Once you are past those beginning stages of learning the basics of how the violin works, and how to make real emotive music through the science of dynamics, bow speed, and real art that is coming from your newfound musicianship, you may find a new and passionate desire to expand your skills with vibrato.
I couldn’t get enough of listening to the violin, especially after I had mastered enough skills to practice a repertoire independently in my home practice room (And as a side-note, I sincerely have to thank my tutor Mrs. T for sticking with me up to that point!). How jealously I listened to as many CD’s of violin recordings as I could, wanting to take that skill of vibrato and make it my own!!
You could imagine how thrilled I was when my tutor informed me that I was (FINALLY!!!) ready to learn the secrets!
I wish I could say it was an easy transition, but the fact is, the only instrument that vibrato naturally occurs with is the voice. That being said, it takes a little bit of muscular development to train the wrist to be ready for vibrato on the violin.
Here are some things you should keep in mind as you begin your vibrato training:
1. There are different types of vibrato, and music from different musical eras will require different ornamentation.
2. Oh yes! Vibrato is an ornament. Do NOT use vibrato on every single note. There are actually many players (on various instruments) who develop the bad habit of placing vibrato on everything. After a few years, they can no longer play without vibrato, even if they try. This is a sad thing, as their intonation suffers. I’ve been on enough conductors’ podiums to be witness to this firsthand. IT CAN HAPPEN TO YOU, YES YOU.
3. You will most likely have a favorite type of vibrato, and it is something that a responsible musician will know about him/herself, so experiment!
4. Vibrato on violin always always always occurs in the direction of the string. There is no such thing as “sideways” vibrato.
5. When you do hear yourself producing beautiful vibrato for the very first time, it will feel so rewarding and wonderful that it will justify all the work required.
So, are you ready for your first exercise?
You will not need your bow. This is an exercise for the left hand only. With your violin under your chin, place your hand (with a nice dropped wrist) all the way up on the neck of the violin. Your palm should be touching the body of the instrument, and your fingers should remain relaxed, even though they are pointed toward the ceiling. This should feel the same as if you were playing in a higher position on the fingerboard, with the exception that none of your fingers are touching the fingerboard at all. Believe it or not, that’s the toughest part! From here, with your fingers extended but relaxed, begin to wave at yourself. That’s it. Just wave. Notice as you wave at yourself, with your fingers going all the way back, and all the way to touch the body of the violin, that your wrist is doing all of the work. Not only that, but your wrist is moving in the same direction that you will later use for the vibrato itself. The only differences will be that your fingers will be manipulating the fingerboard to create notes, and the movement itself will be a lot smaller.
There are a few exercises to cultivate that growing vibrato, but this is by far the easiest place to start. Spend a few minutes in this position waving at yourself, and soon you will be ready for a more challenging exercise with muscle development. Do remember that if your wrist becomes sore, it is time to take a break and stretch it out. Rest if there is any pain–and certainly if you have any wrist issues, consult with your doctor before pursuing the violin.
With just a little bit of muscular development, you will have your very own individual, beautiful vibrato to use any time the music moves you to do so.