Hi friends! I take a different view of approaching use of vibrato as a matter of muscle strength. One only has to look around the room at any orchestra performance to confirm there are lots of people, both men and women of all ages, sizes and muscle strength successfully using vibrato.
Even small children can learn vibrato.
So, while building muscles is almost always a good thing, approaching vibrato from the aspect of muscle strength as a critical ability is probably not fully accurate. I recommend a re-focus on ‘relaxation’. Anything in motion is most likely relaxed. Stiffness translates into tension. Tension inhibits motion and tires you out quickly. So as violinists, we have to find the most efficient use of the body (whatever takes less energy, smaller motions). I recommend a wrist vibrato because it allows you to vary the width and speed of the vibrato. Most arm vibratos are fast and intense. It’s ok to use arm vibrato, but don’t neglect wrist vibrato and the diverse tonal colors it brings.
There are two violin positional points we must look at before you will be successful at using vibrato. The first challenge is to make sure you are holding your violin with you head only. You might need to experiment with should pads to get a perfect fit. Make sure you can confidently let go of the violin with your left hand while in playing position.
The second challenge is ‘unsticking’ the violin hand at the base of the first finger where it contacts the neck. You can still touch there, but you must be free to move. I always suggest practicing ‘sirens’ to be sure your violin hand isn’t helping hold the violin and getting stuck in first position. This will help with shifting too.
Once you are sure of these two things, the wrist vibrato action is a very organic, normal, everyday motion. It doesn’t require any weird movements that you never do. Everytime you type, wave at someone, look at your fingernails, signal ‘come here’ and scratch with the left hand, you are using muscles used in vibrato.
The vibrato motion is like waving to yourself. The motion starts at the wrist, but the wrist itself doesn’t move at all. Try placing your violin in playing position. Let go with the left hand. Bring the violin hand in to the right of the neck, palm facing you. Touch the neck of the violin (where the base of your first finger usually touches the neck) with closest part of your wrist. Start waving at yourself. This anchors the wrist so it doesn’t move while you learn the vibrato motion.
The next step is to do this motion with the left thumb in its usual place, touching the violin neck. Let the rest of your hand stay free of touching anywhere on the neck. Do the wave motion. Eventually, concentrate on the tip of the third finger as you are waving. Bring the fingertip closer and closer to the fingerboard. Lightly touch the A string, allow the third finger to slide freely with the waving motion.
Keep the knuckle loose and relaxed as you apply a little more pressure at the fingertip, finding third finger’s usual spot. Notice the knuckle closest to the tip is loose and open. Third finger is easiest to learn vibrato of all the fingers, precisely because it is the weakest finger, and is least likely to stiffen the finger or hand.
In vibrato, we roll on the fingertip– under the pitch and TO the pitch. Never above the pitch. Practice all this without the bow first. Then add the bow when you feel you have the correct waving action. Let me know if you have any questions!
Click here to view Violin Shoulder Rests offered at Superior Violins.
This is the Violin Shoulder Rest I use and most often recommend to my students.