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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Vibrato: Pig Nose and Wibble Wobbles

In previous posts I have introduced the vibrato concept. I have offered my suggestions for preparing the student to begin learning vibrato. I have discussed what vibrato is and how I approach the subject with my students, along with some beginning exercises to strengthen the student’s vibrato muscles and movement. This is the point at which I introduce the “pig nose” and “wibble wobble” vibrato exercises.

I have taught for many years and observed many teachers instructing in lessons and master classes. I am like a sponge when it comes to absorbing new ideas to teach familiar concepts. I am never content to sit easy with how I teach something. The minute I find myself complacent about my teaching method for a particular skill is the day before I meet the one student who cannot understand how to do that skill with my method. This is the point at which I become a real teacher, when I am faced with a problem and I do not have the answer. This is the point when I discover just how good a teacher I can be.

I have picked up many new ideas from other teachers. Unfortunately, I do not recall all the teachers that I got my ideas from. I know that I rely on vibrato ideas I have picked up from Teaching from the Balance Point by Ed Kreitman, but I have also picked up ideas from Enid Cleary and other teachers whose names I do not recall. Still in other instances, I have meshed many ideas from other sources together into my own style of doing things. This sort of blend is truly my own uniqueness, as is the case with other teachers.

If I introduce an idea, and you recognize yourself as the source of the idea, please feel free to add a comment and take credit. I would be happy to thank you for planting these seeds in my teaching garden.

Pig Nose

The “pig nose” is nothing more than two dots drawn on the ring finger. The dots resemble a pig’s nose. Here is what I mean:

I put a short piece of colored tape under the A and E strings where the 6th position begins (“G” on the A String, “D” on the E string). For purposes of this exercise, the student will be practicing this vibrato exercise on the A string.
  • The E string presents too many temptations for the student to worry about. I want the student set up for the optimum execution of the exercise and not also worrying about whether the left hand is high enough for the E string, how funny it feels to hold the hand up on the E string, and so forth.
  • The A string allows the student to relax a bit more as compared to lower strings. The left hand is already up, and there is less danger of the hand slipping down under the fingerboard too much.

I ask the student to rest the wrist and heel of the left hand against the shoulder of the violin. I instruct the student to let the wrist “rest” there and touch against violin throughout the entire exercise. This resting wrist also allows the student to relax.

Note that my language of instruction generally uses language that encourages rest or relaxation. Vibrato is difficult enough to execute without having to fight through tension as well. Students naturally “try” to vibrate and add tension and tightness to their muscles when they work to do vibrato. Vibrato will not work under these circumstances, so we need to guide the student into letting the tension go and letting the hand naturally relax into the vibrato movement.

I ask the student to place the ring finger “pig nose” on the A string on the color tape (this would be the 4th position note “G”). After checking that the student has the left hand at the correct height and the wrist resting against the instrument, I ask the student to let the hand fall backwards toward the scroll (and along the fingerboard) until the pig nose is revealed. Then the student lets the hand roll back into its starting position and squashing the pig nose.

I may have to revisit the discussion about how the finger does not participate in the active part of vibrato but is just the passive passenger along for the ride. Some students try to create the vibrato motion by using the fingertip. I have to guide the student to use the hand to pull and roll the finger on its tip.

Wibble Wobbles

Once the student has the pig nose motion going with the hand alone, we add the bow to it. At first a student might practice the pig nose vibrato exercise for a week or two. I find that the length of time on this exercise depends on the student. Younger students may work on the exercise for a few weeks. If a student seems to get it, then I add the bow to the exercise.

The purpose of the pig nose marking was to teach the student how much range of motion is necessary to produce the correct vibrato sound. Vibrato should oscillate pitch by a half-step interval. Therefore, in my pig nose exercise above, the student will perform the vibrato oscillation between G and F#. Now we add the bow to the mix and listen to see if the student is getting the half-step interval. If the student performs the pig nose exercise correctly, we will hear the half step.

Wibble wobbles should be performed at the metronome speed of 60. I have also shown students how to use the second hand of a clock to determine the speed of 60. Each wibble wobble should be performed per click.

I ask the student to start doing “Wibble Wobbles” and aim for four of them in a down-bow and four in an up-bow. Mr. Kreitman refers to this as one round. The student may take a week or two to get comfortable doing this. My goal is to have the student play 8 rounds of wibble wobbles.

  • Four is fairly easy to do but not enough to push the student to progress.
  • Six is a little more difficult but manageable. I tell students that six is just enough to learn how to do vibrato, but that it will take a while.
  • Eight is excruciating to a student! I tell students that eight is the magic number! Eight builds the muscle, the habit, and the ability. Vibrato will come quickly if we do eight.
What’s Next?

After the wibble wobble exercise, the next step is to build speed up naturally. The hand is still resting against the instrument, and the student still performs the exercise in 4th position. At this point I help the student to keep control of the vibrato motion while gaining careful speed.

First, we do our wibble wobbles, but we do only two rounds. Then we add six rounds of “strawberry blueberry” oscillations. This is a triplet rhythm that is faster than our wibble wobbles.

Second, once the student has mastered step one, we add another gear speed: we do 2 rounds of wibble wobbles, 2 rounds of strawberry blueberry oscillations, and 4 rounds of superduperwibblewobbles.


After the student is comfortable with the above exercises, I add additional exercises to maintain speed and control. I ask the student to perform the vibrato oscillation to a particular rhythmic figure. I use three main figures, and coincidentally these rhythmic variations coincide with Dr. Suzuki’s Twinkle Variations:
  • Mississippi Hot dog (Variation A)
  • Ice Cream sh! Cone (Variation B)
  • Cat Kitty Cat Kitty (Variation C)
  • Kitty Cat Kitty Cat (reverse of Variation C)
Note the student has already worked on the rhythms of variations D and E.

Great, you think, my students can now perform the vibrato exercises, but how do I teach them to do vibrato in first position?

In a future post, I will talk about how to bring vibrato down into the lower positions away from the shoulder of the violin and how to incorporate it into the repertoire.

For now, happy teaching!

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