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How to learn Vibrato on the Violin? (Pictures + Videos)

Updated: Aug 29, 2022

Best ways to learn and practice vibrato when you are just getting started in it!



Vibrato on the Violin is like the magic "milestone" that every beginner and intermediate Violinist strives for. Without Vibrato, playing the violin sounds "bland" and robotic. Playing vibrato on a string instrument, especially the violin is often considered one of the hardest techniques to learn in music, and one that takes a very long time to master.


When you combine the fact that the Violin doesn't sound "good" without vibrato, and add the fact that it is one of the hardest techniques to learn, you quickly learn why the Violin has the steepest learning curve and highest "Student Drop-Out" rate out of most other instruments.


Part of the reason why all students strive to learn vibrato as quickly as possible is because they themselves are not satisfied with their sound. When they hear any popular song being played on the violin, it is played with vibrato. When they hear their favorite tune on YouTube or a popular TV appearance, it has vibrato, and every single violinist that they enjoy listening to is seen playing with vibrato.


The human ear is accustomed to hearing violins playing with vibrato.


 

Why is Vibrato such a hard technique to learn?

 


1) First, you must already be a well-rounded violin player in order to begin learning Vibrato.


Before you learn vibrato, you must be 100% comfortable with using all four fingers, using your bow, having a good posture, as well as being comfortable with shifting up to Third position and back.


Vibrato involves the "bending" of pitch (intonation), and if you are not a well-rounded player by the time you learn vibrato, it will not only damage your posture but your intonation overall.


2) The muscles in your forearm were not designed to produce the type of motion required to do vibrato.


They have never been tasked with making this move, and your muscles must get accustomed to this entirely new direction of use.


Don't believe me? Try this experiment at home.


I challenge you to stick your left arm out in front of you, with your palm facing up. Now bring your palm in front of you, and point your Pinky Finger towards your face. In that position, begin moving your wrist back and forth.


Your pink should be facing your face the entire time.





Within 10 seconds, your hand and wrist should begin cramping up, forcing you to stop.

The reason this happens is that your hand and wrists were never designed to do this motion. -- Vibrato means doing that exact motion, except with a relaxed wrist, and your forearm producing some of the back and forth "effort". A task that just sounds impossible to someone just starting to learn vibrato.






3) You are not able to "rush" vibrato practice.


Part of what limits your vibrato learning in the beginning, is your own muscles developing and getting used to this new motion. This often takes time until your coordination allows you to begin experimenting with the correct movement.


4) Vibrato is not "one motion" that you have to learn.


Vibrato is a skill that involves knowing how to properly vibrate each fingertip on the fingerboard of the violin. It is not a one-size-fits-all technique, and every finger has its own focus and specific motion that it must do in order to produce vibrato.


Very often a beginner will only begin to get the hang of the 2nd Finger

(Middle Finger) vibrato, but not quite good at first finger vibrato.


Each finger has a different learning curve and niche focus while learning, which lengthens the learning time to be proficient in all four fingers.


5) There are different types of vibrato, which makes learning it that much more confusing and difficult to master fully.


Learning Vibrato on the violin is usually a process that takes 6 Months to 2 Years to master, and the reason I am making this blog post is because I am a firm believer in the idea that there is more than one specific way or a method to learning Vibrato.


There are people who do vibrato differently and have made it stylistically different.


I am here to show you some of the correct ways to begin learning vibrato, making the only thing separating you from mastering it being "Practice".



 

Before we begin exploring the ways to begin learning vibrato, please make sure that you are using a shoulder rest, and that you are able to completely let go of your left hand on the violin while keeping your violin on your shoulder without any difficulty. - If you are having trouble doing so, adjust your shoulder rest and try different configurations until you are able to hold the violin without a problem, not using your left hand.



You should be able to hold your violin using your chin, not your left hand allowing it to freely experiment with this new technique. (Shown To The Left)




Exercise #1 - Getting your forearm used to the movement.


The first exercise to utilize while starting out in Vibrato does not require your violin.


Start by bringing your left hand out in front of you, with your palms facing up. Now bring your forearm upwards so that your palm is looking at your face. Next, slightly twist your pinky and towards your face, so that your pinky finger now faces you. (Shown Below)





In that position, begin "throwing" your forearm back and forth, causing your wrist to "flop" back and forth.






Remember to keep your pinky finger facing you while your wrist flops back and forth.


I am specifically using the word "flop", as your wrist should feel like Jello going back and forth without any resistance.


This exercise strengthens your Forearm and allows it to get used to taking care of most of the load on your muscles while doing vibrato.


*Tip - Make sure that your wrist remains relaxed, and your forearm is the one doing the work in this exercise. You may want to naturally tighten up your wrist, but keep it relaxed as it would be when we begin doing vibrato with the violin.


Do this exercise while watching TV, relaxing, or reading a book. - The more you do it, the more your forearm muscles will strengthen and get used to this motion.



Exercise #2 - The "Cello" Excercise.


Our next step to getting our fingers, wrist, and forearm to realize what vibrato is all about, we will now utilize the "Cello" exercise.


Take a seat somewhere comfortable. Take your violin and place it on your knee, with the back facing you.


Bring your left hand on the fingerboard much like a cellist would. Make sure that your thumb has good support and can (anchor) on the neck of the violin while you place your second finger down on the fingerboard.


Before you attempt vibrato in this position make sure that your second finger (which is now

on the fingerboard) is facing down towards the bridge, and is not sideways.






Begin making a "Rock-The-Boat" motion back and forth on the fingerboard. This will be fairly easy, and will begin getting the tip of your finger as well as your thumb used to what it "should feel like" while doing vibrato.


We are focusing on the "ease" with which we do this. While in the Cello Position, there is no resistance from any of your muscles, so your fingers get used to this free and relaxed motion.


*Tip - Make sure that you start on the tip of your finger and "rock the boat" backward.


Once again, do this while watching TV, relaxing, or reading a book to get your fingers and wrist used to the motion.



















Exercise #3 - "Against The Wall" vibrato practice.


The third exercise that you can use to get your wrist, forearm, and fingers used to this, utilizes a wall in your home/practice room.


In order to not damage your precious violin (or the wall) during this exercise, please find a small washcloth or a smooth-surfaced cloth to "push-pin" or attach to the wall first.





Even a pillowcase folded three times will work. In a small folded square, attach this piece of soft cloth to the wall at the same height as you would have your violin when playing. You can check by holding the violin on your shoulder, and lining up against the wall.


You can use paint-safe tape, 4 push pins, or any method to attach this to the wall, allowing us to rest the head of the violin on the wall.


--


Get your violin and your bow, and stand next to the wall, with the scroll of the violin pushing against the wall. This allows you have complete stillness in the violin while you are about to try the vibrato motion while bowing!





Tip* - I like to begin all of my student's vibrato learning journey with the second finger in third position, as this allows for a good measure and back-up from the body of the violin.


Tip* - I like to also start with the A string when learning vibrato, as it is a good

middle-ground to develop the flexibility needed for the G string Vibrato later, and allows for a harder time to control your wrist instead of starting out on the E string.


Place your second finger on the A string, in third position. (You would be playing an E note, but in third position on the A string).


Start on the very tip of your finger, and rehearse the "rock-the-boat" action back and forth on the fingerboard. Add your bow, and begin this back and forth motion while playing SLOWLY.

 

Remember: As a Beginner, every single time that you try to do Vibrato on the fingerboard your wrist will begin to lock up and want to go "fast". - This is because your muscles simply aren't used to this, and naturally want to tighten up to help you. The wrist should be completely relaxed, with your forearm doing *most* of the work.


Do not go fast, as it will automatically trigger your wrist to tighten. - Slow and steady, while "rocking the boat" with your finger

 

Exercise #4 - The Metronome "Wobble"


The fourth exercise is when we will try Vibrato for the first time without aid from the wall. I named this exercise the "Wobble", as most of my students would complain that this

"Does not sound like Vibrato at all!".


That's true because it is an exercise to get us to learn Vibrato.


Start by holding your violin and bow ready to play. Start with your second finger in either third position (if that is easier for you), or first position. Starting on the tip of your finger, begin a long down-bow where your goal is to "wobble" your finger back, and forth two times during the entire bow. Then try the same thing going up.


Down Bow - Two Wobbles, followed by Up-Bow - Two Wobbles.

Then, try Down Bow - Three Wobbles, followed by Up-Bow - Three Wobbles.


At no point in this exercise should you try to do actual vibrato (sped up, and controlled). If you try to, you will quickly see your wrist and hand lock up and cause you to tighten everything.


Continue while increasing the "Wobbles".


Tip* - At no point in this exercise should you be doing smooth, beautiful vibrato. - Focus on these "wobbles" without tightening up your wrist. Very controlled, very purposeful.



Exercise #5 - Controlled Vibrato Practice


The final "Vibrato Exercise" for beginners is the controlled vibrato practice. It has that name, because where other teachers would tell you to "just practice vibrato" randomly, I would like to ask you to practice vibrato in a controlled setting.


Much like a "controlled fire" is done with purpose, we will now begin to apply all technicalities into practice by specifically choosing how we will practice vibrato.


We must do it in a way that our brain only focuses on the vibrato technique, rather then the notes, dynamics, or phrasing of a piece.


Therefore, begin by taking out a piece of music that you know "like the back of your hand"!


Choose a piece of music where you do not have to think about which note will come next.


Then, no matter what tempo the piece is, and no matter if the notes are eight notes, sixteenth, or quarter notes, I want you to make every single note in this piece in front of you a Half-Note. Every single note should be a LONG half note that you can do 4-5 wobbles

per note on.


So long as you remember not to "Try and do vibrato", and focus on creating individual "wobbles", your hand will not lock up and allow you to be relaxed.


In the video below, I show you an example of me taking a popular song, and doing the exact same "controlled" vibrato practice on every note that the song has individually.






 

I am doing all of these exercises, but still don't have vibrato down!


Correct. As I mentioned during my introduction, and every violinist will tell you; Vibrato takes a long time to master. Doing these 5 Exercises daily, and as much as you can will slowly allow your muscles to get used to this motion. Two of these exercises you can do while watching TV, so take advantage of it!


When you begin learning vibrato, add 15 minutes of your daily or bi-daily practice time, and dedicate it to Vibrato-Learning, and you will soon feel that this "wobble" becomes more and more relaxed and second-nature-like.

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