Intonation - the Truth in Music
Practicing intonation can be a very frustrating process - Believe me, I know. I can't count how many times I had tears over out of tune notes. It is also a very personal process and is different for everyone. Teachers can help guide you but really the journey is one of personal exploration. I will share with you my personal intonation journey in hope that you may find a kernel of truth that may help you on yours.
After years of intonation frustration, I decided to take charge of my intonation journey. Obviously what I was doing was not as effective as I wished it to be so I decided to change my approach. I was on my personal quest for the holy grail of perfect intonation. On this quest, I realized that in order to find the holy grail, I needed to retrain my ear as my compass. I learned to listen to pitches differently and realized I needed to hear that each pitch has its own identity ALWAYS no matter where the pitch is played on the instrument. I Learned to fall in love with the pitches. I found truth in the in tune pitches and they illuminated my path on my violin journey. Instead of focusing on being out of tune, I was focusing my energy on being in tune. Instead of me going to the note on the instrument - I had the note come to me from the instrument. You see all the pitches have homes on the instrument and it is a matter of the finger to feel it is coming from that home. It is a very different concept and difficult to explain in words but just explore the idea. Have it sit with you and see if it can change your approach to studying intonation.
Here are a few practicing tips to help you on your Intonation Journey
1. First and foremost make sure your violin is perfectly in tune and check regularly because you are not doing yourself any favors to practice improving your intonation on an out of tune instrument.
2. When tuning the instrument start by using a tuner for every string and then eventually only use the tune for the A string and tune the D to the A, the G to the D and finally the E to the A. Listen for the sound waves to lock in together and be in sync. This is something you can actually practice to listen for. Check your accuracy by checking each string with the tuner.
3. Know where half steps and whole steps are in the music. Mark the half steps with a "^" Make sure you understand all notes in your piece whether they are natural, sharp or flat and how they relate to the note before if they touch or not and also think across the strings as well. Do your fingers touch across the strings. This is prep work just to make sure that you are playing the correct notes in the piece.
4. For practicing intonation always practice the note before the out of tune note and the out of tune note.
5. Listen for ringing notes - D's, A's, E's,G's. Ringing notes that vibrate the open strings are the easiest to hear at first. Eventually you will be able to hear that every in tune note has its own ring
6. Use a tuner - I would highly suggest working with a tuner in the beginning. This can be a very frustrating process so do turn it off when you get frustrated. But when you do work with the tuner a big mistake is to only tune the note that you are playing when in all actuality you need to be practicing that same pitch from the note before so you can practice finger relationships. When using a tuner it is NOT a replacement for your ear. After the note is in tune with the tuner - play the note many times to listen and feel. Take your left hand away from the instrument and come back to play the note - double check with the tuner. Start from the note before the out of tune note and play the pitch being practiced with the tuner to double check your progress.
7. Not only listen, Feel - Feel how the pitch affects your ear. The easiest note to start this with is "B". Play the B - first finger on A, make sure it is perfectly in tune - use the tuner if need be- and feel how this pitch affects your ear. You will feel a slight buzzing, almost pressure in your ear drum. Once you feel this play the B one octave higher and listen for it. Once you can feel this then it will be easier for you to hear other pitches if there are in tune. This is the starting point. The next pitch to feel this in your ear is an "F#" Same study - start with first finger on E and feel how it affects your ear. Next C# (The only reason for C# after F# is because I found with my students that F# can be heard before the C# for some reason. It is not based on the harmonic series. After you can hear those notes and feel them in your ear explore other sharps - D#, and G#.)
8. Listen for sparkly notes in flat keys - Make sure all notes that are not flat still sparkle. Some tendency while working in Flat key signatures is to play everything flat without realizing it but this is a big mistake. All ringing tones need to sparkle while in the flat keys as long as they are not flat in the key signature.
9. As mentioned above - no matter where the pitch is played on the instrument allow the pitch to be true. Don't confuse color or tone with pitch. For example, when playing higher on the instrument say on the G string or on the D string the color and tone of the pitch may change but the pitch still needs to ring true.
Happy Truth Finding:)
Be TRUE... Be YOU ... Be
Heather Broadbent, Holistic Violinist
Founder of Online Violin
Creator of Violin Fitness and Violin Secrets Academy
I know that without a doubt that there are many violinists out there that absolutely HATE scales. I have had so many students and myself included that just the word scales brings feelings of dread.
My first introduction to scales on the violin was when I was maybe 11 years old – Mind you 2 years after I started the violin, with the Carl Flesch inch and a half scale book. My stand couldn't even hold the book up. I HATED that book. I hated practicing the book – I hated going to my lessons knowing that we were going to practice from the book. I felt like a horrible violinist, that I had horrible intonation. It seriously was dreadful for me.
So I have been there...I completely understand the hatred for scales.
But over time and exploration on my own violin journey I was able to return to the same book, granted it had fallen apart at that point and I had to buy a new one, but I returned to those Carl Flesch scales with love.
Yes... with love....
How did it happen...what caused the transformation?
I don't know the exact turning point but I do know that through my journey I learned other ways to approach scales and incorporate them into my practice that seemed almost meditative and healing for myself. When I saw the results of practicing the scales with a different approach I was immediately hooked.
I rediscovered all of the scales in all the keys major and minor from 1 to 3 octaves. My relationship to pitches changed and how I would hear the pitches. How I incorporated the scales into my practice routine changed. Instead of just practicing scales because I knew I had to – I used them as piece strengtheners. Also after I broke my wrist scales were therapy for my to get playing again.
Here are 14 tips to help change your attitude towards scales to help violinists on all levels:
*Be Present – I had a colleague of mine said he went through all of the major scales in 15 minutes while watching the news every morning. Hey if it works for him great but really I think it is a very good idea to be present.
*Listen to every pitch – You may think well duh...that's a no brainer. Let me explain. Don't listen to the pitch in relation to the previous pitch – know exactly what pitch you are playing and treat it as it's own identity. This way you are less likely to have your whole scale go relatively sharp or flat in pitch.
*Isolate all shifts – break down the shifts in scales one not before to one note after. Then 2 notes before and 2 notes after. When shifting be sure to practice shifting fast even in slow passage work because practicing shifting slow all the time without practicing shifting fast does not help you when you put your scales, or anything for that matter, to a faster tempo. Don't forget to practice the shifts in both directions.
*Think not only going up and down the instrument but Across the instrument – I don't know about you but this was a revolutionary concept to me when it was first presented. I always thought of only going up or down the instrument not across.
*Hold your fingers down – this is really the basic first step to playing any scale. This in and of itseld solves so many intonation issues.
*Use your fingers as guides – know how each finger relates to the next.
*Practice with your eyes closed – Truly block everything else out and get that ear turned on!!
*Practice in front of the mirror – watch yourself (when you are not practicing with your eyes closed.) Scales are a great way to check posture, bowing, bow hold, straight bows. Good way to keep youself in check.
*Stop when you hear an out of tune note – Stop IMMEDIATELY!!!! Don't go further. One out of tune note sets a bad foundation for everything that happens after. Save yourself some time – this is why being present is so important – and STOP!!!! go from the note before and practice 10 times perfect before moving on.
*Practice with confident fingers – If you practice your scales with hesitant fingers it is not doing you any good. Play those fingers with confidence and strength. Come down to the fingerboard like little hammers even in slow passages. It is better to come down with strength to an out of tune note and fix with strength and confidence than with hesitation.
*Practice keys that match your current repertoire – For example before practicing Brahms d minor violin sonata practice a 3 octave d minor scale.
*Practice with out vibrato first to solidify intonation and then practice with vibrato. Use scales as your own personal workout room so to say for all the techniques needed for your current pieces. Dynamics, vibrato, rhythms, bowings... the list goes on.
*Create your own scale routine to match your current practice routine.
*Start at the top of the scale come down and then go back up – This was presented to me when I studied scales on the piano. Coming down on the piano was more difficult than going up – it seems the same for some students on the violin as well. So my piano teacher told me to start down than up and It helped tremendously. Whatever you practice first – your brain is usually turned on more (unless it is 6:00 in the morning :) ) Apply the same to pieces and etudes – struggling 5 lines in? Don't start from the beginning – start where you have a problem.
Easy, simple and yet so effective and enjoyable!!
I promise you will see results incorporating these tips into your scale practice.
Want to learn how to play all the major scales in under 3 minutes? Register for my Online Violin Scales Class - Violin Scales That Will Rock Your Violin World September 25, at 12:00 CST.
Have fun Practicing Scales!
Heather Broadbent, Holistic Violinist
Founder of Online Violin and Creator of Violin Fitness and Violin Secrets Academy
Three Amazing Words
Living in Bulgaria is quite the adventure. Through HOPE, BELIEF and LOVE I knew I was to be in Bulgaria. I have a multifaceted purpose to be here. One of the reasons I know is to grow online and to be able to reach out to people all around the world. If I continued my very busy schedule in the states this would be an impossibility.
HOPE is an interesting word because in order to hope deep down there is a sense of KNOWING and that sense of knowing is BELIEF so hope is really belief that hasn't entered yet into the present moment. In the past I HOPED to be in Bulgaria but I BELIEVED it to be so and NOW I AM here. Past, Present and Future are completely intertwined :)
I LOVE playing with the Gabrovo Chamber Orchestra here in Bulgaria. It is such a different experience than playing in large symphony orchestras. I do miss the larger productions I was involved in in the states. Some things you just can't do with a chamber orchestra like Carmina Burana, Beethoven's ninth, Shostakovitch Symphony 5 but there is such an intimacy playing with the chamber orchestra that I am completely happy and fulfilled. We are truly one. That is pretty difficult to say and to experience playing in a Symphony Orchestra - not saying that it is an impossibility just more difficult.
As I live here in Bulgaria, I feel a stronger connection and unification with others around the world. I am not isolated in my life but feel an expansion - like riding the wave of life surrounded by others in a same purpose. Some people may think that I would feel more isolated in Bulgaria because of it's physical location on the Earth but it is not so.
I have connected with such amazing people on the internet. It is truly a matter of attraction, magnetism, and synchronization. I would say most of these people have no idea that they have influenced, inspired, or activated HOPE, BELIEF and LOVE inside of me. I am THANKFUL for them that they chose to be present.
One more stone and one more word needs to be added to our Three Amazing Words and that is THANKFUL. I am indeed thankful for the amazing journey the violin has given me. I am thankful for the opportunity I have to work with the Gabrovo Chamber Orchestra, to live here in Bulgaria, to feel a connection with others globally and to help others on their violin journey.
I HOPE, BELIEVE and KNOW that all those that need me as their guide to make their violin journey easier find me in essence we are already connected.
This reminds me of my personal story when I was struggling to find the right teacher for me. Five years after graduating from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a violin performance degree and working successfully as a violinist I wanted something more. I wanted to make my playing to the next level and my level was already very high so I had very high standards for a teacher - I wanted someone who could truly kick my ass - someone who could stretch me beyond my limitations. After some time I almost gave up on finding that person and then she entered my life. She soloed with 5 different orchestras I was playing with in one season (BIG sign from the Universe). So I had a season to go through the process mentally that she was the one for me. The last concert I approached Rachel Barton Pine and she said yes. At my first lesson she asked me why I was there because it is not normal that violinists at my level would have lessons. I said that I wanted to be the best violinist I can be.
Yesterday, I told a student that the violin is truly bigger than us. The yearning for the violin, for music starts from within... and after 34 years of instruments in my life (yes 34 years ) I have learned that the true goal is to CONNECT to that place of where the yearning originated .... full circle.
"Music is a way to discover the Divine within us.”
Be TRUE... Be YOU ... Be
Heather Broadbent, Holistic Violinist
More entries: August 2013
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