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Drew Lecher

Chords & Intonation

May 28, 2008 at 7:08 PM

FIRST: Make sure your strings are not false and the bridge is straight.

“…In practice, I can adjust each chord so that it sounds really well in tune , however the approach yields quite poor consistency when playing the passage in tempo. All of the adjustments that had to be made in practice do not seem to carry through, especially for 4ths and octaves — which I carefully tuned slowly in practice. …I sometimes don't know which note to use as my anchor to tune the rest of the chord to.
Very confused :( …”

RE: Chords — Tuning and Connecting

The general concept is right and I think what is possibly missing for you in this is the most important step AFTER slow practice — getting from note/chord to note/chord. (Below applies to both.)

Try adding the use of Rhythmic connections, but in so doing the initial rhythm should not be quick and precise — that follows in the progression of developing the given passage.


Say you are working on getting from one chord (a) to the next (b).

1. Play chord 'b' first.

2. Play chord 'a' to 'b' slowly — note the choreography/movement needed to achieve this with balance and accuracy.

a. Also, do this without the bow.

b. And the bow with open strings, as much intonation difficulty is caused by our misuse of the bow — tonal clarity must be established providing the basis for adding the notes back into the mix.

(Play 2 open strings together and deliberately lean too much on the higher string and then the lower string — the ‘sound effects’ are quite interesting and invariably bring a big smile to the young student upon first hearing:-)

3. Balance/posture FIRST, then IMMEDIATELY combine with accuracy of measurement — intonation.

a. In balancing the fingers on the strings, favor the higher fingers' placement, i.e., in a diminished chord (violin: Ab-1 on G, F-2 on D, D-3 on A, B-4 on E) / (viola: Db-1 on C, Bb-2 on G, G-3 on D, E-4 on A) roll/swing the left arm out pendulum-like away from the body.

b. Having 4th and 3rd fingers centered on their respective strings adjust the 'altitude' of the hand very slightly up toward ceiling assisting 2nd and 1st fingers' balance to their respective strings — retain the instrument's position (strings parallel to floor or slightly ascending).

There will be a modification in the angles of the fingers as compared to playing single-note passages. Do not roll left arm under unless truly necessary.

A slight modification to the left wrist is at times required, but be careful. Often the first reaction is to stick/bend the wrist out/in further from the instrument — this is invariably wrong. Keep the same basic posture for the wrist with only the slightest of changes. A smaller hand will require greater modification, so do experiment. The fingers should have total ease and leverage of balance with only 20% (guesstimate) of strength needed. More can be added for training and interpretive degrees of intensity.

4. Refer to #2 above and begin to move slightly quicker (well-formed) from chord 'a' to 'b' — kind of a lazy grace note, that you then modify gradually into a crisp, quick, well defined and totally accurate maneuver.

Dotted rhythms are great in developing speed from chord to chord. Another tweak is to slightly delay the 16th note. This adds an even greater level of mastery and works wonderfully from a slower tempo and gradually speeding up.

5. If chord 'c' is needed, master it per above, joining it together from 'b' via the same process and then rejoin 'a'.

The idea of playing the new chord or goal first is one of mastery for that arrival, so you are focused on that point and concentrating on leading up to it with the previous chords or notes. This works equally well for single-note passages and can be thought of as, get the peak, get the exit and then get to and through.

RE: Intonation (unaccompanied Bach, etc.)

The Perfect Intervals (8vas, Unisons, 5ths & 4ths) must be in tune.

In my day we were taught that Bach and other Baroque composers considered the Major 6th a dissonant as it is the minor 3rd inverted.

When I play a G minor chord on violin (Open G & D, Bb-1 on A, G-2 on E) / C minor on viola (Open C & G, Eb-1 on D, C-2 on A) the open strings' 5th is an absolute given, the Bb is best tuned from the open A (viola — Eb from open D) and the G-2 on E (viola — C-2 on A) must match the lower open string Double 8va.

This sets up greater tension between the notes of the Major 6th (1&2). To me, this is what the music is all about — TENSION & RELEASE. This in turn guides all the leading notes and therefore the musical line.

To me the worst intonation in this situation would be tempering of the Bb. It dulls the senses and makes the chords and passages lifeless — too much valium — Bach on tranquilizers.

RE: Intonation (accompanied by piano)

Perhaps I am old school, but I think the violin/viola should be slightly sharp to the piano.

This removes a great deal of the clash caused by the piano being tempered in tuning. We literally rise above it and, like a great singer, learn to center our intonation around the big monster.

Note how opera, jazz, Gospel and folk singers will 'bend' the leading tones — sharps high and flats low to mold the musical line. This again creates tension and release, one of the most important aspects to a musical performance.

Always go for purity and focus of pitch and the rest will take care of itself. Sing the music in your mind and match that on the instrument — piece of cake:-)

Always do varied rhythmic patterns.

Have fun!

Hope this helps —

Author of
Violin Technique: The Manual, How to master…
Viola Technique: The Manual, How to master…

From Ray Randall
Posted on May 29, 2008 at 2:10 PM
Just in time, Drew, I'm working on Preparing for Kreutzer Book 1, pg. 42,
thirds through octaves. Have to go try this out.
Thank you.
From Drew Lecher
Posted on May 29, 2008 at 3:42 PM

Look at pg 27, 8va Study and pg 34, 3rds Study in my book.

They will assist you by giving a method to master the intervals and shifts, etc.

Let me know if you have any questions, but I am sure your teacher can cover that for you.

Go for it!

From Ray Randall
Posted on May 29, 2008 at 8:23 PM
Will do, thank you.


From Ruth Kuefler
Posted on May 30, 2008 at 9:00 PM
Thanks so much for the tips here! I'm starting the A minor Bach fugue, and I'm sure these concepts will help me.

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