Listening to Great Music to Improving Intonation. What Pieces Do You Most Recommend

August 17, 2017, 6:31 AM · Hi, I am new to violin and working on intonation. I’ve read many of the past forum posts on improving intonation and a common theme is that one must hear the note in your mind before you play in order to play more in tune. This sounds very right, but since I’ve grown up hearing mostly equal temperament that is what I hear in my head. I’d like to train my mind to hear more in tune than equal temperament and my ears to be able to discern smaller differences between pitches than I currently can.

So how do I get that good intonation sound into my head? Several folks on past posts have suggested to listen to good violin music. Which I think is a great idea.

What particular pieces would folks recommend listening to for the distinct purpose of improving pitch and thus developing better intonation?
For example, someone mentioned Mozart tonal music. Which Mozart works are tonal music?
How about Bach, or 20th century classical music. Any particular pieces that work especially well for improving intonation?

I greatly appreciate the help. Thank you.

Replies (17)

August 17, 2017, 7:17 AM · "Tonal" classical music is anything up to 1900, and many things since.
To nourish your ear with pure intonations, I should choose music with an limpid, uncongested texture: Vivaldi rather than Bach, Mozart rather than Beethoven, Schubert rather than Brahms.
August 17, 2017, 7:28 AM · Get a recording of Heifetz playing scales ...
Edited: August 17, 2017, 7:40 AM · the Ebene quartet's recording of Mozart is uncannily in-tune with regards to pure intervals.

That said, I would also try to listen to the pieces that you're working on as much as possible, as well as just classical music in general. Most professional recordings are more or less in tune, and the more you listen, even if the intonation isn't perfect, the more you'll become attuned to picking up differences.

Edited: August 17, 2017, 8:36 AM · If you happen to use Suzuki books, buy the CD recordings that accompany them and repeatedly listen to them everywhere. The temperament distinction is mostly irrelevant for a new violinist. What's important is how to teach your brain such that you can connect what you hear on CD and what you produce on violin. The "Keep it simple!" principle works here.
August 17, 2017, 9:21 AM · I am a returner to violin and now have over a year back at it. I just started taken lesson with a teacher, again. In my younger years I had 10 years of private lesson, youth orchestra, and community orchestra experience.

Anyway, at first I couldn't play two notes in a row in tune. I found that Intonia (an intonation app) to be very helpful. I would do scales while observing my pitch and keep it running while I was playing with it just visible in the corner of my eye. I could tell over a period of time that I was gradually improving. It may be worth looking into. I would certainly welcome others opinions on Intonia. You may also want to play scales playing the neighboring string at the same time. I believe this really gives a clear indication of being in or out of tune.

August 17, 2017, 10:19 AM · I think we should listen to plenty of music, and I find that there is a little bit of acceptable variation for myself on what I consider in tune. With that said, I am a little dubious about the idea that you could improve your intonation appreciably by listening to recordings, unless those recordings are your own.

If you really want to do it, a teacher will be your best coach, but the work really happens at the violin. First, there is learning to tune your violin properly, in pure fifths (although, it looks like this is a more controversial idea than I could have imagined). Since you have some theory background, you then play scales, and sharpen your ear, and focus on playing 4ths, 5ths and 8ves purely, and making sure that all g,d,a,e notes are in tune with your strings, and this gives you a lot of the framework for placing the other notes in your scales. Then you get into scales with no open strings, and you are relying a bit more on your inner sense to hear the whole scale.

I think that most Simon Fischer is a bit fussy for my tastes, but he explains tuning your scales in a pretty systematic way (in his Scales book). As Timothy explained above, playing with a drone can be really good. I have never used a tuner, but am a little skeptical about "outsourcing" your intonation to something that I'm not sure is building your hearing up, but there may be good reasons to use them.

Can't go wrong with some Szeryng!

Edited: August 17, 2017, 10:32 AM · Just listening to professional recordings is good enough, especially because some of intonation is a matter of taste and deciding when to be harmonic vs melodic and you need to hear the ranges of the possible.

Combine that with lots of scale practice and Bach practice so you can develop your own taste.

Simon Fischer's scale book has a whole progression of exercises that help you build up your intonation, which is much more effective than just playing the scale over and over without the progression. So, besides listening to music, and since you're a beginner and Bach is several years out, I would recommend getting Simon Fischer's _Scales_.

And Christian is right, practicing scales and arpeggios with a drone is very helpful--I do it about every other day to make sure I'm not drifting to far when I practice without the drone.

And Szerying is always great, you should listen to him regardless=)

August 17, 2017, 10:44 AM · Listening to professional recordings of great classical music is a good practice and enjoyable experience in general, but I don't think it is the best strategy to improve your sense of intonation, especially for a beginner. Besides, A is not tuned to the standard 440 Hz in many violin + orchestra pieces and this can throw off some people.
Edited: August 17, 2017, 10:55 AM · I usually have students practice very slowly with "Cello Drones" (find them on youtube) to increase their sense of intonation. You can do this with scales or pieces; choose the drone that matches the key you're playing in (e.g. C for C Major or G for G Minor, etc...). Each note should be adjusted until it makes a perfect harmony with the drone. Take multiple bows if necessary, but don't leave a note until it sounds 100% correct!

EDIT: please make sure the violin itself is in tune (440hz) before practicing with drones.

Edited: August 17, 2017, 4:35 PM · Not great music, but recommend Jamey Aebersold's Ear Training book & discs.
August 17, 2017, 9:00 PM · I think simple 1-2 octave scales would help intonation. I'd practice them with a tuner. There are some easy etude books out there as well.
August 17, 2017, 9:12 PM · I was going to recommend "cello drone" apps, but Erik got there first. And though it's difficult when you're a beginner, try playing double stops slowly, and learn by doing to hear when the notes are in harmony with each other.
Edited: August 18, 2017, 4:22 AM · I do not recommend trying to play double stops until you have secured your left hand at least up to third position. You can generate a lot of strain in your hand and wrist. I do think 1-2 octave scales are a good idea, keep them slow for now.

You asked for particular pieces. The violin "rings" more in some keys than others, so the Mozart Concertos 3,4,5 are good. Bach is always good especially the E major partita and the D-minor and B-minor Sarabandes. And listening to slower, romantic salon pieces is good because your ear can keep up. If you can have the music in your lap while you are listening then you'll improve not only your listening but also your reading.

Especially, pay attention to when a top pro plays any notes that you think sound a little high or a little low, or just "off" in any way. That's usually a place where your ear needs to be recalibrated.

August 18, 2017, 6:24 AM · A beginner playing double stops for intonation practice? Quite frankly it does not make sense to me.
August 18, 2017, 11:53 PM · Yeah a beginner shouldn't touch double stops unless they want blinding pain and weird noise.

Focus on one melody music.

For intonation practice. Listen to pieces while reading the sheet music. It'll help getting the feel of the note.
Sheet music free on imslp and enscorser.


Here's what I recommend to improve listening.

Kreisler liebeslied
Simple refreshing piece
Introduction and rondo capprioso
Mostly one line very happy. More higher register.


There's a perfect pitch video on YouTube. All pitches in the exact hertz. It'll feel weird at first but it's interesting.


You have to feel the intervals most importantly and be able to recognize them.
From unison to tenths to god bless 11th in Stravinsky

Tell ne what you think. I'll reply with more once I'm settled from traveling. Good luck

August 18, 2017, 11:53 PM · Yeah a beginner shouldn't touch double stops unless they want blinding pain and weird noise.

Focus on one melody music.

For intonation practice. Listen to pieces while reading the sheet music. It'll help getting the feel of the note.
Sheet music free on imslp and enscorser.


Here's what I recommend to improve listening.

Kreisler liebeslied
Simple refreshing piece
Introduction and rondo capprioso
Mostly one line very happy. More higher register.


There's a perfect pitch video on YouTube. All pitches in the exact hertz. It'll feel weird at first but it's interesting.


You have to feel the intervals most importantly and be able to recognize them.
From unison to tenths to god bless 11th in Stravinsky

Tell ne what you think. I'll reply with more once I'm settled from traveling. Good luck

Edited: September 2, 2017, 7:42 PM · Hello and thank all of you for taking time to respond. Music is always in my head and usually playing in our house - but up till now it has ranged from the dissonant harmonies of Balkan singing, to Lester Young, Coltrane or some Dr. John or Buddy Guy. Considering my musical environment it is funny that I am fascinated by the sound of the violin :) But of course there is my secret love affair with Opera.

Adrian,
Thank you for your comment, I am starting to build my classic violin collection. i’m not fond of Mozart but have Vivaldi (who i have always loved almost as much as Bach) and just purchased some Schubert.

Peter,
I could not find a recording of Heifetz playing scales but I did find his Masterclass on Youtube, fascinating. I also have ordered the newer digital remaster of the Heiftz collection, still waiting for it to arrive.

irene,
I glad to here that listening to the pieces I am working on and those I am about to work on is good for intonation. I guess that should be self evident but as a beginner all this is pretty new.

Sung,
Teaching the brain to connect what I hear to what I produce on the violin. Yes indeed.

Timothy,
I looked at the intone website - interesting. Particularly because it has the potential for Pythagorean and Just tuning. Thanks for the info.
i am right now looking for ways to improve my intonation while off the violin but am always open to other things. I have learned so much that way by lurking on this website.

Christian and Jason,
Great advice on ways to concentrate on intonation at the instrument. I do listen for ring notes (the harmonics?) on the 5th, 8th. Szeryng, thank you I have his 10 beet oven sonatas on my wishlist.

Eric and Mark
I’ve not played to a drone before. Interesting. Any of you have any thoughts on daryl angers drone cd? Certainly, I’ll listen to the cello drones on youtube - but of cause my computer speakers are poor quality and too quiet.

Arthur,
I’ve hear about Aebersold - I am a big listener of Jazz music but for some reason never considered it for violin music. Thank you

Paul
thank you, this is the kind of advise I was looking for - what I can do in the hours not playing the instrument; and specific examples to start with thank you very much. Listening to where the tone sounds off - great suggestion.

Ahmed,
Ive been traveling too, hence the late reply. thank you for the specific listening examples. i’ve used computer generated tones to listen for beats while tuning but had not considered using them for just listening, hmm.

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