Introducing Vibrato to Young Cellists

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said: Feb 17, 2012
 145 posts

I have been teaching cello for a few years and I need help in introducing vibrato. At what stage is best and does anybody have any exercises that would be good for me to do with my students? Thank you, Nellie

Barb said: Feb 17, 2012
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Hi Nelly,

I don’t have a lot more experience than you do, but for what it is worth…
If a student is trying to use it, it’s probably a good time to teach it.
Shifting and vibrato are related and can be introduced at the same time.
If a student does not have secure intonation or if there are other basics they are having trouble with, I wait on teaching vibrato.
But some introductory vibrato exercises can be taught very early—I consider things like knuckle knocks with a floppy wrist and sirens to be some of the earliest vibrato and shifting exercises!

There are some very good resources online:

http://www.celloprofessor.com/ Has a few good videos—here’s the first: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7emuiZn4Fog

www.celloteachersfriend.com is another site with several resources. Here are a few:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7VIRvDjQek
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VN6vkDp-L9E

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Brenda Lee Villard said: Feb 17, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
Edina, MN
27 posts

From the beginning do LOTS of sirens and ski jumps….the basis for shifting and vibrato.
The elbow needs to be at a good level—not too high and obviously, not too low. The left thumb needs to be loose and not pinching. I don’t begin vibrato until book 2 at the earliest and sometimes even later. It depends on the posture. I use several/all of the following exercises:
1.) Put a tennis ball in hand and cup it. Place on top of D & A strings and slide at a medium tempo up and down between 1st and low 3rd position. Be very relaxed and even in tempo.
2.) Do #1 and now add the bow but keep the bow on the G string going slowly. The reason for doing that is because the left hand can tense up once the ear hears the changing of the pitch. Keep the bow on G and tennis ball sliding on D & A. Also, MANY students have a hard time doing this step because it requires the left hand to go vertically at a medium tempo and the right hand to move horizontally at a SLOW tempo. Watch for the coordination of the two. They shouldn’t mimic each other (which is what usually happens). Also watch for the bow to stay in the highway. This step can take weeks for some kids.
3.) Next step is to place the bow and the tennis ball on the same string. A goal would be able to narrow the sliding area to a smaller range…..instead of 1st to 3rd position, move to between 1st and 2nd position, and eventually within a whole step range.
4.) Next step is to play a slow “Scary Twinkle” with the tennis ball in hand. DD AA BB…..on the B, put the tennis ball on the B spot and put in a couple of mini-slides. Having the bow play a down and up bow in the rhythm of two quarter notes can be really hard for some kids to coordinate. Make the goal to be that all 1st fingers get the vibrato slide, then focus on all the 4’s, then 3’s. (PLEASE NOTE: you are using the areas where the 1st finger or the 4th finger would go (for the note G), but the tennis ball is what makes contact with the string, not the actual finger.)
5.) When I get the kid to actually put a finger on the string, I use little jelly like (or squishy) items….at Target in the party aisle, they will have little party favors in the shape of lizards or frogs that are like miniature “stress balls” that people like to squeeze. These little critters are great for putting on the string and placing a 1st or 2nd finger on top of the critter like the hand is actually going to vibrato. Because it’s squishy, the finger tends to press with less force and helps to keep building that loose vibrato. Like step 1 (above), at first put critter on A or D string but then put bow on the G string…..keep them separate. I usually start with 2nd finger but some students like the 1st finger as their first vibrato experience. Make sure the thumb is balancing the finger and is loose as it sits under the neck. I then will get the arm moving forward them and tell them to pump from the elbow. It’s not good to raise the elbow up too high and a slight arch of the wrist can help some kids find the right feel. They may only get a few wiggles in but it’s cause for celebration whenever they perform the motion correctly. If they loose the feeling and it starts to get “wristy” (twisting), I have them do a few miniature sirens in 1st position just so they can revisit the feel of their whole arm moving, and then we put the finger back onto the critter.
6.) While they are doing these exercises, I address the idea that the 1st and 2nd fingers will do vibrato without any other fingers touching the string to help. The 3rd finger may also touch alone (with 1 and 2 up off the string, but some kids like to put 2 and 3 down together) but that because the 4th finger is so small, he likes to have the 3rd finger stay on the string with him. Of course each hand is different, and tweaks may need to be made depending on the hand shape and length of fingers. I also talk about the thumb needing to balance the vibrato finger—which means the thumb has to start moving around. I use the piece Long Long Ago Theme in Book 2 because it goes from the 4th finger to the 1st finger a lot and really helps the thumb learn to walk around under the neck. I start with 3 and 4 down—thumb moved so it’s under 3—and the 1 and 2 up off the string. When they get to the 1st finger on the E, the thumb should be balancing the 1st finger. Then walk the thumb up to the 3 and 4 for the next quarter note (G)….and lift up 1 and 2 at the same time. ETC, ETC… Learning to lift the “unused fingers” and “walk the thumb” is a part of the vibrato process but I do it completely separate from the actual sliding of the left hand.
7.) I also use a vibrato shaker. Take an old Tic Tac Candy box, or an empty dental floss plastic box and fill it half way with tiny, hard little beans. (We still use film cameras in our house, so an empty film container works very well.) There should be just enough beans that it produces a fairly loud sound when shaken. Tape a rubber band to the box and slip it over the left hand so it sits on top of the hand just behind the knuckles at the base of your fingers. Pump your arm like you’re doing a vibrato and the beans will shake and help you to hear if your vibrato is too slow or too fast. This is especially helpful for the student who has too fast of a vibrato and the beans will shake so fast that it produces a “rattlesnake vibrato.” We want a nice “maraca” vibrato, no rattlesnakes.

Things that affect the vibrato (causes tension): 1.) too tight of a thumb 2.) lack of coordination with the left hand moving vertically and the right moving horizontally 3.) tension in the shoulders, the neck or back. 4.) allowing the kid to wiggle too quickly (I tell them that anyone can tense up and go fast but that it takes a real musician to be able to control it and be able to do it at a slower speed. Yes, it does sound wobbly and all but enduring that phase is much better than the rapid fire machine gun sound!) Once the hand experiences moving super quick, it’s A LOT harder to slow it down!! Later on a metronome can help get the vibrato more even and allow for the kid to learn to vary the vibrato speed from slow to medium to fast, but that is down the road for most kids.

Lastly, I don’t worry too much if the child has such a wide vibrato that causes him to go “above the note.” That habit can be easily broken once there is some control to the vibrato and I think it just puts more stress on the student to add that in in the beginning stages. Also, I find that the less of a deal I make about vibratoing, the less stress it puts on the kid. It’s something I try to slip in when I see the child being interested in it or has already started trying to do it on his own. It really depends on the student and when the time feels right.

Barb said: Feb 17, 2012
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Thank you, Brenda! I love the squishy toy idea! Lots of other good ideas, too!

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

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