Vibrato

April 8, 2020, 10:28 AM · Hello. This is sort of a 2 part question.
Firstly, I struggle to vibrate on the C string on my viola and I'm unsure what it is. Anyone have any suggestions? Its something I've only noticed recently. On the violin G string its fine.

Secondly what type of vibrato do you have? In my opinion, there seems to be a divide between which countries teach what.

Please bear in mind the second one is for my own curiosity

Replies (12)

Edited: April 8, 2020, 10:59 AM · My guess is that on the viola your left elbow is not far enough to the right due to the extra scale length.

My suspicion is that it is wrong to tell beginners about so-called arm and wrist and finger vibrato, as they are likely to tense up striving for one over the other. I let my entire left arm from elbow to finger tips be one relaxed elastic painless system.

April 8, 2020, 11:15 AM · Gordon's suggestion is good, make sure your left elbow is far enough round. Mine always right through the other side of the viola when using the C string, a bit hard to describe. Try watching some videos of other viola players and note where their elbow is placed when using the C string.
As you develop this, try slow bows and long vibrato exercises on the C string, one octave scale all the way up the string. Fourth finger might be the most difficult to vibrato with on the C string, so pay close attention to that.

What sort of vibrato do I have? Never really thought about it, but it seems to be generally wrist vibrato both on violin and viola, I was taught arm and wrist vibrato as a child. However, vibrato is piece dependent also, some pieces require different types. This was UK tuition.

April 8, 2020, 11:17 AM · I agree with Gordon Shumway. Your hand position needs to make your C string vibrato possible.

I have also noticed that there are different "schools" of thought regarding wrist vs. arm vibrato especially. But in the end, you use what the music calls for at the moment. In the US, many teachers start with wrist vibrato, and I think that's because it's harder to learn and they don't want arm vibrato to become a go-to crutch. But I don't think anyone teaches ONLY one sort of vibrato.

Edited: April 8, 2020, 11:26 AM · "I let my entire left arm from elbow to finger tips be one relaxed elastic painless system."

Well, that's the theory. The end result is probably about 5% arm, 80% wrist and 15% finger. As soon as your wrist is touching the ribs, there's no room for arm vibrato.

April 8, 2020, 12:06 PM · Difficult subject these days, even with the best video. You really have to be there to assess and help the student.

There are a variety of things that interfere with vibrato, including a poor learned action ("squeeze hard and
shake"), poor practice methods (not being methodical about how you're doing it), and even the shape and angle of the neck (vibrato is easier on some instruments than others).

Most teachers, including me, teach the vibrato from the wrist initially so that the finger joints become accustomed to being loose and independent, and the student becomes used to the (often uncomfortable ) sensation of rolling the finger back and forth with as much motion as possible.

If the student can't get the sound they're (we're after, actually), then I recommend trying an arm vibrato.

April 8, 2020, 12:18 PM · Scott, I agree about squeezing. However there was a video I found on Youtube which gave a sort of test thing to find out if you're squeezing the neck, and I wasn't, so I don't think its that
April 8, 2020, 12:26 PM · If you can tilt your viola down a little more to the right it might be easier to get your fingers to the C string in a more comfortable position.

Wrist vibrato uses less energy than arm vibrato (because it moves less mass). When you are old (in 50 years or so) it may be all you can get your body to do. So it does not "hurt" to have access to both arm and wrist techniques (actually, by then it will likely all hurt).

Edited: April 10, 2020, 8:09 AM · It has raised an interesting question for me. Although my teacher says I could could manage a 16" viola easily, I imagined that only meant concerning length. That I must also consider arm extension combined with reaching around for the C string is something I hadn't thought about, but I know you'll say my teacher must have thought about it.
Edited: April 11, 2020, 9:10 AM · I think it’s helpful to learn a wrist and arm vibrato. If I were playing with a cellist, a duet perhaps, it might be nice to mirror their style of vibrato a bit. It doesn’t have to be the same it might be helpful to have some convention in place. Not conformity per se but a shared vision.

April 14, 2020, 3:22 PM · I find wrist vibrato easier with my first finger, while arm vibrato is easier with my third finger. Second finger is up for grabs.

Fourth finger is hard no matter what.

April 14, 2020, 4:20 PM · Jeewon wrote, "I prefer to tilt the instrument rather than crank the elbow to the right."

But Jake's a lot younger than you, or Andrew, or me. That matters too. As you get older the one item of flexibility that you lose really badly is the left shoulder's ability to bring your left elbow under your instrument.

My teacher taught me that you should have a favorite finger for which vibrato just seems to work well no matter what you do. Then that finger teaches the others.

Edited: April 14, 2020, 9:01 PM · Regarding wrist and arm vibrato: what I've noticed is that people with long arms and large hands tend to prefer arm vibrato, while people with short arms and small hands tend to prefer wrist vibrato.

As for what teachers tend to teach, I've heard the theory that young children can learn wrist vibrato first because they pick up motor skills more easily, while adult starters should start with arm vibrato because it uses larger muscles.

Interestingly, my experience with arm and wrist is the opposite of Charlie's. On first finger I find arm vibrato easier; on all other fingers wrist vibrato is much easier.

I feel I have to use a shoulder rest because of hand size -- although I'm an average-sized guy, my hands fit in XS gloves and I know people as short as 4'8" who have longer fingers than mine. So for me the main purpose of the shoulder rest is to tilt my viola. If I were playing restless, my left arm would have to be right up against the bottom of the viola just to be able to reach the C string. Even with a large tilt, for C string vibrato, my thumb contacts the neck almost at its center.

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