How accurate does your intonation have to be?

October 23, 2011 at 06:37 AM ·

Short question but an important one. I am a 4 month violin player

I follow a tuner when I play to see if the note I played was perfectly in tune. My ear is new so it is not reliable. I can figure out if I am on a wrong note, I can tell the difference between a B and a C (relative pitch) but I am not so good at telling if my B is too flat  (but not being a B flat) which is what my tuner tells me. I hope you understand what I mean


My question is if it is that important to always be perfectly in tune 100% green light on the tuner and all or is it okay to be alittle bit flat or sharp? Not so flat that its on the brink of being a B flat but being like an itty bitty flat or sharp. When I play I sometimes hit it perfect and sometimes I am a milimeter away being a teeny bit too sharp (according to my tuner). Is it okay to have some lee-way when it comes to your intonation?



Replies (101)

October 23, 2011 at 08:10 AM ·

"In tune" means different things in different situations.

Playing exactly spot on with an electronic tuner that is set to equal temperament (all half steps the same size) like a piano will guarantee that you might be able to hit piano-accurate pitches, but you most definitely will not be in tune to yourself or in an ensemble. The problem is that pitches are not a set distance apart, but are determined by a ratio. For example, octaves are 1:2. First finger A on the G string is 220 Hz, while the open A is 440 Hz, while third finger A on the E string is 880 Hz.

Perhaps the most important thing I teach my students about pitch is to help them establish what a half step and whole step sound like. If you can grasp those two concepts, then you can build all of the other intervals from there!

October 23, 2011 at 09:04 AM ·

 Using a tuner when you play isn't going to train your ear any faster and it won't speed up the process for your left hand either. You have to listen for yourself and reject anything that sounds out of tune, as you progress your ear will become more sensitive and you will be pickier about what you consider acceptable intonation. 

If you have trouble telling the difference, I recommend recording yourself. From the perspective of listening to a recording of yourself you may find that you are pickier than you'd be when the violin is right under your ear.

October 23, 2011 at 12:41 PM ·

I think thats a bit of a blanket statement Michael.  For some people a tuner seems to help , in particular at the early stages of knowing which note you are on!  Actually it can help at later stages to when you are up in the gerbil zone... 

But I think most will agree that at some point you have to abandon the tuner and let your ear catch its own errors.

On whats in tune?  I'm no expert but ultimately it depends on context.  At the most extreme a note will sound in tune at one pitch in one situation and in tune at a slightly different one at a different situation.  Players often 'bend' the note according to the effect or chord they are trying to achieve.  I'm rather interested in this right now in the context of making a piece sound sad or happy - one tool it seems is to tweak the note slightly flat or sharp -but this is probably much more than you need to know now.  I just point it out because there is no simple answer to your question except to say that the note is in tune if it first, is close to the right frequency for that note and second, is where it 'sounds right' for its context (and thats where your ear is dominant).

October 23, 2011 at 12:53 PM ·

 daniel, what kind of question is that, whether you should strive to be perfect?  of course you should.  you can say, i have given my best and my correct hit ratio is 0.8.   should i be happy to stay at 0.8 or should i try to go up to 0.9 and then 1?  of course you should aim for 1.  you eventually getting there or not is another thing, but you should at least try.

this is not even getting into whether you should use tuners or not.  on some level, using tuners is like using shoulder rests.

October 23, 2011 at 02:40 PM ·

Daniel -

As you can see by the responses - this is a complicated multifaceted issue. You are in the infancy of your violin playing life. Learning to play in tune is a process that will unfold and develop over time. My concern is that you will get too uptight going for the "green" all the time. You need to stay relaxed both physically and mentally and for goodness sakes enjoy yourself!

That said - I would make a suggestion. Going for the "green" is using a visual device to learn something with your ears. It's better to have a sound generated for you to compare your sounds with. There is a post somewhere here about a "drone". A typical drone is the key note of a scale. If you are practicing an A scale - have a tuner or electric keyboard play an A while you play the entire scale and compare your notes to the A.

The comments that made me smile: "my ear is new" "gerbil zone"

Smiles! Diane

October 23, 2011 at 02:52 PM ·

Order "The Tuning CD." It cured my crappy intonation. It plays a chord in any key you want. Simply play a scale, or whatever, and you will hear when you are even a smidgen  out of tune. Google it to find the source.

October 23, 2011 at 03:40 PM ·

October 23, 2011 at 04:59 PM ·

 Interesting to read that someone uses a tuner to check notes. I'm not sure I would recommend this method, it seems terribly time consuming and somewhat counter-intuitive to developing a good ear.

I took part in an experiment once (a science-based one) to judge the exact results of my tuning. On a scale, I was very close to perfection, even closer than I expected. On pieces, it was far less accurate. Certain notes were certainly NOT in tune (when tested) but they sounded correct and I had to admit that I was deliberately adjusting certain notes to suit the key.

My personal belief is that the violin is not played to create tempered Piano pitch, but rather with small adjustments to produce an overall in-tune intonation. I have different expectations for different levels of pupil. At the earliest stages, concentrate more on the patterns (tones/semitones) so you train your fingers, go for ultra-accuracy later on.

October 23, 2011 at 05:40 PM · I just started myself and I am also using the Tuner but once I have the note I play it without the Tuner and I can tell already if I hit the note or missed by a tiny bit. I also listen to the pitch while the Tuner is on and off. I eventually want to be able to do it without the Tuner but that's going to be a while. Cheers.

October 23, 2011 at 06:49 PM ·

I also use the Tuning CD. And I have started looking into Music Minus One just to have an orchestra at my service. I would not recommend using a tuner.

 This is a very complex issue but one thing I am fairly positive is that very few if any singers can sing a scale that matches equal temperament, especially over a chord, and I have heard singers who can do scales in quarter tones.
Whenever I am tempted to trust a mechanism I remember one rehearsal many years ago. A young lady I worked with for well over a decade was working on a new piece for or parish. I heard the shock in her voice, so cut off the choir. She asked “what happened, I was in tune and then I wasn’t?”
My response “The chord changed you need to adjust the note appropriately.”
Even with a couple years of college choral study, she did not realize that a pitch is dependent on its position in a chord. 
Some guitar tuners are tempered differently than equal temperament. It is always funny to have three guitarist tune to three different tuners and then be wonderfully in tune with themselves but not with each other. And yet a few notes match, but not the chords.
The standard cliché is that equal temperament just means equally out of tune. Matching every note to a tuner may not be that good an idea. It might even be detrimental to the ear.
BTW: You might enjoy Ross W. Duffin’s book How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony as an introduction to this subject. My paperback copy has a really pretty scroll on the cover.

October 23, 2011 at 07:03 PM ·


It is not even possible to play consistently in tune. Try the famous chord g-e'-b'-e": for consonance with the g, the b' and the e' need to be lower than for consonance with the e". But there is a beauty in good intonation which is much more interesting than perfection. The great Kreisler comes to mind. His records are beautiful examples.

Happy practising!


p.s. I've just read your post more carefully: the discrepancy between you and the tuner happens on a b. It could be that you want it to sound good with the d string (relatively low b), and the tuner would be happier if you tuned it to the e string (higher b). It depends on the music what is best.

October 23, 2011 at 08:34 PM ·

October 23, 2011 at 11:08 PM ·

 i think it is possible to improve on intonation by following just one thing:  slow down.

everyone has been told about this on the first or second week of the violin lessons, but it is something very difficult to take to heart.  in my whole life in the violin settings when someone is not playing well, i have never heard the teacher say: please speed up.  it is always the opposite.

so we have teachers repeat it again and again; parents repeat it again and again.  doesn't work?  teachers will write down on paper:  USE METRONOME.  the device is not just for rhythm or tempo.  it encourages students to play slow enough so that they actually hear what they are playing.

take daniel's case.  if he has played slowed enough, i am not convinced that he will on purpose not correct a note that the tuner has indicated as off.  it is highly unlikely that anyone will leave a mistake uncorrected if there is opportunity and time. 

October 23, 2011 at 11:08 PM ·

I am strongly opposed to using the tuner to check your intonation while you play.  You should learn intonation by ear and not by eye.  My student who has the greatest difficulty with intonation is one who always plays with one eye on the tuner.  One of my more advanced students, whose intonation is very good, told me that he uses the tuner occasionally, when he is having trouble with a particular passage.  My students often tell me that they like playing with me because they improve their intonation that way.   I like that.  ;-) 

October 23, 2011 at 11:16 PM ·

me: " For some people a tuner seems to help , in particular at the early stages of knowing which note you are on! "


Bill P: "No. Yo just *think* this is the case. Actually you would have learned faster and better if you hadn't used the tuner this way."

Thank you Bill.  If you say this is true then obviously I am wrong.  But for those here that might not believe in your pedagogical mastery, perhaps you could be so good as backing this up with some evidence?

October 24, 2011 at 12:19 AM ·

October 24, 2011 at 02:28 AM ·

The tuner will teach you equal temperament tuning (like a piano). Eventually, you have to master all methods of being internally and externally in-tune, but I think you should consider the violin as a melodic instrument for now. In this case, you will want Pythagorean tuning, which is characterized, simply put, by narrow half-steps. In a G scale, this means the F# and G are quite close, as are the B and C. The tuner will tell these are sharp and flat, respectively. There are tuners that do Pythagorean intonation...

When you play scales or the songs you're learning, listen carefully as to whether it sounds good. How would you sing it? I'm not even a good singer, and this helps me quite a bit. This is a trick I think Isaac Stern used.

P.S. also had some videos explaining the types of intonation.

October 24, 2011 at 03:12 AM ·

"Thank you Bill.  If you say this is true then obviously I am wrong.  But for those here that might not believe in your pedagogical mastery, perhaps you could be so good as backing this up with some evidence?"


Au contraire! I am the one calling your pedagogical bluff!  You have No Proof that the tuner use is at all helpful. But there is enormous proof that learning without the tuner does get you to the right result.

It seems that the tuner keeps cropping up with people who *have already been struggling and have been using the tuner.*

Furthermore, this cockamamy device is very new to the general market.

 Proof that you can learn to play without it? EVERYWHERE! Every soloist, every orchestral musician, Heifetz himself, on down the line. My god, have you found a preponderance of professional violin teachers expounding on the virtues of the tuner used this way? No, you haven't. You have heard pedagogues speak of some uses for it in very measured terms--and a lot of concern.

Sorry Elise, you are on the pedagogical tightrope here, not me :-P


October 24, 2011 at 06:43 AM ·

My teacher has always said to me that it would have been an advantage if I'd been in a choir and done some serious singing training. And I've always thought "Gaaaa!".

But here's the thing, if I know (can hear in my head, sing or someone plays it for me) what note - I can get it. Whatever finger, Whatever position. When my intonation slips out it's generally because if I'm honest I'm not sure what the note should really sound like.

Perhaps we should all be concentrating on singing as the first step to developing intonation and ear skills?

October 24, 2011 at 08:08 AM ·

Bill, I wonder if you can actually see a fundamental difference about how we make our statements?

ee: " For some people a tuner seems to help , in particular at the early stages of knowing which note you are on! "

 BP: "No. Yo just *think* this is the case. Actually you would have learned faster and better if you hadn't used the tuner this way."

October 24, 2011 at 08:17 AM ·

""The tuner will teach you equal temperament tuning (like a piano). Eventually, you have to master all methods of being internally and externally in-tune..."

Adam I think thats very well put.  Of course if you play with a piano (which most of us to for our first recital attempts) then you have to use someapproximation to equal temperament.   It may not so relevant to a beginner though for whom being 80% is still a goal  :)  (which, I hasten to say, is true of what I wrote above too).  Actually, I don't think my ear is good enough to separte the two either.

My teacher used to stress these differences too so just for fun after she had tuned her fiolin I whipped out my electronic tuner and we tested it - it was bang on the eletronic values.  I think this is important as the difference is very subtle but most noticed not by the ear during tuning but when you have two instruments who are very close to in tune but not quite there.  Physicists will, I would guess, talk about interference waves which are easier to detect than absolute tones.

October 24, 2011 at 08:30 AM ·

@Bart : "It is not even possible to play consistently in tune."

I couldn't agree more. Using a similar example, and I think  most of you will know this, if you play the 2-note chord of open D + B (1st finger on A-string) the B needs to be fractionally flat to get a sweet sound. Freeze left hand, then play B and open E together - now the B needs to be sharpened a fraction to make the chord sound right.

I noticed this in the very early days of playing, and I was convinced something was wrong. There was nothing wrong . This is normal!

As for a tuner, I would only ever use one to get an A440, and tune everything else by ear.


October 24, 2011 at 11:25 AM ·

 does a person who has played piano for many years have a hard time learning violin intonation because of piano's tuning?

have seen all kinds of complaints on but never remember to come across that.

i know many good violinists who have learned piano in the beginning or concurrently.  no one seems to have issues with intonation.  

October 24, 2011 at 02:19 PM ·

Part of the training is the ear and recognizing and responding based on what we hear. Using tuners to check for intonation is just plain bad, IMO.

I remember years ago playing something the way I had been playing it for quite some time, my new teacher in the next room (I was doing the pre lesson warm up) and she yelled (not in a mean way, more in a hurt animal way) "NO, no!" and started the lesson early because it broke her heart to hear me playing it wrong, not hearing that it was off. Afterward it's was like night and day and I couldn't believe I had played it that "off" but never liked the sound of it, and after I got it right, it was heaven and was the most valuable lesson about playing because it made me recognize that my own reaction to what I was playing was the best intonation checker.

October 24, 2011 at 02:41 PM ·

Can we please stop bickering about whether it is a good idea to use a tuner and get back to something more important like whether your tone would be better without a shoulder rest?

For goodness sake!!

October 24, 2011 at 04:18 PM ·

October 24, 2011 at 06:06 PM ·

 Can we please stop bickering about whether it is a good idea to use a tuner and get back to something more important like whether your tone would be better without a shoulder rest?

For goodness sake!!

Paul, if I remember, the original question had not to do with tone and shoulder rests, but which brand of unwound gut string should be used on the A string.



October 24, 2011 at 06:07 PM ·

 Oops--here it is:

Does your finger have to be super accurate on a note or can there be leeway in its flat or sharpness?

Answer: yes on first question, no on second.

October 24, 2011 at 06:49 PM ·

My answer is actually yes and yes ;)  [But I have to bow to superior forces ( hehehe on the pun ..). ]

To explain you have to be superacurate in all cases - but what you are superacurate to depends on the note you have in your head and also, of course, on the note emanating from your fellow players instruments :D

October 24, 2011 at 07:23 PM ·

 Great Thread!!

The biggest part of learning how to play the violin is developing your ear. The time spent on listening if you are in tune using a tuner, is time taken away from developing your ear.

Like Julian Stokes said – you have to hear the note in your head/ear to be able to play the note.

The key is to learn to hear intervals.

The tuner has its place just like a metronome.

I have to admit, I play my part on the piano to help me hear how my music should sound. I have notice that I am not as dependent on the piano as I use to be. 

October 24, 2011 at 10:48 PM ·

Robert - different strokes for differen folks...

It boggles my mind that even though we all meet all kinds of people with totally different ways of getting through life that we can still dictate 'The Way' (read 'normal') to everyone else?  I wish people would just say what works for them and for those they have communicated with and not presume its the only way for everyone else.

If it were we would never have had a Einstein, Ghandi, Newton, Picasso, ......

I like my electronic tuner.  And, I will use it as I see fit.  I don't ask anyone else to do the same but by knowning that I and others use it perhaps someone else will find it works for them - or not.  Go forth and explore :D

October 24, 2011 at 10:49 PM ·

 elise, could you stop influencing me with your way of thinking and living? :)

October 25, 2011 at 12:19 AM ·

October 25, 2011 at 12:36 AM ·

 bill, did you start on plucking instruments instead of bowing instruments?

October 25, 2011 at 12:39 AM ·

No. I started them simultaneously, to the second, with the same teacher. A loooong time ago.

October 25, 2011 at 12:54 AM ·

 so with fret it is no sweat ? :)

October 25, 2011 at 01:09 AM ·

October 25, 2011 at 03:10 AM ·

OK Al.  Just as soon as you stop influencing me with the way you interact with your kid.

You go first.

October 25, 2011 at 06:25 AM ·

Sorry to interrupt and get back to the question, but no one made this suggestion: once the strings are in tune, you can check intonation for many notes by plaing them in unison with other notes on different strings.  Sorry I can't give a general rule but maybe someone else can.  My teacher taught me this and it's my favorite method.

October 25, 2011 at 09:00 AM ·

<<<but no one made this suggestion:>>>


This suggestion and many, many others have been suggested in the many, many threads on this subject.

October 25, 2011 at 09:52 AM ·

Dear Daniel,

I'm just an adult student and one should be suspicious of what I write (because of my obvious ignorance on the subject).

I think I can see where you are. I can tell you what helped me. I started using music of the Suzuki books, because there are plenty of recordings of them, and videos on youtube. So, I'd play along. It has helped me start to perceive the small details. If you know what you're supposed to sound like, you'll know if you're off.

In order to play along, I slow it down (freeware: audacity or vlc player).

Playing scales also helps a lot. If your ear is so bad that you don't even recognize a scale played in tune, listen to it on the net. Again and again. Try to sing along, BEFORE playing along. Then, when you're playing, you have the sound in your mind.

There are freeware midi programs and with them you can slowdown a scale and play along. It helps a lot if you're really lost. People may think that's a bad idea, since the midi program is like a piano (equal temperament). But a beginner need to start somewhere.

In my humble experience, playing along is better than playing to a tuner. If for nothing else, playing along, you're listening to the music, you're keeping tempo (slow, slow, at the beginning), you're learning to play with other people (virtually). In listening, you'll end up waking up for the dynamics (they'll do pianos, crescendos, diminuendos, fortes, etc). Things that we can't manage when you're just starting, but that will become a necessity when we progress. The other problem with the tuner is that it sometimes is quite slow to show the note. And if you're playing really, really slow, then you may sound like a screaming cat (as a beginner!), because, let's face it, keep a long son filé isn't easy when one starts.

There is also another exercise for the ear-challenged that I find very nice: play an open string and the same note stopping the string. Say, play the A string and the A on the D string (forth finger). Move your finger slowly till you hear (and feel at the tip of your finger) the sympathetic vibration. It is quite impressive. If your fourth finger is very weak, you can use the second finger (your hand would be in third position). You'll know what it is to be in tune. Your finger will feel it.

When I started doing this, I couldn't really "see" it, so ear-challenged I am. Now, it screams at me. It's really nice.

At the very beginning (4 months, you say),  you're probably so concentrated on bowing straight (and failing?) and posture, etc, that your left hand is all stressed up, tense... then you don't sound your best. I assure you, if you keep practicing, it will all improve. During practice, ask yourself things like  "Am I relaxed?" and see if your shoulders are OK, if your right hand is OK, etc. Stop playing in the middle of something and look at the position of your right hand.

The thing is, if your bow is changing point of contact all the time, your left hand finger may be on the same spot, but you still sound a bit off. It's also true for the bow pressure (hair on the strings). If you're varying pressure within a note, it  may sound a bit off. There's a video of Simon Fischer where he demonstrate this and it is quite enlightening.

Lots of folks giving advice on this site are pros, who started at a very young age. People who start late (I was 39, or something), have different problems.

There is a theory in linguistics (validated) that if one doesn't learn langage (mother tongue) before puberty, one WON'T learn it afterwards.

Music is like a language. I'm keeping track of the bumps of the learning process as side research material, because people like us, who aren't four or five and are still trying to learn a language (the one we have to use to communicate by interposed violin and bow),  are actually working against a strong paradigm.

People who learned as children won't know. It is like learning one's mother tongue and learning Cantonese (tonal!) at the ripe age of 40. All teaching material of the violin is written with the young in mind. And teachers, when trained at all for teaching, are trained for the young, or, at least, those who started at an early age. There is no method for the post puberty beginner (I'm supposing you're an adult beginner).

So, take all the very good advice of all this very experienced  and friendly folks here, but remember you're off grounds. You're the aberration. Like me. So, find things that work for you. A child of five learning to play perhaps won't need so much around to learn, but an adult isn't that child anymore. The child's brain is ready to accommodate new complex pathways, whereas ours is full of them, and it is difficult to form new ones (mainly the ones linked to this kind of learning).

About the intervals and the playing in tune thing. Again, remember I'm just a student (without a teacher, till a few weeks ago): if you're not using open strings and you're going off tune little by little, it won't sound so off. Like, for instance: if you've played a B, a C that were quite sharp, then you play a D that is even a bit sharper, it won't sound so bad, because the ear is comparing that D to the standard set by those B and C (also sharp). But if you then play, say, the E open string, then you'll feel (hear) that that D wasn't quite right.

I want my notes to be in tune. All of them. Are they? Of course not, but I will keep trying to get them "right". It really gets better.

Learning the whole step and the half step is nice, but, in practice, on the violin, it is translated on the distance between fingers. Well, the distance isn't  the same everywhere. The whole step distance grows smaller and smaller as you go closer to the bridge. I was afraid of that, but it turns out to be a blessing. For smaller hands, short pinkies, it's nice, for instance, to play in third position, everything within reach!

So, do learn the difference of a whole step and a half one, but remember that when it comes to stopping the string with your left hand fingers, a whole step (and a half one) aren't the same everywhere.

Good practicing!!! It really only gets better!


October 25, 2011 at 11:27 AM ·

 that is a great post, caroline, with passion and consideration for older students who indeed face a different sets of problems from very young kids.  

I really like your emphasis on using the open strings more readily.  other notes are just couple notes away from these "helper anchors".  it is comforting to know that any note can be reached easily from these open string, upward or downward.  i think the process and the habit of developing of "laddering" short sequences of notes, from open strings to new, questionable destinations will help train the ear.  here is what i think will make things easier:

1.  know how to tune the 4 open strings well.  try to tune them well against other strings,  not independently (even if one uses tuners, one really needs to learn to tune other 3 strings without).  i believe for many beginners, even for adults who have the capability to handle the pegs, it is still easier to fine tune with fine tuners on all 4 strings.  some pegs are just difficult to move precisely which may lead to the habit of "it is close enough".  i think even tuning itself can train the ears.  tune A and D well and play them together.  then play around with the A fine tuner, up and down slowly and listen carefully.  the more one does that, the more one learns to appreciate that there is only one tiny window by which the chord sounds nice and correct.  instead of asking if a note is correct, start with a note that is correct and on purpose tune it to off pitch and listen.  if one does not slow down to really listen and process the sound, the fine line between correct vs slightly incorrect is not easily distinguishable in the beginning.  also, lessen the bow pressure will also allow one to hear more and more clearly.  this intonation process is not unlike learning to think one more move when playing chess, or think a little harder on a crossword puzzle.  the answer is there if one stays on course and explores just a little longer...

2. learn to check all notes on the first position with reference to the 4 open strings.  always go up or down to the note of question from the open strings, in mini scales.  it is just so much easier and comforting to develop this reliable reference.  in the very beginning, a child is probably told to do that and the child simply accepts it.  an adult may think it is tedious and redundant and skips this process and never quite benefits from it.

3. on higher positions, consider open string check as well as first position check. it is work, no doubt about it.  it takes time and effort, which often makes it less fun:)  but it is these types of double checking and referencing that will build confidence and a pitch frame work in the head.  often i see some people learn some things faster than others.  i realize they are not smarter necessarily, just that their habits are better.

4. i think violin is tricky because there is such a premium put on great intonation.  if one has great intonation, even very simple pieces can sound marvelous and impressive.



October 25, 2011 at 03:51 PM ·

For the Original Poster, Daniel.

You have heard two sides here:

those who agree with the idea that using a tuner as a *dynamic checking and feedback device* is a good idea

those who believe that it is best to learn to hear your in-tuneness in a larger harmonic and melodic context, referenced against open strings and against harmonic consonance between a stopped (finger) note and another open string or another stopped string, and, very importantly, referenced against song.

We must now stress that if you believe the second approach is ultimately the desired skill, then the first suggested method--use of the tuner as you describe, is, by definition, counterproductive.

It really isn't a matter of "do whatever works for you" because as a beginner, you don't actually know what you need, until someone tells you--either through you passively reading, or actively being taught, or if you are a rare genius (e.g. like me) you manage to see what is needed through sheer intellectual effort. :-)

October 25, 2011 at 07:54 PM ·

 I learned to play the violin without a tuner, and continue to practice most of the time without one. From my personal experience the single greatest benefit with using a tuner is if there is a consistent repeat offender in a musical passage. The question then is am I doing this for a musical (i.e. context)  reason, or have I simply become oblivious to the fact that I am playing some note flat or sharp to an extreme?

Having said that, my personal favorite practice technique is utilizing open strings as drones. much more organic, and it has worked for hundreds of years. Why mess with success? 

October 25, 2011 at 08:19 PM ·

 To answer the original question by Daniel, people that tell you to use a tuner to practice with, simply do not know what they're talking about.  They might mean well, and be nice people, but that's besides the point.  I wish I could put it more sensitively.

Tuners will actually teach you to play out of tune intervals (especially major and minor intervals) unrelated to one another.

October 25, 2011 at 08:40 PM ·

Not an expert, but in my personal experience the tuner helped me out, along with checking with open strings.  My sound and tone suddenly got bigger because the notes came in better in tune.  It was during a stage when I couldn't tell you the difference between an A or Bb (let alone sing it) if my life depended on it. 

I can say that I am a better player because of the tuner.  For example, I pretty much can tell immediately if any of the more "popular" notes are in tune or not (like the notes on the C major scale).  But I have trouble with the notes that's not "common" and those on the upper positions when they are so high that I can't tell them apart really well.

Most likely as I get do get better and more advanced the relative intonation will come into play and I will recognize it to be the most accurate method.  I think playing multistops helps develop this because I can figure out which note is too low or too high based on the chord.  I can see both sides.

October 25, 2011 at 08:44 PM ·


@bill platt

I think bill platt has sum things up very well and I completely agree.

 If one wants to learn how to play the violin, then you better start training your ear to hear intervals at some early point, and the sooner the better. 

Oh, and thank you bill platt for referring to me as a “rare genius”. I was wonder when someone would say something.

I like that: “sheer intellectual effort”

I do like to be noticed from time to time.


@elise stanley

I do not have any idea what you mean when you say:

“Robert - different strokes for differen folks...”

I really do not think there is anybody in the world, much less this site, that would disagree with my post in this thread.

So could you please point out in detail what you are talking about,  I will be more than happy to reply.  I am sure there is a misunderstanding in our communications.


October 25, 2011 at 08:45 PM ·

 Well said Nate Robinson

October 25, 2011 at 09:18 PM ·

Using a tuner the right way is a great way of improving intonation. I have to disagree with Nate in completely throwing out the tuner.

October 25, 2011 at 09:21 PM ·

 [quote] once the strings are in tune, you can check intonation for many notes by playing them in unison with other notes on different strings.  Sorry I can't give a general rule but maybe someone else can.  My teacher taught me this and it's my favourite method. [/quote]

Well said!

Not that I need to do it very often, but the most simple method of checking is to play 1st and 3rd (excluding #) finger notes with the string below and 2nd and 4th with the string above.

I remember a pupil coming for his first lesson with me and spending at least 5 minutes tuning his first finger b to the D string below!

October 25, 2011 at 09:52 PM ·

 @David Joyce

Excuse me David, I am a bit slow today.

If I am playing on the G string, the 1st and 3rd is A and C.

The string above is the D string, the 2nd and 4th is F and A.

 Would you explain your method again, but a little slower.

October 25, 2011 at 10:04 PM ·

Well, I held this topic up to my eletronic tuner and well, its totally out of tune!  Even the tempers were discordant...

October 25, 2011 at 10:16 PM ·

 Meanwhile, Daniel the OP is sitting in his loungeroom wondering what the hell he's started, and what's the answer to his question : )

October 25, 2011 at 10:35 PM ·

<<<Not that I need to do it very often, but the most simple method of checking is to play 1st and 3rd (excluding #) finger notes with the string below and 2nd and 4th with the string above.>>>


This is very clear to me, it's the sort of thing you discover through your adventures.....

October 26, 2011 at 01:46 AM ·

 "... I can figure out if I am on a wrong note, I can tell the difference between a B and a C (relative pitch) but I am not so good at telling if my B is too flat  (but not being a B flat) which is what my tuner tells me. "

Having been down the tuner and non-tuner path recently, this is what I can say from my own experience....

Tuners can be a good tool to get you in the ball-park and help you learn what note you are actually playing and if is overly flat or sharp.  From there, your ear needs to be engaged by working with a drone or open strings.  

Right now, I'm working with both a drone and tuner (a Peterson Strobo-Flip) so that I can better understand what my ear is hearing and the science behind tuning systems.  There are times that a particular note is out of tune (significantly) with the tuner but is in-tune with the drone. There are also times that I'm playing in what Elise elegantly termed the "gerbil" zone, where the tuner is helping me learn to recognize (ballpark)  notes several octaves higher than what I am used to hearing.

IMHO, it is a good tool, but make sure it does not become a crutch.

October 26, 2011 at 03:27 AM ·

Peterson strobe tuners are found in fretted instrument luthier shops. They are used, occasionally, for figuring out whacky issues with frets, and for looking at overtone components of a plucked note. And fer toonin, when convenient.

The idea that ordinary, regular folk, out learnin' to play them-there insturments, would used such a high falootin' arcane device is positively hilarious, especially when what is goin' on ain't even uderstood by 'em.

Mendy: read about temperaments and play with some maths if you want to understand temperaments academically. If you want to understand them aurally, you'd better listen more than you look at dat der tooner doohickey :-)

October 26, 2011 at 03:35 AM ·

Detroit is a Windsor suburb.

October 26, 2011 at 05:12 AM ·

super accurate.  there are occassions when a note may have to be raised, e.g double stops, leading note.  but how can you do this unless you're super accurate 

October 26, 2011 at 05:30 AM ·

Lot of people seem to be getting their boxers in a knot over the possibility that equal (evil) temperament will get stuck in a student's brain, forever ruining their sense of pitch.

I find it doubtful for many reasons, and the first is that many string players also study the piano without it ruining their intonation. People have varying ability to hear and play in tune, and the intonation of some of my students is so poor that if they were to suddenly come in for a lesson with perfect equal temperament, I'd break out the champagne. And if they did it with a tuner, so be it--at least they cared enough to not simply play through the piece and call it a day.

October 26, 2011 at 07:14 AM ·

Scott: you may get into trouble for injecting some common sense into this topic.  But if I may speak for the common people, thanks!

Mendy - thats exactly my experience and thoughts.  Basically a tuner is like an intonation GPS - it will get you to within 10 meters of the note.  It will not find the front door - the rest is up to you.    

I wish to announce that electronic tuners are now officially the new shoulder rests! 

October 26, 2011 at 10:31 AM ·

Equal Temperament cannot be learned, it's impossible. We should be looking at teaching concepts of intonation. For instance; playing the note first out of tune with no thought, and then correcting it would be wrong. Hearing the note in tune first ,then repeating it is a great and fast (months) way to learn that builds consistency.


October 26, 2011 at 11:40 AM ·

John.  Attention to detail is truly important though errors may easily creep in when you are typing fast and communicating on a common board.  That happens to us all. 

I believe the sentence you refer to was:

"'On whats in tune? I'm no expert but ultimately it depends on context. At the most extreme a note will sound in tune at one pitch in one situation and in tune at a slightly different one at a different situation. 'Players often 'bend' the note according to the effect or chord they are trying to achieve......"

But perhaps reading requires an equal attention to detail.  What I wrote is exactly what I meant.  To break it down: 'At the most extreme a note (say B) will sound in tune at one pitch (that is one specific frequency) in one situation (say a solo) and in tune at a slightly different one (frequency that is) at a different situation (such as playing a chord in a quartet).'

I hope that clarifies if there was any confusion.

October 26, 2011 at 01:30 PM ·


Your stubborn fixation with enabling and encouraging faulty, misguided, ill-informed practice techniques just boggles the mind. Really.

If you were the original poster, and you asked the question, "should I match the green light exactly" and your clone answered, you wouldn't know what to do. Most of the time you are more than defending the use of a tuner as a dynamic pitch assessment device, and then you will spring something about notes needing to move a bit in harmonic context.

Why are you *so* insistent on the tuner being such a good idea, when you clearly understand that it is a crutch and not in fact what is best?

October 26, 2011 at 02:36 PM ·

Why not just purchase an electric violin and run it through an Auto Tune processor? This way you wouldn't really need to be concerned with technique or learning to actually play the violin in tune or otherwise.

Electric violins and auto tune are the future. Just look what it's done for vocalists. /sarcasm /rolls eyes

October 26, 2011 at 02:58 PM ·

 thank you tony for the inspiration.  i may pick up violin again and have another go at an electrifying solo career that razzle-dazzles. 

October 26, 2011 at 03:28 PM ·

Bill: "Your stubborn fixation with enabling and encouraging faulty, misguided, ill-informed practice techniques just boggles the mind. Really."

Oh, you are too generous Bill.  Why not list all the people above - e.g. Scott, Mendy etc (and elsewhere on that espouse very similar opinions?  I can not take all the accolates by myself, in particular since I am but another humble student whereas you are an established pedagogue.  Least I presume you are else you could not write such an arrogant self-important and combative sentence as above.

The problem as I see it (as stated before) is that many of the most opinionated commenters on are people who learned to play young and continued to this day (I do not know if you fall into this catagory; also see teachers below).  They wax eloquent about how a novice should learn from scratch without demonstrating that they remember what they went through and during an era when these devices were not available.  Clearly even if this was the case for violin teachers they fall into a different catagory since they have experience with what works and what does not work for their students.  Indeed, I think their word if far stronger than mine.

What I can not abide is comments that claim something to be a fact in the face of experiences that go both ways - in this case people who hate eletronic tuners and others who have found useful - when there is no documented evidence one way of the other. 

You may recall that we've been here before - I asked for an example of a member - not a second hand story - that was corrupted from learning correct intonation by the use of an electronic tuner.  No one came to the fore.  Since its so desperately important to you Bill.  Why not try the opposite: use an electronic tuner to check all your intonation for a month and see if now your ear is wonky and you can no longer play in tune.

What I found - that is my personal experience which, I am sorry Bill you are not privilidged to deny, is that when I returned to playing after a 40 yr hiatus I no longer knew where the note was.  The tuner permitted me to rediscover the fingerboard and get close to the note and was terrific when my hand wandered into unchartered territory.  The more I played, the less my eye wandered to the tuner (which is an effort since you have to leave the page) and the better my innate intonation became.  Now I am at the next stage - memorizing my pieces.  Contrary to the predictions that one might have made, my new found freedome has not left me ogling the tuner but instead to closing my eyes and becoming immersed in the music (about which I will write elsewhere).  My tuner is still there - but it serves now just as yours might, to tune my A string to 440. 

Go bully someone else Bill.  This girl is too tough for you.


October 26, 2011 at 03:41 PM ·

Elise, the problem with you is that you are leading this whole discussion astray. You are so far from what the original post is asking about.

He wants to know:

1.whether it is a good idea to follow the green light. I guess you say yes,. I say no.

2. Is it ok if it is a bit above or below. That opens up the issue of temperament

3. Do you need to be dead on accurate?

Your *entire* use of this thread has been to reinforce how great your experience has been using the tuner as a dynamic pitch assessment tool. That isn't what the poster wants to know.

Furthermore, he is 4 months into learning the violin. Let's give him a chance to try to learn correctly.

If you think using the tuner this way is the best way to learn violin from the get-go, then we are going to continue to butt heads, because it clearly is not. Sure, you are a "returning violinist" and you are doing whatever suits you. Have at it. Different entirely from a young person starting out. Of course he is free to play around with the tuner. But IF HE IS ASKING the QUESTION, I do not see why I should be dishonest with him by letting your absurd notions go unchallenged.


October 26, 2011 at 03:44 PM ·

Wow, I think that expressing opinions about something on here is fine. Where this thread, IMO, went wrong, and why, Elise, were singled out for corrections, was your comment about how others should not say you are wrong, and that posters need to go along with some "anything goes" view. Fact is, there are people posting who know, and those who don't, and seeing as the OP is a novice, the accomplished were simply trying to be of assistance based on much time and study. Had you not insisted that others should not post a disagreement to your statements about using tuners, it never would have gone down that road. I don't think it's appropriate to play the "bully" card at this point. In my book, those who insist others do not have the right to post contrary opinions is the bully.


October 26, 2011 at 03:58 PM ·

To Daniel:

Let's see if we can "start over" with this topic. I fear it has really been turned into a series of rants.

I will answer your questions, with my opinions, point by point.


1. is it important to always be perfectly in tune 100% green light on the tuner and all or is it okay to be a little bit flat or sharp?

Let's start by assuming the green light is in fact the correct note. Then what you want is to be as close as possible.

However, here is the problem: violin is an aural feedback system, not a visual one. You need to learn to hear what is right and wrong. You can't hear with a light. This wouldn't be a problem except for that fact that a tuner's tuning is not correct for a violin. The tuner (unless you have a very special expensive one) has what is called "equal temperament" which is an inharmonic series of pitches which all rise by the same ratio (which is the 12th root of 2 above the last note).  Violin sounds best when played with harmonically consonant pitches, which do not match the green light. Rather, some are slightly high, others slightly low, and yet others really markedly high or low.


2. Not so flat that its on the brink of being a B flat but being like an itty bitty flat or sharp.When I play I sometimes hit it perfect and sometimes I am a millimeter away being a teeny bit too sharp (according to my tuner).

I don't know how a millimeter translates to *sound*. What matters is the *sound*. Does it sound good?

You want to develop your ear for beautiful melodic intervals, and beautiful harmonic chords (which are unfortunately not the same!). This is where the playing of stopped notes against a drone (the string above or below) is useful.

Most importantly, sing, too. You want to hear the pitch in your ear--your mind's ear--before you play it.

3. Is it okay to have some lee-way when it comes to your intonation?

Yes, and no. Intonation is not something *anybody* ever masters. It is a lifelong challenge. You are always working on it, trying to become more consistent. Ultimately you want to be master of the intonation rather than it be the master of you. Your goal is to be able to put out the pitch you want--whether it be exactly consonant, or somewhat high or low for some effect. You want the violin to be your voice--infinitely adjustable, and second nature.

At 4 months, this will feel like a long way off. It is, because you have at least two distinct skills to learn.

1. Hearing.

2. Physical memory.

Both skills are learned at the same time--feedback.  If you are young, which I think you are, you should not need an intermediate visual crutch. You should be able to accomplish the necessary feedback *directly* from hearing what you play. That is the skill you are aiming for anyway, so why not get started on it directly?

October 26, 2011 at 04:08 PM ·

[Interesting experience - I've never been dammed for being tollerant before. I take that hit proudly as a back-handed compliment. Thanks R :) ]

Well, one thin the OP will learn from the 'debate' (or is it a gladiator fight) is that there are different opinions on how to develop intonation.  Whether the protagonists will admit it or not.

Perhaps if there is one thing the OP should take from this is that: if you play, focus and listen in time your intonation will improve. 

Perhaps we can agree on that?

October 26, 2011 at 04:10 PM ·

 bill platt has answer your question.  Daniel Patterson - i hope you are happy and satisfied. 

October 26, 2011 at 04:14 PM ·

Daniel, Bill's post above is very good. Coming from one who does accept the occasional use of a tuner, I still would say that his last post is a very accurate summary that answers a lot of your questions.

However, scott, mendy, caroline, and elise in her original post all make very good points as well. If your ear just can't hear it yet, don't feel like you're committing the world's most deadly sin by using a tuner to help :) they can help! Just please, please be aware that 1) as bill and others stated, tuners are Not exactly in tune!But they are way better than noodling around cluelessly :) And 2) even if you are using a tuner, never turn your ear off!!!! That is when it becomes a crutch and an actual hindrance. Some better options to ear training have been listed above. Singing and listening to good recordings can help. Playing with open strings as detailed above (robert?) can work in basic keys-you need to listen for when your note seems to blend and harmonize smoothly with the open string. My favorite tool is the drone function on the tuner-this is audio, not visual, and it is pretty harmonically exact. Put the drone on the tonic or key-note of your song and find the "sweet spot" where each note blends in. I often have students do this with scales and arpeggios and it really helps them develop their sense of intonation within a key. Hope you were able to sort through this crazy thread and get some good help!

October 26, 2011 at 07:00 PM ·

Nice post Kathryn - I agree - including the compliments on Bills advice. 

October 26, 2011 at 11:09 PM ·

Dang, got sucked in again to the infamous it's always about me trolling hijacker, NO, never again!!!!!!!!!!!!

October 27, 2011 at 12:47 AM ·

 " about temperaments and play with some maths if you want to understand temperaments academically. If you want to understand them aurally, you'd better listen more than you look at dat der tooner doohickey :-)"

Bill, I have both read and done the math academically and understand the science quite well thank you,.  Frankly I'm offended by the tone of your instructions to me on what you believe I should be doing to bridge the gap between the theoretical and the practical as well as your assumptions on my academic knowledge.  

I will leave it at that.  I hope to see more dialog and less argumentativeness on these threads..

October 27, 2011 at 01:50 AM ·

It would be nice if elise would just shut up about herself for once and just listen.

October 27, 2011 at 11:42 PM · very good point John Cadd

October 28, 2011 at 12:40 AM · I agree - a much better way of putting what I was trying to mumble earlier - that intonation is contextural. Hey, I think I just said it academically :D

This is, of course, quite ordinary in jazz or pop - bending notes for effect and message but seems much less appreciated in classical music - even though that is exactly what a vibrato is. We write about it as if there is one perfect way to play whereas when you listen to great music bending the note is commonplace. Indeed, one could argue that thats one of the main reason you can't (yet) automate classical music.

October 28, 2011 at 12:58 AM · words words words, aren't you just sick of them?

October 28, 2011 at 01:45 AM · My post above was an attempt at humor however, this guy seriously asked the question.

"Using AutoTune with a single voice instrument

I was thinking about purchasing AutoTune for use with a violin, vs a vocal track. I wondered if anyone could give me any info on what to expect. How will AT treat the sound of a single voice instrument such as a violin or flute. They are in the same range as a voice, so I was hoping it was react the same to the notes produced by a flute and violin as it would to a midrange human voice.

Thanks for sharing any info!"

Beuller? Beuller? Beuller?

October 28, 2011 at 02:13 AM · VSO with Autotune.

October 28, 2011 at 02:31 AM · It would be extremely easier if I did not have to read black on white pillar of comments. Bleh.

Well, what I got from this is that if it sounds good then you are fine. It does not have to be a green light and there is leeway on the tuner, just not be on the brink of being a new note.

The whole point of intonation is to understand what is good. A tuner cant tell you if its good with its green light, but it can tell you if you are playing a B or a G or whatever. So you can conceptionalize what you are playing and be able to relate sounds you are hearing to a letter and intervals and all that jazz.

I'm 20, I am progressing extremely fast and I am working on Kanon und Gigue (first violin). Its challenging (especially because I took off all the tapes) but I am learning a lot. I also play some songs that I know very well and I can INSTANTLY pin point if a note is wrong because I just know the melody.

This has been a very useful discussion. A tuner should be used to give you a foundation to recognize what exactly you are playing, but not to rely on that green light because what a device considers perfect is not the impossibly difficult to define humans sense of perfection.

So yeah. I got it now and I am comfortable in knowing that a violin does not have musical death traps that if you are a bilimeter off on the fingerboard you ruined your whole song.

October 28, 2011 at 02:40 AM · If a note is played out-of-tune...and if you hear that, it must be corrected, other wise it will sound like c**p. To be consistant with intonation, learn to *hear* the note before you play it.

Who is this guy called...bill platt?

October 28, 2011 at 03:14 AM · Henry: "Who is this guy called...bill platt?"

Apparently he's my personal echo. :) Sorry for the noise - perhaps I shouldn't talk near an empty vessel....

October 28, 2011 at 04:47 AM · Haha :) glad you sorted through all that and got your question answered :) good luck!

October 28, 2011 at 09:03 AM · Daniel: appologies for the noise for which I feel at least partially responsible. But at least you got a well participated topic - and as Kathryn said, it sounds like you did at least get some answers and ideas. [The worst case scenario is not noise but when your question is ignored]

Perhaps one day we'll hear your perfect intonation for ourselves :)

October 28, 2011 at 11:32 AM · "what I got from this is that if it sounds good then you are fine."

that is an interesting comment. i have videoed my kid's playing from the beginning and once in a while when we reviewed them, both of us were appalled to hear the atrociously bad intonation. but back then, they sounded good, at least good enough for me to record and proudly save as milestones. the only conclusion i can draw is that through her playing and practicing, our sense of intonation has improved. now the good ole memories are forever tarnished, dang!

john, for your record keeping, please note that i have now mentioned on this thread "italian sound".

it is only fair that i leave to others to sneak in modern vs old violins.

October 28, 2011 at 10:47 PM · for my contribution I shall say "centre or side mounted chinrest".

I think Daniel got all the response he needed after Al and Bill's (A & B's) first posts.

October 28, 2011 at 11:17 PM · earlier today my kid asked me why i need to make tea with hot water and not lukewarm water. i thought i want to share that here.

October 29, 2011 at 01:25 AM · I think she's right - the tea flavour and colour comes out of those polystyrine flake 'tea leaves' just fine with luke warm water. Try it.

If its not perfect she can get the electoronic TPFT (tea product fine tuner; patent pending) to adjust the final pitch.

October 29, 2011 at 05:19 AM · Oh, and guys, we forgot fingertapes. How did we manage an intonation discussion w/o fingertapes? ;)

October 29, 2011 at 08:01 AM ·

October 29, 2011 at 09:34 AM · Determined to get in a post before this thread is archived, and not having read all the posts, I'd just like to offer an observation based on practical experience - "Tuning" is what the religious guys call a "moveable feast". In a big orchestra, it "fits where it touches". Vibrato covers a multitude of sins. The entire system is an acoustic compromise, not quite as criminal as the devices the bankers thought up before the crash, but a cunning adaptation of mother nature.

Try to be "in tune with yourself". You can really beat yourself up trying to be spot on with the electronic gadget. The way forward is to sing (to yourself) what you think you are trying to play, creating a mental image of the pitches.

October 29, 2011 at 09:50 AM · Well said David - wish it was post 100 :) The concept of tuning evolves as we develop our technical skills - at first its just finding something close to the note on the page so that you can hear the melody. Then we go into the intermediate zone where being in tune is playing a note that is sufficiently accurate for the piece to sound acceptable to an audience. Gleaning from the above (and other writings here) the black-belt of tuning that much of the discussion eventually revolves around is the fine adjustment of a note to create a specific effect (an emotion) or sonorous harmony with another instument. At that level tuning is more than hitting a note, it is surely the essence of musicallity.

September 19, 2015 at 02:28 AM · I'm not sure how much space is left on this thread, but I have a related question.

The OP was a beginner at the time and my question is more of a working towards intermediate concern.

I'm always trying to improve my pitch. I suspect on faster passages my pitch is all over the map and I record for self critique. Notes that are held longer are easier to judge if in tune and resonating. My thought is to periodically use a tuner on well developed repertoire and scales to determine if I am improving and make adjustments to practice material. There are a couple of ways I might do this. Watching where the tuner settles on long notes or with recorded bits and software to slow the tempo without altering the pitch. In either case, I am aware of the different scales and that some in tune notes in the scale could be 10 to 15 cents different from the tuner note.

Progress could be reducing last month's range of +- 25 cents to +- 20 cents this month. My initial observation indicates a benefit from warmup activity.

Realizing that this is feeding my analytic mind, and many are very opposed to any use of tuners, are there any suggestions on objectively measuring pitch accuracy without the benefit of a second party? Similarly any objective ways of tracking changes in pitch accuracy?

September 19, 2015 at 03:00 PM · @David: Don't think about the note, but the resonance that you get as you play it.

This works better for faster passages,and needs practice and a trained ear. :)

September 19, 2015 at 03:32 PM · Hi A. O. I agree and sometimes I'm more in the zone than others with a lot of contributing factors. Hard to put on a qualitative yardstick to guage any overall improvement. Darn my ill-trained ears. Oh well, tinnitus is putting out a pretty constant A, 2 octaves above 440 hz. Maybe I can exploit that.

September 19, 2015 at 08:46 PM · As your finger-placement accuracy improves, so will your ability to judge your intonation (including the speed thereof) improve. Practice slowly and build up speed gradually, in a measured way. There is a *great* Sassmannshaus video on this.

September 20, 2015 at 01:22 PM · Absolute perfection in intonation is physically unattainable on the violin (or other non-fretted stringed instruments), so the best we can hope for is to not play out tune to a degree that listeners will notice.

September 20, 2015 at 01:59 PM · Trevor, truer words man, truer words. I hesitate to be the one to close off this tread, but. A little experiment to put some real numbers on intonation. I recorded a simple 2 octave G scale no shifts, 4 bows per note, 2 of 4th finger and 2 open for string crossings. Results, fingered notes about 15 cents sharp both ascending and descending. Conclusion, probably best effort for early morning and early in session, for this session, overall frame of hand is OK for now, hand position is slightly high. Could listen for more resonance. Looks more like equal than Pythagorean tuning. Of course only one sample so not a solid basis to make any changes, but heartening to have at least a degree of success. Very long and passionate thread on use of tuners that I think Trevor summed up perfectly.

September 21, 2015 at 01:42 AM · I think something that many string teachers and most string players is that violins almost self-select for players who are aural learners with a good ear, at least with adult learners.

As a teen i was desperate to learn violin bit couldn't properly distinguish between semitones. I had been thrown out of choirs many times in primary school and still sang only approximate notes because i couldn't hear the difference.

So when i saved up for a violin at 19 it was an unqualified disaster. 5 years later after several years in a very tolerant choir i stayed again. Now i knew what in tune meant but it was extremely hard going. Especially because i couldn't tune to a pitch pipe - couldn't hear the waves properly - and was practicing on out of tune strings! I keep going, snail pave for a couple of years, clinging desperation to the stripes on my fingerboard.

Fast forward to age 40. At this point I've been singing off and on for a while, play regularly in a recorder ensemble for medieval dancers. This time it takes.

What's changed? Partly experience. I can hear in and out of tune by now. It males me cringe but i still don't know which way to fix it. Then i realize electronic tuners will no longer break may bank. Now i can SEE what my ear is telling me. Suddenly I'm doing grade exams and passing way better than my labored high school piano exams and my recorder friends start to consider me a violinist.

Playing with Recorders is hard - they're flatter than the tuner, especially after a couple of sets - so i depend on the tuner to know how flat they're getting and re tune to their pitch. I know these tunes well so intonation isn't usually a problem.

I also play at an easy folk session where everyone tunes by adjusting as they go. Accordions often play sharp. I cringe till we get to an open string bit and then try to fix it. Very hard but good for ear training.

Doesn't work at all practicing at home on my own. Then the tuner comes back out. And reply so when i finally got far enough to join a community orchestra. When trying to learn a new part i really need to see what it sounds like. It's like kids choir masters who use hand signals to show pitch. Once I've got the picture in my head i can usually keep the intonation accurate. Eventually i can then pick out my part from a recording and do "orchestra" practice at home.

But i Alternate this sort of practice with playing along with cd books. There are lots of mixed mediabooks out there at all different levels in all different styles. The best ones have two versions of the tune - a demo one so you can learn to play along withthe violinist and an accompaniment track for when you're ready to play solo. Playing in a group is the best thing for developing intonation ( thus my years of choirs) but they don't often exist for adults until you're past intermediate level. Keep using your tuner if it helps you "see" the patterns but use it judaciously. And find books you like to play along with. Using mp3s with a good slow-downer is fabulous for intonation.

Some suggestions: total beginners: new time a day (even had orchestra backing on classical repertoire); suzuki books now come in cd packages. Even if your teacher doesn't use suzuki method the books are great.

beginner to intermediate fiddle: huws Jones books now being published with cds. They're great cause they have a simple line, melody like and more complicated double stop accompaniment so you can learn the same tune over at different levels and really understand how the harmony works. It helps that you're hearing a real band play behind you too. Try the "playalong collection" which had all different styles from irish to gypsy to ragtime and tango; :

"The violin collection" has classical pieces with piano back up. The sort of pieces you might hear a an eisteddford. There v ate 3 volumes beginning with easy-intermediate.

I recently found wohlfahrt studies with a dvd (haven't used the actual dvd but do use the mo3s on it) and a book of "selected studies" published by de haske. These have been brilliant as i start transitioning to viola, which killed my intonation completely and has me currently back on stepped on both instruments.

Do double check before buying play-along books though. Some just have a baling track. Others are generic synthesizer as backing. I don't find this very useful for learning. Mel bay books that exist for many different instruments often have this ( though there a are some good Mel bays too)

Sorry for the long post but i thought it was important to give the perspective of the sort of learner who usually gives up on strings. I put in a huge effort to be somewhat less than mediocre but I've found ways to get the visual-aural thing going. This helps me learn a tune, after which playing with others (live or cd) helps me correct remaining intonation. There are no rules for learning cause we all do it differently.

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