Vibrato

Apr 13, 2016

Hi…Welcome to my vlog! Today I thought I would talk a little bit about vibrato…A lot of times when I break down tunes, when I play real slow, a lot of y’all will see me when I’m holding a long note especially…do that little shake with my hand. And that’s what vibrato is, it basically gives a note some kind of flux or shakiness. It makes the note interesting is what it does. If you have a long note that’s going to be hanging out for a while, give it something. Some people can even do interesting tones with their bow and make it sound kind of cool, kind of edgy or harmonic. Vibrato’s pretty interesting. It’s been used a long time and it’s been used by a lot of fiddle players…Cajun fiddle players. I’ve heard Dennis McGee use it, Wade Fruge, Canray, Dewey Balfa, and I find if I do use it I tend to use it in waltzes. The most interesting fiddle players that we have or had in Cajun music was Wayne Perry and he did this really fast vibrato that was kind of cool. If you go online listen to the Alan Lomax recordings or go on YouTube and check out Wayne Perry and listen to his vibrato…it’s pretty cool.

Why don’t I just play something? Maybe something real standard and I’ll show you what vibrato is! I’m going to play something, it’s not really a Cajun tune but it’s a well known fiddle tune or folk tune; it’s Amazing Grace and it goes like this…[2:07]

I find a tune like that, the vibrato really gives it life. You can play the tune straight…but when you start to add that vibrato…it just gives it so much emotion, you know? And I think it comes from the human voice. I think that’s what the violin was invented to sound like: the human voice. So let’s just talk a little bit about how to do it. And then, why not…let’s do Amazing Grace because everybody loves that tune. And then I’ll play you a Cajun waltz that you can use it on also.

So let’s just talk a little bit about how to get this effect. Basically, if you take your fiddle and hold it like a ukulele or a guitar take just your first finger and put it where the first finger goes on the low G string. And we’re going to start with the low string because it’s actually a little bit easier because it vibrates slower. It’s a little bit easier, I find, to learn vibrato on the lower pitched strings than the higher pitched strings. Okay, so we are going to put our first finger on the low G string.

Now, let’s understand just how the left hand works. Basically what you’re doing is when you put the tip of your finger, and you want to make sure you use the very tip of your finger you’re gonna just rock it like this [4:52]. So I’m not sliding it and although you see that hand moving you see a lot of people push down hard but they shake their hand…and you can do that, too…it would probably work. But think of it like this, I think this is a good way to think about vibrato: when you put the fingertip down, you’re rocking the fingertip back and forth. So you’re kind of like a rocking chair on the floor. Think about how a rocking chair rocks on a floor and that’s kind of what the tip of your finger is going to do on the string. But be very careful not to slide it around. You want to keep the pitch.

So give this a try: with my right hand I’m just going to use my thumb, I’m going to pluck the G string, the low string, and then I’m going to rock that finger. So you might want to practice just doing this first, now let’s pluck the string…kinda sounds weird…like a whale…okay, now let’s get a little bit faster with the left hand… To do this and to do it right you gotta be pretty comfortable with the violin or the fiddle. So if you’re just starting out, if you’ve only been playing for 4 months or maybe even a year this might be totally uncomfortable, and you might not get it.

So that’s another thing I want to put out there: Vibrato is definitely a technique that is used by people who have at least been playing for a couple of years. You have to be really really comfortable with your left hand so you have to feel really comfortable when you put your fingers on the strings. So we are going to try that again…here we go…[6:42] Now let’s move to the 2nd finger, still on the G string…third finger…okay, now let’s try it with the bow.

So what we’re going to do, we’re just going to do some long bowings on each finger but we’re going to try the vibrato. Okay, so here we go. Here’s the first finger on the G…[7:05]…second finger…third finger… My advice is to just do what feels right. Everybody’s got their own style of vibrato, this is not violin or classical music; we’re talking about folk music so it doesn’t have to look pretty. If you hear it, if it feels good, go with it.

So we’re going to do the next string. We’re going to do the D string…second finger…third finger…then first finger on the A; this gets a little tougher as you get to the higher pitched strings…then the E string, the highest string…you almost have to shake your hand more because the string is vibrating so fast already. To give it a good effect you almost have to shake your hand more so feel free to shake your hand…second finger…third finger… Let’s take the first phrase of Amazing Grace and we’re going to pick certain notes in there to do vibrato. And of, course they’ll be the long notes.

I tell you what? Let’s do it in the key of D. It’ll be a little bit easier…actually, we’re going do it in the key of F because we are tuned down for Cajun tuning… Let me just play the first phrase…[8:53]…So let’s give the vibrato to the second note, third finger on the D string…then we go to the first finger on the A…third on the D…and then back to the first finger on the A; let’s give that some vibrato…then let’s keep going. Open A…third on the D, let’s give that some vibrato…first on the D…now we have an open D right there. You can give that note vibrato but it would be the fourth finger on the low G string.

For fiddlers, we don’t really do that, single strings like that. If you were studying violin you would definitely want to learn that. I just give it an open D, no vibrato at all…Let’s play what we have so far [10:00]… Let’s go to the next part it does the same thing…so we are doing those same notes vibrato… Then we go to this next part…that last note is held twice as long as those other vibrato notes so that’s one you definitely want to give some vibrato.

The rest?…you can give a little slide…another long open D…a little slide on this first finger on the A is nice…there’s a slide and vibrato and then the very last note you’ll want to give some vibrato…I’ll play the whole thing…[11:25]

So it really gives a nice emotion but it’s tricky. I started out on the cello when I was about 12 and when I was 14 I moved to violin and the first thing I did to get vibrato was to hold the fiddle like a cello…and then I did this…oh, I understand now… Because then it made sense to me. When it clicks for you, you’ll get it. But just try. Don’t be afraid of it. It might sound goofy at first. It might even affect your bowing so you might get this crazy sound cause it’s a new thing that you’re doing, adding in, but it’s really nice.

So I‘ll show you. I’m going to play you a Cajun tune, a waltz because that’s where I usually where I tend to use it. Reels and two-steps? The notes move so fast it’s hard to give them vibrato unless it’s the end of a tune and you want to decorate one little note. So this is a song I learned from Octa Clark, La Valse du Soleil Couche…[13:41]

So even those last notes of a tune you’re holding out, just to finish the tune, you can give that vibrato and it sounds really nice. So that’s just a quick little demonstration of how I like to talk about vibrato and how I like to use it. Try it out. Like I said, the first exercise I showed you will help. There’s a lot of little videos on YouTube where you can find out about vibrato. It doesn’t matter if it’s being taught by violinist or a fiddler. If you’re a fiddler just the rules are a lot looser. Just do what feels right, do what feels comfortable. Definitely keeping that wrist straight, which is more of a violin technique rather than doing this [16:05]…I find that vibrato is a lot easier if you keep that wrist straight to shake.

Thank you so much for joining me today. I hope that was some interesting information I shared with you about vibrato and let’s stay in touch; let me know what you think! Keep fiddling and stay inspired.

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