Relearning Vibrato

Edited: September 18, 2018, 1:48 PM · Hello all, I've been an infrequent participant but frequent reader of this site for a couple of years and decided it was time to come out of the shadows again and seek help with something I've been struggling with on and off for about a year.
A little background first: I've been playing violin (or rather fiddle in my case) for about two years. I've focused on American old-time and Irish fiddling during that time, as that's what I've had to the availability to be taught. About a year ago I took up the task of teaching myself vibrato as I played a lot of slow waltzes that would benefit from it. My teacher can vibrato a bit, but it's not really a part of what he plays and isn't comfortable teaching me it. So it's largely been a journey of myself and YouTube. I started learning an arm vibrato because that's what I thought was the most widely used. After a year of messing with it, I have noticed progress, but not nearly as much as I've been expecting or near as much progress I've seen in other areas of my playing. During that same time, I've also come to realize that wrist vibrato is actually very common, preferred by a great many violinists in the lower positions and generally regarded as more controllable (correct me if I'm wrong). I've gotten better at holding the instrument and can now vibrato only contacting the instrument with my thumb. But I'm still playing too tensely and don't have much control over my vibrato with the end result being more of a shake of my arm (I haven't had the problem of my violin shaking, thank goodness). I've made a conscious effort to play more relaxed and I've seen improvement in my vibrato as a result. I'm not looking for a hummingbird vibrato like Heifetz. On the contrary, I would like a slower, wider and more controlled vibrato that I can use without hesitation. After that long-winded introduction, here's my question: should I continue with an arm vibrato and just try to play more relaxed or should I try to learn a whole new technique and switch over to a wrist vibrato? Or perhaps both? Any other thoughts or input would be most appreciated.

Replies (5)

Edited: September 19, 2018, 9:07 AM · Pat, it is not black and white. There is a whole continuous spectrum between arm and wrist vibrato. So by all means just keep to what you already can do and just continuously work on trying to improve it in the direction that you want it to sound. In Simon Fischer Basics there are good exercises on vibrato. He does not fuss at all about arm or wrist, and he is a great violin pedagogue. When I "relearned" vibrato some ten years ago I had actually a finger vibrato, my teacher as a child was really old school, and when I say old I mean old, say Joachim school :-) So I really desired a wide slow arm vibrato like you. Later I realized that was wrong ;-) quoting something the conductor of the orchestra where I play in currently just said last week: "vibrato slowly makes no sense" (he has the excuse that he is a pianist :-). I myself now try to cultivate a nice wrist vibrato and actually when I am at my best that my old finger vibrato automatically kicks in too and nicely blends in there! So everying is a gradual evolution, always from the point where you are. So just keep up the good work getting more and more flexible!
September 19, 2018, 10:12 AM · Assuming you are doing everything correctly (always best to check with a few different classically trained teachers to be sure), it can take a few years of regular practice to develop a decent vibrato.

In my opinion, these are the steps in terms of progression:

1) being able to just vibrato on a note outside of any musical context. This is already a hard one, and it’s the most important one since it’s the first step. You just need to make sure ytou’re doing it right. So once again, a good teacher might be necessary here. Basically get the motion correct, and be able to control different speeds and width

2) being able to introduce vibrato in a musical context. Just putting your finger down and doing vibrato is one thing, but then to introduce it in a phrase is another thing. Usually a good begnner piece would be ideal for this. A piece that has lots of half notes or quarter notes.

3) Can probably fit with 2) , but now you want to start thinking about control of vibrato, and make sure your vibrato is well controlled in the musical context

4) Continuous vibrato in a phrase. Say Ave Maria; being able to play a vibrato on every note on every finger, without interruption.

This can easily take 2-4 years of serious practice. IF you watch videos of child prodigies over the years, you see that it’s true. Take Leia Zhu for instance. At age 4 , her vibrato is non existent. At age 6, her vibrato is starting to sound OK, by age 7 , it’s a signifcant improvement, by age 8, it’s pretty much there.

September 19, 2018, 10:25 AM · good tips by Denis, but in the first video Google lists in response to the query [leia zhu 4 years], she does already vibrate a bit on long notes!
September 19, 2018, 11:51 AM · Hi Jean, I wrote too fast, I meant to say that it was in the very beginning stages. She started playing at 3 1/2.
September 19, 2018, 12:08 PM · Thanks for all the help :) Simon Fischer's book has been on my to-read list for a while.

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