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Is a lot of hand & wrist strength an impediment to learning vibrato?

August 2, 2022, 2:38 AM · Watching the video below on vibrato technique, I find the - "push away/pull back" motion she indicates practicing feels very unnatural. Is that normal? She seems to have naturally limber fingers and wrists - my hands, wrists, forearms are a lot thicker and denser than hers - I have a lot of grip strength, work out with weights. Is this something that's likely to be an impediment or not at all, that it's just something I need to get accustomed to? Do you know weightlifters who play and have no problem with vibrato?


Replies (18)

August 2, 2022, 4:11 AM · I don't do weights, but I find tennis, bricklaying, shoveling stuff etc effectively deadens the fine sensations needed on the violin.
Edited: August 2, 2022, 6:53 AM · You can do any weight lifting you want, but a)be careful with injuries off the violin while lifting and b) one does not ever need to grip hard or much at all while playing violin. It is not electric bass-which hopefully should not get your tendons hurt even if it requires a bit more strength-and most unnatural momevements you see on videos are only so as you get used to them. Violin is rarely a "natural feeling" instrument, but even then it must feel natural and relaxed in order to play freely, fast, without tension, and without technical constraints impeding the music.

Be mindful of not "death gripping" the neck, as it will hurt your hand/wrist and it is just unnecessary. Similarly, no need to squeeze on the bow arm.

Be strong, but be wise. Use those muscles where needed. Violin playing does not require too much effort from your body (over time! as you get used to it) if it's going to sound effortless.

(I often see lots of good technical books and teachers emphasize finger "strength", but what they mean is more of a learned mind to finger relationship. Even the best double stop trills do not need "strong fingers", IMHO. Trained fingers, not strong fingers.)

Always play in a very relaxed manner where nothing hurts. Your natural strength could hide some deficiencies. See if you can relax more every day, rather than grip more. It is doable. And know that many skinny non lifters can also grip too much! Do not blame it all on weight lifting, but do practice with care, and always be wary of injuries.

Best wishes!

(Side note on video: some singers' vibrato can often be uneven, and not for musical reasons-though sometimes that could be the case. But do follow her advice on evenness, even when some singers do not vibrate as we should. Two different musical instruments with many similarities, but not the same. We should strive to emulate a good singing, musical voice, but some things are OK to be different. Vibrato unevenness is also fine when controlled by your musical ideas, but as you learn, strive for relaxed evenness, even if it seems too slow at first. Badly executed vibrato does not sound good-either too wide, or too short/pinched "vibration"-and can hurt your hand/wrist.)

August 2, 2022, 9:18 AM · I do chins and pull ups along with lots of other weights and callisthenics, it’s no impediment at all, vibrato is hard because you have to relax your hand and arm as well as shoulders, most people find this difficult, nothing to do with how strong you are, it takes a lot of practice, some people never get it.
Edited: August 2, 2022, 9:36 AM · I know some very fine violinists who lift weights, and it does not seem to impede their playing. For me, I found that some exercises did tend to "stiffen" certain muscles or joints so I stick to bodyweight work, stretches, exercise ball stuff, etc. in an effort to stay limber (I'm primarily a violist FWIW). If you watch any videos of Hilary Hahn recently (like on Instagram) where you can really see her left arm and hand, it looks to me like she has considerable strength while maintaining a lot of flexibility. And, if anyone is the master of 4th finger vibrato, it is her!
August 2, 2022, 10:22 AM · Not really, you just need to train the muscles so they work correctly.

There was a period of a few years when I went to the gym a lot and put on close to 40 lbs. of muscle. I wasn't as good at practicing back then and took a few months off every so often. I found when I started back up again, my arms and hands felt clumsy with the new muscle I put on.

After getting back in a good practicing groove (still going to the gym), the clumsy feeling went away. It felt like the the body needed to get used to the new muscle and once it got used to it, no problem.

I think it's more a matter of practicing enough so your brain enervates the new tissue and acclimates to it fully.

August 2, 2022, 11:44 AM · @Scott - the sort things you mention should not be a problem. You simply need to work with them. Having strength is good; it helps avoid stress injuries like tendinitis. If you have a teacher, that person can help you sort this problem out.
Edited: August 2, 2022, 11:51 AM · Don't watch slow vibrato demos.
Practise vibrato on a guitar.
August 2, 2022, 3:01 PM · Perhaps the most difficult part of learning to do vibrato is to totally relax the terminal joint of the respective finger while maintaining sufficient tone in the hand and proximal finger to satisfy the motion and keep the tip of the finger on the string. That relaxation allows the last bone in the figer (distal phalanx) to pivot backwards and forwards and hence, roll the finger tip along the string.

The action is a very curious one in that it will not work unless the arm/hand can move rapidly up and down the plane of the fingerboard AND that distal joint can relax COMPLETELY. As far as I know, the only way to reach that point is to practice over and over with each finger in turn. Even when you can do it (its easiest perhaps in 3rd position) you then have to learn it again in all the other finger-keyboard contact places. Thus, for example, vibrato is hard for F on the E string where there seems to be no room for the finger tip, and high on the fingerboard, where there seems to be no room for the forward/backward action.

Just be patient. Do it very slowly at first and only speed up when the distal relaxation has been achieved. I mean be very patient - it could take a year.

Edited: August 2, 2022, 4:29 PM · Scott I don't know if you are a beginner with vibrato, but it is very human to try to blame something else than yourself. Your "perhaps I have too much strength" is one example of this. (Other examples: my violin is too cheap, I need another brand of strings, etc.) No, it's simply you, your level of violin playing is not there yet, you haven't practiced vibrato enough yet, it is difficult and takes time, like Elise said above. Sorry to be blunt.
Edited: August 2, 2022, 5:25 PM · jean dubuisson sez:

No, it's simply you, your level of violin playing is not there yet, you haven't practiced vibrato enough yet, it is difficult and takes time, like Elise said above. Sorry to be blunt.

Lol - no problem - not looking for an excuse just looking for knowledgeable answers. Bluntness that's factual and accurate is good. I'd much rather the reality be that there's nothing holding me back other than lack of experience & practice than that there's a genuine roadblock.

August 2, 2022, 5:46 PM · I believe that if you lift weights and keep a full range of motion, it's not a particular impediment to being loose away from the weights. It might be a different situation for a bodybuilder, but then again, Frank Yang here looks to have a pretty relaxed vibrato (LOL)

Getting a good vibrato is a very long process that happens at the violin.

August 3, 2022, 9:45 PM · No.
August 5, 2022, 10:05 AM · I don't think arm strength or body build is much of a factor when playing the violin as it's not a sport or athletic activity. I think any athlete from sprinter to sumo wrestler would face the same hurdles in building muscle memory and finger independence/flexibility.
August 17, 2022, 10:10 PM · Reading this, I remember something Hilary Hahn once said in an interview: something like, "If I go and bulk up at the gym, the big muscles start to fight the little muscles I use to play." Could be true!
August 17, 2022, 11:49 PM · Itzhak Perlman's hands are huge. His fingers are like sausages and using crutches to carry his big body to go around is probably as/more strengthening than weightlifting. So I would think that body factor is negligible compared to practice.
Edited: August 18, 2022, 3:53 AM · Hulk Hahn. It has a ring to it.
August 19, 2022, 2:54 PM · There is no correlation between arm strength and violin playing. The post by Elise Stanley is key information.

This video I found to be very helpful.

Also listen to a recording of a vibrato that you want and then immediately try to reproduce it on your instrument. For some reason the body adapts to something it just heard.

August 20, 2022, 1:48 PM · I don’t think that strength can be bad. Not being flexible is a problem, but I have seen a lot of players without particular strength still being stiff.

I assume that the typical strong guy has naturally more strength than me (a small woman). Still, I have observed some strong guys with some technical problems associated with too little strength (for example, no independence of the left fingers, or no at least somewhat curved left pinky etc).
I had all those problems and solved them by building certain muscles that give a sideways stability to the fingers. These are muscles you never need in a weight lifting workout.

Long story short: Working on flexibility is a good idea, in addition to strengthening exercises for the specific muscles you need.

I must say, if I don’t practice for several weeks, such things as vibrato feel tiring, first. So, more muscles should be rather helpful.

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