Intonation continued,,,show us some examples.

June 5, 2008 at 09:03 PM · seph's interesting thread turned out to me a very boring tug of war up in the cloud, with a few good pointers, particularly david burgess' last post which imo offers some good explanation. still, it ends up confusing and not satisfying. can anyone with guts and glory put forth some audio or video clips so that the board can listen and dicuss because i still fail to see how we can talk about perfect or imperfect intonation without examples. please, show some clips that you have in mind,,,don't force me to play you guys something:) please be specific which section, which line, which note has issues on intonation.

btw, i need a cup of perfect coffee right now. possible?

Replies (78)

June 5, 2008 at 10:46 PM · Perfect coffee is not possible, because assuming you can define what perfection in coffee is (hah!) coffee flavor elements each exist on a continuum, and that continuum can be subdivided conceptually to a nearly infinite degree, and measured to a degree of fineness which no mere organic growth roasted by human methods can accurately match.

It matters not that measurement of that fineness is irrelevant to human taste, and puh-lease don't be so silly as to ask whether those fine measurements can be used to define just what IS relevant to human taste, you will be ignored. :-D

June 5, 2008 at 11:05 PM · Andres, that was funnier than it looked at first glance.

June 6, 2008 at 12:53 AM · has some great examples of different tuning systems on the violin.

June 6, 2008 at 01:14 AM · too late for coffee, now i need a nap:) ever had a perfect nap?

forget about the tuning systems. i want to see a clip of someone playing, hopefully someone famous but dead already so we won't get sued, that can divide the camp here into 2: one claims the person has good intonation, one, bad.

as simple an academic exercise as this, apparently more difficult than pulling teeth:).

seph, crawl out from under the rock and show me a clip! :)

for once i sincerely want to learn something and everyone is too politically correct to teach. or is it clueless? ha!

i am not even asking for objectivity. will be perfectly happy with subjectivity as long as we stay away from nebulous stuff.

June 6, 2008 at 01:19 AM · I always thought nebulous subjectvity was the staff of life.

June 6, 2008 at 02:48 AM · but, but, everyone sounds soooo gooooood! :), referring to those possibly sounding bad to people with extraordinary acoustic acuity who so far have been almost interesting and certainly not helpful:).

i am not being facetious right now, i really mean it, that it will be a great exercise for the readers/listeners here if someone with great ears can show us samples where we could have possibly mistaken iffy intonation for holy bells:)

hmm, violin players must be decent poker players, too :):)

show me a hand!

ps. if by tomorrow i do not see any clips, i will conclude that the issues with intonation is simply for conversation and attention:).

June 6, 2008 at 03:25 AM · I don't have the guts, to be honest...(Plus, youtube's quality isn't too great. It's one thing to point to a youtube video and say that there is a recognizable melody played by a violin coming out of your speakers, and quite another to point to a pitch and say it was in or out of tune...)

June 6, 2008 at 03:31 AM · Al, here you go -

Here is a dead violinist with poor intonation (especially :18-:21). Maybe not for the dilettantes here, but it is beyond painful for my ears to listen to this passage:

Here, Szeryng triumphantly struggles past a horribly out-of-tune piano and an even worse haircut to exhibit that rare case of perfect intonation.

Only someone with the intelligence of rhubarb could possibly disagree.

June 6, 2008 at 04:59 AM · Greetings,

that`s a really interesitng example you picked (Ysaye Mendelssohn). You are quite corretc. One could indeed gfo through it and list a whole slew of notes that are somewhat off center.

That put much of this ongoign fracas in perspective. I think if one isolates the notion of good and bad intonation , for perfectly legitimate reasons, to the point where other factors are ignored then the sheer gretanes sand art an dindeed one`s own opleasure is completley lost. Personally I find all of Ysaye`s reocrdings astonsihing beautiful and moving, perhaps because I simply filter out all those wrong notes.

And that is all I need. If all this negativity stopsone simply loving the violin and repsecting all those that play, from tghose who have made a name fro themselves down to the humblest `tone deaf` novice then that is a tragedy.



June 6, 2008 at 11:57 AM · I'm with Stephen in that I can easily look past the intonation and appreciate the Ysaye performance in the YouTube clip.

At the same time, it validates Seph's inquiry in the other thread, doesn't it?

People come to music from many different backgrounds, some from fields where measuring precision is possible and highly valued.

How do we help them appreciate art, which probably places less emphasis on precision and repeatability than some other fields, or even deliberately strays from precision to communicate on a more "human" level?

Many types of performers are also taking on big enough challenges to be operating at the limits of human motor skills, including violinists.

Don't we acknowledge greatness in certain basketball and baseball players, even though they miss free throws and strike out?

June 6, 2008 at 11:48 AM · Clearly, I have the intelligence of rhubarb.

To me, Szeryng sounds sharp on at least 50% of his notes, until the last one, where he is noticeably flat.

It's far from a bad performance, but I'd never think to pick it as an example of GOOD intonation.

Well, that just goes to show how we all hear intonation differently. I could tell you stories of long studio sessions, where everyone disagreed on whether a particular phrase was in or not. I still can't believe some of those old arguments, where other professionals I respected heard things COMPLETELY different from myself.

Rhubarb, absolutely.

June 6, 2008 at 11:46 AM · Man, Szeryng is great, was great; whatever. Great great great.

June 6, 2008 at 12:13 PM · thanks mike martin to stick his neck out for everyone:)

well, i look at this whole issue from a different perspective, as a parent helping a kid to practice. every morning, 5 mins from now:), i will be sitting through about 40 mins of her practice and usually, i call out "too high" or "too low" between 4-40 times. what do i know? i don't! i rely on my dim-wit! i need all the help i can get to avoid wrong calls and strange stares:):):), thus my insistence that we explore this further the correct way, um, my way, so we look at the same thing as a start, despite from different angles, as suggested by buri and david. not that i disagree with their more established perspective for being around musically much longer and possibly wiser, um, maybe:), for beginners, the concept of intonation is a very important cornerstone not to be overlooked.

2 people can sound similar. one totally nailed the concept and tech of intonation but was sloppy because he had couple glasses too many. the other is still clueless. the concept of how to listen to music imo should be built around a solid intonation base before one does trick shots:) or trick slides, as the case may be.

A: hey, watch your intonation!

B: what? don't like my trick slides?

June 6, 2008 at 11:54 AM · "or even deliberately strays from precision to communicate on a more "human" level"

That's an interesting point that David mentions. Recently I played this quartet inspired by mountainous images where the composer wanted a rustic, folksy style of playing; I wasn't really sure of how to achieve that or what that really meant; too many years of honing the reflexes to try and play as precisely and in-tune as possible.

June 6, 2008 at 12:50 PM · Al ku wrote:

"for beginners, the concept of intonation is a very important cornerstone not to be overlooked."


Totally agree. If technical proficiency is far enough off, listeners run up against a "distraction threshold" and have difficulty appreciating the music.

It looks like Seph's distraction threshold is just set at a different level.

Nigel, that's interesting.

I'm having a fantasy right now about CD titled,

"Pavarotti performs the country hits of George Jones". LOL

June 6, 2008 at 01:23 PM · Is this out of tune?

June 6, 2008 at 01:57 PM · now, before we go futher, i wonder if we make a detour and ask experts to shed some light on this...

obviously the gold standard of assessing intonation is to listen for it live with great ears. since that is out of question here, we can discuss recordings and then youtube (recording over recording if you will), for convenience.

1. with respect to pitch ALONE, is there a difference in fidelity between old lp and new digital version?

2. with respect to pitch ALONE, can youtube dubbing cause an otherwise "perfectly in tune" recording to go higher or lower? obviously, IF that is the case, then every note will be affected accordingly and proportionally.

June 6, 2008 at 02:06 PM · hey seph, i rarely do things for others but i did this for you:)

if you don't feel comfortable giving a bloody dissection in public, email me the autopsy report.

when things go a little faster, i have problem pinning down intonation.

June 6, 2008 at 05:46 PM · Al,

Interesting question. In my opinion, if you are yelling out "too high" or "too low", then you must be referencing the note from something either internal or external. First, what I do, is I have the kids work on ear training via practicing intervals. Singing is good because it is internal. We also have a Yamaha Nocturne digital piano which never goes out of tune which they use if they are stuck. Once stable reference is established (tuning fork, piano, computer generated)you can work on your intervals until they can sing the notes out of the air. This takes a while but I find a stable reference helps them a lot. So a perfect fourth for example matches the tune "Here comes the Bride" for example. A 5th could be associated with the first two notes of Twinkle. Then match up the other intervals to tunes so the child knows what you are talking about. This can get you started but in the end once you are past some popular intervals and get into diminished and augmented it is more difficult to find tunes children are familiar with. Then we practice recognizing intervals on the music visually. A 3rd for example is one line to the next and then you have to decide what kind of interval it is, which means you know your key etc. That is what we do. Our teacher also does a lot of shifting exercises (Sevik) with the kids. He instructs them how to use guide fingers instead of trying to pull notes from the air etc. So if you are shifting to 4th finger in third or fifth position, you have a frame of reference in whatever position you are going to, based upon where you are starting from.

Our teacher also does a lot of "broken scales". Broken thirds, fourths, etc. It helps the children's mechanics of finding their way around instead of sliding in and out of tune. That way, when you see an interval, your ears are anticipating what the note is because you recognize the interval pattern you are in before you play the note. We also practice a lot of scales, intervals, etudes in the key of the current piece(s) they are working on. It helps a lot so they aren't trying to eat the elephant in one bite with a cold read. While our kids have a long way to go, they are very often acknowledged as having exceedingly good intonation even when they are playing pretty fast. After sitting through a bazillion recitals I notice intonation is usually compromised the most at high speeds when kids play. Also, kids that use independent fingers are usually more out of tune than children who block fingers when they can. Some teachers don't teach block fingers until they are older, but our teacher does and it works very well for fast playing (and slow). I also found a DVD series by Mimi Swieg very helpful as well for parents. I don't use it so much now, but overall it was pretty good on this and many other things.

As for examples, Bob Dylan sings out of tune all the time as do many pop singers. I think Mariah Carey and a few others have pretty good intonation. Also, if you listen to early Madonna on the radio compared to later stuff, her intonation is a lot better although I am not a big fan of pop music. Good Luck

June 6, 2008 at 05:45 PM · j, thanks for yet another helpful post which will take me some time to digest with the exception that mariah carey has a good pitch:)

June 6, 2008 at 05:53 PM · I only heard Mariah Carey on one song which really stuck in my mind, and don't know almost any of her other stuff. I am told hers is a long and checkered career with many years to go. I certainly don't hold her out as any shining example or anything, just compared to EMinm or somebody like that.

June 6, 2008 at 06:35 PM · J said it very well. In addition, working on ear training for me entails listening very carefully, especially during the first ½ hour or so of each practice session –starting from tuning, scales and arpeggios, resisting any temptation to play fast. I also turn on a long base note at the background by using a tuner to measure against. One bow each note, listen, check the base note and the open string when possible. Over time, it makes a huge difference.

Playing with a piano also helps because, as Buri said elsewhere, hearing and (later without the piano) imaging an underlying chord progression helps in developing intonation a great deal.

It’s fair to expect to have better intonation according the progression of each stage of a student’s skill development. For instance, I play the same set of scales over the years, it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) get easier because my expectation of intonation (not necessary the tempi) increases according the development of my intonation, among other things.

If you can play everything perfectly in tune from the very beginning, that’s great. For most of us, we do the best we can without losing the sight that learning the violin consists of doing maximum amount of analytical tasks within a holistic framework.

Just my $0.02 as an invitation to further comments and criticism.

June 6, 2008 at 06:38 PM · yixi, considering that you are not a prof musician, with demand from your job and family life, your regimen/practice ethics is impressive.

there, that's my criticism:)

June 6, 2008 at 07:23 PM · Awww, aren’t you sweet! I'm blushing, especially after watching your little girl’s youtube. I have to mention, Al, beside all the incredible talents at such a tender age, she's got everything going for being a great litigator or a judge: the work ethics and the discipline, the passion and ability in performance, the mastery of language, and her sense of humour.

June 6, 2008 at 07:33 PM · now we are blushing. her future career goals have been shifting with time. it started out as a bus driver, then a librarian, then a 1st grade teacher, now an animal rescurer!

but how about a violinist? i am one already.

i mean, play violin on stage for a living?

oh no, that will be too scary!! :)

PS, one time in the car she did ask me,,,what does a lawyer do (her friend's dad is one), i said something like, someone who interprets the law. she goes,,oh. what should i have said?!

June 6, 2008 at 10:09 PM · Here's an interesting performance, intonation-wise:

Beautiful tone, incredible performance, but the intonation is clearly all over the place.

I think that if I were just listening to this for pleasure, I would never have even though about it, but then I've come to accept a bit of out-of-tune-ness in classical music. (esp violin.)

Had this been a backing track for a pop tune (I know, here he goes again...) I would have fired her. Yet, as a "classical" (OK, Scottish) piece it is enthralling.


June 6, 2008 at 10:55 PM · To think, that pop music and performers of pop music have higher standards of intonation than top-flight classical musicians! Who knew.

I'll have to let my teacher know -- maybe he'll ease up on me during my lessons!

For some reason, I keep remembering my jazz guitar lessons years ago, when I would wake my teacher up at 3 in the afternoon for my lessons. I'd have to wait for him to make coffee, and then we would finally tune up, and he'd always grumble (tongue in cheeck), "good enough for jazz," and off we'd go.

June 6, 2008 at 11:00 PM · Well, Christine Agulera wannabees demand the finest.

June 6, 2008 at 11:23 PM · :Good enough for jazz!!!

Maybe so that early in the day (relatively).

That is a great story. Well I guess we agree that maybe Mariah/Christina have different goals than say Luciano Pavarotti did or some of the great violinists. Initial expectations lead to all kinds of surprises. When you don't expect much you can be pleasantly surprised. When you have super high expectations, you are set up for disappointments.

My favorite quote goes something like:

"The great path is easy for those without expectations..."... or something to that effect.


June 7, 2008 at 06:38 PM · J: The original saying is about preferences, not expectations. But I'm sure expectations are not conducive to enlightenment either.

About the recording of Vitali's Chaconne by Heifetz, I'd like to express my heartfelt admiration. It's so beautiful that I forget to be very critical about intonation. When I think again of the reason why I'm listening in the first place ;) everything is OK in that respect, too. For practical purposes, and for my fifty-year-old ears, it is totally unnecessary to play better in tune than this. I shan't hear the difference.

A technical thing: the sounds that I produce on my violin, and perhaps the sounds that anyone produces on any violin, are not pure tones. Due to jitter in the stick-slip process they are actually narrowband noise, with a bandwidth of about two cents (my two cents). We don't need infinity in our calculations.

There is a lot of theory that says we cannot play in tune (such giants as the Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic, for instance), but the fact remains that people can make glorious music.

June 7, 2008 at 07:17 PM · That's interesting, Bart, can you elaborate a bit on the point of expectations not necessarily being conducive to enlightenment? In a sense, yes, if the expectation is irrelevant or counter-productive to making good music, but I’m not sure if you meant something else.

June 7, 2008 at 08:13 PM · Yixi, there is a Ch'an saying which has become rather well-known in the West.

Zhaozhou often quoted this saying by Sengcan:

The great way is not difficult

if you just don’t pick and choose.

(or in other translations: "have no preferences")

That is what I was referring to, and I'm nearly sure J Kingston was.

(I quoted from .)

By cultivating expectations (will I be able to play the X concerto) one strays from the present moment (this B flat is out of tune). Therefore, expectations are things to be careful about, because that B flat will be out of tune until it gets proper attention.

Music is a microcosm of life, don't you agree?

Thank you for asking!

June 7, 2008 at 08:22 PM · Bart Meijer wrote:

"A technical thing: the sounds that I produce on my violin, and perhaps the sounds that anyone produces on any violin, are not pure tones. Due to jitter in the stick-slip process they are actually narrowband noise, with a bandwidth of about two cents (my two cents)."


Good point, Bart.

One of the things I try to do with adjustment is reduce jitter in the "slip-stick" process. When successful, this produces noticeably more drag on the bow (instead of "skating" across the string), and a more focused sound.

The downside is that it's less forgiving of intonation errors.

June 7, 2008 at 08:29 PM · "A technical thing: the sounds that I produce on my violin, and perhaps the sounds that anyone produces on any violin, are not pure tones. Due to jitter in the stick-slip process they are actually narrowband noise, with a bandwidth of about two cents (my two cents). We don't need infinity in our calculations."

Awesomely said. I think David Burgess was talking about this in the other thread, and it's what I would have said if I wasn't so busy going on about who knows what. It's actually quite easy to see this if you take the previously mentioned Fourier transform of a short segment of a recording (WaveShow is free, although slow and difficult to find using Google. But I kind of like the interface - it takes a transform at every sampled point in time), you find that for any given note, there is a surprisingly large amount of energy stuck into neighboring frequencies. Time to give up the violin and start playing flute...

June 7, 2008 at 09:41 PM · A quick explanation of the "slip-stick" process mentioned in preceding posts:

Rosin acts like a glue at certain temperatures, and like a lubricant at higher temperatures.

The glue function allows the hair to pull the string to one side as you move the bow, until the tension of the string and vibration in the string are too much for the glue to hold. Then the string breaks loose and snaps back in the other direction. When snapping back in the other direction, the friction produces enough heat to melt the rosin, turning it into a lubricant.

I know this sounds a bit preposterous, but it's all been carefully researched and documented.

June 7, 2008 at 10:20 PM · Ha! I see you take us for a bunch of rubes.

June 8, 2008 at 01:03 AM · Thanks for the explanation, Bart! Yes, expectation can be a double-edged sword. Also, the jitter and the stick-slip process both you and David talked about explains why different bow angle/pressure/speed on a same open string can create slightly different pitches. Brilliant!

June 8, 2008 at 03:22 AM · I loved Preston Hawes' quote in the original thread. Such a pity to be like the perfect pitch-fixated students as related in the story Marina shared earlier.

Isn't intonation just part of the whole kaboodle of music/art? We humans love to meddle with things and try to mold them to suit the occasion. A painter mixes in a bit of flesh tone pink into his green. Why does he do that unorthodox thing? Because that is what he sees, or wants to see.

The best arbiter of things artistic is often simplicity and I suppose in terms of intonation a fairly rigid scientific basis (for qualifying or quantifying it)is a good foundation, but only up to a point.

The violin sounds best when it's resonant, as everyone points out above. Sometimes the needs of the music lead us to be a bit out of tune (if you want to call it that) in places, like maybe going slightly sharp when leading into a new phrase if it seems to work well for the music. Too much of this 'out of tune' is bad, but a little is sometimes a part of expression. It can be a way to help carry the music forward. I'm talking about something very subtle, and maybe I'm wrong too. But I think without it we are just try-hard biological Moog synthesizers walking around. Sorry, I have no youtube examples yet.

I listened to the Ysaye and didn't mind the intonation. Maybe I'm biased by the strong association with his fame and I wouldn't be so forgiving with a contemporary violinist, but I hope that's not the case. I also couldn't see much wrong with the Szeryng there, maybe a note or two a bit out of tune but I could be too forgiving in general. I thought his haircut was OK but I'm not known for good haircuts.

Perfect intonation imo (as it relates to the realities of violin playing, and of enjoying it) is Heifetz playing the Glazunov concerto or the Scottish Fantasy, the one on the same disc as he plays the Brahms double with Piatigorsky. Or Kreisler playing nearly anything. 'Perfect intonation' can't really be perfect in the scientific sense, 'cause then it would just be boring music, like that perfect, and perfectly miserable, synthesizer.

June 8, 2008 at 03:08 AM · Jim---you are a rube.

June 8, 2008 at 02:52 AM · This has been an interesting thread to observe and consider. With regard to the Ysaye example, my ear is guided to notice the verve and dash that Ysaye gives in the performance and the notes that are not strictly in tune don't sound horribly out of tune because they pass by quickly and feel less important than what is being said with them. I'd certainly rather listen to Ysaye play with unbridled enthusiasm and commitment in his convincing, musical interpretation than hear the piece played better in tune but without that kind of spirit.

As for the Szeryng example, the piano seems to have just been tuned badly or its tuning has lapsed. The last F major chord is flat to Szeryng's high F and he does all he can to assert his perfect fifths and fourths without regard to the piano's being out of tune. The third of his repeated C- A-flat doublestops does not sound the same as the first two. It may be the pause in between that allows me to hear them more acutely and that the weight applied to the string appears different and creates in me some doubt as to the intonation of that third C-A-flat doublestop. Nonetheless, that too passes quickly enough to not be of much consequence.

I find myself not really wanting to fall into the trap of listening for imperfections in pitch or otherwise because I'm listening to a piece of music and not looking at the performance like a manufactured object that must be held up to the highest specifications and factory inspection.

I feel there is a danger to experiencing those things that should fill us with deep awe and inner joy and peace when we focus too much on technical perfection. I dare say any one of us who performs and is fortunate enough to greet audience members afterwards would feel greater satisfaction in receiving a compliment that addressed the depth and sincerity of the musical communication over a compliment that addressed the perfection of the intonation or some other supposedly objectively considered skill.

To show the degree to which the intonation issue can reach really microscopic levels, consider a string orchestra in which every person is vibrating in a given passage and not one person is vibrating at exactly the same speed and amplitude as anyone else. While one person maybe at the downward end of their vibrato cycle, someone else will be at the upper end, and still someone else will be somewhere along either cycle in a different place. Then too, some may be using more the arm while others are using more the hand or some combination thereof. Each person will have a different instrument with different frequencies coming out more strongly and the position in which one is seated will also effect how the pitch carries. Also, most of us hear pitch differently in one ear than another so that, as audience members sitting to the right in the hall we may hear more of one kind of instrument in one ear than another and those more toward the left will likewise hear differently because of the emphasis of one sound hitting one ear more than another. It gets so complicated with so many variables it becomes an exercise in futility like counting the grains of sand on a beach or the number of angels that dance on the head of a pin.

All I can say is that I try to let my heart guide my ear and keep alert to making notes as in tune as my ear allows me to judge without expecting perfection in that regard since it's unattainable.

June 8, 2008 at 05:52 AM · Anyone would like to comment on Enescu's intonation? I confess I don't know how to appreciate him. I'm looking for enlightenment, not criticism, please:)

June 8, 2008 at 05:47 PM · Bart, Jon

Well said. Maybe the intonation discussion is stuck on the fact that we can record music and measure things so precisely now. Before electronics and DVDs all you had was the moment. Now you can pick everything apart with 20/20 hindsight, so easily that at some point it becomes counter productive to the experience...and sets expectations that were never an option before such capabilities existed. I think a hyper critical, obsessive intonation fetish only hinders the listening experience in many cases. After all it is an experience versus a math equation. Regards

June 8, 2008 at 06:48 PM · Carlo Maria Guilini once said "intonation is not simply a matter of acoustics or physics, it is a moral issue". What do you guys think?

Just saw this quote from an excellent site referred to by Karen K. Thanks Karen!

June 8, 2008 at 07:02 PM · will propose to the violin congress that we talk about intonation in 4 main catagories:)

1. beautiful sound (traffic stopping, bowl dropping, delirium triggering, salivating good)

2. interesting sound (not exactly beautiful beautiful, but has shades of suggestive or imaginative beauty...ponder: accidental or by design?)

3. iffy sound (more may be not than may be; questionable, particularly if observed in a weekend recital where 20 out of 30 kids play the same piece out of suzuki book 1-3)

4. ugly sound (universal acceptance--you hear it you know it, no question about it. if you are a true friend, suggest painting or piano :)

June 9, 2008 at 01:03 AM · ^

Oh,it's easy---just pretend

and enjoy what you hear or play.

"The medium is the message".

June 9, 2008 at 02:26 AM · Hey guys, is this in tune?


June 9, 2008 at 02:54 AM · looks like yixi, the only violin player in victoria, bc, has some explanation to do!

June 9, 2008 at 02:56 AM · When I saw that video, I could not stop laughing.


June 9, 2008 at 03:05 AM · "Jim---you are a rube. "

Yes, and I couldn't be prouder of it! How do you like being a nutcase?

June 9, 2008 at 03:08 AM · Jim-

So you think Joe is wearing the Vader suit?


June 9, 2008 at 03:43 AM · If I wasn't a rube, I might have some idea of what you're talking about.

June 9, 2008 at 05:27 AM · OMG Bill, thank you for that fine example. See, everyone, perfect, flawless intonation IS possible after all!

My question is, does the Vader mask bend the pitch? This would make a great science project for my kids. Place one chromatic tuner INSIDE the Vader mask and one OUTSIDE... We even have the mask.


June 10, 2008 at 03:00 AM · Al, ever heard of the Chinese saying ‘Even the rabbits don’t eat the grasses around their home’? I’ve no comment on this performance:-)

June 24, 2008 at 02:47 AM · Hello, I'm new to this forum. I've looked at a couple of threads on intonation and find the discussions to be very interesting. I would like to share with you my recent thoughts simply to see if some of you have had a similar experience.

I have lately been checking my pitch with a Peterson strobe tuner, which is much more accurate than a typical meter. Of course I get the note where I think it should be, then look to see if I'm "on." For those who want to work on Pythagorean and just intonation systems, the Peterson can be set to those, as well as equal temperament and many other systems. You can even program your own if you know how. Right now I am working with equal temperament. But this isn't a plug for the Peterson tuners. I just needed to give you a little background.

This work has helped my pitch, mainly by training my fingers to go to the right places. This is useful in fast passages where you don't have time to "tune" every note by ear. But the really significant thing I've discovered is that I never used to THINK about pitch the right way. I've noticed that when I do a certain thing with my mind when playing a pitch, it is ALWAYS exactly in tune according to my strobe tuner. If I don't do this thing, there's no guarantee that it will be on. It'll be close, but I want to nail it.

What this thing is is very hard to describe. I can give an analogy with those laser sights that jet fighter pilots use to lock on to a target. It's a mental "locking on" to the pitch, and as the pitch sounds, there is a parallel process going on in your brain that is keeping it locked on. I used to have a teacher who said you have to think the pitch if you want it to be in tune. I think he was talking about the same thing but I didn't know it at the time. I don't think you can understand a comment like that until you have had the experience of that little brain thing. And you have to do it for every note! Right now I can't switch notes very fast and have my brain keep up. I think it's possible to improve that, however, with practice and forcing yourself to do it, and not to play when your brain is too "tired" or you can't concentrate.

Basically what I'm saying, is that you have to have the experience of "knowing" that you've nailed a pitch just by the way it sounds to your brain, and you have to do it a lot.

This process should work with any pitch system, because as others have noted, you have to learn what pitches sound like when they are in tune.

The tuner can be a good refresher course when I have not practiced for a while, because when I don't practice I lose much of my ability to mentally zero in on the pitch. When I can do the zeroing in, I play in tune. So I practice zeroing in instead of "trying" to play in tune.

This should help those who say they sometimes can't tell for sure whether their notes are in tune or not.

As for those who just fool themselves into thinking they are playing in tune when they aren't, I can't think of anything short of a whack on the head with a 2x4 (not an approved teaching technique!) that would help. . . .

I'm happy to respond to e-mails directed to me via the list if you would like to discuss these ideas further.

June 24, 2008 at 04:17 AM · Greetings,

>This work has helped my pitch, mainly by training my fingers to go to the right places. This is useful in fast passages where you don't have time to "tune" every note by ear.

A very interesitng piece of writing but you have lost me here. One practices very slowly in order to get fast passages in tune, irrespective of whether it is just by ear (which actually means using open strings and other pitches as guides, a drone or whatever) or by a machine which deifnitley isnT my choice.

>But the really significant thing I've discovered is that I never used to THINK about pitch the right way. I've noticed that when I do a certain thing with my mind when playing a pitch, it is ALWAYS exactly in tune according to my strobe tuner. If I don't do this thing, there's no guarantee that it will be on. It'll be close, but I want to nail it.

Yes. Therefore one doesn`t need a machine...;)



June 24, 2008 at 04:43 AM · He needed the machine in order to "get" what his teacher said those years ago. That, and what he said about not knowing what was being talked about until he had the discovery himself is real familiar to me. Maybe a better teacher could have conveyed it better, eliminating the need for the tuner, or maybe not. I suspect not. But regardless, that teacher wasn't available ;))

June 24, 2008 at 02:45 PM · I agree 100% about the need to train ones fingers and ears. But as a beginner starting out, it was difficult for me to learn what correct intonation was supposed to sound like. In my lessons, my teacher might say, make that G# a little sharper. I could hear that the correction sounded better, but I would not have thought to have tried it on my own.

The trouble with most tuning devices is that you have to hold a note for a while for the tuner to settle down. It's one thing to tune one note at a time, its another thing entirely to play a scale or an arpeggio and have all the notes in tune. I looked for a tool that would allow me to record a passage and visualize each note. Nothing of the sort existed. So I decided to develop my own.

The result is a software product called Intonia. It's brand new, and very few people are aware of it. Not everyone agrees that violinists should use machines to check their tuning, but if you're looking for a machine, I think Intonia is an interesting new development.

Please take a look at and let me know what you think.

June 24, 2008 at 03:23 PM · What happened with Christopher is more subtle than a beginner starting directly with a tuner it seems to me. What happened with him was more than just matching the tuner. I think the teachers here are afraid that a beginner going directly to a tuner bypasses some learning.

June 24, 2008 at 06:07 PM · Used as Christopher used his, the tuner was not the ‘crutch’ so many fear, it was more like looking up the answers in the teacher’s key to self-correct a quiz. Surely even a beginner could benefit from that.

June 24, 2008 at 07:07 PM · Jerry,

On my computer, a laptop with Windows XP, Intonia would not run. On opening, it presented the "get a registration key" window, and when I tried to close that, an error message was produced. I could not continue. The Java trace has been mailed to you.

It seems a very promising project, though. One could use such a program to identify spots where intonation is systematically off. How would the program deal with double stops?

Good luck!


June 24, 2008 at 08:54 PM · Arrrr, freeing memory that wasn't allocated in that sea lane, matey.

June 25, 2008 at 01:07 AM · Concerning perfect intonation, there is no such thing. There is only perfect adjustment of pitch. I often tune my violin in a random fashion, totally out of tune and play various 3 octave scales for my students. in my demonstration I play in tune. Since I know how to adjust intonation by listening I can play in tune, even with strings off by a 1/4 tone or more. I learned how to do this in my studies with Josef Gingold in High School. Also, playing Baroque violin improved my ability to adjust becauase of the vagaries of gut strings. One must have a very flexible left hand technique in order to do this.

June 25, 2008 at 05:35 AM · Mr. Berg, can you think of any characteristics that noticeably differentiate a flexible left hand technique from a rigid one?

Is it simply a matter of practicing that flexibility, or are there specific differences, perhaps things you allow on the one hand but not the other, differences in hand position, etc.?

June 25, 2008 at 02:27 PM · Bart,

I received your error trace, identified the problem, and posted the fixed version. I hope the repaired version works better for you. The program is very new, and I thank you for alerting me to the issue.

Color-coding the sharp notes red and flat notes blue makes it very easy to find notes that are consistently out of tune. It just jumps out at you on the display.

The program does not yet handle double stops. I'm optimistic that a future version could include them.

June 25, 2008 at 02:49 PM · Thank you. I'll try again.

June 25, 2008 at 04:55 PM · Jerry, I looked at you web site and found this:

"Intonia uses the regularly spaced peaks in the spectrum to infer pitch."

Since violin sound isn't a "pure" harmonic progression, how do we know that the program uses the same peaks, with the same weighting that a human listener would use to determine pitch?

Isn't the program making a judgment call, just as a human listener is required to do to infer pitch?

Would two tuning programs necessarily agree on "correct" intonation, and would either one of them necessarily agree with the perceptions of an "intonation expert"?

June 25, 2008 at 04:56 PM · Okay,

Someone point to 5 examples of pitch errors in the Ysaye Mendelssohn. Be exact.

Measure number

Note Name/beat (e.g. 3rd beat third 16th note G#)

Direction of error (e.g. sharp/flat)

June 25, 2008 at 05:47 PM · Everyone here aught to go listen to Arabian music for two weeks, then switch to Gamalan for two weeks, then to Tureg for two weeks, then to Carnatic, then to Persian, then to north Indian classical etc.

After you have done this, you will finally understand that:

intonation can be described mathematically


intonation is all about how it sounds.


Use machines for exploration,

But use the human for calling the shots.

There are Ghosts in the Machine.

June 26, 2008 at 06:43 AM · Jerry,

It works! Apart from a little glitch that may have to do with user and administrator privileges. Many Windows users are sloppy about separating user and administrator functions, but as a Linux geek, I'm not :).

I admire the job you've done so far.

And Bilbo, thanks for the warning against making this an end in itself. The Machine is the Ghost, by the way.



June 25, 2008 at 10:54 PM · David,

There are two separate issues: pitch measurement and correct


As far as I've been able to determine, the spectrum of a violin note is

quite pure: there are many peaks, and the peaks are exact multiples of

the fundamental, within a close tolerance. But some peaks may be

attenuated or missing, including the fundamental. What many

inexpensive tuners do is look for the highest peak, but this will be

prone to octave errors. Looking at all the peaks and inferring their

spacing leads to a very good measurement in spite of missing harmonics.

The issue of correctness is open to a lot of interpretation and

discussion. Intonia, by default, compares pitches to an even-tempered

scale, but it is also capable of using either Just or Pythagorean

intonation with respect to any tonic note. For many beginning violin

students, being able to achieve even-tempered intonation would be a

major accomplishment.

For an advanced player, the picture isn't as clear. If you look at the

screenshot of Itzhak Perlman playing the Bach Partita, you'll see that

his C-sharps are very high. Even if we use Pythagorean intonation,

with its high sevenths, Perlman comes out high. Clearly he's made an

artistic decision to play his leading tones sharp. Perhaps at this

level tools such as Intonia can be used to measure and compare, rather

than to arbitrate correctness.

June 26, 2008 at 12:02 AM · concerning Andres comment;

"Mr. Berg, can you think of any characteristics that noticeably differentiate a flexible left hand technique from a rigid one?

Is it simply a matter of practicing that flexibility, or are there specific differences, perhaps things you allow on the one hand but not the other, differences in hand position, etc.?"

I learned the concept of flexible intonation adjustment from Josef Gingold when I was a high school student. I was working on Ysaye #3. I played the first note and he said it was out of tune, the second note the same and so on. He taught me to unconsciously wiggle my fingers around until I got the note in tune. By the way, I know at this point not all the notes were out of tune, he was just teaching the concept.

Essentially the technique involved, which he didn't explain, is to play with flatter fingers, less pressure, wrist more inward, and essentially a mushy feeling on the strings. He did encourage practicing with the strings out of tune to develop this ability.

June 26, 2008 at 02:34 AM · Back in the '80s I designed a music transcription machine using clocked TTL only, no micro or computer :) I never built it, but I spent about a year on it...

June 26, 2008 at 05:54 PM · Thanks for the comments on the advantages/disadvantages of using a chromatic tuner. I agree with the spirit behind all of them! Heifetz played beautifully in tune on old acoustic recordings. How did he learn? I have a DVD of Gidon Kremer on which he is shown tuning his violin and saying "I need the tuner." As someone said, yes I use the tuner only to check to prove that I am actually doing the little brain thing I spoke of. But today I can tell when I'm not doing it, so that's an improvement!

Here's another little discovery I made about some of my students (I teach theory as well as violin at the college level): Some students whom I thought had bad ears because they couldn't sing back a pitch I would play on the piano, I learned could in fact do it if I SANG the pitch rather than play it on the piano. Sometimes it wasn't perfect, but it was way better than when I used the piano.

Another thing I've tried with some students is to have them slide their finger into a pitch and stop when they think it's right. That usually gets better results than just having them play it. Now I like the suggestion that the Gingold student said about wobbling the finger to get the pitch. I will try that on my students with pitch challenges as well.



June 26, 2008 at 10:20 PM · Greetings,

>they couldn't sing back a pitch I would play on the piano, I learned could in fact do it if I SANG the pitch rather than play it on the piano. Sometimes it wasn't perfect, but it was way better than when I used the piano.

Christopher, I think that is much mroe common than people realise. Sometimes it is -the isntrument- not the intonation that is throwing the stduent.



June 28, 2008 at 07:15 PM · In iTunes under podcast/public radio there are free podcasts called Science Friday. There is one about current research on tone deafness. The scientist reveals quite a bit about intonation and nature versus nuture debate. They highlight pitch differentiation as a critical aspect of playing/singing in tune.

They also play a standardized test and have the people call in based upon what they heard. You all may find it interesting.

June 30, 2008 at 02:15 PM · This is a very interesting thread! I have just a few thoughts on this.

Recently I learned from one of Dorothy Delay's former studio accompanists that Ms. Delay had her students tune their violins on the sharp side on purpose. This little trick gave her young students the brilliant sound that we hear on the old recordings of her prodigies. This pianist coaches the violinists she works with to play the half steps very close together and to play the leading tones on the sharp side. The other thing she told me was that some of the Juilliard pre-college students work with a pianist one or two times a week in addition to their lesson. In her observation, these students are much more in tune than those who only play with a pianist at their lesson. She felt that it their development of good intonation was facilitated by listening to the harmonies in the piano part.

The poster who related that his work with the tuner has produced a way of "thinking the pitch" that has allowed him to play in tune really rings true for me. I believe that you have to have the proper search image to find anything. Something like pitch is so complicated that a person can have good pitch but still an incomplete search image.

I recall exactly the point when I first heard and understood what it meant to be really in tune on the violin. My oldest son had just started with his current teacher and was working on one of the Bach partitas. His teacher, a big man with a big sound and a beautiful Amati, demonstrated just a few notes, and I had never up to that point heard anything like it at close range. In the small studio room, it simply knocked me over with the overtones - like a train. Immediately, my son understood. I could tell from that point on his concept of intonation was changed. My son always sounded nicely in tune to me, but since this event he has worked for this big, resonant, glowing sound that you get when you are really, really in tune.

In addition to the proper search image, there are technical details that also affect intonation. First you have to be able to pull an even, full sound before you can even tell if you are in tune. Second the left hand has to be soft and flexible in order to shift smoothly and to make adjustments. Recently, I saw a lesson where the teacher helped the student make fingering choices to fit his hand. The point was that fingering choices, by influencing the degree of relaxation of the hand, also influence the intonation. If you look at intonation as a technical problem, you then have a way to fix it. I find this outlook encouraging.

June 30, 2008 at 06:11 PM · "Recently I learned from one of Dorothy Delay's former studio accompanists that Ms. Delay had her students tune their violins on the sharp side on purpose. This little trick gave her young students the brilliant sound that we hear on the old recordings of her prodigies. This pianist coaches the violinists she works with to play the half steps very close together and to play the leading tones on the sharp side."

Ugh. I have never been able to stand this. The "brilliant sound" obtained by playing a few cents sharp is merely strident and out of tune. You wouldn't survive playing quartet music like that - the cellist would stab you with his bow!

June 30, 2008 at 10:41 PM · Greetings,

I agree completely. The best test case for me is teh Beethoven concerto. If that beautiful high melody after the opening solo isn`t perfectly down with the orchestra the whole performancer is ruined for me.



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