When to vibrato

September 16, 2018, 3:45 PM · Does anyone have a good info on vibrato history or changes in teachings based on location? I was mainly taught to use vibrato sparingly to emphasize certain notes. My current professor and a fellow colleague seem more in the boat of every note gets vibrato.

Is this a regional thing where it seems to different from Europe, to america (or even different parts of America) or more of a modern vs. traditional?... although I don’t know which one would be the more traditional.

Replies (50)

Edited: September 16, 2018, 8:10 PM · Modern western violin playing makes heavy use of vibrato. Build yourself a playlist of something you know thoroughly like Mozart 3, with three or four top violinists and you can listen just for vibrato. Repeat with a baroque piece and something more modern like Franck Sonata or Lark Ascending. A week or two of keen listening will convey to you the state of the art with respect to vibrato better than the union of a few dozen random opinions. I am partial to violinists who use great variety in their vibrato such as Mutter. I do not care as much for the motorized, constant vibrato of Stern or Grumiaux.
Edited: September 16, 2018, 8:22 PM · I was taught, coincidentally and exclusively, by students of Galamian. They were all in agreement on the subject and taught continuous vib, but of different character depending context. Not as much vibrato for Baroque, more for romantic. I was also always warned of the perils of the 'dead' note, which is where you vibrato every note in a phrase except one and that one dead note ruins your career as a violinist.

Should be interesting to see what others were taught...

September 16, 2018, 9:34 PM · "I was also always warned of the perils of the 'dead' note, which is where you vibrato every note in a phrase except one and that one dead note ruins your career as a violinist."

I don't know if it will ruin your career. But one un-vibrated note among many sure sticks out.

September 17, 2018, 4:40 AM · I like to feel that my vibrato is waiting to happen at any instant: then I have complete control over its presence.
September 17, 2018, 7:52 AM · My practical guidance is when the conductor in orchestra tells us he needs a lot of vibrato, or not to do it at all. Away from the orchestra I please myself.
September 17, 2018, 8:36 AM · I personally think the ideal of vibratinrg every note is ridiculous.
And when you do vibrate, it shouldn’t be noticeable. Vibrato is a way of adding color to the sound, it’s not the sound itself.

I’d say just listen, and vibrate when you feel the need to, the ear can be a very good guide.

September 17, 2018, 10:02 AM · Ridiculous? A good vibrato is often an organic part of the sound, not a layer of sugar icing!

True, though that it is equally often a cover-up...

September 17, 2018, 10:31 AM · Shouldn't be noticeable? But...it IS noticeable. Violinists can be very well-known because of their vibrato. For example, many of us can recognize Heifetz immediately because of his vibrato. The young Stern's vibrato is one of my favorites. In fact, Stern, in his autobiography, says that three things are needed for professional success: Vibrato, bow speed, and bow control.

There are also some famous violinists who have been criticized for their vibrato in spite of other obvious gifts. No names here though.

Many singers are recognizable for their vibrato, including Pavarotti.

Roman, I think we have to define "every note" more precisely. Non-vibrated notes in certain passages, if they are surrounded by vibrated notes, will stick out. But that's just one situation. For example, I personally like the idea of starting out with no vibrato on the first note of the Adagio of Mozart's A-major concerto, then let it fully blossom on the top E. It makes musical sense to me, although I know many people like to turn it on full on the first note.

September 17, 2018, 10:42 AM · My teacher defends almost constant vibrato. According to him, vibrato is not only for expression or emotion, but also for volume and projection. Especially the narrow and "subtle" vibrato. He encourages me to follow that habit to increase contrast in the dynamics.
Not easy for my. My vibrato is wide...
September 17, 2018, 4:20 PM · I think it's justifiable to simply say that the modern audience wants to hear a certain type of sound, and that's one that's almost constantly vibrated. We may sometimes disagree, but that's the modern sound.
It's the same with other instruments like the piano: sure, there are some performers who specialize in the forte piano, like Malcom Bilsom. And much of the repertoire, including Beethoven, sounds more compelling to me on a forte piano.

But the modern audience wants the big, bright Steinway or Yamaha type sound.

Edited: September 17, 2018, 4:40 PM · I'd say vibrate whenever you can - after all you can not vibrate anytime you want. It pays to develop the ability by using it whenever you can. (When you get old enough it gets harder and harder!) If you are in a small room and the sound gets too big, reduce the vibes (smaller amplitude).

My friend with the Lamy bow plays an Enrico Rocca violin that has such tightly clustered overtones that it gets that vibrato-like sparkle even without vibrato. We cannot all be that lucky.

September 17, 2018, 5:35 PM · It's a good point--some really fine old violins sound great with a minimum of vibrato, and some newer or inferior ones really need it. I don't know what's going on acoustically, but it's a "thing."
Edited: September 17, 2018, 7:45 PM · Back then everyone vibrated every note and this made it of course much easier to differentiate between people since people tended to have their 'signature' vibrato. Nowadays there is a bigger focus on varying the vibrato and sometimes even vibrating only when necessary. As a principle this sounds great, but it's very difficult to enforce upon yourself because SO MANY violinists nowadays have a habit of not vibrating 1st + 4th finger in slow - medium speed cantibile passages, and also not vibrating the note after a shift. Another really common one is if you have 2 or more notes in a down bow and then need 1 note to recover to the frog in the same time frame, many people will not vibrate the up bow note out of physical convenience because using vibrato forces you to slow down the bow.

So while I understand people when they criticise the older generation of players, as well as Zukerman who famously tells his students 'vibrate every note!', you have to understand that this blanket statement of Zukerman's actually prevents bad habits of not vibrating because of physical inconvenience. Of course the optimal thing to do is to really think about which notes you want to vibrate/how exactly you want to vibrate them, all of this WHILE being hyper aware of when 'physical inconvenience non vibrato' is occurring in your playing. But honestly this takes a lot of effort and VERY FEW people are willing to put in this effort, let alone are even aware of this concept, because the vibrating on the violin is not conducive to the natural instincts of the voice for the reasons of technical difficulty mentioned above.

For those who don't really understand what I just said, here are some video examples:


at 0:55 when she shifts up to the C#, she doesn't vibrate it because it was after a shift. This is actually such a common habit in so many world class soloists.


at 1:23 she shifts to the G# and surprise, it's not vibrated... even though all those previous times that figure appeared, she vibrated all 3 notes. They were easier to vibrate because they didn't have a shift.


0:35 no vibrato on the first note which is 4th finger.

I think all these recordings are fantastic and obviously I was nitpicking for examples, but I'm honestly just sick of the people who say 'I like xyz more because they vary their vibrato' when in fact they are unaware that a large amount vibrato variance actually stems from some sort of physical difficulty, however trivial it may be.

September 18, 2018, 12:58 AM · Continuous vibrato has been the fashion for a long time. At one time, (from Leopold Mozart's book) vibrato was considered to be a type of ornament. Now non-vibrato on selected notes is a special effect, and can be surprisingly expressive. One thing to be careful about; if the notes are are faster than the vibrato, about 5 cycles per second, they will sound bent and sloppy, turn off the vibrato. Our model for what to do with vibrato can be the good singers, who don't have the technical problems of fingering.
Edited: September 29, 2018, 3:27 AM · A couple of thoughts.

Vibrato helps our notes to separate from their surroundings, piano or orchestral, which are technically louder than us.

A very "ringing" instrument may find its resonance disturbed by the constantly changing pitch; a duller violin - or a duller pre-WW2 recording - may need vibrato to bring life to the tone.

September 18, 2018, 5:33 AM · Don't know. FWIW, vibrato is so important to the oboe that it takes about 6 months of constant practice to achieve a good diaphragm vibrato (I've been there and done it). Vibrato helps in tone production and intonation. So if you do it right, it's part of the music's soul. As a musician you just have to use your own judgement along with all your other faculties.
September 18, 2018, 10:46 AM · James very interesting contribution and nice to see that top soloists also have "non vibrato out of inconvenience" it makes me feel slightly better :-) your answer is, in my view, the perfect answer to the question posed by the OP. when to vibrate? exactly in those cases where you would do it if the note would not be inconvenient to vibrate!
September 18, 2018, 3:05 PM · Scott, notice how all the violinists you cited as being recognizable for their vibrato, are from the old generation?
And indeed, when you think about violinists having distinctive vibratos, those that come to mind are all old-schoolers: Kreisler, Szigeti, Grumiaux and all the rest.
Ty citing at least one modern violinist who has a distinctive vibrato?
I can’t either. And to be fair, they all do sound the same.

I actually believe that what makes a violinist’s sound unique is not so much the vibrato he has as it is the way he uses the bow, and to a lesser extent the violin and bow he has chosen to play with.

In fact, a very good example of this is the fact that vibrato is adaptive.
Take 3 different violins, and you’ll find yourself vibrating differently on each. Each violin will react differently to your playing, and to recreate your ideal sound on the different violins, you’ll need to adjust your way of playing, including your vibrato, which shows that vibrato is adaptive, and only a means of helping sound production, not an end in itself.

Same when you play pieces of different styles. Bach works best with rare vibrato, used mainly for increasing resonance in some chords for instance, whereas Strauss’ music would not work if non-vibrated, and is a case where the adage of vibrating every note is very acceptable, even required.

And in between those two extremes, there is a huge spectrum of nuance. Unfortunately, most violinists tend to think in binary terms only, I will vibrate heavily in this piece, and not vibrate at all in this other piece. And even more sadly, sometimes they have only one mode of expression, the heavy, romantic, sportive, vibrate-every-note kind of vibrato.

Same when playing in different venues, you’ll be adapting your vibrato to the acoustics of the hall, vibrating more in a dry hall, less so in a resonant hall.
All this shows that vibrato is only one element of many for creating sound, and is context-dependent, so saying that you should always vibrate every note or that vibrato should always be noticeable is a fallacy.

Here’s another exercise for all the ‘constant vibrato’ advocates. Take a melody from a piece you are playing, and sing it wholeheartedly, as best you can, and as you genuinely feel it.
I bet my hat off you aren’t vibrating with your voice the same way you do on the violin. I bet your vibrato is not as pronounced, and I bet you don’t vibrate every note. Why?
Because your voice has not developed the same automatisms as your left hand has, and you are therefore vibrating not out of habit as is the case with many violinists, but because you genuinely feel the music needs it. When you sing, vibrato is never the prominent feature, as is often the case with violinsts, rather it’s a means of helping the sound.

You could retort with examples of famous opera singers who vibrate heavily, but you would be overlooking two important points:
Firstly, opera singers often have the vibrato they do because they sing in big opera halls, and they voices are not amplified, which is why they need to vibrate more than usual, just to carry their voice as effortlessly as possible (as vibrato helps with relaxation, as well as improves resonance).
Secondly, we all have heard the singer who vibrates so widely and heavily it becomes a caricature. Sure, the singer vibrates every note, and sure, the vibrato is noticeable. But what about the music?
Unfortunately, the same exact problem happens with violinists.

I also think it’s also an ego thing. Just like many young conductors have tried to imitate the egomaniac style of Karajan, many young violinists have tried to imitate the thick vibratos of the past, in an attempt to show off how cool they are and how deeply they understand the music or whatnot.
Remember the Malher quote? ‘Tradition is not the veneration of the ashes, it’s the passing of the fire’.
Nowadays, too many violinsts are worshipping vibrato as some sort of ancient, untouchable, holy sacred relic. Not vibrating is a sin, and every person who doesn’t vibrate every single note should be hanged.
These people are truly ‘venerating the ahses’, and in so doing they look no different that flat-earthers or conspiracy theorists in their stubbornness and foolishness.

Scott’s statements about audiences expecting and demanding to hear the modern vibrato sound is ridiculous.
The reason historical performance pactice of Beethoven is not yet widespread and accepted everywhere is exactly because it takes time to spread.
Go to the comments section of any popular period instrument Beethoven Symphony YouTube video, and notice the amount of people saying ‘Wow, I never thought Beethoven sounded so great. All the other ‘classical’ interpretations sound so dull and contrary to the intended spirit of the music in comparison. After hearing this, there is no going back, I will never be able to listen to the ‘classical’ Beethoven performances without cringing again’.

Except for old people who have a lifetime of habit of hearing Beethoven played in a certain way, everybody who hears good period instruments performances of Beethoven’s music completely agrees that period instrument practice is the way to go and so much better than anything else.
And the exact same thing goes for vibrato, it’s not that audience ‘want’ a vibrated sound, it’s just that nobody gives them any alternatives.

Have you ever heard of Isabelle Faust? She’s a world-class violinist like any other, who has played with the world’s greatest conductors in the best halls.
She could vibrate every note if she wanted to, but she doesn’t. She only vibrates when there is a need to. Go listen to her Brahms sonatas or Beethoven violin concerto, I bet you are in for a big shock, and much cognitive dissonance.

I will end this long rant with the following:

There is only so much different shades of vibrato you can have. Wide and fast, narrow and slow, and vice versa. The possibilites are limited.
What really gives sound its life and its variety is the bow hand, and it’s endless color and shade palette.
As Kavakos said, ‘expression is in the right hand, not the left’.
In the end, the reason all of this upsets me is that the modern violin school of thought favors vibrato over every other means of expression, and in fact, often equates expression with and limits it to vibrato.

When you are told to be ‘more expressive’, what do you usually do?
Do you try to find a subtler phrasing that really highlights the beauties and wonders of the harmony and the elegance of the melodic shape?
Do you try to find a really special sound color, maybe a covered, distant but still intense pianissimo, or a singing, bright, vibrant fortissimo?
Do you try to make your articulation really eloquent and lively and full of meaning, for instance really sharp and sarcastic dots, or an infinite, soaring legato?

No, you just go and vibrate harder.

And that’s very sad.

September 18, 2018, 3:22 PM · This all sounds like a lot of trying to reinvent the wheel. I have heard a bunch of vaunted and hyped Isabelle Faust recordings, and they sounded mannered and bizarre. Her tone is an impediment to expression. There are different approaches like there are different tastes on the listener's end, but I don't know what you mean about "modern school" - Maybe people really aren't emphasizing the bow in creating musical phrasing and continuity, but is this really the modern school? There are plenty of soloists that use sparing vibrato, and there are many currents of interpretation. Bach is always being played differently. Sure, there are soloists that have heavy vibratos and still have an ugly tone (and I've heard a number of them live), and their problems ARE likely in their right hands, but that doesn't mean that turning off their vibratos are going to solve their problem.

A continuous and unobtrusive vibrato can also give a certain amount of fluidity to a melodic line and help with phrasing. A vibrato that isn't connecting notes together, or randomly dropping out certain notes messes with the cantilena.

Period performance is a fetish just like all kinds of different fetishes people have in music, and thoughtful performers may take bits and pieces of this and that and add tools to their arsenal, but I get the sense that a lot of period performers just couldn't bother making a nice sound, so they decided to call themselves period performers.

September 18, 2018, 9:12 PM · "Period performance is a fetish just like all kinds of different fetishes people have in music, and thoughtful performers may take bits and pieces of this and that and add tools to their arsenal, but I get the sense that a lot of period performers just couldn't bother making a nice sound, so they decided to call themselves period performers."

Wow, that's pretty offensive. And just plain ignorant too.

Edited: September 19, 2018, 8:57 AM · I think we should be very happy hearing the opinions of a young passionate high-level violin student like Roman here on this forum (at least Roman that is what I understand you are). I think the model of singing a melody from all your heart (while imagining you can actually sing!) and feeling where you would put the vibrato, is a very good and natural one. It's all about musicality. In a sense, if there is a note that we really want to vibrato, I gather we will feel the urge to finger it in a way that we can actually do it. Of course there will be compromises if our technique is limited. Roman also thanks for the tip on the other thread about the Paavo Jarvi Beethoven interpretations. They are indeed very good.
September 19, 2018, 12:41 PM · Who's offended? Not everyone can make good music, and people can be all kinds of enthusiastic about music, but that doesn't make them good musicians. I've never heard a period performance group and not wished that they wouldn't apply the lessons that musicians have learned to bring the art forward in the last 200 years. And all this HIP is just guesswork. We don't have recordings of people back in the day. We can also guess that with recordings in the last 100 years, people play a lot more in tune then before - I would actually be willing to bet on that one - So if you want to be REALLY HIP, you should also probably not play as in tune.

I heard Nicola Benedetti play as soloist with the Venice Baroque Chamber Orchestra, and she was doing the whole no vibrato thing for Vivaldi, and I've heard her recordings, but her tone just didn't sound as good. Props to her for trying something new, but I just didn't buy it.

Incidentally, I notice that the assistant concertmaster / 2nd violin almost always has a much nicer tone than the leader, who usually is slashing and burning through everything and just beating it to hell. It's a fetish, or a fashion or whatever you want to call it. I don't think it's here for the long haul, although I'm sure that certain musical aspects of it will integrate themselves into people's playing in time.

September 19, 2018, 2:57 PM · Just wanted to unequivocally state that, as much as I love the old-school violinists-and I *really* do-to say that every modern violinist sounds the same as each other is merely an exaggeration. Do a serious comparison, rather than be led by personal bias.

There's much more homogeneity in modern playing? Perhaps. But players still vibrate differently from each other, as their hands are different, so even if they all tried to sound the same, it's not physically possible. So yes, there's lot of unfortunate "it has to be played this way" in modern playing, but especially as of late, there are many violinists with their own voice-whether you like it or not, is another thing.

September 19, 2018, 4:40 PM · Roman,
You were absolutely, positively, 100% correct.

Yes, it was a rant.

and ps:
"As Kavakos said, ‘expression is in the right hand, not the left"

Expression is in both hands.

Edited: September 19, 2018, 7:41 PM · I enjoyed James Dong's post and it got me wondering about pros and concentration. Obviously, Szeryng wasn't some slouch who couldn't do vibrato with his fourth finger, especially with time to prepare! Why then? Lazy? Not really concentrating on every note? Intentional "interpretation" moment (I doubt it.)

When's the last time Jansen had professional coaching or a lesson? It strikes me a might easier to remember to vibrate every note when your teacher is reminding you every ten minutes or so. And I wonder if Jansen sees her YouTube and winces at that moment without having some eager young fan pointing it out to her in the comments. Do pros call each other up and say, "Hi Janine, just a quick heads-up to be vibrating on every note. Your Britten at the NY Phil had a few dead notes especially after your shifts. Cheers, Anne-Sophie."

And in the Jansen video contrast that with the sequence at 4:35. I think that's beautiful violin playing, but definitely some no-vibrato notes.

Edited: September 20, 2018, 2:42 AM · One of my favourite pieces of vinyl was Heinz Holliger paying six Vivaldi (trio?) sonatas, and in one of them he plays mostly loud throughout the piece, then on the last very long note he crescendos; then when he's as loud as he can get, he finally adds vibrato and it sounds twice as loud. Fabulous!
Edited: September 20, 2018, 8:25 AM · Scott, at least I made clear, rational, logical aruments as to why I have the opinions I have.

So now we can agree to disagree.

September 20, 2018, 3:45 AM · Vibrato can and should be expressive, but I suspect more than 90% of expression is in the right hand.
September 20, 2018, 3:56 AM · Attributing expressive capability solely to one hand or the other is sort of dogmatic. While I can see that perhaps too many teachers overemphasize the importance of vibrato and under-emphasize the importance of singing with the right hand, I think it's about a 50/50 split.
September 20, 2018, 7:56 AM · We don't have recordings of people from Bach's day, but we do have recordings of Joachim.

He was of course the dedicatee and/or technical advisor and/or first performer of most of the major 19th-century violin concertos. And among his teachers were the contemporaries of Beethoven and the pupils of people like Rode and Kreutzer.

In his outstanding recordings there is narrow, thin-sounding vibrato, if at all.

It's well worth listening to and thinking about why these days so many people are angrily insistent on vibrato at all costs, in works where the evidence of Joachim's performances suggests it was used very differently when these works were composed...

Edited: September 20, 2018, 8:26 AM · Erik, I certainly don’t think it’s a 50-50 split, that would be a gross over exaggeration of vibrato’s effect. I think the split is more somewhere along the lines of 80-20 or more in favor of the right hand.
September 20, 2018, 9:11 AM · btw, to the OP, this is a very good article:


Edited: September 20, 2018, 10:04 AM · I'd say that in theory if we add up to total amount of variables controlled in each hand, it would lean towards right hand 60/40

1. Vertical force
2. Speed
3. Contact point
4. Development of all the above combined
4. Amount of hair
5. Articulation
6. Initial attack in general

1. Type of vibrato
2. Style of shifting
3. Intonation
4. Amount of pressure-surface ratio (can play with upright finger or fat padded finger)

I'm probably missing heaps of other things, but these look to me like the main variables in each hand. All of the right hand variables are essential and evident when listening to someone, but vibrato is probably the most important out of the left hand variables at least in terms of creating an individual sound. Vibrato might actually be a more differentiating factor between violinists that let's say bow speed, even though both are important.

For example: 10 famous violinists play a 2 octave G major scale as expressively as possible without vibrato. I honestly wouldn't be able to tell the difference between Joshua Bell, Janine Jansen and Perlman and safely put money on it. Now get them to use vibrato, and surely the difference becomes clearer. This now looks like it tilts the favour to LH over RH. BUT, the character of the vibrato however, is developed and amplified through the way the individual uses their RH, so overall I would say it's still around 60/40 for RH. I could only see it being 80/20 for THE expression if a specific passage is super rhythmical and doesn't require any vibrato. A good example of this would be Barber concerto 3rd mvt, where LH's most individual asset is removed from the game. But due to the difficulty of the piece, we can now use the LH teams' intonation variable to differentiate players. So if I am having trouble discerning between Gil Shaham and Hilary Hahn's RH spiccato in that piece, now all I have to do is listen to intonation and it becomes very clear who is who since Hilary is in a league of her own in that department.

It's great that people are becoming more aware of RH function and technic, but honestly if I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say 'expression is all in the right hand'... It's just factually incorrect and for me it's absolutely become a cringy cliche.

September 20, 2018, 11:01 AM · Maestro Joachim had a different vibrato than others in his own era, I would bet. Same as today. So it's hard to make a valid study on "the way it was done back in the day" when the standard is not set in stone as such. Not even Leopold Mozart has the last word on vibrato on his time. Same for Auer. And the treatise writers of their time. Vibrato varies between different Auer pupils, and Auer did study with Joachim.

So please take that into consideration when we consider whether we should vibrate "sparingly" or not.

Nuance and diversity, yes. No vibrato for its own sake, that I can't agree with.

Best wishes.

September 20, 2018, 12:02 PM · Here's what Auer says about vibrato.

(I tend to read it as though I were Mel Brooks with a ham Hungarian accent)

"those who are convinced that an eternal vibrato is the secret of soulful playing, of piquancy in performance - are pitifully misguided in their belief. In some cases, no doubt, they are, perhaps against their own better instincts, conscientiously carrying out the instructions of unmusical teachers. But their own appreciation of musical values ought to tell them how false is the notion that vibration, whether in good or bad taste, adds spice and flavour to their playing. If they attempted to eat a meal in which the soup were too salt, the entrée deluged with garlic-sauce, the roast too highly peppered with cayenne, the salad-dressing all mustard, and the dessert over-sweet, their palates would not fail to let them know that the entire dinner was over-spiced. But their musical taste (or what does service for them in place of it) does not tell them that they can reduce a programme of most dissimilar pieces to the same dead level of monotony by peppering them all with the tabasco of a continuous vibrato."

Edited: September 20, 2018, 1:16 PM · He can at times contradict himself depending on the writing/book you are discussing and his timeline. Moreover, his famous disciples didn't avoid vibrato as much as some would have you believe.

Note too that the "unmusical teachers" he disagreed with were apparently promoting "continuous" vibrato, so there have always been different approaches, it all being a matter of taste and often, personal bias.

I like his books, despite his strong dogmatism in many areas. The chapter on repertoire is beautiful, and at the same time, disheartening, seeing how so very few care for our extensive catalog of mostly unplayed violin works nowadays.

September 20, 2018, 1:32 PM · I have listened earlier to the Joachim recording of the Brahms hungarian dance. It is true that vibrato seems to be thin but it also is clear that the expression with the bow is huge, no matter how poor the recording quality is. I am not trying to make a point here, just observing the obvious that Joachim was clearly a master.
Edited: September 20, 2018, 2:12 PM · Roman wrote, "And when you do vibrate, it shouldn’t be noticeable. Vibrato is a way of adding color to the sound, it’s not the sound itself." Well I just listened to your Mozart 4 on YouTube. Well played! However, I must say your vibrato was noticeable!

I think what you perhaps meant is that vibrato cannot be all that you have; vibrato does not compensate for bad tone. Tone and expression are not entirely in your right hand, but certainly the foundation of tone comes from the bow. At least, my teacher is telling me this a lot. He tells me to stop trying to make my tone only with my left hand. I'm just an amateur so I need that kind of advice a lot.

While I was listening to Roman's M4, I started writing this post. As I was writing, his M4 finished and another one began. (YouTube does that automatically.) This second performance seemed very good too, nice and clean, and in tune, except that the violinists tone seemed to be very thin, and they were obviously compensating by frosting every note with a burst of very fast vibrato. Curious, I looked to see who was performing, and it was a 10-year-old child, probably playing an inferior instrument -- one that was clearly too big for her. She looked like she was playing viola!

Edited: September 20, 2018, 2:20 PM · It's not quite so simple as mere taste though.
Vibrato is frequency modulation.
After some fairly complicated maths (or by looking at an oscilloscope) you can prove that the effect of this on the tonic of the note, and on every one of its overtones, is to add what are called "sidebands" i.e. groups of frequencies additional to all these overtones, very much enriching the tone quality of the sound produced.
The same thing happens with amplitude modulation, but the maths are different and the nature of the sidebands is different.
September 20, 2018, 6:28 PM · Vibrato is frequency modulation masquerading as amplitude modulation. Just my opinion, but I think the best vibrato is not perceived as an up-and-down change of pitch. It's pulsations of intensity. The ear hears the sound dropping out momentarily instead of dropping in pitch.

We change the pitch only because it's what we have to work with. I think if we had some way of changing the intensity instead we'd probably do it instead.

September 20, 2018, 8:49 PM · As a teenage classical violin student this track totally changed my life:


What? No vibrato? And yet it sounded amazing! I realized that style was just a convention and you could play the violin any way you wanted to...

Edited: September 21, 2018, 3:58 AM · Violin vibrato is definitely frequency modulation. Wind instruments use amplitude modulation - I spent 6 months on the oboe practising crescendo, diminuendo, crescendo, diminuendo with constant pitch, slowly at first, getting faster. In theory singers should do the same, but some of them sound pretty bad to my ears and as though they were emulating violin vibrato. I suppose it may be possible that the left-hand's fingers' pressure on the strings varies inadvertently, which might lead to amplitude changes.
September 21, 2018, 6:02 AM · Chris thanks for the link to that very interesting webpage by Esther Visser!
September 21, 2018, 7:41 AM · Thanks from me too, Chris. Great article!

I find many period performances compelling and highly expressive, like this Haydn Op. 20, Nr. 5 by the
Chiaroscuro Quartet

You can hear what Visser talks about in the way suspensions and dissonances are accentuated by pure tones. I was taught to vibrate more on dissonances, but maybe that's a 20C affectation designed to cover up the rawness of the harmony, 'beautify' the pain.

I agree expression is in both hands, but as centuries of masters have stated before us, vibrato can embellish expression already in the bow arm, but no amount of vibrato, or portamento can express anything without that foundation, as Paul said.

I don't understand the vitriol against period performers. You may not like their interpretations, but you cannot deny the mastery behind their playing. Before deleting his post Nate quoted Milstein, something about hiding bad intonation by playing without vibrato, or some such nonsense. Huh!? How can you hide naked?! I think quite the reverse is true, which is why we must all tune without vibrato, instead of covering up left hand inaccuracies with gross mimicry of a bygone aesthetic.

Edited: September 21, 2018, 1:28 PM · The other end of this particular string is the violinist who can't switch off his vibrato when required. I have in mind a violinist in the firsts of one of my orchestras some years ago, a player of senior years, vast experience and technique, and formerly a respected CM for three decades in one of our best amateur orchestras, who embarrassingly found he was unable to turn off his vibrato in an important vibrato-free passage. After a discussion with the conductor he agreed to fake that passage inaudibly, a ploy which worked in the performance.

That was back in my cello days, and old Mike, who was about 10 years older than me, is sadly no longer with us.

September 21, 2018, 5:58 PM · Also worth a read, linked from the Visser article:


I tried playing Bruch without vibrating this evening and learned a lot. First, with absolutely no vibrato as an exercise, and then with a little vibrato for effect trying to work out how to use it to enhance the phrasing and tonal quality of the no-vibrato version rather than with a consistently vibrato tone.... I think I prefer the outcome to what I had before...

September 24, 2018, 1:58 PM · Just to say that Auer's most well known pupils, Heifetz, Elman or Seidel, were famous for their vibrato!

Do as I do , not as I say?

September 24, 2018, 3:30 PM · It's a little hard to tell with the recording quality, but it sounds like vibrato to me

Leopold Auer playing Tchaikovsky

I think a lot of these guys played with at least some vibrato.

Edited: September 26, 2018, 8:23 AM · Christian is right about fetishism.
Since the Sixties there has been much philosophising about period performances. Perhaps no-one here is new to it (and I'm no expert), but the problem is, *there are no period audiences*. Bach just provided notes. We can (and do) do with them what pleases us (and that includes our pretence at period performances). Perhaps the musician-supplied ornamentation of Bach's day should hint at this?
September 26, 2018, 5:41 AM ·
When you're doing something and then when you stop doing it there is this 'hole' in the sound. This is an indication you are doing too much of something and I would consider it poor musicianship. The good thing is you are hearing that "hole" in the sound, if you are not hearing that emptiness when it's there, then that's a bigger concern.

This general rule of thumb applies to everything musical. It's not less is more, but time and place

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