Student Trying to Teach Herself Vibrato

Anna said: Feb 10, 2016
20 posts

I began teaching an 18 year old girl violin almost 6 months ago. Because of her age, I haven’t been sticking strictly to the traditional Suzuki approach (obviously no parental involvement in practicing, etc.). However I am still using Suzuki principles, like learning by ear. She is doing fantastic with that, and actually everything in general.

She enjoys playing by ear and has been teaching herself Lover’s Waltz by listening to a recording. I’m fine with that even though it really is beyond her level because I want her to stay motivated and interested, and I know she is enjoying working on that song. However, just this week she happened to mention that “it’s not perfect yet; I’m still working on the vibrato”. I had to hold my tongue to keep from saying anything because I didn’t want to react and discourage her. So I thought I’d get some advice before responding.

She has only been playing for several months and although her posture, tone, etc. are all quite good already, there is still some work to do on them and I feel like she is just not ready for vibrato yet. However, I’m afraid if I don’t teach it to her she will teach it to herself and will develop bad habits that will be hard (read impossible) to fix later on.

I have dealt with a younger child trying to learn vibrato before, and it worked well to just explain that they could look forward to learning how to do that once we had learned some more songs and they were a little bit older, etc. The younger children grasp the concept that they have just started and are still learning, and teacher knows what is best. An older child . . . not so much. They think since they’re big they can do everything, despite what you say!

So how do you deal with this, especially in older teens? I don’t want to discourage or make her upset, but I don’t think it is a good idea for her to try to teach herself vibrato.

Christiane said: Feb 11, 2016
Christiane Pors-Sadoff
Suzuki Association Member
New York, NY
47 posts

Hi Anna!
I think most people would love to have an instant vibrato, so I am starting pre vibrato almost as soon as they begin lessons. This way, those who are aware of vibrato can already be working on it, and those who are not aware can prepare their bodies for future vibrato.

Tapping and Shifting exercises are precursors to vibrato, as we need to develop a relaxed left shoulder and arm, so I encourage this from the beginning. Look at the Action Studies of Paul Rolland—great pre twinkle material, too, to keep them from clutching the fingerboard as they refine first position.

When they are ready for more formal vibrato,p study, I use vibrato charts like in the Viva Vibrato book—the speed of the vibrato increases so incrementally that it is barely noticeable.


Christiane Pors
Mikomi Violin Studio
Kaufman Music Center
NYU Steinhardt

Barbara Stafford said: Feb 11, 2016
Barbara Stafford
Suzuki Association Member
Plano, TX
59 posts

I have not explored the source she is mentioning, but I think that is a practical and useful suggestion Christiane is giving. I guess I would just add that I recognize the situation, teaching an older student, and a student who is ambitious or willful. In that situation, I do let the student know when I am deviating from my preferred routine in order to be supportive of their ambitions. Sometimes following their ambitions will take up our lesson time and slow me down in teaching what I think is more important for the long-term development. Then I leave it up to them. However, if you can find a way to work in small exercises then I suppose it would not be so time-consuming.

Carolyn Smith said: Feb 11, 2016
6 posts

I am a parent, not a violin teacher so this response may not be particularly helpful, but I learned cello as an adult and am practice parent to my cello playing son and violin playing daughter. I tried experimenting myself with vibrato very early on when I started playing cello even though I wasn’t really ready for it.(my teacher was patient and encouraging with my feeble attempts). My daughter did the same on violin even though it wasn’t the policy of her studio to start that until much much later. Learning some vibrato gave me the idea, illusion perhaps, that I was actually “making real music” when I played rather than plodding through my practice. I personally think craving vibrato is a great thing because it shows the student recognizes how vibrato positively effects the musicality of a piece and they have an ideal sound they are imagining. I think any attempt to physically move towards some type of vibrato should be encouraged. My daughter did a weird sideways kind of vibrato for over a year but it still made her pieces sound more musical which in turn, was rewarding to her and she enjoyed them more. Eventually, on her own she got the coordination and muscle skills to improve it. Her vibrato is beautiful now and because she was motivated, she developed it years earlier than many other students in her studio. Perhaps with the student you are describing, you could give her some simple exercises off the violin that demonstrate the motions of correct vibrato and leave it at that with her for now and then use actually on the string vibrato exercises later when you feel she is ready. At that time, she may surprise you and learn it very quickly because she has been experimenting.—-

Nina Westbrook said: Feb 11, 2016
Suzuki Association Member
Cello, Viola, Violin
Burnsville, MN
7 posts

Thank you Carolyn Smith for your kind & understanding words regarding supporting students who “crave” vibrato and the acknowledgement of their discerning ear in recognizing the beauty of vibrato and letting it be not so perfect when they do it, with guidance from the teacher, so students feel a sense of their own self worth , creativity & the beauty & loveliness of music and their own playing!

Caitlin said: Feb 11, 2016
Caitlin HunsuckViolin
Merced, CA
41 posts

I think you should start her on an egg shaker, and then move her to the violin when ready. I may buy you some time. You can also start the movement on a ruler/wall/anythingotherthantheviolin to get her started.

Vasuhi Klinker said: Feb 12, 2016
Vasuhi Klinker
Suzuki Association Member
12 posts

I use the egg shaker to get them started on vibrato too. I’m just wondering for those students who want to start early to do vibrato, I would be concerned with intonation. I’ve noticed students doing vibrato on scales to cover up their lack of security for clean intonation. That’s one of the reasons I discourage teaching the vibrato unless the child has perfect pitch. Most don’t and learning to hear overtones for that clean ringing in-the-pitch sound is, for me, far more important.

Erin P said: Feb 17, 2016
23 posts

I am also a parent, and I have a 7-year old, who thinks she is a mini-adult. She is in Book 4. She really wanted to learn vibratto since she was in book 1, when she heard other kids doing it at the institute. When she broached the subject with her then-teacher, the teacher said that she was waaaaay too young and needs to grow some before even thinking about vibratto. She was incredibly discouraged and it affected her practice, because she realized she couldn’t do anything about her age. We moved this summer and now have a wonderful new teacher. There were other kids her age at the new school doing vibratto, so after her considerable whining that she still couldn’t do vibratto, I encouraged her to broach the subject with her teacher. Her teacher, who understands her much better, started giving her vibratto exercises to prepare her. It’s been 6 months now, and my daughter is diligently practicing her exercises, which she knows she must perfect before she is allowed to add vibratto to her actual songs, but she feels like she is on her way. All that is to say, I think like other posters have said, assigning things to prepare for vibratto will likely keep her happy.

Anna said: Mar 3, 2016
20 posts

Thank you everyone for all of the excellent ideas! I did not want to discourage her, but I did not want her to learn bad habits either. I feel like I now have an idea for how to balance the two through some of your suggestions.

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