William Fitzpatrick - violin expert

Just Me and My Vibrato

An advanced, revealing approach to vibrato.

In this video, Prof. Fitzpatrick gives you some great tips to start or improve your vibrato on the violin.

Released on August 5, 2015

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

All right, I would like to share with you how I learned to vibrate, when I was around 10 years old. It all started when I noticed that my friends were doing it, vibrating, but I couldn't. So I set out to correct this. You see I am very very determined, some of my friends would say even to the point of extremely obsessive. Well, I tried everything to get this vibrato but it was all in vain, nothing worked. So one night while I was sleeping around four in the morning, I dreamed I was playing a violin and out of all the things, vibrating. I immediately woke up from this dream, reached under my bed and pulled out my violin case. I took out my violin and bow, and began mimicking exactly what I did in my dream. Everything I saw my hand doing, in my dream, I did the same way and guess what, it happened. I could vibrate.

So I simply put the violin back into its case and back under the bed and went back to sleep. And that was that. I had a vibrato from that day on. Found it in my dreams. Well, because I learned to vibrate through a dream it has turned out to be the hardest thing for me to teach to students. What I tell them is that vibrato is the only thing about playing a violin that ever came easily to me. So with that I would like to welcome you to VirtualSheetMusic.com's Meet the Expert. My name is William Fitzpatrick, and I am the Henry Temianka professor of violin at the Hall-Musco Conservatory of Music which is located on the Campus of Chapman University in Orange, California. I'm as well Director of MusiShare and the MusiShare Young Artist Program which is located in Irvine, California.

While a student at Juliard I remember Ms. DeLay explaining to me that one had to be very careful about not using the two sides of muscles in the left arm at the same time as doing so would produce a stiffness that could lead to a muscular problem later on. By this I mean, this side and that side, you know how you can tighten them up. Well, I found this to be true, and I felt it particularly in my efforts to obtain a faster vibrato. I would just get stiffer and stiffer. Doing a fast vibrato just wouldn't happen for me. I felt very limited.

All right, so let's move forward a bit in time. Once while teaching an eight year old student at the Conservatory de Levallois in France, I tried for a year to get her to vibrate with no positive results. It was very frustrating for me and I can't imagine what it was like for her. So I was about to give up, and simply move her to another teacher. My thinking was that by moving her, perhaps they could succeed with another approach.

While I was considering just how to announce this to her, I taught a lesson to an older student who came in exclaiming "That's it, I know what I won't be doing in my jury this year". I asked what she was talking about and she said that after her last jury the judges said that she "trilled like Tweety Bird". Well, I smiled and said, "What do you mean? Show me" and she did. She trilled. So I said then, "Okay look, why don't you just simply slow it down". And she paused, did so. And then looked at me with a "really?" look on her face.

Well, I thought a lot about this lesson and then began to think about my student with the vibrato problem. So at our next lesson I said to her, "Let's try something new. Let me show you how to do a trill". She got very excited, she did it, she was really happy to have learned this new technique. So for two weeks we did trills, particularly with her second and third finger. Then at the third lesson I said, "Okay, do the trill again." And a moment later I told her, "Okay now do the trill but don't put your third finger on the finger board". Like that, suddenly it happened. She had a vibrato.

Well, for many years I taught vibrato in this way but while my quartet was in residence at the University of California, Irvine. I found a new way as I was introduced to rotations. Using rotations to explain the vibrato, just to me made so much more sense, and as well connected to other areas of left hand technique. These are the same rotations that I talked about in an earlier video called What are rotations on the violin. If you use that video as a base then what I'm about to say will probably be more understandable.

So now with this understanding of rotations, you've surely noticed that the vibrato's point of origin has switched. It avoids what Ms. DeLay warned me about with the two sides acting at the same time, as the point of origin is clearly now the elbow. But it really looks like it comes from the wrist, don't you think? It's a very deceptive gesture. So let's look a bit deeper into this, here are some of the exercises that I give to my students that help to develop vibrato.

Okay, first put your first finger on the E string. Now pulling your finger back like this, try to touch and return from the string as quickly as possible like this.

You want to touch the string as lightly and as quickly as possible.

Now, when you can do that, try it two times. Or even three.

How about focusing on going from the string back into the hand. To do this I use left hand pizzicato, like this. You see it goes from here to here. I start students learning this very early through my melodies book, with the second melody.

So there we have two ways that can help to describe how the finger comes to and comes from the string, defining the vibrato gesture. Oh, do note that the vibrato goes toward the scroll of the violin. As the motion of the vibrato, you see it's from here to there. Try this exercise to help develop this reaction in your play. Start from the low and go quickly back, like this.

You can do one at a time. Two. Or even more. Doing this will help to establish the vibrato pattern is not even. I mean if it were, then it would sound like this.

So that's it for this discussion about vibrato. If you have a comment or a question to ask me, please feel free to post it below. Do take care, and as always here's hoping that you're becoming more and more aware of what your body is doing, that this knowledge is helping you practice into becoming more efficient and effective, leading you to even better performances.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Agustinus on August 12, 2021 @1:43 pm PST
Halo Mr. Fritzpatrick, I am Agustinus from Indonesia. I love watching your tutorial videos about violin and also Vibrato. Dear Mr. Fritzpatrick, I would like to tell you that I love to learn and play Violin but I cannot buy violin because It is very expensive. Do you mind if I ask you a violin? If you have more than one violins, Would you like to give me one ? I like to have a violin but It is very expensive so I cannot buy it. I am sorry to ask from you a Violin. Thank you so much Mr. Fritzpatrick.
William - host, on August 13, 2021 @10:21 am PST
It is so true that violins and bows are expensive! I unfortunately cannot help you at this time. So very sorry!
Agustinus on August 14, 2021 @1:13 am PST
Thank you so much Mr. Fritzpatrick. Love to have a Violin so much.
Sumit Mitra on September 14, 2019 @9:22 am PST
I have been writing to you since last 2/3 weeks in your website. However I am directed to write here and hence I am here. I learned violin for two years 30/35 years back and then left it completely only to return now. This time I completed one month and dead serious about violin. I followed your guideline and mastered vertical vibrato easily. Just now I have graduated from vertical vibrato to horizontal vibrato. I need to develop it much better and incessantly working on it. I feel, as you showed, that vertical vibrato is the prelude to horizontal vibrato. I never had any sense of vibrato in my previous stint and I do feel your guideline gas worked wonders with me. Grateful of thanks professor. And please say whether my progress with violin is satisfactory this time.
William - host, on September 16, 2019 @8:58 am PST
Congrats! Glad that the videos been helpful!!!
Arthur Mendez on June 18, 2018 @7:56 am PST
William - host, on June 18, 2018 @11:53 am PST
I think that I should do a video on this subject! I appreciate the suggestion. Look for it as next month's video so stay tuned!
Arthur Mendez on June 26, 2018 @9:01 pm PST
Ok...patiently waiting
Angela Raczkovi on October 8, 2017 @3:07 pm PST
Thank you for all videos Mr.Fitzpatrick.
Joseph on March 25, 2017 @1:40 pm PST
So which part were you exactly
doing in your dream?
Ali on December 31, 2015 @5:39 pm PST
Prof. Fitzpatrick, it was interesting that you said you learned all techniques of violin fast except for vibrato because I had exactly the same case. Furthermore, I also get obsessed with things too. For the last 6 months I've been practicing vibrato so much. Sometimes I'm just practicing it for an hour. I love vibrato and I thing violin without vibrato is sounds horrible. In face, I never liked my own violin sound because I didn't have vibrato and my teachers wouldn't teach it to me properly. Right now I have developed the skill. I do a relatively good vibrato on all fingers except for my 2nd finger but I still don't like the angle of my movement. So I have one question, is there any squeezing and releasing power coming from the vibrato finger itself? Also, if I do vibrato with the fourth finger where all my other fingers are in the air, it's difficult for me to change to another finger, specially the 3rd finger with a good intonation. How can I overcome that?
marie pierre carlier on September 1, 2015 @12:41 am PST
bravo mon cher William! tu es génial !
raj on August 5, 2015 @10:47 pm PST
dear sir fitzpatrick, greetings! many thanks for the useful guidance and advise. you make it appear to be so easy and simple! with my respects-raj
William - host, on August 8, 2015 @2:34 pm PST
Thank you Raj!
Mike V on August 5, 2015 @10:21 pm PST
Thanks, prof. William ! Thanks to your vibrato video I have had an "ah ha " moment.
I really enjoy your tutorials.
William - host, on August 8, 2015 @2:34 pm PST
So pleased that you do!
Jan on August 5, 2015 @3:33 pm PST
I've played for 30+ yrs as a soloist and in orchestras. I've had some pretty good vibrato in the past, but last year developed tension problems and tight stiffness in my arm that are affecting my ability to vibrate. I've tried various exercises for vibrato, but am having difficulty regaining the looseness, relaxation, and freedom that facilitate a nice vibrato. Unfortunately, it's a vicious cycle, as the more I work and focus on vibrato, the more tension develops and the less I'm able to vibrate. Can you recommend anything that might help me relax and regain my vibrato? Thank you!
William - host, on August 8, 2015 @2:37 pm PST
Hi and sorry to hear about this! Have a look at http://www.virtualsheetmusic.com/experts/william/rotations/
and then get back to me.
Jan on August 17, 2015 @6:57 pm PST
I actually already watched this one. It's great information, but I wasn't quite clear on how to learn how to do rotations when you've already been playing for a certain way for years - ? Thanks.
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