How to keep 4th finger from sliding around when vibrating in high positions

January 3, 2022, 5:55 PM · I’ve always had a way too wide vibrato with my 4th finger in high positions. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered that it is because my 4th finger is sliding on the string instead of flexing from the first knuckle. I’m not exactly sure how to correct it either. If I apply enough pressure to keep it stationary, then my knuckle locks up and my 4th finger vibrato is reduced to a tense rolling of the skin of the tip of my finger instead of an actual vibrato, but if I apply the minimum amount to stop the note, then I slide. I tried making the 4th higher above the fingerboard so it comes down more vertically to the string, and that does help, but then I get tense in my bicep because it requires me to bring my elbow pretty far in.

Replies (24)

January 3, 2022, 6:44 PM · Years ago I noticed in some music (Bruch concerto) I played edited (i.e., fingered) by Menuhin that he tended to mark such notes to be played with the third finger.
Lesson learned!
January 4, 2022, 1:42 AM · Indeed Andrew. Kreisler too was very reluctant to use the 4th if the 3rd was possible.
January 4, 2022, 1:57 AM · Of some importance might be the amount of pinky strength you have in that muscle at the edge of your palm. Also, try to not bring the elbow in too much, but actually bring it out as much as you can (looks weird I know), this way you will have more leverage to keep the finger down firm.
January 4, 2022, 3:50 AM · It can't be all down to market economics as left hand guitars are everywhere.
Edited: January 4, 2022, 4:04 AM · This *is* very difficult so it is normal you have difficulties. Like others said, many use the 3rd finger instead, but then again we should be clear that many top soloists *do* have a super great vibrato with the 4rd finger in high positions, e.g., Hilary Hahn, Julia Fischer, and many more, it is certainly not impossible. I am just an amateur but I think it can be practiced just like learning vibrato with easier fingers and in lower positions. It needs a lot of practice with the same standard vibrato exercises (Simon Fischer Basics) but doing them with 4th finger in high position. Some tips from that book: do slow vibrato movements with the end joint, or with the base of the finger (see Basics); try to vibrate faster from the base of the finger, but still having a very flexible end joint; do the vibrato with 2nd or 3rd finger, remember and feel how it sounds, store it in your brain as it were, and immediately try to mimic it with 4rd finger; "think" the vibrato as 1/16th triplets in your head, and reflect the thought in your vibrato; use enough bow, like imagining that the bow is the "motor" that drives the vibrato, etc etc. I am not a master myself not at all but I am convinced it can be practiced if enough time is put in it. Devote a small (or longer) amount of practice time on it in *every* practice session.
Edited: January 4, 2022, 7:02 AM ·

Practice Harmonic vibrato; Harmonic vibrato makes a very ghostly sound. If you find Harmonic vibrato near impossible, this means you need to practice very it very slowly and often to train the mind to do the movement without weight.

January 4, 2022, 8:26 AM · Does your hand & arm position allow the pinky to be sufficiently curled?
Could the weight of the hand "perch" a little more on the pinky?
Could the ring finger help to hold down the string?
January 4, 2022, 11:03 AM · 4th finger vibrato on high notes:-- The sliding motion on a vibrato is wrong for any finger. I am annoyed when I see, in print by famous teachers that should know better, that sliding motion used as a vibrato training exercise. Vibrato in a high position does not have to be physically very far, the vibrating length is short, but it does need to be fast. I also prefer 3rd finger to 4th finger in high positions; it reaches farther! For fourth finger vibrato make sure all the other fingers are off of the fingerboard, curved, with the last digit hitting the string at about 30 o back from vertical. And unlike the other fingers, it is OK to tense the 4th finger a little, to prevent those joints from collapsing.
January 4, 2022, 11:36 AM · A little bit of sliding on a narrow finger like the pinky, can come in handy to make the width of the vibrato similar to that of the wider fingers.
If one really really doesn't want the finger to slide, a little rosin applied to the fingertip will pretty much make that go away. :-)
January 4, 2022, 5:20 PM · I’ll try the rosin. If that fixes it, it will save me a bunch of heartache.
January 4, 2022, 5:22 PM · Greetings,
not part of the unending yes/no debate, but it might be worth taking off the should rest just to be able to take a closer look at what is happening. It is quite possible you are tensing up or squeezing with the shoulder. Practice with the shoulder completely relaxed.
You might then try a little out of the box exercise and practice Wohlfart Opus 45 #13 one octave higher than written….
Edited: January 4, 2022, 10:00 PM · It depends on the response spectrum of your instrument, but since vibrato engages the overtones of the fundamental tone being fingered, I think that it would make sense to try to tailor the width of your vibrato to the fundamental tone being fingered. If you do this, notes in the 2nd octave of a string might do well enough with half the vibrato width of their lower octave in the first octave - and so on down to the lower strings, etc.

Of course if you have a lousy instrument you might have to shake for all your are worth! This happened to me after my cello had broken and using a borrowed really lousy, "plywood" topped cello I had to play some solo parts in an orchestra concert and to try to get "my tone" I shook my hand so hard that it flew off the fingerboard - missed a beat but otherwise OK.

Just my thoughts on it.

Edited: January 5, 2022, 4:14 AM · rosin on your finger seems like a really bad idea? you don't want your fingertip to be sticky since it needs to slide smoothly over the string when shifting (also substitution shifts), moreover there is then a danger that you distribute small amounts of rosin all over the string so your string would get sticky which would then impede smooth shifts on any finger? well, I never tried it, so perhaps it isn't so bad in reality.
Edited: January 5, 2022, 3:27 PM · Jean, I was just kidding with the rosin on the fingertip suggestion. I wouldn't recommend applying vaseline for extra slidability either. :-)

My apologies to Christopher the OP, for my sometimes bizarre sense of humor.

Edited: January 5, 2022, 1:08 PM · I agree with David that a little bit of sliding is helpful in gaining width in one's 4th-finger vibrato in higher positions. In another recent (within 2 months?) thread I reported having made this apparently rather unoriginal discovery after hearing a violinist whose vibrato slid around to a degree that most of us would consider grotesque. I don't see how one can tell, just from listening, whether vibrato of "normal" width is achieved by the finger rolling or sliding, except in lower positions where there may be some variation in tonal color in addition to pitch. If the OP's vibrato is too wide, however, then he just needs to back off on the sliding but might not need to stop doing it entirely.

It's interesting to me that so much emphasis is placed on NOT pressing down on the string too hard. Nathan Cole preaches "minimum violin pressure," and we constantly hear that especially in high positions one doesn't need or want to press the string clear down to the fingerboard. But in this thread James said that maybe the OP's pinky might not be strong enough, presumably to press the string down hard enough that your fingertip cannot move as you execute your vibrato motion, which it seems to me would require planting it on the fingerboard.

David -- by the way -- not to hijack this thread -- but about a year ago (or so) there was a thread about whether the right-hand thumb should go on the leather or in the gap between the leather and the frog (NOT the notch OF the frog). I indicated I was strongly in the "gap" camp whereas you suggested I give the leather a real try. Anyway I did try it and, after a few months to just get used to it, I decided that I prefer having my thumb actually on the leather -- control is just as good but I experience less fatigue in the tip of the thumb. I would have sent you an email about this but your email address is understandably well concealed from the public -- at least I could not find it.

Now ... back to 4th finger vibrato.

Edited: January 5, 2022, 1:51 PM · ah David, I missed that smiley, and now you leave me ashamed for thinking that you would actually be serious in making that crazy suggestion, so, my apologies! you got me!
January 5, 2022, 9:03 PM · Usually we have the other problem -- we want desperately to finish a scale passage with a 4-4 slide as we are often taught to finger our 3-octave (major) scales but if the scale is high enough then there is a little rosin that interferes with the shift.
January 6, 2022, 8:42 AM · true Paul, but note, that having quite a lot of rosin on your strings over the top of the fingerboard is also often a useful sign that one should take better care of bowing closer to the bridge.
January 7, 2022, 3:13 PM · Actually, David, I have used rosin on the fingertip as a nice way of helping students to initially "feel" vibrato for the first time (especially those with super dry/smooth skin). It works well! However, it obviously wouldn't work if someone was playing a piece.
January 8, 2022, 12:03 PM · First, back away from the vibrato question and think about your high-position technique. You may be using too much pressure in general. Remember, to stop the note does NOT require pushing the E string to the fingerboard. Practice some high position scales, arpeggios, etudes (Gavinies is great for this) using the lightest pressure you can use and still make a nice sound.

Next, in E string high position, experiment with reducing the pressure until the note becomes fuzzy and loses volume. Now do this with your 3rd and 4th position by using your usual vibrato motion (finger, wrist, arm or combo).

Generally our vibrato in lower position involves rolling the finger surface in some way to change the stop location. In upper position you don't have to change the stop location, all you have to do is reduce pressure and produce an oscillation in the sound. This can produce a vibrato that is quite subtle and beautiful.

Many violinists finger passages to land on the 3rd finger for additional strength. It's a good solution sometimes. But sometimes the passagework is too fast to make this a practical solution and you have to land on the fourth finger.

It's worth strengthening the fourth finger in general and there are chapters of books written on this. But I wouldn't make that the focus of your work -- you don't really want to brute-force this problem and you'll negatively affect your left hand technique if all you do is emphasize a "stronger" 4th finger. Flexibility and speed should be the goal and strength is a means to that goal.

And another point I'd like to make is that there is no law anywhere that says every note has to be vibrated. In fact in many passages it is more important to produce a clear, lovely note with perfect intonation and vibrato can actually get in the way.

I think people are afraid sometimes to not use vibrato just because they've been taught that constant vibrato is the way to play. That notion needs to be debunked and we need to think of vibrato as an ornament, a tool in our toolbox. Not the base definition of our sound. And I say this as someone who loves vibrato and is proud of his vibrato. Most of us violinists use too much vibrato generally.

January 10, 2022, 4:03 AM · interesting Thomas, to think of vibrato as an ornament is one approach (a very old approach indeed), but the complementary approach, of continuous vibrato, is equally valid (and very different, both have their merits). in the continuous approach, *not* doing vibrato then becomes an "ornament", i.e., one of the tools for expressiveness. for example Anne-Sophie Mutter applies this tool often.
Edited: January 10, 2022, 12:38 PM · Of recent, I've been trying different strategies for 4th finger vibrato. I also notice a little sliding in 4th finger vibrato.

Though not regularly, I've tried a cheap, light-colored rosin (most grip) on my 4th finger. I suggest cheap, because I wouldn't want to use my regular, Leatherwood Crisp for that purpose, where finger oils could make their way to the bow hair. I see rosin tipped vibrato as being more transitional.

I'm also trying to use a little different part of the tip of the 4th finger, where vibrato might be easier and a little more natural sounding.

My teacher suggested putting down both the 3rd and 4th finger on the string for 4th finger vibrato, and then perhaps use more arm (less wrist) to drive vibrato.

Less pressure on 4th finger. In the past, I've tended to use too much 4th finger pressure.

Even if there's a little sliding occurring with 4th finger vibrato, I've noticed that it can be better than no vibrato.

Edited: January 15, 2022, 10:31 AM · continued, miscl.;-- In low positions Bass players will use both 3rd and 4th fingers combined, the stronger 3rd finger pushes the string down and the 4th finger adds the needed extra distance. In high positions they use the 4th finger less often.
A lot of scale books have the round-trip 4-4-4 at the top of the 3 octave scales. After realizing that I never do that in real music I stopped practicing it that way.
Since that high fourth finger is obviously the top, most important, note of the melodic line, if it is of any length, not doing a vibrato would be an anti-climax, like a singer stopping the vibrato on their high note.
Pianists do a thing called "topping". For the top note of a melody with their 5th finger they will rotate the wrist to get more leverage, the little finger then is pointing straight down on the key.
Edited: January 13, 2022, 11:05 AM · @joel "A lot of scale books have the round-trip 4-4-4 at the top of the 3 octave scales. After realizing that I never do that in real music I stopped practicing it that way."

Otoh, done that way, the third finger (not to mention the second) makes a nice anchor.

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