Help with 4th finger vibrato!

Edited: October 18, 2018, 3:24 PM · I have been struggling with 4th finger vibrato my entire life, especially in the higher positions where it suddenly gets slower and narrower... If anyone could watch the following *VERY SHORT* video and give me some practice advice, I would really appreciate it! The major problem notes for me are those high B flats up on the A string.

Another thing which is perhaps not so urgent but nonetheless something I want to change, is getting more wrist action in my vibrato. At the moment I feel like I have around 90% arm 10% wrist, and I would love to have 50/50. If you can identify anything I'm doing which hinders wrist action, please comment!

Replies (22)

October 18, 2018, 4:16 PM · I don't really see a problem that any good player doesn't have.

Have you ever watched videos of really top players, and analyzed their shifted 4th fingers? It's awkward for them, too. They just have worked harder to cover it up.

Personally, if I were doing that same piece, I would probably just use a 3rd finger when I went to the sustained high notes. Either that or I would use wrist action to allow the 4th finger vibrato to move more effectively (when your arm gets a limited ROM due to being pressed up against the bout during a shift, arm vibrato isn't really as useful anymore, so wrist needs to take over).

So yeah, as noted in the 2nd part of your post, wrist movement is pretty relevant here. Please post a video of you attempting wrist vibrato in a simple scale in 1st position.

I'm going to speculate that it's not a lack of *ability* to convert from 90/10 to 50/50 as much as it is a lack of *willingness*. Your body knows it can make a good sound with arm vibrato so it's not willing to temporarily go backwards in order to allow the wrist vibrato to grow. Humans hate that feeling of "going backwards" even though it's often the only path to improving.

Your arm vibrato is like a high tree in a forest, and your wrist vibrato is the tiny sapling which can't grow higher due to the towering nature of the arm-tree giving it too much shade. You have to prune the arm tree so some sunlight can get to the wrist-tree!

Anyways, post the wrist-vibrato video and I feel I can give much better advice.

October 18, 2018, 4:30 PM · I stopped worrying about 4th finger vibrato when I was reading the Bruch G-minor concerto (I think) edited by Menuhin and noticed how often he favored 3rd finger "up there."
October 18, 2018, 5:06 PM · Indeed, using Menuhin's fingerings, I found I capted his phrasing & style..
October 18, 2018, 6:23 PM · Thanks for your comment Erik. Yes I have watched many top players and somehow all of them have great 4th finger vibratos, even when they look strange (Jansen and Fischer with locked joints!?) Anyway here is a video of a scale:

I have been using 3rd finger when I really have to (in competition, recital, exam etc), but a good 4th finger vibrato seems to be the hallmark of a pro and I would love to get there one day... Also, pretty much none of the pros have an only arm vibrato right?

Edited: October 19, 2018, 12:14 AM · I'm not sure if you're aware of this or not, but in that last video, you're still using at least 30% arm vibrato.

See you can immobilize your forearm somehow so you can see what 100% wrist truly feels like. (hint: it won't feel warm and relaxed like arm vibrato does.... it will feel more tight).

(As a forewarning: this movement will feel very tiring at first when you're not accustomed to it, because a relatively small muscle group will be doing the job that you're used to doing with your entire arm).

I also think the arm is kicking in because you're trying to make your vibrato too wide. Narrow the range of the movement by roughly 50% and increase the speed of the vibrato by 30% and you'll find it easier for it to be wrist-only vibrato, since the arm won't be trying to "Cast" the hand outwards to add distance.

Regarding a good 4th finger vibrato, I think you'll find that if you rotate your violin far left and/or point it upwards, 4th finger vibrato becomes much easier. As a way of testing this, try vibrating in 5th position on A with 4th finger in your normal way, then try it with the violin rotated leftwards another 15-20 degrees more than normal, then try it with the violin pointed UP towards where the wall meets the ceiling (should be roughly 15-30 degrees higher than normal).

You'll find that both the leftward rotation and the upward pointing of the violin each add more ease to 4th finger vibrato. However, these movements aren't practical when you're in 1st position, so I only recommend them as you climb positions. I generally recommend slight rotation left+up in 3rd, slightly more in 5th, even more in 7th, and so on.

Also, more left+upward rotation is required if you're playing high positions on G than if you were playing on A. I don't think any leftward rotation is required for the E, and in fact I often find myself rotating the violin more *inwards* to play effectively on the E in high positions.

If you have success with the advice regarding either wrist vibrato or the left+up positional change to facilitate 4th finger vibrato, please post a video with your results.

EDIT: one more thing about wrist vibrato.... it involves about 30% pitch-raising and 70% pitch-lowering, as opposed to arm vibrato which can be almost 100% pitch-lowering. This is just due to the mechanics involved, but it's important to note this in advance before trying it too much. Otherwise the old saying "vibrate below the pitch only" will be your downfall.

We eventually DO technically only vibrate downwards from our intended pitch, even with wrist vibrato, but we do so by purposely landing a bit flat and then immediately starting the upward motion of the wrist vibrato to get to our primary pitch. In other words, the "30% up" just gets us to our primary pitch.

(none of this matters right now though, as you just need to learn the motion itself, and not worry too much about it sounding perfect, but since you're a high-level player I thought this point might come up in your thought-process)

Edited: October 19, 2018, 2:46 AM · James,

You have a lovely, fluid vibrato. If I were you, I wouldn't waste time trying to change it in any fundamental way. There are many great players with a primarily arm vibrato (Rabin, Francescatti, Zukerman, Vengerov come to mind.)

A lot of the feeling of pinky weakness comes from using a sound point not close enough to the bridge. We all know there's a significant difference in sound point between 1 and 4, even 3 and 4 in higher positions, but we often forget, especially when focussing on weak pinkies. That's my go-to when my pinky feels weak, just tuck into the bridge even more.

Both speed and width are independent of how vibrato is generated in general, but they are specific to individual comfort. Some people find it easier to go fast with the arm, and slow with the wrist, and others do the opposite. Others generate everything mostly from the arm, others mostly from the wrist, and some switch it up according to context.

Flesch's exercises:
For speed, work on your trill speed. Then practice a vertical finger motion vibrato with no width, using a trill motion, but without lifting the finger off the string, gradually adding more and more width.

For width practice the Rivarde exercise, curling the finger until the nail hits the string, and flattening until the first crease stops the string (hyperextending so you're almost lifting the tip off the string.)

Work rhythmically in faster and faster sub-divisions, also work on pulses.

A couple of other exercises on balancing a) vibrato b) the hand:

a) practice carefully matching the speed, width, and tone of each finger. That means you don't go wide or fast just because you can with the stronger fingers. Also, it means always trying to give more with the weaker fingers. Do a lot of finger substitution, that is play a note with 3, then with 4, trying to match the vibrato, so no one can tell which finger you're using. In a real passage, if you want to max out with the pinky, it will mean you have to contain, restrict what you do with the stronger fingers leading up to that pinky note. Also, shape the phrase with your bow so that you give more on the pinky note.

b) when balancing vibrato, you have to balance the hand on each finger. One way to think of it is that you mimic the action of the stronger fingers. Look at how vertical and curled the strong fingers get. If you mimic that range with the pinky it will mean shifting with 1, by letting the side-of-finger contact to slide along the neck. Place 1 on the lower string and see how far you can make it slide--it should shift at least a minor 3rd or so. Also, curling the pinky to its max will cause the forearm to supinate, so that the pinky-palm-side-baseknuckle will touch the neck. It's easier to balance on the pinky if you allow the other fingers to lift, or hover over the lower strings (when you see a forefinger pointing straight into the air, that's a sign of shifting balance to the pinky.) The greater range of the pinky will mean more opening and closing at the thumb. A trick Jose Luis Garcia showed me was to increase leverage by swinging the thumb toward the scroll and pivoting by lifting the thumb into the neck while pressing into the string with the pinky, as if turning a giant deadbolt.

All of this can be done with either wrist motion or arm motion. With arm motion everything slides along and moves along the neck. There's no significant vertical motion. With wrist motion, there is a lot of vertical motion--the side-of-finger contact slides in an arc towards the scroll and down, and vice-versa. You have a great frame, and you like to preserve it, which is why you generate vibrato with the arm. Wrist vibrato requires you to distort the frame relative to the strings and neck, so that either a) you flatten to a 'pancake' hand at the bottom of the vibrato cycle, or b) you cock the hand forward, toward you, so the back of the wrist sticks out at the top of the vibrato cycle.

P.S. here's a thread from a while back where I talk about the difference between a pulled (away toward the scroll) and a pushed (toward the bridge) motion. For me, I do a pulled, arm vibrato to slow it down, and a pushed arm and/or wrist for faster vibrato, using vertical finger motion to generate the speed. My generic, constant small vib is wrist.

October 19, 2018, 8:56 AM · James, I remember you commented on my vibrato post, saying how jealous you were that I have wrist vibrato, but honestly, I'm jealous of YOU! Your vibrato is gorgeous and well-controlled! I'd die for a consistent, slower vibrato. I think you're doing just fine!
October 19, 2018, 9:52 AM · ditto. there is nothing obviously wrong with your vibrato. of course there is no problem to keep on working on it. I remember the story of a Queen Elisabeth Competition winner who decided afterwards to take a year off performing because he wanted to improve his vibrato. no joke! just keep working seriously and improving overall and the vibrato will improve with everything else. keep up the good stuff, great to have you on this forum!
Edited: October 19, 2018, 10:38 AM · Also, the standard way to isolate the wrist is to practice with the palm against the upper bout (3rd or 4th position depending on your hand/palm size.) From there, you can swing your hand away at the wrist, for a pulled motion, or swing toward you for a pushed motion. What you choose may depend on context, e.g. a pivot shift or glissando down or up.
Edited: October 19, 2018, 11:23 AM · I haven't thought this through super deep, but it seems like if you wanted more wrist, you may need to position your hand so that it is more over your 4th finger, and so it's a little higher over the fingerboard. You might find that your thumb comes towards you a bit more to act as a pivot on a line closer to your 4th finger.

All this is another way of saying that it may take some adjustment, and you seem to have a pretty solid hand-frame, and may not want to mess with it too much.

I have found the first Flesch exercise that Jeewon suggested to be helpful for waking the pinky up, where you are rhythmically pressing and lightening the finger, which seems to sort of pull my hand into vibrato after a bit.

I also have to disagree with Erik's parsing of the vibrato direction, which seems like a sort of cargo-cult explanation. You don't need your calipers out to measure where your hand or finger is going - You let your ear be your guide on the sound you want and you make sure you are doing it in the most relaxed way possible.

October 19, 2018, 3:28 PM · Christian said: ---"I also have to disagree with Erik's parsing of the vibrato direction, which seems like a sort of cargo-cult explanation. You don't need your calipers out to measure where your hand or finger is going - You let your ear be your guide on the sound you want and you make sure you are doing it in the most relaxed way possible."---

Once you already know how something is done, then yes, you can just "let your ear be the guide." But some concrete references are necessary for effective teaching. Obviously, no one with common sense is going to go home and measure the distances they traveling to be exactly 30% this or 70% that.

But with the muscle impulses that control wrist vibrato, it's important for someone to understand that the inward-curling motion ("up") is part of the movement. This is especially true if someone already has such a highly trained arm vibrato, because they're going to naturally expect wrist vibrato to function in the same way that the arm vibrato did.

Percentages are a great way of giving rough ideas of how much is happening in each direction, and certainly not a "cargo cult" explanation. They work brilliantly most of the time in my experience.


Jeewon said: ---"Also, the standard way to isolate the wrist is to practice with the palm against the upper bout"---

True, and this is always the first thing I do with new students learning wrist vibrato because it's such an effective tool.

However, I've found that what we're doing with that tool isn't exactly "wrist" vibrato... maybe more like "bout" vibrato, since having the bout as a means of leverage to push the fingers away is still a different movement than a wrist vibrato where the wrist isn't touching anything.

My opinion is that the OP is probably already quite good at "Bout" vibrato but has difficulty transitioning into a pure wrist vibrato, which is why I suggested some other form of blocking the movement of the forearm, preferably with something in *front* of the forearm rather than behind (since this wouldn't allow it to be used as leverage for the movement).

October 19, 2018, 4:01 PM · I get what you are going for Erik, but your argument is based on a false premise. All of my reading indicates that vibrato does NOT go up to the pitch, but rather surrounds it on either side, and that we tend to hear the average. I COULD be wrong, but my larger point is that saying so confuses the issue.

Essentially a relaxed vibrato should be about an impulse and a relaxation. When I make an arm vibrato, which I tend not to use, I think of the impulse as going away from me towards the scroll. When I make a wrist vibrato, I think of the impulse as coming towards me in a "come here" motion. In learning to do it consistently, a student may find that the "release" of the motion isn't relaxed, so according to the logic in my head, you could build this up by working on making a single impulse in (whichever direction you are making the impulse) and seeing how immediately you can relax, letting your hand come back. Once you get comfortable with this feeling, you can chain this into more than one impulse, and try and build up into a continuous vibrato. I would think of it like pushing a swing - You have to push at the right time and you have to not push all other times. I wouldn't think in terms of pitch - I would think in terms of intensity.

With that said, I completely agree with your first post - I think that James has a nice arm vibrato, and he may find that he needs to turn off his arm vibrato completely to work on his wrist vibrato, and doing this may feel like starting from scratch.

(Why am I giving advice to someone that can play better than me?) Because this is the internet, dammit!

October 19, 2018, 4:20 PM · Thanks very much for your advices guys! I will practise all these things and maybe post a progress update in a couple of weeks. That Flesch exercise already seems to be activating more in my pinky :)

One more quick video for discussion: I think Mutter has one of the best sounding 4th finger vibratos in the business. But if you look at 1:14 and 1:57, her 2nd and 3rd fingers are really curled and tucked in. My teacher used to always tell me to avoid this kind of habit in general, and to always keep all fingers in a position so that they are ready to put down instantly like typing on a keyboard. But in this case for the high notes, maybe keeping the fingers curled is more relaxed and natural than keeping them ready above the fingerboard??

October 19, 2018, 4:55 PM · James, since the tendon of the 4th finger is connected to the tendon of the 3rd finger (try curling the 3 without the 4 following it), it gives extra strength to the 4th when we curl the 3rd.

But that would be immensely impractical to do except in the case of a very high pinky-vibrated note like in 1:14 and 1:57.

I think the #1 mistake people make on super high E-string notes like those is that they don't *fully* block the string. I think by giving the pinky extra strength by also curling the 3, she is able to fully block the string with the normally too-weak pinky (especially considering it's in a very disadvantageous position of leverage there, being so out-stretched).

So I don't think it's a matter of keeping things "relaxed" as much as it is a matter of giving the pinky extra strength.

Also, regarding the "typing on a keyboard" setup, you'll find that if you follow my earlier advice regarding moving the violin to the left+up when shifting, you're able to keep this hand frame for a higher amount of positions before it must be compromised, as opposed to if you just keep the violin pointed in the same direction regardless of positions. And, as an added benefit to the left+up when shifting, it naturally brings the soundpoint of the bow closer to the bridge, so we have to do less micro-managing in order to keep the sound pure as we climb positions.

October 19, 2018, 5:59 PM · James, I think Mutter is probably doing what she needs to get her hand over her pinky (and consequently over the fingerboard) so that she has leverage over the finger (The weight of her hand is most naturally centered over the finger that is going to transmit the weight). In this case, this involves rotating her hand so that it isn't ready for passagework. But in this case, the hand frame doesn't need to be ready for passagework, since that high note comes at the end of the phrase. There are no notes after that she needs to be ready for, so she can take her hand out of the frame and better shift the balance to really make that note sing. I think your teacher's advice makes the most sense in terms of either faster passagework, or kind of in-between tempos where you are vibrating a melodic line, but don't have a lot of time on each note.

Check this out:

This isn't great from getting a good view of the pinky, but one thing you may note is that in this expressive, lyrical kind of playing, he really is shifting the weight of his hand constantly between the fingers, and he doesn't really have the kind of hand frame that one keeps for a passage in 16th notes.

October 20, 2018, 4:49 AM · yes James something I notice a lot with top soloists: when you have time, you do with your hand whatever you need to get the most out of it. then of course in fast passages their hand will be back to normal.

to Christian, YouTube has this great feature of playing video's slowly, including the sound that is slowed down (but pitch is preserved). if you do that with Hilary Hahn for example you will hear clearly that indeed her vibrato never goes over the pitch. so not around, but only below. on the other hand with the violinist you linked in your previous post indeed he tends to go over the pitch a bit as well.

Edited: October 20, 2018, 9:52 AM · Agree ASM has a phenomenal pinky! But the curling under of her other fingers has to do with the way she fingers the top of the arpeggio, by keeping 1 down as an anchor and extending with 4. I don't think she has a weak pinky finger at all, or she wouldn't use it in that passage (I've never seen anyone else play or teach that passage using the pinky.)

Edit: agree with Christian re. balancing on each finger for expressive, slower passages, and keeping finger patterns for passage work. That's what I was taught (though not everyone does that, notably HH, who uses more uniformly narrow and controlled vibrato.) Use Sevcik Op. 8 to balance and vibrate freely on eighth notes, and practice forming patterns for sixteenths.

October 20, 2018, 2:42 PM · I'm going to agree with many previous respondents and say that you have a beautiful arm vibrato and I wouldn't worry about switching to half or full wrist or whatever. Both arm and wrist folks have to work hard to refine the speed and width to match the character. I, too, will avoid 4th finger on really important notes, mostly because I find it lacks strength, not even because of the vibrato itself. However, when I do use the 4th finger, I break all the "rules" to get the swing I need. For me (mine tends to be tight and small), I will spread out the hand (pointer finger towards the back), or vibrate with my 3rd finger down. This is not something I would do 98% percent of the time, but I think the rules (like not curling the fingers in) have to be broken to get the right sound every once in a while. I will often play "copycat" with my fingers, pretend that I'm playing another one or even put that other one down to get the swing I'm looking for. For me, fingers further spread apart gets wider swing, closer together or curled in gets a smaller swing, but everyone is a little different. When in doubt, do anything to sound good, as a teacher of mine used to say. You have a beautiful sound!
October 20, 2018, 5:07 PM · Unrelated to Thread: Jeewon, are you one of the Jeewon Kims that can be found playing violin on youtube, or are you a different Jeewon? This question has nagged me for a while. I've become curious about your background (I would PM this question but you have no contact info).
October 20, 2018, 6:30 PM · Good call Jean. I will have to do my own research about the vibrato. There's probably more than one way to skin a cat.
October 20, 2018, 10:15 PM · Hey Erik, if you hit my contact button it should give you my email, which is just my name with a dot between first and last at gmail.

No I'm not one of those fabulous JKs on YouTube, just a regular one. Why are there so many of them anyways.

October 20, 2018, 11:51 PM · Thanks, I sent you an email. The "contact" buttons rarely seem to work for me for some reason.

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