Hi Everyone! I recently was talking to a friend about vibrato and ended up going into some detail about how to get started. I figured it would be helpful to everyone so I will post the process here.
First, I want to share a thread here in the forums where a student submitted a video of his vibrato and asked for feedback. My responses were very detailed, and included another video that shows what the fingers should look like during vibrato, in slow motion. Here’s the link: http://www.violintutorpro.com/topic/vibrato-feedback-request/
Meanwhile, I always like to point out to students asking about vibrato that it always begins with holding the violin with the head only. So you place the violin in playing position and literally let go with the left hand and walk around the house or time yourself for 1 full minute.
If this is not easy, then the violin may be slipping or falling forward and in any case, the left hand naturally takes up the slack. The left hand sometimes pushes back from the base of the index finger against the neck. Then the thumb touches on the other side and when the head fails to hold, the hand squeezes the neck between these two touch points, resulting in tension all through the left side of the body.
So make sure you can hold the violin with your head. I recommend a KUN shoulder rest. It is what I use, and I recommend this to all my students from about age 8 and up. During vibrato the touch point at the base of the index must come free of the violin neck.
A good way to test this is to practice ‘sirens’. Place the 1st finger on A, then slide up the fingerboard as far as you can go, then back down to the B natural. Thumb should travel with the entire hand. This freedom of the base of the index finger to become unstuck is critical in vibrato and shifting.
Maybe you knew all this! So let me suggest a few things about actual vibrato. After the violin is in playing position, bring the left hand inward and up past the neck and place the wrist against the neck of the violin where the base of the index finger usually touches. This stabilizes the wrist, which should not be moving during vibrato. Now, wave the hand forward (toward your nose) and away from you (toward the pegs). This is the basic motion of the vibrato.
As you continue this waving motion, move away from the violin neck, and back down, gently placing the waving hand in playing position. Keep the wrist immobile. Place the thumb on the neck and let the hand wave freely in a wide motion. At this point, your hand is touching the neck of the violin at the thumb only.
Now continuing that motion, THINK of the tip of the 3rd finger. Keep waving! Let the 3rd finger gradually, very lightly touch the string. As the hand continues to wave, the 3rd finger lightly contacts the A string and slides as far up and down as the motion allows. Only the wrist and the thumb are stable.
Make this 3rd finger slide gradually more narrow and firm until it reaches its spot on the string (approximately. All this is being done without the bow) Keep the knuckle closest to the finger tip floppy loose as a goose, waving wide and slow.
If you can do this much, you are on your way. The next challenge will be to add the bow, using long slow bow strokes with good tone, while you play this 3rd finger, wide, slow measured vibrato, firm fingertip. Sometimes the bow wants to ‘shimmey’ with the left hand. So work out this ‘rub your tummy, pat your head’ style action between the hands before making the challenge harder.
Once you have ironed out the bowing, keep your attention on the waving left hand, and finding 3rd finger’s true position, staying free at the base of the index finger. Keep the wrist still. Allow the pinkie to snuggle the 3rd finger if it wants to. This strengthens the 3rd finger. Notice how the fingertip rolls back (under the pitch) and forth (to the pitch, not above it)
When you feel comfortable with all these processes, you can try 2nd finger, which is similarly easy, but just a little “tighter”. The vibrato on pinkie is a little different as its fingertip touches the string more on the side, instead of the middle of the finger tip. Just keep that hand vigorously waving. First finger, the tightest of all fingers, let the fingertip roll back onto the nut of the fingerboard. You’ll actually see your fingertip in this moment. Then, roll forward to the normal position. Never allow the knuckles to fully collapse.
If you got all the way through these exercises, you may have these along with my congratulations: