Vibrato...and Holding the Neck?

July 15, 2017, 12:37 AM · I know there are ninety gazillion (approximately...give or take a be technical about it) threads on vibrato but there's something I don't really see addressed.

I just can't seem to get vibrato and it's more that I'm trying to hold the neck, and you can't move something while it's holding something...I...think?

I can do a bit of vibrato, though not at a fast enough rate to really sound nice (yet), only on D and to an extent, A. On G and E I lose the plot. Especially E.

I have watched so many videos and read so many tutorials and did ask my teacher at one point (when I was still going for lessons) and I still can not understand how people do this...I keep hearing that you're not supposed to really support with your left hand at all but no matter what chin rest I use, no matter what angle, no matter what shoulder support, I'm sorry, I simply can not "not hold" the neck at all. It doesn't happen for me and...I don't "get" it, I guess you'd say.

Anyone else have this issue? How does this really work? Mechanically, I mean. I apologize to those who have answered so many threads like this before; it's probably just as frustrating to read repeat vibrato threads as it is to be the sufferer. ;)

Thanks in advance!

Replies (10)

July 15, 2017, 2:13 AM · Holding the violin neck should mean it is laying in your hand, not that you actively grab it. As long as you do this vibrato, intonation and changing the position will not be working well.
Edited: July 15, 2017, 5:11 AM · You DO support the violin neck with your left hand. There are three points of contact : the side of the 1st finger at the base, the edge of the thumb and the pad of the finger playing the string.

Do not try to support the violin using only the shoulder rest. That will lead to neck and shoulder problems.

Look at the videos by Violinworks (three points of contact) or youtube (Todd Ehle lesson #4)for correct LH position.

Edited: July 16, 2017, 9:16 AM · Melanie, although I have a tension-free, stable setup with my shoulder-rest, I still often like to use left hand support. The violin/viola neck then rests principally on some part of the thumb, and against (not on) the base of the index, which can the slide against the violin neck (unless my hands are hot and sticky...).
Some of my students and friends can extend their their thumbs horizontally, (à la Menuhin), and release the base of the index; others, like myself, cannot, and in these cases I rely on the SR, especially on the viola; then my thumb can support the finger pressure without having to hold up the fiddle as well...

When watching others play (U-toob etc..) we must observe everything: shoulder type, instrument tilt, elbow and wrist positions, hand width, finger lengths (especially the pinky), type of vibrato etc etc before tring to copy their exact hand positions.

Regarding the G and E strings, I find that I must swing the elbow somewhat. On the G, the base joint of the index is the higher than the E-string, but lower then normal when playing on the E itself.

July 15, 2017, 5:53 AM · I do not hold the neck either Melanie. My thumb touches the neck and is my guide and the rest of my hand doesn't touch the neck until seventh or eighth position. Have you tried practicing your vibrato in third position on the E string because this made it easier for me to learn the basic motion.
Edited: July 15, 2017, 7:45 AM · Hi Melanie,

In my experience as a performer and teacher, there are a few things that cause this situation:

1- Pressing of the thumb into the neck. The thumb should not press against the neck. If one finds that they are pressing, then there is often a problem/imbalance with the setup of the left-hand.
2- A left hand thumb position that doesn't work for the geometry of your hand. There are all kinds of beliefs regarding the position of the left thumb, but the truth is that it will vary based on the geometry of your hand. The best approach to finding what is natural for your own hand in my experience, is to have the neck resting on the base of the first finger with the left arm completely relaxed and not swung in either direction. Then, it is to allow the thumb to reach whatever height is natural for it, and bend the fingers on the A string and allow the thumb to bend naturally with them (like a closing hand or fist). If you force the thumb in a mythical but unnatural position for your hand, then you will always be tense no matter what you do.
3- Raised left shoulder. In actuality, the violin rests down on our left hand (and shoulder if we use a pad or shoulder rest). A raised shoulder will create problems of tension all the way down to the fingertips. One of the best ways to fix it, is to change the mental way of thinking about it in my opinion from instead of bringing up the violin, to setting it down.
4- Clamping with the neck. Again, often, people in an attempt to "free" the left hand, clamp with the neck which creates tension all the way to the end of the arm. If you look at great players like Oistrakh or Heifetz for example, the used very little to no chin pressure. So, releasing the neck helps.
5- Bow hold problems that sympathetically transfer to the other side. Pressing the the thumb into the bow (and as a result the other fingers) often translates into a sympathetic tension into the left hand. Something that I learnt from Pinchas Zukerman in one of his materclasses is that to release the left hand, it is important to release the right one.

Hope these ideas can help you investigate and overcome your challenge...


July 15, 2017, 9:19 AM · This information is tremendous...thank you so much, everyone...there are some great tips that I hadn't even considered. I'm going to read this all a second time now and then go try all the tips. I do feel lots of tension in several of the places listed and I think that's where I need to start.
July 15, 2017, 6:28 PM · Agree with many others. The thumb should not squeeze, and the side of the index finger can occasionally contact the neck in lower positions. Keep a relaxed left arm and hand. Tilting the hand so that the pinky is right over the string can reduce thumb squeezing, I think.
July 17, 2017, 6:17 AM · My teacher used to make me practice scales while she picked at my thumb, detaching it and letting it go. after some of those I could relax while vibrato.
July 18, 2017, 1:13 PM · It took me years to get a decent vibrato. I discovered that I was gripping the neck between my thumb and the side of my index finger. It gave a great sense of stability - too much stability in fact, because my hand was locked in place and could hardly move at all. To break the habit I started by leaving a small gap between the neck and the side of my index finger.

I'm still working on it, but things are getting better. I'd like to think of the neck resting lightly on the thumb, while my hand is free to move in ways that vary depending on whether I'm doing a wrist or arm vibrato. Give me another decade or so...

July 18, 2017, 2:24 PM · I like The Gap too, but we seem to be in a minority.
Which is fine, as I love an argument, sorry, discussion!

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