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How to Play Semitones in Tune

Zlata Brouwer

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Published: May 1, 2015 at 9:11 AM [UTC]

This episode is all about how to play semitones in tune on the violin or viola.

To make this video tutorial accessible for players of all levels I use the first semitone you learn on the violin or viola as an example.

The first fingering you learn is a tone between the first and second finger, a semitone between the second and third finger and a tone between the third and fourth finger. This means that the second and third finger need to be really close to each other.

Lot’s of beginners play their third finger too high, because they don’t squeeze it against the second finger enough. In the video I demonstrate this.

Let me give you some tips to solve this issue:

Tip 1: Know really well how the semitone should sound and how it differs from a tone. 

This image of the tones in your hear or in your ear must be really clear and solid. Otherwise your fingers will not know what you want from them. You must be able to imagine and to recognize the difference between a tone and a semitone.

You can train this be listening to recorded music (I demonstrate the tone and semitone in this video), playing the tone and semitone on the piano if you have one or comparing it to a tone and semitone you can already play.

Tip 2: Know how you have to place your fingers.

Some people tell me that they can’t find the strength to push the third finger against the second finger. This doesn’t necessarily have to with strength. You don’t need a lot of strength for violin or viola playing anyway.

It matters HOW you hold your left hand and how you place your fingers. Lots of people struggle with the semitone, because their third finger is flat and not curved.

Be sure to put your violin or viola IN your hand, so you create some space for your fingers. Pivot your hand a bit towards the neck of the violin. The closer your knuckles are to the neck of the violin, the less your fingers need to stretch to reach their positions on the string. In the video I demonstrate how to do it right or wrong.

Place your finger round, so curved, and not flat. In this way you can slide your third finger over your second finger to find it’s place. This brings your fingertips on the string really close together. You should have the idea that you almost place your third finger on top of the second finger. They are trying to push each other from their place.

Just to summarize: To be able to play semitones in tune you need to:

  • Be able to clearly imagine the sound of the tone and the interval

  • Make the correct movement when you place your finger

  • Have your arm, hand and finger in the right position

Is this video helpful to you? Please let me know in the comments below! If you like it, share it with your friends!



PS: Do you have questions or struggles on violin or viola playing? Post a comment below or send an e-mail to and I might dedicate a Violin Lounge TV episode to answering your question!

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