How to get lightning fast, virtuoso vibrato?

September 8, 2018, 7:38 PM · The Heifetz vibrato. The kind where it's so fast your hand looks like a blur when it's recorded... I have never been able to do it. I've tried slowly bumping up the metronome with the vibrato in 3rd position for a long time now, and while my vibrato as a whole has improved from that, it's not even close to the almost twitchy kind that I want.

Replies (35)

September 8, 2018, 8:49 PM · Is the motion fron your arm? I imagine you could achieve much higher speeds with a wrist vibrato.
Edited: September 9, 2018, 12:03 AM · The Heifetz vibrato is considered rather too fast, I believe, and I wouldn't suggest trying to imitate it.

(To clarify, the Heifetz vibrato worked for Heifetz. But its speed and intensity isn't the fashion for current-day violinists.)

September 8, 2018, 9:01 PM · Heifetz had a fast vibrato, but it seems a generalization to suggest that it's universally considered to be "too fast."

It was Heifetz. But there have also been others with a similarly fast vibrato as well, such as Aaron Rosand. There were others from that era with a similar sound. Hard to criticize playing like that.

I encourage Christopher to go for what he hears in his head. I don't think everyone has to have the same sound. Some people really like Nadja S.S.'s super wide loopy vibrato...and some don't.

September 8, 2018, 9:07 PM · Vibrato is like a fingerprint. You'll develop a vibrato that represent you.

Heifetz generally playing very fast, too, so that vibrato suit his playing very well. And, to me, it's not the speed that made him sound great.

September 8, 2018, 9:15 PM · Probably first thing is don't squeeze, which I'm confident you're aren't doing. :)

Next, purely my guess, I think each of us might have a physical limit of how fast can we contract and release muscles. It might be that you are as relaxed as possible and practice as much as you can, but Heifetz might had been born with a faster muscle physiology than you (and many of us probably...) And not that it really matters anyway, there's no competition (and no point) for have the fastest vibrato...

I agree with Scott, go with your head and find one that fits the sound you want. Twitch means sqeezing, so you definitely don't want that...

Go listen to some great singers and find your own voice.

Edited: September 8, 2018, 9:25 PM ·
Christopher, next to Fritz Kreisler, and Oscar Shumsky, Jascha Heifetz had one of the most varied and beautiful vibratos. It's great you want to learn about this tradition. I would suggest taking lessons with someone who studied with Mr. Heifetz directly or someone from that lineage. There's a lot of misinformation on the Internet about him unfortunately.
September 8, 2018, 9:22 PM · I think Heifetz had the perfect vibrato. Every note had life in it!
September 8, 2018, 9:24 PM · Personally, I like the Heifetz sound. Obviously, Heifetz's continued stature as The Violinist, so to speak, means that other people also like that sound. But can you think of a contemporary player at the top of the profession that has that kind of vibrato speed?

Players of Heifetz's generation were allowed to be more individual, and they had much more personal sounds, across a wide array of dimensions.

September 8, 2018, 9:28 PM · Yes, I have an arm vibrato, I use wrist only when it is more convenient to do so.
Edited: September 9, 2018, 8:53 AM · Shake your arm, then shake your wrist, which one is fastest? I'm guessing your wrist. Then drink a few cups of coffee and try again ;-)... just kidding here. Remember that the degree of control of your wrist far exceed that of the arm. Minimize movement amplitude to a barely visible hand tremor. The longer the amplitude of the shake, the faster your arm/wrist has to move at any given vibrato frequency (longer distance to travel in the same time). Then there is a physiological limit that you can never exceed, therefore the only way to increase the frequency of the vibrato when you reached that/your limit is to reduce the amplitude of movement. You can't beat the laws of physics.
September 9, 2018, 8:36 AM · ...and I agree with Dorian. I think we do have muscular speed limits.
September 9, 2018, 8:51 AM · The guy asks how to get a faster vibrato and gets a dozen replies telling him why nobody likes fast vibrato and why he shouldn't even try.
September 9, 2018, 2:08 PM · If you actually analyse Hefeitz’ vibrato in slow-mo, you’ll notice that it follows a dotted eight up-sixteenth note down rythm, rather than a steady up and down motion
Edited: September 9, 2018, 5:48 PM · I've seen a few folk fiddlers do an extremely fast vibrato for a short time, usually for emphasis at the end of a piece. My observation was that this vibrato is essentially a fast nervous juddering of the stiffened hand and wrist, with sound to match. I don't think this sort of vibrato could be kept going for more than a few seconds, certainly without the possibility of doing damage somewhere.
September 9, 2018, 3:58 PM · I don't think it's fast- it's narrow. You can't physically have the same amplitude past a certain speed. If you're trying to speed up your current vibrato, maybe that's your issue. Make the arc of each vibrato movement narrower and you'll be able to fit in a few extra pitch oscillations per note.

As for the video, you can't trust your lying eyes! The camera can't capture the images quickly enough, especially the older ones. Then you put it through the youtube and it looks like a blur, but it's really not that fast. Listen and you can hear the number of pitch oscillations.

September 9, 2018, 5:42 PM · Julie makes an important point regarding frame speed of videos, especially the older ones. What is reliable would be analysing the video's audio track in an audio editor - you can count the oscillations visually at your leisure.
Edited: September 9, 2018, 8:22 PM · I like Heifetz vibrato too. I even like it in Bach. So there.
September 9, 2018, 9:40 PM · The Heifetz vibrato doesn't contain any trace of tension. It's fast, narrow, relaxed, and steady. He must have had a physiology that made that natural for him. Note that it's also controlled; Heifetz can amp up or amp down the intensity in terms of both speed and width. It's nothing like what Trevor is describing some fiddlers do.

You can't do a fast vibrato from the arm. Every player should be able to do a wrist vibrato, I think, regardless of whether they favor arm or wrist as the primary. So step one is to learn a basic wrist vibrato. Talk to your teacher about it. (Wrist is usually taught first, for that matter.)

September 10, 2018, 12:37 AM · Wish I could do a wrist vibrato. Just won't work for me.
Edited: September 10, 2018, 11:14 AM · Einstein taught us that time is relative, variable. Sometimes I wonder if Heifetz's internal clock ran 10% faster than us ordinary mortals-fast tempos + fast vibrato. I also like his distinctive sound- strong, fast, smart, and he does just as much expression as anybody else-just compressed into a shorter time. Another player from that same time with a great vibrato, also fast, would be Louis Kievman, who did most of those great violin solos on movie sound tracks. Anyway, my personal experience is the opposite of Lydia's. I find the wrist vibrato to be wide and slow, while the arm vibrato, which uses larger muscles , to be faster. If I have a student with a tight,"nervous" vibrato I try to add some wrist motion. If it is too slow, then I show the arm vibrato. Vibrato should be variable, slow and wide on the low G string, fast and tight on the high E string. Working with a metronome can help: 4 cycles per click =~70, then gradually push it faster or slower. Another exercise to get the vibrato faster, I call the mosquito, because it sounds like a bug flying by your ear. Lean the scroll against a wall, start with a straight tone, then give it a jolt of electricity from the brain, the vibrato takes off fast, then coasts, slows to a straight tone again.
September 10, 2018, 2:19 PM · I can't remember the last time I seriously looked at my vibrato but I did today, and was pleased to find both types are there and I can dissociate them if I think hard about it (I'm sure I was never taught them separately). My experience is the same as Joel's, that the wrist vibrato is wider and slower than the arm vibrato. With wrist vibrato when the second finger goes down the first points skywards...
Edited: September 10, 2018, 3:14 PM · Maybe I'm not the one to put this out there, but when I work on vibrato (wrist) trying to get it faster, it's really important that my hand and wrist be relaxed. I practice having a decided impulse towards me with a complete relaxation on the way back (towards the scroll), so that your focus is on the movement in one direction. You can try individual impulses where you completely let go on the way back, and try to chain two of these together once you get a feel for those. You can the work with a metronome to try and time this out with a feeling for the relaxation where you are timing the impulse towards you. Also, it's important to find the right level of thumb contact on the neck so that you aren't squeezing, but you may find that a slight amount of contact can provide a little leverage for the impulse.

Two of my favorites with a pretty fast vibrato are Midori and Kogan, although I think Midori switches hers up a little more. Compare:

You will notice in the Kogan video that the amount of hand movement appears very small, and the faster you want your wrist vibrato, the smaller the vibrato movement will have to be. Also, be careful not to press the vibrating finger too much, as it will stiffen your whole hand. These are my thoughts on a wrist vibrato with the impulse towards you. I may have misunderstood, but I am under the impression that some people play with an impulse towards the scroll or something, so my thoughts may not apply. I am also not a teacher, so take my stuff with a grain of salt.

September 10, 2018, 3:27 PM · The impulse is towards the scroll because we try to lower the pitch, not raise it. The theory is that the ear picks out the highest pitch. Singers and guitarists don't always adhere to this.
September 10, 2018, 3:37 PM · I've heard that explanation, and I wonder if it is really an important distinction. I imagine there are a number of teachers that teach towards the scroll, but I know personally that my teacher teaches towards the player. I imagine that either way, the player is using their ear to guide the sound, and I imagine that whichever way, if the player is paying attention to their intonation they will fit into whichever system they are using. I just know that my teacher's vibrato is nice and plays in tune, but she uses a wrist vibrato, and I wonder if the difference may lie more in whether arm or wrist vibrato is used, but my only experience with something approximating an arm vibrato is a thing I do when I'm playing tense and really trying to force vibrato on some double stop or something.

My hand feels more coordinated making a "come here" motion than making a "door knocking" motion, but it may be because I just haven't practiced a wrist vibrato that way.

September 10, 2018, 4:05 PM · Some if not many players have a fast and narrow arm vibrato, but in my experience wrist tends to be faster, unless the person has not developed it further. I guess both could be used in narrow fashion, but it's easier (IMHO and IME) to overdo it with the arm due to the bigger range of motion... which leads me to this:

Avoid the super out of tune sounding, nervous, fast arm vibrato that covers many notes, up and down (believe it or not, some players get used to it and believe it "works" for them.)

In my opinion, if your vibrato is nuanced and variable, you don't need to worry imitating Heifetz's vibrato, or in contrast, a famous arm vibrato soloist. Be the best version of yourself, though of course not using "that's my vibrato!" as an excuse to make an inappropriate use of it, or never developing it out of conformism.

(I have to add, some players study and develop a vibrato similar to Heifetz, and I find it quite fine if it sounds good for their music. It's not popular nowadays for sure, but if it works, it does.)

September 12, 2018, 1:19 PM · No worries, OP. I've been working towards this goal for at least 1-2 years now and my vibrato has indeed gotten faster. It's difficult for me to sustain without getting tired, so I use it sparingly.

I'm definitely using muscle tension as a way of accomplishing short bursts of fast vibrato, but I do feel that that is just the compromise that needs to occur in my case if I want it to happen at all.

Essentially, it involves me using a combination of arm and wrist, along with a helping of tension.

If your goal is to have heifetz's vibrato while also being able to sustain it for hours on end and be super relaxed, then that might not be possible. But we can "borrow" the vibrato for short bursts.

September 12, 2018, 1:47 PM · It’s a myth that vibrato doesn’t oscillate above the main pitch. In reality it goes below and above. Use the slow settings on YouTube to hear this,
September 13, 2018, 9:50 AM · Why is a good vibrato important for projection?

It is this: vibrato is the regular changing of the frequency of a wave form over a period of time - say 8-10 times a second. The wave form therefore becomes more complex under these conditions and the complexity is equivalent to higher frequency wave forms, or "side-band frequencies", superimposed on the original, which can be proved mathematically using a technique called Fourier Analysis.

These higher frequency wave forms actually exist and are heard, perhaps not consciously, as an enrichment of the original sound and contribute to its overall loudness. The physical hand and finger energy the violinist puts into generating vibrato manifests as extra energy projecting to the audience.

Another point about vibrato on the violin/viola/cello is that the higher frequencies generated by the vibrato will, on a good instrument, excite some of the resonances of the instrument and strings (this is where after-length is important), resulting in more tone.

The side-band frequencies generated by a good vibrato is one reason why a trained singer can make themselves heard over the orchestra in the concert hall or opera house.

September 13, 2018, 10:41 AM · I think the most powerful weapon is to have a variety of speed and widths - that's in the ideal of course. I think of super fast and narrow as having to be extra light in the finger pressure so that it can be sustained past a few seconds. There may be some helpful exercises in my vibrato Practice Blitz tutorials. In particular videos 4,5,7 and 9 in the play list might be of use for what you are trying to achieve. Good luck! Copy link in the browser.

September 13, 2018, 11:39 AM · @Trevor - this is the sort of explanation we've read in the past but I don't buy it. The frequency spectrum of the violin is immensely wide for any given note. "Sideband frequencies" produced by vibrato, if they exist, would surely lie on both the high and low side of each partial, filling the gaps in between. Is this in fact any different from a simple average of a frequency-modulated spectrum taken over time? I've never seen any evidence that vibrato actually causes the violin to radiate more sound energy.

I do believe that in order to explain the use of vibrato we have to move from acoustics into psychoacoustics and consider what factors cause an instrument to be PERCEIVED as louder. I won't go into it again but in another recent thread I suggested the demonstrable phenomenon of "co-modulation masking release" that helps the partials of a complex harmonic tone to be heard as a single auditory object against the background frequencies that are either constant or modulated at different rates.

September 13, 2018, 12:12 PM · Scott, you might be right, but that explanation is the opposite one Simon Fischer provides in his books, where the active movement is towards the bridge and then the automatic movement is to reset back towards the scroll. But maybe we're really saying the same thing and just looking at it differently?
September 13, 2018, 2:26 PM · I think of this in the same way that Scott outlined. His explanation is short and accurate.
September 13, 2018, 8:37 PM · Susaanna, you have some very nice videos, thank you for sharing! And yes, my forearm starts to burn if I try to do fast vibrato for an extended period with arm vibrato.
September 13, 2018, 11:11 PM · Jason,
I teach my students to roll the the fingers backwards and exaggerate to the point of almost flattening them.
It would be hard for me to conceive of a motion towards the scroll. To be fair, I've not read Simon Fischer's books.

In any event, it's my own opinion that vibrato is not to be perceived as a change of pitch, but rather as a change of intensity. We are simply trying to fool the ear. For that reason, the motion is not a steady back-and-forth motion. There is an acceleration to the motion. Picture the shape of a cardiac monitor rather than an even sine wave.

Edited: September 14, 2018, 4:45 AM · I always used to think that vibrato went only below the pitch, but after listening to the addictive vibrati of Zukerman and Gitlis, I slowed down their recordings and discovered they tend to go pretty much 50/50, even up to 70/30 in favor of over the pitch. The upper part of the vibrato is for me the most exciting part, which in why I now really love electric guitar vibrato. They go around 90/10 over to below ratio which gives that juuuicy wailing sound which very few people use on the violin. From personal experimentation, it's easy to achieve by simply starting with your finger quite flat on the actual pitch, which gives it plenty of room to go up. Of course you can adjust the finger flatness to your ratio of choice depending on context. As Scott Cole correctly says, the ear picks out the highest pitch, so you have to be careful to commence oscillations on the correct part of the note to set the 'foundation' and only then can you increase the complexity of the wave.

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