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Why vibrato?
Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 (6 votes) 
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Gordon Shumway
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December 30, 2022 - 6:49 am
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What is the point of vibrato?

With my math graduate's (and ex engineer's) hat on, the point is that it generates FM sidebands which add to, i.e. enrich, the timbre.

I've got a bee in my bonnet about it because there's a person on VCom who adamantly contradicts this without justification, but they are wrong. The maths of waveforms, electromagnetic or acoustic, mean that you cannot modify the amplitude without creating AM sidebands, and you cannot modify the frequency without generating FM sidebands. These, created by vibrato, are additions to your tone. The person hasn't posted for a long while, so I googled "sidebands violinist.com" to try to remind me of their name, but I got this interesting page instead, where the whole thing had been thrashed out previously anyway (I assume - I haven't read the whole page). At least, no-one had the courage to join in the later discussion.

When you practise vibrato is should be with your ear on the timbre all the time - vibrato that doesn't modify tone is pointless, which is why slow practice is pointless.

When you can do proper vibrato and hear the change to the timbre, then you can modify the style of vibrato, always listening for the differences.

Those who complain about constant use of vibrato are perhaps referring to constant style of vibrato. If you can be continually varying the style, then that is ideal. What the audience should be hearing is variation in tone quality.

(incidentally, I have mentioned practising on a guitar in the past, but you don't need to own a guitar - hold your violin like a guitar and pluck a string and vibrate it a though you were playing a guitar.)

Andrew

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RDP
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December 30, 2022 - 1:38 pm
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I have a lesson for vibrato as part of the tutorial I'm following.  The tutorial explains that vibrato is a way to personalize the music.

 

Personally I find too much vibrato often makes it appear that the player is trying to cover up flaws in their playing.  It also makes the music slightly annoying rather than pleasing to listen to.

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Mouse
December 30, 2022 - 3:01 pm
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@RDP I am also not a fan of too much vibrato. It sounds like the singers, like Mariah Carey, who are going all over the place with "one note", constantly sliding up to a note, or hitting it and not letting it ring because they are sliding all over with it. Too many singers do that all the time, Star Spangled Banner is ruined by it.

It is the same thing with all that vibrato on a violin, viola or cello. Just because a note is held for over a beat does not mean it needs vibrato. Play it at length nice and sweet and clear. Vibrato used in a limited way to enhance is lovely, but too much detracts from the song. Maybe I am a "note purist" and like hearing the sweet clear notes?

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Grandpafiddle
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December 30, 2022 - 4:18 pm
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Sorry, but I guess I'm not in the anti-vibrato group. I've spent many many months trying to get the right style vibrato and I'm still working to perfect it. In my own case, I found that I was bending my wrist too far forward (towards the bridge) rather than straight or slightly back. (Not as far back as a pizza wrist though). The bent forward wrist only gave me half of the range of motion needed for good vibrato. The biggest key is total relaxation in the arm, hand, fingers and wrist.

When performed by someone who is good at it and used on the right song, I think vibrato is beautiful. Check out the way Allison Sparrow uses it on this song. She's an expert at it, and her wrist and hand look so relaxed. Again, the right song for it.

Grandpa violin

Violin ---- the most human of all instruments

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Katie L
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December 30, 2022 - 5:34 pm
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I like it when a notes starts without vibrato and then the vibrato comes in . I think that creates expression … I always think it’s funny how in tutorials they teach you to do it continuously but I suppose that’s just when you are learning. That’s my online teacher grandpafiddle she’s very good !!

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ELCBK
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December 30, 2022 - 8:39 pm
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I have a love/hate relationship with the idea of vibrato, because I have a ways to go before I'll have any worthwhile use of it - but I do have a lot of respect for it's potential value.

@Gordon Shumway -

I did read the article you linked. 

Is John Burton implying we should hear a ringing tone for EVERY note we play on our instruments? 

Seems he's talking about intonation & timbre/tone, but is only concerned with string length - he doesn't take into consideration string material, string tension, string gauge, bridge, instrument body resonance/damping, bow quality or an individual's bow attack on the strings. 

You said:

When you practise vibrato is should be with your ear on the timbre all the time - vibrato that doesn't modify tone is pointless, which is why slow practice is pointless. 

IMHO, we should be listening for tone all the time, but isn't slow practice important for simple, good learning? 

I feel vibrato sounds best when the speed corresponds to the speed of the passage being played - slower & wider for slow music, faster & more narrow for fast music.  So, to me, slower vibrato has value.  

Some fast notes benefit from vibrato, but you can't start slow on these notes - there's NO time, so vibrato must be started almost before the finger touches the string.  I think this is the important thing to learn FIRST - it's harder.  It's harder because it requires CONFIDENCE and relaxed fingers and fights against my more natural urge to make sure I land on a string with solid intonation before thinking of adding vibrato. 

I can't help but see vibrato as a very expressive & versatile tool, more than just a tone-enhancer giving life to non-ringing notes.  I think it can help draw attention to an upcoming change in the music, or can help add weight/accent to a note for a better groove, etc... 

Of course I'm not a fan of ME doing vibrato on all notes, except for while learning - I don't like all the same of anything, but I've seen people skilled enough to use different types of vibrato throughout a piece and have it sound wonderful. 

visual-vibration-art.jpeg

...I'm still working on getting more comfortable & relaxing my arm/hand enough before I can really get serious with learning vibrato - feels like I just keep sticking my toe in to test the water! 

- Emily

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ABitRusty
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December 31, 2022 - 2:06 am
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Gordon Shumway said
What is the point of vibrato?

With my math graduate's (and ex engineer's) hat on, the point is that it generates FM sidebands which add to, i.e. enrich, the timbre.

I've got a bee in my bonnet about it because there's a person on VCom who adamantly contradicts this without justification, but they are wrong. The maths of waveforms, electromagnetic or acoustic, mean that you cannot modify the amplitude without creating AM sidebands, and you cannot modify the frequency without generating FM sidebands. These, created by vibrato, are additions to your tone. The person hasn't posted for a long while, so I googled "sidebands violinist.com" to try to remind me of their name, but I got this interesting page instead, where the whole thing had been thrashed out previously anyway (I assume - I haven't read the whole page). At least, no-one had the courage to join in the later discussion.

When you practise vibrato is should be with your ear on the timbre all the time - vibrato that doesn't modify tone is pointless, which is why slow practice is pointless.

When you can do proper vibrato and hear the change to the timbre, then you can modify the style of vibrato, always listening for the differences.

Those who complain about constant use of vibrato are perhaps referring to constant style of vibrato. If you can be continually varying the style, then that is ideal. What the audience should be hearing is variation in tone quality.

(incidentally, I have mentioned practising on a guitar in the past, but you don't need to own a guitar - hold your violin like a guitar and pluck a string and vibrate it a though you were playing a guitar.)

  

if a person plays a D5..thats 587ish.  depending on the rate of vibrato there would be an additional wave generated riding around the 587 as it goes a little flat and back to 587.  all of that mashed together with all the other harmonics add to tone.  is that what your getting at?  and if youre vibrato is not fast enough there wont really be anything added other than an audible changing of pitch lower and back back up.

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Gordon Shumway
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January 4, 2023 - 10:11 am
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ABitRusty said if a person plays a D5..thats 587ish.  depending on the rate of vibrato there would be an additional wave generated riding around the 587 as it goes a little flat and back to 587.  all of that mashed together with all the other harmonics add to tone.  is that what your getting at?  and if youre vibrato is not fast enough there wont really be anything added other than an audible changing of pitch lower and back back up.

This is exactly what I am getting at. Vibrato is added energy - not only is the string vibrating, but the energy supplied by your vibrating finger supplies the energy in the sidebands. Hence vibrato can also be used to imply a crescendo, which is part of what Katie is saying. I used to have vinyl of Heinz Holliger (oboe) playing Vivaldi and he ended one piece crescendoing until he couldn't get any louder, then added vibrato and got louder. It was stunning. It has never gone to CD, though.

Andrew

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RDP
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January 4, 2023 - 11:27 am
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Mouse said
@RDP I am also not a fan of too much vibrato. It sounds like the singers, like Mariah Carey, who are going all over the place with "one note", constantly sliding up to a note, or hitting it and not letting it ring because they are sliding all over with it. Too many singers do that all the time, Star Spangled Banner is ruined by it.

It is the same thing with all that vibrato on a violin, viola or cello. Just because a note is held for over a beat does not mean it needs vibrato. Play it at length nice and sweet and clear. Vibrato used in a limited way to enhance is lovely, but too much detracts from the song. Maybe I am a "note purist" and like hearing the sweet clear notes?

🐭

  

 

I haven't played in a group (large or small) so I don't really know, but I can't imagine any orchestra or ensemble letting any member use vibrato during a performance.

Can you imagine what the opening phrase of Barry White's Love's Theme would sound like with everyone warbling unharmonically all over the place during the sustained C at E6?

I'm also not absolutely certain, but I've yet to see a notation for vibrato.  Trills, grace notes, etc., yes, vibrato - no.  But my musical education is still in its infancy and such a notation may in fact be out there.  I just haven't seen it.

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Mouse
January 4, 2023 - 1:06 pm
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@RDP I remember when I took violin lessons. The instructor ALWAYS used vibrato, for short and long notes. She was trying to get me to not be flat or sharp and would show me, but always used vibrato! I could not tell what note I was supposed to be playing, what it should sound like, etc. I explained this and asked her if she could not use vibrato. She said she could not play without using vibrato. She didn't last long after that. 

I would think that in an orchestra or group that the vibratos would not match up, but since my former violin instructor said she could not play without it, and she was in a small orchestra group, maybe they do use it. Maybe they practice as a group and get it so they do it the same, but that seems like an impossible task. Your mentioning the orchestra or ensemble with vibrato is very interesting.

Again, I don't dislike vibrato, but too much is distracting. It makes me think that maybe the instrumentalist is not accurate with intonation and is covering it with vibrato. I enjoy a nice vibrato once in a while.

🐭

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AndrewH
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January 4, 2023 - 2:33 pm
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Orchestral string players do use vibrato, and regularly.

The acoustics of a string section are very different from those of an individual instrument. The effect of multiple people playing vibrato in a section is different from that of one person playing vibrato. The vibrato doesn't have to match up. The very slight differences of intonation from one player to the next are part of what make a violin section sound like a section and not one giant violin, as long as they're close enough that the human ear can't distinguish the notes. If the differences between players get big enough for the ear to register, then it starts to sound out of tune.

Listen to a baroque orchestra and a modern symphony orchestra, and you'll notice the difference in string section sound that vibrato makes. Baroque orchestras rarely use vibrato.

RDP said

Can you imagine what the opening phrase of Barry White's Love's Theme would sound like with everyone warbling unharmonically all over the place during the sustained C at E6?

  

They are in fact using vibrato in the recording. And a lot of it. That's precisely what a string section playing with vibrato sounds like.

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RDP
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January 4, 2023 - 2:44 pm
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AndrewH said
Orchestral string players do use vibrato, and regularly.

The acoustics of a string section are very different from those of an individual instrument. The effect of multiple people playing vibrato in a section is different from that of one person playing vibrato. The vibrato doesn't have to match up. The very slight differences of intonation from one player to the next are part of what make a violin section sound like a section and not one giant violin, as long as they're close enough that the human ear can't distinguish the notes. If the differences between players get big enough for the ear to register, then it starts to sound out of tune.

Listen to a baroque orchestra and a modern symphony orchestra, and you'll notice the difference in string section sound that vibrato makes. Baroque orchestras rarely use vibrato.

  

 

I didn't know this.

From a purely scientific standpoint (and not really knowing a thing about it) I wonder if anyone has investigated the possibility the various vibratos from the string section might accidentally act like a wolf note to drown out the section.  It's not physically possible because each vibrato is only on 1 violin, but then we have to consider the 5th note in a barbershop quartet.  How the whole behaves and sounds can have an effect beyond the individuals involved.

Although at this point it doesn't seem to be affecting the overall music from the orchestra players who do this, so I have no idea if I'm just full of noise on this or not.

 

BUT, now you've got me heading off to youboob to listen to some baroque orchestra stuff.

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Mouse
January 4, 2023 - 2:48 pm
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Thanks for the explanation, @AndrewH. That was very interesting. 

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RDP
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January 4, 2023 - 2:50 pm
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Mouse said
@RDP I remember when I took violin lessons. The instructor ALWAYS used vibrato, for short and long notes. She was trying to get me to not be flat or sharp and would show me, but always used vibrato! I could not tell what note I was supposed to be playing, what it should sound like, etc. I explained this and asked her if she could not use vibrato. She said she could not play without using vibrato. She didn't last long after that. 

I would think that in an orchestra or group that the vibratos would not match up, but since my former violin instructor said she could not play without it, and she was in a small orchestra group, maybe they do use it. Maybe they practice as a group and get it so they do it the same, but that seems like an impossible task. Your mentioning the orchestra or ensemble with vibrato is very interesting.

Again, I don't dislike vibrato, but too much is distracting. It makes me think that maybe the instrumentalist is not accurate with intonation and is covering it with vibrato. I enjoy a nice vibrato once in a while.

🐭

  

One of the "fix your intonation problems" videos out there discusses vibrato and why not to use it when you're working on intonation because it covers up one cause of a lack of intonation - poor finger placement.  Unfortunately I don't remember which video it was.  I very vaguely, and only kind of, remember that it was a woman instructor saying it but I could be wrong about that.

Not much help but it does support why you might not have been able to learn from your instructor.

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