Practice Violin Vibrato without a Violin.

Edited: October 31, 2019, 10:06 AM · Hello,

I am a violin restater at 47 y.o after 20 yrs of hiatus. The last level when I left violin was Suzuki 4 and Wohlfahrt book 2, but not yet vibrato.

Twoset Violin succesfully made my mood to play a violin back (although I really hate their viola jokes - I also used to be a violist in a non-music university orchestra).

The hiatus is a complete muscle memory cleaning, I can barely draw the bow. But it is good, since it also cleans out my bad playing habit that hindered technique development a long time ago. It's like a second chance in life to play a violin - this time - correctly.

I am picking up by playing Wohlfahrt, and now my intonation skills have come back.

I think my time to play pieces with vibrato has come, so I decide to practice vibrato. Unfortunately, before I start to practice vibrato, my violin has to be repaired and it will take 1-2 months because of the queue in a luthier.

Many people suggest that I practice on a desk while waiting for my violin done. I wonder :

1. How effective is it to practice vibrato on a desk to improve vibrato skills, based on your experience?

2. Is it better to practice on a viola instead of on a desk? In this case I guess I dont hv to care about the intonation production since viola muscle memory is different from violin, in Viola we need to flex finger muscle more. I am afraid paying attention to intonation in viola will disrupt my violin muscle memory again.

Replies (11)

October 31, 2019, 4:57 AM · I can't say that I ever recommended someone practice vibrato on a desk given the angle is so different. However, my dad who is a cellist and was a profound influence on me would teach one to vibrate with their fingers on one's right forearm. The angle is definitely more similar to that of a cello, but by lifting the arm into a higher position, you may be able to somewhat recreate the violin position.

I do think using a viola is a good idea. You may even enjoy playing it. I know I have when having played it. I don't believe it would do all that much harm to the muscle memory. The spacing of intervals on a string instrument is always changing depending on where one plays on the fingerboard. The strings on a viola are a bit wider and thicker, but that also may be a good way to train your left hand for more strength and flexibility. Good luck!

Edited: October 31, 2019, 10:51 AM · Thank you, Richard.

I also think the same but was unsure. Especially about practicing vibrato on a viola. But your reply confirms my thinking that practicing vibrato on a viola for Violin can actually be a better practice than practicing vibrato on a violin.

I had played a viola before I switched to a violin years ago and I found out that mastering a violin is a lot easier than mastering viola due to the viola size and weight. I hope it will be the same case for vibrato practiced on a viola for Violin.

October 31, 2019, 1:23 PM · I agree that practicing vibrato on a viola will help with your violin vibrato - perhaps a little way up the neck to account for the different elbow angle. - or on any VSA. I have some doubts about attempting vibrato on to the right forearm out in front of you because of the way it involves additional muscles and nerves in a different way than they will be used when actually playing.

Vibrato in 1st position is probably the most difficult. As you go up the neck it gets easier. Initial practice without hearing the effect is advised (at least it was for me) until you have the motions good enough to not be discouraging when you can hear the result. If you are trying for a wrist vibrato, 3rd position (on either instrument) allows you to get some bracing from the body of the instrument.

For an arm vibrato I was taught to start silent practice in the 1st to 2nd position and use a fairly wide "sweep" and allow my finger to slide. Once I had achieved a fairly steady pulse I allowed my finger on the string to just "rock" back and forth and was allowed to use a bow.

For cellists to practice vibrato without a cello vibrating on the back of the right forearm while your right hand is on your left shoulder works great.

At least, these are my opinions.

Edited: October 31, 2019, 2:22 PM · @Kuntarini Rahsilawati, I am like you. I took a hiatus for several years after college before picking up the violin again.

My new teacher re-taught me vibrato. He taught me "arm" vibrato. He made me practice without the violin for awhile. And when he did ask me to do the arm vibrato with the violin, it was only for a few repetitions. He didn't rush me in doing it. He was helping me develop my muscle memory at the time. I practiced my arm vibrato (without the violin, ofcourse) while stopped in traffic, or even when I am working at my desk.

His method improved my vibrato a lot, and I learned the ability to vary the width and speed of my vibrato depending on what a certain piece calls for. I can also play with wrist vibrato now -- not necessarily crediting my arm vibrato learning method for it though.

Fast forward to today, my 8yr old is learning "wrist" vibrato from her teacher, and she does the same thing -- practice without the violin, and when she does let her hold her violin, it is only for a few repetitions. Her teacher is not rushing my daugther either. Just slow but but sure.

Don't rush or force yourself when you're learning your vibrato. You will get there once you practice it correctly.

Edited: November 1, 2019, 8:22 AM · Kuntarini, you should not be concerned too much about viola playing spoiling your intonation on violin. Although muscle memory plays a big role, intonation is accomplished with our ears anyway. When I (as a late starting adult, and still not a profound intermediate level player by far) started with viola, it even boosted my progress on the violin at a sudden, in all ways - especially sound production and bowing technique in general, but also a large chop in intonation and shifting. The more you train your mental flexibility, the easier and more natural / organic your playing will be. It's not exaggerated when I'm saying that taking up the viola (a 42/37,5cm so not one of the tiniest btw) allowed me to make one year's progress on violin within a month, measured on my pace until then.

I would not propose this to an absolute beginner, like in first year or so. But you aren't of that kind.

Being a violinist for only 3.5 years now and a violinist/violist slightly more than a year, with next-to-no time for practicing since 8 months, it takes me not more than 5 minutes and a few scales for a full switch. This allows me practicing both in one session. Once I had to switch during a performance, from viola solo in the first part to 2nd violin section after the break. Felt a bit weird for the first few bars, but no big deal.

November 1, 2019, 8:35 AM · To practice vibrato without a violin, get a box of tic tacs or something else of similar size that rattles. Hold the tic tacs in your left hand between middle finger and thumb, with your hand and arm in air violin position. Shake the box in a vibrato-like motion; the rattle inside will tell you how even your motion is.

Back in the day, I used to put a few pennies in film canisters for my students to use for this exercise but you can't find film canisters these days.

November 1, 2019, 11:33 AM · Thank you Andrew Victor, Ben David, Nuska M and Mary Ellen Goree.

It is true that the 1st position - especially the 1st finger - vibrato on a viola is the most difficult, especially since (I think) I've got a wrong viola. The 4/4 viola size is apparently too big and too heavy for a petite woman (148cm) with short fingers like me, so that I couldn't help but "to touch/hold)" the fingerboards to help to support the viola weight. It is worsened since my fingerboard is getting lower day by day due to humidity which makes the strings to fingerboards becoming higher and needs more Power to press the strings. My wrist hardly moves, so that I have to do arm vibrato instead of wrist vibrato on the viola, which may not be used in my violin. I prefer wrist vibrato than arm vibrato, since arm vibrato can makes a violin shaky.

@ben David, how did you practice vibrato in a car/ a desk without a violin? How do you think it is effective practice?

@marry allan goree : with tic tac? Interesting method. Although the position is far from violin fingerboard, the idea of the sound quality produced was very good

Edited: November 1, 2019, 1:15 PM · From Kuntarini Rahsilawati:

"@ben David, how did you practice vibrato in a car/ a desk without a violin? How do you think it is effective practice?"

I just raised my arm like I had a violin, and just start moving my arm back and forth, back and forth. Just a few repetitions, then I stop.

Just to clarify, I do this while the traffic is stopped. I do not do it while I am actually driving. I'm also very conscious that the other drivers around me don't think I am making some sort of bad gesture to them (LOL).

On my desk, I do the same thing, but I'm not as conscious about anyone thinking I'm making a bad gesture as I have my own office at home (LOL).

I also did the same thing before every violin practice at home. Then the same routine just before my violin lesson.

It was very effective for me. Once I developed the muscle memory, it was easier to apply with the violin. In all, I believe my teacher and I spent a good six months before I finally got a good vibrato that I can use effectively in a repertoire.

One thing though, you cannot be tense when you practice your vibrato. Being tense will most definitely be detrimental to your vibrato learning experience.

November 1, 2019, 2:53 PM · Sounds like another repair job for your luthier... And if he's at it, and your viola's market value isn't too high he could narrow the fingerboard for you. This, in combination with tilting the instrument, makes playing a larger instrument much easier.

Btw, wouldn't he give you a violin on loan while he's working on yours?

November 1, 2019, 3:02 PM · Kuntarini, you can definitely practice vib without an instrument, although I agree also that you can also ask your Luthier for a loaner. I second the tick tack suggestion, and also practicing vib on the arm (stick out your right arm straight in front of you and pretend you right wrist is the neck of the violin. If you are looking for some vib exercises, take a look at the playlist of 11 ways to practice vibI made for my students a while back below. Glad you got back into it!

Edited: November 1, 2019, 9:52 PM · Thank you Ben David, Nuuska and Susanna Klein.

@Ben David :
Your note about not being tensed is what I am working on it at the moment. Restarting a violin after 20years for me means to revise my wrong way of holding a violin that makes me tense. I am working on it.

@Nuuska :
I didn't know we can loan a violin from a luthier? I should have asked it to my luthier. But my luthier had just informed me that my violin will finish in the next few days. Yeay! It has been a month of repair actually, I've just found a few days ago and posted this question.

@Susanne Klein :
Thank you! It is very concise knowledge on vibrato, I'll definitely follow your tips on that video and other tutorial you posted there. Therefore I subscribe your channel now :) Thank you!

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Corilon Violins
Corilon Violins

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Find an Online Music Camp
Find an Online Music Camp

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases


Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Wangbow Violin Bow Workshop

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine