I’ve given myself one year to master the violin.

As an adult beginner, I should be playing Twinkle Twinkle; instead, I'm playing Paganini's 24th caprice.

A crash course in vibrato

So my last post is causing a bit of a stir.  Originally, I never meant to have any vibrato in this piece until I listened to Shlomo Mintz’s interpretation of the caprice where he has that wonderfully beautiful vibrato in a rather slower rendition of the theme.  This post is to convey how I learned vibrato since I’ve had several comments in the last 24 hours about how my vibrato is great and one reader even thinks this whole thing is fake because no one could have that good of a vibrato in four months.  Is my vibrato that good?  It’s funny; I’ve been so down on myself this entire project and now someone thinks I’m too good to be true.  I suppose I should take it as a compliment.

So after these comments started rolling in, I simply asked Danielle point blank:  “why am I good at vibrato?”  A)  she actually doesn’t think I’m that good at vibrato which brings me to my next point…Danielle is really mean  B)  she does concede that it’s pretty good for where I am in my learning and the reason I’m this good defies modern science.  Just kidding.  She simply thinks that I practice a ton and that she gets to watch over my training every day.  I can’t tell you how beneficial it is for her to be able to poke her head in to almost any of my practice sessions and correct things on the spot.  Of course, that same thing is oftentimes frustrating, but in all honesty, correcting things on the spot is huge.  It is a big advantage to have never developed a vibrato that Danielle describes as being a “spaz.”  Remember a post from about a month or so ago where I complained to Danielle about practicing something incorrect for 5 hours and she said that I was lucky I didn’t practice it incorrectly for 5 years?  Similar.  And one last note:  having Danielle around keeps all of my fundamentals sharp.  My bow arm position, my left hand and arm positions, how my left hand fingers hover over the strings, etc.  Having the fundamentals down can only help when tackling something more difficult like vibrato.  Interestingly, a great teacher might actually correct an improper vibrato by correcting, for example, the position of the left elbow under the violin because that’s what’s really causing the poor vibrato – a lack of proper fundamentals.

So I’ve made all my excuses trying to convince you, dear reader, that I’m not a giant humongous fraud.  This post, then, is to describe how Danielle taught me vibrato in the first place.  Let’s begin with what vibrato is and what it isn’t.  Vibrato is a back-and-forth between the pitch of the note you’re trying to play and a pitch slightly lower (never higher).  It’s a bit of a misconception that vibrato is simply “wiggling” the finger around on the string, although that’s kind of what it looks like.  How you change the pitch so precisely is what makes vibrato difficult.

So Danielle breaks vibrato down into three parts.  Here’s the first:

Sorry about the video quality there.  Danielle and I are on vacation and I forgot the video camera.  This was taken in our hotel room on my laptop webcam.  So the first aspect of vibrato is keeping that first finger knuckle limber.  Here’s the second part:

Again, sorry about the quality.  The sound is pretty bad in that one (I prefer to blame the recording device and not my playing…).  As you can see, that concept of the WA-wa-Wa-wa-WA-wa… is very important as far as vibrato goes.  Here’s the third, and most important, video:

When first tackling vibrato, it’s important to begin with that nice arm vibrato.  Keeping it controlled with the entire arm, in my opinion, is not only easier but sounds better and is more effective than vibrating by just quivering the wrist or the hand, or whatever.  To practice this, practice it like anything else:  start slowly and move faster.  Begin with the slow WA-wa-WA-wa… and go faster.  You can even oscillate between the pitch and the slightly lower pitch using a metronome and eventually go faster.  This is actually how I got faster at the theme and variation 2 or whatever.  The metronome is a handy tool.  Anyway, I hope that helps and truly, that’s all Danielle ever taught me about vibrato.  And of course, I also have her eagle eyes on me at all times, which is what really keeps me in line.

4 Comments on “A crash course in vibrato”

  1. karen says:

    Thanks for those demos. I like the way she explains it and very good visuals. I giggled when she called you speedy gonzales.

    Still doesn’t mean it’s easy. 🙂

  2. Cassia says:

    Thanks a lot. I don´t think Danielle is that mean 😉 she seems to be quiet a good teacher—and you are an excellent student :-)) Unfortunately I am supposed to learn wrist vibrato, so I can´t just look up your videos 😦

  3. B.Rajkumar says:

    Thanks for these little tutorials on vibrato. Danielle has explained it very thoroughly.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s