I have had exactly one (1) student who just took to vibrato naturally, right off the bat. For everyone else, myself included, the process leans towards a months-long series of conceptual introductions, tweaks, and assessments. I teach the rotation method, albeit one that has some flexibility if students don’t respond well to it. This is in contrast to the skidding method, which I tended not to present because I felt like it missed an important part of the end product. What I realize, though, is that it does make a key aspect of vibrato’s genesis very clear: the whole thing starts deep in the forearm. With the rotation method, you can get folks starting or finishing the movement with the wrist; like you’re turning a door knob. No matter which school you choose, the thing we all agree on is that the arm, wrist, and finger move as a unit: there can be no twist, ever.

Here’s Natalie Spehar doing a perfect job of illustrating the benefits of the skid. She’s a phenomenal cellist and gifted instructor, and right now she’s doing a series of short videos on technical chops on Instagram. (Sorry it’s a link and not an embed. Facebook decided to make it harder still to enjoy the internet and won’t allow WP to embed Instagram videos any more) Even if you’re not into the skidding method, you can’t deny how even, free, and beautiful her vibrato is. In fact, I frequently point my students to her videos to showcase what a confident, un-fussy, efficient left hand looks like.

After 36 years of playing and 25 years of teaching, I’m realizing that most thoughtful instructors are after the same things. We may use different language to get there, but there are truly very few radical differences in desired final technical outcomes. As an instructor, I promise I will keep my mind open, and will not teach in a particular way simply because it was how or what I was taught. As a student, the best thing you can do is see the advice of differing teachers as an AND proposition, not an OR.

Looking back on how I was taught, I remember Cathy having me skid up and down the strings with my fingers hooked on the underside of the strings. This taught me to be loose and free. Then it altered to allow that skid to narrow such that it caused the arm to rotate once the finger was planted on the instrument. Moving forward, I think I might introduce both ideas at the same time. In terms of the path to a finished vibrato, I imagine a railroad being built from opposite sides meeting in the middle. Why just teach from the east or the west? Both concepts are rooted in the nuts and bolts of the technique, and if I can shave a week or three off of the learning curve by exposing a student to multiple ideas, that’s a meaningful gift to an advancing cellist.

Here are a few more gorgeous vibrato hands. Sure, there are differences. The important thing to chase after are the similarities. That is what we must imitate.

haha, just realizing that I have posted two Natalies and one Natalia 😂

My friend Blake, during his undergrad days studying with Hans Jensen. Very different looking hand, but what does it have in common with the other videos? All of the important stuff. There is no doubt as to how relaxed his hands are, and how much he has practiced.

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