Why are teachers so crappy at facilitating hearing and intonation ability?

December 12, 2013 at 03:49 AM · I have realized, in my two years of playing, my violin teachers were human metronomes and tuners. Perhaps in the first year, they were helpful in having a novice grasp of the instrument, but I failed to derive any technical use outside of how to hold the instrument and basic fingerings.

My teachers said I have good intonation, but I say no; my intonation is only good because of my muscle memory. I don't actually know, using my ear, if I actually hit a proper note. I would constantly ask "How can I know? How can I train for this hearing ability?" and my concerns would be waved aside for more etudes and scales. As if I will magically understand it by blindly practicing arbitrary regimens my teachers give me.

I've learned (through my own effort) that there are 3 things you must have to be a competent performer:

1. Muscle Memory contains all technical ability. The ability to move your fingers and hands to where they need to be and to execute a series of movements with purpose.

2. Hearing ability is your ability to recognize your intonation that you produce and be able to accurately compare it to a standard. Intonation is relative, it requires a standard to be referenced (no teacher taught me this).

3. Rhythm maintenance. This is basically your ability to count in your head, sub-divide and "re-divide" at will to get the most accurate rhythms.

Teachers may teach 1 and 3 properly, but they disgustingly lack the ability to facilitate number 2. Why do teachers hope you accidently learn how to hear for good intonation? Why do they not bluntly state "Good intonation is relative, you need a standard. Let me provide you a standard and listen if what you are playing sounds like the standard"?

I would love teachers to comment on this.

Replies (61)

December 12, 2013 at 05:19 AM · I love the passion. I'm not a teacher, but that's a very loaded question. There are certainly teachers out there that produce students that can play in tune, and there are others that don't. The good teachers are the ones explaining how to find references, such as playing in tune with open strings, and basing the placement of notes on intervalic relationships with other, known notes, and that push their students to be mindful of their own intonation, and be able to listen to themselves while they play. The bad teachers don't.

It seems like your question is either, why are bad teachers bad, or why isn't it obvious that intonation can be approached systematically. I think it's because anyone can teach, and not all that choose to can do it well.

If it's about your own playing, then given the right tools, you will develop these skills with time. You have to be very honest with yourself to do so. If you feel like your teacher isn't teaching you, then move on to someone else.

December 12, 2013 at 05:52 AM · "...they disgustingly lack the ability to facilitate number 2."

And you are disgustingly quick to lump all teachers in the same boat. The best way to describe your generalization is, wait for it, "number 2..."

December 12, 2013 at 06:20 AM · Greetings,


'The ability to move your fingers and hands to where they need to be and to execute a series of movements with purpose.'

is not primarily muscle memory. It's a mind thing.



December 12, 2013 at 06:42 AM · We tend to teach least well those aspects which seem obvious to us, or which we learned very young. I tried to discuss teaching intonation with a colleague: she just said "practice", with a shrug of the shoulders! Or, "this one has no ear". She hardly ever plays to her students..Very common in French conservatoire teaching.

I use a mixture of singing (for those who can and are willing) and the resonance of open strings. And I always play to them!

I find my colleague's attitude highly regrettable, and very unfair, rather than "crappy" or "disgusting"....

And where is "fake town" in Ontario ?

December 12, 2013 at 07:02 AM · My kid's teacher always teaches intonation. She makes the kids help determine if the pitch needs to go up or down while tuning to a set tone. She's been doing it with them since day one, and it is definitely paying off.

Myself, I can't tell which way is what yet...

December 12, 2013 at 12:10 PM ·

December 12, 2013 at 12:36 PM · Well, I am only a student but as a student I recognize my responsibilities. It is up to you as a student to find out as much as possible from as many people and facilities open to you. My current teacher tells me if something needs to be higher or lower, but instead of blindly doing it until I get it right, I listen to what the tone that is correct. Also, I learned from another teacher at my summer camp about ringing tones. I find those to be incredibly useful. The instrument is a resonant one, so if you have a correct note you will hear it ring afterwards. Also if you hit a g d a or e the open string will ring as well. She never told me how to do it or if I was sharp or flat, she just gave me the idea.

Instead of waiting for someone to tell you, it's better that you take a more proactive approach to the situation. You know what you want to fix, so find some some articles/videos or ask someone who is musically inclined what they do for intonation. You won't be able to get all the answers from your one private teacher; it takes a collection of people and texts to learn everything you want to know.

December 12, 2013 at 02:01 PM ·

December 12, 2013 at 04:08 PM · " I would constantly ask "How can I know? How can I train for this hearing ability?" and my concerns would be waved aside for more etudes and scales. As if I will magically understand it by blindly practicing arbitrary regimens my teachers give me.

Perhaps your teacher WAS giving you what you were asking for RIGHT THERE. And you were the one who waved it aside.

Practicing scales allows you the opportunity to focus on intonation without worrying too much about where the next note will be, as is the case when playing a song. Playing scales with a proper focus on each note being correct is part of what playing scales is all about, isn't it?

Simon Fischer (and Suzuki, for that matter, starting in Book 1) talks at length about the importance of scales, and proper tone for each note ("tonalization" according to Suzuki).

Yes, "blindly practicing arbitrary regimens" IS a useless endeavor.

But if you practice those very same regimens with focus and attention, they will surely pay great dividends, as they have for thousands of violinists for hundreds of years. There are no shortcuts in learning to play the violin.


A fellow beginner

December 12, 2013 at 06:20 PM · ASK FOR LISTENING EXERCISES THEN!!! i dont mean to shout but its something you should have really asked your teacher about first. Ask your teacher instead of practicing etudes or other rep to take a day to learn some listening exercises to develop your ear. Someone else mentioning listening for the overtones. if you are in tune, or very very close to in tune, you can see the open string vibrating [the lower strings are easier to see vibrate]. you can always check your first, third and fourth fingers against open strings.

After about 1/2 a year of taking lessons, i wanted/needed a new violin. My teacher asked if i still wanted tape lines and i politely declined. She told it was going to be rough for awhile and she was going to be hard on me making sure my intonation is correct. Of course she was right, the first month or two was rocky with good days and bad days, but overall every week my intonation and ear was getting better and better. She even commented recently saying it wasnt a bad idea to go through with since all it has done is force me to play and listen better.

Now its been 1/2 a year from that [so a little over a year of playing now] and my intonation and ear is a lot better. Its still far from perfect, but I can hear when my notes are wrong, especially while playing along with my teacher. wrong notes are night and day to me now. Most of my music im playing now only focuses on intonation. we just started suzuki book 2 and Hrimaly's scale book.

We go over all three points you made. 1). We go over correct hand/finger position (especially the pinkie) and posture. 2). we do lots of listening and intonation exercises and 3). rhythm was a big one we just finished focusing on.

Always talk to your teacher about anything you have concerns about!

December 12, 2013 at 07:34 PM · Hi! This is a very good question!

As a student I also struggled with a bad intonation and the fact that sometimes I couldn't hear it well. But as I grew, I started "hearing better" when it was right or wrong. It is mostly a matter of experience.

Now I'm a teacher and I'm facing the problem of "how do I teach those children to hear right"? You can't. The way you can't teach others to see things and experience sensations the way you do, you can't teach others to hear the way you do.

It only comes with experience - but for that you need to be very careful about the indications you receive from the teachers. The first thing you can do is learn the place of each finger right and try to memorize how it sounds.

Another step is always checking through double-stops: mostly with open strings and octaves, but also with thirds and sixths (when you play those right, you'll hear a third sound coming from the harmony of the first two, forming something like a chord - that is a combinatoric sound).

Other than that, you can always check yourself with a piano, if you have one, or ask your theory teachers for dictées.

Good luck!

December 12, 2013 at 07:52 PM · This is an interesting thread. I do think that a couple of fundamental things are being overlooked:

First, the reason so much time is spent on muscle/tactile memory is because the ability to play in tune is actually established before the note is sounded. Once a note is sounded, it is either in tune or out of tune as compared to the open strings, or relative to the accompanying medium you are playing with. If it is placed out of tune, it is too late to call it back. Only very quick adjustments or manipulating the pitch with the vibrato can cover the error.

In order to avoid having to do that very often, the relationship between the training of your ear and the training of your tactile memory necessarily becomes an almost simultaneous process.

We give the responsibility for consistent intonation to the tactile memory because it allows us to play long series of notes in tune without having to constantly "walk on eggshells".

Secondly, it might be that it is more efficient to judge mainly the out of tune notes. They are the ones we should notice and be disturbed by. (All the others would be assumed to be in tune relative to the open strings.)

If the notes within a passage are in tune, is there any reason to judge each one to be in tune as you are playing? Do we judge each step when we walk across the room? (Isn't it more natural to determine that the time we accidentally placed a step with the side of our foot made us fall down, rather than judging that every good step we took was proper?) Trying to judge every in tune note as you play is the same. It is better to notice the anomalies in the intonation and organize them into recognizable tendencies to be overcome by the intelligent application of the tactile memory, then repeat them until they integrate naturally.

Mr. Galamian often told his students: "The first day you practice intonation---it is terrible! Nothing is in tune! The second day---it is even WORSE! The third day, you are afraid to put the finger down because you know it will be out of tune! The next day---it is better."

December 12, 2013 at 08:35 PM · How can anyone play music without listening? I can't imagine. With my students, I emphasize the fact that you always have to listen very carefully when you play, and make sure that each note leads to the next in a harmonious manner. Whether you read notes or create improvised lines, you have to play by ear.That's what I believe. It's all about using your ears in multidimensional ways.

December 12, 2013 at 09:20 PM · I don't know why musicians have this weird, vague notion of intonation. "Minds ear", "use your ear in multidimensional ways", "just feel it", "it just sounds wrong" when they can easily just say: "Here is the standard: A 440Hz D major. All the notes in D major are in this song. Let us play D major scales and variations. All the notes you played there are in this song, keep that in mind when you play and compare the D major you practiced before and the notes you are hitting now. Intonation is relative to a standard that is provided to you."

Was that so hard? This is stuff that can be explained in 15 minutes on the very first lesson. Then you can teach them tricks like resonance and ringing tones. Why not say "resonance is a confirmation that you are in tune"?

So much vague, eastern philosophical language in musical teaching.

I stopped paying for violin teachers once I realized they are human metronomes and tuners. Any significant thing I learned about violin after 6 months of playing was due to my own research and experiments.

December 12, 2013 at 09:47 PM · Dan, We'll all be sure to attend your next concert to see how that s working out for you. ;-)

December 12, 2013 at 10:03 PM · I think part of the problem is that many musicians were born with the ability to hear whether or not they are playing in tune. Tune IS relative - One note is a certain step of pitches above or below another, so it does not matter if you are tuned to 440 or something else - if you were born with the natural ability to hear that, you just are. Still others have 'perfect pitch' and can naturally hear whether the pitch is 440 or something else.

This natural ability of some makes it harder to relate to other musicians who were not born with this ability - how to empathize, and how to come up with ways to teach an auditory awareness that comes naturally? EAR TRAINING. Doing exercises and scales not only teach technique, but they also provide the ear training needed to promote tonality awareness. Just like small children reading books eventually get better and better at reading, the music student who practices scales and other exercises gradually becomes better and better at recognizing tonal differences in pitch and becoming aware of when they are in tune vs out of tune.

I'm sorry you are feeling so frustrated right now - maybe your teacher just hasn't found the way to teach you that 'clicks.' I know what you're saying - when I was five and six years old, my tone-deaf father would get me out of bed late at night to tune his guitar by ear because bless his heart he could NOT hear the difference and I can. He found it very frustrating he could not do it himself and it took years of ear training to be able to tune his own guitar. But that's the point. Some people are naturally gifted at art, science or sports. Those who are not just have to be patient and put in a little extra time to reach the same point. It doesn't mean the teacher is 'lame', it just means you weren't born with that ability to hear and it will just take more time to develop that same skill. Heck, I am the most uncoordinated person in the world at sports, so I have to work harder to achieve the same physical ability as a naturally gifted athlete. That doesn't mean the coach is bad, I'm just going to have to apply more effort than say, my amazingly coordinated little brother. But it can be done, so please keep trying.

December 12, 2013 at 10:04 PM · So instead of arguing the merits of what I am proposing, you assume that, because I stopped going to a teacher, I will never be proficient enough to perform?

I gave plenty of explanation as to how to go about the intonation issue. You could criticize my opinions, but you go and attack my character.

You are a simpleton, David.

Julie, how was your father tone-deaf when he learned how to tune his own instrument in the future? He obviously wasn't tone-deaf, just had a poor ability to recognize pitch.

The purpose of this thread is to tackle the mysticism that musical teachers employ to describe intonation and how to go about it. It's not some magical trait that spontaneously appears sometime in the future. Some people are just not interested in this vague mysticism and actually want a realistic explanation of what intonation is and how to practice it. Teachers need to stop treating their students like they are stupid kids that need their hand held once a week for anywhere between 30 to 50 dollars an hour.

Maybe the lack of intonation teaching is because teachers want their students to pay them 50 bucks an hour to be human tuners?

December 12, 2013 at 10:25 PM · My point was to relate how I was born with the ability to hear the relative difference in pitch, and to hear when two notes were exactly on pitch, or ever so slightly off. My father could not and still to this day cannot hear this. Through years of practice he was able to hear if he had each guitar string correct, but to this day he still cannot differentiate between whether or not two notes are just a hair off each other -so yes, he is still somewhat tone deaf. The point is that with training this can be LEARNED.

There are many ways to teach it, but it can be challenging to explain how to learn something to someone when one has never really had to learn it. This is where the supposed 'mysticism' comes in. We cannot explain it, we just hear it. We never had to learn it, it was just there. So how challenging it is to come up with a systematic way to teach it to someone who does not have that inherent ability? VERY.

I am glad you have found systematic ways that work for you. You are right, at it's core it is a very mathematical science. However, it can be tough to explain how you know something to someone who is not hearing the same thing. But yes, absent the additional ears of a teacher may slow your pace of learning in this regard - you would progress even faster if you have a teacher who is willing/able to teach this skill in a more 'scientific' fashion.

December 12, 2013 at 10:45 PM · Dan, you do realize, don't you that you began this thread under the title that attacks rather broadly the character of violin teachers in general.

"Why are teachers so crappy at facilitating hearing and intonation ability?"

And then you take offense at a rather light hearted jab at the apparent statement you made to the effect of "all I ever needed to learn from a teacher was accomplished in 6 months"?

December 12, 2013 at 11:18 PM · Maybe you would do better if you instead of starting an offensive thread studied tuning and musical theory.

Kurt Sassmannhaus speaks quite clearly there is no mysticism in it, Pythagorean Tuning, Just Tuning, Equal Temperament and when they are to be used appropriately.


After you take a decent book on aural skills such as Developing Musicianship Through Aural Skills


and know it all like the back of your hand, start criticizing violin teachers en masse.

Outspoken contributions of Gareth Thomas in the past did not offend me but yours did.

December 12, 2013 at 11:30 PM · I have just said this in another thread on practicing, but Suzuki insisted on 1/3 listening, 1/3 reviewing, and 1/3 progress. Progress depends on the ear and the muscles!

December 12, 2013 at 11:30 PM · Greetings,

'So instead of arguing the merits of what I am proposing, you assume that, because I stopped going to a teacher, I will never be proficient enough to perform.'


PS Discussing or debating rather than 'arguing'

December 12, 2013 at 11:44 PM · Yep, that's me--a simpleton! haha Don't mind me...really. What do I know? It isn't like I ever produced any students of worth, or anything. Autodidacts unite! Reveal the truth! None of us needs to be taught anything! It's all a ...shhh!... "big scam"! "They" want you to believe it so they can steal your money and keep you from attaining your rightful place in the aristocracy of the great violinists of history! But, you'll show-'em! you're smarter than that! Glad you didn't fall for THAT old trick! ;-)

OK... perhaps we should lighten up a bit and have a reality check.

December 12, 2013 at 11:53 PM · Buri,

I think you are exaggerating about his ability to perform. I'm sure his mother'll always be willing to listen.-J

December 13, 2013 at 01:41 AM · Dan, I respect you coming into our violin dojo and defeating our mightiest strawmen, but it seems like you are trying to pick a fight more than advance any useful methodology.

There are very clear steps toward building a solid sense of intonation. Many experienced teachers choose what they teach their students based on what their students best need. I have had teachers that I didn't always want to listen to. I recognize that in many ways, they were right, and I was immature and thought I knew better. In other ways, I was right, and it doesn't really matter because I now have a teacher whose goals are very aligned with mine, and so I am progressing faster than I ever have.

I'm not a victim of teachers that weren't right for me, because what works between student and teacher is very personal. But hey, whatever helps you sleep at night.

December 13, 2013 at 02:01 AM · Learning intonation is a gradual, iterative process. Even if you have perfect pitch (and I do), learning to hear intervals in relationship to one another and to an underlying harmony takes time and requires you develop your ear -- your mental attention to what you are hearing (and perhaps the way your brain processes the sound), and your sense of what the harmony is. (There have been times that I thought I was playing in tune but my teacher insisted that I was not, resolved by him pointing out that I was hearing chord X and implicitly tuning to it, whereas the actual implicit harmony is chord Y, therefore requiring a slightly different placement.) Even highly accomplished players continue to have to pay attention to intonation -- they're just going to be much, much pickier about it.

(By the way, having stopped playing for a decade at a time, twice now in my life, each time returning, I have to retrain my ear to make fine-grained distinctions in pitch, a process that takes months. It makes me believe that beginners may literally be unable to really hear what they need to.)

For beginners, you are generally hoping for "general vicinity of the pitch", i.e. where the intended note is clear and within, say, a notion of equal temperament. As a player advances, a higher standard has to be sought. It is not purely a mechanical muscle-memory thing, since you can give a good player a violin of an entirely different size, or an instrument that's out of tune, or have A != 440, and they'll still play in tune.

So you have to train your ear, but you also have to internalize a notion of the spacing between notes and intuitively know where you are on the fingerboard by feel, and have enough control to consistently place your fingers in the exact same place in a passage where a note is repeated, etc.

And then as a beginner you have a ton of other things to attend to as well. You can't boil the ocean. You have to pick and choose what you go after. A teacher might well believe that you'll develop your ear naturally over time, and your time and attention are better spent on other basics. The seemingly-arbitrary regimens are often time-tested ways of training your ear and your body.

December 13, 2013 at 05:16 AM · In a book by Willisam Starr , "The Suzuki Violinist : A Guide for Teachers and Parents", author mentioned that it would take two years before little kids produce the first two notes in tune. It sound like my first teacher (Suzuki teach) subscribed this statement and didnt comment much about intonation except he put on tapes on fingerboard. He seems to use this approach on every of his student young or adult.

But my present teacher (Non-suzuki) urges to improve intonation from beginning. He asked me to use tuner and to practice scales very slowly to feel the distance between notes. I found it very helpful. By repeating it, you can feel the sound is not quite right or at odd if your next note is open string e.g interval is not correct. Hearing the interval is also very good exercise. e.g. first two notes for Fur Elise is half step wide. first two notes of Thais Meditation is two whole self wide. first two notes of Kayer number one etude is one whole step and a half apart etc... this way, intervals can be remembered.

I think (but not sure), even absolute pitch can even be remembered from famous music such as first few notes of thais meditation, or Max Brunch concerto. I think I am getting a very dim idea of how these notes sound inner ear so you can try to match vioing pitch to what you remember in brain. This is very blurr but i think it has some way out there like that. May be for the same reason, there are suggestions that you listen and even sing the notes from recording (played by professional) to enhance the sense of intonation.

Intonia software is excellent in measuring intonation over long period of time. It is fun to use that to measure intonation of people on youtube as well.

Playing scales slowly memorizing sound and feel of hand and their interval again open strings helped me alot.

December 13, 2013 at 11:04 AM ·

December 13, 2013 at 05:22 PM · I thought this could be an interesting discussion, but actually, we don't allow personal attacks on people on Violinist.com. Argue as passionately as you want, but no personal attacks. And, looking a little closer at "dan," he's not actually a person, he is a troll, as he registered with fake everything. So, goodbye, "dan."

But we can keep talking about this.

The rest of us know that David Russell is a top-notch teacher who has taught students at extremely high levels for many years, at Cleveland Institute. David, I think you explained the idea of muscle memory very well.

And actually I've heard it argued by people in the medical profession that neurologically, muscles actually do have a kind of memory. When you do something like sprain your ankle, it compromises that ability that you once had to walk down the steps in the dark, not because you hurt your brain, but you hurt the connection that somehow helps in the storing of that memory. It's very complex, but what we call "muscle memory" is a real phenomenon, and without it, good intonation is impossible.

December 13, 2013 at 06:45 PM · May I add to Laurie's remarks.

1 - "Muscle memory", without which we could never play fast, may be stored in the brain, but it is felt in the muscles. This is quite different from the anticipatory (and judgemental) "mind's ear".

2 - I have learned from a book, written for musicians and dancers by a physiotherapist, that our joints also have their memory.

This is reassuring, e.g. for shifting, since our muscle tone varies greatly from day to day (sleep, diet, fatigue etc.) whereas our sense of space and position is more stable. Form vs.motion?

3 - Despite his great vulgarity and apparent dishonesty, "Dan" has a valid point: we teachers can take too much for granted, and not teach what is obvious to us.

4 - In the "1/3 listening, 1/3 consolidation, 1/3 progress" scheme, the listening part can take different forms:

- listening (passively or intently) to fine concerts and recordings to "nourish" the inner ear;

- finding, however slowly, the sounds on a piano;

- hanging around a corridor full of practice studios (compare with memory of recordings!)

Suzuki, with his "clean slate" approach, had the intelligence to provide recordings with each book.

(although his own playing was not a model of perfect intonation, he had an incredible ear)

December 13, 2013 at 07:00 PM ·

December 13, 2013 at 09:53 PM ·

The real problem is that teachers from Fake Town are awful at teaching; he needs to go to Next Town for the good teachers.

December 13, 2013 at 10:11 PM · The Fake Town Symphony Orchestra is outstanding. All the members are self taught, and they are so independently minded they refuse to be told what to do, and thus don't have a conductor.

Surprisingly, tickets are still available for the Christmas music spectacular.. .

December 13, 2013 at 10:18 PM · I'm excited about the upcoming season of original compositions and I'm so glad the FTSO was able to put 'the incident' behind them. I couldn't find the link, but I do remember things getting out of hand when they played an arrangement of William Tell. Several people were injured as the bows flew out of the musician's improper grips. -J

December 13, 2013 at 10:46 PM · Put the blame on the fake shoulder rests.

December 13, 2013 at 10:57 PM · From what I recall of The Incident, half the string section took the William Tell overture too seriously, and attempted to shoot apples off of the heads in the woodwinds section using their violin bows in lieu of archery bows.

Fake Town municipal hospital was busy that night...

December 13, 2013 at 11:12 PM · Is it difficult to become a doctor in Fake Town? I've always wanted to practice medicine, but don't need the establishment making me pay all that money for medical school. I can read an anatomy book and watch a few youtube videos and I'm pretty sure I can figure out the rest during my first surgery.

December 14, 2013 at 01:22 AM · Thank you .

Hypochondriacs now have somewhere to go for treatment.



PS Fake hypochondriacs really pee me off....

December 14, 2013 at 03:02 AM · from Davids message: Mr. Galamian often told his students: "The first day you practice intonation---it is terrible! Nothing is in tune! The second day---it is even WORSE! The third day, you are afraid to put the finger down because you know it will be out of tune! The next day---it is better."

After a 20 + year gap of having no lessons, my new teacher politely told me that it's "easy to fall in love with the sound of your violin even if your intonation is significantly off." I was guilty as charged… One year later, I tell my teacher… " my intonation seems as bad as ever." She laughed at me and said "Scott, your intonation has significantly improved. You are just hearing much smaller differences." I thought progress would feel a little better… (it actually does).

December 14, 2013 at 03:28 AM · Scott, I feel ya. I've been realizing the same thing. I think it's important to always be refining your ear, and what you are willing to accept as far as sound quality and intonation are concerned, but there is also a need to balance that with the realization that you are a better player, and that you have worked and are more capable, because you need that confidence for performance. It's a tricky balance.

December 14, 2013 at 03:58 AM ·

Beginning students rarely play in tune, teachers make good intonation happen.

December 14, 2013 at 06:53 AM · Greetings,

I suppose a simple way to reassure yourself thta your intonation is improving is to record yourself at regular intervals and honestly evaluate yourself. This will tell you a lot not only about your intonation but other things you may not be listening for that well.



December 14, 2013 at 08:00 AM · [Why are BAD teachers so crappy at facilitating hearing and intonation ability?]


Bad teachers are "crappy" at facilitating hearing and intonation because bad teachers are bad. Get a good teacher and you'll find yourself in an entirely different situation.

In the meantime, learn how to sing in tune. Singing and intonation are linked together through ear-training. Not all people with good intonation can sing in tune necessarily, but they have received good ear-training and I think singing is one way to get that training. Also, record yourself playing and criticize yourself.

Also, in case I didn't make it clear above: Get a good teacher. Ask your new teacher specifically how they teach intonation. If you don't get a good answer, find someone else.

December 14, 2013 at 10:14 AM · And vibrato?

At 30-something y.o., I told students that vibrato would appear if all else were well; many players talk like this, but teachers should not.

At 60-something, I have learned and adapted exercises which set vibrato in motion in a few minutes. I feel much less "crappy"!

Yes, Eugenia, adult beginners can be exasperating! They want reasons for eveything, but don't want to listen to the solutions. Those who manage are thos who have not lost a child-like (not childish) pleasure in discovery..

December 14, 2013 at 03:12 PM · Adrian, to be perfectly honest, i find your statement about adult beginners a tad unfair. Wanting to know the reasons behind something is natural human behaviour. Even at work, if you are asked to do something, you'll feel better and arguably work better if you understood how your efforts fit into the larger scheme of things. And saying that adult beginners do not want solutions is sweeping at best. Why would we pay good money for lessons if we do not want to be taught?

Coming to the exasperation part, i believe every student has the capacity to be exasperating. It really depends on the teacher-student fit. A young student who wants to play like a pro but refuses to put in the work can be equally exasperating. Having said that, i'll admit that teachers will need a different skill set to teach adult beginners. Not everyone likes it or is up to it, but there are a fair number that do take up the challenge. I myself have a good teacher who has helped me a lot. I'm sure i exasperate him sometimes, but we make it work.

All in all, i just wanted to say that let's not classify everyone based on one bad egg or two.


December 14, 2013 at 06:37 PM · This thread has turned from broadly painting teachers as crappy, to now applying the same label to adult students....

Who's next up?

December 14, 2013 at 06:47 PM · I was only complaining about maybe one adult student in ten!

My present teenage clientelle ain't bad either!

But they are biologically designed to exasperate.

And well worth th trouble.

December 14, 2013 at 08:27 PM ·

December 14, 2013 at 09:12 PM · I seem to have a good rapport with a lot of my adult students; I think this is because I have an assertive personality. If they are doing something wrong they are corrected, and I try to be verbally repetitive with key points. Teachers with passive or passive aggressive personalities that only say or show things once or twice and never correct their student's poor playing may loose respect from them over time. What's sad is that a lot a people from this type of teacher will quit playing the violin because they think they are not talented, but in actuality it was the teacher's lack of talent.

Most adult students learn the concept of intonation in two weeks(the ability to repeat a note they just heard). At the 4-6 month mark they are able to play in tune with only a few mistakes and some assistance from the teacher. At the year 1/2 to 2 year mark intonation is consistent and rarely requires correction. Something I tell my students at the 6 month mark, " I don't need to correct your poor intonation, I just need to slow you down."

December 14, 2013 at 09:17 PM · Jenny, when I first went to my second and current teacher (at age 49) the first thing I (re)learned in a learning situation was to keep my mouth shut, listen and do as I was told. It wasn't hard to do, because even when I 'auditioned' for him, I was convinced that he knows what he is talking about and he knows what I need in order to progress.

In contrast to this, in my first 10 lessons with my first teacher, I was given a free rein to explore and discover. It felt a bit analogous to having your first driving lesson and being told you can discover all by yourself on which side of the road you would like to drive (I never played the violin until I was 49).

I think my point is this: as an adult I feel capable of assessing whether a teacher seems worth my time and money; and having established that, I try to keep out of his way and let him do his job. In the meantime, I stay alert, study other sources (like v.com!) and observe what is happening. And if something bothers me or questions arise, I bring this up with my teacher. I am very grateful that he will teach me!

December 15, 2013 at 01:08 AM · I guess I'm one of those "students from hell" that Eugenia is referring to. I happen to have tremendous respect for my teacher both as a teacher and as a player, but being that I am twice her age, and have been playing violin for quite a while, I will challenge her advice from time to time.

For the most part, she is incredibly effective in helping me work out the kinks in difficult passages, or building special techniques, but sometimes she asks me to do things that I absolutely know will not work for me and I tell her so. On one lesson, she gave me so much information that I stopped her and said, I am completely overloaded and there is no way I will retain even a fraction of what she just said. I think she was a bit frazzled, but in the interest of making the lessons productive, I think she was happy that I gave her the constructive feedback.

It all boils down to having compatible personalities. Some student-teacher relationships work and others don't.

December 15, 2013 at 02:13 AM · People are able to teach themselves things and become quit good at it. Violin isn't hard to learn, but there is a lot of wrongs that widen the learning curve.

Forget what you know

February 15, 2014 at 05:26 AM · intonatoin is systematic therefore it can be taught like math. you just hear different sounds with different kind of quality or timbre instead of seeing numbers. i wonder why they fail. i'm a teacher and i can talk about what you need to find or hear in a sound as a reference so you can tell if you're in or out of tune. The 'difficult' part or should i say nerve-wracking part is guiding your muscles again and again which will exhaust your time and patience. To put it simply, it's just about knowing the knowledge and converting it into skill. did they ever taught you about ringing notes and overtones?

February 16, 2014 at 01:44 AM ·

Hey, open up it's me Dan.


Dan's not here, Man.

February 19, 2014 at 04:29 AM · What I'm going to say will sound like a Mortermer Snerd moment to the well trained musicians but it would have helped me three years ago.

There are two things going on: The tone relationships from note to note of each scale are the same but have a different starting note. To play in tune, finger relationships must change.

The patterns of finger positions on each string change with each change in key.

For the most part, there will be two sets of finger spacing patterns in each key.

In any key, there will be two adjacent strings with the same finger spacing pattern.

When practicing, I find these sets of patterns by playing the major scale which I can hear. (My teacher made me play Flesch scales many years ago. That was before I put the violin down and earned a living while raising three kids.) You may find that you need to play scales on a keyboard to learn the sound relationships.

John Cadd, a V.com regular, worked out a series of finger pattern charts for all keys which he kindly e-mailed to me. If you were to ask him politely he probably would e-mail you one also.

And now we come to intonation. In the previous posts there were many constructive inputs for working out intonation. On the violin you can check all but F, B and C against an open string.

I still struggle with intonation of all the sharps and flats.


August 28, 2014 at 04:41 PM · I apologize if I am repeating previous replies to this thread because I didn't bother to read all the replies. With all the electronic gadgets available today you can easily record your play during practice and when you play it back you may notice intonation errors that you could not hear while you were playing. I use Real Microphone on my Windows phone and iTalk on my iPad. Also I was told by an experienced fiddler that if you play a middle G, then when you are on pitch you will hear a slight resonance in your open G string. I believe I can hear this. And of course you can tune by fifths to check some of the tones.

August 28, 2014 at 04:59 PM ·

Dan? Dan's not hear man.

August 28, 2014 at 06:27 PM · Hey, Charles, I am assuming you intended your comment "Dan? Dan's not hear man." for all the London East-Enders reading this thread. It is interesting that the words hear and ear are similar.

August 28, 2014 at 08:35 PM · I'm afraid we teachers teach the least well those aspects which caused us the least problems.

(I should have prefered the word "inefficient" rather to "crappy", but never mind.)

There are various strategies for developing awareness and finesse of intonation; for example:

- Attentive listening to fine solo players: this could well take up 1/3 of ones "violin time", and gradually build up a "store" of aural memories.

- Drones: playing, and playingwith, notes in double-stops against open strings.

- Resonance: finding notes that "ring" in other strings; (play with a long, light stroke, without vibrato.)

May I insist on the listening, though. We professionals have soaked in good sounds for so long, we forget how we learned ..

Listen "actively": in slow music, try to sing or hum with a recording, then do it again, singing mentally.

I sure we shall get much good advice here, since many posters on v.com are anything but "crappy"!

August 30, 2015 at 01:29 PM · I agree that students need a reference in order to hear their pitches correctly. For practicing I'm thinking about trying out an electronic shruti box that is used by classical Indian musicians. I also think it's a great idea to have students pair up and help each other out, one student playing a drone pitch or double-stop and the other tuning to it, then switching roles.

August 30, 2015 at 03:21 PM · .

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