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How to do Vibrato on Violin

Have you ever noticed that something just seems to be missing when you hear an amateur violinist? How about how the instrument takes on a vocal or even otherworldly quality in the hands of a master?

One of the explanations for this is mastery of violin vibrato, which we’ll discuss below in some of our new work on violin for beginners.

Getting Started

To develop a beautiful vibrato, we first need to understand what it is, and what is isn’t. Vibrato is a highly controlled, consistent, and reproducible oscillation of a pitch that is created by a smooth, wavelike motion of the forearm, wrist, hand and fingers working together as one.

Many beginning violinists have difficulty with this technique, trying to force the motion, which is usually a result of poor practice habits. This results in an uncontrollable sort of muscular spasm, which lacks the smooth wave quality that we are going for.

We’ll talk more about how to practice vibrato in a moment, but first let’s learn about some different types of vibrato.

Types of Vibrato

Strictly speaking, there are three types of vibrato: forearm, wrist, and finger.

However, it’s often helpful to think of these types as one fluid motion, the only difference being where the emphasis is felt in the kinetic chain.

For example, typically a wide, operatic vibrato requires more wrist and forearm involvement than a short, clean vibrato in a fast passage which primarily utilizes finger movement.

Nonetheless, it’s easy to see how energy is ultimately transferred up the chain and must pass through forearm, wrist and fingers at all times.

How to Practice

The first element of violin vibrato to focus on is the motion: Start by choosing a note with the index finger, set a metronome to a slow pulse, and bow the note while allowing the first joint of the index finger to collapse and then re-bend in rhythm with the pulse.

The left hand essentially makes a “knocking” motion, as though it were knocking on a door. In fact, you can practice by placing your first or second finger on a note and gently knocking your knuckles against the E-string tuning peg.

The wrist and forearm are completely relaxed to allow this rocking to take place, so if you feel muscle tension you’ll want to take a break and return slowly to the practice.

It is crucial that you practice vibrato with a metronome right from the beginning, as the most important factor in developing a beautiful sound is consistency and control.

Once you’ve achieved consistency with first finger vibrato at a slow tempo, repeat the process with the remaining left hand fingers. Only after you can produce a controlled vibrato on all four fingers should you attempt to significantly increase the tempo.

Coordinating the Hands

The last and most difficult aspect of violin vibrato is coordinating the hands, as bowing technique plays an equally important part in producing a beautiful tone.

Using a metronome, see how many oscillations you can produce per bowstroke. You may initially find that your bow wants to follow the speed of the vibrato, but with enough practice you’ll be able to produce a sustained vibrato with great coordination, allowing the forearm, wrist and fingers to work with the bow to control subtle changes in the intensity and shape of the sound.

When you’re ready to move to the next level with yoru playing, check out ArtistWorks’s excellent online violin lessons demonstrating vibrato and plenty of other cool techniques for all ability levels!

 

 
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