Preparatory Exercises to Help Develop Vibrato for Violin and Viola

These games can be done with either arm or wrist:

Shaker in the hand

Knock on the door

These are good for arm:

Pouring water

Good for wrist:

Wave good bye to yourself

Good for Developing Flexible Finger Joints

Place 3rd finger on top of instrument against fingerboard

Thumb in saddle

Palm resting against instrument

Roll and flex 3rd finger – wrist version

Pull palm away and back – arm version

Put fingers on the top of instrument near the edge - pull palm away from side of instrument and back to make the fingers flex.

Preparatory Games for Cello and Bass

A great way to introduce vibrato is to have students learn the correct motion away from the instrument. One game to try for cello and bass is practicing the motion on the collarbone. Reach the arm out, fingers straight. Bend at the elbow and place fingers on the sternum, chest or collarbone area. Keep the fingertip in place and rotate the forearm down and back. This produces the vibrato motion. Vibrate on collarbone area then transfer the motion to the instrument.

A second game is to place left thumb in center of right palm and gently close. Keep the fingertip in place and rotate the forearm down and back to produce the vibrato motion. Practice vibrato motion on right hand. Students can also try this game with the thumb and fingers placed on the right forearm. This game is useful to promote relaxation in the left hand and arm and to prevent squeezing with the thumb.

Polishing the String

Polishing the string is a great game for developing vibrato. Polishing is easiest on 2nd finger for cello and bass, 3rd finger for violin and viola. Start by polishing a large area - moving the hand up and down the neck in a shifting type of motion. Gradually make the area being polished smaller and smaller until the finger focuses in on a spot, plant the thumb, and press the finger to the fingerboard while keeping the polishing motion. All joints in the hand must be flexible and loose for vibrato to occur.

In the beginning, practice with left hand alone. The teacher can operate the bow so the student can hear the result of their vibrato.

Wobble Exercise

The wobble exercise can also be used to develop vibrato. This is easiest on the 2nd  finger. Start from the note, keep the fingertip in place and rotate the forearm down and back. Start at a slow tempo with a quarter note wobbles, then double to eighth note wobbles and then double to sixteenth note wobbles. Gradually increase the tempo, learning to control the speed of the vibrato.  As the number of "wobbles" per beat is increased, full vibrato speed will be achieved. All joints in the hand must be flexible and loose for vibrato to occur.

If students start to lock up or freeze they should slow down the tempo.

Tapping Games

Tapping games are useful for Wrist Vibrato Development on Violin and Viola, especially for students who need extra help loosening up their finger joints.

1) Place thumb in saddle

2) Bring the hand over fingerboard

3) Tap on top (opposite side from when palm is touching) with ring finger

4) Shift arm back to 1st position, and open up hand.

5) Put this exercise over a rhythmic base. i.e. 4 sixteenths and a quarter. If done properly, the elbow will have complete range of motion.

6) Repeat the exercise several times. Then repeat the exercise but tap on the strings, instead of the body of the instrument.

7) Finally, place finger on string and do same motions while keeping finger pressed to the fingerboard.


Vibrato is an expressive device. The ability to play with a consistent vibrato is essential for the string player. Learning vibrato is not difficult, if the joints are flexible and free from tension. Learning to use vibrato as an effective expressive device takes considerable practice and a developed sense of musical judgement.

The Three Stages of Vibrato Development

STAGE 1—The teacher should develop an expectation in the student's ears by modeling for the students a beautiful sound w/ vibrato. This should begin from Day 1. I have heard some teachers state that they do not play with vibrato when modeling for their students who have not yet learned to play with vibrato. I think it is better to always model for students with an authentic professional tone.

STAGE 2—Students learn the mechanics of vibrato. The precursors for vibrato can be laid from Day 1 through shifing games designed to promote freedom and flexibility. Once students start to learn how to play with vibrato, it may take days, weeks, or months for students to learn to make the correct basic motion.

STAGE 3—The students learn how to place vibrato into a musical context. This is the challenging part—learning to play with vibrato on every finger, learning when and when not to add vibrato.

Prerequisite skills for learning to play with vibrato:

1) Endurance - students should be able to play for at least 2 minutes without getting tired or fatigued

2) Independence of hands - this can be demonstrated by the ability to play slurs, e.g., one octave scales in one bow, and the ability to play siren game - shifting hand around while bowing

3) Ear training is at intermediate level

Cellos and Basses use arm vibrato. Violins and Violas may use either arm or wrist (hand) vibrato.