Did Mozart? or Didn't he?

There are three types of vibrato = arm - hand - finger

These are my thoughts on vibrato. I use an arm vibrato and teach arm vibrato. However when I first learned to vibrato I was taught a hand vibrato. If you are an advanced violinist, there is a place for all three vibratos in musical expression.
From what I have observed there seem to be two camps of vibrato in teaching violin.
1.- the arm vibrato
2.- the hand vibrato
If I have a student who really cannot seem to capture the arm vibrato but has a good hand vibrato I will let them use it. We are all built differently and as it is with the bow hold no one really holds it exactly like another. I think teachers need to teach to the individual not the general.

    © Sheila HelserThere are a lot of gimmicks and tricks used to teach vibrato. I usually have them hold their violin as a guitar and wave good-bye. The thumb needs to remain stationary. Then I move the violin up onto their shoulder and ask them to wave good-bye, still with the thumb stationary.

    © Sheila HelserI also have a small-flat, very small, tin container that I have filled with unpopped corn kernels and I have them hold their arm in violin position and hold the container in their hand with their fingers curves around it and work the forearm, from the elbow to the hand and create a shaking sound. For an arm vibrato, the wrist must remain straight there should be a straight line from the hand to the elbow on the inner side of the arm.
    © Sheila HelserI know of a teacher who used a bracelet of jingle bells on the student's arm.

    © Sheila HelserI stand in front of the student and hold the scroll of the violin and work their arm with my hand, creating the feel of the movement so they will understand how the muscles should feel that create the movement.

    © Sheila HelserI ask the student to describe for me in their own words what muscles he-she is moving and how.

    © Sheila HelserThe 4th finger! = if you cannot get the 4th finger to vibrate then vibrate the 3rd finger and the 4th will go along for the ride. You will need to have your fingers on the string to do this.

    © Sheila HelserThen I ask them to try to create that arm movement while I hold the violin by the scroll. Sometimes I have to hold the scroll of their violin for several weeks while they are learning vibrato, so they can have a steady base to work from. I like to joke with them and tell them I will look sort of silly up on the stage crouched down beside the violin holding the scroll while they are playing.

    © Sheila HelserThen comes the lecture #10 from © Sheila Helser Sheila ...........This will take a while to learn, it will not happen overnight, it is like learning to drive a car, first you must remember everything and then it becomes automatic, do not get discouraged if you cannot vibrato immediatley, it is a a long-term process and will be a violin-life long technique to master. You must try to use it to get it to become natural. Therefore begin trying to vibrato in your orchestral music and watch those students who have good vibratos.

The music the student uses to tryout their newly learned vibrato on needs to be something with a lot of half notes and music that is not difficult for them. If it is a young child then "Building Technique with Beautiful Music" by Applebaum has some good 4 line songs to use, if it is a middle range student then "Introducing the Positions" by Harvey Whistler is a good choice.
Two things that can really hamper a vibrato are
  • Locked joints or knuckles of the fingers, finger joints need to be flexible
  • squeezing the neck of the violin between the thumb and first finger, there needs to be a small air space between the first finger and the neck, or at least relaxation

To use the vibrato to enhance the musical interpretation, a student has to have control over the speed of the vibrato. The metronome is a good tool for this. And then = practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice!