Intonation Tips?

April 15, 2010 at 05:06 AM ·

I realize that there is no "quick" way to improve bad intonation; no one technique that will fix your intonation for good. 

But I'm wondering if people have tips to improve intonation, out of context of a piece. I have heard that practicing thirds helps intonation and I am interested in hearing other tips like that.

Additionally, feel free to share intonation tips for difficult passages within a piece/ within the context of a piece, rather than just general tips for helping intonation.

I am mainly interested in seeing what different types of ideas people suggest, because I know there are many knowledgeable people on violinist.com.

 

Replies (52)

April 15, 2010 at 06:11 AM ·

Greetings,

basically your stopped notes of the same name as the opem strings ned to correlate with the open strings. That`s a good start point.  Then take a scale.   First tune the fourths ,  fifths and octaves while omitting the notes in between.  Then repeat adding the third (close to the fourth (according to taste to some extent) and the seventh (close to the octave.  The 2nd and 6th degre eof the scales should then be added halfway between their friend son either side. This ssimple but radical to some approach is describe dind etail in Basics which contians a whole slew of both tradition al and highly orginal idea son developing intonation.

One of the major problems with intonation is inconsistency across octaves. If you play a low d then later in the passage oine twop octaves higher it does have to be the same pitch.

Try to recognize that the beauty of the violin lies, among othe rthings with its abilty to express the differnet character of any key. Thus to say that g#  is the same as a flat is to miss the point of the instrumnent. A loss of the art.

Reeber thta a lot of poor intonation is caused by excessive bow pressure, particularly high on the e string where a note can be distorted by more thna a quarter tone if one hits the string too hard.

One may be playing out of tune as a result of virating above as well as below a note which will sound sharp.

Development of intonation involves development of a clear mentla image of a sound and being able to hit that sound anywhere on the fingerboard without any rela adjustment. Its rather like playign a woodwind instrument in which one puts ones finger directly over a hole. How doe sone develop this skill?

One of my favorite exericwes is to play,  for example,  a third finger a on the e string.  Play a half note. now take bpth the bow and left hand off the instrument and pause for a whole note.  during the pause imagine the note you have just palyed an octave higher, lower or whatever. Now hit that note you have been imagining high on the e string, or in fourth position on the d or whatever. When I say hit I don`t mean be violent. Just put the bow and finger on the stirng togethr and play. Don`t adjust the picth. If its flat its flat. If its sharp its sharp. Note the direction and extent of the problem and repeta the procedure until you can hit that note dea don all over the fiddle. Do it for ten minutes or so. Change the note everydya. A few weeks of this practice will make you into a new player.

Anothe rproblem we have with bad intonation is simplt that we -learn- it because we are not paying attention. In order to resolve a problem with poor intonation in a high position, unlearn it by praciticng it in a lower postion until you have the actual corretc sound in your head.  Simon Fischer has a brilliant idea along these lines. If a passage is out of tune in thrd position pracitce the same passgae in second, first,  fourth etc. This will snap your brain out of its laziness and oyu woillk, se eimmediately which notes you have been playing too dsharp or too flat.

No more idle thoughts right now,

Cheers,

Buri

April 15, 2010 at 03:19 PM ·

Even Heifetz said he played wrong notes but he fixed them really fast. I always start by playing only natural notes ( C major scales ) in positions open - 6 slow and medium speed. And all the way up on E. That makes you memorize the feel of every position and where every note is. That helps me alot. And then you can easily find any scale in any key with tetrachords by thinking of it as adjusted natural notes with #'s or b's.

April 16, 2010 at 07:27 AM ·

 Giancarlo,

I'm wondering what the ultimate purpose of your post is. At first I thought you may be a beginner, and then I saw that you had listed teachers starting with Ms. Vamos. Did these teachers really not teach you how to improve your intonation?

Scott

April 16, 2010 at 03:09 PM ·

True, all my teachers have given me great tips which I use daily to improve my intonation. The primary purpose of my post (maybe I didn't get it across in the way I worded things) was to get many ideas from many people and sources, because I know there are many people on violinist.com and many of them have good ideas to share. I am not only interested in getting tips to help improve my intonation, but also in seeing what different ways people suggest for fixing it.

Giancarlo

April 16, 2010 at 03:18 PM ·

The way I would teach a beginner intonation is different than an intermediate or advance student. With new students I use ways to get them to listen first then play, because this is  what’s it’s all about. Our minds are hardwired to have a sense of intonation; we just need to learn to listen to it. For example, a cat meows, if a cat grew up with dogs a cat will still meow. For us it’s similar, it’s impossible for us to learn equal temperament tuning, because we already have a form of tuning hardwired into our heads, we play out of tune because we are not listening to it or there’s a form of interference.

  Probably the best way for an intermediate/advance player to get help with intonation is a home recording studio. An advance player doesn’t need to pay someone to correct there intonation, they can be their own judge. A home studio really does help perfect your playing.

http://pro-audio.musiciansfriend.com/product/Digidesign-Mbox-2-Mini-Recording-Bundle?sku=702525

Developing your “musical soul”.

 For instance, if someone has tape on their finger board and needs to look at their fingers when changing notes or strings and they’re not exposed to any form of ear training, this student isn’t using and training the right areas of the brain and is going to struggle when the tape is removed. Whereas with a young student who plays with no tape, and was taught a sense of intonation. If this student switches to a larger violin, there will be a short learning curve. This is because they’re music memory/learn motor skills areas are being trained instead of their hand /eye coordination.  So no matter what level we are at, we always want to be developing our music memory/learned motor skills areas of the brain and try and stay away from areas that will slow the processing down. So keeping your eyes closed when practicing scales and arpeggios is a good idea. Learning to improvise is a great tool to help with intonation, really focuses on thinking before you play. It’s also a good idea to learn some pieces by ear to improve intonation. Playing scales with one string out of tune periodically really heightens your music memory /propreoception skill, whereas excessive repetition (muscle memory theories) dulls these senses. Relearning pieces a semi tone higher or lower or in different positions.

Interference

Of course poor technique will cause us to play out of tune, but a poor chin rest or shoulder rest will give you inconsistency issues. It is possible that you are hearing to much inner sound (sound travelling through your jaw bone to your inner ear) playing with a sponge or folded cloth under the chinrest will help with this. Also not cleaning ears with a Q- tip, but use an over the counter product to help with wax build up.

Well these are some of my own ideas on intonation.

 

 

 

April 16, 2010 at 04:13 PM ·

@ Charles: You are totally right. What I found usefull as well is to play in complete darkness in the practice room it gives you the freedom of staring into the dark space. Great inner experience as well.

April 16, 2010 at 07:11 PM ·

If I were to pick just one thing, it would be scales (various modes and qualities) and seventh arpeggios (in all their forms) played over at least 2 octaves, but preferably 3 octaves. The exercise should be done slowly with various rhythms and slurring, and then faster.  The student should consciously use different positions (F major starting in 1st position, F major starting in 2d position, etc) and different starting points in the arpeggios (root, third, fifth, seventh).  This approach teaches intervals, of many sorts, for both the fingers and the ear, and it requires the fingers and the mind to work this out in many positions up and down the fingerboard.  The use of various rhythms requires the mind to separate "in tune finger positions" from 'producing interesting sound".  It may sound massive when summarized like this, but it should be something that a serious player does in rotating pieces for 15 to 30 minutes every day.  Then it becomes natural.

April 16, 2010 at 07:25 PM ·

Mike's suggestions are very good.  You have to have a program of scales to improve intonation.  Perhaps your teacher(s) can work with you to develop one.

April 17, 2010 at 07:20 PM ·

Buri hits the nail on the head here:

"Just put the bow and finger on the stirng togethr and play. Don`t adjust the picth. If its flat its flat. If its sharp its sharp. Note the direction and extent of the problem and repeta the procedure until you can hit that note dea don all over the fiddle."

The death knell of intonation work is correcting (sliding around) as you go.  You'll get very good at correcting, and not so great at hitting the note right in the first place.

April 17, 2010 at 07:41 PM ·

The death knell of intonation work is correcting (sliding around) as you go.  You'll get very good at correcting, and not so great at hitting the note right in the first place.

This is precisely what has been frustrating ME!  I should have known it from the begining! "We ARE what we PRACTICE!" If we practice sliding around that is exactly what we will play!

April 17, 2010 at 07:45 PM ·

Ear training courses with a good teacher!  It can be a torture at first but it is very useful... Just a few years will help very much!    Of course also the typical trick of having a piano close to check if you're ok. Play your things slowly on piano first and analyse the distance between your fingers when you play. (What is the relation between these two notes (if they were played on the same string). Is it a tone, a semi tone, 1 1/2 tone? etc...

Just a few tricks I have tried and have been advised to as a student.

Good luck!

 

April 17, 2010 at 09:13 PM ·

I'm still a beginner but listen to what I have noticed and learned.
When the note is out of tune, it sounds kind of dull and it doesn't vibrate as much even when I really try. When I hit the right note and give it a clean long pull, I'm just filled with joy :)
 

Hope this helps,
Theo
 

April 18, 2010 at 01:17 PM ·

Instrument construction, adjustment, & age & quality of strings profoundly affect intonation. I played on a violin recently where a fifth simply would not sound between the D & A strings at third finger, even though the opens were in tune. Hoping that new strings with less brand mix may help.  

April 18, 2010 at 06:50 PM ·

 I find that students who have  taught themselves intonation (poor teaching),along with poor technique  can have a really bad habit of sliding into notes.I tell you one thing , it's a very hard habit to break,maybe the hardest habit to break.To get these students out of this habit , I get them do a lot of "hand drops", A LOT!!.That's where they bring their left  hand to their waist ,then back to the note, making sure they get the finger height is right  and their wrist is straight..I repeat this several times with different fingers on different strings.

 I think intonation is the most important thing a teacher needs to work on in the first few months.Teachers who never correct intonation should give their students money back , they are just wasting everyones time and efforts.If I am working with a" dedicated" student who plays 20 notes out , they are correct 20 times and then some.The best way to teach intonation is to correct poor intonation immediately so it doesn't become a bad habit.

July 30, 2010 at 02:44 PM ·

First, make sure that you can play the most simple of intervals cleanly: the1st and 8ths (octaves), tone and semitone, the perfect fourths and fifths, the major and minor thirds. Play them in double stops until you can hear the third sound down there. That's when the intonation is right. Then try to replicate the intervals from double stops to simple, melodic ones (like first position, finger 2 on F on the d string with an open A as drone, then replicating it melodically F - finger 2, A - finger 4... OR... first position string D finger 1 on e, string A with finger 4 on e, doubled by an E open string as drone).

Of course, all this is useless if your left hand position is not right. Most intonation problems stem from indiscipline in the grouping of fingers. When you lift a finger off the string, best to keep it above that exact place where it was and press it again to produce the same note (first position 0-D, finger 2-F, 0-D again and finger 2-F once more... 0-2-0-2-0-2). Keep the finger on the note's spot (above actually), no matter if it's on or off the string. That also is important for upcoming notes - anticipating the place of the note by placing the finger above the exact place where it will hit the string. Letting your fingertips fly about and rise chaotically after they articulate is the main killer of good intonation.

Another critical element in playing in tune is the interval of perfect 4th between the 1st and 4th fingers. If you have that template interval built into your reflexes, chances are that you wont be missing many notes. For that, the best solution is practicing octaves.

August 1, 2010 at 12:27 AM ·

I've created these rhythm tracks in a variety of modern music styles that I believed that it can help with intonation improvement. All of the tracks were created with a drone in each key to allow you to check your intonation and work on your ear training. This is invaluable in helping you to play or sing in tune and to hear intervals.

www.practicetraxx.com

August 1, 2010 at 05:32 AM ·

In one of the David Finckel cello videos he uses a tone generator and then plays scales while the tone generator is playing the tonic of the scale.  I have tried it and it is a very effective way to work on intonation.  In fact it is amazing how nicely a properly tuned interval sounds...even like a minor 7th or something.  Tom

August 1, 2010 at 09:03 AM ·

Practicing Kreutzer double stop etudes helps me a lot. Some of them, e.g. #32 (Bev's Nemesis) or #38 (my own) have their drones built in. I practice them slowly, paying attention to both being as comfortable as possible and playing in tune.

August 6, 2010 at 06:37 PM ·

While we're on the subject of intonation:

I watched a David Garrett program on PBS last night, and came away just shaking my head.  I've never heard him before.  Does anyone out there know if he's ALWAYS so intonation-challenged??!!!  He played Schubert's "Serenade" -- poor Schubert must be spinning like a lathe right now!  :o

August 6, 2010 at 07:31 PM ·

 It is Garrett spinning like a lathe, and he is very fast.

Marsha listen to his Clair de Lune on You Tube. I liked it, and it might change your mind. 

August 6, 2010 at 07:56 PM ·

I don't know if anyone else does this: when I'm not sure of a note's pitch I sometimes use vibrato to cover up. It's nearly automatic, it enables people to see when I'm not sure, and it makes real progress impossible.

The associated tip would be: if you want to improve, don't do that! I'll try to remember;)

August 6, 2010 at 10:17 PM ·

well, you sure as hell won't develop your intonation if you insist on using a vibrato.  the vibrato comes later.

 

all the advice above is really very good.

 

I just would like to add that if your articulation is not good, your intonation will not be good.  If you can't draw a pure sound out of a note with you bow, your intonation will not be good. Both apply no matter how hard you practice. 

August 7, 2010 at 04:12 AM ·

I just saw the excellent post here by Buri and just wanted to say thank you for suggesting your very practical and easy to implement intonation exercise.  Tom

August 7, 2010 at 02:35 PM ·

Dion -- I'll check the YouTube clip.  I'm not saying that everything sounded bad -- it's just that way too much sounded bad for him to be getting the "star treatment" that he gets (you'd have thought the PBS lady was a 12-year-old in the presence of Justin Bieber, for cryin' out loud!).

BTW, for those younger folks who might not have understood the "spinning like a lathe" reference, it goes back to something occuring that would displease someone who has passed away -- the original old expression is that they'd "turn over in their grave".

August 8, 2010 at 09:59 AM ·

Sound can have an image

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQPMhwuYMy4&feature=related

It's fascinating to see how different frequencies form different images.When the tone is pure the image is  clean or narrow .It may help some to get an image of "in tune" in there heads.For example , clean ,thin ,least Resistance , pure , even etc... I find that the image "smile"   :)   is dominant  when describing  certain  violin techniques.

I feel that some may think that  practicing scales  will teach you to play in tune.For example, you may hear some one remark after listening to an out of tune audition -"you need to practice your scales more". I find this concept wrong.I find if someone is playing their pieces out tune ,then chances are they are playing their scales out of tune.If they keep on practicing their scales this way, all they are doing is re-enforcing the wrong."practice ,practice ,practice"  wrong over time doesn't = right ,right ,right. Once you have  learn to play in tune ,then scales help with consistency, accuracy and speed.You have to learn to play in tune first , or you have to learn the concept of playing in tune

August 9, 2010 at 05:04 PM ·

This tip could well be controversial: learn about different systems of intonation, such as pure, Pythagorean, and equal temperament.

It will teach you why C major is a tricky key for a string quartet, and why there are two sweet spots for the B  played with the first finger on the A string (first position). And most importantly it will help you to know what is possible and what is not. For example, the chord g-e' -b' -e", with open strings for the g and the e", cannot be played in tune in pure intonation unless the inner e' and b' are allowed to change just a little while the chord is played.

Let the controversy start!

Bart

August 12, 2010 at 02:10 PM ·

Listen to yourself on a digital quick playback recorder. It can be very revealing.

Make sure your vibrato is going to the flat side of the stop as the ear picks up the highest part of the pitch ( Galamian )

Play perfectly in tune without vibrato and then use the minimum to get the sound you want.

Avoid exaggerating the closeness of semitones.

Happy playing!

September 4, 2011 at 06:43 PM ·

 I have perfect pitch (which isn't always a gift, by the way!), but it was a developed trait for me; I did not have it until I was about fourteen. I never tried to have it, it just came naturally to me, but my teacher happened to have it and could tell the difference of 440Hz and 441Hz, so you can imagine how hellish my life was.

Speaking in Physics terms, a wrong note resonates without the correct frequency, so it creates a wave within the air that does not resonate very well. Therefore, you hear a slight vibration-esque sustain when you play a wrong intonation. Generally, a third, a fifth, sixth, tenth resonates slightly with the other strings, so you just need to listen for those. 

September 5, 2011 at 10:49 AM ·

It is very dangerous to use a lot of electronic tuners which have a needle or whatever to show you are out of tune.

All you need an electronic tuner for is to give an A at 440 and then all you need is a pair of ears that have been well trained.

And pianos are always out of tune even if the tuner has just left the premises.

September 5, 2011 at 10:53 AM ·

Is there a "window" early in life where the intervals are assimilated.  Surely with learning a violin there has to be a moment where the effort becomes a waste of time.

This may well be so.

Some people can play a violin and know and play all the notes of Sibelius Concerto and have masses of them out of tune. (True story) How would you cure that?

It's easy. Persuade them to become a conductor or a pianist.

September 5, 2011 at 03:35 PM ·

electric tuners are good for learning tempered intonation in my opinion but not throughout the music. when you play b-natural (h)' on a string and open e you need an slightly higher b-natural (h)' than if you play it together with the d-string. Someone maybe knows the cents and the reason for it? Maybe its because with the d string it becomes the third of g-major wich has to be slightly down compared to the fifth in emajor/minor, wich has to be "clean".

For me intonation is a very difficult story, because there are so many different tunings and temperatures. If you use open string to tune some notes, be aware they make sence in the harmonic too. So like in my example above you tune your b-natural in E major/minor with the e string and the same note in g-major should be checked with the d string.

The first problem with intonation and temperature is the tuning itself. If we tune "in tune" we get a slightly too low d and especially g string, wich is even worse on the cello if you tune from a over d over g to c. Thats why cellist and viola players often check their c strings together and with the violin e string to get it temperatured for quartet playing for example.

But away from that intonation comes with practice and correct listening with the time. if you really listen to your intonation your ears get better every day, at first a tuner can help, but I prefer open strings if necessary.

feeling the resonance with an absolute pitch hearing is strange to my logic. Because how can a c-sharp (in tune) have a perfect hertz number or an "clean"  oscillation. What happens if you tune at 445 or 443=A and all the relation shifts?

I think this is one of the problems of most of the absolute pitch people. They can have problems with different tunings (I have no absolute pitch but i have the feeling of playing totally out of tune when I play 435=A, it just doesnt feel "right" to me). Also a problem for them can be transposing while playing, but thats difficult anyway.

So I can understand, that one can hear the cleanlyness of a note through its resonance but to my opinion that refers to the tuning of the instrument. On a 445 violin a "445"- b-flat sounds "right" and on a 440 a 440- b-flat. And you hear the uneven oscillations of wrong notes, because the other strings doesnt resonate clean if its out of tune. At least I hope so, otherwise you would have a lot of problems with different tunings.

The best absolute pitch people I know could adapt their ear to the tonality and tuning. They could tune a 440, 441 and so on. Plus she could connect it to different notes if necessary. That is of course totally awesome!

As for Exercises, playing oktave-quart-scales in double stops is really helpful. one can play it harmonically or in half steps with the two different quarts inside the oktave grip. it gives you a good handposition and Oktave and Quart are "easy" to tune because they have like zero tolerance.

September 5, 2011 at 03:43 PM ·

"But away from that intonation comes with practice and correct listening with the time. if you really listen to your intonation your ears get better every day, at first a tuner can help, but I prefer open strings if necessary.

feeling the resonance with an absolute pitch hearing is strange to my logic. Because how can a c-sharp (in tune) have a perfect hertz number or an "clean"  oscillation. What happens if you tune at 445 or 443=A and all the relation shifts?

I think this is one of the problems of most of the absolute pitch people. They can have problems with different tunings (I have no absolute pitch but i have the feeling of playing totally out of tune when I play 435=A, it just doesnt feel "right" to me). Also a problem for them can be transposing while playing, but thats difficult anyway.

So I can understand, that one can hear the cleanlyness of a note through its resonance but to my opinion that refers to the tuning of the instrument."

Simon, this makes sense and I agree with you. Listening to resonance is a mistake. Relative pitch and ear training is the essential requirement.

September 5, 2011 at 05:41 PM ·

Tom

Tuners

We've all been seduced by these things. When in an orchestra many of  the wind players seemed to be using these things, so I got one. But to be honest it made no difference.

And I'm not someone with perfect pitch - thankfully - so how have I developed? Using relative pitch, and training my ears to hear and judge intervals.

I would say that there are probably quite a few musicians out there who have not learnt to listen properly. But having had a teacher who thrashed about the room with his hands over his ears when I was playing as a student during lessons, I quickly learnt to develop my listening powers, and this has gone ever on since.

Amateurs and professionals have the same problems. And as I've said before, we should all really consider ourselves as amateurs.

September 5, 2011 at 07:46 PM ·

 Finding b, c and f

This discussion is a new revelation for me. I have almost always been aware of the sympathetic resonances of e, a, d, and g. (I am among the group who have picked up the violin again in retirement after not touching it for fifty years.)

 

Just recently, have I become aware of the special sound of second finger f on the d string when perfectly in tune. With the generosity of all who have written on this thread I am beginning to understand the phenomena. I shall now go looking for the sounds of true b and true c. Sharps and flats can come later.

 

Do these resonances become more obvious as a new violin blooms? Or is it a factor of the level of refinement that a luther has been able to lavish on the instrument?

 

ABL

September 5, 2011 at 08:17 PM ·

September 5, 2011 at 08:17 PM ·

Why was this thread resurrected?

Does Jesus live here?

September 5, 2011 at 08:20 PM ·

Sometimes, but never on Sunday ...

Maybe the resurrector works for Korg ...

September 6, 2011 at 12:57 AM ·

Play G with your second finger on the E string.  If G is in tune, you should hear a "ringing" resonance with the G string of your violin.   Now try it with the B (fourth finger on the E string).  Again one of the G-string harmonics should resonate.  You can explore the harmonics of the G string and you will find this note among them.  You can test these resonances by muting the sympathetic string with another finger (or with the thumb if it is the G string).  Fourth finger E on the A string should resonate with the E string, but you have to position your finger carefully to avoid muting the E string.  And so it goes, for many of the notes on the violin.  Some are harder to detect, and some are not there at all (as far as I can tell).  But what this means is that the violin does not need to be in tune with the piano (which is not tuned in perfect fifths), nor with electronic tuners, which likewise generally reflect an equal-tempered scale.  Even when performing with other instruments, the violin sounds best when it is in tune with itself.  Your violin is your intonation coach.  Double stops ... now that's another matter for another day. :)

September 9, 2011 at 07:08 PM ·

 'A little like having an annoying red like flicker on the Korg when you are not playing the perfect Hz.'

A tuner can never replace having a good teacher who hears intonation.  I don't really see a correlation.  These tuners don't make one learn to listen at all.  If a player wants to play with good intonation, s/he will have to learn how to hear the relative pitches and intervals without the tuner.   A tuner might make things better for a few moments, but it is only a temporary fix and not a way to build a good foundation in my opinion.

September 10, 2011 at 02:46 AM ·

God bless my metronome and my tuner! And some of my teachers probably too...

September 10, 2011 at 02:01 PM ·

Tom Connelly

I should point out that I believe in the metronome - especially electronic - if I can found one loud enough to be heard when a quartet is playing, even ppp.

If you love your electonic tuner that's fine. Maybe you will end up marrying it?

I should also point out that all the God stuff is meaningless to someone like me.

September 10, 2011 at 03:22 PM ·

 hahaaha... and btw... nate was talking about relative intonation.... not perfect pitch!

September 11, 2011 at 02:44 PM ·

"god bless the violin" - how does that work?

September 11, 2011 at 05:43 PM ·

@ P.C.:

Most electronic metronoms have an output, you can connect active speakers there to amplify the sound. this way the metronome works with string quartet too!

And the God stuff: you are right of course

September 11, 2011 at 06:01 PM ·

Simon

You have a good point there about amplifying the metronome and I could do that at home, but the problem is when I go eslwhere and we rehearse in someones kitchen/diner or in a hall and we do not have access to such equipment. What I need then is a very loud but small portable metronome.

Even if we play ppp or ponticello we still can't hear the normal metronomes properly.

September 11, 2011 at 06:51 PM ·

 I think we have to also take into account that sometimes, yes, technology can be flat out wrong.  Case in point, I have a GPS in my car that took me to the wrong part of town the other day, even though this place is a pretty well known landmark.  I would've been better off that day reading a map rather than relying on technology.  Same thing with these tuners, they might take you close to where you need to be, but close is not good enough for me, and it shouldn't be for any serious musician. I remember I had a few tuning forks tuned at A440 and tested them once against a few tuners.  One of the tuners' 'A440' was completely different from the forks.

September 11, 2011 at 08:14 PM ·

 Greetings,

the whole design and approach to tuners took a wrong turn about twenty years ago.  What should have been done is the creation of a range of tuners based on the needs of the individual instrumentalist.   Thus one simply turns the dial to baroque tuning and a very flat and scratchy `a` emerges or an extremely sharp one if one has the delux model that can also be calibrated for composer and geo graphic setting.  The oboists tuner is basically okay but doesn`t work somedays because the reed is broken.  The viola players fluctuates on an hourly basis while the one for double basses has built in sounds of 80 other people praciticng various concerto excerpts so they can`t hear it anyway.  The Viennese model is tuned to a450 .  It`s not much use now but in ten years time you will be glad you ought it.

Cheers,

Buri

September 11, 2011 at 08:32 PM ·

"they might take you close to where you need to be, but close is not good enough for me, and it shouldn't be for any serious musician."

 

 

Some techno-contrarians may say things like, "the human ear can only discern 4 cents" or other sort of blanket statements (actually the precision of our mind/ear is more interesting than that and is not linear).

However, the fact is that error direction matters. If you cannot tune to hi precision, yet tune each string separately to some other device, the results can be very  ad, when one string is biased  up, the other down. When this happens, you do hear it!

September 12, 2011 at 01:23 AM ·

Hi,

According to Carl Flesch, the first sin of intonation is the inability to hear "in tune" and correct the note.  I agree.  He recommended practice with open strings.

That said, there is an exercise by Robert Gerle using frames and patterns which is excellent.  The exercise can be adapted to combine the idea of the 4 basic patterns with the use of open strings as advocated by Flesch.  It is a little long for here, but I can Email it to you if you want.  I have used it personally and it works very well at training the ear to hear intervals, harmony and most importantly resonance.

Now, there are problems of setup which also affect intonation.  The first is in the left hand.  If your hand is not setup right, then it is hard to get a good natural position for your hand and a good finger angle.  The left hand rests not on the thumb but the base of the first finger.  The thumb height depends on the length of the thumb in relation to the distance between the base of the first finger and root of the thumb.  Therefore, the result is that each individual is different.  The thumb and first finger should be in line.  Also, to have a natural position, your elbow should essentially be pointing down towards the floor, like a pendulum.  The over-rotation in creates lots of problems of tension and intonation.  This can be hard to detect if one uses a shoulder rest (this is not a rant against the use of this tool!) because it can hide the imbalance that comes from incorrect placement of the elbow as you can "get away with it."

Also, of the utmost importance is intermediate notes (also known as guide fingers).  There is always a finger touching the string brining you from one location to another.  It has to be on the string at a definite location before you travel, and you have to known exactly from where to where you are going.  This helps a great deal in understanding how you are moving and in diagnosing and fixing any errors during practice.

One of the biggest culprits of bad intonation is in the bow!  This is often overlooked.  Excessive pressure distorts the sound and pitch by causing the string to vibrate in an incorrect fashion.  Contact point can be to blame in some cases too.  The movement of the bow arm should be lateral with very little vertical movement on any given string; to quote Pinchas Zukerman on this one: "one string, one level of elbow!"  This keep the string vibrating consistently and freely without distortion.  The "cleaner" the vibration, the better the intonation; this is often overlooked, but in the end the bow is just as responsible for good intonation as the left since it is the one making the sound in the first place.

Hope this helps...  Good luck and cheers!

September 12, 2011 at 11:51 PM ·

@P.C: you can buy some active notebook speakers with batteries or power-cable. They may have bad sound quality but should be enough for amplifying metronoms. I often used PC- speakers in that way. It works great. I think you can get some small speakers for 20 € wich is in some cases less than a new metronome.

Having these (active) boxes could also be a help if you work with a zoom a lot since they don' have speakers, but an monitor-lineout.

September 13, 2011 at 01:52 PM ·

 Personally, I like the concept of drones for intonation practice. Ruggiero Ricci has a book out "Left-Hand Violin Technique" G. Schirmer, the first section covers many variations of this approach. A chromatic tuner is good too, I just like the organic approach with the violin telling you what to do. Also, the fact that quartet players tend to have better intonation than your typical orchestral musician, is a testimony to the art of listening, and adjustment. 

September 13, 2011 at 02:31 PM ·

 What great replies!  I thought I might add on.  :)  

I have used my chromatic tuner to play scales to help me with my intonation, which is markedly improved since I began practicing in this way.  I have turned my tuner on and started up a 3 octave scale, then arpeggios and finally, broken thirds (I love the Carl Flesch scale system for my own practice), gradually moving from one note to the next, but only after each note is perfectly in tune.  If you are shifting and having trouble shifting to the correct note, I recommend moving back and forth between the two slowly to practice the shift.

In terms of practicing thirds, chords can make me feel a bit crazy, so I usually only practice moving back and forth between three or four sets at a time (but I am the kind of player who could play the same thing a zillion times before I feel it's ready to move forward... I'm trying to improve in that area-- ha ha!).  The easiest way I could find to make sure I am playing these chords in tune is to check one note against an open string (say B on the A string with open D string) until it's in tune.  Then, you can place your other finger on the corresponding third (in the previous example, G on the D string), moving it slightly to create the perfect resonant sound of a third.  In the above example, you could also check G against G and then add the B if you wanted (either way seems to produce similar results). 

I loved these approaches that were bestowed upon me by my current instructor.  I have noticed improved ability to hear pitches with greater preciseness and have received many compliments on my intonation since implementing these practice strategies at home.    

Good luck with your practice!  Remember to start slowly to get it right at the outset.  :) 

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