Teaching something you were never "taught."

December 21, 2020, 9:30 AM · In recent conversations with my students as well as a friend from the forum the topic of "Vibrato" has come up. My problem is that while I can do a good wrist-finger vibrato, I was never taught - it just evolved and one day (a very long time ago) surprised both my teacher and me.

Now my students are asking me how to create that vibrato sound themselves. I know that the "Nike Slogan" (just do it) will not satisfy them.

Perhaps it is time to ask another teacher to assist. Maybe it is time for them to move-on but I still have stuff I want to teach them.

Your thoughts will be appreciated.

Replies (23)

Edited: December 21, 2020, 11:20 AM · It's usually like that. My teacher kept telling me the fundamentals, I remember trying for some time, until one day I "suddenly" understood how it works and it came out, I knew how to vibrate.
I also remember one thing that really helped me get there was practicing the movement on a table, like as if you're doing violin vibrato on a piano.
I think vibrato isn't something to be "taught", but rather something to be discovered. You must offer guidance.
December 21, 2020, 11:17 AM · If something is important, it is human nature to actually keep thinking about it and working on it without necessarily being fully aware that it's on our minds. Then, one day, we suddenly get an "insight" seemingly out of nowhere. That's one way our minds work, and we all experience it - that sudden insight or action that some part of our brain has been working on. That's what a psychologist would say. (Fortunately, I'm a psychologist....most of the time, anyway)
Cheers,
Sandy
December 21, 2020, 11:44 AM · I think Flesch has both good conceptual insights, and a few exercises meant to stimulate different aspects of vibrato.

I came in with a wonky and stiff arm vibrato when I started working with my teacher. She insisted on teaching me a wrist vibrato, believing arm vibratos to tend towards the inherently tense. I think Flesch has some thinking along those same lines.

Besides the particulars of the technique, she took a stance of insisting that my vibrato be relaxed at all times, and would point out during lessons when I was using a stiff vibrato, and point me towards the sound of a relaxed vibrato, rather than just claiming that this was based on what she was seeing me do. She would also point out things like me cutting the vibrato early on notes, and insisting that I vibrate through the length of the note. She would also ask me for different intensities of vibrato in terms of expression.

Basically, she pointed my ears in the right direction, and over time, I have internalized the idea that my vibrato must be as relaxed as possible, and I have been able to form a mental representation of this and mold it by having it consistently insisted on and brought to mind in my lessons. It's a long and ongoing process, but at this point, I have the awareness to be able to do my own work on it without needing the prompting and pointing out, which I think is your goal for any student you may have.

I think Sandy seems to have a congruent conception.

December 21, 2020, 7:21 PM · I was methodically taught -- and later re-taught -- a wrist vibrato, by different teachers at different times in my life. I was also taught an arm vibrato by someone teaching a masterclass.

I don't think that it's something that "just happens" for most students. (If you look around YouTube, you can see just how much of a hash most autodidacting learners make of the technique.)

The player needs a correctly-configured left hand -- relaxed, stable, neutrally relaxed. Then try Simon Fischer's exercises for developing vibrato.

Edited: December 22, 2020, 3:02 AM · Why use autodidacts as a reference... This is just one of the many reasons why the violin isn't for autodidacts, at least not like a guitar or a piano for the intermediate amateur level. I never saw an autodidact with proper posture and sound production, of course they will need tons of exercises to develop some sort of vibrato. They need tons of exercises for everything and it will always still look unnatural.

Lydia, if one has good bases (you've just listed a few) and a teacher who explains, demonstrates and gives advice, it will naturally happen for many students.

Edited: December 22, 2020, 3:57 AM · OK, I too found a decent vibrato on my own.
One in ten of my students also.
But vibrato is a series or physical motions, and can thus be taught to anyone. Only the "magic" is magic!

Menuhin's Six Lessons gives but one tiny paragraph to vibrato, but his minute analysis and integration of every other gesture can enable anyone to master and improve it.

December 22, 2020, 8:49 AM · I also taught myself vibrato. I was taking lessons, but my teacher had not yet introduced vibrato or vibrato exercises. I would go to symphony concerts and study the concertmaster’s vibrato and experiment. Luckily I ended up with a decent arm vibrato and no bad habits. I have since learned wrist vibrato, but still tend to default to arm vibrato.
As a teacher I teach vibrato based on my study of how to teach vibrato (I also generally teach it earlier than most teachers, usually early Suzuki book 2 level - unless there are glaring posture/focus issues).
Here’s how I approach teaching vibrato:
I tend to be pretty minimal in my instructions for vibrato and try to allow students to develop it in their own way as much as possible (while avoiding bad habits). I teach them about 3 vibrato exercises. 1.Sliding up and down the string with a light finger and gradually making the motion smaller and faster until they are in one spot and adding the bow.
2. Putting the hand in 4th position and knocking it against the shoulder of the instrument.
3. Also in 4th position using the wrist to pull each finger back (flattening the top joint) and push it forward (curving the joint back into place).
In initial vibrato learning, I also don’t care if they have an arm or wrist vibrato, I let them do whatever comes most naturally with the idea that they can learn the other later (I probably get 75% arm, 25% wrist this way-which might be because my own vibrato tends toward an arm vibrato).
I also feel that getting vibrato is more of a “light bulb” moment than a purely gradual improvement, and students seem to go from “can kind of get a wiggle here and there” straight to “usable vibrato” practically overnight.
I also tell them to watch youtube videos of good players and silently try to copy their vibrato (Meditation from Thais is a good piece to search since videographers like to do left hand close-ups for this one).
If this doesn’t do the trick, there are many other exercises out there, including using egg shakers/tic tac boxes, and/or rhythms with the metronome.
December 22, 2020, 9:38 AM · May I "re-print" an old post!

"Learning vibrato.

To start with, I teach a forearm movement, but with a flexible wrist and fingers: the elbow leads the wrist which leads the knuckles which lead the fingertips. Visually, the effect is rather like an underwater plant, waving to and fro in a gentle current. As the motion speeds up, the hand vibrates a little more than the forearm, but something is still happening in the elbow. The fingers stay slightly passive, but tonic enough not to slip.

My "underwater plant" motion is mainly to find that subtle synthesis of tonus and flexibilty. For a faster, maybe narrower vibrato, my "plant" get a little stiffer, but only just enough.

I have never practiced a "finger" vibrato as such, so I am still learning! But in the highest postions, when the whole hand is leaning over the violin's shoulder, my vibrato is more vertical than along-the-string; up there it has to be narrower anyway.

Depending on the student, the weather etc, I find I can choose between an "analytical approach", mastering individual elemets separately before combining them; and progressvely refining global movements in a "combo" (Gestalt?) approach.

I hasten to add that my wave-motions are done without the bow to begin with!

I have had a few students who have found a beautiful vibrato on their own: my approach tries to give the others this possibility.


I'll try to describe briefly what I do:
- Pressure Zero. One finger on each string; minimal or no contact between the base of the index and the neck; no pressure; a gentle back & forth shifting/sliding motion.
- Pressure No 1. Slight finger pressure with equally slight thumb counter-pressure; the strings descend halfway to the fingerboard. .
- Pressure No 2, a little more pressure; the strings arrive on the fingerboard, the fingertips drag more on the strings; as the forearm approaches, the hand leans back and the fingers curl; as the forearm recedes, the hand leans forewards and the fingers stretch.
- Pressure No 3, only just enough to stop the fingertips sliding; the complex motions of Pressure No 2 have become a combined arm & hand vibrato, with equal pressure from all 4 flexible fingers.
The only risk is increasing the finger pressure (and thumb counter-pressure) to Nos 4,5,6 etc without realising.

Excess tension, e.g. from the middle finger, or from the thumb, will block the wrist and stiffen the whole process.

It usually works!
Hope this is comprehensible...

PS
Concerning the "patting head & rubbing tummy" syndrome I have found that on long bowed note, the student's right arm wants to join in the vibrato when both elbows have a similar opening (usually mid-bow). This is normal: when we hold something in both hands, (e.g. a tray of drinks) they work in perfect sychronisation.
I try a de-sync exercise: a quick flapping motion in one hand, plus a long, slow arc in the other arm, so slow, that one can keep an eye on both sides at once."

Edited: December 22, 2020, 9:43 AM · I taught myself vibrato as a child. My childhood teacher (of 10 years) did not really intervene. Later, as an adult, when I restarted violin, I was glad to at least have my old vibrato back!

Then I played in a "mixed recital" and one of the teachers there (not my teacher) took me aside and said, "Paul your vibrato is very thin. You should work on that." I must have given him a very puzzled look because he said, "You may feel like you're doing a lot with your hand, but nobody can hear it."

At my next lesson I asked my teacher about it, and he smiled, and he sighed, and he told me to stop doing vibrato entirely for a few weeks, and then he would rebuild it. Sure enough, I was assigned the same kind of exercises Ingrid described, and then "vibrato pieces" like "Ave Maria", and so forth. Now people can hear it.

My teacher does wrist vibrato with all his students first, simply because it usually is not the most obvious, but it's also probably the most versatile, and he wants them to get it right while they are (mostly) still very young. My daughter was also taught vibrato by him, without any wing-flapping or tummy-rubbing. Arm vibrato was introduced at least three years later.

December 22, 2020, 10:01 AM · Ingrid, I'm under the impression that modern Suzuki now normally teaches vibrato in Book 2 (with the Brahms Waltz) rather than in Book 4 (as was common in my childhood).

My son's Suzuki program recital was full of Waltz-playing young'uns wobbling their way through. :-)

December 22, 2020, 10:08 AM · Vibrato in Book 2. And calculus in the 6th grade.
Edited: December 22, 2020, 10:38 AM · Lydia, I think it is becoming more common to teach it in book 2 (along with starting shifting), although I still see many teachers who wait until later (usually book 3, rather than 4, these days, though).

I think teachers realized that it didn’t work to suddenly add vibrato and shifting (and back in the day-note reading) all at once in book 4. I also find early book 2 is when a lot of students start noticing and wanting to do vibrato, so I’d prefer to guide them rather than them end up with bad habits.

December 22, 2020, 10:20 AM · Although I had 7 years of violin lessons before I was 12 years old I had not learned vibrato - the subject never came up, in fact I never got beyond 3rd position - all that I learned later on my own. I loved the sound of my last teacher's violin playing during the final 2 years at MSM, but never learned how to do that.

I then quit lessons and playing until I was about 13, when I resumed with a vengeance. My father was an avid amateur violinist and I asked him to show me how to do vibrato. He gave me the same arm-vibrato exercise that Ingrid described above. It took about a month before I could apply it in a practical way to my music making. It served me well and I soon became concertmaster of my high school orchestra for 3 years and years later I became CM of our community orchestra for 20 years. Actually everything I learned beyond 3rd position I taught myself. I guess it served me well, because by the time I was 16 I had done pretty well - I was into my 2nd year as HS concertmaster and had a number of concertos worked up to some level (even if never performed: Bach A minor, Mozart 3 & 5, Mendelssohn and Beethoven and was working on the last "half" of Bach's 2nd Partita). Apparently those 2 years at MSM were not completely wasted.

I followed that same method for teaching vibrato during the 40 years that I taught violin lessons, but also added teaching a wrist vibrato by starting in 3rd position with the wrist against the shoulder - as Ingrid described (for 4th position). I never taught any student beyond the two Mozart concertos in the Suzuki books, although I did teach some chamber music for a student that was in a high school chamber music program - after she had finished those Mozarts.

After I sustained a neck injury at age 55 that paralyzed parts of my left arm and hand for a year I completely lost my arm vibrato. I had to stop playing violin for a year, and even lost my cello vibrato for most of that time. I've been working on wrist and finger vibrato ever since (that's been 30 years) and while it is not where I want it to be it comes partly alive about 30 minutes after each playing session starts. For some strange reason it seems to work better on viola than violin. My cello arm vibrato is close to where it used to be (but cello vibrato, like guitar vibrato, is notoriously more ergonomic than violin).

I don't see any reason why any musician can't teach others what they have self-learned.

December 22, 2020, 10:39 AM · Same here Lydia, I was taught it in book 4 right along with Vivaldi's A Minor...Did your teacher also give you a 35mm film case to fill with beads and rattle it with your wrist?

December 22, 2020, 11:20 AM · My teacher started mentioning it in Book 3, but I think that as that was about the time Covid changed things that it's been challenging for him to teach it remotely. We're now in Book 4 (2nd Seitz - though really focusing on two outside pieces right now). I wouldn't cally my wrist vibrato polished - by no means, but I can actually do it now. That's a beginning.
December 22, 2020, 1:20 PM · My impression was that Vivaldi A minor is (used to be) the pinnacle of a Suzuki beginner's achievement...now you are playing real pieces (lol) and you venture it into reading, shifting, and vibrato and in Japan, you were probably 6 years old. My students are (will be) older by Vivaldi and it has made sense to start reading in book 1 and shifting in book 2. I was not systematic about teaching vibrato, barely remember how I taught it to my early students, don't remember how I was taught other than it was in book 4 along with the other stuff, but as the distance learning wore on, had several students pushing book 4 who needed to get started rather than wait for the pandemic to be "over".

I sought out some online training on how to teach vibrato online and set up a vibrato class that was attended seriously by six early book 2 to early 4 students. We met masterclass-style 3-4x/week for 2 months for instruction (using descriptions, demonstrations, and props) and supervised practice. As many have mentioned, it takes trying it out until it clicks, but I didn't want students to experiment too much when I can't course-correct them with physical guidance. By meeting basically every other day, I could enforce practicing and nip errant ways quickly.

After the 2-month vibrato intensive, we reduced group practice to once a week. I used the time for a book 1 reading intensive but in January we'll flip back. Two of the original vibrato 6 are considered graduated, so the remaining 4 will continue, as well as a few who had not joined the first round (but not the 6yo in book 2 - I'm asking them to wait). The irony is that when close contact lessons resume, I'll be much more experienced teaching vibrato online than physically.

Cello vibrato is another story. I'm self-taught, well aware of my limitations, and would prefer that a proper cellist take on my student (not happening yet for various reasons). So far I merely prevent my student from doing things that seem suspicious to my string player sensibilities.

December 22, 2020, 3:14 PM · Here is a violinist.com post that has vibrato exercises for developing the motion that you can introduce your student to. https://www.violinist.com/blog/susannaviolin/20207/28377/
December 22, 2020, 6:13 PM · Rebecca, that brought back memories I had totally forgotten about! Yes, but filled with pennies rather than beads. I did a fair chunk of "polishing the fingerboard" with a finger on a folded kleenex to get a gliding feeling.
December 23, 2020, 2:58 PM · I notice that the single most common problem for self-taught vibrato is that it tends to be fast, tense, and uncontrolled, and dies after just a few back-and-forth motions. My guess is that many autodidacts tend to rush into trying to do everything at full speed rather than practice slowly, resulting in vibrato being an arm or hand twitch rather than a sustained motion. The biggest problem seems to be impatience, rather than any particular difficulty learning the correct technique.

Vibrato seems individual enough that, as long as you know a few basic exercises, teaching it is mostly about preventing bad habits from developing.

Edited: December 26, 2020, 9:16 AM · May I make a suggestion?

This isn't about the techniques you are teaching. It is about communicating in a teaching, training, coaching, or other helping role.

I would avoid the term "try" as much as possible (as in "try this," or "try doing it this way"). To "try" to do something implies 1) it will be difficult, and 2) the person may fail.

Instead, look at how I started this post: "May I make a suggestion?"

With this phrase, you are actually asking the person's permission to tell them what to do. This is polite and communicates a desire to help. The person is likely to say "yes," and be open to what you have to say. And, there is the clear implication that you know exactly what you are talking about.

Then, you can be comfortably definite: "Do it this way...."

That phrase ("May I make a suggestion?") is wonderful not only in a teaching role, but also for use in work and interpersonal situations (especially with family or friends). Just make sure not to over-use it. Use it for the tough stuff.

Cheers,
Sandy

December 26, 2020, 12:02 PM · “May I make a suggestion?” is probably okay in a teaching studio. The student is there to seek your suggestions, but it depends on the teacher-student relationship and communication styles.

However, I disagree that the phrase is genuinely asking for someone’s permission, at least as it's used in social situations. For many people, “May I make a suggestion?” is a rhetorical question whose only acceptable answer is, “Yes,” unless you want a confrontation.

As a teacher, if you ask that in a lesson, then be prepared to switch to an alternate phrasing and not be offended in case a student replies, “No.” Some younger children or students with certain personalities may take things literally. They may sincerely not feel ready for more suggestions that day (overwhelmed with too many things, having a bad day).

For what it’s worth, I once saw someone politely answer “No, thank you” to that question in a social situation. The questioner, a stranger, transformed immediately from friendly to enraged, and screamed at the respondent.

Edited: December 26, 2020, 1:12 PM · Frieda:
Well, grammatically, the phrase is asking someone's permission to in effect tell them what to do. However, yes, I agree with your concerns about it. Of course it depends on the situation and the relationship. And it definitely is not a good idea to say it routinely or more than a couple of times at most.

But the phrase does have a place, but (yes) not if it's a command disguised as a verbal "ploy" with a lot of anger behind it. But when and where it is genuine and fits the situation, it does the job.

And in fact, if it is a situation where "no" is or may be expected, then no other response is necessary on your part, because the other person is not likely to be convinced by anything you would say anyway.

But my preference would be to still eliminate "Try this..." and instead simply say "Do it this way..." You can then respond with a "Good try.." or something similar.
Sandy

Edited: December 27, 2020, 11:59 AM · Teaching vibrato is relatively easy, if you know how to do it. It is a real cop out if you say, "don't worry, it will come." Many of the above methods are standard and work.

The trick is to let the student know that their is NO mysterious, secret way to impart this knowledge such as the following:

"Whether in singing or in life, we can glorify God only by yielding to His Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19; Ephesians 4:30). We must allow our being to be filled with His presence as naturally as we allow our lungs to fill with air. If we push or strain, we are exerting our own will against His natural flow, just as oversinging leads to harshness rather than beauty."

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