Chinese Proverb

"Tell me and I'll forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I'll understand." - Chinese Proverb.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Lesson #134A (6/12/13): Vibrato and strings

Catching up on blog posts, or at least, the last few lessons since I can't really remember the other lessons.

I love testing out strings and have been using Larsen Magnacores on my C&G strings (absolutely love them!!) and offered them to Adam to try out so I'm playing on Spirocores on C&G now. The Spirocores are still a bit too bright for me, but since the cello has opened up a bit since I tried them last, it's sounding much better. However, the Spirocores still doesn't provide the depth the Magnacores do.

I was kind of proud of the fact that I was doing vibrato at the concert, which I had NOT practiced - it kind of just happened... not sure why either!

Although it's feeling more "natural," I'm still not doing the correct movement so we went over how to do this. I can feel it being correct sometimes because it becomes "easy" and not forced, but I can't find the feeling very often.

Hand position
  • 4th finger - make sure that my third finger is down to help the fourth finger since the fourth finger is the weakest.
  • 1st finger - make sure that my second finger is against my first finger because I tend to lift my fingers up and back.
  • Don't curl my fingers back - my fingers should be relatively in the "ready" position. I have the very bad habit of pulling my other fingers that aren't being used back (or curling it up) when it should be relaxed and uncurled, or staying/hovering over loosely over the position. 
Clayton also mentioned the issues Adam mentioned above, and both of them mentioned that there should be a feeling of being "balanced" between the finger and the thumb while vibrating. I thought I felt it once, but now I'm not so sure!

I also tend to use my wrist, when I shouldn't be consciously moving my wrist - I don't think I am, but it does look like that's the case.... Just like learning how to bow, the wrist/fingers/hands follows (and is the result of) the entire arm movement. Clayton mentioned that I should not think about the hand when vibrating, but the entire arm instead to diffuse the focus on the hand. Adam suggested that I focus on the crook of the elbow when vibrating. I'll have to try focusing on different locations, except for my hand.

Loose joints
There are a few ways to do vibrato and both of my teachers have similar styles because I think they both have the same underlying technique. The main difference is Clayton is a bit more subtle in his movement when using vibrato and has more relaxed finger joints (I guess violinist use loose finger joints in their vibrato), while Adam uses less flexible finger joints and uses larger motion to create his vibrato. I'll have to experiment with both. Although it would be great to know how to do both - more tools in my toolkit! :)

Back to scales!! I shouldn't be changing the shape of my hand position to vibrate notes, which of course I'm changing the shape of my hand. :(
So lately, I've been working on my hand shape so I don't have to change my hand when I'm doing vibrato, but it's totally screwing up my intonation. I'm kind of glad that I'm working on vibrato now so I don't have to relearn my hand position later, but it's really frustrating at the moment.

I've been working on Judas Maccabeus, and it's not sounding that great, but I think I'll do a recording tomorrow. I need to move on from that piece! ...blah...


  1. I want vibrato too! Asked my teacher last lesson but he thought with thumb pos, I have a bit too much on my plate if he added vibrato. I had to agree since I am barely moving with my Schroeder's etude (and no new music either, my last one was Marcello :P )

    I am going to save this for my future (not very near!) reference. And good job with vibrato during concert! All the more reasons to wait for your Judas Maccabeus :)

    BTW, on scales I know you might have used recording longer than me but I want to recommend Bill Bengent's scales podcast. Intended for double bass but my teacher said it's better than many scales recording out there. Free of charge is also a big plus :D He has over 2000 podcasts on scales variations but the ones with 40bpm and 80 bpm work great for me. Not sure if he has all modes but at least major, (harmonic, melodic) minor are there in 3 octaves (chance to have a glimpse at thumb pos? :P ). I really recommend!

    Good luck with the video!

    1. Ooo…thumb position!!! 8) Clayton had me try that out with one of the scales (don’t remember which one). Thanks for the recommendation! I’ll check it out later tonight. :)

    2. typo-ed the name, it's actually Bill Bentgen :P here's the link to the website

    3. No worries, I googled it and found it too! :)

      Downloaded to iTunes but haven't had time to play with it yet. Hopefully this weekend. :)

  2. If you look at the great cello players of the 20th century, the best of them will change their hand shape during vibrato. They could probably also pick out any note on the fingerboard with any finger on any string while blindfolded and be within 5 cents. For us beginners, hand shape seems more important because we are still developing intonation. Eventually, though you will get a feel for where the notes are and feel comfortable letting your hand relax into a natural shape for that flavor of vibrato. I mention this mostly because in my case, trying to maintain finger spacing for good intonation while vibrating causes me excess tension, which can lead to a weaker vibrato, spotty intonation, under shifting, and possibly carpal tunnel (ie numbness & eventually nerve damage).

    If you watch this video on the different LH position schools of thought, and take a look at the "middle way", you can see how a more relaxed approach might work... it might also help you to rely a little more on your ears rather the position of the last note played for intonation.

    1. GREAT, FABULOUS, AWESOME video! I actually watched this “way back when,” but I think I need to revisit all these videos again because it’s making more sense now! :) More and more info seems to be sinking into my thick noggin!

      I seem to have the opposite tendency, once I’m done with a note I “collapse” my fingers, instead of having them ready to play the next note, which then catches me by surprise when I have to play another note quickly. Lol! ;).

      …hhhmm… I don’t think I’m trying to maintain exact finger spacing, but more of a “general” hand shape?
      I should at least be CONSCIOUSLY aware of creating a “shape” whether it be a slanted, boxed or in the middle shape. Right now it’s more like, “Why does this sound funny?? Oh yeah, my fingers were supposed to be more slanted!”

      Both my teachers actually advocate playing as relaxed, balanced and natural as possible. I get the theory behind it (I think), but I’m not sure how to accomplish that quite yet. ;) They also advocate testing out different methods as long as it is balanced, healthy / comfortable, efficient in motion, sounds good, etc. which all depends on each individual.

      I don’t know if it’s cellists in general, or if it’s all the cellists I’ve met so far, but all of them seem to be very careful to avoid saying what is the “correct” way of doing things, and hear quite often, "in general, you want to do it this way, but…

      I love experimenting with stuff and having more tools in my toolbox, so I think all technique is fair game until I’m knowledgeable enough to decide what works for me, which probably won’t happen for quite some time. :)

  3. I have noticed that too. For every "unorthodox" technique, there seems to be at least one professional using it to great effect. There are so many unnatural movements in playing cello, it is truly a challenge especially for adult learners (who have been doing mostly non-celloy things for decades) to figure out which ones are "natural".

    I am a bit of an extremist when it comes to figuring this kind of stuff for myself, so I am a bit prone to injury in all my more active hobbies. I cannot really recommend this technique at all, but what worked for me was to up my practice from ~2 hours a day to 3-5 hours per day. It kind of forced me to find a technique that didn't wear me out too quickly (low tension) and that was sustainable and consistent enough to yield good results. The downside in finding these limits was a close brush with carpal tunnel as my hands become weak and numb from tension and poor position. The upside is that in addressing these issues, I can now practice for 5-6 hours before getting tired and with no pain (with proper icing and stretching of course!) In my case, over-pronation & tension were the culprits. Again though, some professionals who pronate their left hands play brilliantly & still look relaxed and fluid. They must have extra long & well lubricated median/ulnar nerves, or at least really spacious carpal & cubital tunnels.

    1. I agree! In the beginning, when I had time to practice for more than 2 hours, I would tire out easily. Now as soon as I recognize the "feeling" of being too tense I know I'm doing some something wrong and try to release the tension sooner than later. I've also tried purposefully tiring myself out before playing so I'm more aware of what is occurring in my body. :)

      I actually had this great discussion with my teacher Adam a few months ago about how some techniques APPEAR one way, even though mechanically something else is happening in the body, which happens to be the case with vibrato. Darn you vibrato! =p