Allison Sparrow posted this video on the right way to do vibrato, as opposed to a wrong one she also demonstrated quite poorly.

What is the name of this "wrong" technique? Asking on reddit gave me few answers, but it seems to be a common trap students fall into on their way to learning vibrato.

At best, it is an imitation of the vibrato sound, but since it doesn't make it in any of the 3 standard ways in which vibrato is done, it isn't considered "vibrato", but the effect is still made.

What is the name of this technique?

  • Why would there be a name for something which is never to be done? – Carl Witthoft Aug 15 '16 at 11:25
  • I added the youtube link for you. It makes it easier to answer if the potential person does not have to go between different browser tabs when answering. Feel free to reverse the edit if you wish. – Neil Meyer Aug 15 '16 at 11:36
  • 3
    @CarlWitthoft Just wait till some avant garde composer decides this is exactly the sound that he/she wants to hear. Then it will have a name ;) – user19146 Aug 15 '16 at 16:11
  • Do some people actually do vibrato like this? >.< – user3932000 Jan 10 '17 at 5:48

Any time you change the length or the tension in a string, you'll change the pitch. The "wrong" method in the video involves releasing the contact point, letting the finger "float." This is grossly wrong whether or not you're trying to get a vibrato, since you lose an incredible amount of sonority and risk having high harmonics show up.
There's no reason to name this anything other than "one of a dozen wrong ways to produce a clean sound."

I'll note in passing that electric guitarists often bend notes by applying transverse force to the string, but again not releasing the pressure. I believe this is largely because the existence of frets makes a longitudinal vibratro rather difficult. (and then there's a whammy bar :-) ).


Just to restate what was already said in previous comments: this technique should be called transversal vibrato. It is actually the standard technique on many fretted string instruments, in particular steelstring guitar.

On fretless instruments, the preferred longitudinal vibrato is just the obvious way to go: it periodically alters the sounding length of the string (not possible on fretted instruments) and therefore the pitch, but doesn't much change the sound in any other way.

Transversal vibrato, on the other hand, does a whole bunch of things combined:

  1. It stretches the entire string, thereby changing its tension. This is what also affects the pitch. In fact, on fretted instruments, changing the tension is really the only way to modulate pitch. On classical guitar, longitudinal vibrato is the preferred technique, but here it actually works by changing the tension, not the free length.
  2. It rubs the string across the fretboard. Because that isn't perfectly smooth, this causes a little bit kind of a kind raspy sound. This is picked up by the string and can excite it, particularly in higher harmonics. In fact it's a bit comparable to the action of the bow hair on the string – not really relevant on violin where you have a proper bow to sustain notes, but this phenomenon is quite desired by guitar players, particularly in blues music.
  3. It alters the pressure down to the fretboard. This point is less relevant on fretted instruments because you have more space to build up enough pressure to keep the string firmly on the surface all the time; but in fretless instruments it can easily happen that the string doesn't touch the fretboard anymore. This has a quite strong and hard to predict influence on the string's response – at sul tasto / low bow pressure or in pizzicato is mostly dampens the string, giving a more delicate sound with little resonance. At higher bow pressure, it tends to force the string into high-frequency modes. If you do this deliberately with sul ponticello bowing, you can achieve quite expressive screaching sounds.

I personally use transversal vibrato on cello mainly for one purpose: to add vibrato to natural flageolett notes. Like on fretted instruments, changing the free length is not possible in natural harmonics, but you can alter the tension. The resulting vibrato can actually sound quite sweet and æthereal.


It's true. It doesn't have a name because it's not a thing. As a violin teacher, if someone did that I would stop them and say,"You're not doing vibrato correctly." I get what you're asking for, a name for the incorrect thing, but there is no name for it since it's simply being done incorrectly. Like, if you filled out the paperwork correctly, you are now registered to vote. If you don't fill it out correctly, there's no word for that except "you improperly registered to vote". The end result of this incorrect, unnamed action is that you can't vote. As in the case of vibrato. If you do it wrong, you won't get the right sound effect. As to your question of isn't it all the same because the effect is the same - the answer is no. The sound is not the same. When done in slow-motion the sound does seem similar because as the finger is pressing down the string it is bending it down; same on lifting it up (as part of that incorrect pulsing action). However, speed it up and you will at once see that the vibration of the string is lost, which is where all of the sound is found - in a constantly vibrating string. In order for a sound on the violin to remain clear sounding, the string must keep vibrating. If inhibited, by either a crooked bow, a sliding (drifting) bow or in this case, a sudden change from held-down finger to half held-down finger (which changes the vibration tremendously), the effect is a scratchy, unclear sound. Keep the finger down, or keep it floating on top as in harmonics and you are golden. Switch it too suddenly and you've gone and messed up your smooth vibration. Vibrato doesn't mess with the vibration of the string.

If a student forced me to call it something, I would call it a pulse, but I would hate to call it a name lest someone think it is a thing.

  • Just because it's wrong on violin doesn't mean it shouldn't have a name. Would you argue that the act of taking away stuff from other people shouldn't have a name, like, theft, just because it's wrong? It's even more nuanced here, because at least on steelstring guitar this vibrato technique definitely makes some sense. And as already mentioned it does have a name: transversal vibrato (as opposed to the correct longitudinal vibrato). – leftaroundabout Sep 26 '16 at 21:04
  • And FWIW, I think it can even make sense on bowed string instruments occasionally, though obviously you shouldn't use it as the default technique. But transversal vibrato can be used as a special effect, precisely because it has strange influences on the sound. In particular, it can be combined with sul ponticello to achieve a screaching tremulant sound with more overtones than fundamental. In fact you can use it to vibrate flageolett tones! – leftaroundabout Sep 26 '16 at 21:09

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