Can we scheme for better intonation?

September 16, 2014 at 01:32 PM · About a year ago I read a short report stating that researchers found that audiences are much more tolerant to notes played sharp than to notes played flat.

I began to experiment and found that "playing sharp" did usually give better results. Indeed, we might often fall short of some big stretch or otherwise fall out of position.

By "playing sharp" I mean aiming for the notes just a whisper too high and perhaps rolling back into pitch.

Too bad I could not find the original report. However, I actually stumbled on a parallel world. Singers.

There are far more sites dealing with vocal intonation, etc. than for violin and the musical consequences are surprisingly similar.

I was amazed to read about a common reprimand by choral directors , "Land your notes on top of the pitch" !!! (Small world!)

I'm convinced about the results here and it might be worthwhile for beginners to try.

Replies (88)

September 16, 2014 at 03:16 PM · I have heard of solo violinists deliberately tuning their instrument a shade higher than the orchestra so as to get more projection, but it would not be a good idea for individual members of string sections to try that! A piano tuner told me that the top octave on the piano would be tuned a little sharp to make the notes stand out better.

The human ear becomes increasingly insensitive to pitch changes at the higher frequencies (say 2000Hz+), so I wouldn't worry too much if that third octave E on the E-string is slightly out. When in doubt, better sharp than flat.

Nevertheless, the beginner should endeavor to learn to play as accurately in tune as possible. It is only when you're fairly advanced and have full control over the left hand that you can afford to "bend" intonation within the bounds of artistry.

September 16, 2014 at 04:28 PM · A surprise ...... I put the question to my son who is a baritone with the Tanglewood Chorus and has had some pro training. However I did not give him much of the background info.

He said that aiming high was basically a given (don'cha know?).

September 16, 2014 at 10:37 PM · I haven't heard much, if anything, so far on this subject regarding string players, but I have read some material on it regarding singers.

Birgit Nilsson, one of the 20th century's leading Wagnerian dramatic sopranos, had a tendency to sing sharp. I remember reading somewhere on the Web that this could actually have given her the extra edge to cut through Wagner's dense, powerful scoring. I don't have the URL at hand but could probably find it again with a little digging.

Sharp or not, Nilsson had one of those voices you just had to hear in person -- I did -- to get a true idea of its power.

September 16, 2014 at 11:54 PM · I have to regard this subject as legitimate and I have found many sites discussing vocal pitch and singing sharp. Some of those vocal sites read almost the same as violin sites.

As you point out, circumstances or performers might use pitch in special ways.

September 17, 2014 at 01:12 AM · If you're playing with a pianist, you almost have to use equal temperament. If you deliberately play sharp when you're performing with a pianist, it'll sound bad.

If you're playing in the violin section of an orchestra and you deliberately play sharper than every else, it will ruin the blend.

For unaccompanied works you have more leeway with your pitch, but when playing with others one must always blend.

September 17, 2014 at 03:30 AM · I understand your remarks but those people who work with recent findings are saying that playing sharp is a better way to achieve the correct pitch.

Why? Did you ever hear a criticism that a violin performer was too sharp ?

When amateurs need a big shift, is that likely to be flat?

And the audience who frowns on flats but forgives sharpes?

(Recent research)

How about the similar situation for singers? (Many sites)

Playing sharp is more of a target than a sound. Hopefully the audience is only aware of good notes

I wouldn't bother with sneaking up on notes if there was an infallible way to bulls_eye the exact pitch. (I expect to probably play at church for the holidays and I will test the organist with my new sounds!

September 17, 2014 at 04:21 AM · If you play to sharp it will be noticed, so if this is true there must be a golden spot where you can land. Let's say that it is x cents sharp.

If you manage to hit that spot every time, I really don't see why you shouldn't be able to hit the non sharp spot every time, and just play in tune? Wouldn't it be a waste of time to learn what is basically out of tune, even if it just slightly?

September 17, 2014 at 11:20 AM · Yay, I'm ahead of the pack!

September 17, 2014 at 11:45 AM · Mattias

Simply stated, if perfect aim is unlikely, what is the next best game plan ?

Elise

The proper etiquette on a forum is to share knowledge and I think you might be teasing us ( Boo ! )

September 17, 2014 at 12:47 PM · >> I'm convinced about the results here and it might be worthwhile for beginners to try.

I strongly disagree that beginners should purposely play higher! Learning to differentiate several cents in pitch is already difficult for a lot of beginners, I would hate to see novices misinterpret this thread and think playing too high - which for most beginners is really out of tune - is acceptable if not actually desirable.

I think we should all play in tune, and treat expressive intonation as color. Yes, Heifetz was known to tune higher than the orchestra for more brilliance and sometimes one needs to trill higher to actually sound in tune in a hall, it's a fascinating topic about our auditory perception, but I would never ask a beginner student to play sharp because they most likely will not hear what we're talking about and it would be sad if someone interpret it as a license to play out of tune...

September 17, 2014 at 01:38 PM · Yes, young students would not be expected to deal with confusing instruction and I usually assume that I am talking to an adult crowd who can deal with the context. And please remember that others invented the.sharp concept, not me. I only gave it a try.

September 17, 2014 at 03:46 PM · Are you talking about playing the odd note a bit sharp, or playing every note sharp? If it's every note by the same amount then you will sound sharp against other instruments, and in particular the piano, for example.

September 17, 2014 at 07:50 PM · It is rare that I get. Anything to work but I'm due for some luck.

Fascinating report re intonation.

http://choralnet.org/view/415764#415898

And of course there's never any harm in just asking for exactly what you want: "At the top of page 3, keep the pitch up"...

etc.etc.etc.

September 17, 2014 at 10:28 PM · There is no such thing as perfect intonation, especially for the violin. It is too difficult.

Yet, we all want to SOUND good.

The best advice I ever heard was given by noted pedagogue Shmuel Ashkenasi. He said one must learn to SOUND in tune, rather than play in-tune.

He gave an example where he played a passage where many of the notes were deliberately slightly off key, yet the passage sounded fine. Then he played the same passage where all of the notes were slightly off key. It sounded bad.

The point he was making is that once one understands that the perception of good horizontal intonation (melody) is relative, then one can avoid bad SOUNDING intonation even if the notes cannot be hit dead on every time.

Basically, when playing an interval of a half step, err on the side of making the interval tight (flat).

When playing an interval of a whole step, err on making it slightly wide (sharp).

BTW, this roughly corresponds to Pythagorean temperament, where half steps are smaller than equal temperament, and whole steps are slightly wider.

I find vertical intonation (chords) especially painful because no sharp or flat rule is going to help you. A slightly off double stop sounds bad.

This carries over to arpeggios IMO. A wobbly leap of a major third, followed by some seconds, can go unnoticed. But if you unfold a full chord, a wobbly note will really stand out.

September 17, 2014 at 10:38 PM · Matthias wrote: "The proper etiquette on a forum is to share knowledge and I think you might be teasing us ( Boo ! )"

Just terse. I sometimes get criticized for playing sharp so its not working for me. OTOH intonation just took a giant step for the better so maybe it was after all...

September 17, 2014 at 11:31 PM · Carmen

I think I'm pretty much in your court about intonation however, not understanding as well. Good intonation has been perhaps my only genuine natural gift. The problem is letting go because the better I get, the less I am satisfied :)

September 18, 2014 at 12:15 AM · When I came back to the violin I had a tendency to go sharp fairly frequently--I think it was just the way I was hearing things. It took quite a while to fix, so I would certainly not advise anyone to deliberately aim to play sharp.

September 18, 2014 at 01:35 AM ·

September 18, 2014 at 02:16 AM · I have not been able to find that original article but maybe because it was about music and not only violins.

The findings reported were that people were much more lenient judging sharp notes than notes that were equally flat.

September 18, 2014 at 02:32 AM · "Why not just play in tune."

We have had recent discussions where the definition of "in tune" is still a topic of a lot of theoretical discussion after many hundreds of years.

Do you play your violin to equal temperament? Just intonation? One of the Pythagorean temperaments?

Perhaps Darlene did not ask a narrow enough question. Maybe we should ask is their a scheme to SOUND GOOD when playing solo or are we doomed to be judged by how centered each note is on a chromatic tuner?

September 18, 2014 at 02:45 AM · Who is judging? The general public? Your violin teacher? Competition judges? An orchestral audition panel?

September 18, 2014 at 04:01 AM · "We have had recent discussions where the definition of "in tune" is still a topic of a lot of theoretical discussion after many hundreds of years."

In tune on a violin-family instrument means (usually) getting the instrument to ring, or to ring with certain overtones. There is really no debate about where any note associated with an open string should be placed. A D MUST resonate with the D string, etc. The closeness of leading tones is a little subjective, depending on the specific pitch.

If I were to err, it would be slightly sharp, but otherwise I'd like to be dead-on.

Singers are not violins, and are not obliged to hit notes that resonate with open strings.

So I'd say that slightly sharp is slightly less objectionable than slightly flat. But otherwise, there is no reason to be sharp for sharp's sake.

September 18, 2014 at 05:34 AM · Just to complicate things a bit:

- Outside the safe bass & treble clef zone, we tend to hear high notes flat and low notes sharp, but we won't agree by how much!

- Piano tuners "stretch" the tuning outwards, not only for our ears, but because the short, stiff high strings, as well as the weighted low ones, have overtones which are not strictly harmonics.

- We fiddlers have an anarchic version of the same "inharmonicity": tuning in a noisy room using 4th and 5th harmonics does not always give good double stops on open strings.

Temperaments?

- Frankly, an equal-tempered fifth is not very different from a pure fifth; the problem lies more in the thirds and sixths. A fingered G,D,A,& E may not correspond to the open string pitches if the harmony demands otherwise. C-E-G chords involving an open E are particularly nasty! The "commas" can be 2 or 3 mm wide, more than my vibrato!

- I would recommend practicing with recorded piano accompaniments part of the time.

Some midi playback setups even offer various historic tunings.

- Practing alone, we may want Pythagorean fifths and close semitones, alternating with smooth, pure thirds & sixths in double-stops.

September 18, 2014 at 08:53 AM · True, the terms "expressive intonation" don't just concern leading notes vs harmony, but also "colouring" the pitch.

I find such deviations are much smaller than a comma: one can even play slightly under or over the piano's notes, but without seeming to play out of tune.

Since a good vibrato modifies timbre as well as pitch (avoiding the operatic siren wobble..) we can play with the crest of the wave and vibrato speed and width to express vigor, tenderness, mystery...

I'm not sure this is acceptable with senza vib HIP playing, and the rich harmonics and subtle tuning of a harpsichord, though.

September 18, 2014 at 11:57 AM · Scott Cole "no reason to be sharp for sharp's sake" . I think that is a very clever insight.

In general..........

Why are the "veterans" on this forum so concerned with temperament, etc when typical listeners may have no interest in such theory?

It occurs to me that my original news report about pitch may have expired?

September 18, 2014 at 02:08 PM · "Why are the "veterans" on this forum so concerned with temperament, etc when typical listeners may have no interest in such theory?"

Because we have all been here before, studied it, played it, discussed it till the cows come home, and have a lot of experience.

September 18, 2014 at 02:47 PM · ...and because we can hear the difference!

September 18, 2014 at 03:08 PM · Hear, hear!!!!

September 18, 2014 at 03:26 PM · But "violin" is not a spoken language it is a performing art? Is it reasonable that I have heard all the theory manifested in some favorite music and just don't know it?

Personally, I like key signatures which I think can have specially emotional value on a violin.

September 18, 2014 at 03:33 PM · "In tune on a violin-family instrument means (usually) getting the instrument to ring, or to ring with certain overtones."

This is an excellent observation for a violin which has the open strings tuned to Pythagorean fifths.

When playing single note melodies and observing Pythagorean intervals (slightly narrow for half steps and slightly wide for whole steps compared to a piano intervals), the fingered G/D/A/E notes will also naturally fall into an overtone of the open strings.

Also, octave intervals for all notes in the scale you are playing will be exactly 2:1, 4:1, etc.

But inevitably, at my level of skill, if I am running up a scale in a tune, small amounts of drift can creep in. The melody line sounds fine as I am only very slightly off on the width of the intervals. The ear is happy.

But I can eventually land on a fingered D (as an example) that does not ring but sounds just fine because the INTERVAL from the previous note makes the ear happy.

So if one wants to scheme for better SOUNDING intonation for horizontal content, I'd say interval widths are more important than hitting ring-tone spots.

But when one needs to land on a unison, fourth, fifth or octave with emphasized dynamics or note value (such as a cadence), there is no scheme other than accurate positioning of the finger.

September 18, 2014 at 04:57 PM · I'm not sure if your remarks are limited to the solo violin ?

September 18, 2014 at 05:19 PM · There is, fortunately for our sanity, a certain available "spread".

- On the solo violin, we have vibrato, and then the natural change of pitch due to changing string tension when bowing harder or softer.

- Two violins in unison will have to practice together for hours to sound as one.

- With 3 or more violins, our ear "grabs" a median pitch.

- The equal tempered piano is acceptable as the medium and high notes have multiple strings, which blur the pitch ever so slightly.

- The harpsichord sounds much sweeter with one of the many "historic temperaments".

Anyway, whatever sytem we use for personal practice, we will always have to adapt to our suroundings whe playing with others. A life-lesson!

September 18, 2014 at 07:36 PM · Very interesting and I manage to be in agreement even if I am not sure why. Call it intuition.

I tend to be very fussy about intonation or else I only own a wood box with 4j strings.

So far so good.

September 18, 2014 at 10:11 PM · I beg folks to be very fussy about intonation whether playing or singing. Much of it is lost in performance, but the preparatory work sharpens the wits and the ear.

I maintain that one is allowed to sing out of tune in a concert (we are not machines), but never, ever, in rehearsals!

September 19, 2014 at 08:22 AM · >>Since a good vibrato modifies timbre as well as pitch (avoiding the operatic siren wobble..) we can play with the crest of the wave and vibrato speed and width to express vigor, tenderness, mystery...

I'm not sure this is acceptable with senza vib HIP playing, and the rich harmonics and subtle tuning of a harpsichord, though.

Hi Adrian,

Just want to clarify that HIP folks do play with vibrato. In fact Geminiani even wrote about it in oft quoted paragraph "Of the Close Shake."

September 19, 2014 at 10:44 AM · I was refering to those moments when HIPsters and others play intentionally without vibrato.

I had a viola d'amore for a while: 7 playing strings + 7 sympathetic strings. Variable but very diatonic tuning, e.g. A-D-A-D-F/F#-D; Nice thirds! With vibrato, the 6 other string didn't know what to resonate; without vibrato, the instrument came to life, and pure intervals ruled!

September 19, 2014 at 12:48 PM · Quote from Scott

"In tune on a violin-family instrument means (usually) getting the instrument to ring, or to ring with certain overtones. There is really no debate about where any note associated with an open string should be placed. A D MUST resonate with the D string, etc. The closeness of leading tones is a little subjective, depending on the specific pitch.

If I were to err, it would be slightly sharp, but otherwise I'd like to be dead-on.

Singers are not violins, and are not obliged to hit notes that resonate with open strings.

So I'd say that slightly sharp is slightly less objectionable than slightly flat. But otherwise, there is no reason to be sharp for sharp's sake."

-------------------------------------

I would definitely go with this, and I think it is the correct way to think about intonation. And I think it is wrong (and I'm guilty too) when we say leading notes can be sharp. It depends, as Scott says. If we just generally, as is often the case, say that leading notes should be sharp, then lots of people will play them too sharp. Best to say dead in tune with whatever chord is happening or is suggested (say in solo Bach) at that moment.

And yes, singers are singers, and not always in tune. And choirs are often badly off key.

September 19, 2014 at 03:36 PM · What happens when I can not stop to consider the credentials of each note as can be the case with a fast tempo.?

As it is, I'm learning to read fast (er) music in "clumps" just to expedite the process but I still favor the "sharp" mentality.

How does one think intonation and presto at the same time?

September 19, 2014 at 05:09 PM · We cannot! We need a lot slow practice to keep reliable intonation in fast playing. We are aware of poor intonation in a passive way, but there is nothing we can do about it..

But the listener too has little time to "enter into" each note. So everyone stays smiling, within limits..

September 19, 2014 at 05:50 PM · This is how I feel. I have absolute pitch so even though I can tell when things are out of tune, I don't believe being at the center of a chromatic tuner dial is the most important thing. If you clock a lot of the top players with a chromatic tuner, they will not be in tune. Why? because pitch is about achieving a certain tonal quality by controlling the frequency of your notes. If you play sharper, (and I am generalizing here, as it varies from instrument to instrument)the tone will sound a little more striking, but it will loose some deeper resonance. Some players do hit notes on the flatter side because they like the darker, bassy resonance they get when they play like that. I think good intonation is about balancing those two extremes and finding a creating a tonal quality that is pleasant to listen to and matches your interpretation.

September 19, 2014 at 06:56 PM · "If we just generally, as is often the case, say that leading notes should be sharp, then lots of people will play them too sharp."

Peter, while I agree with you in principal, most people, especially younger students, will tend to make half-steps too wide rather than too close, including leading tones. I think the reasons are physical--after all, it does take a certain amount of effort and technique to get the fingers close enough, and especially in the higher positions where you really can't put two fingers down on the string but have to just nick the edge of one to make a half-step. I've also heard school performances (again, generally younger groups) where the leading tones are flat en masse, a particularly sour sound.

If one were to err with respect to a leading tone, I personally find a too-wide interval to be more objectionable than too narrow.

And in the highest position, it's very difficult to be too narrow.

Scott

September 20, 2014 at 08:50 AM · Hi Scott

Points taken. I did say though intonation in the context of the chord prevailing at that moment, and this would include adjustment to other pitches. Of course this can be impossible if the other pitches are wildly out, such as in an orchestral context.

This ties in a bit with the philosophy of people like Ruggerio Ricci who say we should think of the left hand in terms of chords rather than single notes.

As to the mention by another poster of playing fast passages in tune. Of course the whole scale, arpeggio, or note cluster must sound in tune as a whole, and not just as individual random notes. This is where ear training for the beginner and/or inexperienced player is so important.

John Cadd - you can philosophise as much as you like, but in the end it comes down to basics, such as left hand and ear training!

EDIT: I am also of trhe opinion that the problem with correct closeness and width of intervals is really a question of ear training and we teach students to put fingers down, thereby bypassing the ear. This along with fast playing (not enough slow practise) blunts the ear and leads to poor intonation.

That is why single finger scales going up and down the strings is so useful, using a drone or open string when necessary.

September 20, 2014 at 10:58 AM · Iis it beneficial to use drones or are they only crutches.?

September 20, 2014 at 11:08 AM · Slightly off topic, there is always a problem playing notes close together in the extreme high positions. One standard technique of course is to slide the finger from one note to the next, which is fine in scale passages, but when you have to play an extended trill right at the end of the fingerboard there is a real difficulty (usually thanks to a composer who has not thought through the practicalities). Janine Jansen had this problem, which she referred to in passing in a television interview before the performance, in the final part of Chausson's "Po√®me" where there is a sustained trill for several bars on the E at the dusty end of the fingerboard. Her solution, from what I could see, was to use one finger pressing the string rapidly up and down at trill speed, thereby increasing the tension and pitch on the down-stroke. The whole hand from the wrist was making the movement - there is a lot of steel string tension to work against in that location.

This was on the Last Night of the Proms 2014, and you can see it on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1LVxdpALMZo, the trill starting at 3:55 (this video is the last 5 minutes only of the piece).

September 20, 2014 at 11:58 AM · I don't think of drones as crutches, more like hikers sticks...

September 20, 2014 at 12:20 PM ·

September 20, 2014 at 01:33 PM · This URL is about trombones (I think) but is food for thought for me in my search for violin pitch.

http://arpegg.io/music/drone-practice-correct-way/

Liz, even as an eternal and teacherless student I have never been impressed with the various modus operandi (sp?) of violin scales, etc. All my audiences hear is what I play and that is the bottom line. I am often amused when I've played seasonal church solos with a piano and the piano finishes the introduction, the theory lamp just goes out and something else takes over!

September 20, 2014 at 02:52 PM · YAWN ... (This is not directed at anyone in particular, but we are going round in circles ...)

September 20, 2014 at 03:28 PM · Peter, try another thread, then!

Darleen, my assertion "We are aware of poor intonation in a passive way, but there is nothing we can do about it.." only applies to fast passages, where there isn't much time between notes to anticipate them in one's head, and we have to rely on finger patterns and aquired muscular reflexes.

Liz, (and Peter in a previous thread), of course fingerboard tapes are not accurate enough to replace intensive listening, but they can help get the fingers near enough in place to effect the minute rapid corrections that the inner ear deamnds.

The ear doesn't play: the fingers play, and the ear weeps!

September 20, 2014 at 03:38 PM · You are all so intense and you seem to be obsessed with your own navel gazing ... Adrian - I hate to say this but maybe you have all lost the thread ...

At this point maybe we should all weep ...

But if you insist, I will pull the trrigger on my own intonation and maybe even get a hearing test including ear syringe ...

September 20, 2014 at 04:00 PM · Yes, perhaps time to move on and pay more attention to the Indianapolis trials!

But whatever I read on a forum usually triggers long lasting cerebral links and eventually I improve despite myself.

September 20, 2014 at 05:11 PM · That is excellent news!

September 21, 2014 at 11:21 AM ·

September 21, 2014 at 01:18 PM ·

September 21, 2014 at 01:33 PM · Liz

That would also lead in the case of others playing with her, to everyone playing sharp. The whole thing could get sharper and sharper!

I heard Mr Perlman saying recently that as a student, D de Lay said to him, "what is your concept of that G sharp?" In other words, is it out of tune? (Diplomacy - good when it's from a teacher).

September 21, 2014 at 02:53 PM · What is this racket? Just so happens that I do not like G# AND I think that notes should be in color code anyhow.

Playing sharp. I do believe that every violin note exists as a discrete string length or fingerboard location and we should all play the same notes.

But that doesn't happen for me all the time so I need a plan.

If I go skeet shooting I will lead the target.

If I want a note I will also "lead" the target.

I want the perfect note(s)but I won't get them all. By playing sharp I WILL get the note OR know that the correct note is a quick finger nod away and, done quickly, the correction is only a split second awareness by the performer. Any sirens are either too slow or the original finger contact was way too high.

If I wind up with a note that I just struck too high, I have several opinions that sharp can sound "bright" (and I'll settle for that if I must).

I would really like to know about other popular strategies for determining note location. I find muscle memory alone to give mediocre results.

September 21, 2014 at 05:44 PM ·

September 21, 2014 at 07:20 PM · Liz

"As for your final question - I never think in terms of note location, well OK sometimes I do but then my intonation suffers. I think of the pitch I want and my finger goes down. In fact the more I think about how to find the notes the worse my intonation gets. How did I achieve this? - I expect from playing scales and studies *slowly* - hearing the next note, and only then playing it and having a teacher who calls me out if I let my attention wander and with it my intonation. Also by playing lots of duets with teacher, either notated or improvised, right from the start of lessons and having to hear the intervals in the chords. So I guess for me it hasn't been a case of learning note positions but of learning to match a finger action to the sound in my head. "

Yes, this is how quite a few teachers would view this, including I think Simon Fischer. I would certainly agree with this.

September 21, 2014 at 08:51 PM · I doubt that I will ever be able to be certain of my notes prior to actual execution.

September 21, 2014 at 10:12 PM · On choral directors who suggest "land your notes on top of the pitch" . This is just a mental trick to seem to lighten the tension in the voice when aiming at a higher note (like lightening the finger while shifting..)

It is certaily not an invitation to sing sharp! I use such images myself with singers, and it works!

September 22, 2014 at 04:16 AM · John,

There may be no hope for me. I think scales and turnings have their place but are limited when it comes to actual execution. Violin players and blind pianists have a lot in common . Their physical world consists of an unseen grid or array of notes which they must navigate as the first order of business. Taking thought alone will not make music. And it is not echo location,

It is GPS!

September 22, 2014 at 08:53 AM · Perhaps you all missed Joseph's post in all the babble. Here it is again:

"This is how I feel. I have absolute pitch so even though I can tell when things are out of tune, I don't believe being at the center of a chromatic tuner dial is the most important thing. If you clock a lot of the top players with a chromatic tuner, they will not be in tune. Why? because pitch is about achieving a certain tonal quality by controlling the frequency of your notes. If you play sharper, (and I am generalizing here, as it varies from instrument to instrument)the tone will sound a little more striking, but it will loose some deeper resonance. Some players do hit notes on the flatter side because they like the darker, bassy resonance they get when they play like that. I think good intonation is about balancing those two extremes and finding a creating a tonal quality that is pleasant to listen to and matches your interpretation."

Puts it very nicely. Basically its about what you want to say with your music. Playing purposely sharp for the sake of (fooling everyone) with intonation is like painting grass red because you are unsure how much yellow to use to get the correct colour.

You just have to have the courage to play the note as close to what you need as you are capable of. That is an essential step to learning intonation - and if you don't, when will you ever learn to play in tune (to the music)?

September 22, 2014 at 12:24 PM · The grass is always greener on the other side. ee what grasss are you on? I've often wondered ... (wink)

P S We are eagerly awaiting your violin demo on this subject. It had better be in tune!!

September 22, 2014 at 04:31 PM · "If I go skeet shooting I will lead the target.

If I want a note I will also "lead" the target."

Sorry, it's not a very good analogy. Darlene, the gist of most of your comments seems to suggest that you are looking for A. reasons to keep playing out of tune and B. validation from other forum participants (such as John Cadd's tendency to drift to wacky tuning theories, which only muddy the waters).

Basically, you have to (like all the rest of us), strive to nail the center of the pitch, even if it's difficult (like it is for all the rest of us), even if you "don't like" certain pitches like G#.

Don't give yourself permission to play out of tune.

September 22, 2014 at 08:42 PM · I think Scott summed it up pretty well...

However I did appreciate John's page on historical tuning; it's not wacky but perhaps esoteric and more useful for early music people like myself who have to work with things like meantone intonation or historical temperaments for earlier repertoire.

To be clear, temperaments are for keyboard and fretted instruments because they don't have the luxury of string instruments to adjust pitches in the moment. It's true we have open strings, we can either cover them or tune them in different widths of fifths to suit the repertoire, but we play in tune to harmony, and certainly not sharp.

Darlene, I really enjoyed the page on drones! Use it!

September 22, 2014 at 09:35 PM · Scott

Believe it or not my playing is pretty good according to the Ladies Auxiliary And I have played in small groups with much better musicians and they have let me do return engagements.

I am simply a pain in the neck for details because I want to know my enemies.

Dorian

I have always been intrigued by things drone. I think drone practice is much more critical than just scales.

September 23, 2014 at 05:02 AM · Woah I think we can all be respectful towards to each other and our teachers...

>> But has anyone tried to use the subtle colour differences that unequal temperaments produce on a keyboard instrument.

I don't understand how that translates to violin playing, can you explain?

September 23, 2014 at 05:59 AM · "I don't understand how that translates to violin playing" Try this:

Play B, 1st finger on the A-string.

Tune it against the open E: Pythagorean.

Now play it against the open D: horrible!

Lower the B until it sounds warm and smooth against the D: Just intonation.

But the B/E double-stop is now intolerable.

This difference is the syntonic comma, around 2 to 3 mm on my fiddle (wider than my vibrato!)

Within changeing harmonies, I may shift a long-held B as I play.

I may even wish to narrow certain fifths (open strings): Mean-tone tuning.

This is the degree of attention that I must apply non-stop whenever I practice, and also when playing with others.

Nothing "whacky". Neither am I "navel-gazing", just listening!

September 23, 2014 at 07:42 AM · "Nothing "whacky". Neither am I "navel-gazing", just listening!"

Don't take it all too seriously Adrian, especially anything I say. It seems I did escape from the asylum - and not only politically speaking.

Talking of such things, I once turned up late for a broadcast due to car problems, and the conductor asked my desk partner (there were only the two of us) "where was I" to which he replied "Am I my brothers keeper?" This was met with huge laughter from the orchestra. My partners name was appropriately Ben Bow.

It was a long time ago, in the 19C.

September 23, 2014 at 08:51 AM · Hi Adrian, what you described isn't a temperament, maybe John can explain for himself how "subtle colour differences that unequal temperaments produce on a keyboard instrument" translates to string instruments.

(By the way in an irregular temperament, fifths are in different sizes depending on what chords and keys you want to sound better. I'm just wondering if John is implying he would actually copy the unpleasant intervals of a irregular temperament on violin for the effect...)

All this seems vaguely like a rehash from another discussion on intonation...I think what you said is pretty much the same as Kurt Sassmannhaus' intonation explanation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buZOs-czOUg#t=61 - I agree it's not wacky, this is exactly what they teach us at conservatories.

On meantone tuning, I don't know if you use quarter-comma, 1/5, 1/6, or whatever, but in any case they have really tight fifths that are not practical unless you're playing Renaissance stuff.

September 23, 2014 at 12:35 PM · I have been witness to many tuning debates but almost never is there data about the frequencies for the notes in the tuning scheme/scales?

My chromatic tuner only knows about orchestra pitch . Hey! I can actually tune sharp! Good idea.

Back to the strange turnings.

The notes? I tthink I have to check You Tube for some impartial facts.

John. If I tune 441 instead of 440, how many cents is that?

Wow! Seems I might be the villain!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concert_pitch#Pitch_inflation

Not just me!

http://www.susantomes.com/rise-in-concert-pitch/

September 23, 2014 at 02:42 PM · Darlene, you'll find answers to your questions about pitch in Helmholtz's massive and encylopedic "Sensations of Tone". It is downloadable, in translation, as a free e-book from,

http://www.scribd.com/doc/57176842/On-Sensations-of-tone-Helmholtz

It's pretty technical, probably required background reading for a doctorate somewhere, and so not exactly a bedtime read, but as I said, the answers are there. And hey!, it's free.

September 23, 2014 at 02:49 PM · Just to muddy the waters a little about tuning in perfect fifths, I understand it is not uncommon in string quartets at the professional level for the cello and viola to tune their C strings a tad sharp so that an E harmonic of their C strings matches the open Es of the violins, giving more resonance.

September 23, 2014 at 06:05 PM · ..which, Trevor, is the seeds of meantone is it not.

Meantone and reanaissace?

Broadwoods delivered their pianos (e.g. to Beethoven) tuned in meantone (I dont know which one) until ca 1850.

Anyway, if we play with a keyboard, we absolutely have to copy its tuning!

September 23, 2014 at 06:21 PM · There's nothing wacky about a tempered keyboard (especially as I'm training as a piano tech). What's wacky is the context in which it is being discussed. People are throwing around the concepts of the syntonic/ditonic/Pythagorean comma, but very few people (except for piano tuners) understand it and in tuning the violin one doesn't have to: one simply tunes for beatless intervals with the appropriate resonance.

In fact, I'm not even sure the use of "comma" is technically correct in the way that posters are using it.

The question was whether or not there is a benefit to playing sharp. The answer is no.

September 23, 2014 at 07:40 PM · "No" is possibly a good answer and so is "Yes" in the land of academic violin. I'm reminded of a remark from a business meeting, "We know everything there is to know except the answer".

That remark is relevant because we do know the answer for the violin. And the answer is repertoire, audience and performance.

I may have played sharp on occasion but not that I wanted too!

September 23, 2014 at 09:27 PM · Scott I can't agree with all you wrote.

- My own use of the word "comma" is accurate but far from complete.

- Playing beatless intervals on the violin is fine for most fifths & fourths, but rather fewer thirds an sixths: we simply have to make do with (near) pythagorean thirds when playing with pianos or in orchestras. And like it!

- My little demonstration illustrates a recurrent problem I have observed in lessons, quartet playing, and in unaccompanied choral singing. Indeed it partly explains why choirs tend to go flat when singing sequences of pure intervals.

But yes, playing intentionally sharp is definitely a non-starter!

September 24, 2014 at 11:28 AM · Even if it is not naval gazing can't we just play in tune and have done with it?

I notice that at least some of the professional violinists on here rarely submit comments to these nit picking threads!

September 24, 2014 at 11:58 AM · Indeed!

I agree with Shakespeare who said, "The play's the thing".

September 24, 2014 at 07:49 PM · Peter, it's very sweet of you to bother with such a nit-picking thread!

"The play's the thing!" Which is why some professionals are not interested. Anyway, most of those may have a pretty heavy vibrato, which blurs everything.

Once into the breach, dear friends, the notes go by too fast, but in slow practice, it's worth listening to what one is doing. Isn't it?

After all, the thread title is "Can we scheme for better intonation?".. And there are so many ways of "just playing in tune" and being "done with it"..

I'm so sorry music makes some of us "so intense" - perhaps I should stick to beer, then I will find I'm in tune!

September 24, 2014 at 08:08 PM · You are such a sensitive lad!

But you are right of course, I should stay out of these complicated and intensly intellectual discussions, as I'm obviously way out of my depth!

The comment which you have just made on vibrato is an interesting one. Are you saying that a lot of the professional players generally might have wide vibratos and therefore can't hear bad intonation? Interesting thought. In fact I've recently reduced the width and amount of vibrato I use, not because I am influenced by HIPsters, but because I find it uses less energy and allows other attributes to perhaps have an influence. And maybe I have a little less passion than I used to.

But stay off the beer, it has ruined many a good player!!

September 24, 2014 at 09:04 PM · Steady on John. I thought Darlene's answer was quite witty!

We must stay calm (coming from me that's new!!)

All questions will be answered I'm sure.

An interesting comment recently by Perlmann. He thought the most promising students were the ones with the best sound, even if they did play a bit out of tune sometimes. Makes one think! Interesting comment innit!!

September 25, 2014 at 12:49 AM · @Darlene: What does your violin teacher say?

September 25, 2014 at 02:28 AM · No teacher will have me.

However, my real expectation is not a unique yes or no but rather to tap the collective wisdom of the forum. I have learned most of what I know by observing someone(s) who knows what they are doing and testing for my style, etc. (This also means that all my bad moves are someone else's fault.)

I would say in closing that playing sharp lives!

However, context, as usual, is important.

But enough of this. Watch for my new post about how to correctly mount a chin rest.

September 25, 2014 at 12:15 PM · Good man that Sassmannhaus but I am getting the notion that violin enthusiasts are paranoid but harmless.

September 25, 2014 at 12:40 PM · If the violin were simpler I should get bored!

September 25, 2014 at 02:57 PM · Perlman's comment equates with the Suzuki emphasis on learning to produce a good quality of tone from day one. This is what my teacher, who was taught by Suzuki, drilled into me time and again. She pointed out that good tone attracts the listener's ear more than anything else, and that gets the musical message across effectively. Good tone and good intonation go hand in hand.

September 25, 2014 at 03:18 PM · I welcome the term "listener's ear" which is the final criteria that counts!

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

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