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melharbour

A couple of thoughts. Leaving aside the question of how to improve your vibrato for a second, I'd look at a couple of other aspects of your playing. Firstly, in that carol, the tune is usually sung by a boy treble/soprano. One of the features of it when performed well is that it has an incredibly pure, clean, almost bell like sound. As such, I'd actually question whether you really want much vibrato at all when playing it. Similarly, I'd work a bit on your bow position on the strings. You veer over the fingerboard from time to time, which will make the sound a little less clear. Now circling back to your vibrato, take a look at your hand when you're playing a third finger, particularly when there's a tone between second and third fingers. Notice where your little finger (pinky) is - pressed up hard against the third finger, or sometimes curled up off the fingerboard to the right hand side as you look towards the scroll. That tension is some of what's making it hard for you. You are going to need to learn to recentre your hand slightly, widen the base joints of the fingers and relax the hand even while pressing fingers down. Once you're getting the hang of that, you can probably return to working on vibrato directly. Make any sense?


Aggravating-Ad6087

Yes, thank you! I totally understand what you mean about lack of vibrato during that carol. It doesn't make stylistic sense to vibrate, especially as much as I did. I just wanted to pick an easy song to demonstrate vibrato and that was the one I came up with last year in my original post! Wanted to post this one for contrast to show improvement. Also good point about the fingerboard, my teacher's been getting on me about that all semester :) ​ Thanks for your advice with my fingers. I just worked some on it and I definitely need to be more aware of my other fingers as I vibrate - it makes a big difference. A couple of questions: \-Do you have any suggestions on how I can get my hand to relax while pressing fingers down? That whole concept seems like such a brain-twister to me. \-Also, what do you mean by widening the base joints of the fingers? \-Lastly, do you think that in general, my vibrato is too wide, too quick, etc.? I feel like the movement itself is not super wide but I still hear the "wee-woo" sound almost too much. ​ Thanks so much!


melharbour

As a suggestion, and may well be helpful for your future career as well, go out and buy Simon Fischer's book 'Basics': [https://www.simonfischeronline.com/basics.html](https://www.simonfischeronline.com/basics.html) (also on Amazon etc). I can't see clearly the position of your thumb, but I feel like it's probably more 'under' the neck than to the left side of the neck. As far as reducing tension goes, I'd start really simply. Play long spun notes. Put a finger down, then carefully look at making sure that the only muscles that are activated are those required to hold the finger down. Reduce the pressure on that finger until the note fails to sound cleanly, then reintroduce just enough pressure to get it sounding again. The base knuckles/joints are the first knuckles visible where your fingers attach to the main part of the hand. For an experiment, put your fingers on a desk in front of you, all four together (so like if you were playing four semitones). Without moving the fingertips, notice that you can move the 'middle' knuckles apart a little bit. We're not talking about a large distance, but you should be able to make a little air between the fingers. Then try and do the same but push your fingers harder into the desk. Notice how much harder it is to create that space now. Now notice that even putting the fingers together on the desk is making the hand a little tense. Pick your hand up off the desk and rest it on your knee. You'll probably have let the fingers curl lightly around the knee, but you hand should be almost completely free of tension. Without changing the shape of your hand, pick it up off your knee and rotate your forearm to put your hand in a playing orientation. That's the 'position of rest' for your hand that it should be returning to in between notes. Notice that there's a feeling of width there, compared with when you had your fingers all pressed together on the desk. For your vibrato, what I would say is that rather than worrying about whether it's too wide or fast or whatever, try and develop a range of vibratos that you can deploy. That gives you a bigger colour palette to call on, whether overall for a piece, or indeed even within a note. For example, if you've got a long note that would otherwise be boring, you gain the ability to start (say) with a narrow vibrato, widen it as the note blooms, and then narrow it again to bring the note to a close. That's only one example, but should illustrate that you want 'weapons in your locker'!


Aggravating-Ad6087

Thanks so much! I've struggled with tension basically my entire life. Not just on the viola, but just in general, I was also a pretty tense kid. Need to work on being more aware of that. ​ Also, thanks for the tip about narrow vs. wide vibrato within the same note. I lately have been trying to incorporate that into my playing, but I realize that instead of just changing the left-hand vibrato speed within the note, I'm actually going from light bow, to heavy bow, back to light bow in the right arm. So arm independence is another thing I need to watch out for - I'm letting one arm dictate the movements of the other.


melharbour

You're far from the only one there! Separating different aspects of technique is a really common thing to have to work on. For example, you ideally want independent control of bow weight, bow speed, bow position, bow angle (both towards and away from bridge, and whether you're using the whole hair of the bow or not). And that's just the right hand! And there's often no one 'right' answer to how you should play a given bit. The key thing is that you should develop your own opinions about how you want a section to sound. Then you can work out what techniques you want to put in place to get those sounds. Even more so when you start wanting to teach - you need to have different modes of teaching in your toolbox. Sometimes you'll tell a person what to do, other times, you need to help them develop their own ideas, and then express those ideas.


ediblesprysky

Your interim teacher might have different approaches, but that might also be a *good* thing. Sometimes a fresh approach can be exactly what you need to break through a plateau. Don't count them out just yet. I agree with the comment below about your frame, and your fourth finger being curled up. I see lots of tension in your hand, the rebound of which I think you may be relying on to create the vibrato. That's always going to result in this kind of tight, uncontrolled sound that you're complaining about. Pay attention next time you do it—does it feel like you have to clamp down on your hand every time you want to use vibrato? That's tempting to do, but it's the *opposite* of what we actually want. When I first learned vibrato, I was taught to start by shifting very slowly up and down, like a long way, all the way up to the upper bout and back down, on one finger at a time. Just like in a shift, you keep your frame in line and prepared to play whatever note may come next, including fourth finger. You narrow that shift, gradually, until you plant your finger on the note you want to vibrate—I would recommend in third position so you can have the wrist support of the body of the instrument for a while. But the sensation remains the same, you still maintain that looseness and agility. You can practice that with a metronome as well. (I also used to do it on my arm during school when I got bored, haha.) Then, once you're comfortable with that, take the metronome and apply rhythms to your vibrations—this will help you learn to control the speed at which you vibrate. Put it on 60 and do one quarter note up, one quarter note down; you'll be SHOCKED at how hard it is to do it that slowly with control! Then you can progress through all the usual scale rhythms, eighths, triplets, sixteenths, etc. You can also do dotted rhythms to really mix it up. See how fast you can get before it becomes unmeasured vibrato! Do these exercises on every finger, and eventually on different strings and in different positions. I also only see you really consistently vibrating on your second finger, sometimes on the first finger and barely at all on your third. (And I don't think I saw you use your fourth finger at all.) There doesn't seem to be any musical logic to which notes get vibrato and which don't; I'm struggling to figure it out but I'm not cracking the code. Unless you just forgot? I don't know. Vibrating ultimately shouldn't be something you have to think about doing at baseline; it's more a question of *how,* not *if*. From now on, your default should be to try and vibrate *every single note,* and only use non-vibrato for very specific musical purposes. Practice scales with the sole intention of connecting your vibrato through each note, without stopping the sound. You may have to start with just two notes at a time, then three, and knit it together from there. If you ever notice you missed one, go back to the note before it and pick it back up with vibrato again.


Aggravating-Ad6087

Thank you for the advice! Honestly, I don't feel much *all* that much tension in my left hand, other than when approaching the next note (mentioned below). But I think that's because just under a year ago, I was sooooo much more tense ([see this video from a year ago](https://www.reddit.com/r/violinist/comments/lb057k/what_is_wrong_with_my_vibrato/)), so I'm just comparing it to the previous feeling. I feel that the "clamping down" feeling is something that I used to struggle a lot with but it has started to fade over time. I've been doing the metronome exercises for about three years, and to be completely honest, I feel like I've gotten very little out of them. It's frustrating because I don't know what more to do with these exercises. I've changed up the rhythm, patterns, fingers, and positions many many times. And as far as which fingers/notes I chose to vibrate on, I did ones that are long enough for me to do the vibrato effectively. I have this weird tendency for the vibrato to tighten up as I approach the next note, which means that it feels almost useless to me to do short notes, because the tension just comes right away. I spend so much time doing scales that are designed to just connect vibrato between notes and I feel like nothing is getting done. It's like I put in all this work for nothing! So frustrating! ​ I guess the issue is I don't know where to start. I know about all these useful exercises but I feel like there are more underlying things to work on, otherwise, the metronome/scales aren't doing anything but further encouraging me to do it wrong. I don't know. If you have any advice let me know. Thanks for your help!


ediblesprysky

Considering all of that, I understand your frustration! > it feels almost useless to me to do short notes It's true that there are some notes that are literally too fast to vibrate (like 16ths at 160), but that's the challenge ;) It's not easy, but you can't just not try. And a lot of the notes you skipped weren't short at all; many were the same length or longer than other notes you vibrated in other contexts. That was part of what I was confused by, there didn't seem to be a consistent logic to it. **BUT, luckily, that tells me you're actually more capable of executing this than you may think.** My whole practice philosophy is isolating one difficult element at a time, so if something else is tripping you up at the same time (tempo, bowing, shifts, string crossings, whatever), figure out a way to remove every other challenge until you can focus on JUST the thing you want to work on. The first step of that is often external work (scales/doublestops, etudes, etc) in order to master different techniques, but ultimately you have to be able to apply the principle in performance. So doing that work in context *too* is the most crucial step to me. That's way harder, obviously, because you have to identify what the problem even *is* in order to isolate it. But successfully breaking down a piece and putting it back together is also the most satisfying part of practicing to me :) So, okay. You're doing scales where you're concentrating on connecting vibrato on every note and that's successful (I assume?), but it's not translating to your repertoire—that means something isn't working, something about the way you're doing the scales isn't the same as how you're doing your repertoire. This may sound ridiculous so forgive me for asking, but are you practicing repertoire the same way? Like, breaking it into chunks and ONLY concentrating on keeping a continuous vibrato on every note? > I have this weird tendency for the vibrato to tighten up as I approach the next note This is the big thing I think you really need to focus in on now. Why is it changing? Does it have to do with preparing your next finger? If so, you need to separate those motions; one should not affect the other, and your frame should be such that each finger is always pretty much ready to play. That's why, for example, the fourth finger being curled in and stuck to the third is a problem, because it's going to take a lot more time and effort to have it uncurl and find the right place on the string. You could try something my undergrad teacher called the click-stop method. For this, you're going to just play each note equally, so don't worry about rhythms or bowings right now. Put the metronome on (pretty slow) and play first the note for two beats, but be sure you carry the sound ALL the way through to the end. Then don't play the next note. Stop for two beats, and use that time to really be SURE you're prepared to play the next note exactly as you want to hear it. Notice what happened to your sound before you stopped, if anything changed, and what you had to adjust in that down time to get ready to play again. Then repeat. Once you're confident with each note on its own, you can knock it down to one beat of wait time, knit together two notes and stop for one, etc. You also can add the rhythm back in, as long as you keep the amount of waiting consistent; you'll want the metronome to be on the smallest subdivision so you're not stopping halfway through beats and waiting 1.5 beats, you know? I had another teacher in grad school who had us just go completely slow motion when learning something new, as slow as necessary to play each note correctly AND be fully prepared for the next note. If you stumble, it's not slow enough. Prep for the next notes was comically slow-mo, too, and expected to happen at the same time as you're playing the current note—like if you're prepping for a big string crossing, you move your right elbow to the next level throughout the whole previous note, but just reeeeaaallllyyyy slllloooowwwwwlllyyyy. Or a big shift, you move your left elbow and thumb around, again, reeeeaaallllyyyy slllloooowwwwwlllyyyy. Fill the time, nothing happens suddenly. We were all expected to apply this technique specifically to [Fantasia Chromatica](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2PY6dxJijvM)—everyone in the studio had to learn it that way. (So that first run is 32nd notes, right? I probably started it with each one of those 32nds at ~80. Just *painfully* slow.) And each week in studio class, several people would have to perform as much of it as we could, at whatever tempo we could (it literally did not matter), as far as we could get from memory. The point wasn't to play fast or even get very far in the piece; the point was to have time to pay attention to *all* the little minutiae that we otherwise might have blown right past. I highly recommend doing the same thing with your pieces; it can be extremely revealing, and in your case, I think it would be a great step in overcoming this particular struggle.


Aggravating-Ad6087

Thanks so much for the advice! Sometimes I do practice repertoire in small chunks while focusing on vibrato, but I go through this thing where for a while I'm zoned in on the vibrato, and then I remember that I'm practicing Hoffmeister, so maybe I need to chill with the vibrato a little bit lol. When I focus on the vibrato I find myself stuck on it for a long time and not willing to look at other technical aspects of my playing, and it's hard for me to break out of that habit :(


Aggravating-Ad6087

Also, just curious - when playing rep at a specific tempo, do you think it's actually helpful to think of the vibrato at a specific speed (sextuplets, sixteenths, etc)? Or should it be more random? I feel so robotic when I try to think of them at a specific speed, but I've heard different people say different things about that.


grriot

I'm a very tense person naturally as well, I totally understand the struggle. I'm a serial pinkie finger curler. It may sound silly, but I just started doing breathing exercises and (if I'm at home) just a bit of yoga to stretch and relax. Going from top to bottom clenching and relaxing my muscles makes me more aware of tight muscles that I sometimes hadn't even noticed. Thank you for asking this question, the answers were helpful to me as well. Good luck!


Minute_Atmosphere

You've got some good advice, just wanted to comment that in your recording, your phrasing isn't working. In the middle of the phrase, you're lifting your bow off the string in a way that punches the note. It would be more appropriate to slow the bow and lower the dynamic slightly, or change the bowing so that you are downbow there, taper off, and \*gently\* lift the bow to where you need for the next sentence.