I have a decent ear, but I struggle with scales...

March 30, 2013 at 11:01 PM · So, I'm trying to practice scales, but since on the violin you have to rely on the ear only it's hard (Yes, I do say...)

Well, I can check if my violin is in tune and can recognize others false notes and have learnt difficult pieces for piano by using my ear but I can't use it for practicing scales! My teacher says to play the scales very slowly to train my ear and I find it quite useful, but is there any other easier way?

Replies (39)

March 30, 2013 at 11:56 PM · Check out the intonation section in Simon Fischer's book Basics. That will give you many of the most effective exercises and approaches.

March 31, 2013 at 05:09 AM · Don't play so slowly that you start losing the context from note to note -- the notes are placed in relationship to the rest of the scale.

I find one of the scale techniques in Simon Fischer's book to be very helpful. It is, if I recall correctly, Dorothy Delay's technique. You place the perfect intervals first -- the tonic (the note of the key), the 4th, the 5th, and then the octave, and then back down (5th, 4th, tonic). Then you add the leading tones so you do 1-3-4-5-7-8 then back down in reverse, 8-7-5-4-3-1. Then you add the second and the sixth, where you have more discretion, for the whole scale.

The point of doing it this way is that the perfect intervals must be exactly placed -- there is no room for taste. The leading tones can then be tuned against those notes (3rd against the 4th, 7th against the 8th). Then you can place the 2nd and 6th.

April 1, 2013 at 11:43 PM · Let's get one thing straight, the ear cannot learn anything. It transfers sound into a language that the mind is able to read. In the same way a computer's sound card is able to transfer audio sound to digital (AD converter).

When we play the violin nothing happens at the same time, it just appears that way. It's very important that a beginner learns to prioritize thought and muscle movement, if they get this concept backwards they will strugggle with a lot of things.

So here is the correct order of things for intonation.

- think of the note first. Either think it, sing it or have someone play it on the piano first.

- place finger in position. It's better if you don't look at the fingerboard.

- Now you can play the note. 1/4 to dotted 1/4 in length then stop the bow. Correct poor intonation.

Stopping the bow between notes is important because you need time to think of the next note.

April 2, 2013 at 12:14 AM · After years of resisting, I have recently started practicing scales with a drone. That is, I set a tuner to play the first note of the scale, and play along slowly and tune to the bottom note. I enjoy hearing what each interval sounds like when the notes are played simultaneously, and it gives me a different perspective on how the intervals should sound. It gives me something to listen for and seems to keep my mind engaged.

April 2, 2013 at 11:43 AM · I am presuming you get the whole/half-step pattern in any major or minor scale, but if not, be sure to study that. If you are playing very slowly, playing scales a little quicker is better for hearing how each step fits in, and whether it is in tune. Scales w/o vibrato are better for hearing pitch, imo. Try playing each step a few times before going up. example in C major: CDCDCD-DEDEDE-EFEFEF etc. and then CDECDE-DEFDEF, etc.

April 2, 2013 at 12:29 PM · Thanks so much everyone! I wrote down any important info and suggestions you guys mentioned, and I'll try them out asap!

Thanks once again!! ^_^

April 2, 2013 at 10:38 PM · John we can't get away from ET, its everywhere. ET is perfectly out of tune and we just have to accept it for now. John it's also impossible for us to learn ET; our minds are hard wired for Just intonation. We can play along with ET instruments, but we cannot learn it.

George this link may help you.


April 7, 2013 at 08:50 PM · I approve of the tonic-subdominant-dominant- uppertonic "frame" : these degrees are immuable.

But, we should be creative in the semitones!

Melodic semitones can be kept tight ("leading notes"); but when the same notes are the major thirds of sustained chords; e.g. in C-E-G, the E should be surprisingly far from the F to get a really euphonious chord.


- play B, 1st finger on the A-string as a really smooth double-stop with open D; mark the spot with a pencil.

- Now play the B with the open E: "jarring, jarring sounds" (Dowland). Retune the B, and mark the new spot: it will be about 3 mm further from the nut.

- This the difference between a pure third (Zarlino) and a Pythagorian third: one syntonic comma, (about 1/53rd of an octave). 3 mm is wider than my vibrato.. We might want to shift a long sustained B by a comma to fit in with changing harmonies.

April 9, 2013 at 12:06 AM · Greetings,

as far as I am concerned, their are three ways of solving this problem that work well in combination.

First of all, use the method of building up a scale found in Simon Fischers scale manual. I strongly recommend you get a copy of this. One plays the tonic, sub dominant and dominant first and gradually fill in the notes which can be varied according to taste. Working on this approach to scales should solve the problem. It is not a question of slow practice per se, but rather paying attention and paying attention to the right thing at the right time.

Getting this correct intonation settled can involve the use of a technique advocated by Drew Lecher called intonation hits. Do a search for these on this web site and read my blog 'a humble stab at intonation hits' or something like that I wrote a few years ago. Some people were having a little trouble understanding what was a fairly new concept and I think I clarified it fairly well. Or not....

Then practice alot of scales in double stops, but make sure you work a lot on scales in fourths and especially sevenths. these are very powerful in refining the ear.



April 9, 2013 at 04:24 AM · Greetings,

not as far as I know . No idea what his position is on this.



April 9, 2013 at 04:24 AM ·

April 11, 2013 at 01:40 AM · Fischer's "Scales" book is wonderful, for scales AND arpeggios. When you get it you will say, "How can this be better, when it's twice as thick as Flesch!" But you will say "aaahhh" when you see how logical and stepwise Fischer's approach is. I gained a much better and more musical understanding of scales, and because it's by Fischer you know you are getting something with a rigorous theoretical basis.

My teacher starts his young students on a G-major 3-octave scale (with Flesch-type 3-octave arpeggios) and keeps them there for a while. The idea is that you learn to hear what the intervals sound like, how to use the resonances of the violin for calibration, how to think about shifts, changing strings, hand position, changing bows cleanly, tone generation, etc. When I was a kid I did not do this approach, I did Hrimaly which is fine but you are constantly changing the scales you play. You can say it's just a different approach but I don't think it's as good.

April 12, 2013 at 08:22 AM · Yay - Buri is back and as lucid and helpful as always. Prunes all round...

April 17, 2013 at 02:43 AM · Use an electric tuner. Stick to practicing in one position, adjusting each note as you go along. Once you've got that position down, go up. Pay attention to the ringing sounds the instrument makes when it's played in tune, what the intervals sound like, and where you need to place your fingers.

I find that sometimes it helps to imagine that there are invisible keys you need to press down, like on a wind instrument. But that might be because I played the oboe for a while.

Even using an electronic tool to guide your intonation, your ear will be trained in the process. At least that's my experience. At least one tuner allows for different tuning systems, and it is relatively inexpensive. (korg ot-120)

April 17, 2013 at 07:21 PM · Greetings,

could be the result of the oddly shaped ball, perhaps?



April 24, 2013 at 04:58 AM · ... Well I already have a tuner. But the only things I need is a copy of Simon Fischer's book and to keep myself away from any piano?

In response to a question:

"Does your teacher play the piano?"

Well, she used to when she was going at a music school, where piano is an obligation.

I'll read your responses again after I get back from school, thanks so much! :)

April 24, 2013 at 06:29 AM · Fischer, in his book 'Practice' advocates using a tuner to correct extremely insecure intonation. I find this very odd because in the page immediately prior he advocates "playing intervals, not notes".

My problem with the tuner is that it will almost certainly result in playing notes and interval recognition will never become an acquired skill. If the student plays the perfect intervals of a scale with a tuner, what is the benefit? IMO, they just play notes like they would with the complete scale

April 28, 2013 at 06:28 AM · ... I think I have made a mistake by posting this thread... I'm even more confused than before! D:

May 3, 2013 at 01:10 AM · Equal Temperament is everywhere. How do you sleep at night John? Yup, vocal teachers use pianos to aid in teaching, yet their students sing in tune. Muscle memory doesn't exist, as long as we listen to what our mind is thinking we will play in tune.

May 5, 2013 at 11:20 PM · Ah, John! Back to pitch pipes at long last! Made my day.

May 7, 2013 at 11:32 AM · I always have my students to start off a lesson or a piece with scales, with the aid of piano - not single note, but series of chord progressions. Or at least some third or sixth apart under/over the scale.

I'll also demonstrate the whole piece during the short break in the middle of the lesson, and they usually instantly play smoother and more in tune right after, because they're being input with a better "image" of the melody - which includes the intonation altogether.

Another contribution to the intonation issue is how clear the violin sounded. Many of my students improved the intonation after they upgraded the violin to something better than the usual VSO (although higher price tag doesn't always guarantee a clearer sounding violin but that's off topic).

May 8, 2013 at 07:25 AM · Mr. Casey,

your response to this actually seems very helpful! Although I don't have a piano at home yet, I will consider to tell my teacher to play the scale for me in the middle of the lesson. Thank you so much!

May 8, 2013 at 04:25 PM · George,

You're welcome! Looking forward to the outcome. ;-)

May 9, 2013 at 03:38 AM · John, the problem with some people in this forum is that, they expect every child to have the talents to accept such in-depth teaching. Telling regular children about that, you'll see they're as clueless as when they're watching magic show. ;-)

May 9, 2013 at 06:21 AM · "What in Heaven or in Hell are we all talking about then..."

Correcting gross intonation errors (finding the damn notes on the fingerboard). The finer points of intonation don't apply here because the student does not have a musical ear/music theory background to begin with. In that case, you're stuck with using either a tuner or various devices (sympathetic vibrations, combination tones (or called 3rd tones, tartini tones)), on the violin itself to fill the void.

What do you propose as a first step? Go to university and study chorale singing for 3 years?

May 9, 2013 at 06:42 AM · Anyways, in regards to scales, the only good book on scales (perhaps the only good book for violin instruction period) I've come across is the Galamian/Neumann 'Contemporary Violin Technique' where only the note heads are drawn on the staff. This makes it self-evident that developing accurate rhythm is the primary purpose of scale practice. If one uses a Equal temperament tuner does it really matter the first go through?

May 9, 2013 at 10:41 AM · Greetings,

I would have to respectfully disagree with the above rather sweeping commentary on scale books. Galamian himself stated that the single overriding concern of (technical?) practice was the strengthening of the connection between the mind and the fingers/muscles. He wrote this to relate quite clearly to his scale books. But scales ARE about intonation as much as rythm. It is here that we clear our minds ear of the debris of the day by listening and controlling what w elisten to. One of the problems with this debate is we tend to have a mental image of the scale as something pretty fast in three octaves. Actually there are all manner of scales from the most basic to the most advanced that fit the needs of any level of player.

Incidentally, in my opinion Simon Fischers scale manual is superior to Galamian because he not only covers the precepts Galamian put forward but also shows in detail how to construct a scale for most level of players, how to place the fingers and keep them down and for how long, issues of bowing and the like. Dismissing, Flesch , Fischer, Hrimaly, Ysaye, Gilels et al so blithely frankly suggests a lack of familiarity with those works that have stood the test of time and will continue to do so. Galamian is brilliant but the simplicity and power of his heuristic is also in some senses his weakness. There is actually more to violin technique than found in those volumes alone. Nobody has yet written the perfect book about violin playing but it seems to me we are getting closer.



May 10, 2013 at 04:35 AM · "Nobody has yet written the perfect book about violin playing but it seems to me we are getting closer." Ha! Ha! ROFL TSFE (Tears streaming from eyes)

The original question and the responses seriously touch on issues I am just now going through and wonder if anyone here can assist.

I have been attempting to locate a helpful violin instructor in my area (Huntsville, AL) since last August. I am in my sixties and wish to learn the violin. Having had no previous music instruction, I am having some real difficulties with the learning. During my search for an instructor I have been doing a lot of research (which has led me many times to this funny and illuminating site) (if it's ok to use those two adjectives together) and have read much in the way of how to instruct beginners, however the instructors I have so far met in the Huntsville/Madison, AL area seem to have difficulties knowing how to teach an absolute beginner adult. Basic level exercises that focus on the particulars of violin technique seem to make so much sense to me, but these are never suggested. I think this is because these particular instructors know enough of violin playing to be accomplished themselves, but just do not know how to teach someone who needs to start out at the basic level.

The instructors I have so far found (five people since August 2012) all teach without fundamental exercises of any kind. They start right away (from the first lesson) with expecting me to use the bow and left hand fingering while reading music all at the same time. Some use Suzuki material, but not any of the Suzuki methodology, while others are traditional. Also, none of these five know how to give practice guide lines. They assign the pages and tell me to practice those. They seem to only want to see me play what is on the page they have assigned, but I have not yet been taught to play what they are assigning. It is so exasperating going from one instructor to another not learning very much at all, although the people themselves are all very kind people who are quite accomplished violinists.

My question to you is do you know of any violin instructors in the Huntsville/Madison, Alabama area that teach violin at a beginning adult lever, that are comfortable teaching an adult at an instructional level that focuses on basics and technique from a rock bottom beginner's level, i.e. a la Jack Pernecky or Ivan Galamian, etc? Any teaching that includes the basics would be so helpful.

Alternately, do you have any suggestions for how to go about locating a teacher (if one exists here) that can start at a basic level?

Thank you in advance for any advice or recommendations,

Ann Cantrell

May 11, 2013 at 12:24 AM · No, not C major. Play scales in the violin's native keys: G and A are a great start, and D. And I must agree with Buri, having really taken a good look at Simon Fischer's Scale book: it has some very excellent advice for training one's ear for scales, advice that I really have not seen elsewhere in such a clear way. Here is an interview with Simon about that.

I love the Galamian scales, too, but they aren't for beginners, meaning people who haven't reached Suzuki Book 4 or 5, and I actually don't think they are great for the self-taught (unless they are self-taught in the way a graduate of a music school is self-taught after leaving school.)

A scale book I really like for the very beginner who is just learning to play and to read music (ie. late Suzuki Book 1 or Book 2) is Elementary Scales and Bowings by Harvey Whistler and Herman Hummel. It goes through a good deal of one-octave scales and simply does the same regimen of bowings and rhythms for each, with a handy fingerboard chart to accompany each new key. And if nothing else, it's just nice to say "Harvey Whistler and Herman Hummel."

May 11, 2013 at 10:28 AM · Surely, rather than resort to artificial aids, the key is to teach students the harmonic role of each degree of the scale, the way jazzers do? Then they can attune their ear to the artistic impact of their intonation.

I don't have Fischer's scale book yet, but I understand that this is essentially what he is doing.

We constantly adjust our tuning anyway, to accommodate playing with equal temperament instruments or other string family instruments, or playing single notes or chords. You should try playing with bagpipes, as I do! The ear is everything...

Starting from the harmonic structure of the scale is surely the musical approach. Anything else is mere mechanics.

May 11, 2013 at 10:39 AM · Ann - I'm sorry you've had such a poor experience of string teaching. My own experience in high school was similar, but I'd have hoped that standards had improved.

As a mature adult learner, can I suggest that until you can find a more competent teacher you can make good progress by taking matters into your own hands. There is excellent material on the web, particularly violinmasterclass.com and Todd Ehle's videos. And Simon Fischer's Basics, though a bit daunting, is a true goldmine for the basic exercises you are asking for. Work towards relaxation and flow, listed deeply to the sounds you are making, use a mirror to check technique, and try to work out the commonsense mechanics of the instrument. I've made a fair bit of progress this way, and though I'll never solo at the Albert Hall I'm having a lot of fun and am developing,slowly, into a reasonably functional fiddler...

May 11, 2013 at 10:45 PM · Why is C Major any easier to read than any other key?

Isn't the whole point of the key signature to make all keys as easy as each other to read. I mean, once you see the key signature you know which fingering pattern applies to which (gulp) "position" and the rest is just as easy in any key.

May 11, 2013 at 11:15 PM · John

So cruel, so cruel... I love the bagpipes in all their forms, but they are quite challenging to play with. Even when they manage to get them in tune, they're still not "in tune", if you get my meaning.

I guess bagpipe jokes are an even softer target that viola jokes, but personally I can't see beyond Gary Larsen's classic accordion joke:

May 11, 2013 at 11:33 PM · Well, first off kudos to Geoff for working out how to attach image files because I always come a cropper when I try to do that, but - accordions in hell! I don't think so! How on earth (? !) did that sneak in to a thread on being in tune, eh?

Gary Larson obviously didn't listen to to the piano forte, did he. We know what really awaits the lowly and naughty.

May 11, 2013 at 11:48 PM · Sharelle, you wouldn't be one of those #$%^ (just joking) who ring up ABC and complain during the Sydney International Piano Competition would you?

I think you must have a story to tell.

May 11, 2013 at 11:50 PM · Sharelle - to show images you have to host it somewhere and then use a standard HTML img tag, which I can't show you because V.com doesn't allow the tag that you use to display HTML. But it's easy to find if you google for it.

May 12, 2013 at 06:56 AM · Oh, those people who go along to a piano competition and complain that there is so much piano music being played.

No, that wouldn't be me at all (darting eyes).

Re the images - in the olden days of the board, I had no problems, but something happended when the last formatting change came in, I could no longer get the right tag, all I got was the url / link. Same with writing my post in a word file and using bold or italics then pasting in to the discussion - the editing never shows up.

I'll stop now, because I have hijacked the OP's thread.

So regarding scales and in tuni-ness, whatever you do, don't use a piano.

May 13, 2013 at 10:14 PM · My very last word on scales and their inversions/modes:

While indubitably some are more resonant than others on the violin, and some fingerings are more comfortable (depending on where you are on the fingerboard) they all (major/minor) share the same basic, simple pattern and thus fingerings.

I guess its just a choice whether to see it in a unified and simpler light or in a more complicated way.

May 14, 2013 at 05:00 AM · Well I should have explained more about my problem... We (My teacher and I) completed the major scales and now I keep myself consertrated on minor. A minor goes well, and E and D... but in E and D I have problems when shifting to 3rd position. My teacher showed me some exercises like playing twice the G on the E string and shifting to B on third position, also playing it twice... On other scales I do need some right practice... And FYI I'm using A. Gregorian' s book for scales and arpedgio and... I want to burn it in flames... Plus I don't feel comfortable with my chin rest thus I have to change, or at least get a Strad pad.

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