Violinists/violists: Vibrato

Started by Heather Harrison, July 03, 2007, 03:17:51 PM

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Heather Harrison

The time has come for me to learn vibrato, and it is not happening quickly.  I have a question to others who have already gone through this process (I'm guessing that there must be a few violinists or violists here).

Middle age isn't exactly the ideal time to start learning these instruments, but I did it anyway and I have made reasonable progress.  Reading music is easy for me, but the physical aspects of it have been very difficult.  (Learning to do physical activities has always been a weak point for me.)  It took forever just to get the bow grip right, but that is no longer a huge problem.

My instructor suggested that I ask around and/or look for books on the subject, so I thought I should pose the question here.  My physical ineptness is rather worse than what he is accustomed to in his other students, and he is having a hard time explaining it to me.  (On the other hand, he says that my sight-reading skills are excellent.)  Is there anyone here (especially someone who has difficulty with physical, hands-on learning) who has been through this before and who might have some suggestions on things to try, or books to look for?

Even if I just keep working at it with my instructor, I'm sure I'll eventually figure it out, but perhaps consulting other sources will speed up the process.  One reason that I am sticking with this is that I know I am slow at learning physical, hands-on activities and this seems like a good way to improve this.  However, it does get frustrating at times, especially since I am accustomed to being able to learn quickly and without great difficulty - as long as nothing physical is involved.




Vibrato is one of those things that take a while to master. You must first of all make sure that you are completely relaxed and that your left wrist is in its 'proper' position (i.e back, making almost a right angle to the neck of the violin). Only then should you attempt to learn vibrato.

Vibrato requires you to rock your finger back and forth on the string. Know, however, that vibrato is usually an alternation between the actual note to a lower pitch. Rarely should you rock your finger to a higher position than the written note.

This 'rocking' movement should also come from the whole arm, not just your wrist. This ensures you have maximum control of the vibrato. I'm sure there are websites that show you the exact movements you shold be doing.

Once you practice you will probably be able to attain some sort of vibrato, but it probably won't be very controlled, but rather random and in a fashion that seems to be controlling you. More and more practice, though, will allow you to take more control of the speed and depth/wideness of the vibrato.

I, myself, had for years being deploying a very 'fake' kind of vibrato that I didn't feel comfortable with. The main reason was that I was never really taught it. One summer I decided once and for all to learn it properly and after about a month or so of practice, I had it nailed.

I find playing scales very slowly and adding vibrato to each note is a good way of trying to get a consistent vibrato. (consistency of speed, i mean)

Practice, practice, practice is all that's required and it's not actually as difficult as it WILL seem at the beginning.

Good luck to you.   ;D


Yes, it won't happen overnight.   And if I might suggest, 'will' comes into it.  You have to will yourself to do it as much as practice the action.   As you have an instructor you probably already know that you have to support the violin firmly under the jaw without clenching, so the shoulder rest should be adjusted properly.  Then your arm, wrist and fingers can act comfortably without seizing up. 

As Norbeone says, practice it slowly using slow scales.  It'll be easier with a scale in third position because the movement to get vibrato is slightly less.  It's tiring at first so practice it for just a few minutes in the early days.   Having said all this I'm no expert myself - still learning but it does come with a little daily practice. 

Good luck!



You may also want to try some very, very ridiculously wide and slow action so that you can hear the 'waa oo waa oo'  of each oscillation,  then gradually speed it up while trying to retain that relaxed hand position with even oscillations. 

Don't know if that makes any sense but I hope it helps,



Good advice so far. To be honest, I have never seen a convincing account of how to do vibrato in a book, and the best way is to watch your teacher, then experiment for yourself. It will come with time, and will probably take a few months before you feel comfortable with it. I wouldn't recommend playing vibrato scales yet actually - scales are difficult enough on their own. I'd recommend just choosing one note and trying to do vibrato on that on note. Of course you need to try with different fingers.

The large print giveth, and the small print taketh away


Hopefully I'm not dredging up a thread that's too old here, but...

When I was a freshman in undergrad and still trying to do a viola major in addition to composition, I had a teacher who strongly believed that one needed perfect technique before one can make music. I rather disagreed with this perspective (I believe that one can have great musicality even if one doesn't have the world's greatest technique), but stuck with the teacher for a year while he tried to completely revamp everything I'd learned thus far. One of his particular points of focus was vibrato, and he gave me a whole arsenal of exercises to do. I found them annoying at the time, but now that I'm several years removed from said teacher, I've realized that the exercises really were helpful.

I can try to describe them here, and if you'd like, I could pull out the digital camera and take some pictures of the motions.

This teacher focused on the fingers as the main source of motion in vibrato, and he mentioned that the wrist and arm follow what the fingers start, when you need to extend the width of the motion past the fingers. Therefore, these are mostly finger-based exercises.

Hold up your left hand. Keep your index finger up, but flex the other fingers back and forth ten times. Repeat this with each subsequent finger held up and the other four flexing. Then do the same motions but with each successive finger kept down while the others flex. The finger-down version can then be transferred to the instrument - one finger holds its position on the string while the others flex up and down.

Hold up your left hand, and rest the tips of your index and middle finger on the tip of your thumb, so that the two fingers are bent at the same curvature you'd use on the instrument. Keeping the middle finger still and making sure that both fingertips remain in contact with the thumb, wiggle the index finger side to side ten times. Then do the same with the middle finger. After that, switch so that your middle and ring fingers are the ones touching your thumb and repeat the same process. You can try with your ring finger and pinky, but you might find that your pinky is too short, like mine is. My teacher didn't seem too worried about the pinky in this regard. This is another exercise that you can then translate the motion to the instrument.

Holding the instrument, place your hand loosely in first position, and using your index finger as a pivot, rock the rest of the hand side to side. Repeat with each successive finger.

The nice thing about most of these is that they don't require being anywhere near a viola, and thus can be practiced pretty much anywhere. I've also found that they're good for stretching and relaxing my hands before I play.

I hope that's at least marginally helpful!

Heather Harrison

Thanks for all the advice; as I work on vibrato, I will keep all of this in mind.



As several others mentioned, slow and steady is the key. Younger kids tend to get frustrated when vibrato is introduced because it's the one thing even the quickest learners can't master overnight. You might find some of the hints at this link helpful:
Men profess to be lovers of music, but for the most part they give no evidence in their opinions and lives that they have heard it.  ~ Henry David Thoreau

Don't pray when it rains if you don't pray when the sun shines. ~ Satchel Paige