Slippery fingers when trying to do vibrato

August 18, 2018, 8:46 PM · Dear friends,

I dared to post here my beginner's question after trying every video on YouTube on how to do vibrato without the expected success.

I'm a 42 years old beginner. I've been learning for about two years on my own. I have some experience with some other instruments (piano, flutes...) but my kid starting with violin at that music school pushed me into this instrument two years ago. I was frustrated not being able to help her, so I started self teaching me how to play, essentially using YouTube. Later she stopped with violin and jumped into piano, but for me it was too late, I was really hooked,and now I'm so much hopelessly in love with this instrument that seems to avoid loving me back in a similar volume.

I'm now fighting with all I've got to learn to vibrate. I suffer from tendinitis in the right side (below the pinkie) of my left wrist, so my practice of vibrato is quite painful.

Besides that, I feel like my main problem now is that if I don't press my fingers enough they won't stay at the tuned place, but they would slip over the fingerboard, so I lose the entonation constantly. If I press any harder, my hands get stiffer and I lose flexibility. It's like I have too smooth fingertips!

I've tried everything! I know every YouTube video on how to vibrate! I have even tried to make my fingertips a bit stickier with a bit of resin so they would stay in place, but then it's very uncomfortable to play a passage with sticky fingers.

Please, advise! I'm a bit desperate with this! Also, I suspect that if my hand stayed in place maybe it would be more relaxed to have a better vibrato and less pain from that tendinitis.

Thanks in advance,


Replies (18)

August 18, 2018, 10:04 PM · Your reference to tendinitis alarms me and your description of your left hand position baffles and concerns me. I strongly suspect you have some serious position issues. Please, if at all possible, take at least a few lessons from a qualified teacher and get your left hand sorted out before you even think of attempting vibrato. You can do some real damage if you keep playing incorrectly with tendinitis.
August 18, 2018, 11:24 PM · Dear Mary Ellen, thanks very much! I really have very little time (that's why recur to online stuff) , but I'm taking your advice very seriously and will try to find a good teacher to look at my position, at least.

I fall as a kid over that hand and that's perhaps the reason for the tendinitis... I went to a doctor and his advice did not include a solution but to treat inflammation. Maybe I also need another doctor's opinion. Gosh, I hope I can keep on playing!


August 19, 2018, 2:13 AM · Why don't you post a video for us and we can assist.
August 19, 2018, 6:48 AM · Dear Erik, would these work at least to check my positioning and the problem I mentioned? I just used my left hand, to hold the camera with my right hand.

As you see my fingers tend to slip over the string if I don't press it to hard. But if I press too hard, my hand kinda blocks even more.

Thanks very much for your willingness to help me!!


August 19, 2018, 7:19 AM · Your thumb looks real high. The neck shouldn't rest right in the V like that (the V being the space between your thumb and forefinger). Too much contact.
August 19, 2018, 9:31 AM · Thanks! I try to rest just a bit on the base of the forefinger but I'll keep one eye on that! I think I can improve on reducing the contact, but I feel like my fingertips are so smooth that they'd move, they'd slip over the string. Any ideas on that? Do you think it's because of a poor thumb—neck position?
August 19, 2018, 9:48 AM · I am also trying to develop my vibrato. I concur with others that the thumb position looks high. Though not shown in the videos, this could be secondary to instability from the chin-rest/shoulder rest configuration if you use a SR, and a need to support more weight than necessary with the left hand. That will surely make vibrato harder. Re the slippery fingers - I am a surgeon and scrub my hands so much that my finger-tips are like dry leather. I found that some Neutrogena "Norwegian formula" had cream (no proprietary interest), worked in very well before touching the instrument, makes my fingers and thumb pad slightly "sticky" and facilitates vibrato. Don't use too much, or it will have the opposite effect (slippery, not tacky). Hope this helps!
August 19, 2018, 10:22 AM · I can't imagine how your finger would slide off the string if you're applying force in the correct direction. Then again, my hands are perpetually moist despite my best efforts.
August 19, 2018, 10:53 AM · Javier it may be that your fingertip joints are not flexible enough. then the slightest movement of your hand will drag your finger out of place. vibrato is essentially impossible without flexible fingertip joints. I'm sure you have seen that in the Youtube video's you mention, so probably I'm on the wrong track here. but anyway, you may want to look up the Rivarde exercise.
Edited: August 19, 2018, 11:13 AM · That Rivarde exercise, where can I find it? I've heard of it quite a bit, but I have failed finding the actual exercise, even here in

Thanks for your tips! They do make sense to me! I'm reviewing my chin rest position and getting that hands cream.

Wow!! It's amazing how great is this forum! Thanks!!

Edited: August 19, 2018, 11:19 AM · When I was first introduced to vibrato 70 years ago (an arm vibrato such as Javier appears to be doing) I was told to

1. slide my finger back and forth on the string about one-quarter tone - with my bow still in the case. Work on this for about a week, reducing the motion of the fingers on the string until the finger could be held in place.

2. After about a week try bowing while doing this and then go back to practicing the vibrato motion silently - on all strings.

After a month I had developed a vibrato that was good enough to use when I played.

A few things I notice in your videos, Javier:

1. Violin neck too deep in the thumb crotch for first position.
2. Left elbow not far enough to the right to get enough natural arm weight on to the strings.
3. Obvious reason for sliding up and up the string is that the vibrato force going up is greater than the force going down.

ONE QUESTION: Is it possible that your nut is not cut deep enough and that the strings in 1st position are too high? The height of the strings above the fingerboard adjacent to the nut should just allow a business car to slide in. If the strings are any higher than that everything about playing, including vibrato, is more difficult.

I know it is easier to use arm vibrato if the violin is straight in front of you, but this is often not a proper position for bowing by people with longish arms.

Learning vibrato, especially wrist vibrato, is easier in 3rd position than in 1st position.

One does not have to play with vibrato - especially if all playing is still in 1st position - especially just 2 years in. There is a relationship between vibrato motion and the motion for shifting positions. It is probably best to get at least to the level of Suzuki book 4 before getting into vibrato.

Just my thoughts.

Mary Ellen's teacher suggestion is the best idea.

August 19, 2018, 12:14 PM · Javier just google riverde exercise
August 19, 2018, 12:27 PM · I also agree with Mary Ellen's 1st reply. Pain is your body and brain telling you not to do that. Review posture, form and ergonomic motions. If the neck rests on the joint at the base of the first finger that will automatically give you the needed space below the neck and your personal height of the thumb. I will respectfully disagree with some, and repeat myself. The vibrato is not a sliding motion, but a pivoting, rotation on the finger-tip. Finger-vibrato is a misnomer; the motion, for both wrist or arm vibrato, is produced by larger muscles in the arm. The sliding motion is used for: playing half-steps with the same finger, audible glissando, fine adjustments of the pitch on long notes.
August 19, 2018, 1:11 PM ·

The harder you press, the harder it is for the joints to move. You are doing a lot of things wrong: pressing too hard, not enough back and forth movement, moving too fast, too many repetitions and the hand not pivoting at the wrist. Try practicing a very slow wide vibrato(much much much slower than what you are doing now, you can even take a breath between each repeat) back in the harmonic position(touching the string but not the fingerboard) and repeat 6-8 times then move to the next finger, and then practice the same exercise with a light tough. Stop wait >20min. then try it again, but this time add timing variations.

August 19, 2018, 1:47 PM · Joel, I think your remark about sliding was aimed at my contribution. Of course you are right. I was taught that way to get used to the larger motion (in that case, of the forearm). By the time it actually became a vibrato about half way through that first month my finger "pad" (or "tip") on the string was just rolling and the joints were flexing.

Unfortunately I suffered a cervical spine injury almoat 30 years ago and could no longer use an arm vibrato. I had to go through the whole learning process all over again; this time for a wrist vibrato. It has taken me a lot longer than one month!

August 19, 2018, 2:29 PM · Thanks Andrew V. Actually, that sliding approach to learning vibrato is advocated by teachers and writers much more famous than you or I.
August 20, 2018, 6:34 AM · Thank you all! I will try every tip! I'm trying to do it by flexing the distal finger articulation while vibrating, but I know there is that other school of rolling over the string, I also tried a time ago. Watching videos of top today's performers it looks more frequent to observe flexing instead of rolling. But I'll try both!

I'm trying arm vibrato because hand vibrato was more painful regarding my tendinitis...

I know I have too many issues to solve! But I have the patience!

You're all very kind! Thanks very much!!

August 20, 2018, 12:31 PM · I am begging you, please do not try to develop a vibrato until your left hand position is correct and pain-free. Not only will you risk further injury, you also risk developing a flawed vibrato that you will find extremely difficult to fix later on.

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