Teaching Vibrato

Violin/Viola Vibrato

  1. Hold the instrument in guitar position under the right arm.
  2. "Salute your instrument" with the left hand, then rest the thumb pad of the LH on the side of the neck.
  3. Relax the thumb so the hand can swing comfortably under the neck; first finger should not touch the neck.
  4. Place the 2nd finger on the A string, and "polish" the A string by sliding the thumb and second finger up and down the neck. No part of the 1st finger should touch the neck and the palm should not rotate like it is turning a door knob.
  5. While continuing to polish, slowly decrease the distance that the left hand travels, until the arm is moving, but the thumb and second finger are gently holding the neck. The thumb stays relaxed and the 2nd finger knuckles should flex and extend, absorbing the motion of the arm/wrist.
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 with the 3rd finger, then 4th finger, and finally the 1st finger, which is often the hardest of them all.
  7. Put the instrument on the shoulder, hold the instrument stable with the right hand, and repeat steps 2 through 6 in playing position.
  8. Finally, add the bow, just long bows and no rhythm until the left and right arms adjust to doing two completely different motions.

Violin/Viola Vibrato Checkpoints:

  1. Instrument is well supported (use shoulder rest if necessary)
  2. Thumb and vibrato finger lightly hold neck (not gripping hard)
  3. First finger “hip joint” is free from (not touching) the neck
  4. Arm/wrist motion is smooth, relaxed, and parallel to the string
  5. Palm continuously faces the player's eyes, and does not rotate like a door knob.
  6. Vibrato finger absorbs vibrato motion in the “ankle joint”


  1. Vibrato is stiff and possibly shakes the whole instrument. Make sure there is space between the 1st finger and neck when vibrating. Anchoring the scroll of the instrument against a wall is a proven method for stabilizing the instrument while learning to vibrate. Some students will discover that for them, vibrato and shifting are much easier with a shoulder rest.
  2. Palm is rotating like a door knob. Place the second finger’s tip on the purfling, so that the side of the finger touches the side of the fingerboard. With the thumb in the crook of the neck, start the vibrato motion, allowing the side of the finger to touch and follow the side of the fingerboard.

Cello/Bass Vibrato

  1. Place the bow on the stand, and set up the instrument in a good playing position.
  2. Look forward (not at the left hand), and shape the left hand as if preparing for a hand shake, and then bring it into the chest so the fingertips touch the chest below the collarbone.
  3. Keeping the elbow relatively still, use an arcing motion to pivot the arm/hand on the tip of the second finger. This motion should be a large, slow and smooth.
  4. Shape the left hand like a “C,” place the second finger lightly on the D string, and the thumb lightly on the neck.
  5. Slide the finger and thumb up and down the neck about three half-steps in a slow, relaxed motion. Elbow should remain relatively still.
  6. With the arm still moving, decrease the sliding motion to two half-steps, one half-step, until the thumb and second finger are no longer sliding. Check to make sure thumb is still relaxed and hand is shaped like a “C.” The finger pad should be rolling (but not slipping) up and down the string.
  7. Repeat steps 4-6 with different fingers. When vibrating the fourth finger, bring the third finger (and thumb if necessary) closer to the fourth to provide additional support.
  8. Finally, add the bow, just long bows and no rhythm until the left and right arms adjust to doing two completely different motions.

Cello/Bass Vibrato Checkpoints

  1. Cello/Bass position is correct; student is not turned and looking at the vibrato.
  2. Left elbow is suspended (not resting on the instrument) and remains relatively still during vibrato motion
  3. Wrist is straight and relaxed; hand and arm are in line
  4. Left hand remains shaped like a “C” with the thumb resting on the neck.
  5. Student uses smooth, arcing motion (not the rotating door knob).
  6. When vibrating fourth finger, the third finger may rest on the string next the fourth for better support.

Additional Strategy: Egg Shakers

  1. Fill a plastic Easter egg with some uncooked rice to make a shaker.
  2. Instruct students to hold the eggs in the left hand as if in playing position.
  3. Shake the eggs, simulating the vibrato motion. Violin/viola students can practice differentiating between wrist and arm vibrato by shaking the egg with only the wrist or arm. Cello/bass students should practice the lower arm motion (not the rotation).