What does it really take to master violin vibrato? The technique doesn’t always come naturally to students, so persistence and practice should be no-brainers. And of course, working with a qualified violin teacher. If you’re struggling, check out this helpful advice from Bolingbrook, IL teacher Kelvin L…
For too long students have been told that vibrato is an emotional urge; that it will just come when it is needed. But please don’t think that vibrato is just going to happen magically.
In the eight years that I have been teaching the Suzuki approach, I have found that students often learn it by observing me use vibrato. I have often been asked, “Do you vibrate for the children even though they are not learning vibrato yet?” Of course you do; you are training the ear by doing this. Eventually the students will want to know when he can shake his hand as you do, and eventually he will feel the need of the vibrato, perhaps in the Seitz concertos, if not before.
Before a good vibrato can be cultivated, however, there are a few things that need to be addressed. Everything works together to produce a good vibrato: the position of the body, the posture, the way the instrument is held, the left arm and elbow. A good vibrato is a combination of arm, hand and finger action. See the video below for a demonstration:
The most important thing is that the hand position and the fingering have to be right. Some students turn the fingers inward too much. This is one reason why it is so beneficial to set the intervals of the fourth and the fifth correctly in the hand. The first joint of the finger is especially important; it should be flexible yet firm. A good exercise to make the joint flexible is to let it move back and forth on chromatic semitones, sliding slowly.
If there is poor posture or the position of the body is not right, there will be trouble with the vibrato. There should be no distortion of the hand or arm; the hand should not be pulled away from the neck, nor the thumb away from the neck. A good basic hand position and the correct slant of the fingers are essential.
The thumb can also be a paralyzing factor for the vibrato. If it clutches tightly, or if the hand is tight, the whole left arm and hand are paralyzed. One of the most difficult things to achieve with the student is the loosening of the wrist and fingers. To help with this, I teach the vibrato first from the wrist and the fingers, and then later add the arm motion.
Additionally, the left hand should move both vertically and horizontally. The vertical movement includes the finger drop, which should be firm but not dropped with hammer-like stroke. Horizontal movements include such adjustments as finger extensions and half-steps within one position. String crossing also provides a problem for the vibrato.
To really master violin vibrato, the important thing is making practice a regular part of the daily schedule, just as eating meals at certain hours and going to bed at a certain time become part of the student’s lifestyle.
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Kelvin L. teaches guitar, piano, violin, cello, mandolin, music theory, banjo, fiddle and viola lessons to students in Bolingbrook, IL. Kelvin joined the TakeLessons team in November 2012, with over 25 years of music teaching experience. Learn more about Kelvin, or search for a teacher near you!
Photo by rexboggs5