A MUST READ! — Thoughts On Vibrato

Online Fiddle Lessons Forums What else is on your mind? A MUST READ! — Thoughts On Vibrato

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    Great ScottGreat Scott

    As I reclined in sweet repose, in my very own Bavarian alpine meadow, that I won at auction on eBay a few weeks ago, I began to ponder the vibrato thingy, and wondered how significant its role is in fiddle music, and … if I even like hearing vibrato . And so, in order for me to decide if I liked it or not, I picked a lovely young Edelweiss flower, and began plucking its soft, delicate white petals, one by one … “I like it! I like it not! I like it! I like it not! I like it! ” …… and so on, and so forth!

    Well, after laying there all afternoon — plucking and pondering — not only was I STILL undecided as to whether I liked hearing vibrato or not, but on looking around, I noticed the Edelweiss in my beautiful green meadow were becoming very scarce! And then, on hearing the soft, mellow voice of “Georg von Trapp” echoing across the meadow, as he sang about his beloved Edelweiss, I decided it was time for me to arise quickly from my recumbent state, and set forth on my pilgrimage to seek the wisdom of others, in helping me understand this thing they call ……. ‘Vibrato’. …. And also because I didn’t want Captain von Trapp discovering who it was that mutilated his precious alpine flowers!

    As a child growing up, I listened to all kinds of music; everything from classic orchestral to Inuit, to Opera — “Sweet Sue and The Cherokees” being my favorite operatic trio! And, as I listened, I began to take special notice of exactly where in the note being played, the vibrato began. I noticed that in singing, for example, when singing the last note of a musical line, the singer will begin the note and sing it ‘straight’ (no vibrato) until the end of the note is nearing, and then he/she will execute (usually a soft) vibrato. This, of course is done to add texture and color and emotion to the line, as well as to break the monotony of varying sound – waves coming to our ears from notes that are played or sung straight (without vibrato).

    In researching the execution of vibrato in violin music, and hearing and seeing many professional violinists play, I noticed that their use of vibrato becomes almost like an all-out assault on their beloved instrument, as well as our ears — almost as if they are trying to impress us with the fact that they have discovered the ‘Holy Grail’ of violin playing and can now actually play vibrato, and are teasing us with the fact that they can do something that many of us can’t!

    I have seen so many violinists execute vibrato almost the instant their finger hits the string; AND on every note. And of course, the longer the note, the more frantic and excessive their vibrato becomes; almost as if they are suffering from a neurological disorder! This almost excessive use of vibrato seems to be the “infliction” from which a lot of classical violinists appear to suffer. I realize a lot of heavy / excessive vibrato is used to “dramatize” a particular passage of music, however, it can oftentimes become annoying when the violinist over-uses it. Clearly, fiddlers are a lot different in their choice of musical pieces, and their own execution of vibrato.

    Now, don’t get me wrong; I love to hear well-executed soft vibrato, however, when done in excess, it is like having too much soup in my bowl!

    So my question is — in relation to fiddle music: How much vibrato should one use when playing the slower tunes; and where in the note being played should the vibrato actually begin? And, is vibrato actually written into fiddle / violin notation or tabs?

    Thank you for reading this! I look forward to discussing this topic if you would like to join in.

    For now, you will have to excuse me, as I am off on my own musical extravaganza, and merrily singing ……… “I am sixteen, going on seventeen! ……. Do, Re, Mi, Fa …!” …….

    Auf Wiedersehen



    I’ll chime in softly for vibrato! After all…who could listen to Edelweiss and not be touched by the emotion that it can conjure up.
    I don’t think it should be over played but it has a place with soft hearts like me… 😉


    John (BGD)John (BGD)

    Scott, I can definitely see the good Captain Von Trapp flaring his nostrils and arching his eyebrows now. On the topic of vibrato, I say to tread lightly, as if on the Captain’s edelweiss. For most tunes, you only want to use vibrato on the long notes. As you observed — play the note straight, then give a slight bit of vibrato at the end of the note to flavor it. Start on the pitch and wiggle your finger so that the vibrato is lower than the note, never higher.

    NOTE: If you are playing the blues, go CRAZY with the vibrato — to the point of making it a mocking caricature of the actual effect. See: Vasser Clements.

    In the video below, compare Vasser’s wild bluesy vibrato to Mark O’Conner’s more subtle vibrations (particularly at 3:55). Both are beautiful, but you have to love Vasser’s style 🙂

    Great ScottGreat Scott

    @ Peggy — Thank you for chiming in and sharing your thoughts on vibrato. It is always great to hear from other members of our little family, here! 🙂 Yes, I have to agree with you in regard to “Edelweiss” conjuring up emotion. This is one of my favorite things,…..er, I mean, tunes …. and I could not imagine it without that soft vibrato to tug at my heart. The same is true of the song / musical piece called “Dark Waltz” with a violin solo. This is a beautiful piece of music, and so emotive with the delicate vibrato used. I have enclosed a video for you to see, in case you are unfamiliar with this piece of music. The video is of a lovely girl from another forum who has been playing the violin for just one or two years, (I think) but she does a wonderful job of playing this piece. I am sure you will enjoy it!

    @ John — Thank you for the great advise, and for the great video! On a more painful note …… I have just ripped out my eye teeth and tucked them under my pillow and made a wish that I can one day, play as good as Vassar Clements! WOW!!! His whole style seems so effortless!

    I loved watching this video! I loved Vassar’s bluesy vibrato! It really brought the whole thing to life, and added so much “atmosphere” to the piece he was playing! Absolutely loved it! This video must have been done in the 80’s. They all had such big hair! :O

    Keep smiling, and never stop fiddling! 🙂


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