If you have been learning to play the violin and have progressed beyond the beginning stages as a violinist, you likely feel ready to tackle a few more advanced techniques.
One advanced technique that isn’t too hard to learn is vibrato. Doing vibrato on a violin is not simple, but anyone can master it with a bit of practice. You can easily pull it off on a violin for beginners, too.
First, let’s clarify exactly what vibrato is. It is a musical technique that allows performers to express their individualism as an artist. This expressive musical tool helps you display the mood or character of a phrase or note.
So how do you do vibrato on a violin?
First, I need to point out that there are three major kinds of vibrato: they are finger vibrato, wrist vibrato and arm vibrato. Traditionally, classical music and bombastic passages require smaller and tighter vibrato, whereas low, romantic pieces call for bigger and wider vibrato.
The most common vibrato is the wrist vibrato, which is also known as general vibrato. It is the one used most by performers. This article will focus on wrist and arm vibrato and give a step by step description on how to perform each.
How To Produce Wrist Vibrato
Note that you should only begin practicing the vibrato technique, after you are comfortable with finger placement and you have memorized the positions of all the required notes.
- It is important to know how your wrist is meant to move when performing a vibrato. You should begin by holding your left hand as if you are preparing to play the instrument. Holding your hand in this position, imagine that you are holding a pencil almost 5 cm from the side of your raised arm.
- Move your wrist and arm as if to touch the imaginary pencil with your arm. Keep in mind that the only body part that you should move while vibrating is your wrist. Motion back and forth, as if you are attempting to brush two pencils together on either side as you move your hand. This motion is what will be used to create the vibrato. As you perform this movement, it is important to keep your left hand very still.
- Now that you have practiced the vibrato movement slowly and without an instrument, it is time to do it with an actual violin. Remember that the vibrato works best with only one finger on the string. The vibrato can be done with any finger, but is generally easiest when done on either the second or third fingers. I’d suggest not using the fourth finger until you have mastered performing the vibrato with all the other fingers.
- Avoid sliding your finger on the string. Roll it against the fingerboard, instead of slipping it back and forth. Remember that the wrist vibrato should only incorporate wrist movement. The arm should not move at all. Put some effort into rolling your finger on the string, since your wrist alone is responsible for making the vibrato motion.
- Try to bow the string being held by the vibrating finger. You are supposed to hear the pitch diminish, because as you vibrate, the finger should begin on the correct pitch and then roll towards the scroll, lowering the pitch. Afterward, your finger should roll back to the previous pitch. This is what creates the shaky vibrato sound.
- It is important to move very slowly while learning and practicing the vibrato, in order to develop proper muscle memory. The process takes time, but doing it correctly pays off. Your playing will see a huge improvement.
How To Do Arm Vibrato
The arm vibrato is simpler than the wrist vibrato, but it produces a richer sound. To perform the arm vibrato, begin exactly as you did with the wrist vibrato. However, instead of just moving your wrist, move your entire forearm forth and back.
After familiarizing yourself with this movement, get your violin and place a finger on the fingerboard, while very slowly moving your arm back and forth. Keep you finger on the fingerboard. Switch fingers to give them all a try. It is important to be comfortable performing this movement with all fingers.
Once you are comfortable doing this in slow motion, pick up the pace and learn how to do the vibrato faster.
It is important to regularly practice this motion until you are comfortable playing both the wrist and arm vibrato, with all fingers and at varied speeds. You need to be able to vary vibrato, because it is dynamic. You want to master all the different kinds and variations of vibrato, so that you can express yourself more freely and widely through your music.
You want to be as expressive as you can with your violin and mastering every possible variation of vibrato allows you to do that. So keep practicing, until you have them all down!