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Heather Broadbent

Tips for Improving Your Intonation

September 30, 2013 at 6:11 AM

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

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on October 1, 2013 at 1:03 AM
That is very interesting that you write you can "feel" B buzzing in your ear. I feel that with B on the Eing, not so much the 1st finger on the A string. And for me it's an actively unpleasant feeling, unfortunately. I thought it was just me.
From Thomas Dauzat
Posted on October 1, 2013 at 3:05 AM
I love these tips! I have just started noticing the 'buzzing' myself, though I was thinking of it more as a kind of pressure if that makes sense.
From Zina Francisca
Posted on October 1, 2013 at 7:03 AM
This is very inspiring, thank you. I am always struggling with exactly those pitches: B, F#, C#. I thought it was just me. Today I will use your approach and see (or rather, hear) if it works for me,
From Heather Broadbent
Posted on October 1, 2013 at 8:11 AM
Yay Everyone!! Thanks for your responses and sharing:)

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