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Honest Intonation.

October 2, 2008 at 11:13 PM

Haven’t aggravated anyone for a while so must be time for a new blog.
Intonation! Casals called it a moral imperative. Milstein stated quite baldly that it is like being pregnant. You either are or you are not. Ricci has complained in articles that kids are not taught to play in tune from the beginning.
I think at least in the early to intermediate stages the whole issue centers around a couple of myths and a fundamental concept of teaching which is rarely taught or actually applied to an adequate degree, if at all. Let’s start with the myths.

Myth one. Beginners cannot play in tune from the beginning. They don’t have a refined ear and it is too difficult so we will try and get things better gradually.

This is nonsense. It may be true that a beginner does not have a refined ear in terms of the violin sound but kids can usually sing in tune well if done regularly. With ear training, singing as an integral part of the teaching process, plus the pace at which technique is introduced being kept under control a beginner can and should play spot on from the start. The only reason a beginner may not be able to pay attention to the natural vibration of good intonation is they are overloaded. It’s simply poor teaching.
If intonation is not established from the start a player can reach an advanced level and not play perfectly in tune and the longer it is left the harder it becomes to correct. When I was at the RCM there was a very talented violinist who won a scholarship, studied with a great teacher , had a great sound and musicianship. However, it was too late for him to develop truly disciplined listening habits although he played the major concertos. After he graduated his career never quite took off and I suspect this is the only reason. The reference to Ricci above continues with him saying that kids who never learn to play in tune play like that for the rest of their lives.

Myth Two. We correct bad intonation or wrong notes by wiggling the finger around. Wrong. We correct by repeating the procedure of a correct note from where it start. IE the finger is raised and dropped in tune, repeatedly. We adjust at high speed in performance - because we have practiced this way-. We do not practicewiggling unless you want to wiggle on stage.

The concept. Anything that we play we learn.
This is so simple and is at the root of virtually all the problems appearing on this site. What typically happens both in a lesson and in private practice? The player hits a wrong note . They may stop and correct it or correct it en route. That is often called practice. Actually it is a waste of time and ultimately a waste of a life! What the player has learnt is a schmeer. They have mastered the ability to hit a wrong note and slide the finger around as well. That is truly skillful!
Unless you play a note correctly a minimum of six times for every error you are not practicing.
If the teacher does not teach this and hammer it home continuously they are not doing their job.
What is the simplest way to correct bad intonation? The repetition hits described by Drew Lecher (and explained by me in a later blog;))) It eliminates the wiggle and makes the student repeat perfect, vibrant intonation over and over until it is habitual. The bonus is a massive increase in left and right hand coordination
I hope and pray that anyone who has written in claiming to have intonation problems will give these ideas some thought. There are no shortcuts but we can at least get on the right road or no amount of prunes will help.

From Teresa Colombo
Posted on October 3, 2008 at 6:45 AM
Great blog Buri .... as usual!!
'The simplest way to correct bad intonation' .... I also give my vote to Drew's gold-mine find of repetition hits. The original thing for me there was the 'hit' of the bow coinciding with the 'hit' of the finger which has opened up huge vistas in my own teaching and playing!

I also think Ricci's 'glissando approach' is interesting, I quote

"To train the ear to the requisite degree, we must first learn the art of practising scales with one finger ... which forces one to use the ear in order to know where to stop the finger, putting down the next finger bypasses the ear. We learn the spaces by going from one note to the next with the same finger, forcing one to use non-stop concentration and a cautious approach"

Any comments re the Ricci technique?

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on October 3, 2008 at 2:26 PM
My teacher hit this point (Myth Two) a couple of months ago in my lesson and it was revelatory.

I don't know if it has improved my intonation yet, but it has really changed the way I think about it. I'm more aware now of intonation issues and more able to think about them constructively. And it's something that I'm already trying to pass along to my daughter (who shows signs of being a wiggler too).

From Corwin Slack
Posted on October 4, 2008 at 9:40 PM
Teresa, There are two basic ways we change pitch. One is shifting and the other is placing down another finger. Ricci's recommendations address the first and Secvik, Gerle and other finger pattern based techniques teach us to play exactly in tune by forming correct postures and trajectories for the fingers.

One finger scales are indispensable as are finger pattern formation exercises.

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