Re-learning Vibrato

October 11, 2018, 9:24 AM · Hey friends,

I've played violin since I was 8 (I'm 23 now), but took a break to switch to oboe/English horn (which are my main instruments for undergraduate/graduate studies), so I didn't play for a good 7 years or so, with some "fiddling around" occasionally (concert orchestra senior year of high school, student teaching for middle school orchestra, playing in pit orchestra on vln 2 for my high school band placement, etc.)

So, my predicament is that I missed those years of growth, and my vibrato was very underdeveloped when I came back to it a couple years ago.

I have issues keeping the vibrato going when I change notes, and it's rather inconsistent. Some days it sounds great, and my form is really good (I used to use wrist vibrato, but I'm trying to switch to arm vibrato), and other days it's wild and fast, all coming from the wrist. Sometimes when I try to do it, my arm moves, but nothing happens. I also am not great at vibrating on short notes for color.

Any suggestions? I'm trying to move away from wrist vibrato entirely, as I find arm vibrato gives it a warmer color and slows the speed of the vibrations down so it doesn't sound like a mistake.



Replies (17)

October 11, 2018, 2:04 PM · There are some really good video tutorials for vibrato exercises on youtube, most of them geared towards loosening up the mechanism and learning or relearning the motion. For my students I like:

Max Baille's channel (search for vibrato once you get to the channel).

Practice Blitz (full disclosure, that's mine). I have a playlist of vib exercises:

Professor V:

Nathan Cole:

Have fun - don't overdo it by working on it too long at a time, since the key is to stay flexible and relaxed.

October 11, 2018, 2:18 PM · This is one of those issues you really need a teacher for. Learning to use your non-primary vibrato (in your case, arm-vibrato instead of wrist) is a tough task that requires some clever solutions.

Especially with arm vibrato, a lot of different things take part in your success. Things like setup (are you using a shoulder rest? Does it feel secure? etc...), arm length/proportions, left thumb contact point, flexibility/length of fingers, etc...

Another thing to add: ideally you should have both arm and wrist actuated vibrato in your toolset, and not try to learn arm only as a way of covering up problems that are already existent in your wrist vibrato.

It sounds like you probably have a "Seizure-like" wrist vibrato or perhaps a "mosquito" wrist vibrato based on what you mentioned at the end: "----- I'm trying to move away from wrist vibrato entirely, as I find arm vibrato gives it a warmer color and slows the speed of the vibrations down so it doesn't sound like a mistake. -----"

What this tells me is that you need to perfect your wrist vibrato before moving on to arm vibrato. Wrist vibrato can be warm as long as it is controlled; it's binary vibrato that tends to sound "like a mistake," because it fires off either too fast or too slow, and often sharpens the note because it's going too much above the pitch, rather than below.

October 11, 2018, 4:18 PM · I'm jealous of you! I have been struggling to get a wrist vibrato for the last 5 years... I think the most relaxed vibrato is a combination of both wrist+arm and from what I see in most pros, the common distribution looks *approximately* like 60% wrist/40% arm. So I think it's optimal to have at least a 50/50 wrist+arm.

For me, the finest example of vibrato technic is Gitlis, followed by Heifetz. I don't necessarily always agree with how and when they choose to use it, but from a physical point of view they both have excellent flexibility and a clear wrist+arm combination.

October 11, 2018, 4:56 PM · "...Keeping the vibrato going when I change notes..." It is perfectly natural that the vibrato stops when you change notes, or bow direction. To get that admirable "continuous vibrato" takes extra training. Two things you can try without a teacher 1) Use any easy piece with long notes, put rests between all the notes. Start the vibrato before each note and continue it, follow through after the note. Then make the rests shorter. Then get rid of the rests. 2) synchronize the change of the note with the direction of the vibrato motion; change from a low # finger to a high # finger when the vibrato is moving sharp. The reverse when going down; change from a high # finger to a low # finger when the vibrato is moving flat. Do this on a slur. Continuous vibrato when the bow changes direction is a lot harder.
October 11, 2018, 6:20 PM · Hey guys, thanks for your responses!

I was studying with the assistant concertmaster of the Buffalo Philharmonic, but had to stop once the semester started because I'm too busy (I'm busy early morning to late evening with substitute teaching, teaching private lessons, working in a restaurant, and grad school). She was helping me get back into the swing of things, technique-wise and she did an awesome job.

I use a shoulder rest, and a Strad pad. My violin is larger than most (14.25inches, and fat all around. The neck and ribs are almost viola width, but it's not a viola). Even though I'm small, I need a tall setup because my instrument is unusually heavy and my shoulder was overcompensating. So, I've got an Everest (I want to get the fancy Kun one), a Guaneri chin rest, and Strad pad. It feels secure.

I can confirm that sometimes my wrist vibrato is "seizure-like." I have the easiest time vibrating with my third and second fingers. Fourth is naturally weak, and I have trouble with first finger sometimes. I suppose you are all right, I need to get my wrist vibrato better before incorporating arm vibrato.

I'll watch the videos, too! Thanks!

Now, off to symphony rehearsal. Pray to the violin gods that i don't die during Beethoven 5 and Rach 2!

October 11, 2018, 7:33 PM · Can you post a video of you trying to vibrato each finger? Ideal camera distance is so that I can see your whole left arm.
Edited: October 11, 2018, 9:20 PM · You can post video? I can probably upload to Vimeo and post links. it'll show you everything I'm talking about with the vibrato and gargantuan violin
October 11, 2018, 10:22 PM · Yeah, post the links.
October 11, 2018, 11:56 PM · I was taught wrist and arm vibrato simultaneously. It meant to do all exercises in both ways.

I remember doing what one does in trill etudes: Vibrate at a determined pace, i.e. for example at crotchet = 80 vibrate in 16ths rhythm. Start as slowly as you need to keep in rhythm, then speed up gradually. You can also make the first of a group of four vibrato movements bigger than the following three. And/or "vibrate" in triple rhythm.

I go back to these exercises sometimes when I feel my vibrato controls me rather than the other way round.

October 12, 2018, 11:14 AM · Here's a link for my video. Luckily I had some free periods from teaching where I could do this. Excuse my intonation. Also, feel free to comment on bow stuff, too! I've worked a ton on bow technique, and I know I still tilt a little too far sometimes, but I think it's getting better. I used to suffer from the worst case of bouncy/stuttering bow that I've been able to cure.

Thanks for helping me out with this!!

October 15, 2018, 8:43 AM · You could try slowing your vibrato way down, and counting out the vibrations the same on the up and down bow, making sure sure you use a full bow. Say four vibrations per bow, exaggerating the hand movement, making the vibrations all the same size and switching smoothly to the next bow with no break in rhythm. Just slow it down however much you need to accomplish this. Then gradually add vibrations and speed, and reduce hand motion to normal.

This is something like I remember learning how to vibrate continuously in Suzuki. I've used this slowing down and counting method for rebuilding my vibrato after a long break as well, actually. It also works well for evaluating your hand shape for each finger in various positions.

I say all this is someone who is NOT a teacher or professional---just a fellow amateur! But it has been working for me :)

October 15, 2018, 8:49 AM · Basically you have to force yourself to vibrate while you're at the top and bottom quarters of the I think the only way is to break the action way down, and slowly/gently introduce your left hand and bow arm into a slightly new coordination. Whenever I notice a problem like this in my playing, where I'm avoiding doing a particular thing, I try to target it. I get myself to do it in a very slow and relaxed fashion so that my brain has a chance to drop some of the anxiety surrounding it. Not to assume, but the way you avoid vibrating at the top and bottom of the bow looks like your brain has built up a fear around it, probably of how it might mess up the rest of your playing if you try. Once you feel your brain change its association and then become able to process this new thing, it's exciting. It feels great to laser-eye a problem this way, too.
October 15, 2018, 10:14 AM · Well vibrato can take up to 3 years to really develop to a high level, and I’ve written before that I think there are a few stages to being able to do vibrato:

1) being able to do the motion on one isolated note outside of a musical context. You’ll have to work on all 4 fingers

2) being able to do it in a musical context, in this case, it’s your scale

3) being able to do it continuously in a musical context

I would say that you’re somewhat stuck between 1 and 2. There are tons of videos on youtube on vibrato exercises, I would suggest you go back to the standard metronome exercise getting all the pulses and getting a wider vibrato to get the full range (so you can choose to narrow it down later).

So metronome at 60 bpm, get 1 pulse per beat, then 2 pulses, then 3, then 4. Increase tempo. I think a nice goal would be 4 pulses at 120bpm (although you can obviously go higher).

I would start at 60 bpm to make sure you get the mechanics down , and then do try various tempos to push you can start at 60, then suddenly go to 100 to see if you’re able to do it. If not, gradually go slower until you find your max tempo, and then go back to 60 to reobserve the mechanics.

That in itself can take a few months of serious practice. I remember practicing it at least 20mn a day, sometimes an hour!

By then you should have a basic grasp of the mechanics, and then I would try to make etudes alternating between two notes to see if i can keep it continuous. You can try one bow stroke per note first and stay on it for 4 clicks. Then you can try something like 2 notes per bow 2 clicks each alternating between index finger and middle finger, etc... you can be creative with this etude and try different combinations.

At the same time you should also try to apply vibrato on simple beginner pieces (I remember doing a Seitz concerto and just trying to introduce vibrato). It took a few months.

When you’re done with all these steps you really try to go for the continous vibrato, you can take something like gounod’s ave maria to try it out. You’ll have opportunities to use just about every finger on this one!

All this can easily take maybe 2 years!

October 15, 2018, 3:15 PM · I haven't read the other posters' responses so pardon me if I say anything redundant here:

1) Your vibrato actually seems fine to me. You vibrate more with wrist on the 4, and more with arm on the other fingers. This is also what I do most of the time. The speed doesn't seem mosquito-like to me, but then again maybe you would need to post a video of a piece being played for this to come out. With the scale, though, the motion/speed seems clean enough.

2) With that said, the vibrato on each note is obviously stopping way too soon, and thus you're not getting a "continuous" vibrato from one note to the next. The reason it's doing this is because your fingers are afraid they won't be able to land accurately while the hand is still moving, so they stop preemptively in order to calibrate the landing of the next finger.

3) There are 2 solutions you need to implement (in this order, please)

a) "hover" each next finger before it's time to play it. So while playing the 1, hover the 2 above its incoming position. While playing the 2, hover the 3 above where it will go next. Same with 3 and 4. This way, each next finger will be pre-calibrated, instead of having to "jump" impulsively into position right when it's time to switch fingers. You're already *sort of* hovering, but the next finger is never actually above the same string. For example, when you're playing on the G with a 2nd finger, the 3rd finger hovers above the D string, and then has to jump across right at the last second. If it were already above the G string, things would be easier. Also, each "hovering" finger should be RIGHT above the string. The less distance, the better, when it comes to this and its relevance to continuous vibrato.

b) Once we've fixed the hovering problem (a), it's time to *decide* to vibrate for more of the length of each note. What this means is, you need to keep the vibrato going even though you know you're going to have to switch notes. This is very much a conscious effort. Here's the key: *initially, ACCEPT inaccuracy*. When you hand keeps vibrating until the last second, the next finger is not going to land accurately - AT FIRST. But we have to accept this in order to get used to the feeling of vibrating until the very end of each note. So initially, practice keeping your hand/arm/wrist vibrating through the entire length of each note, but don't worry about intonation. NOTE: if you did the hovering thingy in (a) and applied it here, you'll notice that your accuracy still remains pretty decent even as you use "continuous" vibrato.

Oh, and one last thing about "continuous" vibrato. It's really an illusion. The vibrato DOES stop for a split second before the next finger is placed, but ideally this happens fast enough for the gap in sound to just be mistaken as another "pulse" of vibrato. Anyways, the point is that right now you're doing about 50/50 vibrato + non-vibrato on each note. Try to aim for 70/30, and then 80/20, and then 90/10, and then 95/5, and eventually work towards 99/1.

You can't just go from 50/50 to 99/1. That would be a binary effort, whereas it needs to be a linearly progressive effort (gradually changing the ratio). And of course, the closer you get to 99/1, the harder each additional percentage will be to obtain. So to get to 85/15 might only take a couple of weeks and would drastically improve your sound, but to reach 95/5 might take a couple of months, and 99/1 might take a couple of years.

Anyways, start with those things and then post another video, and I can give more relevant advice. I could speculate on what might happen next, but that wouldn't be useful. Try to achieve something like 90/10 vibrato/non-vibrato before posting again.

October 15, 2018, 4:12 PM · Oh my goodness, everyone, thank you SO much!! You all have given me so much great advice, and it's incredibly encouraging! The video I had done was after several attempts (I'm not a perfectionist, per se, but I'd delete it or stop the video if even one note is out of tune or if I don't like it, which kind of defeats the purpose of the post...) That day was a relatively decent day, I felt. Some days I want to just quit because it sounds so bad, but I know weather and temperature has an affect on sound quality. The same thing happens with my oboe playing. Reeds are notorious for not cooperating when you want them to ;)

But, I'm glad that my vibrato isn't horribly wrong, and that I'm on my way to a really great technique. Looks like those 7 years off didn't make too much of a dent in my playing!

I'm not sure when this post will be archived, but I will make a new thread when I feel I've gotten better! I'll be sure to play an etude or some rep, along with just a scale.

That being said, how do you all think my bowing was? I struggled with a straight pinky (thank you, oboe... I need my pinkies straight to have proper hand position), and lots of tension in my hand/fingers. It's gotten way better, but I'm interested in what you all have to say!

October 16, 2018, 1:04 AM · Your bow hand seemed functional for what you were playing. There are certain things that you will need to improve as your repertoire becomes more demanding, the main one being a more relaxed pink that has more bend to it. Contrary to what you might think initially, this doesn't involve just *bending* the pinky. It involves bringing the base knuckle of the pinky closer to the bow, so that the pinky must be more bent in order to stay on the top of the bow.

You might try this: set up your typical bow grip, but make sure that the weight of the bow is supported by the violin. Now, instead of contacting the bow with the *tip* of the pinky, let the pinky reach "over" the bow so that the *base* of the pinky (or you might think of this as the "crease" between where your hand ends and your pinky starts) is the point of contact.

Now, bend your pinky back until the tip is on top of the bow again. But DON'T let the pinky do a "pushup" to where it pushes itself away from the bow, thus straightening again. Let it stay bent and relaxed. Through most of our bows, the pinky shouldn't really be doing anything. It should just sit there, and occasionally exert a 5%-10% effort to help stabilize the bow. But be cautious about over-utilizing the pinky.

This is one of those concepts very difficult to explain well in writing though, so I'm not sure how close that description will get you to what I'm imagining versus if I physically had your hand.

October 16, 2018, 7:30 AM · Thanks, Erik! I should probably upload another video of me playing some rep or an etude so you can see it in a real setting and not just me trying to play a perfect scale (perfect being a loose term...) I'll see what I can do in the next couple days. I've got a busy week coming up with teaching and graduate school!

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