Hello there! I'm currently a beginner in Grade 1 (at where I took my violin lessons at; my Grade system and yours are different) and on Suzuki Book 2.
I had just recently followed a test that would make me in Grade 2. The instructor told me that I was very good, but my intonation was a little flat (he said that none of my notes are too high).
I want to improve my intonation, but how?
You seem to have the same problem as most other beginners: being flat. Here are my suggestions:
1. get that 3rd finger higher, until you hear the violin ringing. If it's too low, the violin will sound choked off. If you can, compare it against the open string below. Very few beginners consistently play sharp because you have to reach and often stretch a little to play in tune.
2. the lower the string, the higher you have to reach (or at least it will feel that way).
3. Make half steps as close as you can (beginners rarely play them too close, but usually too far apart). If you can get 2 nice and high, it will help the 3rd finger from being flat.
I doubt simply playing scales will help, as beginners rarely have many scales to play and aren't often able to judge them anyway.
As a relative newcomer to the violin myself, I can tell you the Scott Cole's advice is spot on. Just playing ascending and descending scales did little for me except reinforce bad intonation.
Find the third finger position that causes the violin to really ring. This is because each is an octave higher than the next open string.
So when you play the third finger position on the E string, you are playing an A an octave higher than the open A string. Third finger on the A string resonates with the open D string. The third finger on the D string excites the open G string.
The second finger position then is easy. It is right behind the third finger.
The first finger is then about 1/3rd the distance from the nut to the 2nd finger.
It also helped me to "find" a finger position and repeat it across all strings. For example, play with the 3rd finger on the E string until you find that ringing position. The alternate open E. 3rd finger E a few times to develop a muscle/sound memory.
Then drop the 3rd finger on the A string and see if you can get close to the ringing position. Alternate open A and 3rd finger A to develop an ability to recognize that interval (called a perfect 4th, like "here COMES THE BRIDE").
Now open string... 3rd finger string by switching between the A and E strings. It sounds very musical. Soon you will find you can reliably hit the perfect 4th above the open string on all the strings. You will also immediately recognize when you are sharp or flat and can quickly correct your position.
Now who said anything about simply playing scales? You have to play them properly. I'm currently back to working on scales...and it's a huge help (especially as I navigate up in the nosebleed section)...but I'm seriously paying attention (finally) to what it is I'm doing. Wish I had done so right from the beginning. It would have been a huge help. You know what they say about hindsight.
Scales are a place to start. Overloading beginners with too much detailed information all at once is counterproductive.
Is the piece you are working on in C major? Start by playing a C major scale (in tune)...then play the piece...
All kinds of straightforward ways to learn/utilize scales.
If you are going to practise scales then do one finger scales on each string (1-1, 1-1, and 2-2, 2-2, 3-3, 3-3 etc)
Test against a drone and also harmonics and open strings. You will find that fingered scales later will be in tune, as will pieces. It's called ear training.
Unfortunately players of all levels can play out of tune without realising, until they hear themselves on a recording. They may well pick up on other players poor intonation, whilst not being aware of their own as they play.
This is the extra difficulty we face as string players. (Or any instrument where you have to judge your own pitch).
Is the problem that you aren't hearing the out of tune notes as they occur or that you consistently put your fingers in the wrong place? Or both?
I reread the post and I see that it was your teacher who told you that you play flat, which leads me to believe you aren't hearing it to begin with.
One of my favorite games to play with my students is "in tune, out of tune." I go along playing their piece until I hit one wrong note, and they have to raise their hands when they hear the out of tune note. Then they have to tell me if it's sharp or flat. Amazingly, they're much more able to identify intonation problems in my playing than their own! Of course, this game requires a buddy with better intonation than yours who's willing to play, so it may not be practical for you unless your teacher is willing to do it with you. An alternative would be to record yourself playing your piece, compare it to the CD, and then take note of how the intonation differs.
"Now who said anything about simply playing scales"
Beginners generally don't play many scales outside of G-D-A, and usually comes later (although I don't know exactly where the poster is their studies).
And they don't really understand what good intonation means on the violin, even if they can recognize that someone else is playing out of tune. So that's why I give very specific advice instead of just telling them to listen to a recording and trying to play in tune.
Beginners--even adults--benefit more from very specific and limited advice concerning intonation rather than just generalities. Anything more is usually overload. At that stage, scales are an abstraction.
I suggested to play scales. I did not say "simply".
I will leave it at that.
I just recalled another issue that plagued me when I first started playing (and occasionally still bugs me)...
The further the hair contact point is from the bridge, the more dramatically a note can detune (go flat) with increased bow pressure.
For a simple experiment, place the bow on the D string close to the bridge. Find a light bow pressure and a bow speed so you get a good tone. Now as you bow slowly add bow pressure. You should note little to no change in the frequency of the note.
Move the bow halfway between the fingerboard and the bridge and repeat. The note will noticeably go flat as you add pressure. The effect increases dramatically as you bow closer to the fingerboard.
So as you play and practice, check to see if your bow is slipping a bit towards the fingerboard or your bow control is causing a fluctuation in bow pressure as you bow.
What I do is open string bowing exercises with long detache strokes (strokes with no accents) and focus on maintaining a fixed contact point and enough pressure to keep sounding a uniform tone. Repeat this at various contact points.
Another thing you can do is simply bow closer to the bridge for everything until your bow control gets better.
I think one nice thing about the first few Suzuki books is that they have a lot of pieces in keys that feature a lot of resonance tones on the violin. I think one-finger scales are going to be quite challenging for someone who has not learned yet to shift. One thing you can do is identify all of the the "ring tones" that you can find in first position on your violin, and train yourself to hear them even when the note is relatively short. Those notes will serve as eternal calibration standards for your intonation.
The point is to forget about shifts - just creep about the fingerboard and treat the whole fingerboard as one position.
It's a different concept from the usual manner of teaching, where beginners start in first position. Why? Start in fourth or fifth, its easier.
Thinking laterally is not something new, but it works well with a stringed instrument.
It's difficult to give more specific technical advice without hearing or seeing the player. But checking octaves and unison notes with open strings is always a good start.
Peter I agree with you. I still think that's a pretty challenging first step, but well, I guess if one doesn't like challenges one can choose something other than the violin.
Paul - I genuinely think that traditional teaching can be problematic and we have to think about how we can simplify the whole concept of violin playing. Therefore, I think the usual way of starting in first position causes big problems. Forget all the methods. Mostly they all suffer from the same problems.
Buy a clip on violin tuner and keep it permanently attached to the peg box where you can see it while you play.
Gradually you get the correct notes 'inside your head' and after a few months you will hardly be looking at it at all.
I use mine all the time, especially to check shifting and practising double stops.
I just got a clip-on tuner called SNARK. It is terrific. I wish I had gotten it thirty years ago :) BUT, I suppose it names pitches at frequencies corresponding to equal temperament, rather than Pythagorean tuning, so it is not as perfectly useful as I would like...comments please...
Erin, that tuner is ultimately going to be counterproductive. You have to improve the sensitivity of your hearing, and relying too much on sight and an external tool for intonation is not going to help you. Listening to the quality of sound and matching perfect intervals will help you hear better, and burn the complete context for the key you are in into your brain. I've heard players that I couldn't seem to be able to say that they didn't play in tune, but their sound and intonation system gave me this queasy feeling, and I wonder if they didn't learn to listen to their violin in order to establish whether they were in tune.
I guess if playing the violin becomes too easy, you can do the math of calculating the frequency of each note while you play. And if THAT gets too easy, then you can start calculating the variance and doing stats in real time while you play. But if that's your idea of fun, then maybe you would enjoy doing my taxes next April.
" I think one nice thing about the first few Suzuki books is that they have a lot of pieces in keys that feature a lot of resonance tones on the violin..."
Doesn't every beginner method ever written?
Not French methods, alas
Chromatic scales with the 1st finger! 3 octaves up and down each string. :)
It is vital to use whatever aids help you (e.g. resonance, Korg tuners) - and then not use them! And listen to the difference(s).
A tuner can be useful, but most use it incorrectly.
One of the keys to good intonation is to be able to recognize poor intonation first. If you rely on a tuner to find a note, this is okay, but it takes a very long time for most to learn to do it without the tuner: the tuner becomes a crutch.
A good way to use a tuner is to play the note -15 cents from 0, then at 0 cents, then +15 cents above 0. Do this first by bending the finger back and forth, while listening to the sound. Then do this without the tuner, so you hear the sounds.
-Go from higher or lower notes to -15 or 0 or +15
-or drop your hand to your waist, then play -15 or 0 or +15.
This trick really helps you recognize poor intonation. Use the tuner as little a possible; instead 'commit' to the sound and the finger placement.
Those of us who had no problems had an aural memory well stocked with good intonation: good recordings, good part singing, a well tune keyboard, etc.
If you are less lucky, Charles' advice will do the trick.
There are singing coaches that use this technique, even for the most gifted, but they may not use a tuner.
This technique is good when someone is 'pitch blind'(able to hear their poor intonation in a recording, but not able to hear it when playing).
This exercise is also very good for muscle control.
The best way is to practise scales and double stops and chords every day. Focus mostly on practising in a slow tempo. Once you have all tonalities and chords in your "system" intonation becomes much easier. I also recommend to record yourself (using your smartphone) at least once each practising session and listen to yourself with a critical ear. You should try to improve the quality for each practising session and you can monitor your progress more easily if you document it by recording your playing each time.
In my generation the only tuner was the tuning fork or a pitch pipe for tuning the strings, so with the help of a teacher you had to learn to develop your sense of pitch without any artificial aids.
Peter Charles said a few posts back (in 2014), "The point is to forget about shifts - just creep about the fingerboard and treat the whole fingerboard as one position." Which is exactly what my cello teacher Arthur Alexander taught me to do. The exercise he frequently gave me was to tell me to shut my eyes and from a left arm hanging loose by my side to hit a note he'd name, with the finger he'd name, and on the string he'd name. And this would be over most of the length of the fingerboard. Not unlike what Charles Cook said here much more recently.
Easy answer. There is the most easiest method but at the same time, hardest method... Of recording yourself play a piece and listening to it back again.
But this post was 2014. So I guess the discussion writer is somewhat in an advanced playing level already.
It's all very well to say play scales, but you still have to know how scales should sound before you play them.
Once a violinist bought an antique case at an auction. He got it home and started to dust it off. Lo and behold a genie appeared and said: "I am the genie of this case and I can grant you one wish!"
- Wow, that's great! But wait, in the stories I've read the genie usually grants THREE wishes...
- Look, you bought an ordinary old shabby case. It's not an antique Hill or a new Musafia. My colleagues from those cases have more power. So, you want your wish or not?
- OK, you're right. One wish, let's see...well, I'll be noble and selfless and wish for world peace.
- That's very admirable of you but it's beyond even my considerable power. Why don't you choose another wish, something more for yourself?
- OK, let's see...well, I've been a professional violinist for many years - and a pretty good one, too. But I've always had trouble with intonation. If you would grant me perfect intonation I would be so happy!
The genie thought and thought and said: "What was your first wish choice again?"
Intonation is the work of a lifetime. We're never free of dealing with it for a moment, unlike some techniques that we don't use all of the time. And here the OP is a BEGINNER! Have we forgotten about that? It's not clear from the post whether the OP is ready for even one octave scales or even uses all 4 fingers, let alone shifting and double stops. It's also not clear from the OP's post whether the instructor who administered the test is the OP's private teacher or whether the OP has any private teacher.
When I work with beginners (and more advanced as well) I begin with saying "higher or lower" and tell them that higher means move the finger a little more towards your face; lower, towards the scroll. And I model it for them with my own demonstration. Little by little I try to get the student to hear what the interval SHOULD sound like - and that alone takes a very long time, unless we're dealing with a little genius.
I also try to get the beginner to FEEL what it's like to have the fingers in the right place - to develop a kinesthetic sense. For that reason, I'm not a fan of taped "frets" put on the fingerboard. They are like training wheels on a bike, which don't really train you. If a new student comes to me with tapes, I won't rip them all off immediately, but I eventually try to wean them away from the tapes.
With more advanced students I add other techniques. But this is enough for now.
How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
I'm a beginner as well, and recently I've started to practice more scales in third and fifth position. I swear to god, I'm on the verge on throwing the violin from highest tower every time I try to play a scale with two flats or sharps. I feel as I were picking up a violin for the very first time.
I don't have much advice to give except paying attention to the ringing notes. My teacher also suggested I should try to sing the notes, and I spent a shameful lesson singing like a dying cat. It worked though.
It's ear training followed by left a hand technique which allows you to physically play the notes in tune and make minute instant adjustments if necessary. It can take a long time, but you must be able to recognise instantly that you are out of tune. Using recording equipment can help *maybe* but you have already played out of tune by the time you hear the playback. It has really to be a *live* thing happening in real time.
Tuners can help for a short while, but you will still play out of tune without first training your ear. And tuners can be out because of the temperament used.
Play scales on one string using one finger (any finger) by just sliding up to the notes , and when you get to an open string note, check that against your finger, I bet it will be out. Just do one octave to start with. (Putting one finger down after another by passes the ear and just trains you to play out of tune).
Demian-, et al,- I just finished a lecture on this topic. Improving intonation is a gradual process, involving music theory, mechanical skill and mental pitch perception. What might be happening to you right now is that your perception is improving faster than your fingering accuracy. You think you are getting worse when actually you are getting better. Agreeing with Scott Cole (Hello Scott!), tune the third finger first, play tight 1/2-steps, practicing scales only improves intonation if you play them in tune. Three stages of intonation: 1) correct posture, form, learn the intervals on your instrument, how they sound, how they feel in the hand. 2) next learn piano-style equal-tempered intonation, maybe use an electronic tuner. 3) last- delve into the mysteries of melodic (Pythagorian) vs. Chordal ("just") tuning, learning how and when to bend notes. It takes years. Why does the violin not have frets? Answer- So we can play in tune! ~jq
"The instructor told me that I was very good, but my intonation was a little flat (he said that none of my notes are too high).
I want to improve my intonation, but how?"
Actually, the answer is contained in the original post. Scales and exercises are all well and good, but not of much use to a grade one player. Advice for a beginner like this to play thirds, or chromatic scales? Useless. As your instructor has said, just try to play higher. Almost without exception, as I've noted earlier, BEGINNERS PLAY FLAT. It's a combination of the awkward reach and the yet-undeveloped sense of timbre. Most beginners have difficulty reaching with 4th finger. The muscles, the stretch--it's not there yet. It's like asking a beginning gymnast to do a split the first day. It takes time.
So to start with, just reach higher. Start with the assumption that you are flat. You may or may not perceive a difference, but if what your teacher says is true-you are consistently flat like 99% of all beginners-then reach more and you'll be headed in the right direction.
One-finger scales CAN be used one first position's basic spacing is established, though.
Although, perhaps the first finger is also a bit flat?
If that is the case, find your ideal hand position that lets you nail where 1st position is every time, with no fumbling or searching for it (might take a few weeks).
Well, therein lies the problem, AO: She probably doesn't KNOW if or where she's flat.
So it doesn't matter whether she "practices" scales at home. The only way that beginners, especially young ones, make real progress in intonation outside of the lesson, is the active participation of someone at home, like parents or a more advanced sibling.
One little trick I still use to this day:
1. blindly land index somewhere on the fingerboard.
2. Bow a full note
3. Play at least 2 octaves of that note.
4. You will in between be able to tell which note is "off". If you can identify it, do it all over from step 1.
5. If you managed to succeed in the first 4 steps. Do the same thing in fifths.
I used to play a bit like that, got a lot of **** from teachers for that! They said too acrobatic fingerings etc. So i thought it was not good and have been working to come away from it.
Well I'm afraid I'm quoting Rugerio Ricci who could play the fiddle a bit and was a respected teacher. There are lots of people who have studied the way Paganini might have played and this was also a technique he used.
But if you and your teacher know something we don't - then OK.
Peter, are we sure that Ricci used this technique in his first year or two of playing, or did he develop it later?
Probably later, but not sure. But the theory is good at any stage in playing from beginners to advanced virtuosos. That's just my opinion though. Talking to the odd pupil of his - he seemed to have some pretty advanced ideas and some were based on his understanding of how Paganini might have played, born out by other academics and players as well, some who I personally know.
It makes me think of Auer's method (into which I dip frequently) where Vol 1 is bowing only. I very much doubt if Auer ever taught a beginner in his life, but this volume has much remedial wisdom.
In my opinion, and some of this stems from Carl Flesch, I think that better intonation comes from rather simple things:
1- Do you hear in tune? That is often the biggest problems. Regular patterns exercises against open strings to tune the ear are important if there are difficulties in this regard.
2- Related to number 1 then, an idea that comes from Flesch and Heifetz, is if you hear something out of tune, do you fix it? Heifetz was once asked something great about his intonation (don't remember the exact phrase) and his response was not that he placed his fingers better than anyone else but just fixed them faster.
3- Good positioning is crucial. Many problems in this regard causing tension adversely affect intonation. Addressing them often helps.
4- Slow practice. No way around this one. Like one of my famous performer teachers once told me "if it's not slow, its not practice."
5- For shifting, I am a believer in the art of the intermediate notes. Mapping out shifts and knowing how you are moving with a finger on the string from and to specific locations really helps in being more secure.
6- Good sound production. And this means, not pressing. Pressing with the bow distorts intonation. And, when we press with the right hand, the left one usually starts to as well.
7- Using an alternate hand position for vibrato. There is much debate about this, but unusual hand positions for vibrating or changing the position of the hand usually makes the hand insecure, not to mention that the instability can affect intonation. And, it interferes with the benefits of slow practice without vibrato. If one has difficulty vibrating in the same hand/arm position when adding vibrato from practicing without, then there is a general problem of positioning that needs to be addressed most times.
Didn't have time to read all previous posts, but hope this adds something to the discussion...
P.S. EDIT - more specific to the OP - as related to my list above, the most likely cause of your issues are possibly that you are not hearing in tune, your left hand positioning has issues (i.e. hand too low, or not sitting on the base of the first finger, thumb too low or too much behind the first finger and probably over-rotation of the left elbow to the right), and that you are pressing with the bow (make sure that you don't press the thumb into the bow and that your fingers are not over-spread).
Peter and Fideli--Glad you brought up Ricci; I have just been reading his Ricci on Glissando, Indiana University Press. Ricci claims the glissando system, as he calls it, improves intonation because the ear, not the hand position, determines the intonation/note.
Very good posts from Liz, Christian, and Erin.
I too think the bow has a huge influence on intonation.
"But most learners would know what a scale sounds like, even if it's only from seeing/hearing a version of "Do a Deer" from "The Sound of Music." Perhaps I am really stupid/naive, but I can't imagine anyone who is interested enough to want instrument lessons would be so ignorant of music as to not be able to recognise a major scale pattern, even if they couldn't tell you what it was. "
This position sounds logical. Yes, one would think that most could recognize and duplicate a major scale. But it doesn't hold water.
After a series of beginner books, I start students with Hrimaly scales. We talk through the whole major-minor thing, and I have them write in the first page of their book the patterns and memorize where the half-steps are in major in both C (as a staring point to learn naturals) and all scales. I quiz them every lesson: "where are the half steps?
But the reality is that most students take quite a while to be able to intuit a major scale from any starting point, which is why I also require them to mark in the half-steps on each scale, at least for a while. Students are perfectly happy to play the scales with every possible combination of half and whole steps without recognizing that it sounds nothing like major. This is true even for students that also study piano.
Being exposed to scale patterns in society does NOT mean a student can recognize when they are playing the scale correctly.
I'm guessing that many of the comment here are being made by those that have not spent years teaching beginners.
Thank you Scott. (On behalf of my students..)
Liz, I'm afraid some have closed minds on this topic.
"Do you get your pupils to sing the scale?" I would like to, but here in France, there is no national tradition of singing in tune...
Sad, but true. I have to find other means.
Yes, I occasionally try to get my students to sing. But that is another can of worms entirely. Many, if not most, students are very self-conscious, especially in regards to singing. I'll even try to get them to hum a simply rhythm. It truly tortures most students, young and old.
Even when I taught theory and aural skills at the college level, getting music majors to vocalize was like pulling teeth. In fact, I kept a pliers handy because some preferred it...
I remember my own conservatory aural skills class: except for voice majors, everyone else detested having to sing in front of anyone, at least for a couple of months.
So again, having the student sing sounds like a great idea, but I'm not sure that it really accomplishes anything except to give them something in the violin lesson to NOT look forward to (as if my teaching weren't enough disincentive...).
If they can whistle this is often better.
Of course not everyone's idea of G Sharp is the same ... (Especially if its a seventh).
But that is also a can of worms!
Liz, to reply to your last inquiry, I outlined above what I usually find that needs to be addressed. I think that many times, one has to solve what gets in the way of good intonation. And in many cases, this involves the movements related to playing the violin, practicing, planning technique, or sometimes, mental obstacles. Ear training is one thing, but though one could sing in tune, learning to hear in tune on the violin is sometimes different as you are listening to a different set of vibrations than what can come from your vocal chords. Not to contradict, but just some thoughts.
I think it is vital to hear the note and pitch before you play it, although in fast runs you have to rely on well trained fingers.
But there is something I can suggest.
Pick a note - for example F natural on the E string a semitone above harmonic E. Think about it and try to hear it. Then place a finger where you think the note is. have you hit it dead on? Check a and see. What you are doing is using a sixth sense to find the note.
Do this with difficult notes all over the 4 strings (usually higher than 3rd position) and see if it improves.
Thanks for the explanation. Makes more sense to me now!
Using a drone or open string can help a great deal when tuning intervals. If you have trouble hearing the intervals, I would recommend a product like EARMASTER. It is an ear training software product that is quite comprehensive. Unfortunately, I don't believe it can give you out of tune intervals to recognize whether they are sharp or flat. But it will help to train one to recognize the various intervals. Maybe I will suggest that to them.
Tuning to open strings is a good start, for beginners, but it will cause problems later. Example: tune 1st f. E, on the D string to open G, then compare that E to open A, perfect forth. Those two E naturals are about 10 cents apart (10% of a half-step). Another example: Tune that same E to open G, then tune F to open A. The half-step between E and F will be extra long, about 130 cents. Violin is hard; otherwise everyone would play it. ~jq
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November 17, 2014 at 05:00 PM · Play scales. Listen to the pieces your are working on - ex. the Suzuki CDs. Try to play along in tune. Check yourself (once in while, not constantly) against a tuner, etc.