Tonality: playing versus listening

July 19, 2010 at 06:41 PM ·

OK, so I practice and tape my playing.  The pitch sounds fine as I play it but when I replay the tape I'm out of tune in lots of spots (its way better than it was 2 years ago but still far from perfect).

Why the difference?  Why am I so much less sensitive to the out-of-tune note as it comes from my violin than when I hear it played back on the tape?

Replies (53)

July 19, 2010 at 07:08 PM ·

When you only listen, you don't have all that violin playing to distract you. I always thought that was the answer.

But there is something else, too. A few years ago I inherited some tapes with myself playing. I dimly remember having been quite pleased with them at the time. Listening to them now, I find many of them horribly out of tune. I must have been used to my own mistakes, back then.

Interesting subject!

Bart

July 19, 2010 at 07:49 PM ·

Elise, thanks for starting this subject. I have been perplexed by this also, as I mentioned it in this thread. Concentration/distraction is definitely a factor, but there must be something else - sometimes my teacher would ask me to repeat a note that was previously flat/sharp. Apparently, I would be concentrating on hearing it when I played the note again, but I could still fail to detect it when it was out-of-tune until I played back the recording. When I asked my teacher why, she just said "It's hard to hear when the sound is right at your ear." (Well, she is a violinist, not a scientist.) Charles Cook in the said thread suggested this:

"I believe that the violins inner tone (sound transfered to the inner ear by your jaw bone) can interfere with your ability to recognize intonation.Placing a folded cloth on the chinrest is all that is needed the hear  purely with the outer ear.I find that after a while your mind learns to only listen to the outer ear.When I 'm in the recording studio I still find it best to play with a folded cloth under the chin and I only use one headphone over the right ear(important) , if I don't do this I notice that I  play slightly flat- singers struggle with this inner voice also."

July 19, 2010 at 08:01 PM ·

It's no easier on a piano -- the distraction of making the sound keeps you from concentrating just on hearing it.  We don't have intonation problems, but it still goes for every other aspect of sound production as well.  There's nothing to replace recording oneself.

July 19, 2010 at 08:14 PM ·

I, too, have struggled with this. I think that unless you have top notch recording stuff and great acoustic conditions then a lot of what is recorded just sounds nastier than real life. A nice echo - in a large hall - as opposed to the tight small room echoes you get in a domestic situation coupled with cheap microphone.

We need a recording expert to come in on this thread.

July 19, 2010 at 09:18 PM ·

Intonation has nothing to do with recording equipment. If you are shocked by a recording of your playing but were quite pleased while playing it it is probably because you were too emotionally involved while playing. If you have the finely tuned muscle memory to play in tune automatically you can be very involved and still play in tune but chances are some other part of your playing will suffer a bit, like timing, phrasing or playing together with fellow musicians.

Your playing will probably improve immediately when you seek a balance between enjoying the music while you are playing and being a strict referee who is constantly monitoring and adjusting tuning, timing, tone, phrasing etc. The balance will probably shift from 100% referee to 50% or less while you progress as a violinist and musician.

Something else will eventually happen as well: you will be pleasantly surprised when you hear yourself on a recording. This is because in "referee" mode you are focused on adjusting mistakes you are making. You will get better and better at this and the mistakes will be adjusted faster and more precise or even avoided over time to the point that you sound better than you think. This moment will be one of pure bliss, I can tell you that! 

For many years I didn't sound as well as I thought I sounded but then one day this turned around and now I always look forward to hearing recordings!

 

July 19, 2010 at 09:33 PM ·

Bart also raised an important issue: a development in taste over time.

I've always felt that "musicality" equals "taste". It can be developed easily: just listen to recordings which are considered "great" and let an expert tell you what's good about it (in detail). This way you will develop a keen ear for the conventions of your instrument in a particular style. And when you play with this knowledge and make your referee adjust according to your - now good - taste other knowledgeable people will say: "this guy/gal is a very musical player".

An underdevelopment in taste is what makes "bad" (according to conventions that grew over decades) players think they play well. Youtube is filled with videos in which this is demonstrated. A good example is many classical violinists playing Piazzolla the way Kremer played it. They may be good or even excellent violinists but they are absolutely destroying the music simply because they do not know the conventions of tango nuevo, which takes years of listening and practicing. I'm certain that when they will hear themselves back after developing taste in tango they will be shocked that they once felt it was good! 

The sad fact is that 98% of the audience one normally plays to won't have developed taste themselves and thus give standing ovations when they are not deserved; this is of course not helpful to anyone -> just watch Idols auditions on television in any country and you'll get what I'm talking about!

 

July 20, 2010 at 08:37 AM ·

 I agree with Chirstiaan. I think one has to develop an ability to imagine that we are listening to ourselves objectively from outside, if that makes sense. The same thing talked here about intonation applies equally to rhythm and other things, in my case anyway. I don't think it's something that affects intonation exclusively. 

I have a friend who's an extremely good professional violinist, but sometimes his intonation can be excruciating. When I hear him practising, he plays everything through very fast, without any pause for thought. I've no doubt that if he'd slow down and listen more carefully he'd iron out all his intonation problems. I think in his case that's all it boils down to.

July 20, 2010 at 08:49 AM ·

Excruciating tonality - and he's a pro??  How can he possibly get away with that?  Is he aware of this?  Maybe if you taped him and he played it back he could hear the issue...

I tried the cloth between my violin and me - but it made it worse.  The best thing for me is to play everything very slowly while glancing at an electronic tuner.  What it does is not so much put me in tune but tell me where I have an issue and have to work on the note.  Interestingly, I've found notes that are regularly out - ones where its become part of the music in my head, usually they are a semi-tone out (off key).  Those I can't find even on a playback!  Makes me wonder about my ear....

July 20, 2010 at 08:59 AM ·

Elise

This is a problem. It is too late once you have recorded to correct the bad intonation. It is no good listening to a recording to tell you which notes are out of tune.

You have to train yourself to hear the bad intonation AS YOU PLAY and correct it at source. If you can't hear it then and correct it instinctively then you need more pitch refinement and ear training.

(Of course, practising out of tune is the problem, as we train ourselved to hear and accept it ).

I'm not really a teacher as I've never taken it too seriously and I'm rather impatient. So when a kid of about 16 came to me for a trial lesson I pointed out how bad her intonation was in the Bach Sonata she was playing. I told her she needed extensive work on her ear training combined with perhaps left hand technical improvement.

It wasn't what she wanted to hear so she never came back. I doubt if she ever became a serious professional player, but who knows, we a more subtle teacher it may have been possible. My wife reckoned I was too honest, and she would know as she is a teaching expert on the johanna, you know, teaches teachers how to teach. I think its called pedagogy or some funny word like that ...

July 20, 2010 at 09:12 AM ·

I don't agree entirely - listening has helped me identify passages where I go off and I've then explored those during practice and that certainly helps.  Its funny how some notes are on all the time whereas others are not - and equally how you can practice those notes - in context and out (say with scales) and fix them.  While the finding is cerebral, the fixing seems to be sub-conscious, focus, practice and La! 

July 20, 2010 at 09:30 AM ·

I'd like to add another concept to this discussion to see what you all think! I had problem with intonation for years that I didn't have when I was young. I couldn't figure it out. No matter what I did I couldn't play double stops in tune, for example. Also, playing two notes an octave apart was tough, I would do exactly the position I thought would be perfect and they were never the same. The higher note was always flat. Also, for example, when I would play a Bb on the A string it seemed to be in tune only if I was further from the nut, and that seemed odd to me.  It wasn't until I started looking for a new violin that I learned (from a Luthier specializing in fitting violins) that my violin was not standard size. It seems to have probably been made for a man with long arms and fingers, not an average woman with short fingers. He put a violin that was what he considered the perfect size for me in my hands and I played it. I didn't really like the violin but I played in tune. Perfect double stops, octaves perfectly aligned on the first try. I ended up finding a violin that I chose because I loved it, but also based on the sizing of it. I would add that it is important to be at ease in your intonation that your violin be properly sized. A violin with the legnth of the vibrating string that is closer to that of a viola will be more difficult to play than one that is "standard" or fitted to you. The violin that I was playing was one I bought when I was in my early 30's and I never connected my sudden intonation problems to having that violin! I just thought I wasn't practicing enough. The thing I found interesting is that my ideal violin size is closer to a 7/8ths! :oP

July 20, 2010 at 09:32 AM ·

I don't agree entirely - listening has helped me identify passages where I go off and I've then explored those during practice and that certainly helps.  Its funny how some notes are on all the time whereas others are not - and equally how you can practice those notes - in context and out (say with scales) and fix them.  While the finding is cerebral, the fixing seems to be sub-conscious, focus, practice and La! 

July 20, 2010 at 09:39 AM ·

 Elise,  three questions:

 

1:  You're only talking about being out of tune ( intonation) NOT "tonality," correct?

 

2:  Are you playing with other stringed instruments,  or solo,  or against keyboards & guitars?

-  If the latter, then you might want to do some research on just, pythagorean, and equal temperments.  There are different placements for the fingers, depending upon what the situation is.  (and then there's playing in quartets, which is another thing altogether.)  - And you know, the "Eb" in a Bb major scale is different from the Eb in an Ab major scale.  - and WAY different from the D# in a B major scale.

It can all make you a little crazy.  Mostly, you have to first train your ear (brain) as to what's correct in each situation, THEN you practice achieving those results.

What you cannot, cannot,  ABSOLUTELY CANNOT do is watch a tuner while you practice.  That will throw you OUT of tune, because the violin is not equal-tempered. 

 

3:  Are you by any chance playing vibrato both above & below the note?  Some teachers (who should be put in jail) actually teach this, but it is guaranteed to make you sound sharp, no matter how perfectly you hit the main notes.

 

July 20, 2010 at 10:47 AM ·

intonation (oops).  Nope, playing by myself and (now) 'vibratoing' down from the note dutifully! 

Its as if my brain has to learn each note on the violin separately.  I think its because I am very sensitive to the resonant quality of the note - more so than the actual pitch.  Thus, each note has its own character.  Its a bit of a slow process but I think I'm winning! 

July 20, 2010 at 11:06 AM ·

@Allan

I'm sorry Allan but I do not agree. I hear many players talk about different ways to play Eb (D#) (or any note) and it is especially popular amongst baroque players. However, I feel this makes things overly complicated. These are the concepts I use:

- Try to play in tune with your violin. This means that notes should sound good together with your open strings (i.e.: make good sounding double stops). If you are capable of doing this your violin will sound the best it can and you will have a very solid tuning which fits all but some situations

- Try to tune melodies. Some melodies might be served with a higher intonation of lead tones or a lower third but this a personal preference mostly. Shop around for recordings you like and try to imitate the intonation if you feel you can improve on it.

- Tune chords in ensemble-playing. If you are playing chords together with other instruments, for example in a string quartet and they sound out of tune, NOW is the time to stop and tune the chord together, maybe requiring you and/or others to play some notes lower or higher. Just write it down (arrow up or down over the note) and continue business as usual!

July 20, 2010 at 11:49 AM ·

"- Try to play in tune with your violin. This means that notes should sound good together with your open strings (i.e.: make good sounding double stops). If you are capable to do this your violin will sound the best it can and you will have a very solid tuning which fits all but some situations"

I think this is the best advice - in particular since I like to play with as few instruments as possible :D  I actually have a scale book (can't remember off-hand by whom) which is composed of scales with open strings played continuously but I've never used it.  Its time to dig it up...

July 20, 2010 at 02:10 PM ·

Of course you could decide to stop listening altogether and become a conductor ... (Joke!! - Just in case any conductors get upset ...)

July 20, 2010 at 02:11 PM ·

"Its as if my brain has to learn each note on the violin separately. I think its because I am very sensitive to the resonant quality of the note - more so than the actual pitch. Thus, each note has its own character."

Yeh, it's like a vast army on that finger board and you have to recognize the exact soldiers that do it for you as you meet them.  I'm also finding that slow, but fascinating.  I wonder if they're the ones with the shiniest buttons? 

 

July 20, 2010 at 05:00 PM ·

"Its as if my brain has to learn each note on the violin separately. I think its because I am very sensitive to the resonant quality of the note - more so than the actual pitch. Thus, each note has its own character."

This statement seems to be similar to my own experience. When I first began to "hear" pitch, so to speak, I began by picking up on the most resonant notes. After that the others slowly became more and more recognizable. Sort of like they were all hiding, and seemed to show up one or two at a at a time :) 

July 20, 2010 at 08:21 PM ·

Elise,Christian is right. When practicing,your referent for intonation is always the open strings. And do not pratice in the bathroom anymore(Lol). BTW, I am about to finish the first movement of your concerto for violin and orchestra (Baroque= strings,harpshichord, flutes and oboes)...

Marc

July 20, 2010 at 09:43 PM ·

@Marc: Elise,Christian is right. When practicing,your referent for intonation is always the open strings. And do not pratice in the bathroom anymore(Lol). BTW, I am about to finish the first movement of your concerto for violin and orchestra (Baroque= strings,harpshichord, flutes and oboes)...

I found the studies book - its by Ricci and its called Left Hand Violin Technique.  I can do the first two :)  It looks rather advanced.

However, the effort seems to be paying off - the taped playing is sounding a bit more like the 'heard' one and I am understanding the intonation (and structure) better (currently working on Accolay#1).

I am so excited about the music - just hope its not too far beyond my technique.  If its accessible it MIGHT be possible to get the summer camp (Lakefield) to run through it with the correct instruments.  Not only that, but they have at least one person from the afore mentioned Canadian archives there... ;)

 

July 20, 2010 at 10:36 PM ·

...It is tricky a little bit, just to give you some challenge and fun. I do not go beyond the 4th position and there are plenty of nice sequences of chords all in arpeggios...Think about Vivaldi andBach in a modern context without the excess of dissonance. Think about a baroque orchestra but with a modern bariolage. It sounds in A minor, in D major,in G major, in B minor, but still is atonal all the way, and no one will notice about it unless they read the score. I AM HAVING SO MUCH FUN!!!!

July 20, 2010 at 11:16 PM ·

My goal in life has been to be one thing: a breath of fresh air....

puff.....

July 21, 2010 at 01:50 AM ·

Well: I need a breath of fresh air also!!! Tomorrow: second movement. A dialogue of the solo violin with the oboe and flute. Something mystical in the style of an arioso...The orchestra: tutti pizzicati...

July 21, 2010 at 04:46 AM ·

 Chistiaan, you wrote:

" I'm sorry Allan but I do not agree. I hear many players talk about different ways to play Eb (D#) (or any note) and it is especially popular amongst baroque players. However, I feel this makes things overly complicated. These are the concepts I use:

 

Try to play in tune with your violin. This means that notes should sound good together with your open strings (i.e.: make good sounding double stops). If you are capable of doing this your violin will sound the best it can and you will have a very solid tuning which fits all but some situations

Try to tune melodies. Some melodies might be served with a higher intonation of lead tones or a lower third but this a personal preference mostly. Shop around for recordings you like and try to imitate the intonation if you feel you can improve on it.

Tune chords in ensemble-playing. If you are playing chords together with other instruments, for example in a string quartet and they sound out of tune, NOW is the time to stop and tune the chord together, maybe requiring you and/or others to play some notes lower or higher. "

-  And those three scenarios are EXACTLY what I wrote about, so you are actually agreeing with me 100%.    

!  !  !

 

July 21, 2010 at 07:37 AM ·

 Elise wrote: "Excruciating tonality - and he's a pro??  How can he possibly get away with that?  Is he aware of this?"

Maybe I'm being a bit harsh! His intonation is vastly better than an amateur, but a bit wayward when playing technical passages.

There's a very famous quartet in the uk (that's retired now), called the Lindsays. The leader was well known for playing quite out of tune sometimes. I heard them on the radio two days ago, and it wasn't just him on that occasion. However, they more than make up for it in other areas, the leader in particular is incredibly imaginative and creative. Therefore, it's to easy to forgive the odd tuning issue. Also, I think it's nice to listen to a performance with the odd blemishes here and there, even in a non live recording. Better than listening to a perfect but boring performance in my opinion!

July 21, 2010 at 10:40 AM ·

Well, whenever my students play out of tune, we go back to the basics: playing scales in tune. Since nearly everything they have to play is scalar, it is the shortest route to success.

What does that entail? Well, a drone on the tonic/root of the scale being played is the tool we use, to tune every single interval. Those intervals in turn are mapped out by whole and half steps visually in the fingers. When playing repertoire, being able to identify what key you're in, and putting the notes you play in tune with that key is essential to strong intonation.

Whatever the issue is, be it position of the hand frame, interval distance between the fingers, posture of the left arm/wrist/hand, etc., a good working through scales reveals everything...

July 21, 2010 at 11:45 AM ·

Allan and Christiaan: there are such things as colors in intonation. I am just refering you to the converstion of Gitlis in "The Art of the violin" speaking about Ginette Neveu and Jacques Thibeault. Sometimes you lower the pitch to enhance some effet... you raise it a bit elsewhere. Heifetz use to do it. Kreisler, Menuhin, Oistrach , Milstein and Ysaïe were great exponent of that particular technique.. Not only in Baroque music. Unfortunately,it is a lost art nowadays... So many out there think they play in tune, but the truth is that they sound flat, with no brillancy and no individual sound...

July 21, 2010 at 11:46 AM ·

 I have a very similar issue, although I generally don't find it very easy to hear bad intonation, even when played by others.  (In some ways that can be a blessing in disguise, it makes me less picky and more able to sit back and enjoy when listening to non-pro performances.)

But anyway, I disagree with the comment that it's too late to correct it once you record yourself.  I recorded myself playing the Bach double 2nd movement a couple of years ago, and that started me down the road to what I think (and what my teacher says) is a big improvement in my both hearing and playing in tune.  

I would say, record yourself more often, as much as you can.  The reason is that you will start to notice trends.  For example, I tend to shift down on 3 sharp, especially on the A-string.  I tend to put my 2 too close to my 1 in 1st position and play flat.  I think I've been training my muscles too.

I would also recommend an electronic tuner.  Not all the time, but to check difficult passages.  Some people think this is heretical, but in my experience, with an ear as problematic as mine, auditory feedback wasn't enough.  Especially on the E-string, I had a lot of trouble being able to even tell if something was flat or sharp.   I would go home and practice something, "listening carefully," and it would sound fine to me.  Then I would go to my lesson and be told that it was out of tune.  I had trained myself to hear it out of tune.  My teacher could always tell, but I only have her there listening to me for an hour every 2 weeks. 

Whereas if I spend some time with the tuner at the beginning, and give my ear some feedback while I'm training it and "listening carefully", then I don't learn the passage out of tune in the first place.

July 21, 2010 at 01:30 PM ·

To answer your question"It is so easy to hear when someone else is playing out of tune - and yet its so difficult to do so when you play yourself?". I have a few of my own theories that may apply.

First, The ability to play in tune is hardwired into our minds.Our minds don't need to learn the reference from one note to the next ,we need to train our muscles to what the brain already knows.When we constantly play out of tune we are creating a new memory cell that bypasses the use of the memory cell that is hardwired into our minds.We have literally retrain our mind to ignore the way  it naturally thinks.If a teacher doesn't correct a beginners poor intonation ,IMO that student will have developed a bad habit that will follow them for years ,it's by far the hardest habits to correct.To play constantly out of tune and  not being able to hear poor intonation is a learned skill.

 The "inner voice " could be a factor for  some.A simple habit of applying  too much pressure on the chin rest is all that is needed for you to get interference from this source.Here's a test you can do - tune your violin normally by ear (use a tuner for A 440 only) .Did it take a long time?.After tuning ,is it still not perfect?Did you do a few extra test to check it and get it right?   Now this time place a folded cloth under your chin (you may have to adjust your shoulder rest)Put your violin out of tune and re-tune it .Did you find it easier this time?Is it perfectly in tune, no questioning it ?It's an easy fix ,just play with a folded cloth under the chin and less pressure and in a few months you mind will learn not to listen to this source.

http://www.ehow.com/video_2378806_eliminating-inner-voice-vocal-training.html

These are just some of my own thoughts any theories on the subject.

 

 

 

July 21, 2010 at 01:57 PM ·

Funny thing - been struggling with intonation. Violin tuned to teacher's piano's A (slightly flat). Last night I wanted to do a play along exercise with a CD so, using a tuner,  I retuned A=440 and the rest of the strings from that. Well, what a difference! Now, I'd say that I am the last person to have perfect pitch but for me the violin sang and 5 minutes later I found that 2 hours had passed.

Tested myself this morning to sing an A out of the blue, apropos of nothing, without first listening to anything, into the tuner and I was pretty much dead on.

July 21, 2010 at 03:15 PM ·

 Chistiaan wrote:

" I'm sorry Allan but I do not agree. I hear many players talk about different ways to play Eb (D#) (or any note) and it is especially popular amongst baroque players. However, I feel this makes things overly complicated. These are the concepts I use:

 

Try to play in tune with your violin. This means that notes should sound good together with your open strings (i.e.: make good sounding double stops). ..."

Unfortunately  the 'complication' still exists even when you're just trying to play in tune with the open strings of your violin. The E-natural  (whole-step above open D)  that sounds in tune with the open G will not sound in tune with the open A.

July 21, 2010 at 03:19 PM ·

Lots of thoughts but I'll go with two.

Inner voice:  I have been becoming more and more aware of this although not directly with intonation--it is very freeing and opening-up to my playing to listen as from the audience.  I was amazed at the difference at first.  REgarding tuning, I am curious now; also whether that has anything to do with the fact that I cannot ever seem to sing and play in tune at the same time.

re: Julian's comment...possibly deserving to a new thread...is it possible that are instruments may be built to respond to certain pitches?  i.e. his intonation got so much better when tuned to 440.  I always feel my violin is at its best when tuned to about a443.  Of course I can't usually get away with that  :)  but everything just seems to resonate so much better.  I don't have perfect pitch, though I'm developing a pretty decent approximation of many notes, but my A is often a few cents sharp--I 'm not sure whether it's cause or effect. 

July 21, 2010 at 03:45 PM ·

 @ Christina

Unfortunately  the 'complication' still exists even when you're just trying to play in tune with the open strings of your violin. The Eb/ D#  (semi-tone above open D)  that sounds in tune with the open G will not sound in tune with the open A.

Well then there are only two possibilities I can think of:

- you tune your violin very different from the way I tune it

or

- you must feel that all piano's are out of tune, even when tuned (I know some baroque musicians who feel this way, doesn't seem to be much fun to me)

To be clear: when my Eb is in tune with the open G-string it is also in tune with the open A-string.

July 21, 2010 at 04:07 PM ·

correction- I meant E-natural, not Eb/ D#, I've edited the original post

July 21, 2010 at 04:15 PM ·

 Same goes for E natural. My guess is that you tune your G-string a fraction too low!

July 22, 2010 at 01:39 AM ·

I am not sure I agree that the E natural in first position on the D string can be in tune with both the A string and the G string if you've tuned the violin in perfect  fifths. It seems to me that to get the E to be a perfect fourth below the open A it will sound sharp when you play it against the open G. Likewise, if you lower the E on the D string to form a major sixth in tune with the open G, that E will sound too flat when you try to play it as a perfect fourth with the open A. One would have to make some adjustment in the tuning of the "perfect" fifths so that the E would not sound too out of tune with either G or A strings but it would be a compromise. Isn't that what equal temperament on the piano is anyway- something of a compromise. The beauty of the fretless and keyless violin is that we can adjust to some extent. Our only fixed pitches are the open strings.

A case in point: Stravinsky writes an open G, E on D, and open A as a chord to be played in his L'Histoire du Soldat. I have always opted to play it so that the E is in tune with the A, rather than the G, because it is the last sound that lingers in the listener's ear. I could make a compromise and try tuning other than perfect fifths but I think that would then force me to adjust lots of other pitches as well, so I took the option stated above instead.

 

July 22, 2010 at 02:28 AM ·

Christiaan and Christina,

It seems there is a difference of opinion between the two of you.

MathMan to the rescue! (that's me)

(don cape) WOOSH!

In pure intervals, a fifth has a frequency ratio of 3:2, a fourth has 4:3, and a major sixth has 5:3.

After some arithmetic, the frequency ratios for the E consonant (a major sixth) with the G become

G:E:A = 48:80:108

and for the E consonant (a fourth) with the A:

G:E:A = 48:81:108.

The ratio between both Es (81:80) is called the syntonic comma.

If you play in tempered tuning you can make this difference vanish at the expense of either fifths (meantone temperaments) or thirds (equal temperament).

WOOSH! (doff cape)

(from a distance) Hope this helps,

Bart

p.s. come to think of it: this is why playing in tune together is so much more important, and more difficult, than playing in tune alone. Pure intervals lead to inconsistency, so everyone has to compromise. On his/her own, everyone will probably do that differently, so that all those in-tune violins may still sound out of tune together.They have to adopt a common compromise, depending on the period and style of the music.

July 22, 2010 at 12:05 PM ·

 I am an ignoramus when it comes to tonality but I read an article on prof. Jack de Wet the renowned violin pedagogue from Cape Town where he states that you hear with your fingers when you play the violin. Your finger tips tell you when you are in tune. I must admit that the statement sounded strange to me, has anybody else heard about the concept? 

July 22, 2010 at 12:22 PM ·

Maybe he was deaf so had to use fingertips ...

July 22, 2010 at 12:23 PM ·

Ronald Mutchnik

You make a lot of sense and I agree one has to do all of that.

Cheers

Peter

July 22, 2010 at 06:43 PM ·

Ronald, Peter, Bart, anyone...

I always try to tune to whatever I hear as the root of the specific harmonic context.

gc

July 22, 2010 at 07:57 PM ·

Graham

Yes, absolutely.

I always think its important for people, especially those learning the fiddle, to hear the note before they play it. If you don't, well it just gets down to luck. And luck soon runs out.

Old Roger Rich (aka Rugerrio Ricci) says that good players don't take risks, they are careful, and creep around the indstrument where possible. That's not to say they don't also bash it out.

I've just recieved a CD of my old teacher (long since dead) playing fairly modern music (violin and piano) and I'm amazed at his perfect intonation. I shouldn't be because he always had it, and berated us all when we were sloppy. He couldn't understand why as students we were not playing as well or better than him!

July 23, 2010 at 01:35 AM ·

This reminds me of Kurt Sassmanshaus' advice to set the metronome at 40, disregard all rhythm markings and just play each note for a full click, then wait a full click (but sing the next note in your head), then play that next note.  That gives you plenty of time imagine exactly what the next note should sound like, and then plenty of time to fix the one you play. He seems confident that an approach that simple, slow and sure is bound to help intonation as well as plenty of other challenges.  He once joked that he was tempted to call the Korg Metronome company and try to talk them into manufacturing a metronome that only plays at 40 beats per minute.  I think he's on to something.

I've just started taping myself.  It's pretty demoralizing, but I can see where knowing the awful truth about my intonation will only help.   Oh boy, I've got a lot of work to do!

July 23, 2010 at 04:00 PM ·

Phil, I have done that to students.  they hate it but it works!   you can play it if you can hear it.  Edwin Gordon's audiation work has more interesting thoughts on that....

July 23, 2010 at 07:12 PM ·

You should be able to deliberately put the instrument out of tune - each string somewhere between a quarter tone and a semitone either sharp and/or flat - and still play all the stopped notes in tune.

Try it, and if you can't do it you need more ear training.

Sling the recording machines in the dustbin (trash bin over the pond ...) They are a waste of time.

July 23, 2010 at 09:24 PM ·

Peter wrote: "Sling the recording machines in the dustbin (trash bin over the pond ...) They are a waste of time."

No don't do that!  then you can't upload your playing here!

(anyone remember the 'what do we sound like' topic?

July 23, 2010 at 10:07 PM ·

A lot of good responses here, some of them quite in-depth. I'll add my bit, hoping not to repeat anything. The pitch of musical notes is always perceived differently when close-up, than when far away. Even a few feet makes a difference. Plus, as has been said, when you are playing, you are playing and listening too, and your listening attention is always distracted, albeit only to a small degree. When you listen to the playback, it has your full attention. So - you are not perceiving some of the bad pitches when playing. Everthing is artificially exaggerated when playing - volume, vibrato, bow noise, etc etc, compared to listening to a recorded playback, three or four feet away. If this playing / listening ratio has improved over the last two years, then that is a very good sign.

Without sounding over-confident, my pitch when playing in the registers in which I hear clearly, is very good. It was not always that way. Like you, I recorded myself in the early days, and I too found discrepanies (usually playing too flat). So, I worked on my intonation, continuing to listen to recordings of myself, and it has paid off.

Another method is to practise againt a drone (recording of an Indian tanpura is very good). it helps you to zone in to the root note with extreme accuracy, more so that just playing to the pitch of an adjacent open string, plus it overcomes the minute pitch difference between "under the chin" and "four feet away."

Peter says you may need more ear training, and is confident that you should sling your recording machine in the trash bin because it's a waste of time. Well, that's OK, because if it turns out he's wrong, he'll be more than happy to pay for a new recording machine (today's technology - recordable iPod - not your cassette or minidisk stuff), plus shipping too, and he'll also pay for any ear training as well, if you really need it. That right, Peter?  : ) :)

July 23, 2010 at 11:33 PM ·

Good post.  There is so much valuable information here.  Elise, you MUST study study study intonation, play all the scales, work with them, listen to the intervals, compare and cross reference on other strings and other positions.  Essentially train your ear and brain to totally be aware of your intonation.  You have to let it go sometimes, or else you'll never learn much of anything else, but you can use all the skills presented by Sevcik applied to your scales, but DONT use vibrato, since using vibrato enables you to go in and out of the note such that you can get caught in the illusion of being in tune.  This can be good when your performing, but to study your intonation and develop it, I'd advise not to use a vibrato when focusing on intonation, unless you want to experiment, which is a good thing also.

July 24, 2010 at 01:18 AM ·

Thats what I remember from when I played violin last time (er, as a 12yr old) I was aware that I used vibrato to avoid actually playing the note.  Now I practice without and add it generally when I want to work on musicallity and let go - and of course when I just want to have fun!  I find that there are many ways to improve - and the electronic tuner and tape recorder have their places.  There is nothing like hearing yourself as others do  for a reality check - but that is an interesting topic I plan to start next week.  There's enough of me on V.com for now already :)

July 14, 2013 at 09:15 PM · Elise, from my humble and not nearly so advanced as others' point of view (but hey, this is the internet), I am concerned about your statements that you hear each pitch individually, and that you can be as much as a SEMItone out. For you at this level, that a lot to be out, and not to notice until you see it on a tuner!

Every key has its colour or sound, you need to hear the whole key just like you hear a phrase rather than a bar of music. I remember getting the Corelli sonata in F and loving it, and asking why I'd not had anything else in F to that point becasue the intervals are so lovely. I needed a LOT of cuing in the first month to get my b flat enough and my leading note high enough to get the correct intonation, but it makes the key ring perfectly when its right. And starting the Bach double and stuffing around becasue I just wasn't quite getting D minor initially. If you aren't being guided by your teacher and your ear to do that, then you need to be.

the electronic tuner is not your friend in this playground in the long run. for this purpose you need to throw the frickin thing away, its like relying on finger tapes right now.

July 15, 2013 at 01:04 AM · A practical question - what do people use to record themselves play please? My mobile phone is not up to the job and I'm wondering what would do the job as cheaply as possible. Thanks

July 15, 2013 at 04:26 PM · Make sure to do your scales in the key(s) of the piece. Not just the regular 3 or 4-octave scale, but also the single-string scales (2-octave if you can, 1-octave otherwise), octaves, thirds, and sixths. Simon Fischer's "Basics" also has a great exercise, #255, that covers the fingerboard with a variety of patterns, which you can do in the key(s) of the piece.

The scales force you to train your ear in the key. This is especially important for weird keys that you don't regularly hear.

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