Being In Tune

June 13, 2011 at 11:23 PM ·

 I have always wondered if trying to be perfectly in tune with a tuner is something to strive for. I am working out my intonation problems by playing scales with a tuner to see which pitches are bad. Im mostly a little sharp or a little flat(10cents) so i dont have major flaws. So i was wondering if i should keep trying to be exactly right or very close, and if what im doing is a good way or if there are better ones

Replies (101)

June 13, 2011 at 11:32 PM ·


you should stop what you are doing as quickly as possible.  This is not how playing the violin wortks.  A tuner can be helpful for tuning the instrument but it is your job first of all to learn to use the open strings to play in tune with the instrument and then learn to listen to the individual micro variations in pitch that each individual isnturment tends to carry in order to achieve the maximum resonance of each note.   Your job is to pay attention to what you are doing using an internla mechanism not a completley misleading external guide.

Some people on an identicla threa dhave state dthta after working with a tuner their intonation improved.   I would repsectfully suggets that this is simply becaus ethey actually strated to pay attention to what they are doing.  That would automatically lead to some improvement. the trick is to leanr how to pay attention to yourslef and othe rpeople not some machine.



June 14, 2011 at 03:06 AM ·

Yes, stop doing that now. You don't play the same note the same tuning everytime. Some notes need to be slightly sharper, or slightly flatter, and the tuner will tell you that you're out of tune and no green/yellow light shown, and yet they're in tune for "human ears".

My cellist friend witnessed the bad result of a student practicing intonation with tuner. The end result was very weird intonation that you can't say it's out of tune, and yet it's not exactly in tune.

June 14, 2011 at 03:11 AM ·

 I agree,

Use your ears and practice slowly for intonation from time to time.

June 14, 2011 at 04:21 AM ·

June 14, 2011 at 04:37 AM ·

 I'll disagree--to a point--with the above. Using a tuner can be very helpful in developing an ear for scales or works with lots of flats. Admittedly, it's a crutch, but sometimes people use crutches. It probably should not be used to tune anything relating to an open string.

June 14, 2011 at 05:15 AM ·

Fraid I agree with Scott.  A hammer can be used to build a house - or knock one down.  Same goes for a tuner.  I keep reading this nonsense that they are  bad for you etc etc.  If your ear can not yet tell when a note is in  tune having a tuner to help you is invaluable.  I speak from experinece - when I returned to the violin 3 years ago I simply could not tell what a note was - I could not tune the violin to a given note and the tuner was essential to give me independence from another musician.  Since then I have used it for many different purposes - searching my way round the higher regions of the keyboard a quick glance tells me if I'm on the note.

What I find is that far from creating a dependence what happenes is that it is an excellent way to help train your ear - yes, its by a visual signal but who cares?  Its a signal that tells you whether you are on the note or not as you listen by ear to the sound.  As I get better at being in tune I use the tuner less and less.  I now turn it on to get an A and tune my violin from that string - just as my chamber music colleagues do (and I used to many eons ago).  I also use harmonics and open strings to check my notes as I play - its easier than the tuner which takes time to catch the complex note of the violin. 

Far from subverting my ear, nothing has been more useful to train it.  Sorry guys, I've said this before but I think the most passionate anti-electronic tuner advocates are the ones that learned to play when they were children and can't remember what it was to not only not even what a note was a let alone whether it was in tune. 


June 14, 2011 at 05:22 AM ·

June 14, 2011 at 06:23 AM ·


`I think the most passionate anti-electronic tuner advocates are the ones that learned to play when they were children and can't remember what it was to not only not even what a note was a let alone whether it was in tune. `

not really.  I have taught all ages and abilities of players including many who first couldn`t recognoize notes.  Its not difficult.



June 14, 2011 at 08:49 AM ·

Very good ideas everyone. I think a combination of listening and checking of the tuner very helpful for students or anyone for that matter. There are two things I like doing, the first of which is playing a guessing game with my students where they decide which notes to play in advance. If they nail the note on the tuner, move on, if not, have them reset by gently and calmly lifting the finger, readjust, and try again until it they nail the center of the pitch.

I like Mr. Brivati's maximum resonance quote which I can relate to in my teaching, because that essentially is what trains the ear to play most in tune. It is listening to that maximized hum of the plates that proves on any violin the most ideal intonation for an instrument, which brings me to the second point of playing notes to an open string to find the maximized intervallic resonance of the note. Even for those that have pitch problems can start to identify and train the finger and ear with a combination of this kind of practice and listening. Keep in mind that the approach to pitch adjustment with the finger should be semi-slow to slow and lifted/replaced to allow yourself to hear clearly.


June 14, 2011 at 10:02 AM ·

"When I first got a tuner I was quite shocked at how inaccurate and inconsistent my playing was. "

Martin you are not the only one that will be shocked, the people who think they have perfect pitch or do not need a tuner will be shocked even more. A tuner will teach you where to put your fingers.

If you are within 10 cents on all your notes then you are very good. The tricky part usually comes with the half steps in the higher positions. With my thick fingers it is a special challenge and only the tuner can point that out for me. Players are not as consistent with intonation as they would like to believe, and I am not talking about the first position which is fairly easy.

June 14, 2011 at 03:11 PM ·

If you want to play perfectly in tune, try the piano :-)

June 14, 2011 at 03:19 PM ·

June 14, 2011 at 03:58 PM ·

One should not take the electronic tuner too far though!!  Remember we are playing an instrument that is supposed to be making music, not a computer generating sound frequencies.  What I mean by this is that the intonation for a note differs according to their context and the artists expression.  Excellent intonation does not mean playing a note for the human ear but for something much more interesting, the human mind....


June 14, 2011 at 04:14 PM ·

 If you want to play perfectly in tune, try the piano :-)


I prefer a bright red key-tar from Costco.


Let me be clear: some string players are not in the ballpark, especially for non-resonating notes (anything with flats or lots of sharps). A tuner won't ultimately make you play everything in tune, but it will put you in the ballpark, or at least in the ball parks's parking lot. I believe practicing with a drone will force a player to listen closely, and make very small adjustments more quickly than they would have otherwise, and I think these skills transfer over when the player has to tune to other instruments (like a key-tar, for example).

As someone else pointed out, don't throw away the hammer just because it's a blunt instrument.

June 14, 2011 at 04:26 PM ·

Which tuners would you recommend, especially, ones that are visual enough where one does not need a microscope to read the display? I have never used a tuner except to tune my violin and, that too, just the A string. I'd like to try and experiment and check the intonation (based on ScottC's observation) when playing scales such as B, F#, Aflat, etc., especially in the higher positions. I don't believe I need to use one. However, I'm more than willing to try one if it helps in improving my intonation or, at least pointing of if my intonation is accurate or not.

Many a time, after playing some "song" an octave or two higher, I prefer not to sound an open string for fear of not being in tune.

June 14, 2011 at 04:37 PM ·

Check this link and find out about equal temperament vs just intonation. Tuners use equal temperament, as violinists we mostly use just intonation.

June 14, 2011 at 04:40 PM ·

But Christopher - thats all very well for violin solos and string groups but too often we are playing with other instruments - notably the piano so something has to give, and far as I know it can't be the ivories... ;)

June 14, 2011 at 04:45 PM ·

June 14, 2011 at 05:41 PM ·


Personally, I'd never recommend the type of tuner in which one relies on a visual aid. But your phrase "it's not musical" is itself a blunt hammer of criticism.

And by the way, using your (and everyone else's logic) one should never use a metronome, either. 


ps I can't help wondering what Anne Akiko Meyers would say to her being depicted as "hot." Probably a little creeped out.....

June 14, 2011 at 05:59 PM ·

June 14, 2011 at 06:05 PM ·

Don't look at yourself in a mirror to adjust your violin or bow angle when playing either.  It will almost certainly give you hives, lumbago and the cooties while failing miserably to adjust the bow angle. Do it by ear - perhaps you can lean over so that your ear touches the rising and falling bow as a monitor.

My brain is wired where all the sensations come in and get compared.  But I'm only talking about my brain - it may be that others brains have a uni-audio-motor wiring system.

June 14, 2011 at 06:09 PM ·

June 14, 2011 at 06:09 PM ·

June 14, 2011 at 06:31 PM ·

I think it's time to switch to the shoulder rest discussion.

June 14, 2011 at 06:42 PM ·

 I think Bill Platt is convincing me (or has he hypnotised me?)

I'll ditch my tuner tonight :)

June 14, 2011 at 07:50 PM ·

i'm on both sides really. i think, for elementary purpose when there is still a lot of weakness in relating, mentally and physically (finger inter-relations), the notes, the tuner comes in handy for the purpose of helping place the fingers on the appropriate spots of the string. in a way, it works in the opposite manner of the markers they stick on the finger board to locate the notes but for the same purpose, but in a superior more relevant way. and i think it helps when encountering unusual/new, for the student, harmonic relationships between notes that then disarray the individual intoning of each note. the tuner could short cut the process by telling one where the note is so the ear can hear the interval, quickly adapt and then finger/muscle memory can file that away.

i disagree that the tuner doesn't help if used only in a manner that doesnt render it into a crutch. but there is something inefficient about redundant usage of the tuner for the same area of confusion, that means there is inefficient learning. and i know its always possible and better to go about it the slow methodical way, without a tuner, but well, one can also learn from a little cheating...but not too much!

June 14, 2011 at 07:56 PM ·

having said the above, i will say that i dont use the tuner now except for tuning open strings and notes are starting to be more discernible for me, i can sense that, the rest of the notes in a piece/scale are a little bright, so this little note sounds a little dull compared to them and suchlike. but this is just starting, i hope to get better. and new harmonies are always amusing.

June 14, 2011 at 08:32 PM ·

Instead of an electronic tuner, you might want to try Jerry Agin's program Intonia. It provides visual feedback in terms of several meaningful systems of tuning.

It's fun to play with, but I do agree with most of the people posting above that in intonation what you hear is more important than what you see.

In the early days of word processors, "what you see is what you get", aka wysiwyg, was an important criterion. Now we have "what you hear is what you see", wyhiwys and the other way around, wysiwyh. I'd say Intonia is pretty wysiwyh.

June 14, 2011 at 09:48 PM ·

I'd be surprised if there was not someone who had to make an effort to wean themselves from the electronic tuner but in my case it has simply become useless because as I improve my intonation I already know what that needle is going to say.  AND the tuner has taught me when my note SOUNDS right.  Yes, thats the whole point.  Just because you look at a tuner does NOT mean (as implied above) that you turn your ear off.  Au contraire, you listen carefully when the note is in tune and (personal experience - and apparently that of others here) learn the note better and faster. 

Instead of carping about what is bad for you because of some popular 'logic' it would be far better to provide all the examples of violinists (or failed violinists I guess) who were forever crippled from playing in tune because they looked at a tuner.  Indeed, the number of members who report actual impairment from using one is screeching in its silence.

June 15, 2011 at 01:30 AM ·

Some violinists play every note ever so slightly sharper. Some will play slightly flatter every now and then. It's all character. They have character because their ears tell them so.

If you recognize the sound being slightly sharper or flatter, why do you still need a tuner to tell you how many cents off? Is 10 cents off a standard? Make it 11 to sound like Heifetz? Or 5 is THE sad moment?

Being lack of confidence by looking at the tuner even just once will not give you 100% confidence on stage. IMHO recognizing the interval between notes are much much more effective and practical. It'll give you more anticipation of what to expect one note after another.

June 15, 2011 at 01:38 AM ·

Perhaps you stepped in a little late Casey?  I think we all agree with your point (look at my note above on taking it too far).  The main use of the tuner, as I see it at least, is it gets you to the right region for that particular note - the rest is up to your ear and technique.  And, as you say, that depends on the musical context.

June 15, 2011 at 03:10 AM ·

June 15, 2011 at 03:27 AM ·

June 15, 2011 at 03:32 AM ·


I want to emphasize once more--just for the record--that I'd never recommend that someone use the visual-type tuner. That to me is a waste of time. However, I would recommend using a tuner of the type that generates tones, such as my Seiko that gives 3 octaves, to play a drone against which one can check their intonation. A good example of a work for which this type of practice would be helpful is the Janacek Sonata. It would be no different that using a guitar or piano as a drone, but many people don't have them available, and you can't really use them as a steady drone anyway.

In some works, such as Paganini Caprice #20, we have a built-in drone on the D-string. And often we can use an open string even if none is notated. But for flat keys, it's an impossibility on the violin, especially if the flats include D, A, and E, and that's where the drone of a flat note from a tuner can be a great help. Ultimately, the ear alone must take over and learn the sound of the flat notes, but the drone can teach the ears to listen and compare, and that can be an accomplishment in itself.

 There is much made of the difference in tuning systems--pythagorean vs equal temperament vs just, etc. But the differences are not so great that they will prevent someone from getting something out of playing with a drone if they are at a certain point in their development. Using a drone is not for the full professional, and not for the beginner, but I think those in between can benefit if it is approached in the right manner.

People tend to hype the differences, but if there were such drastic differences between equal temperament and pythagorean, string players just wouldn't play with keyboard at all. Yet if we play reasonably in tune, the tuning systems are close enough and the ear focuses on other musical aspects.

June 15, 2011 at 03:40 AM ·

June 15, 2011 at 04:36 AM ·

 If you want information about your intonation from an external source, use a tape recorder. 

June 15, 2011 at 05:49 AM ·

You sure picked the wrong instrument to play perfectly in tune at. As I said before, if you want perfect intonation, ditch the violin and switch to piano.

June 15, 2011 at 08:05 AM ·

I am using this thread as a drone to fall asleep. Every body is preaching to the converted, and some are droning more than others.

June 15, 2011 at 09:30 AM ·

I think Laurie should run a poll: have you used a visual electronic tuner while you are:

tuning the violin



And then we can set up ETA -  Elctronc Tuner Anonymous for all the recovering visual tuner addicts....

June 15, 2011 at 01:06 PM ·

My goodness, how we evolve! Not only are electronic tuners a dime a dozen nowadays, there are actually string players relying on them for their intonation. Wow, what did we do 30 years ago? What did our teachers do?  How did we ever learn to put our fingers in the right places? I know technology is meant to make things easier for the humble homosapien, but in this instance I'm not so sure. Going by the above comments, anyway.

I eventually stumbled across one of these gadgets when my little whistle that used to give me my A, stopped working.  It was a weekend so no shops open.  Not another thing in the house could give me a reliable A, so I went to my guitar playing neighbor who gave me his old tuner. Hmm, ok, it didn't make noises but showed me when I had reached my A. So I tuned all my strings with it, instead of relying on my ears.  Whoopee, that was easy.  Later that afternoon I had a lesson and my teacher immediately picked up my violin to tune it. My instrument is one of those which rarely slips out of tune, so I thought smugly, she won't need to do anything at all today, it's perfectly in tune.  But of course she did, and we played together and with the piano, all sounding quite good. When I got home I checked the tuning and found that it was quite a bit 'out' with the tuner. So I tuned it back. Next week, the same.  So I sat and thought and it dawned on me that my teachers ears are far better than mine so who am I to argue, and playing music is not about being perfectly in tune all the time. As long as it's not wildly 'out' variable tuning adds character and intensity when perfect tuning would just sound a bit dull.  I think the original inventors of the violin and its cousins deliberately left the frets off for a reason.

By the way, I did have a go at playing a scale with it.  I mucked about for about 10 seconds or so, then became impatient and gave up, it was such a slow and painful exercise. I was never going to be able to play anything with that little needle zipping backwards and forwards.  So now I just use it for my A, and rely on my ears for everything else. The way it should be, I think.

June 15, 2011 at 01:11 PM ·

 Greetings Guys !

I am new to  A couple of weeks ago, the Guy at the Shop asked : " How did you manage to break the G String ?  Nobody does !"  I felt an inferiority complex in my Soul.  I picked up on myself, and replied ;"At 67, I gathered enough power to break the G String !"   We both had a hearty laugh !

I broke the G String because I was trying to perfectly tune all the Strings on my violin as an adult Learner.  The Tuner certainly helps a Beginner.  It takes some time to learn how not to break the Strings.  The Tuner helps to locate the finger positions.  Then, I realized that the best Tuner may be my own ears.

Cheers !

Judex from Mauritius.

June 15, 2011 at 01:31 PM ·

Well the piano is by far not an in tune instrument , it's just an acceptable consistent out of tune one. Equal temperament is the ruler for for a lot of musical instruments and sadly made it's way into modern vocal recordings - auto tune.  Equal temperament is impossible to learn , we are hard-wired for Just intonation. The thing is we automatically adjust intonation to  follow recently played notes , not the root note (unless recently played).

 If a student is using a tuner to correct their  poor  intonation, the problem isn't with  the student it's with the teacher. Teachers do not no how to teach their students to play in tune , that's the problem.

June 15, 2011 at 01:31 PM ·

 @Judex ;

 "Then, I realized that the best Tuner may be my own ears."
Yes it is great for breaking strings as you found out. Quite a feat to break a G string, it is much easier with an E-string. 
@Millie ; Your teacher tuned your violin to her false piano, that is why it sounded quite good. 

June 15, 2011 at 01:57 PM ·

Yes,it's a generally accepted principle.

If the children are rude it's the parents fault.


June 15, 2011 at 02:15 PM ·

 Hi Andre,


Yes, it's quite a feat to break the G String !

I bought a D'Addario G String to replace my Valencia broken G String. That G String is threaded in a small black ring.  I supposed that this small black ring is used to avoid the String cutting into the bridge. I am still not sure what this small ring is for. Can you please help clear my doubt.

I wonder why the original Strings on my Valencia violin do not have the small rings.  Is it particular to D'Addario Strings ?

I like a Violin that sings and weeps.  I guess it is an inherent quality in the Violin, itself and the Strings used.  What Strings brand you recommend ?

Thanks for your time and Cheers !

June 15, 2011 at 02:48 PM ·

@Judex ;

The small ring at the end of a string hooks into the holes of the tailpiece or on to the fine-tuners if you have that. It is used by all string manufacturers. If there is no ring then the string must be tied with a loop to tailpiece, which is usually the case with gut strings. 

I personally use Thomastik Dominant for G, D, A and a Pirastro gold E. These strings suit my moderate needs fine. I am not a professional otherwise I would have gone more expensive.

I recommend that you get a violin teacher who will be of great value to you.


June 15, 2011 at 02:58 PM ·

I'm sorry for wasting your time and I don't appreciate the negative insults. All i wanted to know is if this was good and if you knew any better ways not to hear you suck go play something else. I am not using the tuner anymore for correcting each individual pitch im using the open strings to correct my intonation. So to all of you who were insulting me I will not stop playing its something i love to do and I am studying it in college.

Thank you


June 15, 2011 at 03:55 PM · Hi Andre, Thank you for your time and advice. Actually, the end of my G String is properly hooked by a small metal pulley that goes in the tail piece. The small black ring I got from D'Addario is a small black plastic (?) ring into which the G String is threaded. That small black ring travels free on the string. So, what I did is that I fixed that small black ring on top of the bridge. I separate the String from touching the bridge. It acts like a protection and prevent the G String from cutting into the bridge. I am still not sure if this is the purpose ! Again, thank you very much Andre. Cheers.

June 15, 2011 at 04:02 PM ·

 Hi Zach Weaver,  I guess that you answered Millie, am I right ?  Take it easy.  Obviously, it was from Somebody still too young or without experience of life.  Keep bowing your violin as it is one of  the best things to do to keep yourself at your best. Cheers !

June 15, 2011 at 04:16 PM ·

Not really to millie just to the people think I'm an incompetent player. I'm calm though

June 15, 2011 at 04:24 PM ·

 I'm sorry for wasting your time and I don't appreciate the negative insults. All i wanted to know is if this was good and if you knew any better ways not to hear you suck go play something else. 


I think you're taking this a little too seriously. I've seen every response, and I don't see any attacks on you or your playing. You brought up a contentious subject, and you would have gotten a similarly spirited debate if you had asked about any number of subjects: shoulder rest vs none, synthetic strings vs gut, film vs. digital, etc. 

June 15, 2011 at 04:38 PM ·

Zach - hey, the only answer is: if it works for you STICK WITH IT.  Its worked for me - I've gone where lessons were dominated by lousy intonation to the point where my intonation is hardly ever brought up (no its not perfect I've just got lots of other more important flaws) even when in 6th position and I credit this a large part to the use of the electronic tuner.

Could I have done it with only woad, whattle and daub methods - probably, but there is no doubt to my assessment that the tuner has, and continues to help.  Millie's comment above points out something very important - the tuners can not keep pace with playing so the fear-mongering of someone gazing at a tuner while they play paganini is not only absurd but also impossible.

Good luck with your studies - and later give us an update on how you continued your violin studies :)

June 15, 2011 at 08:52 PM ·

@Bill Platt

No worries. I began playing the violin, again, after a (long) hiatus, so I'm open to any and all ideas. I've never used a tuner for intonation, but was willing to try it out, even if just for grins. I wanted to try a similar exercise for scales, but gave that up, too.

June 15, 2011 at 09:25 PM ·

 @V.J. Pitilu ;

"I've never used a tuner for intonation, but was willing to try it out, even if just for grins."
After that you were not grinning any more because you saw how bad your intonation really was. 

June 15, 2011 at 09:57 PM ·

In general, I agree that tuners should be avoided during practice, but I have found that a tuner can be helpful in figuring out notes that are not intuitive -- especially when there are lot's of accidentals, and you do not know how the notes should sound.  Imagine a passage with sharps and flats all over the place, and playing in second position with string crossings.  You can figure out the notes a lot faster with a tuner than comparing to open strings.

June 15, 2011 at 11:20 PM ·

 Sorry for taking things to seriously everyone I just wanted to know some exercises for fixing intonation

June 16, 2011 at 12:29 AM ·

I'm no expert, Zach, but I can tell you a little about how my daughter's teacher has had her focus on intonation.  First, he never suggested using a tuner for anything.  I don't know any teacher who has.  Years ago, when she was first venturing up into the stratosphere, when she was learning a new piece, and there was a huge shift, she would sometimes sneak down an octave or two and check notes that way.  He quickly disallowed this approach. I'm not sure, but I don't think he's ever recommended tuning to open strings either (I guess that would involve interval recognition, but in some ways, it seems like it would be an extra step -- I mean, recognizing the interval relative to the open string rather tthan relative to the preceding note in the piece). If I recall correctly, he had her focus on the interval in question, immediately  recognizing it visually on the page and, of course, knowing what that interval sounds maybe some good ear training would help...if you don't have access to a class, I know there are a number of ear training software programs out there (some free, some that cost -- like Auralia)... he had her do other things, but I can't remember what they were exactly right now (I'll ask her). 

June 16, 2011 at 01:28 AM ·

Charles, AutoTune is an idea hatched in Hell if there ever was one!  Zach, this is exactly the problem with electronic tuners- the one-size-fits-all approach to playing in tune.  As you have probably picked up from the length and heat of this discussion, the question of intonation is complicated and controversial.  There's nothing simple or black-and-white about it.  There are plenty of old threads on this site about the subject. Spend an afternoon going through them if you have the stomach for it.   Don't take offense at the answers you got and the conversation you started.  You just unknowingly stuck your foot into something far bigger than you realized.

Sean, I'm amazed that your daughter's teacher objects to her playing something an octave down.  It's one of the best ways to get the sound of a passage in your ear before moving it up to the nosebleed register.

June 16, 2011 at 01:36 AM ·


Lisa, I agree. I am a strong advocate of learning things down the octave.  Plus,   playing a passage in all possible positions shows up errors in intonation very quickly.



June 16, 2011 at 01:58 AM ·

Lisa, I shouldn't speak for him (he knows what he's doing, I don't, and I'm only relating things that make their way to me through my daughter, who's not in the house at the moment, but I have a vague idea that it was about speeding the learning know the interval and thereby know immediately what the next note should sound like without intermediate steps...but I'm not swearing that I've got this right...and I actually do recall that when she was about 11 or so and learning to live and play in super-high positions, and had to learn a contemporary piece very quickly for a performance, he did have her play it initially down an myself...always a great idea to throw yourself into the breach with poorly recalled second hand info... 

June 16, 2011 at 03:02 AM ·

Ai ai ai! I'm sorry I can't contain myself. If every note you play is in tune with an electronic tuner, then you're not in tune with yourself or anyone else, except possibly the piano, and if the piano is out then God help you. Tune each string, okay; tune to a drone, okay; but not every single note! I don't think a violinist should be messing around with making notes deliberately "wrong" in equal temperament until they have learned just. And I don't buy that most people are incapable of recognizing it -- even children. Kids of all ages and origins recognize "do-re-mi" without a lot of help. Choirs at various levels of experience that sing with piano adjust their major thirds immediately when a cappella. And speaking of solfege and choirs, I agree with others that there's a better way to develop intonation away from the instrument: SING! Often!

Thomas: pitch-matching is a valuable thing, but the problem is, in actual music notes have important relationships with one another. Even in atonal music the choices aren't random. I'm not clear how this game prepares them for real music?

Elise, I'll take your challenge. I have heard of at least one person who has perfect pitch, but it's all flat because the piano in the house was always flat.  No, it wasn't a tuner, but it does show the danger of relying too much on one external implement.

June 16, 2011 at 03:30 AM ·

" Playing the Violin, playing in tune "   I am an adult Learner.  I wanted to learn in 1995 and gave up. Too difficult even with a Teacher.   Last year, I bought a new Violin from Spain.  I tried again and gave up.  Three or four months ago, I bought a couple of DVDs on the net (Academy of Music (Mrs. Seidel).  She gave me the hang how to play.  I managed to play the very easy  Ba Ba Black Sheep and Twinkle Twinkle.  I thought Oh God ! I am a Violinist !  Suddenly I wanted to make a giant step. I wanted to play Brahms Waltz and Lulluby. I lived 24 hours with this deep feeling.  In the meantime, I was bowing, making lots of noises. Bowing fast, medium fast and slow.  I tried hard to focus on my fingers positions and tried to repeat the noises, no harmony at all !  I guess that my mind must have recorded the noises and arranged them in my subconscious mind.  Two weeks ago, I jumped out of bed and played Brahms Waltz and Lulluby. It was not perfect playing, but I managed to get some harmonious playing.  I gather that a Learner must not be too conscious, but must let the subconscious mind to take over.  The reflex will come and playing will be easier. Bowing, making noises as I did also must have helped with my ear training.   Initially a Tuner is very helpful for a Beginner to tune the violin, but it is not possible to play with the eyes shifting to and from the Tuner.  Yesterday night I played my Mum's favorite French song "J'attendrai" (I shall wait).  Again, not perfect playing, but harmonious sounds enough. I guess that playing the violin is very much a  subconscious matter and lots of training is required as the Violin is not a Plug and Play instrument !  As a Learner since 3 months, I am playing  again and again and again  Brahms Waltz, Lulluby and the French song J'attendrai.  I want to play those three songs perfectly before going to other songs.  Those who have the subconscious experiences in playing the violin, please share your experiences.  Cheers !

June 16, 2011 at 05:19 AM ·

Just for the record, I can play pieces of the standard of the Bach Partita #3, the Beethoven Romanza in F, Paganini Caprice #13, etc. without a tuner. It's just that I'm willing and open to try whatever works. I took up the violin after a 20+, no, make it a 25+ hiatus.

June 16, 2011 at 09:09 AM ·

When you use the tuner you only have to check it sporadically, when you hear that there is something wrong with your intonation or you are playing in positions that you are not use to. You do not use it every day, it is used as a tool when and where you feel uncertain. Who is getting the foolish idea that it is used constantly and on every occasion. Wake up people I thought you guys had more brains than that. Everyone will get tired  of looking at a tuner constantly and it is impossible to look at two things at the same time. So please accept is as a usefull tool and you do not have to get their fix everyday. 


June 16, 2011 at 12:32 PM ·

Andre - you put it very well but I'm afraid that minds are made up.  As I see it, the only way to resolve such an argument is to start two (random) groups of beginners on the violin, one with and one without electronic tuners and then see what the outcome is.  But thats probably not going to happen.  

What irritates me are attitudes that profess to know ultimate truths - in any walk of life.  The fact is that even the best of us (and that goes for my profession too, perhaps even more so) only have an opinion, each individual has to work out their own way.  Its fine and constructive to say 'this does not work for me' or even that 'I have not seen this to be beneficial for my students' - that is valuable information for us to put into our own experience pool.  However, any proclaimation that 'this is absolutely wrong for everyone' is small minded at best and arrogant or even bullying at worst.  And I think that is exactly what Zach was reacting to.

June 16, 2011 at 01:31 PM ·

Hi Zach, sorry if we are all getting carried away here, it is a contentious issue, obviously, but I guess we are just making things more complicated for you.  Also I see that we risk offending people unintentionally simply by partaking in lively discussion.  I re-read all the posts and couldn't see where anybody said you play badly.  That would be ridiculous because we can't hear you play.  I think by assuming that perfect intonation via the use of an electronic tuner would sound bad or dull, we might have made it sound as if we were accusing you of that.  It couldn't be further from the truth, however, we are really surmising that that's how it might sound, for anybody. Because you see, in reality, playing with completely perfect tuning all the time would be impossible. The slightest move of your finger in any direction changes the note and nobody could be accurate enough to do this all of the time, tuner or not.  

I am not somebody young with no life experience though, I am actually 46 and am of the 'old school' way of thinking in this issue. Mostly because until recently I have never used or had a need for an electronic tuner.  For hundreds of years people have learned to play without one, that's the point I was trying to make, somewhat tongue in cheek. But today I sat and thought a little more and it dawned on me that I have been lucky with music.  I've grown up knowing what a scale should sound like, and have found ways like going down an octave or so to check my intonation of a note.  But for you or others it may be that a scale is a new concept, and when I asked myself just how one should learn what a scale should sound like without this knowledge or the benefit of a piano or another musical instrument I was stumped.  I know a teacher can show you but when you get home what do you do once you've forgotten? Well, I concede, a tuner would be able to help you pinpoint and learn the notes. But I think that once you train your ears and memory, there will be less need for your tuner.  It is simpler and faster to use your ears as much as you can, and you'll probably ditch it sooner rather than later, and I really don't think I can see permanent harm done this way. 

@ Andre, sorry I didn't mention it but my teacher uses a tuning fork for her A's.  She constantly has the piano tuning bloke back all the time because her piano is so inaccurate. That's why I was a little bemused to find that her tuning didn't match the electronic gadget.  Then I wondered, what happens when the batteries are going flat................?

June 16, 2011 at 01:59 PM ·

Also, at the risk of sounding like a real fuddy duddy, I have never heard of things like plate hum, maximised intervallic resonance, equal or just temperament, harmonic or pythagorean series diatones. I can only guess at what some of those might mean, even after reading the posts fully. But even though I have my good and bad days, I do quite well at the violin without this knowledge, playing because I love to.  Don't let any of us stop you doing what you love Zach, especially music. It's good for the soul.

June 16, 2011 at 02:39 PM ·

 As an adult Learner, I am intensely practicing on three songs.  When shifting to the D String, I often miss the right finger positions.  Then, I have to try it again and again and still not satisfied with the sounds on the D String.  Maybe it is the sounds that give me the impression of wrong finger positions.  I wonder if I should replace the D String.  Can Somebody advise me, please.  I bought the 4/4  fretless finger guide at :   It was very helpful for finger positioning. Did Somebody try it ?

June 16, 2011 at 03:10 PM ·

Hi Millie,

Plate hum?? What does that have to do with anything? Please explain ;)


June 16, 2011 at 03:53 PM ·

Like lemmings off a cliff.

June 16, 2011 at 03:58 PM ·

@Millie ;

Millie this is what I suggest you do. When you have your next lesson take your tuner with you and test the A of the tuning fork against the tuner. Then when your teacher has tuned the violin, test the A string of the violin against the tuner. You will now have the ability of seeing where things go wrong and how good the tuning of your teacher is.

When the battery of a tuner goes flat, the tuner will not function, it is not like a watch that goes slower.

Let us know what happened, there is a lot of reputations now at stake.

We depend on you.


June 16, 2011 at 04:39 PM ·

Woah, judging your teacher using a tuner?

June 16, 2011 at 04:43 PM ·

Casey the teacher is tuning with the tuning fork. Please read Millie's post and comprehend. The tuning fork should line up with the tuner. But I can see things are getting too complicated for you.

June 16, 2011 at 05:41 PM ·

June 16, 2011 at 05:47 PM ·

June 16, 2011 at 06:04 PM ·

So does that mean everything Buri says should be taken as gospel?  I think even Buri might take exception to that.  The answer to this debate is the same as the perennial shoulder rest (or not) debate.  Basically, there is no right answer.  It all depends on the person.  It might work for some, not for others. 


June 16, 2011 at 06:04 PM ·

Bill.  Truth is actually like playing in tune - it acutally not a precise entity - thats why we have the uncertainty principle.  At best truth is the best approximation we have based on a scientifically verifiable and statistically sound test. 

As stated above, (more simply) f you provide such about tuners I will be the first to agree.  Up to then its all opinion - and if its opinion then each person's is equally valid TO THEM.  Obviously there are those here with more experience than others - but, in my humble opinion, without some sort of independent proof they still can not lay claim to 'truth'. 

June 16, 2011 at 06:07 PM ·

Andre - Yes, I missed his post, but whatever it is, I'm not joining this thread anymore, this is not getting anywhere.

And before that,, one last thing I want to contribute to this thread. If you can't hear the interval, or sing solfege reliably, you're not doomed yet. This has nothing to do with violin playing, nor the philosophy of using the tuner. All you need is ear training, or aural training. It's a long term training. Sing, and sing more, even if you hate your voice.

Ok I'm out!

June 16, 2011 at 06:22 PM ·

@Bill ;

 " You can't play "perfectly" in tune,"

Every body knows that and it pretty obvious, but you can try to get as close as possible. As for  the inexperienced on the violin, I can almost bet that you cannot play the violin yourself  to  any acceptable level. You are a guitar nut whose tuning is quite different and very easy to tune by ear if you tune one string you can get all the others by stopping the 5th fret and the G string at the 4th fret. I  played guitar for many years, more than the 6 years that I now play violin. If you think that the noise what the Rolling Stones are making is great guitar music then you do not know what harmonious music is. You can chase no one from this 'board', poor misguided man. 

June 16, 2011 at 06:30 PM ·

@Casey ;

Sorry to say but I have a very good singing voice, but I am not an opera singer. To sing in the higher registers of the violin I would have to be a 'castrati' tenor or a contra tenor singing falcetto. 

June 16, 2011 at 07:14 PM ·

June 16, 2011 at 07:35 PM ·

Would someone mind giving me the details of the tuners one is talking about in these posts? Thanks.

June 16, 2011 at 07:55 PM ·

This is one type mentioned:

June 16, 2011 at 08:47 PM ·

Hi Bill,

Using your own argument, would you consider Simon Fischer an experienced player, someone whose opinion we should trust?  If so, then what do you make of his post dated September 30, 2009 at 10:51 PM in this thread.  Seems he also uses a tuner from time to time to check the intonation of his students. 

Regarding my personal opinions, I agree, anything I say should be regarded as complete rubbish.  No argument there :-)



June 16, 2011 at 11:02 PM ·

June 17, 2011 at 06:29 AM ·

@Bill ;

"You can give a woodsman a chain saw, but probably shouldn't give one to you 9 year old daughter or son.... ;-)"

What a deep and profound thought, who would have guessed that, and to qualify it with a "probably shouldn't"  makes it even more profound.

In your bewildered mind the tuner is linked to a dangerous piece of equipment.

June 17, 2011 at 07:04 AM ·

I guess I started it with the hammer analogy but this is really getting silly.  What my argument comes down to is simply 'live and let live'.  The biggest danger to resistance to different ideas is a resistance to advancement.  Established ideas work - thats why they are established and they should be respected as the best way to proceed.  However, establishment should not turn into entrenchment which is resistance to development and change.

I see it as important that we have a range of techniques and preferences to allow the discovery of ideas that really do work.  Is the electronic tuner one?  Maybe it will result in a sector of new violinists who are not as 'good' at intonation as their predecessors.  Or maybe the eletronic tuner will permit students to advance quicker and reach other heights or have no real effect at all.  IMO without evidence for the former its simply too early to say.  Love it or hate it its here and it will only be developed further.  Where?  I'm surprized no one has developed one with a tactile output so that you can feel when you are in or out of tune without anyone else being any the wiser.  Such a device falls into the 'biofeedback' class and might make learning to play 'in tune' (granted some designers narrow definition of intonation) a very rapid process indeed.

June 17, 2011 at 07:12 AM ·

Hi, sorry it's taken me some time to get back here, being in Oz the time zones are a bit back to front with some of you. Now, where were we....Oh yes:

@ Bart - I wish I knew what plate hum has to do with all this, Thomas Yee mentioned it in post number nine saying something about maximised hum of the plates. Must be to do with listening to one's instrument or something.

@ Bill - How many lemmings?

@ Andre - I will be happy to do the tuner and fork comparison, but my next lesson isn't until Tuesday morning.  Last night when I left this forum there were 67 posts, and now not 24 hours later there are 86.  Can we afford to wait that long?  Has anyone got a tuning fork they can dangle in front of an electronic tuner to expedite this?

@ Casey - don't panic, my teacher has a good sense of humour and will go along with the experiment. FWIW though, she doesn't believe in tuners and will probably find it at fault rather than her tuning methods.  I can't wait to see all the same and will get back to you all, no matter how long it takes.

@ VJ PITILOU - My tuner is a Belcat, BC850. It is a chromatic tuner which is for Guitar, Bass, and Violin. It has three lights, a red one eitther side to indicate flat and sharp, and a green one in the middle to indicate correct pitch.

@ Everyone - has anybody else noticed that Zach Weaver seems to have dropped off this thread? What fun is all this with no audience?

June 17, 2011 at 08:53 AM ·

 Hi Zach Weaver,  your complaint has given me some food for thought.  I observed that I was always having problem with the D String.  As a 3 months old  Learner, I ventured to think that my D String was faulty.  So, I wanted to replace it (and the others as I already broke my G String).  Andre kindly recommended the brand Thomastik that he is using.  Unfortunately, I could not find this brand in Mauritius.  So, I bought the D'Addario D String this morning (I already replaced the G String with this same brand).  Though  that D'Addario  D String is brand new, I noticed the change in the sounds, no more problem.  I feel to be closer  in tune.  Zach, if it is not an overall " in tune "  problem you are experiencing, you may check that only one string is causing your headache. As a Learner, I want to go fast and trying all advice.  I realize that the Violin is not a Plug and Play instrument.  After having made a lot of bowing noises for the last 3 months, I decided to apply the Research and Development technique. It works well for me as follows : I use my bow to hit or slide on short distances  the strings by using various finger positions.  At certain moment, a few consecutive sounds appear in harmony, and I could recognize the beginning of a song.  For example "La Golondrina".  I wrote on paper  the consecutive sounds  in their respective alphabets ( A, B, C)   etc.  Then, I played it again.  I was astonished that the fingers managed to follow and a few lines of the song are  played.  Whenever I missed a note, I tried it again, and wrote the alphabet in its right position  on paper. By doing this, I encourage myself not to quit. If this is not a good way to learn the violin, I may be growing bad habits that will later be difficult to get rid of !

Cheers !   

June 17, 2011 at 09:26 AM ·

@Millie; If it is a good tuning fork it should line up exactly, and I mean exactly, with the tuner, if the tuner is on the correct setting.  Some tuners if you press the on switch twice or more it changes the calibration. After this is correct and the teacher tuned, check whether the A string has been correctly tuned, and also check all the other strings. That will tell you how good her ear is.

If every string is correctly tuned and you find the violin is out of tune a few days later, then you know that the pegs or strings are slipping.

Good luck on the mission.

NB  Make sure the tuner is set at 440 Hz, the same as the tuning fork.


June 17, 2011 at 09:40 AM ·

"if the violin is out of tune a few days later, then you know that the pegs are slipping"

Not necessarily. The strings could be slipping on the pegs, which is likely to happen if the windings aren't wound tight together (and especially if the strings are new).  Or there could be changes in temperature and/or humidity. A solution I found some years ago to the problem of slipping metal-core strings on my cello (they were wound on with tight windings anyway) was to very lightly dust the peg end of the string with rosin from the bow before winding it on the peg. It worked perfectly.

June 17, 2011 at 11:10 AM ·

 "Some people on an identicla threa dhave state dthta after working with a tuner their intonation improved.   I would repsectfully suggets that this is simply becaus ethey actually strated to pay attention to what they are doing."

I'm one of those people, and I agree with Buri.  On the other hand, 

"the trick is to leanr how to pay attention to yourslef and othe rpeople not some machine."

This is not a very helpful "trick" in my opinion.  How do you learn to do that?  I have ADHD and "learning to pay attention" is one of the hardest things I try to do every day, especially with auditory input.  A tuner is kind of a crutch for me, but I need one.  

I also need to take notes when I go to lectures, or I don't remember what the speaker is saying.  If I do take notes, then I get good grades and I pass the test.  If I don't take notes, the information goes in one ear and out the other and I might as well not have been there.  I have actually had people tell me to take fewer notes or stop taking them and "just listen".  I had to learn to ignore these people, just like I seem to have to ignore the anti-tuner hardliners.

June 17, 2011 at 11:44 AM ·

  "Im mostly a little sharp or a little flat(10cents) so i dont have major flaws. So i was wondering if i should keep trying to be exactly right or very close, "

if you are a beginner level, that is really pretty good, so i think the use of a tuner is not that essential.  if you are way off all the time, and no one is around to provide feedback, the tuner may help you picking up the pace of learning better intonation.

but, in the process of using the tuner, and in the process of really listening to what pitch you produce, you should learn to jump start your own inner tuner in your ears and head.  try to slow down and learn to tell the tiny difference yourself and then check with the tuner.  

after some time, you will realize that your ears are better tuners than the electronic tuners,,,particularly when you get into some chords:)

June 17, 2011 at 12:27 PM ·

Bit of an aside:

Karen wrote:  I also need to take notes when I go to lectures, or I don't remember what the speaker is saying.  If I do take notes, then I get good grades and I pass the test.  If I don't take notes, the information goes in one ear and out the other and I might as well not have been there.  I have actually had people tell me to take fewer notes or stop taking them and "just listen".  I had to learn to ignore these people, just like I seem to have to ignore the anti-tuner hardliners.

Don't listen.  I am exactly the same (including undiagnosed ADD - my son has it too) but what I have discovered is that this is not the end of the explanation.  I am strongly kinesthetic - so I learn by going through the actions physically.  Its terrific for my other passion, dancing, at least for the woman since once I have danced a few steps a couple of times with a good lead, I know them.  Perhaps you should check your learning style too (if you have not already) - there are many tests on the web.

However, to bring this back on topic, perhaps that is why the electronic tuners work particularly well for me - I experience the intonation in more than one modality (visual as well as aural) and that helps me learn without actually thinking consciously about it.

June 17, 2011 at 12:37 PM ·

"the trick is to leanr how to pay attention to yourslef and othe rpeople not some machine."

I feel that a machine can be of help some time. Absuluntly.

June 17, 2011 at 01:19 PM ·

June 17, 2011 at 02:05 PM ·

 @Elise, you make an interesting point about kinesthetic learning.  That is one of the aspects of violin playing that I enjoy very much also.  I also liked and agreed with Al Ku's points and Smiley's link to Simon Fischer's post.  

@bill platt, you are being dismissed because of your tone and your attitude, not because of your position on tuners.  Get a grip.  

June 17, 2011 at 02:17 PM ·


You surprise me.



June 17, 2011 at 02:18 PM ·

June 17, 2011 at 02:34 PM ·

At least Judex has been having fun here! (insert big tongue-in-cheek smiley).

June 17, 2011 at 02:35 PM ·

al wrote:but, in the process of using the tuner, and in the process of really listening to what pitch you produce, you should learn to jump start your own inner tuner in your ears and head.  try to slow down and learn to tell the tiny difference yourself and then check with the tuner.  

after some time, you will realize that your ears are better tuners than the electronic tuners,,,particularly when you get into some chords:)

Exactly.  And that is what I have found and why I have persisted in its defence.  The tuner has become less and less a tool for intonation but more a useful tool, as Smiley pointd out, for whether I hit the right note in the higher registers.  I hope (presume?) that that too will abate and the tuner will have the limited tool function of tuniung my A string to 440 or 442 !

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