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Vibrato Tips & Insights: The Shaker Egg (Part 2 of 4)

My vibrato sequence may have been a cake half-baked when I was first starting out, but I had one useful ingredient.

Yes. Eggs. Specifically, the shaker egg.

We’ve all tried this exercise with our students. But there is more than meets the eye.

I always thought the shaker egg (pill bottle, TicTac box) was about getting a steady rhythm. True enough. But many students can shake an egg pretty competently with approximately zero seconds of practice. I didn’t see a lot of benefit, so my vibrato sequence was egg-free for years.

Vibrato Articles

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: Upgrading the Shaker Egg (this article)

Part 3: Thumb Swings

Part 4: Wrist Reckoning

I recently brought back the egg. And made a discovery. It’s an awesome tool … which I didn’t realize the first time around, because no one ever showed me what to look for, or how those mechanics work when done correctly.

There are two fundamentally different ways to create an oscillation with the shaker egg. Unsurprisingly, the less efficient way is more instinctive for a majority of students.

Let’s take a brief tangent to weight lifting. If you were to do a biceps curl, you are working hard against gravity to raise the dumbbell. (That’s pretty obvious.) Less immediately obvious is that lowering the weight with control — rather than simply letting it fall — also uses the biceps. The lowering motion is called the “negative.”

Most students do the vibrato oscillation by engaging the opposing forearm muscles (flexors and extensors) in alternating fashion. Or at least, that’s what we think they’re doing. What’s hidden from view is that often their excellent control is coming from using both opposing muscle groups at the same time. It is like driving with your foot on the brake and the accelerator.

This is the difference between a loose, friction-less movement and one that, while well-controlled, appears stiffer and more effortful.

Which one is better? You guessed it. The effortful oscillation will never, ever gain enough automaticity to create a “concert artist” vibrato speed. The student may have the right movement, but their vibrato will be permanently stuck in second gear.

One aspect of releasing that extra muscular work relates to gravity and balance, as well as that ephemeral concept we call relaxation. There is also another secret ingredient which is soooo tiny you have to look very hard for it (and is not where you think it is). I encourage you to experiment with this on your own and see if you can identify that subtle aroma which gives every vibrato cake its effortless ease.

It is not so easy to explain vibrato techniques in a blog post (can you imagine actually learning it that way?), but I hope you will consider joining me for the next Book 2 course, in which we’ll go into full detail on all the steps to teaching vibrato. Here is a bit about both summer workshops (the second one is the vibrato one):

Book 1 Teacher Workshop: The Well-Rounded Twinkler. We’ll talk about ensuring great posture and bowhold, building aural literacy, tone, note-reading, child psychology, working with practice parents, and creating a delightful practicing dynamic.
Book 2 Teacher Workshop: Dynamic Movement, and Musical Expression. We’ll go super in depth on vibrato, about vibrato, bow choreography, dynamics, bow division, balance, efficiency, spiccato, and expressive movement (which turns out is actually very related to bow arm mechanics).