Vibrato on the violin and viola

violin vibrato exercises

We ask ourselves what one can do to develop the playing technique "vibrato" well oneself, but also to teach it even better. There is little practical literature and suggestions for learning and continuously developing vibrato on the violin and viola. We know of no systematic structure that really takes into account all levels of performance, from preparation to professionalism. 

Most important challenges

In the case of the high strings, a distinction is made between different types of vibrato: arm vibrato, wrist vibrato and finger vibrato. In addition to the prerequisite of sufficient mobility in the arm, wrist and fingers, there are two other important challenges:

Flexibility and stability

At the same time, the flexibility requires stability of the finger on the string, i.e. it must not "skid" too much or leave its place, as this would lead to large intonation fluctuations. The player should be able to consciously create this balance between stability and flexibility and use it according to the desired sound.

Independence between right and left

It should also be possible to consciously control the speed of the vibrato in order to achieve exactly the timbre one has in mind. To be able to do this consciously, one needs an increasing independence between the bow speed and the vibrato movements. If this independence does not exist, a faster bow stroke automatically causes a faster vibrato movement (and vice versa).

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First results - 2 approaches

We have tried out and developed approaches to both of these major challenges, which we would like to share here.

Approach to: flexibility and stability

Mobility in connection with stability can be practised particularly well with the fingerboard attachment. All types of vibrato benefit from it. This is especially because you reduce the finger pressure very slightly to what is really necessary. This sets in motion a chain of relaxation that also has an effect on the arms and wrists.The opportunities that come with it:

  • We achieve relaxation while doing a movement where we normally don't relax (so easily).
  • We reduce the finger pressure to what is necessary.
  • The shape and construction of the nubs then provides the balance between stability and mobility.

To do this, attach the ResoundingFingerboard to the preferred position: for wrist and arm vibrato approximately at the height of the 3rd/4th position, for finger vibrato somewhat further towards the bridge. The following steps are possible:

  1. First without a bow: place a finger of your choice on a nodule of your choice and (very!) slowly begin to try out the mobility of the noduls for yourself by simply executing the vibrato movement (applies to arm and wrist vibrato). With finger vibrato, the mobility of the finger end joint is crucial. Therefore: Simply place the finger of choice on a nodule  and begin (very!) slowly at first to push the joint down and then bring it back to the starting position.
  2. Once you feel comfortable doing this, you can experiment with the speed of the movements. We recommend that you mentally crawl into the movement and feel exactly how it feels. At this point it often happens that the fingerboard attachment detaches from the fingerboard. Unless there are other reasons for this [see also [Bad Fingerboard Day], the reason is often that there is too much "skidding". Efforts can therefore be made to ensure that the fingerboard attachment moves as little as possible in the process.
  3. The bow should be added as the next phase of practice. Here we refer to the publication "Arm vibrato" or the explanations on the subject of "Independence".

Three impressions of the use of the fingerboard attachment for the three types of vibrato: arm vibrato, wrist vibrato and finger vibrato. The videos are hosted on vimeo.com and open in a new window in Vimeo. They each show a short sequence of what it can look like when the ResoundingFingerboard is used. Here: without a bow.

Arm vibrato on the violin and viola

Arm vibrato - impression

Finger virbato on the violin and viola

Finger vibrato - impression

Wrist vibrato on the violin and viola

Wrist vibrato - impression

Approach to: independence between right and left

Independence between right and left is one of the fundamental prerequisites for acquiring a good playing technique in general. If one wants to use and, above all, shape one's vibrato consciously, the continuous improvement of independence and regular training can bring great developmental steps. More than 25 years of experimenting with how to make independence work well became a comprehensive volume on the subject of "arm vibrato" in 2021 with 39 practice ideas and almost 100 variations. The author Erdmute Hohage focuses the practice ideas on the independence between the two sides in connection with all applications of the vibrato and addresses in particular:

  • vibrating through notes
  • vibrato and shifting 
  • double grip vibrato
  • changing fingers and vibrato

Pre-exercises are shown that can be done in preparation with pupils, even without direct reference to learning vibrato. But it also shows ideas that players can do if they have been vibratoing for many years. Many ideas can easily be transferred to other types of vibrato (and also to other playing techniques). Increasing improvement in independence always goes hand in hand with consciously placed movements.

Since there is unfortunately no button you can simply press to suddenly become independent, and since experience shows that the path requires a lot of training, the aim of this collection is to offer ideas on how to make things easier. Even if you "want" to do it, it doesn't mean that you can do it easily. Sometimes "distractions" are offered, but they are more than a distraction: Almost everything involves the whole body.