Pinkie vibrato in high positions

September 28, 2018, 3:14 AM · I have a lot of trouble with pinkie vibrato in high positions (5+). My pinkie is not short, but relative to my third finger, the tip barely makes it to the last knuckle of the third finger. I guess you could say it is deep set on my hand. On top of that, my pinkie is rather slender and I don’t have much tip/pad real estate to work with. Once I’m in 5th or higher position, the last knuckle of my pinkie finger does not flex. All my other fingers are fine in this regard, just my fourth. In these high positions, the only semblance of vibrato from my 4th finger is literally the skin on the tip stretching and pulling with the motion. Ive usually just avoided my pinkie in these positions and either shifted to use another finger or extended the third. Any tips or tricks if you’ve seen this before?

Replies (5)

September 28, 2018, 3:47 AM · vibrato with the pinky is more difficult, no question about that. you can try to avoid the pinky on important notes but sometimes that creates other problems so every violinist needs to work daily for a minute or two on pinky vibrato. anyway, rest assured you are not alone. having said that, I am puzzled by your saying that the final joint of the pinky is not flexible beyond 5th position. so in lower position it is nice and flexible but not in higher positions? that has probably to do with your hand position, bring up the hand a bit higher so that you can vibrato more "from the top" so to speak. anyway that final joint must be flexible or there is no question of vibrato! actually that last statement is too strong, like you mention yourself, some people do a "skin vibrato" with the pinky, where the pinky is just completely straight and you move the hand back and forth keeping the pinky in place and using the skin to get a vibrato effect. some really good violinists do that, I remember a video by a Eastern European violinists some time ago here on v.com but I cannot find it back.
September 28, 2018, 5:24 AM · I have a short pinky and a wide-shouldered viola, so I have to find various ways of keeping the pinky curved enough to allow intonation adjustments and vibrato. But yes, "skin" vibrato works, though viola strings need a firmer hold than violin strings. And in the highest positions it is not always necessary (or advisable) to hold the string right down on the fingerboard.
September 28, 2018, 9:15 AM · I think your pinky joint sounds like that of most of us normal people. It's amazing to watch many of those soloists who have those incredible flexing joints. Like Jean, I'd say keep working on it. Sometimes my students have a rigid pinky because the left elbow isn't far around enough, which forces the 3rd and 4th fingers to be straight in high positions. Perhaps investigate whether your hand really is around the neck enough (via the elbow) so that the 4th finger remains curved. That can help.

Or just always use your 3rd finger like I do...

September 28, 2018, 2:56 PM · For vibrato on any finger, try to only touch the fingerboard/neck with the thumb and the finger that you are using. Having an extra finger down is like trying to vibrate on a double-stop. The 4th finger vibrato is always narrower then the others. For important top notes use the third. The third finger normally reaches farther than the fourth, in the high positions, but, the 4th f. can do extensions with the first down, and the second and third off.
Edited: September 28, 2018, 3:24 PM · 1) Try to use less finger pressure to stop the string when you're in high positions. Use only as much pressure as you need to produce the sound you want, not a bit more. People emphasize left hand finger strength but you may not need a stronger 4th finger but a more flexible one.

2) Don't over-vibrate. In high positions you should be narrowing your vibrato anyway, in proportion with the shorter length of the string. A 6th position vibrato only needs to be about half the width of a first position vibrato.

3) If your fourth finger is locked in 5th position, then probably your hand position is not optimal. You have to get your wrist out a little further and have your left hand turned over the instrument just a little bit more. Again, as you do this, always try to relax and be gentle -- don't force it. But if your hand is more out over the fingerboard, fourth finger vibrato should be more doable.

4) Even if your regular vibrato is a wrist or finger vibrato, when you get to high positions you may be able to use a little help from your arm, and that is completely okay.

5) Kreutzer #12 is a really good etude for the typical need for fourth finger vibrato when you've climbed an arpeggio. So play very slowly, don't press, take your time, and be comfortable falling on your face a bit.

6) Because this may involve growing new muscles/flexibility and tweaking your left hand technique, this is probably not something you will learn in a matter of weeks. It may take years. But once you know what the obstacles are, you can gradually wear down those obstacles.

7) Finally, consider that playing conventions around vibrato are changing in the world of violinists, probably because of the influence of baroque specialists. The lush intense vibrato of a Perlman or Heifetz is a little out of style now. More and more you hear young soloists and chamber groups using vibrato more sparingly and playing a lot more straight tone, mixing it up. Some of those high notes where your 4th finger can't do it might actually sound great without vibrato -- make them expressive with a lovely ringing stroke of your bow instead.

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