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Violin Vibrato for Beginners

We all know the awkward, screeching, stutter-step bow work and hesitant left hand fingering of the fledgling violinist.

But once the beginner sorts out the coordination to achieve a nice clear ringing tone, there is still that special something that differentiates the veteran from the initiate- the vibrato. As Richard Amoroso, violinist for the Philadelphia Orchestra, says:

“Vibrato is by no means essentially a way to create sound or a way to create good sound. It is more than anything just a way to color sound. It’s sort of an ornament. It’s a way to kind of shade and change the color of the piece that you’re playing.”

That said, it is still the missing element that can change a beginner’s classical performance from lackluster to supremely polished. So, how to begin?

Before starting out, it is important to make a couple important clarifications. First of all, though violinists may tend to classify vibrato as finger, versus wrist, versus arm vibrato, the truth is that ideally all of those elements should be moving and all of them should definitely be flexible. It is particularly critical that the last joint of the finger flex easily back and forth, as ultimately it is the finger contacting the string to achieve the desired sound. Secondly, achieving a truly excellent vibrato is a matter of controlled discipline. Practicing with the help of a metronome is key to developing good vibrato habits.

Richard recommends several exercises for the beginning violinist:

The first step is to develop the finger flexibility by practicing each finger independently moving it from the upright to flat position in a rocking motion, with the fingertip fully anchored to the fingerboard- not sliding around. As you do so, you will notice that as the knuckle moves, the wrist is actually also moving.

Next, fine tune your wrist and arm motion by knocking the hand against the peg. Add the finger motion and see how it all comes together. Be sure to practice in time to the metronome to ensure that the sound is smooth and regular, rather than erratic.

Once you have mastered the basic motion, it is time to create a disciplined practice regimen that will take you to the next level where the vibrato is like second nature. Start in third position, as it allows the arm to be most relaxed, with the metronome set to 80-90, and rock each finger back and forth. Very gradually increase the metronome speed. Then, shift back to first position and repeat the exercise, focusing on creating the effect through the motion of the arm. Use long slow bow strokes to ensure you are learning proper coordination of the two hands.

Violin lessons with Richard Amoroso can help any violinist improve their vibrato. Access free samples here.