I recently worked with two super enthusiastic adult violinists; in both cases their passion for the instrument was obvious. Strangely, they both suffered from a common malady, uncontrolled vibrato.
IMHO, this problem is all too common. It results from a shortcoming in violin pedagogy. Frequently the development of vibrato is left to chance, instead of being incorporated into the overall technical regimen. Drawing an analogy, it’s much like building a house, and deciding where to put the front door and windows only after the building is completely framed.
Teaching violin requires a comprehensive understanding of many moving parts; all these parts should be assembled in a fairly specific order, while keeping the whole in mind.
Your transformation: Violin teaches us project management at a very high level. It’s a skill that serves you well in any walk of life.
Most new violinists excited about beginning their study of the instrument spend the lion’s share of their budget on the violin and perhaps private or group lessons. But newbies hardly ever think about the importance of the bow.
Don’t scrimp on your violin bow! It’s equally, if not more, important than the violin itself. The bow is your direct tactile connection to your tone. It needs to be comfortable in your hand, with proper balance, arch and tension.
You’ll eventually become accustomed to the tone of a mediocre violin, as long as it’s properly set up. But a cheap “kit” bow can easily stop you in your tracks.
It’s fine if you really need to use a shoulder rest for your violin or viola. But, are you really, really sure you need you need that shoulder rest? Or did you simply dismiss the idea of going without it, based on a five minute “I don’t like the way it feels?”
At a recent orchestra performance, I had the pleasant surprise of being stand partner with a wonderful professional violinist who just weeks before, ended a lifelong shoulder rest habit. By evaluating her violin setup in my studio, and fitting her with a custom chin rest, the shoulder rest became an unnecessary impedance. She was ecstatic, to say the least.
To make the switch, you’ll need to rethink your approach to supporting the violin. No longer is it rigidly fixed into a single position. Instead, it is dynamically supported at three points.
Your violin and head should easily move as you play. The amount of effort used to support the instrument should be situational: add only a minimum support only as needed. This Nathan Milstein video exemplifies the kind of setup that will support a stellar career into your 80s. Notice how Mr. Milstein’s head and violin are free to move at will. Notice the great efficiency in his playing.
Here’s your transformation: release the tension in your violin as a starting point. Where else in your life are you locked into rigid, inflexible positions? Where can you produce greater results with far less effort.
I’m watching your playing. Maybe at a gig, in orchestra and of course during your violin lesson. It’s like x-ray vision, though not in a creepy sort of way. Call it an occupational hazard of being a long time violin teacher.
I don’t have to hear you play. A very few visual cues will tell me whether you approach the violin with ease and mastery. Or if you are engaging in battles (or just skirmishes) with your instrument.
Perhaps the biggest canary in my coal mine is your left hand, and how you use it to produce vibrato. Because a great violin vibrato is the natural result of good basic playing habits.
For my fellow vibrato nerds:
There are only a very few simple motions needed to produce vibrato, I describe them in obsessive detail in this video.
Are you bored with practicing scales? Too bad for you; you’re missing out on what could become the most awesome, useful and fun part of your music practice.
Many music students practice scales for the same reason; they’re forced to do it for their violin lesson. And because of that, there’s a lot of scale bashing going on these days. Bashing by sick and tired music students, who see them as a boring, useless and needless exercise. Even some music lesson websites entice their readers with catchy headlines such as “forget about practicing boring scales, have more fun and make more progress playing songs.”