Of all violin techniques, vibrato is the most misunderstood. In fact, I feel sorry for vibrato: sometimes people talk about him like he’s the most important guy in the room:
“You’re the fingerprint of the sound! You’re what keeps me coming back for more!”
Then a minute later, he’s an unwelcome bore:
“Everyone vibrates everything these days. Give it a rest already!”
A vibrato to forget
Sometimes it seems like the best solution is just to “get by”: to produce a violin vibrato that doesn’t intrude on the sound, doesn’t mess up the pitch, and doesn’t tire out your arm in the process. That way nobody can complain, right?
It is true that your vibrato should not do any of the following things:
- Change the fundamental character of the sound your bow is drawing
- Distort the pitch
- Introduce tension in the arm or hand
But that doesn’t mean it can’t also be a beautiful, distinctive feature of your playing!
A vibrato to remember
The key is flexibility: flexibility of speed and width, all while decorating the pitch rather than distracting from it. My favorite exercises for developing and maintaining that flexibility come from the Simon Fischer book, Warming Up.
I use this book every day to maintain the key components of my playing. Unlike Fischer’s other books, I haven’t seen this one for sale on Amazon, but you can order it directly from his website:
I especially love the way he lays out the section on vibrato. His key concepts make so much sense:
- all vibrato derives from finger flexibility
- vibrato relaxes down from the pitch
- just one impulse: “up”, rather than two (“up, down”)
But I have found that many people need help understanding the four specific exercises that Fischer describes in the text. I’ve seen some interesting interpretations, some of which I fear won’t bring about the desired results!
A video to point the way
So I made a video showing how I use Fischer’s vibrato exercises. In the end, the four motions combine for some rhythm practice with the metronome. If you do these exercises daily, you’ll find that your vibrato starts more easily, passes from finger to finger, and adapts to different tempi and characters. In a word, effortless!