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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Vibrato: an Introduction to the Five Stages of Teaching and Learning It

Vibrato excites most students, but most teachers are terrified about teaching it. Vibrato is such a mysterious element of our music making and one of the most individual components of our musical expression. I recall being afraid of teaching vibrato myself as a young teacher, and I remember experimenting with several different teaching methods before I finally found a set of steps that I felt comfortable using. Now I have built up a basketful of various exercises and signposts to help me teach vibrato to any student. I would like to take the sting out of teaching and learning vibrato.

I break down the vibrato learning process into 5 stages: preparation, posture, practice, control, and incorporation. The preparation stage involves my checking to see if the student is physically ready to learn vibrato. During this stage I will introduce several exercises designed to check the student's physical readiness, and we practice exercises that will aid in the student's vibrato muscle development. We also spend some time talking about what vibrato is and what it is not.

The posture stage is when I check the various points where the student touches the instrument. I am looking for the student to be free of holding the instrument with the hands. I also check to see that the student is properly holding the instrument and correctly using the left hand. Of course, I do this at every lesson anyway, but if I have a student or parent who has been reluctant to make any necessary posture corrections, this stage will help to reinforce the importance of holding the instrument correctly and inculcating correct posture habits into the practice routine.

The practice stage is when I show the student the initial vibrato exercises. This stage is when I introduce the student to the actual vibrato movement as it relates to the violin. We perform a specialized set of exercises that are designed to teach the student how to control the speed and width of the vibrato. This stage is broken down into smaller steps as well, as the student moves toward actually being able to turn the vibrato on in first position without any external aids. At first we work to build up the vibrato movement, then we work to make the motion even and strong. This stage lasts the longest, as the student works to increase speed and response using various exercises.

The control stage is when I introduce several activities that are designed to show the student how to maintain control over the speed and use of the vibrato. Remember my previous blog posts about personality styles? I have noticed that a student's particular personality style may have a direct relation to issues of control. Once again, it will be important to know your student well and to identify the student's personality style for optimum teaching and learning.

The final stage is when I help the student incorporate the vibrato into the repertoire. I have specific pieces that I assign that have ideal places to begin the vibrato movement in the music, and later there are other pieces that I use to help the student build up the appropriate vibrato speed. We go back through the earlier Suzuki repertoire and identify good vibrato places in the student's easier songs. Then gradually the student learns to use the vibrato more frequently and for special effects.

In my next vibrato post, I will discuss my preparation steps in greater detail.

I welcome any of your suggestions and comments about how you teach vibrato, along with any special exercises or tricks you use.

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