High register vibrato

September 18, 2018, 10:10 PM · I’m looking for some hints on how to execute vibrato in the extreme high register.

I have to play this from “Into the woods” in a few weeks. It needs vibrato to sweeten the tone but i’m having considerable difficulties with it.

Any constructive advice is welcome.

Replies (15)

September 18, 2018, 11:49 PM · You're background there. You don't want the intense top vibrato you'd use in a virtuosic work. And only play as close to the bridge as is absolutely necessary to get an adequately clear sound.

Bring your hand further around the instrument, so your finger can be placed a bit more vertically for the very top notes.

September 19, 2018, 2:43 AM · I've considered bringing my thumb around to the top bout to provide the extension required to comfortably reach the position. I understand that this is a technique sometimes used by violists. Is that correct? Should I avoid the option?
September 19, 2018, 3:05 AM · Scott, the traditionally correct way to reach high notes is to slide your thumb along the side of the fingerboard, rather than to use the bouts of the instrument.
September 19, 2018, 6:22 AM · I have large hands and can reach pretty much everh necessary high note with taking my thumb off the heel. If I need to hit an even higher note with any style, though, I pull my thumb between the lip and rib just right of the neck. I never saw why people draw their thumb up the fingerboard. Just adds more motion and totally messes with the angle of your hand. But that's just me.
Edited: September 19, 2018, 9:55 AM · erik, if I'm understanding what you're saying correctly, I don't think that's as standard as you're implying - I've rarely seen anyone taking their thumb up the fingerboard after it separates from the neck and comes up over the body of the instrument. I've always just left my thumb back by the neck and brought my elbow under so the hand floats over the body of the instrument - for instance, if you look up prokofiev violin concerto no. 1 on youtube, a lot of the thumbnails show what I mean. Your thumb is essentially in the position it would be in for a shaka sign.
September 19, 2018, 12:46 PM · I've been taught as Erik describes, but it likely depends on the proportions of your hand. Perhaps with a large enough hand, you can leave your thumb at the crook of the neck or even at the bout (I don't know about that one), but the more you can get your hand over the violin and over your vibrating finger, the more space you will have to move your hand (assuming you are trying to do a wrist vibrato here).
September 19, 2018, 12:50 PM · It is perfectly possible to play these notes without the finger "tip" hitting the string from the vertical - any part of the finger pad will do. Do not worry about pushing the string all the way down to the fingerboard - as long as the string is stopped enough to sound the note clearly without vibrato, a gentle vibrato should enrich the sound. Such a vibrato would be a gentler extension of one might make in 3rd position with the heel of your hand stabilizing the motion against the violin ribs - but for this high position your thumb will have to be the stabilizer, at least that is easier than having your hand floating from your wrist with no other support (as cellists do with no problems).

You do need to be sure your bow is in a "sweet spot" for such high notes - closer to the bridge than for notes in much lower positions and angled (bow hair to the strings) to get the smoothest tone. You want a smooth bow stroke that is not affected by the vibrato. Your vibrato motion need be no wider than 1/4 that you would use for the same effect in 1st position on the A string.

At least - that's my take on it! And as Lydia said you don't want to get so close to the bridge that you need the bow to move slowly and bear down on the string to bring out the sound.

September 19, 2018, 1:30 PM · On viola, my stubby fingers get nowhere near the end of the fingerboard without one of the two solutions described above. I have seen Vengerov's and Bashmet's thumbs lying back along the side of the fingerboard for high viola notes.

In either case, the vibrato motion will be narrower, and with a higher proportion of the vertical component.

September 19, 2018, 1:35 PM · Everyone's hand and posture will be a little different. I don't let my thumb go beyond that saddle point/heel. Instead I stop using my 4th finger for those ultra-high notes, my 3rd finger reaches farther. If the thumb moves up from that saddle point, you loose the support of the thumb, and shifting down from there seems dangerous. And--I never learned how to do it. That spot is definitely background; you are in the pit! Vibrato up there is narrow, faster, and don't try to play loud.
September 19, 2018, 1:46 PM · Irene, I simply meant that for very high notes where we can no longer keep our thumb on the actual neck of the instrument, the traditional method is to slide up the side of the fingerboard with our thumb until we're able to reach the note we're trying to achieve, *as opposed to* the method where we would use the bout or shoulder of the violin to achieve this.

This is because when we need to slide *back* from our high note, the side of the fingerboard provides a smooth path to get back to the neck, whereas the bout would provide a clunky path that would move our instrument and thus disrupt the bow.

I personally don't really need to do any of these on violin; I can reach almost all of the notes without ever leaving the neck because my thumb is long, but on viola I certainly have had to use this trick before.

And it is important (as andrew mentioned) for OP to realize that on very high notes we don't necessarily need to use the *tip* of the finger. In fact, it's pretty handy for getting tight, fast vibrato to outstretch the finger to where it needs to be and using the pad, rather than always keeping a nice "C" shape.


Edited: September 19, 2018, 6:41 PM · I've been starting the passage with a 3rd finger on the b flat, staying in that position for the first phrase. Then I've been shifting a half position up using the first finger D flat on the A string as the reference, to play the rest without another shift in position. Thoughts?

The suggestion to not fully depress the strings is one that I hadn't thought of, but it could solve the problem of stopping 5ths, and the A string falling below the plane between the E and D. I'll give it a try.

Edited: September 20, 2018, 12:04 AM · I found a couple of youtube video explanations which advocate moving the thumb around to the bout. Here's an example. Click here
I found this very useful. In combination with the earlier advice to avoid completely depressing the string, the further advice given in the video to place the fingers to the left of the string, on the fingerboard, has provided me with the technique I need to develop.
After a few hours, the vibrato and tone are developing nicely.

Thank you all very much for your help.

September 20, 2018, 1:41 AM · Scott, there is nowhere in that video where she actually moves her thumb on to the *bout* of the violin. Her thumb stays in contact with the neck or the fingerboard at all times. You may want to look into what the "bout" actually represents on the violin. I think this is just a terminology issue here.
September 24, 2018, 2:04 PM · In find that coming round the bout allows all four fingers to approach the strings from the side, with a freer vibrato.
But I'm still exploring..
September 24, 2018, 2:22 PM · I used 3-1-2-3-2 on both phrases, I think. (I don't have my ITW music anywhere I can find it.)

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