Vibrato on the Fiddle

Vibrato on the Fiddle

I’m trying to get good at vibrato for use in those slow aires. (Don’t worry, I won’t go overboard with it.)

My problem is that I can’t both support the fiddle and have a loose enough grip to get good vibrato with my 3rd and 4rth fingers. In order to get good vibrato with those fingers I have to loosen up my left-hand grip enough so that the knuckle in my hand at the bottom of my first finger is no longer touching the neck of the fiddle. But, that’s how I hold the fiddle up; by pinching the neck between this knuckle and the first knuckle in my thumb.

Does this mean that I have to break down and use a shoulder-rest to hold the fiddle up without help from my left hand so that my wrist can waver back and forth? I’ve tried them before and I don’t like them. Maybe its a cheap chinrest, but I can’t hold the fiddle up where I need it with just my chin and my shoulder without help from my left hand.

I can get good vibrato with my 4rth finger if I allow the neck of the fiddle to fall down to the bottom of my grip and rest it on the meaty part of my palm next to my thumb. But its awkward and disruptive moving the neck of the fiddle around in my left hand while playing. This can’t be the answer.

How do I both support the fiddle with my left hand and allow my wrist to move enough to get good vibrato?

-Troy

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Re: Vibrato on the Fiddle

I played for years in the "trad style" holding the neck of the fiddle in the crook of my finger and thumb and with no shoulder rest. (and holding the bow 4 or 5 inches up from the heel)

I liked that Matt Cranich (spelling?) of Na Fili style of playing slow airs with no vibrato at all. It’s a very traditional sound and I’m sure will be fiercely defended. It’s great playing.
But then I heard Alisdair Fraser.
His vibrato is to die for.
So I looked at how to hold the fiddle "properly". It really was a bit traumatic. I had to get a shoulder rest and completley re-learn both my left and right hand possitions as well as the angle of my head. I just couldn’t play at all for at least a couple of months. But was it worth it?

For a start, after my couple of months of hell, there was nothing I could do before that I’d lost. But what had I gained?

Intonation: I had been playing with the palm of my hand almost flat against the neck and had always struggled with the top B. problem solved.
Wobbly bow: Holding the bow properly stops it falling from side to side and also gives you extra length (though I admit, not always needed)
Decoration: With the fingers in a more perpendicular possition over the strings, snappy rolls became much sharper and more accurate.
Vibrato: To die for
(And I can still do the "no vibrato" when I want)

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I rarely use the vibrato technique, mainly because of the way I grip my fiddle. But recently, my teacher showed me a very easy way to get a bit of vibrato without having to move your hand at all. You basically just need to use an up and down motion with your finger on the string. I’ve gotten better with practice, but you won’t get that "to die for" vibrato sound. But, it does add a bit to slow airs and extended notes without having to do the classic movement with your wrist.

Re: Vibrato on the Fiddle

The reason most classical players use a shoulder rest is to help support the fiddle while the hand is freer to do vibrato and otherwise move around the fingerboard. I have experimented with many ways of holding and playing to deal with left shoulder problems as a symphony player and teacher. I now simply accept that the fiddle won’t stay up all by itself, but will be best supported a combination of left hand (occasionally thumb), chin and shoulder. The combination of all three seems best for your body, so as not to stress one part too much and make enough habitual tension to cause pain. But your fingers need to be tension-free for fast movement (you can have more fun playing reels!) At present, my way of playing involves periodic slight changes of position (including my head), so my neck and shoulder don’t get tired while I play. And be sure to stretch, warm up first and take enough rests!
Have fun! πŸ™‚

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I guess it depends on the length of your necjk whether or not you ned a shoulder rest. You can do good vibrato with out the rest if your relaxed enough, you dont have to do big movement vibrato, you can do finger vibrato. So there ya go.

Re: Vibrato on the Fiddle

If I were you Troy, I’d listen to Michael’s experience on this. If you can’t support the fiddle completely without a shoulder rest (and without relying heavily on the left hand)—*and* you want more freedom in your left hand to do vibrato or move around the fingerboard—then you need to at least consider using a shoulder rest.

There are many different types of shoulder rests out there—inflatable cushions, strap-on pads, and the common Kun style clip ons. All of these come in several different configurations, and many are adjustable, so with some trial and error, you’ll likely find one that works for you. As Michael said, it may take some hellish getting used to, but the rewards will likely be well worth it.

I agree that a good trad air sounds terrific without vibrato. But I also like having a strong vibrato in my toolbox for times when it *is* appropriate. And one of the keys to a sweet sounding vibrato is the ability to keep it going as you move from note to note, rather than hearing a delay as you land on the note and then starting wiggling that finger. In my experience, this requires more of a wrist or arm vibrato (not just finger vibrato), and that means your left hand has to be relatively free from the neck, not holding it up.

You’ll probably find that your left hand can be more relaxed once you’re used to the shoulder rest, and this will help in ways beyond gaining vibrato and intonation. Less tension almost always translates into better overall sound and fluidity, and fewer physical ailments the longer you play.

Good luck.

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I just noticed my vibrato the other day. When I had time to to put in some appropriate vibrato - Only that finger was on the string. From first to fourth. Perhaps that is horrible technique - maybe not. It sounds good and I have great control over how wide and how fast the vibrato will be.

I find my self using many other articulations far more often than vibrato. When it was the only thing in my toolbox I was pegged as a classical player. Now that I use it sparsely, I find that my playing is more enjoyable.

Learn the vibrato, put it in the tool box, and use it sparingly. Try to spot parts of tunes that are heavy on vibrato and see if there isn’t a different expression you can make with just the bow or ornamentation.

Re: Vibrato on the Fiddle

Ceiliog’s got a point (actually, it’s amazing to see so much good, varied input from everyone here to help Troy in his plight). And as someone who survived grade school teased with the nickname "Turtle" and worse because of my slightly lengthy neck, I can vouch that it is possible to hold the fiddle between your chin and collar bone. But if your cervical spine is anything like mine, you’ll be more comfortable with a shoulder rest. Either way is worth trying, but I’d follow your own body’s feedback on what’s most comfortable.

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Re: Vibrato on the Fiddle

Ceiliog makes me laugh! Good advice though!

I can hold it up with just my chin, but I’m so bony that the pain from the old collar bone kind of takes the fun out of it for me πŸ™‚

Maybe I could just bite down on the chinrest or something, thereby getting the proper tonal advantages from my vibrating skeleton as well as holding up the fiddle! πŸ˜‰

Seriously, thanks everybody! Wisdom, and to spare. Thanks for sharing your experience Michael. I think I’ll have to break down and get a shoulder rest to get the to-die-for vibrato.

-Troy

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Re: Vibrato on the Fiddle

How many fiddlers here (when the deem it *appropriate* to do so, of course) employ the full-on, thumb-behind-neck, wrist-trembling, classical vibrato? Do you use a varient? Just curious!

Re: Vibrato on the Fiddle

not me! I dont think classical vibrato is really appropriate in irish music the same way I dont think cruchy triplets are appropriate in classical (whoops - now I’m in for it!)

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Re: Vibrato on the Fiddle

There’s a good excercise to have everyone do before your next session. Especially if its in a public place.

"Alright now, get those tongues out further! Don’t laugh or you’ll drop your fiddle! You’ll all be better players if you just cooperate! We need those bones to resonate!"

Lovely mental image. It’d be more entertaining than the music, thats for sure!

-Troy

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Re: Vibrato on the Fiddle

If you have your thumb behind the neck, it’ll probably get too much stress and you’ll get pains in your hand. Try with thumb opposite the first finger, without pushing or squeezing. Your whole hand needs to be as relaxed as possible for all parts of your playing - lifting/dropping the fingers, vibrato, even moving up/down the neck if you play higher than C on the E string. I used to play with my thumb behind the neck, and I had to work (practise) really hard to play in tune. It got so much easier when I worked seriously on natural good posture.

Wrist/hand vibrato will come easier too. The finger vibrato described by Irishfiddler 32 is a different teachnique, an effect I’ve never much liked. It’s more like a sort of *on/off* tonal thing, rather than a variation in pitch. Apart from being used more in classical playing, how is it different in trad fiddling?

Re: Vibrato on the Fiddle

Anyone beside me that hooted and howled at coming across the word "yogically"? Magnificent! Ceiliog is a virtuoso verbalist.

Re: Vibrato on the Fiddle

Irish traditional music dates back at least to the 18th and 17th centuries. It is believed in those times vibrato on the violin was little used and then only as an expressive ornament, unlike in modern non-trad music where it is used on all possible occasions. It follows that if you

Re: Vibrato on the Fiddle

Trevor! I’m truly grateful to be the beneficiary of so much experience. Maybe I won’t go out and get a shoulder rest.

I’m still a little confused though. You said, "The neck of the fiddle should rest lightly in the gap between the thumb and the palm but should not be actually gripped." My teacher told me a long time ago that there should be a space between the bottom of the neck and the arch in my hand between by thumb and my first finger. This means I have to "grip" the fiddle neck in order to hold it up without a shoulder rest. Are you saying it would be better to let the neck rest in that arch in my hand between my thumb and my first finger (i.e. no space)?? I enterpret your words as meaning to rest the neck of the fiddle in the crook between by thumb and my palm with most of my hand to the right of the fiddle neck.

Thanks,
-Troy

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Re: Vibrato on the Fiddle

Ceiliog,
That was a great posting! Many thanks from all of us for those links. A good picture is worth a thousand words…

What I was going to describe in response to Troy’s last posting was how to acquire the correct posture of the left hand, so here goes!

When standing up straight, take the fiddle in your right hand and place it under your chin in the playing position. Hold it there steady with your right hand. Let your left arm and hand hang loose and relaxed by your side. The fingers and thumb of your left hand should be slightly curved inwards. Without altering the position of your left fingers and thumb raise your left hand so that the neck of the violin sits between the thumb and the hand. Then move your left elbow to your right so as to bring the left hand fingers comfortably over the fingerboard, still in their relaxed curved posture. As Ceiliog and your teacher say, there should be some sort of gap between the back of the fiddle neck and the bottom of the "V" between the thumb and hand, but there shouldn’t be any sensation of squeezing the thumb towards the hand so as to grip the fiddle neck. This will only stiffen the hand. With some particularly large hands it is possible that the back of the fiddle neck could actually contact naturally the bottom of that "V". If you get it right you should be able to smoothly slide your left hand up and down the neck of the fiddle whilst at the same time supporting it.

The postural shape of the right hand for holding the bow is acquired in exactly the same way. Let your right arm and hand hang loose and relaxed and place the bow between the fingers and thumb while they are in that posture. There you have it. Note the photo in Ceilog’s link which shows the wrong way to have the right hand little finger (the pinky) contact the bow - the author aptly calls it the toothpick. I’ve seen so many fiddle players use the pinky like this and all it does is to stiffen the right hand. In fact, the pinky often does remarkably little work, and you’ll see good fiddle players in all music genres have only their thumb and first two fingers (or even only the first!) holding the bow on occasion.

Out of curiosity I tried the finger vibrato descibed by Irishfiddler32. I don’t like it. As fifflefingers said, all it does is to alter the tone color on and off fairly fast. This fast repetitive on/off pressure with the finger cannot, I think, be good for the finger joints in the long term - RSI comes to mind - and it must induce some sort of tension. Quite apart from which, it is not a real vibrato.

trevor

Oh dear! the late-night (2:25am - don’t ask!) typo pixie got to me. I should have typed "fiddlefingers". Sorry!

trevor

Re: Vibrato on the Fiddle

Thanks Trevor for taking the time to help!

-Troy

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Re: Vibrato on the Fiddle

One more point, which doesn’t seem to have been mentioned: vibrato should never be used for covering up poor intonation! It shouldn’t be used until the intonation is accurate, and accurate intonation is a consequence of relaxation. Likewise vibrato, so the problem is more or less self-solving, at least for trad fiddlers who do 99.9% of their playing in the first position. But it’s not unknown in orchestras for violinists to use wild vibrato to hide poor intonation in very high positions!

trevor