Arm vibrato vs wrist vibrato

Edited: February 3, 2019, 12:18 AM · I've been taking lessons for about 6 months, first Suzuki, then had to move and switch teachers, and now I'm learning to read first, with some technique thrown in.

The teacher early on asked me about my vibrato, and I said I had none. A few weeks ago we started trying some.

Doing arm vibrato makes the violin feel like it is about to jump out of my hands. I seem to naturally do wrist vibrato, which she said she'd accept, but I'm continuing to attempt arm vibrato.

I just saw two videos on YouTube (first two I came across, chosen at random) and one says that arm vibrato is prone to causing injuries,

Ray Chen Wrist Vibrato

and the other video was by a Russian woman who said arm vibrato is not taught in Russia, and is not a very good style of vibrato.

Russian take on arm vibrato

I'm sure if I kept looking through videos, I'd find proponents of arm vibrato, but, I'm just going to throw it out here.

Ok, I looked further and found this, which is helpful and addresses some difficulties for me:

Duane Padilla arm vibrato

What are your opinions on arm and wrist vibrato? Any truth to the negative comments made in the first two videos I viewed?

Replies (19)

February 3, 2019, 12:28 AM · The thing about the internet is that anyone can make a video...and that isn’t always a good thing.

Ray Chen does have a second video on arm vibrato, actually.

The Russian comment, I don’t know if that’s true but I’ve seen a few Russian violinists on YouTube teach arm vibrato.

Watch Max Baillee’s vibrato tutorials. He mentions both. Andrew Victor here on has some tremendous insight on the subject.

But, to my main point: I question if 6 months of lessons is the right time to learn vibrato. Can you shift comfortable to and from 3rd position? Is your intonation spot on? Typically those two items are checked off before attempting vibrato.

February 3, 2019, 2:28 AM · Just going by feel, wrist seems the most natural starting point, and finger and arm are just outliers either side of it.
Edited: February 3, 2019, 2:58 AM · For me personally, wrist vibrato was a lot easier.

I observe that all international soloists, during a performance, seem to utilize arm vibrato (or arm vibrato combined with wrist movement) a lot more than wrist. I don’t know what the reasons are but to me, at least arm vibrato adds a bit more action and vigor to the performance, visually.

February 3, 2019, 4:57 AM · First of all, I feel no vibrato should make the violin shake: that would suggest there is gripping (as opposed to supporting), from the left hand.

Then, I find that the hand and arm motions are ingredients in an integrated vibrato. We can practice the motions separately, then combine them in an "underwater plant" movement which "homes in" on the note. Blocking the forearm, or the wrist, will introduce parasitical tensions.

Edited: February 5, 2019, 8:55 AM · I don't think one should try vibrato until some facility in shifting positions has been gained. At least learn to play in 3rd position too.

I was taught arm vibrato - at least I was shown how to do it and given an exercise that involved sliding a finger up and down about a quarter-tone. I was advised to keep my bow in the case while doing this because (as you can imagine) it would sound awful. As I "mastered" this I was told to reduce the amount that my finger tip slid and finally to not slide it at all. I think it was over 70 years ago, so my memory is somewhat cloudy. But about 2 weeks in I started to add the resulting vibrato to my playing and at about 4 weeks it seemed OK.

About 40 years after that I suffered some left-arm paralysis from 3 herniated neck vertebra and completely lost the ability to vibrate or to even direct my fingers to move separately. About a year later, when I started to play again, I started to work on a wrist vibrato and a "finger-impulse" vibrato above 3rd position. It is still not easy for me - except for the high-position vibrato, that's kind of a natural!

I notice that most of the people I play music with use wrist vibrato (probably all of them - except the cellists). As you get older the arm vibrato on chin instruments becomes more difficult.

One other observation: if you have long arms and thus hold the violin pointing more to the left you may find an arm vibrato more natural. If you have short arms and hold the violin pointing more centered (in front of you) a wrist vibrato may feel natural enough and serve you better. One thing for sure, wrist vibrato uses less energy.

There is no reason not to use more than one vibrato "method" if you can and even to consider simultaneous employment of a "compound-pendulum" motion concept at times if you can. It is all about moving your finger tips/pads (actually moving the flesh that contacts the string) on the string certain distances at certain periodicities that are compatible with your concept of sound and the characteristics of your instrument(s).

How and when you use vibrato will define much about your sound and a sizeable fraction of your musical interpretations. There are "schools of thought" about this, although your sound on a bowed instrument really starts with your right arm.

February 3, 2019, 12:47 PM · Vibrato should be taught after being fluent in the first and third positions. It'll make life easier.
Also, the arm vibrato statement is ridiculous. It's good to whip both arm and wrist vibrato up to shape and have them both as useful tools at the ready, 'cause who knows when you might need them.
February 3, 2019, 1:39 PM · Curiously when I have a long slow note at the end of a piece I find that arm vibrato is LESS likely to give my bow the DTs.
February 3, 2019, 3:25 PM · Whatever the mechanism, the result is the same, a rotation, pivoting at the finger-tip. With the arm vibrato , the wrist does not bend, and the thumb must not move; you don't want the vibrato to pull you into another position. In general, what I see is that those who do not use a shoulder rest also need to support the violin with the base of the 1st finger, so the wrist vibrato is preferred. In upper positions the wrist vibrato becomes more necessary. Contrary to what I have read in some method books, I would Not use the sliding motion to learn vibrato. The sliding motion is used to: adjust intonation, expressive audible slide, changing half-steps on the same finger.
February 3, 2019, 3:36 PM · I can't imagine that after only six months of study, you are ready to learn any vibrato.

The most important distinction is not between arm vibrato and wrist vibrato; it is between vibrato you can control and vibrato you cannot.

February 3, 2019, 11:24 PM · Thanks all. I will see what my teacher says to the idea that positions should be learned first. We did a little of that. I brought up the vibrato later on, after she mentioned it at the beginning, and maybe she's just trying to go with my impulses. I can say that I generally do not produce a nice sound attempting vibrato.
February 4, 2019, 7:29 AM · Some more advanced players do not have a (subjective) "nice sounding" vibrato, so no shame in just being patient and keep working on everything else just as well-if not more. It is not as important at this time than most other things still to be learned (no offense intended, to be sure.)

Once you "learn it", its artistical application is an additional challenge, so it's not a matter or just learning vibrato. Having a "serviceable one" is often not enough for most repertoire. Of course, it could be argued "most players vibrate" (questionable), but do you want that sound, or yours at your best? When you learn it, do realize it's just the beginning, so do not be too content with it, and keep refining it further, always without tension.

Not trying to be negative, but rather attempting to help you being more patient with the learning process.

I agree with Mr. Quivey in that the fingertip joint should be loose and relaxed, whether you do arm, "wrist/hand" vibrato, or "finger" vibrato. A tense vibrato is no vibrato at all (even when an artist's vibrato may sound "tense" to you, it is not.)

There are PLENTY of "top of the world" young(er) soloists and competition players who use wrist vibrato in addition to the others who do use arm vibrato. Some have big vibratos with the wrist, others a very small one, while using the arm (also they change its intensity/width according the phrase/repertoire regardless). It is not about schools or eras, but more about what works and sounds great for each individual violinist.

February 4, 2019, 11:01 AM · Bushkova's opinion on arm vibrato seems to match my teacher's, who studied in the Soviet system. Mine is pretty tense, but I never work on an arm vibrato.
February 4, 2019, 10:40 PM · I related the general response on here, that it's too early in my lessons to be tackling vibrato, to my teacher tonight. Her response was "but you haven't been just taking lessons for 6 months, you've been playing forever". This is......sort of true. I've played around with it since 2003, but was painted into a corner. Played by ear, couldn't read, and only played in A. I was fiddling too, so, sort of raw dance music. I don't consider my previous playing of immense import, but, she does compliment me that I'm playing in tune (except for C#), and I play with a little bit of style. She's also very supportive, so, I don't know how reality based her comments are. I kinda like hearing them though.

With a little bit of correction, she said my wrist vibrato was getting there. We both agreed that the vibrato will be a sideline venture that I will just gradually work on while working on other stuff, i.e. not a main line of attack. That way I can slowly grow into it.

Anyway, I appreciate the comments here. Thank you.

February 5, 2019, 2:01 AM · Arm vs. wrist seems to be a very individual thing. I've noticed two general trends, though:

1) People with longer arms and larger hands are more likely to prefer arm vibrato, people with shorter arms and smaller hands are more likely to prefer wrist vibrato. Arm vibrato actually requires more finger motion than wrist vibrato.

2) The older people are when they start playing string instruments, the more likely they are to prefer arm vibrato, because for adult beginners it is often easier to train the large muscles than small muscles.

I've used wrist vibrato for well over a decade, and only learned arm vibrato a year ago in order to have the option for low strings and double-stops. I started late, but my arms are a bit shorter than average and I have the shortest fingers of any adult I know (including people who stand almost a foot shorter than me). I now have a decent arm vibrato but still have to think consciously about the technique in order to use it at all.

February 5, 2019, 1:36 PM · I wear 16 34/35 shirts. My arms and torso are longer than normal (1.5-2"). I think a big problem of mine is I'm still supporting the violin with my left hand to a large degree, not relying on my neck to hold things, and loosening up my hand grip makes things feel uncontrolled.
February 5, 2019, 2:38 PM · David, you just started arm vibrato a couple of weeks. Between arm and wrist, people will naturally find one to be easier, and the other will be hard and takes some time to accommodate. Learners display all sorts of clumsiness when they first learn it, but if in the right direction with good teaching, you will succeed.

I think both arm and wrist vibrato should be learned, so it’s good that you still try to work with arm while you are better at wrist.

Edited: February 6, 2019, 6:14 PM · My default is wrist vibrato. Arm vibrato is useful for some things and I often use it for circumstances where wrist vibrato is either not practical or not comfortable. However, I've known a few violinists who exclusively use arm vibrato for EVERYTHING. The result is that everything they play sounds overworked, labored, and sloppy.
February 6, 2019, 6:18 PM · So when playing in a string trio or quartet, is it preferable to use an arm vibrato to be in sync with the cellist and violist perhaps? Or does it not matter?
Edited: February 6, 2019, 6:25 PM · Doesn't matter. Just be mindful of your role in the ensemble at any given time. Vibrato should be subtle when blending. A wider vibrato may be warranted when playing melodic lines, depending on style of music.

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