped me get the idea, but it might vary with the person)

I was studying at night for a test. I had a computer screen before me, while violin on my left shoulder and I would keep on doing the vibrato while studying. I did it for 2-3 nights, 2 hours each night.

Arm vibrato is relatively easy learn. I can’t find the video that helped me, i’ll post the link here if I’m able to find it.

August 7, 2018, 12:50 PM · Hi all,

I find either wrist or arm to work very well and usually go with what the student gravitates towards. The most important component for developing a vibrato (or changing one we already have) is vibrato exercises...so that we can learn the feeling of looseness and the motion without the pressure (literally and figuratively) of producing the sound. I created videos for 11 vibrato exercises and tips for my students for this purpose if you want to check them out. The playlist is here:

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLcsxEkYPwGvyeAZLJpyArQwGMPTFBwQvh

I second the recommendation for Max Bailley's videos about vibrato as well! A healthy heap of patience is the most important ingredient for developing a vibrato. It will come, sooner or later. Good luck!

Edited: August 9, 2018, 6:48 AM · I like Susanna's exercises: they complete my whole-arm, underwater-plant motions with some good "impulse" movements, a bit like an arrow arriving in a tree-trunk with a "boyoyoyoying"-like twang.

The wave vibrato can either swell on long notes, or gently pass from one note to the next; the impulse vibrato seems to originate in the finger-fall.

Edited: August 10, 2018, 8:54 AM · Just a word about YouTube links. If you go to share>embed>copy and use that link the video should appear here ready to play.

I'm no expert on vibrato and like others have been working on that technique. The whole wrist/arm idea seems to omit the fact that the most important part is the finger tips. IOW the method to get there to that result ( the finger tips ) seems paramount. The finger tips are the point of contact.

Many keyboards have a + or - pitch bend wheel which generally takes the pitch 2 cents either way. I think this is an acceptable representation of vibrato or pitch bend unless you have polyphonic after touch which also is mostly programmed for that 2+/- modulation. Carried over to violin this would seem a good place to begin. This has been my goal to get that kind of a naturalistic change in pitch. Notable because the violin is compared often to the human voice which seems to have a natural disposition to be in that range and is pleasant to the ear. Not too fast. More relaxed and flowing like the voice.

Since vibrato on a violin influences the strings in a very minute way through small movements it is very important that the violin is perfectly still and unmoved through the process. Am I correct? This being the case I think some of the issues I experience are more associated with the violin body moving and I think this might be because my shoulder rest is not adequately assisting me to get a good shoulder/chin contact to stop movement which as you know is very minute.

Could it be an issue with the shoulder rest and/or hold positioning instead of hand/wrist or could this also be a large factor in successful vibrato? I suspect this may be one of my issues. I can't seem to hold the violin perfectly clamped which causes the need to make less minute moves with my wrist/arm. IOW overcompensating. I can get something like vibrato using my fingers. When I use my arm the violin is also moving.

Edited: August 10, 2018, 2:13 PM · Some violinists say that their vibrato starts in the fingertips, but I find this is more of an impression gained when a successful vibrato has been developed.
The whole arm and hand can participate, even invisibly. As in playing in tune quickly, success depends on minute preparation, with total awareness, but which takes a back seat when the music takes over.

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