“A regular, pulsating change of pitch used to add expression to vocal and instrumental music”
“A slight rapid fluctuation in pitch of a note”
Using vibrato on a stringed instrument is a way to mimic the human voice – it adds character and depth. There are evidently all sorts of politics surrounding it: the extent to which it should be used, how long it has been widely practised etc. I don’t have the time, space or knowledge to go into it but there’s a bit more detail on the debate here.
As for the practicalities, I’ve found it to be a lot harder to do than it sounds. And, if the countless YouTube vibrato tutorials are anything to go by, I’m not alone.
I still feel quite dependent on my left hand to hold the instrument at the neck (rather than having it safely gripped between my chin and shoulder) so I have trouble relaxing my left hand enough to roll my finger back and forth as required. Inevitably, the only way to get any better is to do regular vibrato exercises. They sound revolting but, by all accounts, work.
For me, there’s also a psychological aspect to it. As I said before there’s something a bit ‘unEnglish’ about vibrato, like pronouncing correctly a foreign word that’s now widely used in English: a proper French ‘r’ for your Tesco croissants, the gutteral ‘j’ for your extra jalapeno from Dominos. Vibrato a feels a bit show-offy, “look-at-me, look at me I’m not just playing the notes, I’m doing a bit of vibraaaato”. It’s all very well for real musicians but for the rest of us is it not just a little bit pretentious? (The answer is of course no.) And then there’s the fear that you could have a go, not quite manage it and then feel silly for trying. But that’s true of more or less everything.