What is 'in tune' and how to know what's in tune?

March 9, 2016 at 02:40 AM · So I tune the G,D,A,E by perfect fifth with A=440.

In terms of first position, I know that when I play A on G string, I can hear or watch the A string vibrate, etc. I have no problem with those notes that have clear definition of "in tune".

Question is, how do you know when B,C,F is in tune without using tuner?

A related question, what are the correct frequencies I should be looking for, so I can at least play them with a tuner as a reference.

Moreover, how do you know when the sharps and flats are in tune?


Replies (28)

March 9, 2016 at 03:24 AM · I use a reference note, From open string double stops, you'll hear the perfect fifths, you'll be able to tell the "perfect" relation between g and d string. That relation holds for d and A strings also, so, pick lower or higher note that you're confident with, and play fifths for b, c and f. Also try thirds. It's part of my 30 minutes scale and intonation exercise.

March 9, 2016 at 03:25 AM · Also, practicing one finger chromatic scales(half steps) will build your confidence in intonation, if you always see the sympathetic vibration on expected notes.

March 9, 2016 at 04:15 AM · What I do is play a scale very slowly, listening for the resonance of each particular note.

This is the ONLY sure way to hit the notes (esp the reference note) PERFECTLY in tune relative to the others and the open string, as you thus have enough time to slightly adjust the finger until you get maximum resonance and volume on each note.

Once you have established EXACT (not a cent sharp or flat!) intonation, it becomes very obvious when you play out of tune, because your ear will hear the loss of tone very quickly (it is very obvious, because a perfectly hit note resonates significantly less if played 1-2 cents sharp or flat). :D

I have also noticed that save a few players, most seem to play a tiny bit flat or sharp by a few cents, not noticeable to most listeners or players, but very noticeable if you listen to lots of microtones growing up (as I did). :)

Have fun, and good luck!

March 9, 2016 at 05:14 AM · This is explained very well in "basics" by simon fischer.

March 9, 2016 at 06:45 AM · Helps if you know the piece or have listened to it (played in tune) a number of times. Then it will already be in your head and when you play a note out of tune you will notice immediately - but nobody's perfect all of the time tbh.

March 9, 2016 at 09:51 AM · +1 for Simon Fischer's books

March 9, 2016 at 12:42 PM · Generally any tuning technique can become a crutch. A good practice is to use an aid once and repeat 3 times without, and make sure you are listening to the note in your mind first before playing it.

Here is a tuning list for Open strings, the G and A scales with the altered tuning adjustments in cents.


E 2

A 0

D -2

G -4

---g scale-

G -4

A 0

B 3

C 6

D -2

E 2

F# 9

---A scale

A 0

B 3

C# 6

D -2

E 2

F# 3

G# 13

Keep in mind there is no REAL perfect in tune scale, these altered scales from Equal Temperament are for aiding in the teaching my of students intonation and is MY perception of an in tune scale.

March 9, 2016 at 12:56 PM · There have been a lot of interesting discussions on this forum about "intonation". You might want to do a search and spend some time researching it because expressive intonation is much more than just hitting a set frequency from a table of notes.

When you use a chromatic tuner to test the accuracy of your intonation, you are playing the notes like a piano, i.e., equally tempered.

If you tune the open A to 440, then tune the other open strings for "beatless" tone when double stopped with an adjacent open string, then you are playing the GDAE notes using "just" intonation, which can vary noticeably from what a chromatic tuner says is correct, especially on the G string.

Yet both ways are commonly done and both sound nice.

If you have to restrict yourself to one method while learning, then using a chromatic tuner to help with finger position for the equal tempered scale might be the easiest and all around more useful intonation method.

March 9, 2016 at 01:27 PM · Another technique you can do with a tuner is go to -10 to 0 to +10 ,and variations of, with the finger movement with each note(either lifting or sliding). Practice this with the tuner, then without. The technique works really well with a note you play consistently out of tune and you can't "HEAR" if it is out of tune or not.

March 9, 2016 at 04:15 PM · People can explain intonation, but there are two kinds of students: ones that have an intuitive sense of what in tune means, and those that need coaching. If you are not the first kind, then you simply may need a teacher to help you judge intervals and resonance. I find even advanced students can learn intervals that are too wide or narrow. It is difficult to judge ones own playing in general. In so many areas. Even very experienced professionals, for example, don't realize that they are rushing or dragging unless it is pointed out to them...

March 9, 2016 at 04:33 PM · Surely you can hear if it is in tune or not? I mean, I know I am strangling a cat when I use my fourth finger on the E string atm, I am years out of practice...but my ears still work? Is that just me?

March 9, 2016 at 05:16 PM · People vary tremendously in both their ability to hear intonation and their reaction to it. for example, many students can hear they are out of tune, but aren't bothered enough to actually fix it. And the very rare student can hear it and is bothered enough that they fix it themselves. But those are the 1/1000 students.

The same applies to many other aspects of playing, such as vibrato:

Some students, once they can do it, really desire to hear it in their own playing. And many need to be constantly reminded to do it. Some don't care if they never do it and think their sound is just fine.

So Jon, I think people tend to vary in their sensitivity to all manner of things in life. Some people can't stand cilantro, some people insist on washing their car every weekend, etc. I'm even told that many people watch golf on TV. (I still don't believe it, but that's what I'm told...).

March 9, 2016 at 05:38 PM · Yes you are probably right. For those of us who sang 'Unto us a boy is born, King of all Creation' numerous times as a child, maybe certain scales remain imprinted on the brain for life.

Music from 'Phantom of the Opera' is another one - as I can hear almost the entire musical in my head note perfect (don't ask), so it is a good one for me to practice on at the moment while I get back up to speed. I know how that SHOULD sound...

Well, that's how I do it anyway.

March 9, 2016 at 06:02 PM · What should be clear from many of the posts in this thread, and from other threads, that the cornerstones of intonation in violin playing are scales and double stops. For someone who is not ready to play double stops (which follow some different rules), then, it's all about training your mind to understand what a scale should sound like. And if you're new even to that, then focus on the major scales, starting with G and A Major. You will see that in the method books (Suzuki Book 1, etc.) the earliest pieces include scale-like melodic content (Twinkle, Song of the Wind, Lightly Row, etc.) Play "Mary Had a Little Lamb" on your violin using C#, B, and A on the A string. Make it sound like it should.

Another good resource for intonation is the series of (free) videos at violinmasterclass.com, prepared by Kurt Sassmannshaus. There you can also find a tuning chart much like the one Charles has provided here (I have not compared them directly).

March 9, 2016 at 06:18 PM · Thanks Charles, I printed that out. I do know that if you're playing the third of the chord in an ensemble nobody's right.

March 10, 2016 at 05:09 AM · I often listen to the relationship between notes. To confirm, I often bow two strings simultaneously and listen to see if it matches. I also check by using natural harmonics, but not all notes.

March 10, 2016 at 12:56 PM · In the real world of advanced or advancing violin playing, we don't count cents or distribute commas. I leave that to piano tuners. It's a different world - though I know a few violinists who do both. We study with good teachers who gradually correct and train us to hear for ourselves and express the music accordingly. There's no quick simple short cut formula. It's the continuing work of a life time. And tuning the violin is only step one, and the violin may only stay in tune for a few minutes in some cases. What happens after that?

March 10, 2016 at 01:52 PM · Could not afford a fancy teacher for intonation training so I settled for just playing correct notes. That works OK.

March 10, 2016 at 04:44 PM · A teacher for intonation - and everything else - is not a "fancy" teacher. That's a TEACHER. If you just want to fool around and have some fun scratching something out or experimenting, fine. But if you want to try to become any kind of decent violinist, a teacher is not a luxury; it's a necessity.

March 10, 2016 at 05:48 PM · We have to imagine the notes before playing, then take the time to correct our discrepancies..

So we must nourish our aural memory with constant listening to good violinists.

Without this background, no amount of cunning schemes will be effective.

March 10, 2016 at 05:51 PM · I am definitely in the "have some fun" camp with best regards for those who have loftier goals. I did not retire to work!

They told me that my new en route violin will play by itself or is that just sales talk?

March 10, 2016 at 06:01 PM · I agree with Raphael, but it cannot just be ANY teacher. It has to be a good teacher, someone who is a good violinist and preferably someone with training in violin pedagogy and teaching experience. But I also sympathize with Darlene because good teachers can be *quite* expensive, which tends (along with other things like the cost of the instrument) to make learning the violin a rather expensive proposition.

So what to do? Well, if there is a music school near you, or a university with music students, you might find that part of the outreach mission of the organization includes helping folks who can't afford regular private lessons. And you're possibly helping a young person get the experience they need to become the kind of violin teacher later on who can earn a living wage. It's the same idea as going to the local cosmetology school for your haircut or to the local dental school for your cleaning and exam. If you live in a rural area that does not have these institutions, then try getting low-cost lessons by Skype.

Darlene, a violin that "plays itself" is one that sounds the best when sitting in its case. It's not a sales pitch -- it's an insult.

What Adrian is suggesting -- "imagining the notes" is exactly what pedagogue Kurt Sassmannshaus recommends in his online videos on intonation. It's very important. Unless you are some kind of perfect-pitch savant, your ear requires calibration.

March 10, 2016 at 07:50 PM · From the loyal but maverick opposition.

Why does the violin establishment avoid or resist the notion that people play (at) the violin for many different legitimate reasons?

The ability of the violin to be comfortable in many genres and at many skill levels has to be an important part of the universal appeal.

There is no end to posts about "how good can I get?" I always wish those writers would define their goals, BUT I am never anxious to be a critic. I can only hope their pursuits result in happy rewards.

(I cheated. I already played the new violin in the studio and it does "play by itself")

March 10, 2016 at 08:12 PM · If you want to be comfortable in different genres, you need to play in tune in different genres.

I think that if you are looking to play violin for other people, then you should learn how to play violin. If you are never planning for others, and just want to play for your own pleasure, then who am I to define that pleasure for you. If you meet your own standards of intonation and music making, then I don't see the issue. I just know that as an audience member, I don't want to hear out of tune playing.

There's no cabal trying to force people to take violin lessons against their will. It's all about your own expectations as a player. If your expectations are really high, as many who come here asking for advice are, then it makes sense that people address those high expectations.

March 11, 2016 at 01:38 PM · I remember being at a viola recital where the player had, in my opinion, quite poor intonation. It made me physically sick and I had to leave. If you are planning to play with/for others it's whole different ballgame.

March 11, 2016 at 02:20 PM · Hi Jen Wen Chang, when you first set out on your playing in tune journey, play the tunes you know. Playing these may take some considerable time. Once you are used to familiar tunes, find some new ones. Try to discover familiar finger patterns; when your fingers get used to the 'geography of the keyboard' it will become easier. Join us for a free Pro-Am Strings webinar on playing in tune on the 22nd March.

Henriette de Vrijer

March 11, 2016 at 04:27 PM · Intonia, by Jerry Agin, is a computer program that shows intonation on the computer screen. It's fun to play with. http://intonia.com/index.shtml<\a>

March 11, 2016 at 06:10 PM · Thanks everyone for the suggestions. I can hear out-of-tune notes in general if I record my practice, so it is not satisfactory (I'd leave if I were the audience as well). However the sharps and flats are still confusing, whenever my teacher points out to me the sharp is too sharp or too flat I still don't quite get it. @Henriette I am interested in the webinar, I'll email to enroll.

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