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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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