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Mendy Smith

A Well Tempered Practice Diet - Intonation

September 14, 2011 at 2:54 AM

 After my last performance, I noticed my intonation was a bit off - just flat enough to stand out like a sore thumb in my ears.  For years I used a tuner as a tool to determine if I was in tune or not.  As my intonation skills progressed, I upgraded to a tuner that could be calibrated to perfect 5ths.  

Though these tools helped me get my intonation closer to where it needed to be, there became flaws with this approach over time.  The first one I noticed was with double stops and chords and then later when playing with other people.  In the grander scheme of things, the sound was just off.  

It took a long time to realize that there are many variations on a particular note to have it perfectly in tune and it depends on what is being played at the time. My first "aha" was that a F-nat can be sharp or flat against a tuner depending on the particular chord being played.  The intonation complexities kicked in even further when putting intonation into context of the piece and if the note was a leading one or not.   

I still have yet to fully understand "the rules", but I'm getting closer to having another of those "aha" moments.  How I'm getting there is by listening with context in mind.  Context is a subtle yet important distinction.  It can make or break something sounding right or wrong.

 I must admit that I still use my tuner in the stratosphere of the fingerboard to get me close, but am starting to rely more and more on my ear with the context of the piece to get me to the last few cents to make it sound "right".  

There comes a time where the art exceeds the tool.


From Jami Kleinert
Posted on September 14, 2011 at 4:43 AM

Consider using a tuner that can generate pitches as a drone.  Determine the harmony that is under a section of what you are playing, and practice it slowly against the drone.  I use the root and fifth of the harmony most frequently when playing a with a drone.  Moving slowly lets you plan ahead, and then gradually work up to playing full speed with and without the drone.  I find that it helps not only my intonation, but also my audiation of what the harmony is, which puts whatever I'm playing into context.  It's even helpful for solo violin works, such as solo Bach (Bach with drones is a little more work because in many cases, only a short little section is in a single harmony... it changes so fast!).

From Mendy Smith
Posted on September 14, 2011 at 11:37 PM


I'm researching drone generating devices.  What I still don't quite understand is how to go about finding the "root"...  Guess it is time to learn some more music theory as well ;)

From Corwin Slack
Posted on September 15, 2011 at 3:16 AM

 Check out this link for an interesting book.

From Ray Randall
Posted on September 15, 2011 at 5:08 AM

I have "The Tuning CD." Plays any key as a chord drone you could ever want.

From al ku
Posted on September 16, 2011 at 11:47 AM

 mendy, you are awesome with your continued progress.  allow me:

"After my last performance, I noticed my intonation was a bit off - just flat enough to stand out like a sore thumb in my ears. In the past, i have never used a tuner and always relied on my ears."

clearly i stole your sentence and made up the ending, but in reality, great intonation is a challenge for everyone, no matter what they rely on, even those who do not use tuners.  


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