How to play with vibrato

How to play with vibrato

Here’s a series of steps that help with earning how to play vibrato. There are different ways to get the vibrato effect on a fiddle. The 2 commonest techniques use either the wrist or the forearm.  The following process will teach you how to add ‘wrist style’ vibrato to your playing.

Going through each of these steps helps to break the movements down into manageable chunks. It will take some time, repeating these movements in each position, before vibrato feels natural. If at any stage on the process, you feel your hand or arm is tense, stop and give it a really thorough shake out. You might want to take a break as well. Then go back to the beginning stage. As you become more relaxed with your playing, these vibrato movements will start to feel much more natural. Regularly going though the following steps helps to build up ‘muscle memory’, so you are effectively teaching your hand and arm to get a better sense of how they work together to create the vibrato movements. It will eventually become an automatic fluid action.

  • Holding the fiddle like a guitar, put your left hand on the neck, in a playing position, then slide the left hand hard up against the body of the fiddle. Take your fingers off the strings, and so that the palm of your hand is in an open position. From here, it’s possible to make sure your hand is very relaxed. While the arm below the wrist is kept still, you can use a wrist action to get your palm and fingers to sway backwards and forwards. It’s important to start by moving the hand away from the body of the fiddle. At this stage, you’re using the body of the fiddle, bracing the hand against it, so that the forearm doesn’t move.
  • Place your 2nd or 3rd finger on the A string. Starting by moving the hand away from the body of the fiddle, repeat the same action in the hand that you did in the previous section. This should make the tip of your finger ‘roll’ backwards and forwards along the string (towards and away from the nut of the fiddle neck).
  • Once you have done this, try sliding your hand back down the neck of the fiddle into your usual playing position. With the open palm, and fingers off the strings, repeat the same motion, starting with moving the hand away from the body of the fiddle.  Let the palm of the hand move, while keeping the forearm still.
  • Now place your 2nd or 3rd finger on the A string. Using the same motion in the wrist, move your hand backwards and forwards.
  • Once you can make his movement, try bringing the fiddle up into it’s usual playing position. Go through the same 4 steps, but with the fiddle in this position. So start by bringing the palm of the hand up against the body of the fiddle, and with an open palm, move the hand backwards and forwards. It’s important to keep the hand and arm really relaxed while doing this.
  • Place the 2nd or 3rd finger on the A string, and repeat the same movement, noticing the finger rolls away and towards you, along the string as you do this. It’s this rolling action that will create the vibrato effect.
  • A fiddler's left hand
    Photo ©Ros Gasson

    Slide the hand back into its usual playing position. With the open palm, repeat the movement again. Remember to start the process by moving the hand away from you (towards the pegs) first.

  • Place the 2nd or 3rd finger on the A string and try using that same wrist action to roll it backwards and forwards on the string. The first movement should always be away from you, towards the pegs. This might feel a little counter-intuitive, but is an important part of being able to get the vibrato movement
  • Next you can try bowing the string while you use your new found vibrato skills!

Here’s a useful video showing the steps to wrist vibrato. It breaks the steps down, and gives a useful explanation of the detail of how it works: