One undeniable truth about vibrato is that it is the best tool for string players to project expressions. However, the execution of vibrato is not as easy as you think. It is physically a tricky motion which we rarely use in real life. So is your vibrato not working or not very strong? Moving forward towards a vibrato success is by actually having a step back.
During the progress of a string player, problems with technique can be the result of set up problems. One of the techniques that would put your set up into a challenge is the vibrato. Checking your left hand and arm will prepare you for an effective vibrato. Here are some helpful points.
- The Release of the Left Hand
There are two points of contacts with the violin needed to create a vibrato: The thumb as it contacts its pad on the neck and the finger as it places its tip on the fingerboard. In doing the vibrato, the left-hand side located next to the index finger should be able to release the neck. A subtle yet the detail are absolutely necessary, and it’s difficult and new to many students. The placement of the hand has a guide point, and that is the side of the hand placed on the neck. It is also by extension, for the finger’s placement.
On the part where the vibrato is introduced, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the hand’s side will no longer touch the violin. In fact, when working on fast passages, the side of the hand will “check in” frequently with the neck. However, in the event of making a vibrato, it has to let go to avoid shaking the entire violin. However, the “letting go” thing can be carried to another extreme, rationally forcing the left hand to try to move far away from the fingerboard. This can cause unnecessary tension and distortion of the left hand which can be a problem for the player.
With this simple exercise, you can use this to practice the motion’s subtlety: with your fingers or any of your fingers, hold your violin in a normal position. After doing so, use the side of your hand to touch the side of the violin directly, then you let go. It’s a touching and letting go of the motion. Your hand may still remain as you let go for about half-millimeter away from the fingerboard. The idea here is that when your hand has let go, doing an effective vibrato can then be possible.
- Left Thumb should be relaxed
This would depend on the size and shape of your hand as you make your thumb straight and low. Putting the thumb in a bit higher position is best for those who have long fingers. What is most important on this is that your thumb does not hold, squeeze or wrapped around the neck regardless of whether the thumb is high, low, straight or slightly bent. Certain interplays will be felt between the thumb and each individual finger as you play the vibrato. This will provide an excellent counterbalance to your fingers as they are rocking the strings. To know if you are squeezing with your thumb, try to tap the side of the fingerboard with your thumb.
- Secure yet loose fingers
To feel like you are loosening up the joints of your fingers will help you rock your fingers and at the same time maintaining your finger’s position on a given pitch. The fingers are relaxed although they will be curved. Too much strength applied on the fingers would cause them to become unmovable and frozen. It’s a strange sensation in which your fingers are in motion, and yet they remain in place. This can be simulated by using one useful exercise in which you are trying to hang from the fingerboard.
Your violin must be secured first on your shoulder, without your hand holding it up. It would be beneficial for you if you have someone that would hold the scroll for you or you can place a towel behind the scroll and push it carefully and gently against the wall. After doing so, select one finger that you want to put usually on the fingerboard (most people are comfortable using the third finger).
Now that your finger is at its position, you can start releasing the side of your hand and your thumb until you can feel that curved hand is a like a hook in which your hand is hanging from. You will start feeling the pressure on your fingertip due to the weight of your hand, but the rest of your hand is moving. Observe how you rock each of your fingers back and forth while on a hanging position. Don’t forget to keep your fingertip in place while trying to, as much as possible, loosen up your fingers.
- Understanding the Motion
We have two types of vibrato: the wrist/hand vibrato. It is by waving of the hand from the wrist. Another one is arm vibrato. It is by vibrating the entire arm. There was another argument that tells about the third type of vibrato, but this is more of the refined flexibility of the finger when the string is touched. This happened in the execution of a well-developed wrist or arm vibrato.
The left wrist should not be pushing outward or collapsing inward at rest. But instead, it should be relatively straightforward. This will create a straight line going down from the back of the hand and down towards the elbow.
In the arm vibrato, the finger should be hanging from the string with the entire arm moving altogether, which cause oscillation of the fingers.
For the wrist vibrato, hand movement comes from the joint of the wrist. This also causes a similar type of oscillation in the fingers. It could be tricky to isolate the motion needed for the wrist vibrato’s impulse. Exercises without or away from the violin can be beneficial in this particular case. One good example is waving at yourself. This can be done by keeping your arm still while trying to make sure that the movement of your hand is from the wrist. Some people would practice shaking their arm to flop their hand back and forth which is not helpful. We need an active hand, not a passive one in doing the vibrato.
The best way to speed up and refine that particular motion is by shacking an egg shaker or a box of Tick-Tacs. Try shaking two times on beats three four etc. with the use of the metronome. You can shake to syllables that are increasingly fast.
You can now move to the fingerboard and try to keep your thumb in place while rocking your hand. Once this wrist-initiated motion works, use its pattern to make your finger slide on the string up and down. You can place a little piece of felt material under your finger and work on it as if you are trying to polish the string.
It is important to note that any of these exercises require you to be aware of the motion that comes from wrist at all times. Remember, that it is also possible that the origin of the movement will come from your wrist, but you can still slide your fingers around.
Once you have removed all the hindrances, you can start refining it and speed it up. Make sure that your vibration is under the pitch for example below the pitch and to the pitch. When you have already gained control over the position and the motion, use the metronome to accelerate and practice different vibrato speeds. Listen carefully by counting each oscillation and the small difference in the pitch.
Sometimes, to make this exercise nice to listen, students would try to alter the entire half step of a pitch. However, it only becomes an unrealistic vibrato simulation. Remember that the finger should not slide around the pitch but to rock to it and slightly below it.
Also, you should practice both wide and narrow vibrato at different speeds. Also, try to practice in one bow stroke both slow and fast vibrato.
Vibrato is a project that requires an extended period. It also needs refining the position of the left hand as well as fine-motor skills coordination. Once the violinist is able to make the mechanism of vibrato work properly, it is the perfect time to develop different widths and speed of vibrato which can be useful for different situations in music.