Learning violin vibrato, or vibrato for any other stringed instrument is a BIG step. Many students are often very excited and eager to learn what some people refer as the ‘finger shake’. Vibrato takes an intermediate player and makes them sound very advanced. Vibrato adds fullness, rich color, and variety to your playing, but it is also very difficult to learn and slow to master.
1. Have you fully learned first position?
2. Do you have a decent understanding of third position?
3. Is your violin fingerboard free of tape and other fingering markings?
4. Can you shift with ease between first and third position?
5. Does your left wrist and arm have good form?
6. Do you play notes up on the fleshy part of your finger without collapsing (flattening) them?
7. Do you have good intonation.
If you can answer YES to ALL of the above questions then you are ready to learn Vibrato. If you answer NO to any of these questions, take time to perfect that area and wait until you are completely ready. Vibrato is one area you do not want to rush into. I have seen far too many students who are too anxious to learn vibrato and start learning it on their own before they are ready. Bad vibrato habits are so hard to break.
This is a big broad movement. Students should use a couple minutes of practice time every day to complete this exercise. Continue this regiment for a couple of weeks before adding any other vibrato technique.
Violin Vibrato Step 2. Put second finger on the string and using your wrist join make a broad, slow, relaxed movements back and forth with hand. Keep the arm stable. Make sure your hand only moves backwards (towards the scroll) and returns to original position. This exercise should be completed daily without the bow. Practice using all four fingers and all four strings. Typically the 2nd and 3rd fingers are the easiest and the 1st and the 4th more difficult.
REMEMBER…vibrato movement never never move forward on the violin. Do not let your finger roll past the original point of the note, this is for intonation purposes. TIP…to make sure your wrist and arm stay in good position have someone gently hold your wrist/arm in place. Your wrist should not be collapsing towards the neck of the violin, it should remain stable during this exercise, and inline with your arm. This will take time to learn and conquer. VISUALIZE….If you are having difficulty, try to visualize a string is attached to the knuckles on the back of your left hand, and pulling straight towards your scroll.
Violin Vibrato Step 3. Using Step 2 add the bow using long slow counts and changing bow smoothly. You’re violin will sound little like vibrato and a lot like the theme-music for the movie Jaws. Keep up the good work, and take it slowly. You’ll get it soon. These exercises can be physically and mentally exhausting. Just do a couple of minutes daily, and DO NOT put vibrato in your regular practice time just yet. That will come in Step 4! Violin Vibrato Step 4. Find an easy slow song. Add your vibrato technique from step 3 to the long and slow notes. Violin Vibrato Step 5. Understanding different styles of vibrato is VERY important. Not all players use the exact same style, that’s what keeps it fun and interesting. There are three styles of vibrato.
1. Wrist vibrato — Using the wrist only, this vibrato is usually fast, but more shallow. It allows a player to have intense sound, and is also great when playing a faster more lively song. This vibrato adds color and flair. Players who use this method perfect Steps 2 & 3, making their movement faster and more precise. See example below of Itzhak Perlman using wrist vibrato.
2. Arm vibrato — Using the arm only, this vibrato is slower and broader. To achieve this method, players use the arm movement practiced in Step 1, keeping their finger stabilized and in place. This vibrato is perfect for slow, sad, heart wrenching pieces. This vibrato adds depth and emotion. See example below of Joshua Bell using arm vibrato.
3. A combination of Arm and Wrist. Most players actually at some point will use a combination of both. Advanced violinist adapt, evolve, and become very efficient at using both their arm and their wrist to achieve optimal vibrato. If you study professional violinist you will notice that depending on the piece, the emotion, and the intensity involved you will see a little bit of both. Even in the examples given above, you will notice moments with both Joshua Bell and Itzhak Perlman using their wrist and their arm simultaneously or alternating between the two.
Vibrato Step 6. Don’t give up. If you are having a hard time, go back to the basics and start slow again. Keep vibrato relaxed. Do not try to achieve the intense vibrato of the professionals until you have relaxed controlled movements. This will result in the undesirable bad ‘shaking vibrato’. Slowly add speed to your vibrato and with time you will have a rich vibrato that will add color and depth to your playing! A private teacher is always an advantage. When it comes to learning vibrato, this is especially true. Seek the help and advice of your private instructor or orchestra teacher when learning this technique.
5 Tips for Beginners of String Instruments
Many string instrument players find it difficult to grasp vibrato, one of the most important techniques. For violin beginners, learning to play vibrato is a key step. Those who master this skill can make their playing more expressive. In this article, we will introduce the tips you need to know about playing vibrato.
An Introduction of Vibrato on String Instruments
Vibrato is a musical effect consisting of a regular change of pitch. It is used to add expression to instrumental music. Vibrato is typically characterized in terms of two factors: the amount of pitch variation (“extent of vibrato”) and the speed with which the pitch is varied (“rate of vibrato”). Here are viola professor Wing Ho’s demonstrations of not doing vibrato and doing vibrato. We can see the differences. Not Doing VibratoDoing Vibrato Players tend to wobble the finger which stops the string on the fingerboard when producing vibrato, or move the finger up and down for a wider vibrato.
Styles of Vibrato on Violin
There are three styles of vibrato on violin.
1. Wrist Vibrato
Using the wrist only, this style of vibrato is usually fast but shallow. It allows the violin player to produce intense sound, and it is useful when playing a faster and more lively song. Wrist vibrato adds color and charm.
2. Arm Vibrato
Using the arm only, this style of vibrato is slower and broader. To achieve this method, players use arm movements, and keep their fingers stabilized in place. Arm vibrato is perfect for slow, sad and heart-wrenching pieces. It adds depth and emotion.
3. A Combination of Arm and Wrist
Most players use a combination of both styles. Advanced violinists are very efficient at using both their arms and wrists to achieve optimal vibrato. Depending on the piece, emotion and intensity, professional violinists combine the two styles effectively when playing.
Violin Teachers’ Tips of Playing Vibrato
1. Make sure your left hand, wrist, and arm are completely relaxed.
To start practicing vibrato on violin, you can try to move your hand and arm all the way up the violin neck slowly, then towards the body of the violin, and later, back down towards the scroll. This exercise can be done in two ways:
1). Keep a finger on the string without pushing the string down;
2). Relax your hand slightly above the string with no finger contact. Add the bow while you keep moving your arm up and down. Your vibrato on violin may not sound pleasant at first, but it will get improved if you keep doing the exercise above.
2. Start with one finger and then move to other fingers.
Put your second finger on the string and use your wrist to make broad, slow, and relaxed movements back and forth with your hand. Keep the arm stable. Make sure your hand only moves backwards (towards the scroll) and returns to original position. This exercise should be completed every day without the bow. You need to practice using all four fingers and all four strings later. Typically, the second and third fingers are the easiest ones, while the first and the fourth are more difficult. Violin students should spend a couple of minutes every day on this exercise and continue to do it for several weeks before adding any other vibrato skills. What should be paid attention to is that vibrato movements never move forward on violin. Therefore, do not let your finger roll past the original point of the note. This is for intonation purposes. To make sure your wrist and arm stay in a good position, your wrist should not be collapsing towards the neck of the violin. It should remain stable during this exercise, and in line with your arm. This may take time to learn and conquer. If you are having difficulty, try to visualize that a string is attached to the knuckles on the back of your left hand, and then pull straight towards your scroll.
3. Add violin bow and change bow smoothly.
Now you can add the violin bow while doing the exercises above. Try to change bow and play some notes at the same time. Keep up the good work and take it slow. You will get it soon.
4. Practice slow scales and easy pieces.
When you are comfortable doing the exercises, the next step will be practicing the vibrato skills by playing slow scales, followed by a slow and easy piece or two. When you reach this stage, you can begin with songs that are not too difficult. In this way, you can focus on vibrato, rather than finding the right notes, producing good sound, or bowing correctly.
5. Don’t give up.
If you are having a hard time, go back to basics and start to play slowly again. Keep vibrato relaxed. Do not try to achieve the intense vibrato of the professionals until you have relaxed and controlled movements. Add speed to your vibrato gradually and with time, you will have a rich vibrato that adds color and depth to your playing.
Violin Beginners: Are We Ready for Vibrato?
Many violin beginners are eager to jump into the vibrato technique. However, it is important that you are ready for this “big undertaking”. One should develop a full tone before learning to play vibrato, as this will ensure that you sound the best. You should also have a solid understanding of positions. Besides, your wrist and arm need to have good forms, as this technique can be very strenuous on the muscles. If you can confidently check all these boxes, you are ready to learn the technique. Just remember to be patient with yourself. Don’t push yourself too hard. Progress may be slow at first, but with practice, you will reach your goal. You can work closely with your violin teacher to come up with more exercises helping you master this skill. Also, we hope the tips provided above can help you get improved soon.
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More Violy Violin Articles: Join Violy on Facebook Twitter Instagram Reddit Dr Rebecca McLeod, associate professor of music education at the University of North Carolina, gives a guide to achieving a good vibrato — from establishing a relaxed position to mastering a smooth, even motion 1.Establish and reinforce proper instrument position from the first lesson. A proper shoulder position is one where the instrument is supported on the collarbone, is relatively parallel to the floor, and the end button is slightly to the left of the hollow of the student’s throat. The player should be able to support the instrument without the help of the left hand for short periods of time. All of the joints from the shoulder to the fingertip should be flexible. Each student is different, so adaptations may be required to find the correct position for each individual. 2.The left hand must be balanced and free of tension. There are generally three points of contact or ‘touch points’ that establish the left hand frame. The base knuckle joint of the index finger on the left hand is generally the first point of contact. Differences in hand size may dictate a touch point that is slightly higher or lower than the base knuckle joint depending on the individual. The ultimate goal is for the left hand fingers to create a box shape that later will allow the first knuckle joint to flex. The second touch point is the pad of the finger. The third touch point is the thumb. Recommendations of teachers and performers regarding the location of the thumb vary. The most important element is that the thumb is loose through the joints into the wrist. 3.Begin pre-vibrato activities during the first year of instruction. Pre-vibrato activities may commence while the left hand frame is being developed. Promote flexibility by presenting exercises away from the instrument. The first knuckle joint of each finger must be flexible in order for the student to vibrate. Have the student create a circle with their index finger and thumb, and ask the student to practise straightening and bending the first knuckle joint. This exercise should be repeated with each finger. Straightening and bending the first knuckle joint 4. Transfer the flexible knuckles to the instrument. The violin fingerboard provides an excellent physical guide for students to practice a flexible first knuckle joint prior to vibrating on the string. Align the student’s left hand on the body of the instrument so that the finger being practised is lightly touching the neck and the fingernail is facing the bridge. The violin fingerboard prevents the student’s hand from twisting and guides the finger forward and back. Boxed finger joint Extended finger joint Manual assistance 5. Disengage the base knuckle of the index finger. The base joint of the index finger should be released from the side of the instrument prior to vibrating for two reasons: (1) Disengaging the index finger allows for a small space to exist between the index finger and the neck of the instrument so that the hand can ‘wave’. (2) Opening the thumb joint of the hand frees the hand of tension so that it can ‘wave’ smoothly. Base knuckle joint released from neck Base knuckle joint touching neck 6. Promote both a forward and backward motion. Although research shows that the pitch of violin vibrato is not exclusively from the pitch and below, exercises that promote this motion are very effective when teaching vibrato and should be included in the curriculum. Many notated exercises illustrate an oscillation that originates from the intended pitch to a half step below. Exercises such as these are important as they promote flexibility in the first knuckle joint. Pairing this flattening exercise with a forward motion, allows the student to combine both aspects of the vibrato motion. Tapping exercises that encourage the left hand to propel forward using a swinging motion from the wrist are also helpful. Tapping exercises 7. Combine the forward and backward motion into one motion. Have students ‘polish their strings’. With the thumb in the heel of the neck, place the second finger directly over the thumb without any weight in the string and have the students swing their hand from the wrist so that their second finger moves back and forth around the location of the thumb. Students should begin with a wide motion that gets smaller until they are simulating a vibrato motion. Repeat this activity with all four fingers. Polish the strings 8. Simulate the bowing motion in the air while vibrating. Combining the left and right hand motions can be initially awkward for students because the hands are performing two very different motions. Left hand and right hand independence are important; specifically the player must be able to execute a smooth bow arm while vibrating the left hand. Air bowing vertically while vibrating with the left hand prior to performing with the hands together can improve coordination. Partner activities, where one student vibrates the left hand while another student bows, can be both fun and helpful. 9. Practice the vibrato motion with a metronome. Correct repetition with the use of a metronome helps establish an even vibrato at an appropriate rate. Vibrate from the pitch and below using eighth notes grouped in 2, followed by triplets, sixteenth notes, and finally a natural vibrato motion. Careful practice that establishes a smooth and even vibrato eventually will allow the player to vibrate expressively with control over the speed and width. April 23, 2020, 4:53 PM · How do you make music shimmer on the violin, how do you enhance your tone to make it gorgeous, how do you make people cry grateful tears of emotion when they hear your playing? It’s all about vibrato — that’s the secret sauce. Of course it is important that you have your basic foundation and you are playing in tune before you start learning vibrato. In terms of Suzuki Books, I usually start teaching students this skill somewhere in Book 2. So once you are ready, how do you do vibrato? It can be a rather elusive skill, but I aim to de-mystify it by describing various kinds of vibrato and then giving you some concrete ways to work on learning to do it, including:
- How to exercise the seldom-used muscles that produce vibrato
- How to optimize your posture to enable the vibrato motion
- How to expand your vibrato palette once you get it started
Keep in mind, vibrato is not a skill that you learn in a weekend; it is a long-term project. You’ll make the most progress with the feedback of a good teacher, who can see what you are actually doing and personalize your practice approach. That said, here is a general description to get you on the right track. Kinds of Vibrato: WRIST VIBRATO: The hand oscillates from the wrist while the forearm remains relatively still. ARM VIBRATO: The wrist remains immobile and the motion comes from the entire arm. This is an especially handy kind of vibrato for double-stops and very high notes. In all likelihood, one of these kinds of vibrato will feel easier to you than the other. For me, wrist vibrato was always more natural, so I developed that, then later added arm vibrato. It is best to eventually develop both kinds of vibrato, as they serve in different situations. FINGER VIBRATO: The movement is mostly in the fingers. I don’t use finger vibrato; most people don’t. Some argue that finger vibrato doesn’t really exist. I can think of one instance: Itzhak Perlman is the rare violinist that occasionally uses finger vibrato — and uses it well! In any kind of vibrato: you vibrate up to the note and not past it. So your vibrato goes below the pitch and back. How to exercise the seldom-used muscles that produce vibrato These exercises will mostly prepare you for wrist vibrato.
- Egg shaker:
Find an egg shaker, box of tic-tac candies or anything that fits in the palm or your hand and makes noise when you shake it. (You can make a shaker with a plastic Easter egg and dry rice, but be sure to tape it securely shut to avoid a mess!) Holding it in the palm of your hand, shake from your wrist. When you shake the egg, make sure that the motion is coming from muscles in your forearm that control your hand and that you are not just flopping your loose hand around, using upper-arm muscles. I shake to the following words, repeating them for about 20 seconds each: «pizza-pizza»; then faster: «pepperoni-pepperoni»; then faster: «buy-a-pizza-buy-a-pizza.» After that, you can just trying going as fast as you can for about 30 seconds. As with anything, stop and rest if it starts hurting.
- Shoulder and head taps:
Tap your shoulder and head, with the same rhythms as you would with the egg shaker.
- Taps over the finger board:
Violin up. With the thumb hanging on at the base of the neck and hand over the top of the violin, tap the wood of your violin to the left of the fingerboard with your left pinkie. (It’s a little complicated to describe, see the video!) This really isolates your «wrist muscle» because it immobilizes everything but your hand.
- Table vibrato:
This will help you get that feeling of keeping your finger in place while rocking the hand. First, hang from your fingertips on the side of a table, fingers curved, wrist down. Keeping the hanging position, with just your fingertips touching the table, gently rock your hand side-to-side. Now, lift all but your third finger, keeping the curve of fingers and wrist down, shake side to side. The «hanging» is what keeps your fingertip in place. Try with each finger. You can also do this on top of a table; rest your wrist on the table. Note: This motion is not directly transferrable to vibrato, in which the motion a bit more forward and backward. But it helps you to get the feeling in your fingers, of hanging, and the fingertips remaining in place yet rocking. This was the single-most useful exercise for me personally, in learning vibrato!
How to optimize your posture to enable the vibrato motion A lot of your teacher’s requests regarding posture will suddenly make sense, once you start doing vibrato. If you have failed to heed those «bad habit» warnings, you may run into a wall that you can’t get past until you make a few posture-related revisions. No gripping the side of the instrument: If you are gripping the neck of the violin with the side of your hand, you are impeding your hand from moving. It’s normal to touch the violin with the side of your hand, but when you do vibrato, you will let go. That doesn’t mean you need to move the hand far away from the neck, you just have to let go with the side of the hand. Straight thumb: Generally, if the thumb is bent, it can often be a sign that you are gripping the violin. Also, a bent thumb causes more tendon strain with the vibrato motion. Straight wrist: Start with a straight wrist and rock forward. A collapsed wrist limits your motion. Fingertips: Flat fingers don’t rock. The more you place your fingers on the fingertips, the easier it is to rock the finger. When it is rocking, it rocks on the tip and somewhat on the pad. How to expand your vibrato palette once you get it started After you have figured out the basic motion of vibrato, you can work on how to vary its speed and width. The basic options for vibrato include: fast and narrow, fast and wide, slow and narrow, slow and wide. You want to be able to do any of those, and change from one to another. For speed: One exercise you can try is to set the metronome on 60, then try one oscillation per beat, then two, three, four, six, eight, etc. Keep in mind that you will not change the pitch an entire half step — your ear may kind of «ask» for that, resist! The pitch will change a quarter-tone or less, so be prepare your ear. This will allow you to practice vibrating at different speeds. One you get adept at the different speeds, you can vary the width. So you can do the entire exercise with a narrow vibrato. Or the entire exercise with a wide vibrato. I would NOT recommend this exercise until you have mastered the basic motion. You might also like:
- Vibrato Master Class with Shakeh Ghoukasian
- String Instrument Techniques: How to Learn Vibrato
- Intonation, a Physical Phenomenon
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