My Vibrato Story

Here is the story of the 3 three months of my vibrato project (Jan-Mar 2015). I had many struggles along the way, but I persisted and eventually made it through to the other side. And now I have a nice wrist vibrato.

My Vibrato at the Start of the Project

Here is a YouTube video that shows my (very tiny) vibrato before the 3 month vibrato project. This was the first video I ever made of my playing. I remember being super nervous inside, with my heart pounding away at full speed. (Fortunately it didn't show in the video, and that made me feel better.) The point of this video is to show that I didn't have much of a vibrato at all before starting the vibrato project. 

This video was taken during Christmas 2014, about 2 months after I started playing violin again after a 22 year gap (see My Violin Story for more details about the gap). Here I'm playing on a beautiful NS Design CR4 electric violin, which I love. It has a wonderful tone, and because it's electric I can practice with headphones without bothering my apartment neighbors.

Before the 22 year gap, I only had a few months of lessons, so I didn't have much to go on when I started up again after so many years. Certainly no vibrato! My teacher started me on the Suzuki 2 book, and seemed to give me a new song every couple of lessons. I never felt like I played the songs well enough before she gave me the next one, but she must have known what she was doing. I only made it 3/4 of the way through the book before we split up, and then I didn't play again for many years.

My Vibrato at the End of the Project

Here's the YouTube video that I made after my 3 month vibrato journey. My rhythm and consistency still need some work (sigh), but at least I can hear the vibrato. And that's a LOT better than where I started out. More details are below the video.

Speeds are for 1 quarter note = 1 beat, 4 vibrato cycles per beat. I could barely do a little arm vibrato on 3 fingers when I started the project 3 months ago. I included speeds 30 and 60 to show the main bowing and note patterns that I used most often in my practice sessions. I included the faster 80, 90, 103 bpm speeds based on the recommendations in David Finckel's cello vibrato videos on YouTube (thanks David!). It's hard to see the wrist movement from this camera angle, but I'm definitely using wrist vibrato (maybe some arm vibrato bleeds in there sometimes, but it's not deliberate). As you can tell from the sound and rhythms, I still need to do more work, but for a progress snapshot on the overall violin journey, I think this milestone video does the job ok.

Month 1 - Counting Vibrato

In the first month of my vibrato story, I thrashed around a lot because I did not know what to do. I watched videos showing various vibrato exercises like the classic sliding exercise to get the wrist moving. But none of those exercises seemed to help much when it came time to actually play. Looking back, I was struggling with the same vibrato problems that most students face.

Month 2 - Metronome Speeds

In the second month, I made a huge amount of progress. This was because I had abandoned, or had reached the limits of, traditional teaching methods and videos. Instead, I started to think for myself and used my university physics training to analyze the forces and angles in vibrato motions. Soon I knew exactly what to do, and WHY I had to do it that way. From then on, it was easy. All I had to do was practice the right movements. Goodbye struggles and frustration!

Month 3 - A New Teaching Method

In the third month of my vibrato story, I focused on making things smoother, and tried to lock in some muscle memory. I practiced so hard on some long, high-speed vibrato sessions that I had a near-miss with some stress problems. But after 3 months on the journey, I had a working vibrato. I think other people can be successful too, if they use this new teaching method to understand the best motions for vibrato. Knowing exactly what to do is half the battle. The other half is regular practice!

45 Reasons Vibrato Is So Hard to Learn...

Here's a list of the vibrato hurdles that I struggled with. Plus a few more that other people struggled with. Worse yet, one or two of the single lines in the list expand into whole chapters in my vibrato books. Just look at the size of the list. It's no wonder that many students struggle with vibrato.