App for Intonation

July 10, 2015 at 04:34 AM · I'm a violinist and engineer, and I've been developing an app to give intonation feedback. Currently the app will track whatever note(s) you play and display them like sheet music, but color-coded for intonation. It is specialized for violin, able to track double stops and vibrato.

There is a version out now for iPhone/iPad, and there's a 1-minute video in the link below that more clearly demonstrates how it works.

I'm still developing, and am trying to figure out what features people want and if there is a better interface. This has been a long-time passion of mine, so I'll keep updating this app until it is practical and useful for all violinists.

The current features includes tuning for open strings, a metronome, record/playback, and intonation feedback.

The next version will include sheet music, so I'd like to get feedback on these potential features:

A. Being able to switch from equal to just intonation (or Pythagorean). This might apply only to scales.

B. Receiving tips as you play, ie "missed accidental" or "you're rushing".

C. Evaluating song performance. Something like Guitar Hero, where you get a score at the end of a song. Possibly with a breakdown on intonation, timing.

D. Saving the audio as an MP3 or .wav (uncompressed) file.

E. Built-in repertoire. Should it focus on early songs (ie Suzuki), standard etudes, Bach solos, or major concertos?


Alden Doyle

Replies (26)

July 10, 2015 at 06:00 AM · Looks like a fun project! But without going into discussion of temperament I have a few questions.

Shouldn't the colours be reversed? Red for hot?

Isn't the In-app purchase a tad expensive? I hope that you have some campaings planed ;)

July 10, 2015 at 06:09 AM · Great idea!

Be careful about the choice of colours, though:

one in eight males are at least partially colour-blind!

E.g. I see basically blue or yellow, with a touch of red if it is very strong. Green is just yellow or brown, mauve is blue..

I've never missed a red light, far as I know!

July 10, 2015 at 01:53 PM · Alto clef!

July 10, 2015 at 03:13 PM · I second Adrian's comment about color blindness. With the many things that a violinist has to think about, "is that red or tan" is not one that should come up.

I like the added features you list. Another one is a volume profile (loudness, decibels) of individual notes. This would be useful when practicing colle' strokes, as one example, to see how much bite one gets at the front of each note, and how volume does or does not go down as the note extends.

July 10, 2015 at 04:11 PM · Cellists would appreciate a version.

July 10, 2015 at 04:57 PM · Alden,

I have two comments about the software:

1. I'm not sure whether the function of displaying double-stops will help or hinder one's ability to play them in tune in the end. However, I could imagine the software giving one an indication of which note in a double stop is the one that takes precedence for tuning. For example, take the double stop of D and F# above it played on the A and E strings. The D HAS to take precedence because it will have the greater resonance. Even if the 3rd is technically correct, it still has to produce the greatest resonance with the violin itself. The same with a G on the E string against an E-flat on the A--this time the G must be in tune with the violin itself and the E-flat adjusted to it and not the other way around. Perhaps the app can introduce students to this concept so they can start to think in terms of the hierarchy of resonance in intonation. Perhaps color-coding or a blinking note for the dominant tone?

2. I'm not convinced that giving people a choice of tunings (pythagorean vs equal temperament etc.) is not more of a false sense of accuracy than a real help. In the end, one can ONLY tune to the violin itself.

People may argue that it's possible to tune the violin strings to different 5ths (and I recognize that string quartets often try to tune E and C strings). However, I think the ability to discriminate the subtleties of tuning systems is beyond most, especially for students.

I'm currently preparing for the RPT exam, and since it requires tuning a piano aurally in equal temperament, I've learned something very interesting about tuning: it's difficult, if not impossible, for most people, including a trained musician such as myself, to accurately judge 4ths, 5ths, and 8ves. It's easy to hear the noisy 3rds and 6ths, but the perfect intervals are another matter.

Even experienced professional piano tuners can't rely on their ears to judge the perfect intervals. We string players THINK we're experts on tuning the perfect intervals (I've spent my whole life tuning 5ths--how can I NOT be an expert, right?) but the range of acceptability for what is a 4th, 5th or 8ve is surprisingly wide.

That's why even experienced aural piano tuners have to rely on a series of "checks," in which other notes are used to tune these intervals. One can try to get the 4ths wide, but this is no simple feat when listening only to the 4th itself. If one does perceives it to be a wide 4th, it's probably way too wide.

July 10, 2015 at 07:41 PM · Good points Scott.

I personally would wonder about such a piece of software really being of much use. Surely string players have to learn how to play in tune - or rather play in tune with others including the piano.

There really are not any short cuts, or clever gizmos, that really do the job for you.

July 10, 2015 at 09:59 PM · Peter,

Yes, I was waiting for someone else to make that point...

In then end the ear, not the eyes, must be trained.

July 10, 2015 at 10:17 PM · Hi! I think the pitch checking concept is a noble idea, although the thought of deciding what is the correct pitch in what context, and receiving a score ("You are 87% percent in tune") will get people's knickers in a twist...

I practice with drones on Cleartune on my iPhone, and the only wish I have with this magnificent app is to be able to switch on multiple pitches so I can play with an interval or chord. If you can make something like that with the tuning systems available on Cleartune, I would buy it.

July 10, 2015 at 10:18 PM · Anyone who is working on a major concerto should be beyond this sort of help. I would suggest focusing on beginner and intermediate repertoire, and honestly I would not recommend such an app to my students.

July 11, 2015 at 02:29 AM · I agree with Mary Ellen. Not wanting to be a Luddite, I've investigated similar apps for my students, but I generally find them to be a case of shoehorning technology in where it isn't especially useful. Guitar Hero works because it isn't a real guitar. It's just buttons like any other game controller. But when you have a real instrument in your hand, focusing on what a screen tells you to do is more likely to hinder the development of your own ear and create frustration as the machine demands mechanical playing that isn't particularly desirable from a human being.

With that being said, the app could have some utility for beginners that have a very poor concept of pitch. Some people do struggle to identify whether an out of tune note is flat or sharp. Even then, I would just suggest more listening to actual music, but the app might be useful for a short period of time. I would definitely suggest focusing on early Suzuki repertoire.

July 11, 2015 at 08:56 AM · I like it! Any visual aid, (even fingerboard tapes....) can help awareness where it is lacking. But of course we have to play as soon as possible, without.

July 11, 2015 at 08:57 AM · Oops!

July 11, 2015 at 09:27 AM · Useful, too, for giving a visual representation of something you've just improvised, before it evaporates from memory, and for composers thinking up ideas at the violin. Similarly, useful for a folk musician who records a tune someone plays at a session and wishes to speed up its transcription onto paper.

July 11, 2015 at 10:53 AM · Check Intonia, at

That is similar application, not perfect but sufficient for monitoring needs.

Personally I consider visual tuners designed for small screens - phones without any possibility to run on the desktop (any system) and normal sized monitor (the bigger the better) - useless.

It is not about watching the colour when your a quarter tone off, you can hear that, it is about the minute differences when you are in tune and looking for the biggest ringiness. That cannot be done on miniature phone screen.

Intonia is useful in recording yourself and analysing afterwards, it is difficult to play the piece and put down the notes about checking the particular places at the same time. It helps to differentiate one-off laps and systematic errors.

Violin tuner with Equal temperament is good for nothing, the differences are really too big. Pythagorean tuning and Just Intonation is absolute must.

Tips about missed accidentals would have to be connected with the particular score, do not see how that would be implemented without restricting the end user to play anything he/she likes. Many pieces contain foreign accidentals.

July 12, 2015 at 05:58 PM · Thanks for the responses. Very helpful!

A choice of colors is definitely a good idea, and not too much work to add. Thanks!

Several mentions that this might be most useful for beginning violinists, so I'll start with basic repertoire. I was a Suzuki kid, and looking back realize that the week in between lessons was a long time to play something wrong. I'm hoping this app (along with listening to the music) can reduce the feedback time for some basic intonation issues. Maybe some built-in exercises would be useful, such as "learn how to play low 2s".

Scott, with respect to double stops, here is what I was thinking. For students learning double stops, even making them equal tempered would be a good first step. It seems like a lot of students have no idea (at first) which note is more out of tune. For advanced practice, there is a window that shows the "just interval". Of course, with a perfect interval you lose equal temperament intonation, but that's something an advanced player should be able to deal with. Personally it helped me with practicing major and minor 3rds, which are quite a bit off from equal temperament.

Trevor: Thanks! It would be easy to save a MIDI file of a session, which could then be imported into any score editor. Or would another format be better?

Pavel: I've checked out Intonia, since it is similar, and spent a long time making sure Music Wrench tracks violin better than any alternatives (addressing double stops, Tartini tones, etc.). I thought iPad/tablet would be a good starting point because it's large enough to see and you can place it directly on your music stand. I agree that a computer version would look nice! BTW, the "missed accidental" idea did apply to a specific song where the app would present the music.

July 12, 2015 at 10:23 PM · I use the 'iTune app' (my ears) to determine whether or not I am playing sharp, flat, or in tune.

March 14, 2016 at 12:44 PM · I need such an app for android (I dont have i phone) which works similar to Guitar Hero. As shown here a demo of an app which is not available for us -

seems like its very easy to create for someone who knows that language.

There should be options of choosing different types or kinds of patterns for notes to come- such as given in the Etude violin books. You can refer to them. There should be different levels of difficulty in the patterns of notes coming; Changing their speed etc. Practice of scales, arpeggios. Dynamics etc.

March 14, 2016 at 01:04 PM · Interesting concept. I would suggest that you focus on beginners, since advanced players are unlikely to need an app like this.

April 12, 2017 at 11:22 AM · I hope that it is also available in Android apps. :)

April 12, 2017 at 11:28 AM · Why redundant sensory input?!

If your ears are not enough, well.... fill in the blanks.

April 12, 2017 at 11:30 AM · Nicely done! Esp interesting as you can switch the intonation style.

An Android Version would be great, altough very timeconsuming.

April 12, 2017 at 05:07 PM · This is pretty great. I bought it to encourage further development. Showing double stop intonation is also pretty amazing.

April 12, 2017 at 05:26 PM · Seems like a fun idea but I don't see much practical use for it.

My personal method when I start a piece is to transcribe fragments to musescore (sibelius or any other program will do) and loop the with piano sound, over which I play with the violin.

April 13, 2017 at 05:34 AM ·

April 13, 2017 at 08:42 AM · I found an app writer who tweaked his delay to last 10 seconds. You can then play canons with yourself. Unfortunately I couldn't get him to tweak an adjustable delay so it's a little limited, but fun and stretches your ears.

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