Vibrato Report

I’m working on vibrato.  It’s challenging, and I’ve developed some questions that I need to consult with Teacher on, which is to be expected whenever I try new things on the violin.

One of my main questions is when I should turn it on and off.  Eventually it will be on all the time, on virtually every note of any duration.  Advanced players play notes without vibrato only for effect or when there’s no time.  But as I wrote in my vibrato lesson blog post, Teacher says to try to start to add it in on long notes.  So maybe I need to forget about vibrato if I’m not doing exercises devoted to it, and just add it in on particularly long notes for now.

One problem is that I seem unable to forget about vibrato.  Teacher talked about practicing for too long with it as if it might be a stamina issue, but I have found myself fixated on practicing the technique.  When I try to play without thinking about vibrato I keep returning to it like a boomerang.  On some level I know that the more I practice the sooner it will come!

I’ve had some hand/wrist movement exercises for a long time to work on prepping for vibrato, but in isolation they were not very meaningful.  I’m finding them to be much more meaningful now that I’m trying to actually do the movement while fingering – I’m better able to understand what the exercises are getting at.  I find I keep going back to the exercises as I play to try to refine/understand the movement, alternating between the exercises then trying to play some notes.

I’m not without moments where I can glimpse what success might sound like, so I should count those moments as small victories for now.  This will take time.

Thanks for reading.



  1. I’m sure your teacher will go over everything I’m about to say. But from one string player to another…some vibrato tips.

    Use vibrato like you would a strong spice (curry, ginger, or turmeric). A little goes a LONG way. The great thing about being a string player is that you can vibrato a note. So the temptation will be to vibrato everything. Resist that temptation in much the same way you would resist the temptation to put your favorite spice in every dish you make.

    Learn to vary your vibrato so that it is different depending on the mood of the piece that you are playing. A melancholy, introspective work hardly calls for a fast, frenetic vibrato. So save that for a more uptempo piece and learn to add slow, deliberate vibrato where appropriate.

    Try never to use vibrato as a compensation for inaccurate pitch. Most of my playing is on a fretted instrument nowadays, but I’ve played enough upright bass and fretless electric bass to remember the days of needing to be almost fanatical about pitch before adding vibrato. If your MO is to put you finger in the “general vicinity” of the note and then rely on vibrato to get you in tune, that’s a really nasty habit to break. Play in tune, then vibrato.

    Finally, listen to other great musicians and focus in on how they use vibrato. Especially listen to musicians that aren’t violinists (including singers). A few musicians that come to mind off the top of my head who have really wonderful vibrato include Stevie Wonder, Jaco Pastorius, Miles Davis, Yo-Yo Ma, Jerry Douglas, Frank Sinatra, Lalah Hathaway, Derek Trucks, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Find things you like about how other musicians use the technique and then learn how to incorporate those things in your own playing.

    My two cents. Hope that is helpful.


  2. On the in tune bit that’s part of why we wait to start on it. Of course these days I’m always perfectly in tune so that could never be me anyway. Modulation of this thing is going to be as tough as doing it at all – well, tougher, actually. Thanks!

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