I hear the note, but my fingers dont land on it

June 4, 2007 at 05:55 PM · I want to become a better violinist. I'm at the point where I can hear if the note is in tune or not...but I dont always land on it...my teacher will tell me ... oh that is out of tune fix it...and i know!!! how do i get my fingers to just land on the note? how do i boost my playing up?

Replies (44)

June 4, 2007 at 05:57 PM · Scales. Your fingers need to learn their relationship to one another and the fingerboard. Do your scales.

June 4, 2007 at 06:22 PM · yep 1 hour of scales everyday minimum no excuses

June 4, 2007 at 06:45 PM · On top of scales, and variations of scales (ie. broken thirds)...you might want to think of how your technique is. If you have tension, or if you have any bad habits holding the violin/support/set-up...those could be preventing you from controlling your muscles to play what you hear.

June 4, 2007 at 06:50 PM · Do you have a teacher? If not, you should get one. I agree that scales are crucial but only a teacher can watch you play and see if there is some other issue that you must address. Good luck!

June 4, 2007 at 09:08 PM · I'll be the first one to advocate slow practice. Take a look at Laurie's blog on Prof. Sassmannshaus' masterclass at the Starling-Delay Symposium. He suggested an exercise where you slowly alternate between singing the next note and playing it - if out of tune, analyse and repeat until you hit it every time slow. Then put your passage together, still slowly, pinpoint the errors, and do any cleaning you need (isolating shifts, memorising the distance between problem notes). I've been practicing a lot like this over the past two days, and it's been v-e-r-y informative: discovered passages in repertoire where my fingers actually knew more than my ears...

June 4, 2007 at 09:54 PM · I always talk to my students about the "go back rule" for intonation. We often go about "fixing" our intonation by moving our finger after we have heard the incorrect pitch. As I tell my students, once you hear an out-of-tune note, so has everyone else listening to you. During your scale practice and while you are learning your pieces (slowly as others have suggested), once you have corrected a wrong note, go to the previous note and practice landing on that note correctly. It will reinforce what Kimberlee said about learning the distances between each note, and help you to remember how traveling to each note feels.

June 4, 2007 at 10:48 PM · Greetings,

its either been implie dor said in the rpevious repsonses but just to state it clealry. Hearing a note is out of tune and correctng it is a waste of time.

The procedure is actually as follows.

1) Stop on the bum note.

2) Make a conscious decision- is it sharp or flat? Just saying it is out of tune is useless.

3) Play from the previous note correcting according to step 2. If still bad repeat step 2.

If okay go to step four.

4) For every time you hit a wrong note it takes at leats six reptitions to erase the error you have learnt.

IT is quite common for even college level player sto have not mastered this basiuc approahc to intonation.



June 5, 2007 at 12:18 AM · Practice slow, slower, and slowest.

June 5, 2007 at 05:30 PM · Thanks, Buri, for your clarity

June 5, 2007 at 07:37 PM · I've also found that 1 finger scales are a great help in finger training.--They're a pain but they work. See the Violinmasterclass video with Prof S

June 5, 2007 at 10:41 PM · Greetings,

Jya, that`s a good point. I introduce first finger scales very early on in studnets training. Around the same time they are starting third position. It opens up the view of the finger board so the conventional shifting work seems much easier.



June 6, 2007 at 03:05 AM · See yourself playing in tune in your mind, past your problem, and then do scales. Also, play simple songs to really get the spacing correct simply at first. Also, on those half steps, hammer home just how close they actually are--consider the first few/couple bars of Fur Elise or Minuet in G--where the fingers actually feel a little scrunched together, or in my case really scrunched (fat fingertips from guitar).

Finally, when I accepted the consistent focus and attention required, that never ever really go away to play not only in tune but well, I started being better able to correct problems like you've described. So also, improve your focus.

June 6, 2007 at 11:35 AM · hi,

I know the problem:)

Although it's important to practice slow never forget that one day you must play it fast so try to study fast as well.

Slow practice everyone can....in this stage you must analyse the problem and solve it but then the real work comes practice fast mouvements in a slow tempo so you're muscles are used to this tempo....

what also helps me a lot is singing the piece before I go to sleep and look at the score and try to imagine me seeing playing.....

and scales are ok but they are not the only thing! there are a lot of good violinists who have been able to play "perfect" without studying scales

the most important thing is to find a way that helps yourself the most efficient I think

good luck and I hope you can use some things of what I've written

June 6, 2007 at 10:57 PM · Greetings,

enjoyted your message but I quesiton the following:

>there are a lot of good violinists who have been able to play "perfect" without studying scales

Firts of all if one reads about the great violnist extensivley, especially interviews you may well get a mixed impresison of the value of scales, Heifetz being one extreme and perhaps Milstein the other. But on the whole, virtually all of them pracitc escale sas a matte rof course. Even highliughting those few that don`t (as it were, the time of the interview) is not an accurate representation of the situation. Milstein may have eschewed scale practic ewhen he got older but he sure as heck practiced them, a lot when he wa syoung. In fatc he didn`t have a scale manual so he devised his own system using the Chopin etudes. Scales are not optional at Music Institutes with good reason- they are the grammar of the instrument without which very few players reach their full potential.

When I wa sat the RCM there was only one teacher who wa sopposed ot the practoic eof scales and although he wa sa fine musician and player there was a marked deterioration in technique in his later days and his students, of whom I played a lot of chamber music with over a numbe rof years had less than stellar tehcnique and slightly under par sigfht reaidng ability even though they were gifted muscially and tonally. It is even possible to detect over time and many heairngs which greta perfomring violinists have been doing too many cocnerts and not enough scale work. The customary crispness gets just a little blurred around the edges.

Great player sadide what about the good players? Maybe they could have been just a little bit better for a little boit longer if they had stayed with the basic technical regime that ius the life bloofd of the violinist.

Frankly, there is only one kind of scale practice that shpould e avoide dat all costs: a mindless and error strewn routine done for the sake of it. That alone is the reaosn for not praciticng scales.



I thought oif correcting the spelling here but decided to go and do some sclae sinstead. Its more fun.

June 6, 2007 at 11:26 PM · << thought oif correcting the spelling here but decided to go and do some sclae sinstead. Its more fun.>>

With all due deference, Buri, your spelling is the antithesis of the exactitude you espouse.

June 7, 2007 at 01:11 AM · Bernd and Buri both have good points, I think. Finding the most efficient way is the most important thing, and scales can help.

My personal experience with scales? Practice them when you need them. If your fingers are having trouble hitting the note, do your scales (that includes arpeggios and broken thirds etc. as was pointed out). If your mind doesn't know already what sound is going to come out before you play it with the bow, do your scales. It's one of the most helpful things I can think of, along with Bernd's suggestion to sing.

June 7, 2007 at 12:18 AM · Greetings,

one cannot be all things to all men,


June 7, 2007 at 01:09 AM · Yes, but one can certainly try . . .

I should have quit while I was ahead. But, for the record, I didn't state my thoughts appropriately--I should have said after a basic proficiency with scales is achieved practice them when you need them.

June 7, 2007 at 01:11 AM · Greetings,

>Yes, but one can certainly try . . .

Trouble is I prefer women.

Not sure i completley agree with the when you nee dthem thing. It is true in the literal sense if one takes the position that you nee dto do technical work on a daily basis an dmore often than not only svclae sreally fir the bill, but sometimes people take that to mean when things are getting a bit ropey at the edges. My point is that perhaps things would not have become ropey at the edges if the scale work had not been left until the nee dbecame obvious,



June 7, 2007 at 01:20 AM · The best teacher I ever had, Rene Benedetti, was fond of telling me that I could always do more scales. I also remember an article about Stephane Grapelli where the author went to visit him and when he came to the door of his apartment, heard Grapelli inside palying scales. For a jazz musician, of course, scales are crucial, but the same goes for any violinist.

June 7, 2007 at 02:34 AM · Tom makes a good point.. I tried to jam along with a jazz guitarist--I probably hit one note of 3 which wasn't awful since he was doing most everything out of four or five flats.

June 7, 2007 at 06:11 PM · Ahhh . . . okay, Buri. You're right. I shoulda stuck with my first answer. If your brain doesn't know what sound is going to come out of the violin before you check it with the bow, you need to practice your scales.

June 7, 2007 at 05:07 PM · There's a story about scales:

the great pianist Schnabel swore he never did scales and only played ther hard parts of repertoire to keep his technic--which was like Szigeti marginal at best. Well the cousin of a friend of mine was in Switzerland and happened to be staying at the same hotel as Schnabel. What did he hear every morning? Scales for two hours.

June 7, 2007 at 05:26 PM · Two more suggestions. One is the technique employed by Sevcik in his preparation studies for the standard repertoire: practice each transition from one note to another by playing it twice in succession. The first time you can listen, and the second time you can correct.

Another, much more fun: the idea that your fingers are actually singing the music. This helps, for instance when I need to pick a high note without much preparation, say a high C. If I go: "well, this is one and a half tone above A, which is in the seventh position (and so on), I'm sure to miss. Hearing the tone in advance offers a much higher chance of success.

For me, helping my fingers to sing is a pleasant approach to practicing.

Of course, this does not detract from the usefulness of scales and broken chords. On the contrary.

June 7, 2007 at 06:13 PM · i have wondered about this for a while,,,

my kid is able to tell if a note is off, by others, easily and quickly, and if i slow her down, by her own playing, rather reluctantly perhaps. i know her ears are ok. from early on, she can tell if the open string is off (against the tuning fork check), which i find interesting. also she can tell 2 notes apart eaily if played in a double stop fashion,,,she will say, 1st note is second finger third position A string and second note is 3rd finger third position on E, next to the second finger position, no space, etc, of course, she cannot say it in A, B, C yet.

i think there are many factors involved.

1. some are born with a better sense of pitch..."i just sound it out in my head,,,she says. some, like me, identify false notes relatively and that is about it.

2. doing more scales will allow the fingers to get used to the positioning better, if not executing the note more crisp, with better timing/control. after all, it is mental partly and physical partly. if you are learning a C major piece, you may want to practice more C major scales, instead of say, G major. kinda makes sense:)

3. laziness, for the lack of a better word, at least in her case. often during practice, in a hurry or whatever, it is obvious to me that she knew the notes were off, but just played through (maybe a habit since we always tell her in performance, no matter what happens, even if the pianist has fainted, play on). when i protested, she immediately got back to where the problems were and fixed them. so she knew.

why did she make the mistakes in the first place? simply execution errors, i think. playing corresponding scales more will decrease the chance of making those errors. playing slower will obviously help also.

i am not a musician, no formal training, no exposure to serious music listening (not that i do now:) until couple years ago when my kid started with violin. what i have noticed with my own ears is that a note that is right on, no matter which note, is always "louder" and more "pleasant" to my ears, like a key fit in perfectly into a lock. a little high or low is as unbearable as an itch, you just have to fix it now:) the closer it is to the exactly correct note, the more it drives me nuts....like a tease.

of course, if way off, plain murder:)

June 7, 2007 at 05:57 PM · Al, your story reminds me of me when I was young. Played with dismal intonation, but could name notes and intervals 100% accurately from the piano and easily tell when others were playing out of tune. Why did I have such miserable intonation? I think I was too busy listening to the music inside of my head, instead of what came out of the instrument in real life. I was just interested in other things, and I really had to learn to listen from the outside. Of course, being busy with all the other aspects of violin playing certainly didn't help either - if I had only developed perfect shifting technique at eight!

June 7, 2007 at 06:08 PM · megan, i guess my question then will be:

you obviously were able to tell notes apart from a piano (i assume) play, assuming the piano is perfectly tuned up.

i wonder if the piano is made out of tune on purpose, whether your ears can pick out a false note on piano when you are presented with chords?

i think one advantage violinists have over pianists (feeling fearless: ) is that for violinists to get a good handle on intonation, they have to experience and experiment with way-off, almost-on and right-on pitches.

June 7, 2007 at 11:22 PM · Al--perceptive comment. I think the whole issue is akin to solfege. Solfege doesn't work as well if you don't use the hand signals. Proper solfege connects the body and the mind to pitches. The violin performs much the same function, imho.

I'm very interested in solfege. It opened up a musical world for me when I learned it. I'm wondering if anyone else here teaches it to their students? In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if some work with solfege would help Lauren hit her pitches square on every time.

June 8, 2007 at 08:19 AM · I use solfege (with hand symbols). I'm sold on it. All of my beginners learn to sing in tune without having to use tape. They don't have to use tape on their fingerboards, either. They learn quickly which way to adjust their fingers to get the note where they want it. I can hand a simple piece for sightreading to one of my beginners and they are able to hear it in their heads before they even play a note. It's because they understand the relationship of the notes to each other in the context of a major scale.

June 8, 2007 at 01:30 AM · Greetings,

I use solfege with the hand signals. It obviates the need (no need actually in the first palce9 for tapes. Kids can develop amazing ears. By using the moveable system I am able to teahc the differnec ebetween intonation of the same note in differnet keys- IE develop a very strong harmonic sense right from the beginning,



June 8, 2007 at 06:35 AM · Al wrote:

"i wonder if the piano is made out of tune on purpose, whether your ears can pick out a false note on piano when you are presented with chords?"

Definitely. But pianos are almost always out of tune anyway, and even then, their equal temperament results in imperfect fifths and fourths, as well as thirds that don't ring with the fundamental. But I don't think I could isolate the note out of tune on the piano while playing - I'd have to check the chord alone first. Unlike Dohnanyi, who will be running through a piece, suddenly stop and say 'measure 47, second clarinet, solo horn, and piccolo', fix the intonation within seconds, and go on. Admittedly, he doesn't have to make any sound while conducting, but that's an ear worth admiring!

June 8, 2007 at 08:18 AM · It's funny, how pianos play in such an even-tempered fashion, and it is not only acceptable, but expected. It comes with the personality of the instrument.

June 8, 2007 at 09:02 AM · Greetings,

yeah, but I@ve met some miserable pianos in my time,



June 8, 2007 at 09:05 AM · Sometimes, do you feel like it would be better to put a bullet in it and let it die? Those are the ones I hear around here.

June 8, 2007 at 11:10 AM · thanks people for your answers. i understand the practicality of using do re mi,, but when do you introduce the concept in terms of A, B, C...which i assume all of you have done, using them in parallel or being able to interchange them when you need to? do any of you sing a phrase inside (or outside:) via abc?

for instance, lets say you play in a group and you want to point out a particular note, i am sure you will say it in terms of abc, not do re mi, right? thanks in advance.

June 8, 2007 at 12:40 PM · Emily - I think an ax rather than a bullet is the effective weapon against such pianos. They can certainly keep you warm on a cold winter night in Alaska.

June 8, 2007 at 12:56 PM · Hi,

Something important not mentioned yet - know the frames of the hand; i.e. where the half-steps and whole-tones lie, or which fingers are close together and which are apart. On top of a good ear, your fingers should be prepared in the air above the notes before you play. If you want more info on this and patterns, I would suggest you read The Art of Practicing the Violin by Robert Gerle.

That said, it is also possible that you hand is out of balance (possibly because of where you place your l.h. thumb) OR also that there is an error in movement and that your fingers don't lift and drop vertically but may be involved in other movements that are intrusive and unnecessary. For this, you can use the first exercise in the Flesch Urstudien for about three weeks - a good cure for that.

And lastly, you may not be doing enough slow practice, or endeavouring to correct notes once they hit the string. The margin or error is small (about 1/6th of a millimeter even in first position) so rapid corrections should be a way of life.

Hope this helps...


June 8, 2007 at 03:58 PM · Nice post as usual Christian.

Tom--LOL. Emily--will you train me in your solfege methods?

June 9, 2007 at 08:34 AM · It's called Adventures in Violinland. My friend Lisa Marsnik pointed these method books by Shirley Givens out to me, along with some great tips on using them.

June 12, 2007 at 12:45 AM · If it's for solo pieces and stuff like that. I have two words. Practice slowly. If you do you will notice that it will start to be more and more in tune as you do it. It works for me. And almost all my teachers have told me to do it that way for intonation.

June 12, 2007 at 02:24 PM · practice slow with your metronome, get gradually faster, practicing slow should allow your fingers to play the notes in tune

June 14, 2007 at 01:32 PM · Christian has a very good post. You did not mention if you are using independent fingering or block fingering. Using block fingering for my scales has really helped me understand the relationships of the thumb and fingers and stop making little sliding adjustments to notes that are ever so slightly out of tune. Some beginning teachers let students use indepedent fingering for everything and it is like trying to pull the notes out of the air with no reference points. Then even if your ears are good, you spend time on all these little corrections. Block fingering helped me understand how fingers anchor each other, so if your thumb is not shifted enough say, all your fingers loose the correct relationship to each other ever so slightly which then requires corrections. Block fingering can also helps you play some things faster. Both independent and block are tools that you then have at the ready. Our first teacher actually did not allow us to use block fingering and said it was too advance. Our new teachers advocate for using it.

June 14, 2007 at 03:03 PM · Block fingering, independent or anchor?

I almost would like to open a new thread on this one..... interesting posts from Christian and J Kingston!!!

I'll open the question to anyone interested in replying...........

Which would you teach first? Or would you go for a three in one package? If you are teaching a very small child would that make a difference to your approach?

I was interested to see that many Suzuki students in the USA had been taught independent fingering right from the start .... no blocks at all, is this typical? I understand that some teachers have great success with it ....

June 14, 2007 at 10:50 PM · Greetings,

as far as I amn cocnerned teaching patterns or blocks is by far the most efificnet. That is why I use Adverntures in violinland which embraces this approach. Even for more advance dpalyers a focus on block fingerings and uregualr practice of them a sper Gerle`s book can pay huge dividens. I especially recommend the use of double stops using only one pattern both across and up the instrument. I think these can be found laid out in Fischer`s Basics.



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