Vibrato Tips & Insights (4 of 4):

Getting the Full View (and Full Sequence)

There are a dozen tips I still want to share with you. I’ve been wrestling all week with which one to choose for this last email!

  • The first finger that just won’t loosen up?
  • The students whose vibrato never quite gets faster?
  • The perfect-looking vibrato with an inaudible oscillation?
  • How about the vibrato that starts gorgeous and loose but has mysteriously tightened up a year later?

Vibrato Articles

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: Upgrading the Shaker Egg

Part 3: Thumb Swings

Part 4: Getting the Full View (this article)

One challenge with all things vibrato is that students can’t see what’s going on under the body of the violin, where all the tricky bits are located. A mirror can help, but trouble-shooting a three-dimensional skill from a two-dimensional image is knotty business … even when you know what you’re doing. (Let us all share a collective flashback through eight hundred zoom lessons … (。ヘ°)

There is more, though. We teachers have the advantage of a fully-formed template for vibrato. We can make a dozen brilliant adjustments during the lesson — in person or otherwise — and get things working perfectly. But students often lack the experience to recreate these adjustments at home — no matter how clearly we explain them, or how well they do them in the lesson, or whether they work with a mirror.

What is the answer?

First, a finely grained sequence. That is a topic for another day.

Second, rest position.

My students spend fully 80% of their vibrato training in rest position. They go through nine steps, some lasting just a few minutes, others a few weeks. Their vibrato is essentially fully formed by the time they put it on their shoulder.

We do hand vibrato, and my students invariably achieve a gorgeous one (with a perfect pinky finger, mon dieu). Arm vibrato is used in various places to simplify new skills. Here is the sequence. Even with the details missing you can get the idea:

1. Neck polishes, with the whole arm and hand

2. Neck polishes, with the thumb fastened
○ Arm vibrato ○ Hand vibrato

3. String polishes, with the fingertip gliding on the string
○ Arm vibrato ○ Hand vibrato

4. Finger drops, with the finger fastened
○ Arm vibrato ○ Hand vibrato

5. Accelerating the vibrato.
This is the secret sauce. If the vibrato is still at “learning speed,” that also means it’s not fully automatic … which also means the muscle memory is not yet solidified and is guaranteed to change over time (and not always in a good way).

Once the vibrato is fluid and awesome in rest position, we move everything onto the shoulder. There is very little adjusting needed at that point—the last step is basically adding the bow.

It doesn’t seem logical that a skill that is fundamentally about weight and balance could be practiced in a completely different position. But it turns out the issues of balance and support are easily resolved once all the other confusions have been sorted out.

I hope you will join me for one of the workshops this coming summer. My beginners have recently been reaching Vivaldi concerto level in as little as two years … and loving playing violin. I have had to hire an additional teacher because my studio is ready to burst. The uncontainable excitement and enthusiasm are quite a contrast to the earlier mood of patient (though cheerful) hard work.

Here is what teachers are saying about the workshop:

“Elise has merged the high standards of violin technique with joy, self-discovery, and beauty in a thoughtfully organized and fluid way. I can’t wait to take all I’ve learned to better serve my students!” —Vanessa M., Yakima, WA

“This workshop transformed the way I think of teaching children.” – Lindsay S., Cedar City, UT.

Book 1 Teacher Workshop: The Well-Rounded Twinkler. Ensuring great posture and bowhold, building aural literacy, tone, note-reading, working with practice parents, and making practice fun.

Book 2 Teacher Workshop: Dynamic Movement, and Musical Expression. Vibrato, bow choreography, dynamics, balance, efficiency, spiccato, and expressive movement (which is actually a part of effective bow technique).

Please reach out to elise@discoverviolin.org with vibrato questions, or orders@discoverviolin.org with questions about the workshop. Talk to you soon!