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. Make sure you are holding your fiddle in a position where your left hand can feel really relaxed. Take your fingers off the strings, and so that the palm of your hand is in an open position. 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. Notice that all the movement is initiated in the wrist, and results in the palm moving. The fingers are only moving because of the movement of the palm.
- Place your 2nd or 3rd finger on the A string. Starting by moving the hand away from the body of the fiddle, repeating the same action in the hand that you did in the previous section. This should make the tip of your finger slide up and down the string. Practice this until it feels more natural
- Continuing the wrist action, start adding a little pressure on the finger, pressing it into the string. As you gradually add more pressure, the sliding action of the finger will turn into a ‘roll’ backwards and forwards on the string (towards and away from the nut of the fiddle neck). You’re aiming to reach a point where the finger isn’t sliding at all, and is only rolling
- Once you feel you have this movement, repeat all the steps above but with the left hand further down the neck of the fiddle. Start by moving your hand down the neck of the fiddle so it’s your usual playing place. 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. Then add pressure onto the finger until you have achieved the rolling motion
- The next step is to bring 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 slides away and towards you, along the string as you do this. Add some pressure to the finger until it is rolling rather than sliding. It’s this rolling action that will create the vibrato effect.
Finally move the hand back into its usual playing position further down the neck of the fiddle. With the open palm, repeat the movement again. Remember to start the process by moving the hand away from you (towards the pegs) first.
- 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: