Moving from arm to hand vibrato

May 28, 2021, 6:13 PM · I have a young student who's fairly advanced -- just started the Mendelssohn recently. He has a developed arm vibrato which he can do with a lot of intensity. I'd like him to develop a wrist vibrato (or hand vibrato), and am wondering if others have taken any of their students down this path, and if so, how did they go about it?

Replies (19)

Edited: May 28, 2021, 6:52 PM · There was plenty of good stuff in this recent thread:

Damage to my cervical spine vertebrae 30 years ago resulted in partial paralysis of my left arm and hand. After one year recovery was sufficient to slowly restart playing the violin, but I was never able to recover my arm vibrato. Therefore I worked on developing hand vibrato. Some of the references in the cited link are very helpful. My cello vibrato was also affected, but recovered faster and better.

May 28, 2021, 6:47 PM · Can your student control speed and amplitude of his vibrato? If so, why mess with it? If not, I would focus on developing the ability to control and vary the vibrato. That could result in modifying the arm vibrato more towards a hand vibrato, if such modification is helpful.

I remember reading somewhere a noted teacher’s observation that students with long arms tended towards the arm vibrato and students with shorter arms tended more towards a hand vibrato. My long arms and successful arm vibrato would agree with this though others’ mileage may vary.

Tl:dr what matters is the ability to control and vary the vibrato.

May 28, 2021, 7:28 PM · If it ain't broke, don't fix it, as the adage goes.
May 28, 2021, 10:02 PM · Greetings,
as noted above. Not saying it isn’t worth working on developing a hand vibrato. In fact this is what my first teacher at RCM tried to do to me.However, I have come to believe that a not only is a pure version of any particular vibrato quiterare but not even always the best way to do things. (Szeryng once stated that a combination hand and arm vibrato was the most efficacious) So, doing all the bog standard exercise for developing writs vibrato is fine, but these days I’m inclined to just have the student practice the vibrato exercises in warming up. They are demonstrated beautifully by Nathan Cole on youtube. Fischer makes a point of not specifically identify ‘variation x’ as for the hand version and ‘variation y’ is for the arm type. Rather, as a result of practicing movements which relate to both there is a massive increase in flexibility and over all control.
May 29, 2021, 12:51 AM · Ever the contrarian, I think it's worth developing the wrist vibrato. I am unable to produce an arm vibrato that doesn't introduce tension (which you can hear, and might be more a ME problem than anything), and I think the wrist vibrato is inherently less tense (not that there aren't big players that make it work). Even besides, it's a good tool to have in the arsenal, and while it might feel like a tough remediation, developing the wrist vibrato shouldn't degrade the existing arm vibrato.

I feel like the wrist vibrato loosens the whole mechanism.

May 29, 2021, 3:52 AM · Learning vibrato (from an old discussion)

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.

May 29, 2021, 7:21 AM · Don't forget that first finger joint next to the nail. I'm not sure if anyone has mentioned this. If it isn't flexible enough, then all of the arm, hand, and upper finger movements may not translate the vibrato movements to the finger tips enough.

Without exerting pressure, flex that joint for just a couple of minutes on all 4 fingers (one at a time) by holding your hands on your legs while sitting or at a typing position. Very, very gently rotate that joint back and forth, without pressure or stretching.

May 29, 2021, 12:48 PM · As a young student I was taught both, and I was always told that both are useful for different reasons, situationally. I am thankful for this because I have found this to be true.
May 30, 2021, 7:13 AM · 'Both are useful for different reasons'. Can you explain why you would use wrist or arm vibrato and not the other in a particular piece ?
May 30, 2021, 11:04 AM · For me; mostly arm vibrato in the lower positions, and mostly hand/wrist vibrato in the upper positions. Otherwise, the hand would bump into the fiddle in the upper positions. Arm vibrato uses the larger, stronger muscles in the arm, but can be too fast, tight, lock up. Wrist vibrato tends to be too slow, and is hard on those small joints in the wrist. Learning both helped me. "Finger vibrato" is a misnomer. The muscles that power that rotation at the finger tip are lower, in the arm.
Edited: May 30, 2021, 1:14 PM · Joel: I wasn't referring to "finger vibrato." It's just that if that one joint before the finger tip has no flexibility whatsoever, then it may very well limit the impact of any kind of vibrato. No? So what is the role of that finger joint in any kind of vibrato? It just seems to me that it has not been addressed in these discussions.
Edited: May 30, 2021, 2:34 PM · Even if the tip joint were solid (as it might be for some people with arthritis), you mustn't forget that also the flesh at the finger tip is soft and supple and mobile. The entire arm from elbow to skin at fingertip is an elastic system (like a bow's combination of stick and hair), none of which should be intentionally rigid. Those slo-mo demos of tip joint flexion that people invent to demonstrate "finger vibrato" are silly: the fingers aren't even at the correct angle to the strings for that to be possible!
May 30, 2021, 6:19 PM · Greetings,
Joel, I may have misunderstood, but I am not clear why hand vibrato is hard on the wrist. I a, sure it could be if the mechanism was incorrect but that is true of any action connected with violin playing.
I go along with the premise Dounis repeatedly states that vibrating on exercises is the way to guarantee that the joints are all relaxed and working harmoniously.
As far as the body in general is concerned, I think it is movement rather than paralysis that creates fluidity and ease.
May 30, 2021, 6:55 PM · I was taught a wrist vibrato and I'm mostly happy with it. It's not great but then neither is the rest of anything else I do on the violin. I find arm vibrato to be something I use when I need a real jolt of intensity.
June 1, 2021, 2:39 PM · I generally ended up teaching both, but usually with some context, and only after their primary vibrato was nicely developed. There are a lot of situations where arm vibrato simply won't work. I also find that in an intense piece of music, switching between wrist/arm can give certain muscles a quick break.
June 1, 2021, 3:12 PM · I do a similar alternation between right elbow and wrist in those dreadful pages of orchestral tremolos..

BTW in the approach I describe above (at such length!) the forearm doesn't get stiff, and the hand often moves more visibly than the forearm.

Edited: June 2, 2021, 3:21 PM · Brian Kelly wrote " 'Both are useful for different reasons'. Can you explain why you would use wrist or arm vibrato and not the other in a particular piece ?"

Sure, Brian. It can be stylistic and/or practical. For instance, a stylistic example could be choosing wrist vibrato for music that requires a narrower vibrato, such as Mozart. It's possible to do that with arm vibrato, but many people (myself included) find a narrow wrist vibrato easier to control. I mentioned that the choice may be practical as well. Sometimes I would primarily use wrist vibrato but then switch to arm vibrato in the same piece if I want vibrato in a part where I can't physically do wrist vibrato. For instance, when I am playing fingered octaves in a position that requires me to reach around the bout of the violin, I find it awkward to use wrist vibrato in that case because my wrist's position doesn't allow me the movement to do the motion optimally. Therefore, arm vibrato works well instead.

June 2, 2021, 7:37 PM · I think a violinist could use more of an arm centered vibrato when playing chamber music with a violist or cellist. Might be desirable.
Edited: June 3, 2021, 5:50 PM · Thank you for that information Michael.

Just out of interest : after years of trying to get a wrist vibrato going and not being happy with the result, I tried to learn an arm vibrato instead. I did not end up with an arm vibrato but I very much improved my wrist vibrato in the process....go figure ?

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