As a cellist, one expressive tool you can use is vibrato. To develop vibrato, you must first understand the cello technique with precision. The cello vibrato is like the wavering pitch of the human voice as it moves up and down.
Like the vibrato of the human voice, the cello vibrato is very personal. You can make it fast and narrow, or wide and slow. Of course, you can listen to how expert cellists render their vibrato and figure out which vibrato style you would like to emulate.
The Basics and Fundamentals of Developing Your Cello Vibrato
To develop excellent vibrato, you need to establish smooth coordination of motions:
- You need to develop the proper rotation of your upper arm relative to the shoulder socket.
- You need to master the opening and closing at the elbow of your forearm.
- You need to develop a smooth rotation of your hand and forearm in pronate and supine motions.
Furthermore, you need to develop that passive motion in your fingers’ knuckles. Take note of the order of movements, starting from the shoulder, going down to your fingers. You should follow such an order when trying to learn how to do vibrato with the cello.
The aim of practicing each motion is to achieve well-coordinated motions as these motions should be second nature to you. Always remember that when they become second nature to you, they become natural to you.
4 Most Useful Cello Vibrato Exercises
Many teachers think that students should never be taught vibrato until their left hand has become well acquainted with the first position and until they have secured the intonation. Nevertheless, you can teach vibrato immediately in the training if you prefer to teach your students quickly. To develop that fluid motion, you can check out the following three useful cello vibrato exercises:
1) Practice the Forearm Roll
To engage in this exercise, you need to keep your arm functioning as a single unit. So, you need to plant your second finger on the cello’s fingerboard. With slow-motion, pronate and supinate your whole forearm while you pivot your second finger. Ensure that your upper arm is pivoting at the shoulder joint. Your upper arm must smoothly roll in the opposite direction of your hand.
Direct your students to remove their thumbs off the cello neck’s back and hold the thumb out, away from their hands. This will help coordinate the forearm’s pronating motion to the upper arm’s swiveling motion.
As the students get comfortable in positioning their fingers between the middle strings while rolling their forearm with the rotating upper arm, you can ask them to do the open C string simultaneously.
In doing so, the students can use the bow arm while they practice vibrato without pushing down hard on the vibrating string. This has more upward force as compared to a non-vibrating string.
When you use your bow arm, the vibrato may stop working. If something like this happens, you can redo the previous steps while adding the bow arm. Soon after, you will get the hang of it.
2) Try the Robot Wave
To do this exercise, you can hold the left arm as if you will make a right turn signal, but do not keep your elbow too high. Then, practice waving your entire forearm with your upper arm while it swivels at the shoulder socket.
Quicken this movement and make it narrower. As you dip your forearm down, let your upper arm points upward toward the opposite direction. Once you feel comfortable doing this robot wave, then bend your elbow slowly and keep the upper arm swiveling motion.
Once you become comfortable with your bent elbow, you can do the fingerboard’s polishing movement using your second finger right between the middle two strings. Refrain from pushing down on the strings. And make sure that your arm is at its most relaxed position.
3) Crazy Vibrato Practice
Cellist Donakowski had this idea of letting students practice the crazy vibrato. You can do this crazy vibrato by pushing the string down and doing a glissando while doing long bows on the string. Glissando is the quick series of descending and ascending notes on your musical scale.
You can also choose a very comfortable scale to you. Play with the long whole notes as you use full blows. Keep a consistent slow bow movement and speed on every note.
Start with the note using very slow and slight vibrato pumps. Then, speed up the vibrato as you continue the note. Afterward, let your speed gradually slow down, transitioning to a slow and relaxed vibrato and straight tone.
4) Pitch and Follow-through
Another exercise you can do to develop that brilliant vibrato is the pitch and follow-through. It uses a throw and follow-through movement, just like pitching a baseball and following through with your hand. You can begin with your second finger on the F natural. Then, throw up your hand to the fourth position so that your 2nd finger falls on the Bb.
Your left elbow should initiate this flexible shift. Your elbow moves like you are painting a small rainbow with the movement from back to front. Then, your hand and forearm follow the arc. This exercise is also called “rainbow shift.”
Afterward, you let your throw follow through by letting your hand relax as it sinks back to where it started to the F natural position. Note that both steps should be wrought in one sweeping motion. Refrain from pausing. Moreover, you should maintain the general angle throughout the exercise and avoid turnover.
Then, once you have gotten the correct motion and fluidity, you can speed up the exercise while maintaining the perfect fourth interval from F natural to Bb. Do it in a relaxed way and as quickly as you can. It may take time to master, but you will eventually master it.
Once you got the right mix of relaxation, speed, and consistent intervals, you can shorten the intervals. You can start with the second finger of the F natural; then, move to the second finger of the A natural using the same arm motion while gaining speed and accurate intonation.
Also, try going from F natural to G natural. Then, from F natural to F#, which entails a half step. You can then pretend that your second finger is glued to the F natural as if you are stuck to just one pitch. Give it the needed oomph and speed!
Frequently Asked Questions
Aside from knowing the abovementioned exercises that you can use to develop that brilliant vibrato, you will benefit much from reading the following most frequently asked questions (FAQs) about cello vibrato:
Should Cello Be Positioned, So Left Elbow Doesn’t Feel Tight?
You will find it hard to do the vibrato action freely if you fold your arm up at a very sharp angle making your forearm sport a cramped position against your upper arm. So, you should let your left elbow float as if it is floating on water.
Should You Maintain the Power Line Between the Back & Through of Your Arm & Hand Completely Unobstructed & Free?
If the power or weight doesn’t channel to the finger pad causing the string to sink quickly onto the fingerboard, you will feel insecure when you shake your hand for the vibrato. In such a case, your fingers will begin to push and grab. These actions, however, are not helpful, for they tighten up your finger joints.
Remember that you will need more suction with larger motion, restricting the flow of energy from your back. As much as possible, the energy flow from your back should be unrestricted.
Why Do I Feel That Sticky Suction-like Feeling Between the Fingerboard & My Skin?
You will have two essential touches when it comes to playing the cello. One is tapping-like touch with your fingers, and the other is the suction-like feeling as if you have a suction cup on your finger. When you play fast passages, you tend to tap and feel that the fingerboard is wrought in wood.
It is crucial too to develop that suction-cup feeling as you develop that tapping-like feeling. This suction-like feeling is somewhat like a sticky and clingy feeling on your fingers. From this feeling, your vibrato will emanate well.
Should I Position the Left-Hand S That My Knuckle’s Base Forms a Parallel Line to the Strings?
This parallel position is necessary because the hand’s shaking or vibration follows the imaginary line formed by the knuckle’s base. If you can’t sport this parallel position with the fingerboard, you will only waste your movement and restrict the vibrato you intend to have in the fourth finger.
As a music teacher, you may find the right time for teaching your students the vibrato a bit confusing. Yet, there are cues as to when to introduce vibrato to your students. For example, you can introduce vibrato when your students have already developed the proper sitting position. Furthermore, you can teach it if their left-hand fingers are already strong enough to hold down the string. Besides, you can teach them to play vibrato once they can play the 1st and 4th positions.
Always bear in mind that vibrato should not be used to hide your inability to produce a good tone, nor should it hide bad intonation. Lastly, if you notice that your students are already capable of smooth transition between positions, you can then introduce them to vibrato.