Self-Taught Vibrato???


said: Oct 19, 2006
 21 posts

I have a a 9-year old daughter who started Suzuki violin in August. She was working on stacato exercises using the piece Allegretto. Vibrato has not been discussed by her teacher, although he has demostrated it in his own playing.

One morning this week, my daughter sheepishly tells me she thinks she’s learned how to do that “wiggly hand thing.” So she played a hymn for me and it sounded just like her teacher’s vibrato.

Though she seems to be able to do it at will and with little thought as she plays through the songs she knows, she is lacking confidence about showing her teacher.

My question is it possible or probable for a student to almost accidentally learn vibrato? I want her to show her teacher, because she could be doing it wrong.

As a side note, she is a very talented musician, and has picked up everything thrown at her in lessons with no problems.

Lynn said: Oct 19, 2006
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
173 posts

Kids do figure out ways to generate the sound of vibrato. They are interested in the sound; we teachers take an inconvenient degree of interest in HOW that sound is generated, and as you would expect, can be quite insistant about it!

I myself do not allow forging ahead, whether it is with repertoire or technique. 1. If a kid is using practice time to play ahead of the lesson, they are not focusing on the lesson 2. You are not doing the teacher any favors by presenting him with a repair job. We would much rather get it right the first time.

If you teacher is very particular about what he wants from the left hand, you want to make sure that your daughter’s attempt to cultivate vibrato is not detracting. For example: A lot of self-taught vibratos are really a very tense quiver, when in fact for vibrato the hand, fingers and wrist have to be very loose and relaxed. If he is working on a relaxed hand, and she is creating a tense vibrato, they are working at cross purposes.

One way to broach the topic without admitting anything, is to say that you have noticed his vibrato, have been talking about it at home, and are curious about when he teaches it, how he decides when a student is ready to learn it, that kind of thing. “do you think she’s ready?” If the answer is no, and this is why not, then you know to stop the experimenting at home, and work on the points that need to be developed to be ready for vibrato. If he says “yes” well, great!

said: Oct 19, 2006
 32 posts


I would have to disagree with you (and I usually am right with you on your comments! :D)

I have actually had more than one “self-taught” vibrato students who were doing vibrato quite well, so I believe it to be quite possible.

I have also had plenty of students who do it incorrectly without guidance.

I also believe that there really must be some sort of inherent “natural” inclination towards vibrato….it is such an individual thing, and our jobs as teachers are to guide and help bring out each person’s own vibrato.

Now as to how to proceed (this is where I disagree), I think it is important to just be upfront with the teacher. “Suzy has been experimenting with vibrato. What do you think?”

I don’t think this falls into the category of “forging ahead.” It just sounds like something that came quite naturally, and now needs to be tended. I would assume the teacher will take one of two tacts:

  1. Help develop the vibrato.

  2. Say (I would most certainly hope in a kind, supportive way) that it is not a good idea to be vibrating yet (hand not set solidly, the vibrato really is not correct, just don’t want it to get in the way of a solid tone at this stage of the game, whatever reason). We will work on vibrato at “X” point in time.

said: Oct 19, 2006
 104 posts


At my house, your daughter’s experimentation would be reported to the teacher ASAP as a quick note in the notebook, handed to the teacher at the very next lesson (note would read: Suzy has been doing some unauthorized vibrato). I’ve actually had this happen myself—and the teacher defniitely wanted to know. I don’t play the violin myself, but I completely agree that kids interpret the sight of vibrato as something that is quite different than what it really is. My kids all thought it was generated by tension, and have spent lots of time doing exercises to find out what it is really about. My oldest daughter wanted to start doing vibrato when she saw kids at institute doing it—she spontaneously began doing her own kind of vibrato. It needed correction, and I”m very glad I let the teacher know, becuase I noticed my daughter never did it in front of the teacher. That alone seemed suspicious to me. I have a lot of trust with this teacher, and I believe everything she tells me (which for me is rare!)— and she has told me that an incorrectly dveloped vibrato leads to tremendous problems in playing and even injury. Avoid it at all costs.

said: Oct 20, 2006
 21 posts

Dear Perky,

Your suggestion is pretty much how we proceeded. We did not go to the teacher and say, my daughter has learned vibrato. Instead, we said she was making a sound like vibrato, could you take a look and see if she is doing it correctly since we don’t want her to develop bad habits.

By the way, my daughter is always forging ahead in her Suzuki book, but I made sure and asked if her teacher minded. He said it was fine as long as she is open to correction after the fact (she very much is).

So usually at her lessons, she already knows the notes and he works with her on the fine points of the piece. It seems to work well for this student/teacher combination.

I do, however, see both sides of this discussion. It is funny though, I don’t see teachers in other subjects telling students not to experiment ahead with more difficult math, creative writing etc.. The process of teaching seems to be one of “fixing mistakes.”

By the way, she was doing vibrato correctly.

said: Oct 20, 2006
 104 posts

Teachers, in any subject, have a variety of different philosophies and approaches. I’ve encountered many music teachers (like Lucy) who would prefer not to work with self-taught musicians because they find repair work unsatisfying and often unsuccessful.

In your original post, you wrote that your daughter began violin lessons in August—and now it’s October—so it is truly amazing that in just two months, she is able to handle all of the technical challenges that go into making a good tone (or any tone at all!) on a violin—the fact that she has added vibrato is astonishing. I’m only a parent, but I have never seen anyone do what you describe. I’ve seen kids begin preliminary vibrato exercises in book 1—but I’ve never seen any child play a book 1 piece with vibrato. I’ve seen it appear around Book 3. It is very interesting to hear your experience. Have any of the teachers reading this list experienced this?

As far as I know, it’s unusual for a Suzuki teacher to allow a student to forge ahead alone—I have always heard about students being discouraged from this. Already knowing the notes is a very common Suzuki experience—because they listen to the music, most of the kids do already know the notes—but the bowings, phrasing, fingering, etc, is a different story. And most kids—if they teach themselves a wrong bowing and practice it that way—will find it very, very difficult to correct. It sounds like like your daughter is very open to change, though.
And it sounds like your teacher’s style fits your daughter’s learning preference. Good luck!

said: Oct 21, 2006
 32 posts

Given a preference, I would prefer that students not “forge ahead.” However, I think that needs to be defined, and perhaps differently for each student.

I do let my families know that relearning something that has been learned incorrectly is much more difficult than learning it correctly the first time.

That being said, I have had students (my son included), who only needed to be told the first note and bow direction of a piece (and I sincerely doubt he needed that…he was going more for permission, I think). He could then continue on with notes, bowings (he heard slurs and articulations on the recording) without error.

I have far more students who are reluctant to begin new pieces, which I find disturbing. Often times it is from lack of listening, so the new piece is seen as too challenging (kids like what they know!). Unfortunately, though, I find it is because of a real fear of making a mistake. I don’t see this fear as just in violin; I am talking about “perfectionist” kids, a trend I find very discouraging.

Very, very often I have students come into lessons “doodling” pieces way ahead of where they are. I will ask if they know what they are playing, and they have no idea….they are just “doodling.” This is listening in action! You can’t really stop that.

My basic policy is, as I said, no “forging ahead.” However, we have to allow for certain amounts of experimenting, and for some kids it is actually “ok.”

Vibrato in particular: I have students who figure it out quite early, and some who just don’t, it seems. This seldom relates to “good” and “bad” players. Some kids just seem to have it.

said: Oct 21, 2006
 32 posts

I just remembered something…about 10-15 years ago, I heard a touring group out of Texas. In the program was a brief bio of each student. One 12 year old girl’s bio said she had started violin at age 10, and had graduated from Book 8. I distinctly remember watching her play a beautiful Eccles sonata.
So perhaps not ultra-common, but late beginners can definitely take off through the Suzuki literature, especially if they have other music background.

said: Oct 21, 2006
 122 posts


It is funny though, I don’t see teachers in other subjects telling students not to experiment ahead with more difficult math, creative writing etc.. The process of teaching seems to be one of “fixing mistakes.”

The biggest difference between math, creative writing, or any subject like that is it is a mental only subject. Violin is mental AND physical, and it’s the physical aspect which makes most teachers say no to forging ahead. I welcome and encourage students and parents to read up on history, find music theory computer software, listen to non-Suzuki classical music, and educate themselves mentally on the subject of music.

In my studio the kids that are forging ahead are by far less advanced than their peers that waited for me to introduce technical ideas. We have to spend most of our time fixing mistakes and re-training the muscles, which in my opinion is not a good use of lesson time, and it takes the child longer to learn a peice. It’s also not a good lesson to the child that what they do is always wrong and that they need to fix everything they learn!

“When love is deep, much can be accomplished.”
-Shinichi Suzuki

Laura said: Oct 21, 2006
Suzuki Association Member
358 posts

I think in Suzuki, we’re trying to foster two key habits that apply to the rest of life, too. The first is that it’s always worth it to continue improving oneself. Instrumental study is much more than math, which is black and white, right or wrong. It’s probably more like English—it’s one thing to master spelling and grammar which are very concrete, but quite another to master the art of self expression in an organized, coherent and eloquent written piece. You can always tackle something at a higher level. Studying music is like that.

The second habit is respect for the learning process. In order to learn, one must be… well, willing to learn from someone higher. Sometimes it is not better to assume “I can do it” and forge ahead; rather it is better to wait for the teacher to introduce it properly, in eager and respectful anticipation. We all know impetuous toddlers who want to get their hands on everything in the name of curiosity… the good parents establish clear limits on what is a free-for-all (e.g. their toys) and what must be requested and waited for (e.g. something from the fridge, or someone else’s belongings). Attitude-wise, I believe there is a lot to compare here to music study.

(That said, I realize that JennyLee’s daughter is very open to being corrected, which is great, so my comment about respectful learning isn’t directed specifically at her.)

Some students are highly talented and seem to gobble everything up quickly, and even figure out certain things for themselves very correctly. I believe that if the teacher has a good relationship with such a student, the teacher will know how long to let the leash, and how fast to let the student run, so to speak. In other words, certain students can handle certain freedoms if their teachers set and enforce appropriate limits.

For example, one student learns new notes quickly and loves to peek ahead. Knowing this, I always preclude problems by laying out her options: “If you want to look ahead, why don’t you look at Minuets 2 and 3, first sections only, right hand only, slowly. But IF you do this, I want you and your mom to make sure that you ONLY use the correct fingerings from the book, and that you ONLY play it slowly, because I still have to show you the correct way to move your hands. If you think it’s too tricky, that’s fine—you can wait until we get to it… maybe next lesson, depending on how you are doing with Minuet 1!” In this example, I’m giving her some freedom to explore ahead, but only as much as I know she can handle without learning anything wrong. I’m also encouraging her to keep focusing on the working piece, so that it’s appropriately mastered before moving on. And lastly, I’m allowing her a “way out” (without crushing her ego) to acknowledge that it may be better to wait to be shown something properly. I love Junebug’s point about not setting the kids up for failure (i.e. always having to go back and fix what they’ve done wrong by themselves).

There is never anything wrong with asking. I think the original poster did a good thing by bringing up the vibrato thing with the teacher. Open communication is the key. Better to know how the teacher feels, and also to find out that her daughter was doing it correctly, than to have kept doing it behind the teacher’s back and possibly incorrectly. As far as I understand, vibrato isn’t one of those things you want to learn wrong!

Sorry for the long post…

said: Dec 21, 2006
 2 posts

Some natural talents just take a little longer to develop—they take nurturing. Although it may have seemed like an “accident,” it could very well be her natural talent excuding!

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said: Jan 12, 2007
 15 posts

Although I think Suzuki’s Book One is too early for vibrato…I’ve taught myself vibrato around book 2 or 3 (don’t remeber) and my teacher has always been impressed with it and actually says it’s one of my best qualities…

It wasn’t an accident though, I kept watching how my teacher does vibrato and kept trying to do it like him, one day I was able to do it (Suzuki philosophy at work I think) :D

That might be what happened with your daughter. I think good teachers might be able to pass good qualities to students without actually teaching them, you know…

Probably the teacher will notice the new found vibrato on his own, you won’t need to tell him..and it’s his dedision to either instruct your daughter not to do it (vibrato awfully wrong) or encourage it or correct it…etc.

Have Fun :)
Mahmoud Ibrahim

said: Jan 23, 2007
 5 posts

I am a violin student, and I know that it is possible, for a violinist to develop the vibrato on their own, I did. But in your case you may want to ask the teacher to instruct your child on a solid excercise to ensure that that she has a correct vibrato since your daughter is fairly new at the instrument. I learned it by watching experienced violinist do it then, practiced it for quite a while and perfected it, though that may not be the right idea for a student your daughter’s age.

Violin, the instrument that holds my dreams, I pour my life into it and it becomes stronger, maybe one day I can be profesional.

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