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So I've been playing the violin for sometime, and I can play pretty well. But when I try vibrato, I simply cannot get it. I've been trying for ages now, and I've noticed that when violinists use vibrato, they move so that the finger tip slightly bends back and forth so that the final digit oscillates between an obtuse angle and an acute angle.

However, my fingers look like this:

enter image description here So I can't move my finger in that motion, because my fingernails get in the way. Is there any other way to use vibrato that doesn't ultimately involve moving the fingernail in this particular motion?

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    There is nothing wrong with your hand as it appears in the image. With proper instruction, I expect you will be able to perform vibrato just fine on the violin. – amalgamate Feb 10 '15 at 16:35
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    This link may help you, as it shows how to properly do vibrato in very slow motion and how the finger should move. youtube.com/watch?v=s8OT7EFKE78 – tarun Feb 10 '15 at 20:05
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Long fingernails would present a problem to violinists, since they would interfere with the correct finger posture and prevent the finger-tip pressing the string to the finger-board, but these problems would show up even without vibrato. And your fingernails do not look too long.

My advice would be

  1. to see a teacher and
  2. to just keep trying.

Try slow scales in first position with each note given a slow and even vibrato. You have not needed to move your violin arm in this way before so expect it to take a long time to work, and another long time to get the required movement into your muscle memory!

I also like the exercise described in t'other Tim's answer but where he says "move the whole of your hand sideways" do remember that violin vibrato comes from the forearm too and not just the hand.

One last thing to note is that vibrato is easiest on the third finger and is especially difficult on the fourth (for me at least) so do not expect progress to be even across your hand.

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I'm not exactly sure what action you're making, but the proper vibrato action is similar to that used on guitars - classical, rather than electric.Although the recognised classical vib. action works on electric, too.

Making a claw shape, knuckles up, rest your fingertips on a hard surface - a table, maybe.Lift up three, leaving one tip on the table.Middle or ring is good for the time being. Now gently move the whole of your hand sideways 2 or 3 cms, without sliding the finger that's on the table. The flesh will oscillate. Some people prefer, instead of keeping the knuckles parallel to the table, to rock the hand from side to side, so that the thumb, then the little finger, go closer to the table. This usually produces a wider vib.

Transfer that action to the violin string. The nails shouldn't get in the way - yours are not too long.

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    Violinists do not do vibrato like guitarists. They rock or roll their finger to change the length of the string. Guitarists pull and push on the string or bend the string. Guitarists can not change the length of the string because of having frets. – amalgamate Feb 10 '15 at 16:32
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    dictionary.reference.com/browse/vibrato Most definitions for vibrato state the change of pitch. Two notable exceptions are Voice and the vibrato electronic effect such as that on old fender amps. – amalgamate Feb 10 '15 at 17:24
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    I did, the action is actually different. – amalgamate Feb 10 '15 at 17:39
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    @amalgamate - as a matter of interest, I tried the 'classical vibrato' with an electric, plugged into a tuner. The pitch changed. Not a lot, but it changed. – Tim Feb 11 '15 at 15:45
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    @amalgamate - Tim is right here, both types are used by guitarists. The cross-fretboard bend gives dramatic pitch changes, and the lengthwise bend is a much more subtle effect. I use both a lot. – Doktor Mayhem Feb 11 '15 at 16:11
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I'm not entirely sure I understand your problem, your fingernails look fine to me. In my experience with vibrato, when you use a wrist motion, your finger will oscilate more than it would with a forearm motion. Try to make sure you never go higher than the pitch you intend - only lower. I don't know if I expressed myself clearly, it's one of those things that are very easy to explain when you can also exemplify on the side. Hope it helped somewhat though. Other than that, just keep trying. I'm quite sure there is nothing wrong with your fingernails, I have many classmates at the Conservatory who have even longer nails and they don't seem to struggle with vibrato. Good luck!

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