How did you learn / how do you teach vibrato?

January 24, 2021, 9:31 AM · A recent thread about vibrato problems featured an OP who began learning vibrato with arm vibrato exclusively. One of the other posters stated that she was taught starting with wrist/hand vibrato.

It got me wondering how vibrato is taught nowadays, if there is a majority consensus or if every teacher finds their own way of introducing it.

I learned all three versions--arm, hand, finger--of vibrato simultaneously. I was given rhythmic exercises (no bow, just the left arm/hand motion) to do on all four fingers on all four strings. First with the arm, then with the hand, finally with the finger, slowly at the beginning, then speeding up by increments.

After a few weeks of this my vibrato appeared basically by itself with little extra effort.

What was/is your experience? And for the teachers out there: How do you teach it?

Replies (5)

January 24, 2021, 10:10 AM · I personally taught myself an arm vibrato (I was taking lessons at the time, but my teacher had not yet introduced vibrato or vibrato exercises). Luckily I learned it correctly. I later learned how to use wrist vibrato, but still default to arm vibrato.
As a teacher I don’t care which vibrato students learn first as long as it is done correctly.

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.

January 24, 2021, 11:02 AM · Here is another recent thread where people have commented on teaching vibrato: (it was a bit harder to find because "vibrato" wasn't in the title)
January 25, 2021, 9:13 AM · I came up with a cool speed up vibrato exercise that works for all levels from starting out vibrato to more advanced players as a warm-up. A parent live recorded and shared this demonstration at a lesson pre-pandemic. Just uploaded it and hope it helps!

January 25, 2021, 9:58 AM · It is true that there seems to be an aha-moment, when something clicks and an usable vibrato all of a sudden becomes possible. It happened to me--after a few weeks of the preliminary exercises I tried to describe. Very different from intonation for example which I never seem to learn for good.

Of course this is only the beginning; the ultimate goal in the area of vibrato is control, to be able to modify it and adapt it to the musical context. And I still have only partial control.

What intrigued me though and made me post this thread is the existence of very different methods of teaching vibrato: Starting with arm vibrato, starting with wrist vibrato, starting with the different kinds simultaneously, maybe there are even more variations (there is some similarity between the motion of shifting and the vibrato motion for example). I just wondered whether there is a preferred sequence among teachers or if everybody has their own way of doing it. Plus what people think are the advantages / disadvantages of the various methods.

January 25, 2021, 11:12 AM · So far, we have much excellent advice for learning the various components of vibrato. I have a more unified approach which my students have found very effective.

I'll quote from an old post yet again, despite its length...

"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...

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."

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