Teaching Vibrato to Beginning Cellists

I suggest thinking of cello vibrato as coming from the shoulder, with the upper arm rotating in the shoulder joint.

Sometimes the question comes up, "When should I begin teaching vibrato to a beginning student". Immediately! At least in the form of Action Studies. After the student has practiced the Action Studies and feels comfortable with them, her or she can begin the following sequence. Then, have the student implement vibrato gradually into playing, starting with long notes and always review the actions studies and the following sequence. Vibrato shouldn't be used regularly in playing until the intonation is at least fair.

This sequence is what I use to teach vibrato to beginning cellists and also more advanced players as a reminder;

  1. Action Study: Robot Wave (Active Motion: Upper Arm; Pivot Joint: Shoulder). Hold your left arm like a right turn signal (elbow not too high!) Wave using your entire forearm with the upper arm "swiveling" in the shoulder. Resultantly, as the forearm points down, the upper arm points up in the opposite direction.
  2. When the student feels comfortable with the robot wave have student gradually bend the elbow keeping the same motion in the upper arm.
  3. When the student feels comfortable with the bent elbow, have the student polish the fingerboard between the two middle strings with the 2nd finger. Do not push down on a string yet. We want to keep the arm as loose as possible.
  4. Action Study: Forearm Roll. Left Hand and Arm (Active Motions: Upper Arm and Forearm; Pivot Joints: Shoulder and Elbow). This is to teach the necessary motions for vibrato. Keep the arm working as an entire unit. Plant 2nd finger on the fingerboard. Slowly pronate and supinate entire forearm while pivoting on 2nd finger. Make sure the upper arm is swiveling in the shoulder joint. If the arm is working as a unit, the upper arm will roll in the opposite direction of the hand.
  5. When the student is comfortable with placing the finger between the middle strings and rolling the forearm (motion from shoulder), have the student bow an open C string at the same time. This allows the student to use the bow arm while practicing vibrato without having to push down a vibrating string, which has even more upward force than a non-vibrating string. Don't be surprised if the vibrato stops working when the bow arm is used. If this happens go back and keep working on the previous steps and continue to try to add the bow arm. It will work eventually!
  6. When the student is comfortable with vibrating with the open C string, have the student try vibrating on an F on the D string while bowing an open C sting at the same time. Now the student can practice pushing a non-vibrating string down while bowing.
  7. When the student is comfortable with vibrating an F on the D string while bowing the open C string, have the student trying bowing the D string while vibrating the F 2nd finger. Final step! I suggest going through the steps on a regular basis as a warm up to help with muscle memory.
  8. Remember momentum!

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