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Month 3 - A New Teaching Method
The third month was mostly about getting some consistency and speed in my 4x4 vibrato. I tried for more speed, more vibrato width, and more firing consistency. I also tried to close the unusable gap between my top manual speed (now at 48 bpm) and my lowest automatic speed (now down to 55 bpm).
Building Good Muscle Memories
I practiced many sessions with and without the bow, and with and without the metronome. I focused on getting the vibrato movements right. On isolating and removing tension spots. On stretching and strengthening my tendons and muscles. And I tried to memorize the proper vibrato feelings and motions in my hand, whenever they occurred.
The third month was all about building good muscle memory and connecting it to my brain signals in a reliable way.
In the last two weeks of month 3, I could routinely do my 4x4 runs from 30 bpm to 105 bpm. I could increase speeds by 2 or 5 bpm all the way up the range, with reasonable consistency. I used a smart phone metronome to automatically increase the speeds over a few minutes.
I was now capable of using different note and bowing patterns during vibrato, as I pleased.
A Near Miss with Stress
And now a friendly warning about a big issue. I learned (15) how much stress high-speed vibratos could put on my fine motor muscles and tendons in my left hand, especially at the higher 90, 103, and 110 speeds. (I did 110 bpm for fun, but will probably never use it anywhere…).
In the third week of month three, I tried an exercise that caused me stress and pain. The exercise used 4 long slow bow strokes on each note in the 4x4 pattern. And I used a high speed continuous vibrato on each note (at 100 bpm or so). I did it all in one long cycle.
The math for each practice cycle went like this. Using 4 long bows for each note in a 4x4 pattern = 4 x 4 x 4 = 64 long slow bows in a row, with continuous high vibrato speed all the way.
That long practice cycle was too much stress for my fine motor skill muscles. Six days later, including two full days of rest, I could still feel the sore muscles and tendons in my wrist, hand, and fingers. My hand was still not back to normal vibrato abilities, even a week later.
So next time I'll be more gentle with myself. I'll work my way up gradually to the intensity of doing a 64 bow, high-speed vibrato exercise, all in one practice cycle.
I pass this warning on to you. Be careful with long sequences of continuous vibrato action at high speeds.
A Video Milestone after 3 Months Effort
I made a YouTube video to mark my vibrato progress after this 3 month journey. It's far from perfect, I know. Parts of it look like my muscles are stressed out. And it looks like mostly arm vibrato, even though from the other side you can see wrist vibrato. (Have I made enough excuses about my video yet, like most students do? 🙂
But at least I can hear the vibrato in the video, and so that's a big improvement over where I started from! Here it is, I hope you enjoy it. (By the way, I'm playing on a beautiful NS Design CR4 electric violin, which I love.)
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.
A New Training Method
That's the story of my vibrato journey. In the months that followed, I refined my understanding of the vibrato motions and made the transition from arm vibrato to more wrist vibrato.
I developed new exercises, and created a new training method based on the physics of the motions that I had learned. I isolated each of the important muscle and joint movements required for vibrato, and figured out specific exercises to train each one.
As I write this page, I am surprised by how many issues that a student needs to struggle with in order to get a nice wide vibrato. I counted 15 in this story alone, and those weren't all of my struggles. So I know there are more than that. (For example, throwing my hand mass too hard into a note shook the violin and made the bow bounce.)
And I've also seen online vibrato students struggle with half a dozen other problems that I didn't even have, such as the floppy wrist problem. (The wrist visibly moves a lot, but the vibrato is so tiny and narrow that you can't hear it.) So add those struggles to the number as well. What's the total count now? Probably in the range of 20 or 25 different struggles, just to learn vibrato in first position. Wow.
Vibrato is a complex motion, with lots of learning struggles along the way. But the struggles don't have to be so hard for everyone. That's why I created a new teaching method based on the physics of the vibrato motions that I have learned. The clear language and explanations of physics will tell you exactly what to do, in a way that you can easily understand.
The new teaching method means that you can avoid most of the struggles that I faced. You will have to practice the right exercises, of course. But the new method will save you time, and lead you straight toward a nice vibrato.
You will reach the limits of your abilities somewhere along the line (just like I did), but you will always know what the right moves are. And you can't ask for more than that, I think. Everyone has their own capabilities and limits.
The new method would have helped me. My vibrato journey would have been much more enjoyable, fun, and successful without all of those frustrating struggles. Without all of those frustrating struggles… (Oops! Did I just slip and repeat those painful memories again? :-))
Now your vibrato journey can be more enjoyable and successful too, with the help of my new teaching method.
Wishing you a smooth vibrato journey, Kevin
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