Ever tried to teach someone how to sneeze, swallow, or stop having nightmares? Well, teaching someone how to have a full, relaxed, consistent, rich, gorgeous violin vibrato is at about the same level....nigh impossible! With that said, don't give up or lose heart! While vibrato is definitely an innate, mental, knee jerk reaction only with a good dose of zen, there are some exercises you can do to help!
A violinist's vibrato is like their thumb print; unique, personal and identifying. Check out these two very different, but very successful vibratos if you don't believe me. My own style is fast. I think that's probably because I tend to run a little high strung and up tight. Fast vibrato is awesome most of the time, but there are times when you want to slow it down, or change the width for added emotion and color. Here are some quick guidlines to think about while learning and practicing vibrato, or skip right to the bottom for some awesome short video demonstrations on vibrato exercises that you can do DAILY!
First - Determine how your personality and natural playing style may be helping or hurting your vibrato. In my own playing for example, I know that I can go fast but I'm not that relaxed. So I do a lot of extra slow vibrato. I work a lot on breathing and totally relaxing my entire violin form while practicing slow vibrato.
Second - Everyone needs to practice vibrato from beginner violinists to advanced. I have found that the older I get the less sharp, less controlled, and more inconsistent my vibrato becomes UNLESS I include some vibrato focused exercises daily! On the bright side, if you do keep practicing vibrato it will deepen and mature with age in many ways. (Check back often for a new post I'll be doing for exercises specifically for little kids and beginners on the foundation you can be laying now for a succesful vibrato later).
Third - If struggling with vibrato, don't pressure yourself to use it all the time at first. When you do work on vibrato pick songs that have long notes or are simply easier for you to play. Pick a couple of notes within that simple piece that you are going to aim to use vibrato on and then let it grow from there.
Video Tutorials on Vibrato Exercises
These are vibrato exercises that I have implemented over the years for myself and students. It has become especially important for me to figure out how to help others with their vibrato now that I have daughters of my own that are trying to learn it.
A great one for beginners
The purpose of this exercise is to make sure you are completely relaxed. Obviously the movements are overblown, but it works. Key points are that your thumb is relaxed and there is fluid motion in the arm and wrist. Don't go crazy, just be relaxed.
Put Down the Violin
This exercise is great for all levels including beginners. I use it myself as part of my own practicing to warm up, relax, and remind my hands, wrist, and arms the motion I'm looking for. When performing this exercise think about knocking on a door because that's the motion you are basically doing. The vibrato isn't just in the arm or just in the wrist, but they work together propelling each other correctly through the motion. The arm moves a little and if the wrist is relaxed enough it will translate the correct vibrato movement from your arm into your hand and fingers.
Focusing on the Wrist
The above two vibrato exercises are pretty heavily arm focused. This next one you are isolating the rocking motion in the wrist. Go slow. This one takes focus and concentration. It will help produce an even and fast vibrato.
Vibrato Exercise for correct Hand Shape
Phew, we are almost done, I promise. I hope you are still with me because this is my ultimate favorite and newly invented exercise. It was created on a day when my daughter was super struggling with her vibrato exercises. Her hand was collapsing and I felt like she was pushing her wrist out towards the scroll (not a good thing!). This exercise is beautiful for a couple of reasons. First, using the edge of the body of the violin helps to shorten the distance your arm is extended. This makes it easier because the violinist can focus more on the motion of the vibrato instead of feeling so stretched. Second, the thickness of the violin helps to act as a 'shape guard' of sorts for your hand. In other words it helps keep the palm area of your hand open, and the fingers rounded and sitting on their fingertips. Third, the edge of the violin acts as a bumper pad of sorts for your wrists, keeping it in place to perform good vibrato. As you'll notice in the video I change around the fingers and the speed of the vibrato. It's just a great exercise to experiment with different vibratos, plus you don't have to worry about how it sounds so you can completely focus on how it feels.
Like what you see? Please share with your violin friends
Check out some of our other How To's