V.com weekend vote: How Happy Are You with Your Vibrato?

June 19, 2020, 6:16 PM · Several of our Violinist.com blogs got me thinking this week about vibrato and the long process required to learn to do it.

vibrato butterfly

First, violin professor Susanna Klein demonstrated several clever exercises in her blog that really go to the heart of how fast to vibrate on various pitches, how to become more aware of the natural and varying tendencies of each finger for vibrato. And violinist Paul Stein, who was a member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic for over 35 years, confessed in his blog that $5 party-store gadget allowed him to finally articulate how vibrato actually begins.

Very often I'm teaching students their very first lessons on how to do vibrato, and while a few just do it naturally, most have to work pretty hard to make it happen - and then to refine it. If you are a seasoned violinist and want to remember the struggles of a beginner, just try putting your fiddle on your right shoulder and see how well you can vibrate with your right hand -- it's very humbling!

Most violinists go through at least a short period in which they are not happy with their personal vibrato. Others might have been happy with it at one point, but find that it’s changing over time. As we age, our fingers and arm become less fluid and new measures may need to be put in
place. (Susanna offers a wonderful exercise to help combat the aging arm.)

How do you feel about your own vibrato? Please select the answer below that most closely matches your choice and then add your comments below. Were you initially taught vibrato in a way that worked for you, or did you have to modify your vibrato as you progressed? And what kind of vibrato works best for you - wrist, arm, or both? Also, please share any suggestions from the experts that you have found most helpful.

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June 20, 2020 at 12:49 AM · So, I’m still learning the arm vibrato, which my teacher says looks like it would work the best for me. Laurie Niles had a really good piece on vibrato recently and I’ve been reviewing that frequently. It will come, but it’s happening slowly and partly it’s my doing as I’m not consistently practicing it. So, ask me in the fall and I hope the news will be better!

June 20, 2020 at 02:40 PM · I voted "reasonably happy." In one of Paul Stein's articles, he said something about not worrying so much about how the vibrato looks and listen to how it sounds. That was a real shift in thinking that helped me tremendously. I have never liked the way my vibrato looks. (Susanna's is truly beautiful!) But it often sounds ok. So I just have to avert my eyes!

June 20, 2020 at 02:50 PM · I am happy with my vibrato-S, because I use both of them. As a performer not only, but also of lots of contemporary music composers are requiring for it, as I did for myself ever since. I am able to use any wideness of the vibrato, from very slow to a "electric something", as one of my former teachers used to say (Max Strub). Carry on, its worthit to study. You will love your vibrato as I do mine.

June 20, 2020 at 03:49 PM · I had a stand partner in college who had a wonderful hand vibrato but wanted to develop an arm vibrato. It was clear she was having a hard time, maybe even going against her nature. This new technique became an obsession, and it was clearly fighting with her natural hand vibrato. I’m not exaggerating when I say the stage was shaking when she arm-vibrated. Should she have just developed and perfected her hand vibrato? Yes

June 20, 2020 at 03:51 PM · I think my vibrato was better than average, with variable speeds and widths as needed, and I can do the connected vibrato, continue the vibrato while changing notes. But-- after age ___, the dreaded age-related too-slow vibrato has begun -- sigh.

June 20, 2020 at 05:09 PM · Can control amplitude to some extent, but speed??? Also on double stoppings it can be terrible, and one fast note I want to put vibrato on when I've glissed on to it, I don't always succeed in doing.

June 20, 2020 at 05:33 PM · Pretty happy but a bit too slow, especially fourth finger. Working on it!

June 20, 2020 at 10:49 PM · In the spirit of "misery loves company," I'm kind of glad to see that most violinists don't love their vibrato. I certainly don't love mine, but I'm working on it.

June 20, 2020 at 11:38 PM · I'm an amateur and mostly self-taught after the first few years. I started on vibrato with some very vague instruction from my first teacher, and it quickly turned into a wild spasm. I found Laurel Thomsen's vibrato lessons on Udemy and those got my hand under control. The Violin Lab website has some very good close-up lessons which furthered the cause.

Then I added Nathan Cole's YouTube lessons into the mix, followed by work from Simon Fischer's warmup book. The exercises in the Fischer book (not just for vibrato) showed me I had a little left-hand reflex, or mannerism, that was making everything harder. They also limbered up my old fingers.

It took a couple of years for my vibrato to start working.

The work goes on to make it flexible and expressive, and to not forget how to play expressively without it.

Susanna Klein's vids are a current favorite. I hope this long-winded post might help somebody else who is having a difficult time.

June 21, 2020 at 02:19 AM · At least it’s a consolation to know that when I admit that I’ve never been happy with my vibrato, I’m in good company. (Currently 41%) I just need to be more dedicated in my pursuit of it. Lots of good resources here.

June 21, 2020 at 07:46 PM · I think I’m very much in the minority with my vibrato. It’s something I have been working on this year, as well developing a viola sounding vibrato. Less wiggly I think. I really stripped it back to basics, and these days I really enjoy the vibrato I produce. :)

June 21, 2020 at 11:48 PM · I was happy with my wrist vibrato and was starting to develop a decent arm vibrato to use for double-stops and the viola C string, then a chronic left shoulder injury made my entire left arm and shoulder less secure and all vibrato much less comfortable.

June 22, 2020 at 03:42 AM · Do you count the number of wobbles? Semi-quaters or demisemi-quaters? Or same as a trill? Does vibrato introduce a new rhythm or enhace the exisating one?

June 22, 2020 at 11:53 AM · My own sense is that people generally try to avoid subdividing with their vibrato the way Mark describes. If you were playing a Mozart slow movement, for example,and your vibrato was in exact 64th notes (or whatever) I just think that would sound really weird after a couple of bars. Too mechanical.

June 22, 2020 at 01:31 PM · I would like to go back to basics and develop a really good vibrato that I can completely control. Can anyone recommend a good video to use for this purpose? There are good and bad on the net!!! Thanks.

June 23, 2020 at 02:40 PM · To 81.98: Susanna Klein's blog titled Vibrato Elixirs has numerous videos and I found them to be tremendously helpful!

June 23, 2020 at 07:19 PM · It took me six years before I figured out I was gripping the neck between my thumb and index finger, which locked my hand in place and prevented anything more than a very rapid, narrow vibrato. I'm getting better, but I still have to make a conscious effort to re-arrange my hand from a secure, stable position to one that allows the freedom of movement needed for a good vibrato - and I quickly slip back to the old position when I get a chance, so it's probably just a matter of finding a good hand position and giving it enough practice to make it a habit.

For what it's worth, I find arm vibrato easier on the third finger, wrist vibrato on the first finger. Second finger is up for grabs, and let's not talk about the fourth finger...

June 24, 2020 at 07:47 PM · I'm a very interesting case. I taught myself vibrato in my first year of playing, and have never been told I have to change it. After reading that this was supposed to be really awful, I asked a bunch of my teachers and tried to figure out if I was doing something wrong. By some twist of fate, I wasn't! My vibrato is mostly arm with a little bit of wrist.

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