Violin Vibrato

Violin Vibrato

Hi Guys and Happy New Year!

I thought that as we leave 2019 behind, we could also leave behind some bad vibrato technique. This article will give you some really helpful exercises to either get you started with your violin vibrato or fix it up for good!

Now, violin vibrato is not something that you’re going to master in just one day; it could take weeks, or even months to begin to hear your vibrato take shape. What’s really important though, is that you take the time and care to ensure that you develop your violin vibrato well; of all the hacked up, badly developed techniques I have to fix, vibrato is right up there.

Violin Vibrato Nightmares!

When I was about nine, my parents sent me to a music camp of sorts where I was placed in an orchestra with children quite a bit older than myself. As well as being branded the annoying little kid, I was expected to play with a lot more maturity than that of which my nine year old self was capable.

It was during tutes one hot January afternoon that we were asked to add more vibrato to a passage; I had not yet learned vibrato so took the advice of Vivien in desk 3 who told me to just wobble my wrist around.

Wobble my wrist around I did and although not perfect, I was pretty pleased with the result! I continued to wobble my wrist around that whole week, proud of my new-found vibrato ability. Summer holidays followed and during that time, I managed to get really good at wobbling my wrist around as I played.

The problem was that I was getting really good at bad technique and by the time my teacher could intervene, I’d stiffened up my left wrist and hand, closed the mouse hole completely and had developed an easy to hear style of vibrato that would make it very difficult to learn the technique properly.

Before You Start:

Check out your general technique. If you’re venturing into violin vibrato, you’re not a beginner; right and left-hand technique should be well-established and you should be able to create beautiful, long sounds using whole bows. I should also not have to remind you that your fingernails need to be super short!

There are many forms of vibrato and each is appropriate for different circumstances. The vibrato that we are going to learn here is large, controlled vibrato using the whole arm. Although probably more difficult than the hand or finger technique, this form of violin vibrato will enable you to control speed and intensity. Later, you’ll be able to decide how much movement and in what part of the hand or wrist that movement will take place. YOU’LL be in control of your vibrato rather than the other way round!

Let's Start The Vibrato Exercises!

The following exercises are a mixture of what I’ve learned as a student and what I’ve created for my own students over the years. I usually allocate six months to learning violin vibrato with my students. Some people are far quicker but some take significantly more time; it doesn’t matter! As long as you’re progressing.

Choose a different finger to focus on and work through the whole set of exercises daily, ensuring that you don’t become complacent with your technique.

Note that you will probably find your second and third finger the easiest to work with. At any stage where you cannot maintain the beat or if technique is not correct, stop and aim to introduce the subsequent exercises or speeds at a later time. I usually teach these exercises to my students over the course of 6 weeks or more, stopping at the point where they are unable to produce the required movement easily.

Good vibrato is a slow and sometimes tedious process; be patient and let me know if you need any specific help.

Slow And Fast Shifts:

We start our violin vibrato adventure with some shifting up and down the fingerboard. This exercise encourages us to take note of the whole arm involvement in our vibrato technique. Make sure that you are very cautious of the beat. You want to control your arm movement and ensure that you are not speeding up or slowing down as the movement gets more difficult.

Start by establishing a firm crotchet beat at about 50 beats per minute, a metronome may be helpful here. As shown in the video, move your arm up and down the fingerboard, breaking the beat into 2s, 3s, 4s, 6s and eventually 8s.

Your shifts should be easy and smooth and you should not feel like your left-hand is getting stuck on the neck of your violin or that your thumb is getting sore from rubbing along the wooden neck.

Wood Rolls:

Again we work in 2s, 3s, 4s, 6s and eventually 8s. Take particular note of the angle at which your left-hand moves; you do not want your left-hand to be rolling below the violin or your finger to be slipping from the wood. Also, notice how the movement pivots about the center of your left fingertip.

Fingerboard Rolls:

Now things get tricky. This exercise is similar to the wood rolls we did previously but requires your finger to roll sideways rather than forwards and backwards. Again we use the metronome and break our beat down into 2s, 3s, 4s, 6s and 8s but be extra careful not to rush; if you can only get the correct technique in 2s, stop on this and practice 2s until you can gradually introduce 3s etc.

Bow Rolls:

This one is always nice. If you’ve gotten to this stage, you have a really nice violin vibrato technique. It’s now just a matter of adding the bow. Students find it difficult to move their bow at the right speed so do take the time to do each division properly before moving to the next.

AMEB Exercise 4E:

If you’ve been able to get through all the exercises above, you will now have a really nice vibrato technique that can be added into your pieces. Start by adding second or third finger vibrato onto longer notes. As my students get to this stage, I represent vibrato with a squiggly line (see the image to the right). Gradually, you’ll find that vibrato comes naturally and you won’t need to add any reminders on your music.

 

vibrato music

Also note that Exercise 4E from the AMEB grade four syllabus is really helpful for practicing your vibrato; plenty of long notes that you can vibrato with.

Congratulations!

Although this is by no means a complete guide to vibrato, if you’ve made it through the above exercises, you’re definitely off to a good start. Please do let me know if you have any questions or comments about vibrato and remember that if you ever have any questions or need a hand with anything, leave a question in the comment section below and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible

Marketa 😉
founder of myviolinbff.com

This Post Has 24 Comments

  1. Violin is one of the most beautiful sound instruments that you have approached this subject I really want to learn to play ,parabéns por esse axelente conteúdo

    1. Hi Ediwon and thank you for your interest,
      I agree that violin is the most beautiful sounding instrument… but then again, I am a little biased.
      Please do let me know if you’d like any help with anything violin related and if you do ever want to learn to play, check out my online lessons 🙂

  2. Hi Marketa,

    I used to play the viola when I was younger and as you’d know, the vibrato technique is essentially the same. I didn’t learn through a series of exercises and I always wondered if it was meant to feel so uncomfortable. 

    Having read your post, I’m really tempted to get my old viola out and see what I can remember. I doubt I’d be able to do much anymore so these vibrato exercises may be well beyond me but who knows.

    Thanks for the great read,

    Carmen

    1. Hi Carmen and thanks so much for this, 

      I played viola for a brief time when I was younger but never really warmed to it as much as I did the violin. It would be such a great idea to get your old viola out and give it a go. I’m not sure how advanced you were back in the day but it’s amazing how much comes back to us when we resume something after many years. 

      About a year ago, I went back to figure skating and within the year, I’ve managed to re-aquire all the skills that took me many years to learn back when I was young. Of course I’m not as agile and flexible as I once was but I have been so surprised by my progress. I think you might find similar with your viola!

      Anyway, I’d be really interested to hear how you go!

  3. Hi Marketa 

    I used to play guitar when I was younger and I was quite good. Now my son is play violin and vibrato is very difficult for him. For guitar this is not a difficult skill so I don’t know why he is not good with it.

    Which part of the neck should he use to do the vibrato?

    1. Hi Gomer and thanks for your comment,

      I’m not a guitarist but I dare say violin technique is quite a bit more difficult. It depends what note he is trying to achieve vibrato on as to what part of the neck he will be at. One thing that is very important is that his thumb and first finger are in line; i.e. you don’t want the thumb to be in first position and the rest of the hand in second or third position. 

      Violin vibrato certainly takes time so please don’t rush your son; it will not develop well if it is rushed!

  4. Hi Marketa, 

    Im not sure if this is relevant it I’m wondering if my string brand has any affect on my vibrato. I think I’m developing good vibrato and I think the technical side is going well but the sound isn’t as rich as I guess it could be. What do you think? 

    1. Hi Razvanllie and thanks for your message 

      Look, in short not really. Your strings will determine some aspects of your sound quality but really it’s your vibrato technique that’s going to lead to the vibrato sound. Sometimes when people don’t get the sound that they’re after, it’s a matter of widening the movement. 

      You could email me a video if you like to marketa@myviolinbff.com 

      Best of luck 

  5. Hello. Thanks a lot for sharing with us such an amazing article and explanation given.

    You really got me with this post. I have a boy who do violin lessons but he has a problem with the appereance in public. Like a parent i always try to motivate him and this became a very hard activity for me because I notice that he lost his interest for this instrument.

    I really appreciate if you can give me an advice about this. Thank again for this post. Keep in touch.

    1. Hi there and thanks for your interest,

      It is so hard to motivate kids sometimes! And the worst part is, even if you get them to actually do the practice, if they’re not trying their best or putting in the effort required, the practice session isn’t very productive anyway.

      I’ve actually written an article about motivating kids; here it is:
      https://myviolinbff.com/violin-practice-tips-ten-ways-to-motivate-your-little-violinist/

      please do let me know how you go!

  6. Hi Marketa 

    Are there any products available for assisting with learning vibrato? I bought a special bow grip for my older daughter when she first started and she got a lot out of using it. I’m thinking that there must be something to place on the left wrist to ensure that the vibrato is done in the correct manner 

    1. Hi Daniel

      I know what you mean about the bow holding aides and yes, they can be of great help for students who struggle with their bow hold. 

      Unfortunately, vibrato is not a one size fits all technique. As far as I’m aware, there aren’t any aides and even if there were, I’d be quite cautious in using or recommending them

  7. Well! This is great to see here for me. I’m an adult learner of violin and though I only learn to play it for just the fun of it, it totally makes sense seeing all how you have broken down the process of learning the violin vibrato. Thank you.
    It seems a lot like one thing I could make use of while developing myself with playing it. Thanks and I’d surely stick to this advise.

    1. Hi Julianne and thanks for your message,

      Thats great that you have begun learning violin as an adult; it’s often so difficult to start something new later in life but it is also so rewarding, especially because you know what it is you want out of the given activity. 

      Vibrato is a tricky one, especially for adult learners and its something you really want to learn properly from the very start

      Best of luck with your violin journey and please do let me know if you have any specific questions or issues you’d like me to address 

  8. Hi Marketa and thanks for the helpful post and video

    My daughters both play violin and although their not quite at this stage yet, I’m going to bookmark your site so that we can use your videos more often. 

    What age do you think would be good for my daughter to begin vibrato? 

    1. Hi there and thanks for your message.

      Im so glad that you think my website will be useful to your daughters. I’m going to try to add a post most days this year so please do check back regularly. 

      With regard to the age to learn vibrato, age isn’t really a factor. My eldest daughter learned vibrato when she was six while my second daughter was close to ten. It’s just when the student is ready and has all the basic technique well established 

      Best of luck for your daughter’s and you. Happy New year! 

  9. Hi and thanks for your post about vibrato. 

    As an adult learner, I find things like this difficult because I’m not as flexible as children are. I’ve been trying to add vibrato just randomly to my pieces and like someone else has already said, it feels really uncomfortable. I’m not sure if it’s just because I’m new to it or if I’m doing it wrong. 

    I’m going to take some time with the exercises you’ve provided and see if that helps. Fingers crossed!

    1. Hi Henderson and thanks for your response

      You’re right that it’s a little more difficult as an adult learner but it’s definitely not impossible. Definitely try the exercises for a good month or so and then see if you feel more comfortable with your vibrato. 

      As I mention in the post, vibrato doesn’t happen very quickly so take time and be patient; it’s better to do it well than to rush and develop technical errors

      Best of luck and do let me know how you go!

  10. Hi there and thanks for the post

    My daughter has started learning vibrato herself. She’s been adding it to some of her pieces and it sounds great. Her teacher wants tlher to wait until after her exam to start vibrato but it sounds so nice so I don’t know that there’s any harm. What do you think? 

    1. Hi Benson and nice to hear from you again,

      I’d listen to your daughter’s teacher if I were you. As I state in my post, fixing bad vibrato is one of the things I spend a lot of time doing. Her teacher obviously wants to concentrate on the exam material at this time rather than taking time out to learn vibrato properly. 

      Best of luck and do let me know how she goes

  11. Wow! I didn’t know quite what to expect from your post, but I must say I learned quite a lot from it.

    It sort of reminds me when I was first learning how to swim and was pretty well self-taught. Of course this meant that I had fully embedded the wrong technique into my swim stroke..

    Unfortunately, our muscles have memory and it’s hard to undo poor physical technique in just about anything, In my case, I had to completely break down my swim stroke and start all over the right way.

    I guess you learned that yourself when you worked on your own version of Vibrato.  

    Hopefully violin enthusiasts will visit your site before they get started off on the wrong foot(hand).

    1. Hi Ray and thanks for taking the time to read my article on violin vibrato.

      You are so right about muscle memory and indeed that is something that as violinists, we develop quite early on. I think that the principal of learning something properly in the first place should be applied to all areas of life; whether it be sport, a musical instrument or a mathematical formula. It’s so much more difficult to change something once it comes naturally. 

      Best wishes

      marketa 😉

  12. Hi Marketa,

    My teacher told me to just shake my wrist fast and I’ll be doing vibrato but it hurts my hand and particularly near my thumb after a while. I’m doing grade five violin at the moment and some of the pieces are really long so by the time I get to the end, I really feel uncomfortable if not sore. 

    I’m going to try these exercises but I am worried that it’s too late. Can you please advise me what to do next? How can I fix this?

    1. Hi Rashaad,

      Oh no! this is quite the disaster!

      I’d recommend just starting 100% fresh. Like me when I returned to lessons after music camp, you need to undo all the incorrect technique by just starting again. Use the videos in this post to absolutely rework your vibrato. As hard as it is, refrain from adding vibrato to your pieces at this stage. Work on each stage carefully and slowly and gradually you’ll see an improvement. 

      Once you can do each of my exercises well and without any stiffening of your left hand or arm, move towards a more controlled and gentle vibrato. There should be absolutely no discomfort or pain. 

      Please do let me know how you go!

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