How to Play Vibrato on the Violin Like a Pro

Do you think you’re ready to learn how to play vibrato on the violin?

Cool!

Don’t worry if you can’t quite manage the wavering sound on the first try. Mastering the vibrato, like many bowing techniques, is one of those things takes time and patience.

Am I Ready for Vibrato Violin?

Intermediate violin players may feel eager to jump into vibrato, but it’s important not to start until you’re ready. It’s a huge step forward.

According to Red Desert Violin, you know that you’re ready to try the technique if you’ve been learning the violin for quite some time.

Develop a full tone to make sure you sound the best you can and build up a solid understanding of the first and third positions before learning it.

You’ll also need to maintain proper form to protect your muscles, especially in the wrist and arm.

A good rule of thumb is that if you can move from first to the third position with ease, play using the fleshy part of your finger without flattening them at all, and sound full with decent intonation, you’re probably ready.

If you think the time is right to start learning how to play vibrato on the violin, don’t rush into it. Be patient. Avoid pushing yourself too far too quickly.

Just keep in mind that progress may seem slow but you’ll soon reach your musical goals.

What Exactly is Violin Vibrato?

illustration playing violin

Anyone who has ever heard an accomplished solo violinist play vibrating notes in slow movement knows what violin vibrato sounds like.

Vibrato violin is a technique traditionally only used by advanced players, according to Take Lessons.

Vibrato rises from the arm or wrist of your violin and travels slightly back toward the scroll before returning to the bridge.

You can use vibrato to add emotion and bring more attention to the music.

When done right, vibrato also adds fullness and variety to your playing. An intermediate player learning vibrato will begin to sound more advanced, even if learning the technique takes time.

To create the sound, violinists make the note oscillate around the base pitch during a song.

The vibration passes through your hands and fingers, which may slowly oscillate back and forth along the string as well. Violinists control the speed of the vibrato by altering the speed in which they move their fingers, wrist, and arm back and forth.

Types of Vibrato on the Violin

Close up person playing violin

Although finger shaking is the most common type of violin vibrato most people picture when they think of the technique and wrist vibrato is the first type many violinists learn, it’s not the only way to achieve the sound.

According to WikiHow, there are three main types of violin vibrato:

  • Arm vibrato
  • Hand vibrato (sometimes called wrist)
  • Finger vibrato

For the best sound, a combination of all three types of violin vibrato is common.

Many advanced players use a combination of each type at some point for optimal and highly efficient vibrato.

A professional violinist may switch between using the arm or wrist depending on the emotion, intensity, and style of the music.

Arm Vibrato

Arm vibrato is created by the arm alone. Unlike other types of vibrato violin, this type is much slower and broader. It’s great for a slow or sad violin song, like the popular Ave Maria.

Using only the arm for vibrato produces a slower and broader sound. Players move with their fingers stabilized in place to add depth and emotion to a sad, heart-wrenching song.

 

Hand (Wrist) Vibrato

Hand, sometimes called wrist vibrato, is driven by the movement in your wrist. Typically the movement is fast, and it’s the ideal vibrato technique for adding flair to a song.

Most violinists start learning how to play vibrato using this type before the others.

Compared to other vibrato types, hand vibrato is faster and more shallow. The player uses it to achieve intense sound or create a lively, colorful feel in a fast-paced song.

 

Finger Vibrato

Finger vibrato is the classic idea of shaking the violin strings. It’s ideal for achieving intensity and timbre rather than pitch changes.

Basically, you pick choose between either the second or third finger to roll along the string and back into its normal upright position.

Despite the name, you’ll move your entire hand and sometimes the upper arm to create this form of vibrato.

How to Play Vibrato on a Violin

Still think you’re ready to play vibrato on the violin? Use the following step-by-step instructions to attempt the technique for the first time.

Step 1: Exercise the Movement

Start slowly. Relax your left hand, wrist, and arm. Practice moving your hand and arm up the violin neck toward the body before returning back down toward the scroll.

You have a choice here. Either you can keep your finger on the string (not pushing the string down) or relax your hard slightly above the string so your finger doesn’t come into contact with it.

As you practice running your left side up and down the instrument, add in the bow. Notice how the instrument sounds like a fire engine siren. This sound is perfectly normal during this exercise.

You can also complete similar practice without the violin with a small rubber stress ball or plastic Easter egg filled with rice.

Hold the object and practice the movement you need for vibrato by rocking your hand back from the wrist and then forward.

All students should practice this exercise for at least a couple of minutes before each practice, or for the best results, daily.

Continue working in the exercise to your regiment for a few weeks before attempting to move onto the other steps.

Step 2: Add Another Finger

When the movement feels comfortable, place a second finger on the string. When you feel comfortable, try placing your hand in the third position.

Pick which finger you want to hold onto the string. Your palm should rest near the body of the violin to provide support.

Use your wrist to create a slow, broad, and relaxed back and forth movement without your bow. Make sure your hand is stable and only move your hand backward (or toward the scroll) to return to its original position.

Practice daily until you can incorporate all four fingers on all four strings. Many learners say the 2nd and 3rd fingers are easy, while the 1st and 4th are difficult.

If you have trouble keeping your wrist and arm in position, ask someone to hold them in place as you practice.

Step 3: Bring in the Bow

Add the bow to step 2 using long and slow counts. Change the bow smoothly, and the sound your violin produces will resemble the theme song from the movie Jaws.

Practice this exercise slowly, as it can be mentally and physically exhausting for many beginners. A couple of minutes of practice each day is enough.

Step 4: Select a Song

Now you’re ready to attempt the vibrato technique. Find an easy song for beginners, preferably a slow song with long notes.

Step 5: Understand How to Add in the Other Vibrato Styles

Learning to play vibrato for the first time is a small step in the process. Once you have an understanding of all the different styles of playing vibrato, incorporate them during songs to keep things fun and interesting.

Every player finds their own unique way to add in the other vibrato styles.

Step 6: Keep Practicing

Violin vibrato takes hard work and dedication. Don’t give up when the process becomes hard. Instead, go back to step 1 and slowly start again.

You won’t reach the intense vibrato pros can until the movement is relaxed and controlled.

Slowly build up speed in your vibrato, and in time, you’ll create a rich sound.

Summary

Learning how to play vibrato on the violin is a massive accomplishment.

There are three different ways to create the sound, and advanced players know how and when to use each type to their advantage.

In the right context, violin vibrato can enhance the sound of a piece and make your playing sound like a pro.

Follow the steps above on a daily basis to practice. If you’re still having a hard time mastering violin vibrato, a private coach may help. They offer expert advice on how you can improve and help make the learning process easier for you over time.

If you enjoyed this article, please Pin it!

How to Play Vibrato on the Violin Like a Pro

Ged Richardson

Ged is the Founder of Zing and guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band 'Django Mango'. When he's not writing or noodling, he's tinkering with his vintage Campervan.