By Michael John Sanchez

To begin developing this fiddle skill, try patting your head while rubbing your stomach at the same time. Do you notice that your hands want to do similar movements instead of doing separate things? It’s a lot easier to do one thing with both hands than to do two different things with your hands at the same time. This is why putting the bow together with vibrato is so tough.

Your right hand should do very specific things when pulling the bow back and forth. Your index finger should be guiding the bow along, while your left-hand fingers should be pressing down on the string. You may find it difficult to keep your right hand relaxed while moving the bow with vibrato.

To start putting vibrato together with the bow, follow these steps:

  1. Play the notes on the two lines, focusing on using the entire bow throughout this process.

    Play the piece at 60 BPM, or two eighth notes per second. The goal is to try to create a similar sound to what vibrato should sound like.

    [Credit: Figure by Michael Sanchez]
    Credit: Figure by Michael Sanchez

    You shouldn’t have much trouble putting the correct number of notes per bow (four or eight). Unfortunately, as you go into the next step, it won’t be as easy. In vibrato you may find yourself doing seven movements because it’s easier to skip the last movement needed to make the vibrato consistent (seven instead of eight).

  2. Imitate the sound you just made with the G/F♯ with your 3rd finger vibrato on the D string.

    Although the sound shouldn’t be exactly the same, the concept of how the vibrato goes back and forth is very similar. Try to do four vibrato movements per bow or eight vibrato movements per bow, making sure you aren’t missing any of the movements.

    Most students try to make the vibrato movements back and forth as fast as they can and have no organization. When you do G/F♯ and are actually following a musical line, you’re following an organized structure (you aren’t just doing as many G/F♯s as you can).

    Using the whole bow is tough when you’re doing vibrato because your hand will want to tense up.

  3. Focus on keeping your bow movement consistent through the process of doing the vibrato movements.

    This may be more difficult to do toward the end of the bow, especially if you haven’t worked a lot with your index finger. Your bow needs to move at the same speed back and forth to really get a smooth sounding vibrato.

    Being relaxed while playing at the tip is pretty difficult in general, and now that you’re doing this with vibrato, it’s going to be that much more challenging. Vibrato brings a whole new aspect to tension.

Try this process with all your fingers on different strings to create a beautiful vibrato. Mix it up; you want to master this movement with any finger down.

Doing vibrato with fingers 1, 2, and 3 is much easier than with the 4th finger (pinkie). You may find that your hand tenses up more than usual when you put your 4th finger down. You can avoid this by laying your 4th finger down very gently on the fingerboard. This will help you establish a good moving vibrato with your 4th finger.

After you build enough skill, you may be able to do 16 movements of vibrato per bow, but just remember how important it is to do 16 and not 15. That last little movement is the hardest one to get because you’ll probably be more focused on moving a finger to change the note. This is a timing thing that’s easier to do when you’re doing eight or four movements/notes per bow.

Listen to hear the vibrato sound going back and forth between the F♯/G and the vibrato movement. Try to imitate the exact sounds.

It’s helpful to a lot of people to understand the process of how vibrato develops over time. It’s kind of like understanding how a baby can only speak so many words in the first few years of life but over time is able to speak fluently and be easily understood. Listen to understand the progression that you’ll see over time if you start by learning the vibrato slowly.

Over the next few days/weeks, you’ll notice that creating consistent movements is getting easier, but don’t force the speed. Speed will come naturally, and the more you don’t force it, the better your vibrato will sound.

Understand that your hands are doing two different things during vibrato. If you’re getting a scratchy sound, it could very easily be the right bow hand and not the left fingers/forearm movement that’s causing the bad sound. Remember, it’s important to keep your bow relaxed through the process.