Intonation progress

April 29, 2013 at 09:32 PM · I am studying some etudes and pieces on my own although I have a teacher.

I have a question regarding to intonation accuracy. To what extent of intonation accuracy do I need to consider a piece done to proceed next piece.

I am just nearly a year of starting violin. Do I need spot on ultra precise accuracy? If it is so, how can a student progress through pieces since no student play with very precise intonation at beginning (especially young children). So a young child need to practice perfectly before he moves on next piece which I think is not usually the case. A child still progress through pieces with less than ideal accuracy. Then what is a indication that you can move on next piece.

Eg 440 hz for A, does 335 enough? Or must it be 439-441 range?

Replies (48)

April 29, 2013 at 09:56 PM · The lower the herz, the more accurate you need to be. For example if you play A220, you must be pretty much spot on. Conversely, if you're playing A1720 you can be off a few herz and not be noticable. The biggest problem is figuring the correct herz for each pitch. With pythagorean tuning several notes are slightly different in different keys. Then there's Just Intonation....

April 29, 2013 at 10:32 PM · The thing that can help you answer your question is Intonia. Download this shareware from (fully functionable for one month), install and configure for Pythagorean Tuning and your A (default 440). Then tune perfectly your violin and record a short piece (do not watch the screen when you play), then stop intonia, save the file, restart intonia, open the file and you can analyze. This might be an eye opener (or rather ear :-)?).

Try switching U-key for Tuning and after selecting a part of recording the function Show Deviation. For 0.1 dev, I can hear it is the 'tone' but it is off, 0.04 dev playing in the area of A 440-E 600 feels all right.

Edit: E 660, sorry mistype

April 30, 2013 at 12:03 AM · E 600?

April 30, 2013 at 01:12 AM · Just move on to the next piece or etude when you have finished studying them....don't dwell on them for too can always return to them.

April 30, 2013 at 01:20 AM · Move on, but continue to work on pieces you have worked on previously.

April 30, 2013 at 01:59 AM · Thanks for the replies. My problem is that after I play through about 10 pieces of wohlfahrt etudes op 45 on my own, my teacher told me that you are playing out of tune for 8 out of 10 notes. I know that I my intonation will not be off by semi tone but I still cannot play spot on right tone at high accuracy. So my question is "should I practice étude 1 till I can play it with high accuracy?" May be that will takes months if not years to get spot on right intonation. Or can I progress intonation while progressing through the etudes or even étude book?


I need help seriously

April 30, 2013 at 02:12 AM · Playing in tune is the difference between making music and torturing a cat.

You do not need to be utterly perfect, but you should strive to be develop your ear, your accuracy, and your precision (ensuring that when a note is repeated, it remains the same). You will learn from listening and correcting yourself and repeating it until you can always do it right on.

Otherwise, all you're doing is getting habituated to doing things wrong, which will only make it more difficult to get it right later. (Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent.)

April 30, 2013 at 02:18 AM · Practise each etude to the best of your ability. Progress through the etude book studying all the aspects you are aware of. Practise daily as many etudes you are able, always refining the technical aspects. Intonation will improve with the study of many other excersises, not just the practise of etudes. A good teacher will tell you that.................

April 30, 2013 at 02:44 AM · Okay, here's my piece on this, as much for discussion as any kind of sound advice. I do think that intonation has to be perfect before moving to the next a perfect world and if you have either perfect pitch or a teacher available 24/7. Without getting into a discussion about temperament which seems to be never ending. I think, and this is just my opinion, use an electronic tuner. I recommend a SEIKO analog tuner. This model is very sensitive and very responsive, except perhaps in the very high positions. It's the next best thing, I believe, if you can't afford a 24/7 teacher to always stop you if you are out of tune. I've had both kinds of teachers, the ones that stop you every time you are out of tune, so that you never get through a complete etude and the ones that don't. The first kind of teacher tends not to be in favor of using a tuner and wants you to check intonation with open strings, harmonics etc. That's okay, but it makes for tedious practice and again in my opinion a lot of frustration (perhaps more for the teacher than the pupil!) Again IMHO, the electronic tuner gets you where you want to be whenever you practice. As you practice and using the tuner don't keep repeating the etude over and over again, making the same mistakes. Make notes, I write all over my pieces (in pencil) which notes are sharp, which are flat etc. Sometimes, you have to stretch a finger, sometimes you have to pull a finger back, if that's the case I make a note. There comes a point when the etude is more or less correct, except for perhaps a few bars here, a few bars there. Usually where the etude is the most difficult technically. Then I mark those bars and I go back a just spend practice time on these rogue measures. In my experience there comes a point where you just don't need the tuner anymore (at least until the next etude) because you can feel it in your fingers as well as hear it in both your inner and outer ear. Now it's time to work on dynamics, rhythm, phrasing, bowing, the meaning of life, why am I here?

Good luck!

April 30, 2013 at 02:55 AM · RUN to the violin shop (or on line) and get Fischer's 'Scales'.

Practise ONE OCTAVE scales and LEARN why an electronic tuner is a very useful tool (I use one all the time to catch errors and find where the heck I am on the keyboard) - but its NOT an ear and its NOT MUSIC - if music is what a person hears and likes. If it was we wouldn't bother with instruments we could all play electric keyboards which are always 'in tune' (but sound boring or dead).

Intonation is not something you can calculate. its something you hear. When the piece sounds beautiful it is in tune. Stop. I don't care what the Hz are as long as there are no auditory hurts you are IN TUNE WITH THE MUSIC.

So the answer to your question is that there is no answer - except to keep playing it until it sounds right. Then move on. Work on other etudes and then come back - magically, your etude will sound awful and out of tune. Why? Because your ear is improving.

April 30, 2013 at 03:14 AM · I completely disagree that intonation can't be calculated, as I have done it myself.

April 30, 2013 at 03:28 AM · Congrats Marty! Why don't you upload a piece of music played with perfect intonation for us all to hear?

April 30, 2013 at 04:01 AM · Wow, elise, I didn't mean to offend you.

April 30, 2013 at 04:03 AM · Greetings,

these kind of discussions centered around different kinds of tuning systems and the pros and cons of electronic tuners are always interesting and helpful. However, they may, in my opinion have a down side and slightly mislead the beginner player.

It is worth recalling that electronic tuners have not always been around and Heifetz, Milstein et al. did not sit around downloading programs from the Internet and what not. Yet somehow their intonation is awesome. Kreisler was, in my opinion, when on form he absolute master of intonation. My test of intonation sensitivity is the first page of the Beethoven violin concerto. Few of today's players can match Kreisler for intonation awareness here. Not for nothing was he Heifetz'

idol. However, I digress as per the Norma.

In my opinion the advice needed here is about using the instrument itself , your ears and practicing correctly.

As a beginner or relative newbie you should be able to tune your instrument fairly well from a tuning fork or piano a. Let us not get bogged down in discussions of what a or what piano chord or whatever. Now , as best you can tune your violin in fifths. Complex debates about what kind of fifth are not required at this stage. Just learn the basic tuning of your instrument.

Now you have some guidelines for playing in tune. to begin with. If you play a D on the A string then tune it with the D string. IE check your octaves, fourths whatever's, with open strings. Dont be sloppy. Get them right.

Now this is not perfect but it's good enough to play much better in tune. However, you also need to think about the key you are. Suppose you are in d major. Then tune your Ds on the A string and then place your c sharp as close as you can because it is the leading note. Zt may be slightly off one way or another but at least you have an in tune tonic and are taking some care with the key you are in. From hear you will gradually become more sensitive without obsessing over complexities.

Then you have to deal with the next problem. A note played out of tune is Basicaly established and has to be un

learnt. A great deal of initial practice should be focused on this issue. If you play a note out of tune then correct it by LIFTING the finger, thinking about whether it needs to go higher or lower and PLACING it higher or lower and checking again. Sliding the finger about to find the right note is a bad habit that will hold you back. Once you are clear about the pitch according to your ear and the open strings then do the repetition hits advocated by Drew Lecher in his blogs on the subject. If you can't quite get his point read my blog called'A humble stab at Repetition Hits' of something like that. It should be fairly easy to find and it does clarify what might be a rather new concept.

As Elise recommended, Simon Fischer's scale book is a real help but you have to get these basic things sorted in your head first.

It isn't rocket science until you have been at it a while. Then you can afford to sit around and talk for hours about the antediluvian marshmallow tuning system . That is a privilege that needs to be earned though.......



April 30, 2013 at 04:36 AM · I played classical guitars for about 5 years before started violin last 12 month. Unfortunately, for most of the time during playing classical guitar, I didn't aware of tuning and pitch recognition much. So even for tuning guitar, I relied on electronic tuner. Just recently trying to tune guitar with digital piano to train myself with limited success. So trying to get slight error during violin playing is still difficult for me. But now I am on my way to aural training more. Any comment? Especially from those who has same experience as me.


April 30, 2013 at 05:38 AM · But now I am on my way to aural training more.


April 30, 2013 at 05:39 AM ·

April 30, 2013 at 10:10 AM · It generally takes two weeks for beginners to recognize poor intonation, its not something that takes years to develop, but weeks. What kills the inability to recognize poor intonation is speed and lack of reinforcement(tuner,piano,voice etc...). Playing in tune at faster speeds is the thing that takes years to develop. So slow down you are playing way, way to fast for your level.

This is what you do. Record yourself playing, then notice the number of notes that are out of tune. If you have more than 10% of the notes out, then record yourself at a slower speed. Keep doing this until you find a speed that is acceptable, this is the speed you should be practicing at.

April 30, 2013 at 10:47 AM · Hi,

To the OP, some quick thoughts on analyzing the sources of your problem to get at a solution: the first question is, can you hear in tune? If not, then practicing against open strings one note at a time to hear the resonance of something that is in tune is the first step. How can one correct something if they don't know whether or not it is accurate?

The other issue with intonation is also errors in the hand setup and movements. For most people, the thumb has to be in line with the first finger and the hand resting on the double-contact of thumb and base of the first finger. The fingers of the left hand need to be lifting up and down from the first knuckle above the string one which they are playing and not sideways over another string or slinging back and forward. I gather from the original post that you are not shifting yet. If you are then, there are other issues that may be coming into play.

As for practicing, you need to practice slowly focusing on correct movements and hand placement and repeating at least 5 times right in a row the correct thing for every error that you make to imprint the version that you want to be doing.

Cheers and best of luck!

April 30, 2013 at 11:36 AM · Greetings,

Quotes from Simon Fischers new book:

One of the first steps for an elementary violnist is to check all the open string notes with the open strings. It is the same for advanced violinists.

Another way is to play only the stopped note and watch the open string vibrate in symapthy.

Working on intonation in a scale, study or piece, check every GDAE with the open string

don`t know of any teachers or books that teach beginners about temperments in detail (that is more then the kind of level Fischer uses in his scale manual or other works) or the bogey man. I have very limited knowledge of them and never used them studying the violin with a long slew of teachers who never mentioned them. Never heard them discussed by string players at music college. Never had classes about them at college. Never talked about them in the chamber groups I played. never heard a conducter discuss them.

Cant find any detailed references to them in the major written works on the violin like Auer, Galamian, Flesch, Fischer.

Like the bogey man they may never go away but they are not that much value to most players and certainly not to beginners.

Its not that such discussion should be dismissed or taken lightly. Its what one should tell beginners to help them rather than just flicking intellectual boogers around.

get over that.

May 1, 2013 at 06:15 AM · I agree with Christian - there is no better way than playing as much as possible with an open string. I find it amusing that you can even tune a minor seventh/major second accurately that way. Not just scales, but simple tunes I add another string. I find the visual sense is far too resource hungry.

May 1, 2013 at 11:14 AM · Finger tapes.

There....I said it...

May 1, 2013 at 12:28 PM · There is already a lot of awesome information given here already, but here's a thought which hasn't been mentioned yet.

A saying that I love is "tune with tone". Tuning can be as much a right arm issue as a left hand one. A beautifully drawn bow can reveal things more clearly. A poorly drawn bow can actually distort the pitch (and in fact, it is possible that the left hand may not be totally at fault).

I'd add a huge voice of support for simply tuning the instrument carefully. Honestly, I think it would be a conservative guess that 30% of all string players (beginners through pros) do not tune their open strings with great care. If I'm being honest, I forget to do this often as I am in a hurry to get going (and ironically will then spend agonizing minutes adjusting my fingers by millimeters, while the strings are actually not totally in tune).

If the strings are older than 6 months, tuning will be harder.

Buri also mentioned actually seeing the strings vibrate, which makes a lot of sense. There isn't any reason that the visual sense can't be used for intonation. If our fingers are right on the money, the open strings will get very excited.

Lastly, Mimi Zweig (Prof. Indiana University, and Joshua Bell's first teacher), says wisely that mistakes happen between the notes. Put differently, mistakes happen before they happen. This lends further support to what Buri said about skooching the fingers around AFTER a note has been dropped out of tune. The actual mistake was set in motion before the finger actually dropped, so going back in time and correcting the action of the finger drop (without anxiety) is the best way to really get at the problem.

May 1, 2013 at 03:14 PM · The piano has pure octaves. At least it's supposed to.

May 2, 2013 at 01:11 AM · No, 5ths are compressed, but the octaves remain pure. Look it up.

May 2, 2013 at 01:14 AM · I dunno.

I've seen octaves behaving pretty wildly at parties after a few fifths...



May 2, 2013 at 01:22 AM · John, I looked up piano tuning and saw that there is a common tuning system that does stretch octaves, so you are correct. My apologies!

May 2, 2013 at 05:16 AM · There is more to tuning than meets the eye, or the ear. as the case may be. I remember when Szeryng used to play with the Pittsburgh Symphony he would tune so sharp that the orchestra members were laughing at him. Then the performance would start and it would sound just right. I've heard that Heifetz, also, used to tune sharp to the orchestra.

Also when playing with piano, if your A is in tune with the piano your G will be flat. That could be a problem in the violinist's keys of G Major and D Major. Some people advocate tuning the G a little sharp.

May 2, 2013 at 05:55 AM · Greetings,

I do. It's especially helpful if you are playing the Bruch.....



May 2, 2013 at 10:28 AM · My approach is to listen to harmony, or chords. IMHO intonation is strongly related to harmony and chord progression of the pieces being played.

One of the way the Yamaha kids training system do is by repeated singing of arpeggios in different inversions and some chord progressions. Then they also do a lot of ensemble playing where students would play individual parts and listen to each others, and very often students get to listen to harmony and various intervals.

Try play an octave of the root note on open strings, then add in fifths (which is also open string), and then add in thirds, which will form a triad, then 2nd and 4th, followed by the remaining 2.

As a side note, I also use "moveable DO" solfege system, or some people would relate it as relative pitch.

May 2, 2013 at 09:55 PM · I saw TV show recently that had me in stitches. There was a violin on the table and the teenage girl (who supposedly played) asked why it was out. The parent replied that they "had it tuned" for her!

I like the harmonic approach too. So I choose a key and progress up the fingerboard playing each mode as it comes as well as the relevant triads and sevenths as arpeggios and multiple stops. I do this with the melodic and harmonic minor patterns as well. Have neglected it lately though in favour of Bach.

May 3, 2013 at 02:10 AM · "My problem is that after I play through about 10 pieces of wohlfahrt etudes op 45 on my own, my teacher told me that you are playing out of tune for 8 out of 10 notes. I know that I my intonation will not be off by semi tone but I still cannot play spot on right tone at high accuracy. So my question is "should I practice étude 1 till I can play it with high accuracy?" May be that will takes months if not years to get spot on right intonation. Or can I progress intonation while progressing through the etudes or even étude book?"


IMO Wohlfahrt etudes aren't well-suited to use for improving intonation. So while you and I should not neglect intonation in Wohlfahrt or anywhere else, and can also use that, and any other music, as a means for focusing on and improving intonation, there are much better studies for doing so. Focusing on intonation using Fischer's scales (or even Schradieck's studies as mentioned in another thread here on left hand technique), or other methods, would be better than simply progressing further with Wohlfahrt.

Considering your teacher's comment about intonation, I suggest that you not take an adversarial position to the issue in the form you apparently have -- questioning the need for and feasibility of perfect intonation, but take it as a strong suggestion for improvement. While even the most successful players can hit a wrong pitch once in a while, they assuredly have worked very hard not to.

May 3, 2013 at 07:21 AM · Thanks for the good suggestions and help. Now I am using Intonia to catch and developer aural skills at the same time traing to fall the fingers right on the spot. I practiced few days and seems improving. I am getting Simon Fischer scales and violin lesson books as well since they both includes sessions on intonation. Can I practice third position at same time? I have burning desire to play in a higher position.

May 3, 2013 at 05:32 PM · ...I just had to take a peek at all the rosin...

A bit off topic...but why wouldn't you want to clean it off the violin? I can see that the instrument isn't an expensive one...but that doesn't matter. I drive a cheap car...I still wash

Plus, it's hardly extra work. I'm not a fanatic about cleaning the rosin off my violin by any means...but that much would drive me bonkers...

May 3, 2013 at 05:33 PM · BTW John...YOU could do a set of videos playing scales! I'd watch! :D

May 3, 2013 at 10:15 PM · You know John, amidst all the other randomness, you so often do find such necessary truths.

May 3, 2013 at 11:46 PM · John,

hear, hear! Great post.

You wouldn`t like to put up a list of the in tune scales?



May 4, 2013 at 10:20 AM · I just now downloaded Intonia and I recorded myself playing fiddle. The colours are quit mixed but when I recorded Raphael playing that nice fiddle he wants to sell I saw lots of red.....

May 4, 2013 at 10:29 AM · And Heifetz playing The Chaconne.......I see red, I see red.....and blue....?

May 4, 2013 at 12:21 PM · You should use the Pitch/Frequency analyser like Intonia with care and common sense. If the violinist plays melody, unaccompanied, he uses Pythagorean tuning, if he plays chords he can use Just Intonation, if he is accompanied by the piano (oh terrible thought, isn't it :-)), he has to compromise and on the long notes go for Equal Temperament (nobody notices quick short notes).

Then there is the character of the piece when he can use expression and consciously sharpen notes in the fast tempo or resolving notes.

Last but not least, you have to know what A the recording used, if the violinist used A=441 and you analyze with A=400 that can distort the results.

So besides the perfect intonation there is also the subjective side. But the beginners cannot be mistaken if they go for Pythagorean tuning and strive for their best accuracy.

May 4, 2013 at 12:59 PM · Every body knows what the major scale sounds sing with me....


For heavens sake, where have you been all your life? In a cave?

Then there is the character of the piece when he can use expression and consciously sharpen notes in the fast tempo or resolving notes...

So what use is a 'pitch analyser'??

That is the importance of scales, arpegge and double stop develop ones skill in listening to what one is playing...This is how you play in-tune by the concentrated focus on the sounds you are making....the fingers don't play is the task of the inner ear to hear and anticipate the music to be played.

You want the beginner to understand what is going on then you need to speak precisely and refrain from 'flicking intelectual boogers'..hehe.

May 4, 2013 at 02:12 PM · No thanks, I do not live in a cave and know what major scale is. You can play it on the piano tuned in the Equal Temperament, on the violin in Pythagorean tuning or on the harpsichord tuned in another tuning. The Major scale will stay the major scale in all cases, pitches will not be the same; which one you prefer is entirely personal preference.

Pitch analyser is what it says, means for analysing the pitch. There is data and how you interpret them is another matter.

May 4, 2013 at 09:31 PM · Hi John,

I just thought your actually checking out what was going on on the net was useful and practical. It would be great if you could point people to the sites where decent examples are being played.



May 5, 2013 at 12:53 AM · In traditional Irish fiddle music you occasionally come across a scale that has what is variously known as a "trick" or "lonesome" note - the second name is, I think, rather evocative. Typically, in the D major scale it is a note on the A-string pitched halfway between C-natural and C-sharp. It is a definite scale note, for it will be used consistently when required in certain tunes. It is certainly not a result of lazy finger placement because the G on the E-string and the F# on the D-string will be played in tune.

I have no idea whether such a scale has a name; perhaps something concocted from the Greek may yet be discovered in a suitably obscure dissertation.

It occurs to me that it would be a useful exercise in intonation to practice scales with clearly defined quarter-tone intervals. If nothing else, it would prepare one for the microtonal intervals that are sometimes found in Eastern European music, in particular the works of composers such as Haba (eg his Fantasy Op 9 for solo violin).

May 5, 2013 at 01:50 AM · Perhaps someone who interviews the pros is in the position to take up such a project, but I think it would be immensely valuable to document concertizing violinists playing some major and minor scale. I would be most interested in seeing if they and how they place certain degrees on the scale differently from each other. I can't believe for how much information from so many small-time experts is readily available on the internet that I can't find a pro playing a scale. Maybe it's not so important when one has a sensible scale-practice system going, but for everyone trying to go it alone, I think it would be a great resource.

July 14, 2013 at 08:24 PM · Here is Ning Kam playing a b minor arpeggio. I for one am very much impressed.

Another thing: a suitable boundary for intonation accuracy would be the width of the violin tone itself. A violin tone is not totally periodical, it's more like a narrowband noise. Therefore perhaps bothering with differences of 1 or 2 cents is not worthwhile. Relative to the length of the open string, this is about 0.4 mm. Really big help, that!

July 15, 2013 at 12:45 AM · Good approach, thinking of and hearing the pattern as a whole.

July 15, 2013 at 12:25 PM · Honestly, I just skimmed a good portion of the comments, but did not see mention of practicing scales with a drone to improve intonation. Although the OP is concerned with etudes, in my experience (limited though it may be) scales with a drone help improve intonation quite a bit. Does anyone else find it so?

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