Exercises For Intonation

June 18, 2011 at 01:40 AM ·

 My last thread was cancelled and I didnt find much of it useful . So now I'm here to ask if anyone knows of any exercises for better intonation. I'm going to college and I want to get my intonation as close to perfect I have 2 months to do this. Its probably not enough time but im not completely put of tune just a little bit off. So any exercise

Replies (41)

June 18, 2011 at 02:34 AM ·

June 18, 2011 at 02:59 AM · Make a firm commitment to really "listen" to yourself play each note. In addition to what's said above, all good advice, work on a very consistent (and proper) left hand position, and once you find it in 1st position, make sure you use it consistently. This is NOT so you can learn "where the notes are," use your ears for that, but so you don't handicap yourself by placing your fingers randomly and hoping for the best. Another way to say it is don't rely on muscle memory, but don't let it sabotage you, either. Also, remain aware of your hand position as you play. If you move the entire hand up a little for a pinkie extension, then notice you're a little sharp on everything afterwards, it's likely that your hand moved up as a unit and that's the problem- not a problem with finger placement. Check as many notes as you can with octaves and other natural intervals. If you really commit to it, it will develop sooner than you think!

June 18, 2011 at 03:38 AM ·

Mentally listen ahead and hear the pitches in your mind before you aim for them and actually sound them.  Tune your instrument consistently and check it as often as needed during a session.  I have so-called perfect pitch, but I check against the A-440 tuner several times during a practice session.

Two reviews I like to do each day: 1) position changes on each string and 2) scales in one position, covering all four strings.  Again, in these drills, mentally listening ahead is key so that you hear immediately when you're off.  One-position scales really force me to listen carefully and stay in key, because there are no open-string notes.

Intonation was one of my strong suits from the first lessons.  But am I ever satisfied?  No way.  I forget who said this: In this life, there's no perfection, only improvement.

I couldn't participate in the earlier thread you mentioned.**  Regarding tuners with a visible signal guide: I've never used one; so I don't know whether the device plugs in or whether it runs on batteries.  If it's the former, what would you do during a power failure?

As I've mentioned recently, following the April 27 tornadoes here, I went through a 103-hour blackout.  The last 60 minutes or so of each evening session were in near-total darkness.  Yesteryear's ear-training and straight bow and string-crossing drills really paid off.  I had to rely on sound and touch -- not sight.  These sessions were at least as good as the best I've had with the lights on.
**EDIT: Previous thread is still on the board, not canceled but filled up.  Once a thread gets to 100 replies, the door shuts.  This one went to 101; I suspect two members had clicked on the RESPOND button after 99th reply.

June 18, 2011 at 04:08 AM ·

 Hi Zach,  I am convinced that playing the violin is a matter of the trust to your subconscious mind.  If in the deep of your soul, you are expecting a bad sound, so you play a bad sound.  Expect to play good intonations coupled with enough practice, and you will make it.  I am 67 and a learner since 3 months. I have a positive and bulldozer approach and I could feel I am doing better each day.  If my wife says it, it must be true as she has good  ears for music.  

Enjoy your weekend and Happy playing.

June 18, 2011 at 04:09 AM · I find it very helpful to close my eyes for some scales and bowing exercises- much easier to listen carefully and pay attention. I hope I don't have to do it because of a long power outage, tho!

June 18, 2011 at 04:58 AM ·

<<<<Mentally listen ahead and hear the pitches in your mind before you aim for them and actually sound them. >>>>


Also........sing aloud scales/modes, arpeggi. Accompany yourself on guitar or ukelele singing easy songs. Join a choir and learn to sing harmonies. Study musical theory, history and literature. And listen to good music on the classical radio station, string ensembles and harpsichord concertos....etc.

June 18, 2011 at 05:47 AM ·

The thing that turned my so-so intonation around was "The Tuning CD." It a CD of chord drones in every key. You're not copying a note, you're listening intently for the correct note in that key.

June 18, 2011 at 07:47 AM ·

June 18, 2011 at 08:48 AM ·

Great advice above - for me (and I still have a ways to go) listening to the music I am trying to play played by other violinists has helped as much as anything.  The really tricky issue is understanding what 'great intonation' really is.  As brought up on the previous topic (which we will try not to stir up here ;) ) a note can not be defined by its frequency but only by its sound.  If you listen to the greats they seem to often 'bend' the frequency of the note to make a sound that is contextural - and all the issues surrounding playing with other tempered or non-tempered instruments are covered in many fascinating topics on V.com.  Actually, a vibrato is by its by its nature both bad intonation (the note goes out of tune) and good intonation (the note is pleasant to the ear)!

As far as I can glean (and I am another learner) while was can test if a note is on frequency, the the only real measure of good intonation is whether the result is pleasing to the listener's ear.

[By the way, I think there really was some useful advice on the other topic, from all the posters, it was all well intentioned anyway and its a shame some of it was deleted.].

June 18, 2011 at 09:58 PM ·

 don't think there's a simple quick fix for intonation dificulties. Good intonation can't really be taught - it can be demonstrated, but you have to discover it yourself. 

@ Martin

Can you explain this in more detail. Are you saying that peole who are playing out of tune cannot learn to play in tune or are you saying something else.

June 19, 2011 at 01:53 AM ·

Where are you having difficultly; high position ,notes after shifts ,shifts, scales etc....

Are you hearing the out of tunes notes and looking to become more consistent, or you are unable to tell if you are in tune or not?

June 19, 2011 at 04:49 AM ·

June 19, 2011 at 01:26 PM ·

Martin and Zack also , poor intonation is learned or inadvertently taught. It's is usually caused by lack of concentration ,by teacher and/or student,  in the first few months to years when  learning the violin. Intonation does not need to be taught ,it is already hardwired into our minds , poor intonation needs to be corrected so it doesn't become a bad  habit. Keep in mind that there is a big difference when  someone  is not consistent with pitch, then someone who is unable to tell if he is or out of pitch. Pythagorean and Equal temperaments  are not natural tuning systems, we can follow them ,but we can't really learn them. Martin, I teach my students the concept of intonation in the first lesson and on. That is to listen first ,then repeat.

June 19, 2011 at 02:27 PM ·

June 20, 2011 at 12:29 AM ·

The ability to hear correct intonation definitely can be learned. My daughter has been learning the violin for four years now, and when she started I simply couldn't tell anything about the accuracy of her intonation. After four years of sitting in Suzuki lessons and listening to her daily practice I can now  tell  (not just by looking at her grimaces!) when she is fractionally out, most of the time. So if I can learn to hear intonation at my age, with very little musical background (I played clarinet badly as a kid) then with enough exposure it's possible for anyone to learn relative pitch.

Luckily for my daughter she is a piano player and a choral singer and has been able to tell pretty accurately whether or not she is tune from the start - her frustration comes from not always consistently being able to hit the note she knows she wants to hit first time, especially when shifting. Her teacher has given her the Yost shifting exercises and while they are painful to listen to and not terribly exciting to practice, her playing in most positions is now coming to be much more accurate first time - I think the main problem she has is when she is is tired her hand position on the neck of the violin gets sloppy and so the same physical shift up the neck leads to her fingers being in a slightly different position.

June 20, 2011 at 12:52 AM ·

I agree with Susan - maintaining a good hand frame at all time is crucial to intonation, if you already know what correct intonation is.  Placing fingers in advance and leaving them down when not in use would help a great deal too.

I also have the same problem as Susan's daughter - I played the piano as a kid, and sang in choirs through college. My ear is much more developed than my left hand technique.  My obsession with playing in tune is actually a hindrance... When I hear myself playing a note out-of-tune, I want to go back to correct it, so it was almost impossible for me to play a whole piece without stopping and do-over. It was driving my teacher crazy... She has been working hard to try to help me keep playing regardless of what happens. I'm still working on it, but I was able to do it in my last recital, so there is hope.. :)

June 20, 2011 at 02:47 AM ·

Learning to play in tune isn't as difficult as people make it out to be. You just need to understand what you need to listen to while performing. A good violin with good strings will help. Simon Fischer has many great exercises that are great for this.

June 21, 2011 at 05:37 PM ·


Cello students are often advised to use recorded "drones" to check their intonation. CDs with drone note (12 notes) are available. The fundamental drone note can be played as background during careful fiddling of an entire scale or arpeggio. It doesn't have to be the fundamental - but that is what is often played to.

This can also help ear training.

BUT, in string playing, a note that is "perfectly in tune" in a melodic line may sometimes be out of tune in a chord or ensemble. Playing against a background drone can help players learn to adjust for this sort of thing.

One could use an audible tuner to generate the drone - but those devices usually make unpleasant, icky sounds. But playing along with a tuner is a bad idea. For one thing the violin intonation is not that constant - no matter how hard you try unless you clamp your finger to the fingerboard. And, as others mention, the tempered intonation of an electronic tuner is not perfect for all keys (actually not for any) - but it's great as a intonation source for tuning your piano.


June 21, 2011 at 07:48 PM ·

Zach, maybe you mentioned this in the last thread but I'm curious to know - what exercises/techniques have you already tried that are not working for you? 

June 21, 2011 at 10:25 PM ·


here are two rather tough things one csan do to develop the ear.

Some of the greta violinsts laid a lot more emphasis on scales in 7ths, 2nds and fourths as opposed to the regualr 3rds ,  6ths and octaves.  this is a very powerful and sadly neglected way of developing your ear.(Note thta Drew Lecher includes such scales in his Manual of Violin technique.  if you want good intonation you could do a lot worse than practice the double stopping from that book eerydya. It sets out in such a wya you can`t get away with anything)

The other -brilliant= exercise I leanrt from Todd Ehless (?) on youtube.  One plays the firts note of the scales and then sings the next.  play the next and simultaneously sing the next and so on.  ITs essentially the same a spractiicng scale sin seconds but has a very salutory effect on you listening,  foucs and intonation.  A truly annoying exercise.



June 22, 2011 at 01:46 AM ·

<<<<One plays the firts note of the scales and then sings the next.  play the next and simultaneously sing the next and so on. >>>>


I practised this long before internet, I thought I invented it, but there is no doubt I read about it somewhere and forgot who wrote it. The practise of this would achieve our ultimate goal of maintaining presence of mind.....Staying focused on the present moment, antisipating the music one is about to play.....whether it be the next note anywhere on the finger board, the next group of notes or phrase, the sound of an arpeggiated pattern, the sound of a harmonic progression............etc,.

June 22, 2011 at 04:26 AM ·

Here's a link to that interview that John mentioned:


About half way down he talks about Casals and intonation.  Very interesting.

The problem I have with singing is that I can only just croak up to an open E.  Isn't it better to work on developing a virtual violin sound in your head?

June 22, 2011 at 07:20 PM ·

"Isn't it better to work on developing a virtual violin sound in your head?"

Agreed -- or, at least, hearing the pitches mentally -- violin sound or not -- before actually sounding them.

I remember the Todd Ehle online lesson Buri refers to above.  But to sing the pitches reliably, you first have to hear them in your mind reliably.  That's why I'm so strong on this business of mentally listening ahead.  My teachers were strong on it, too.  It works.

June 23, 2011 at 11:47 PM ·

<<Just trawl  through all your music one rainy afternoon with a red and green crayon and mark where notes need to be sharper or flatter. >>


I can think of some thing much more productive to do with my time on a rainy day and that would be to....play, play, play ma fiddle. Reproducing the sounds I hear in my head and absorbing the resonances as they reverberate through my body.


June 24, 2011 at 01:53 PM ·

June 24, 2011 at 03:16 PM ·

Thank you for the answers. I have been using the method of singing the pitch before i play out loud and in my head. I can hear the wrong notes and I fix them but my problem is being consistent with my fingers so any helpful tips on fixing that or should i keep doing the singing and placing the finger down method.

June 24, 2011 at 08:29 PM ·


the problem of consistency with the fingers has ,  in my opinon,  been resolved once and for all on this site .  For donkeys years I wrote blogs and entires about how all manner of player sand levels never corrected intonation even though they thought the did.  What I mean by this is that a playe r  who is out of tune often simply slides the finger around to the correct note.  This manne rof parcie is -invalid= because of the golden rule that we perform what w epractice.  In othe rwords ,  if you practice finger sliding you will always perform that way.  Thus it is necessary to freeze the position of the wrong note,  lift the finger and replace it higher or lower. That is step one. Step two is the number of repetitions.  If you only repeat the wrong note once the right note will not be learnt.  It takes between three and six repetitions to erase the wrong note and learn the right position for the finger.

This is quite a bitter pill to swallow for even ratehr advanced players who have never really embraced this idea and actully never really developed pure and precise technique.  However,  the cocnpets have actually been worked on and standardized into a wodnerful technique called `repetition hits` whc  are an integral feature of the book by Drew Lecher whose young student you can see on this site in a recnet thread.  When Drew first introduced repetition hits in his blogs (yake a look) people didn`t seem to understand what he wa sgetting at in many cases.  I am not sure why this was the case but I wrote a complimentary essay called `Repetition hits ,  a humble stab at....`  I forget the exact name but it should be fsirly easy to find on this site.

I adopted this technique with myself and a,, my studnets  and found enormous improvements in all cases.

To my mind,  this was an example of how v.ommie actually managed to make widely avaialble a technique that could enhance the practic eand playing of thousands of violinists through the generosity of a widely acclaime dteacher .

How`s that for pseudo advertizing?


June 26, 2011 at 02:08 AM ·

<<<<<<<<<technical nitpicking >>>>>>>>


I have seen a manuscript with arrows indicating....this note needs to be played sharper, and this note  needs to be played flatter............

But ask your self why? Are these notes included in a decending or ascending melodic line?

Do these notes form an arpeggi or a double stop?

Train the inner ear to hear these differences and play, play, play.....which also means......practise, work and have fun....... then one can donate the crayons to the Kindergarten.....  

June 27, 2011 at 08:30 AM ·

That's great Zack, the singing is working for you.

There are two stages for good intonation. The first is the concept and the second is consistency. You have already learn the concept ,which is to think first ,then play ,now consistency deals with technique. There are three important factors (at least) to look at ; finger height , elbow movement(arm and shoulder) and  hand movement. Generally speaking , the middle bone of the index finger should be parallel with finger board when placed on the E string with the fingernail facing you. When the index finger is placed on the G string , the middle bone should be slopping towards you.

For the Elbow (arm and shoulder) movement , the  concept is that elbow guides fingers, it's first in thought. It doesn't follow the fingers. Next look for excessive hand and wrist movement. We sometimes will do a lot of movement for the simplest task.Practice this;

play a one octave 1st position  G scale starting on the G string. Make sure the 3 rd finger is curved and over the G string(important ),  get the elbow up. Play the scale, look for excessive wrist and hand movement. The elbow stays still , and it's important that there isn't any wrist or thumb. movement. Now do the same for the D and A string ,(D and A scale).


June 28, 2011 at 10:16 AM ·

There is one thing that has not been mentioned yet. It could be important, especially for someone who is after perfection.

Learn about the mathematical side of intonation, if only to know what is possible, and what is not. As an example: when you tune your violin to perfect fifths, the e' one sixth above the G string will not be an exact octave below the E string's e". That does not mean you are doing anything wrong: you're up against the main theorem of arithmetic (really!) and it's hard to argue with a mathematical theorem.

Here goes. A pure major sixth has a ratio of g:e'=3:5=24:40. Three pure fifths amount to g: e"=8:27 = 24:81. So the ratio e':e", derived in this manner, becomes 40:81, not 40:80.This means you have to compromise, and if you play together with others, you'd better compromise in the same way.

This does not mean one has to make sums the whole time. You develop a feeling, and an ear, for this sort of thing.

June 28, 2011 at 10:32 AM ·

It is alleged that only twelve people can understand relativity, a few must be on v.com.

June 28, 2011 at 10:34 AM ·

Andre, LOL!

June 28, 2011 at 07:42 PM · The best exercise for intonation is chamber music. Intonations isn't just being perfect with an electronic tuner. There is always a constant adjustment with what's going on around you. Pitch is always relative.

June 29, 2011 at 10:12 PM ·


John wrote:

>Is there a general acceptance of the Casals system ?

I don`t know that I would necessarily call it a `system`  It`s more of an approach to my mind.   The answer to your question is I suppose `no.`   There are anecdotal stories of younger players at musicla institutes hearing Casals and questionning why he plays `out of tune.`    Casals was uncompomising in his beliefs about intonation and would never go with the piano intonation whatever the price.   Although I heartily agree with Casal`s approach I would never use use it to the extreme he did.  Neither id,  for example,  Milstein.   What the great players can do in spades is switch rapidly between equal temperament and harmonic (?) intonation accoridng to the needs of the moment.   So for example,  the opening of the Mozart e minor violin sonata played by Casals would ,  to my mind, sound pretty nasty because he wouldn`t do the unison with the piano. Milstein,  on the other hand,  would adjustto the piano and then switch to expressive intonation later.   He was exceptionally gifted in this area.



June 30, 2011 at 04:21 AM ·

certain artists master the standard skills so well that they can venture off into more creativity within the bounds of artistic merit.  Picasso could do incredible pencil drawings in a very realistic style before he ever approached cubism, and Miles Davis could play conventional ballads in perfect traditional scales and rhythms before he played bop or fusion.   For Casals and other great players, their intonation is part of their artistic expression (except maybe an occasional slip here and there).   For most players at an intermediate level, just playing any scale consistently in good form is accomplishment, and the expressive features can be added or embellished as part of the artistic statement as that level is reached.  There isn't any right or wrong system for anyone or everyone; beyond a certain competent level it comes down to taste of player and the listener.

June 30, 2011 at 01:33 PM ·

There is some great advice on intonation in Simon Fischer's book "Practice" - page 207 "Uniform Intonation".  

To much to write about here but I will quote two things: "There is no one 'system' of tuning which will suit every passage, key, or combination of instruments" and under the title "Fast Intonation" he writes "In fast passages, sharps should be played higher, and flats lower, than in slow passages."  Finally I would repeat what my teacher used to say "You can only play as well as you can hear" - a truism which is not just about intonation of course!

June 30, 2011 at 10:39 PM ·


that`s why our piano tuner always comes in a black helicopter...



July 1, 2011 at 01:17 AM ·

<<<sharps should be played higher, and flats lower,>>>

So, if one is playing music in a key without sharps or flats...such as......C major, D dorian. E phrygian, F lydian....etc, this concept does'nt apply because all the notes are played natural?

Why is there reference to 'tempered tunning' in this thread when we are discussing 'intonation'?

Yes, I know, intonation has many defintions, but we are on violinist.com not piano.com?

Here we define intonation as the rise and fall of a given pitch, like one can achieve when singing. Playing the violin is like singing, one can make subtle alterations to any pitch. This is not possible on a tempered instrument, well maybe on the guitar, but the Oud is fretless.

BTW. Great post Tom.

July 8, 2011 at 01:54 PM ·

Chromatic scales are really good for learning semi-tones.

But, if you can sing one octave of the major scale you know the difference between a tone and semi-tone. Try it on a $1.50 slide flute, include intervals, arpeggi, modes and toons.

July 15, 2011 at 11:25 AM ·

This is also something I have only seen mentioned once before. You move your hand back and forth from the elbow while keeping the finger stationed on a note and the bone in the finger moves under the skin dipping and raising the  pitch. I like this effect, but the finger pressure on the string must come from a slight swing of the elbow, not just a squeeze of the hand. 

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