Learning to play vibrato on your violin is a big step for any student. Vibrato is recommended for immediate students and being able to do it can make you sound like a true professional. Playing vibrato on the violin adds more color and variety to the piece but mastering it can hard. It’s much more than merely shaking your finger.
We’re giving you a step by step guide on mastering this tricky technique and we’ve laid out each of the steps below.
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Are You Ready?
There are a lot of beginner and intermediate players who want to learn this fancy technique so that they’re playing sounds better. However, it’s important that you have the right training before you undertake this mammoth task.
A student should have developed a full tone before they even think about learning, arm, wrist or finger vibrato. This ensures that you will sound the best. You also need to have a good understanding of both the first and third position too. The last thing you will need is to have good form when it comes to your arm and hand because vibrato can be quite strenuous on your muscles.
If you think that you tick all of these boxes then you are certainly ready to learn vibrato. Just be patient and don’t go too quickly through the steps. Progress will be slow but the more you practice, the closer you’ll come to reaching your goal of mastering the vibrato.
Different Types of Vibrato
Before we get started learning to vibrato you will need to learn about the different types. There are three ways to choose from and we’ve outlined each one below.
- Wrist vibrato – This method uses only your wrist and the sound it produces is a shallow, fast vibrato. It allows you to make the piece more intense and is ideal if the song is brisk and lively.
- Arm vibrato – Here you will use only your arm and the vibrato will be broader and slower. It’s a perfect technique for those sad, slow pieces because it adds in more depth and emotion to the composition.
- Using both methods – There is also a combination of both the wrist and arm vibrato and this is one for more advanced violinists. When you become efficient at using your wrist and your arm you may want to try combining the two to intensify your playing.
To start off you will want to ensure that your left hand, arm and wrist are totally relaxed. You can practice this relaxation technique with a simple exercise. Move your arm and hand up towards the body of the violin and then move them back down to the scroll. Now you can either keep a finger on one of the strings but don’t push it down or relax your hand above the string but don’t make contact with it.
Add the bow to your movement and you will start to produce a sound. In the beginning, your vibrato may sound like an angry cat but this is what it should do at this point. Take a few minutes each day to practice this exercise and do so for a few weeks before adding in any other technique.
Next you will be using your wrist to make slow movements back and forth with your hand. Your second finger will need to be on the string for this part. Make sure that your hand is only moving backward and then returning to its original place. Practice this exercise every day without the bow and try using all of your fingers on the four strings. You will typically find that your second and third finger is easier and the first finger and fourth are more difficult.
REMEMBER that a vibrato movement should never move forwards, only backward. Never let your finger go past the original point of the note.
Take what you’ve learned in the second step and add in your bow. Use long, slow movements and counts so that the bow is changing smoothly. At this point the sound that you are making sounds a bit like vibrato but more like the theme from the movie Jaws. All of these exercises may seem trivial at first but the more you practice them, the more successful you will be at playing the vibrato motion. Keep trying them every day but don’t put it into your regular practice just yet.
Choose a song that is easy and slow. Add in the technique you learned in step 3 to the slower, longer notes.
Make sure you understand what each type of vibrato is that we discussed at the beginning of our guide. Each vibrato technique is different and you will want to try all of them to be successful. This is the point where you start learning the proper violin vibrato. The famous Itzhak Perlman was a master at the vibrato motion so try watching is recordings online to see how the wrist vibrato and arm vibrato are properly done.
Never give up trying. If you are finding that learning vibrato is difficult for you then go right back to the beginning, take it slow and try again. A beautiful vibrato technique can’t be mastered overnight and it will take a lot of practice to be able to play like Itzhak Perlman.
Don’t try and aim too high, to begin with, and try learning vibrato like the professionals do it straight away. Learning those controlled, relaxed motions of the hand, wrist and arm are important for getting the violin vibrato correct. If you jump in too quickly and rush through the basics you’ll end up with a vibrato that sounds shaky and just plain bad. Speed should be added slowly to your vibrato so that, with time, your vibrato has the color and depth that will enhance your playing.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
Starting out playing vibrato is hard and there are a lot of mistakes that students make at the outset. Below are some mistakes you should try to avoid.
- Not setting up properly – You need to have the proper setup to be able to practice efficiently. A violin that has been prepared properly will mean that new techniques can be learned much quicker with no discomfort.
- Having the wrong posture – Much the same as having a poor setup, your posture is also important to playing vibrato comfortably. Your violin should be parallel to the floor with your shoulders straight and both feet firmly on the ground.
- Overpressing the strings – It’s a very common mistake that you press down too hard on the fingerboard. This will restrict motion, create tension and also affects your dexterity. You will need to find the right balance of pressure to apply to each note.
- Squeezing the violin – Many students will try and squeeze the violin and neck with their index finger and thumb. This restricts your movements and adds tension to the strings. Because of this achieving vibrato will be absolutely impossible.
- Moving your hand the wrong way – Your hand should be moving back and forth. This is the correct movement for a proper vibrato. The arm should be going back towards the scroll and then coming forward to the original pitch of the note. Twisting your hands around is a bad way of trying to achieve vibrato.
- Moving your thumb – That left hand thumb is one to watch. It is meant to resting on the neck of the violin. This allows the rest of your fingers to hover over the fingerboard.
Keys to Success when Learning Vibrato
Once someone has explained to you or even shown you what vibrato is then it can sound super easy to pull off. However, it will take a lot of practice before you’ll even come close to getting it right. You will need to keep doing the small exercises that may seem pointless at first but they improve the movements you need to be able to nail this technique.
The first thing you should do is to make sure you are holding your violin in the correct position. It should be resting comfortably between your chin and shoulder. Your posture should be straight and the position you are standing in should be comfortable.
Before you begin practicing your vibrato you should warm up your wrists first. This seems a bit strange at first but it will help you massively during your practice. Being relaxed is the key to a violinist’s good posture. Someone who is stressed out will only struggle to play and hit the right notes. Doing a few relaxing breathing exercises can help you alleviate any tension and improve your posture. Once you are relaxed and warmed up then you can start doing back and forth motions with both of your arms. The goal here is to make sure each arm is loosened up and ready to go.
You can work on the back and forth movement for days and once you are comfortable enough with it you can try to speed it up in small increments at a time.
The last thing you will need to do is choose a note you want to play and get your third finger ready. Keep repeating the vibrato movement while your finger sits on the string. Try these exercises a couple of times during your practice or with your teacher.
If you’re still having trouble with this technique, because it is a tricky one, then consult a violin teacher. Having the help of someone who knows what they’re doing can be really useful for this one.