Vibrato vs No Vibrato - Violin Lesson - How To Decide On When To Use Vibrato on the Violin


Here's a question, to vibrato, or to NOT vibrato? In today's video I will be exploring how to make informative decisions on when it is appropriate to play with vibrato, and moments where you don't want to use vibrato.

We have to understand what the purpose of vibrato is before we start applying it to every note on the face of earth. 

Vibrato can be used in several ways:

1) Vibrato can be used as to increase the overall resonance and volume of the given note

2) Vibrato can be used as a form of expression or provide more emphasis to a note

We must make educated decisions on when to use vibrato.

Vibrato wasn't commonly used as it used today. Vibrato, as some baroque violinists might tell us, was used as an ornamentation. Also, the technology of the violin and the bow was somewhat limiting to what it is today. 

For instance, baroque violins had a shorter finger board, and used gut strings. The modern design of the bow that we play on now is thanks to Francois Tourte, but the 17th century bow design did not allow for sustaining notes. 

We must ask ourselves when we should apply vibrato. I've narrowed it down to a few questions I ask myself and my students:

- When was the composition written?

- Who is the composer?

- Why do I want to use vibrato?

If we ask ourselves these 3 questions, we'll get a clearer idea on when to use vibrato. Let's start with the first:

When was the composition written?

You would think that the first question you'd ask is, "Who is the composer?". I believe the first question we should really ask is, "When was the composition written?" because knowing when a composition was written gives us a lot of context based on the trends of the time period. However, you can use this interchangeably with "who is the composer"

Although we play 17th century partitas and sonatas with vibrato in the 21st century, baroque violinists would argue that you should use minimal vibrato. Or, if we play violin concertos and sonatas from the 20th/21st century, it is accustomed to play this music with vibrato. It all comes down to the style and trends that were common then. 

Who is the composer?

Knowing who the composer is the next item on our agenda to figure out when we should use vibrato. Let's go to someone like Pyotr Tchaikovsky, for example. Playing his violin concerto would be quite unusual to play without vibrato given the context in 19th century. Similarly to the violin concerto of Johannes Brahms, the D-minor violin concerto would be, let's say, 'different' without vibrato. 

As I said before, vibrato can be used as a form of expression. In the 19th century style, the romantic style was all about self-expression. Using vibrato, this case, is a tool to not only enhance the resonance of one's sound, but also the message of the violinist is trying to portray in the context of the music. 

Why do I want to use vibrato?

Good question, right? When you asked the two previous questions, it's now up to YOU to make your decision. In the practice room, we are constantly making decisions about our playing. 

Am I using too much bow? Should I play a different dynamic? Does vibrato make sense here?

I challenge my students to think as to why music needs to sound a certain way. Why should I use vibrato in this passage? Would this passage sound nice if it did? Asking these questions will give you a lot of clarity as to why you are using vibrato. 

I want to quote a friend here that I had on the Everyday Musician Podcast. We were talking about the different styles of Bach throughout the last two hundred years or so.

He said, "As long as you make it musical, then it will make sense".

I might be paraphrasing because that interview happened a little over a year and half ago, but he's right! You can us vibrato to make it musical, or you can use no vibrato and STILL make it musical. These are you choices. As long as you take ownership of those choices, vibrato will become a friend. 


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