Shaking it Up the Right Way
So, you think you're ready for Vibrato....only if you can answer YES to the following questions!
1. Have you fully learned first position?
2. Do you have a decent understanding of third position?
3. Is your violin fingerboard free of tape and other fingering markings?
4. Can you shift with ease between first and third position?
5. Does your left wrist and arm have good form?
6. Do you play notes up on the fleshy part of your finger without collapsing (flattening) them?
7. Do you have good intonation.
If you can answer YES to ALL of the above questions then you are ready to learn Vibrato. If you answer NO to any of these questions, take time to perfect that area and wait until you are completely ready. Vibrato is one area you do not want to rush into. I have seen far too many students who are too anxious to learn vibrato and start learning it on their own before they are ready. Bad vibrato habits are so hard to break.
Violin Vibrato Step 1. Make sure your left hand, wrist, and arm are completely relaxed. Practice this by slowly moving your hand and arm all the way up the violin neck towards the body of the violin and back down towards the scroll. This exercise can be practiced two ways; 1. Keep a finger on the string but not pushing the string down. 2. Relax hand slightly above the string with no finger contact.
Add the bow while you keep moving your arm up and down. Your violin vibrato will sound like a sick cow or a fire engine siren. That is how it should sound right now.
This is a big broad movement. Students should use a couple minutes of practice time every day to complete this exercise. Continue this regiment for a couple of weeks before adding any other vibrato technique.
Violin Vibrato Step 2. Put second finger on the string and using your wrist join make a broad, slow, relaxed movements back and forth with hand. Keep the arm stable. Make sure your hand only moves backwards (towards the scroll) and returns to original position. This exercise should be completed daily without the bow. Practice using all four fingers and all four strings. Typically the 2nd and 3rd fingers are the easiest and the 1st and the 4th more difficult.
REMEMBER...vibrato movement never never move forward on the violin. Do not let your finger roll past the original point of the note, this is for intonation purposes.
TIP...to make sure your wrist and arm stay in good position have someone gently hold your wrist/arm in place. Your wrist should not be collapsing towards the neck of the violin, it should remain stable during this exercise, and inline with your arm. This will take time to learn and conquer.
VISUALIZE....If you are having difficulty, try to visualize a string is attached to the knuckles on the back of your left hand, and pulling straight towards your scroll.
Violin Vibrato Step 3. Using Step 2 add the bow using long slow counts and changing bow smoothly. You're violin will sound little like vibrato and a lot like the theme-music for the movie Jaws. Keep up the good work, and take it slowly. You'll get it soon. These exercises can be physically and mentally exhausting. Just do a couple of minutes daily, and DO NOT put vibrato in your regular practice time just yet. That will come in Step 4!
Violin Vibrato Step 4. Find an easy slow song. Add your vibrato technique from step 3 to the long and slow notes.
Violin Vibrato Step 5. Understanding different styles of vibrato is VERY important. Not all players use the exact same style, that's what keeps it fun and interesting. There are three styles of vibrato.
1. Wrist vibrato - Using the wrist only, this vibrato is usually fast, but more shallow. It allows a player to have intense sound, and is also great when playing a faster more lively song. This vibrato adds color and flair. Players who use this method perfect Steps 2 & 3, making their movement faster and more precise. See example below of Itzhak Perlman using wrist vibrato.
2. Arm vibrato - Using the arm only, this vibrato is slower and broader. To achieve this method, players use the arm movement practiced in Step 1, keeping their finger stabilized and in place. This vibrato is perfect for slow, sad, heart wrenching pieces. This vibrato adds depth and emotion. See example below of Joshua Bell using arm vibrato.
3. A combination of Arm and Wrist. Most players actually at some point will use a combination of both. Advanced violinist adapt, evolve, and become very efficient at using both their arm and their wrist to achieve optimal vibrato. If you study professional violinist you will notice that depending on the piece, the emotion, and the intensity involved you will see a little bit of both. Even in the examples given above, you will notice moments with both Joshua Bell and Itzhak Perlman using their wrist and their arm simultaneously or alternating between the two.
Vibrato Step 6. Don't give up. If you are having a hard time, go back to the basics and start slow again. Keep vibrato relaxed. Do not try to achieve the intense vibrato of the professionals until you have relaxed controlled movements. This will result in the undesirable bad 'shaking vibrato'. Slowly add speed to your vibrato and with time you will have a rich vibrato that will add color and depth to your playing!
A private teacher is always an advantage. When it comes to learning vibrato, this is especially true. Seek the help and advice of your private instructor or orchestra teacher when learning this technique.