Feeling the tone and intonation in your fingers

November 12, 2016 at 06:36 PM · I can feel my tone production with my bow hand, to a certain degree. I assume this is something shared by many string players. Recently I met a luthier who said he could feel the intonation on his left hand fingers. Amazing! Discuss.

Replies (20)

November 12, 2016 at 07:29 PM · He probably meant that he could feel the ring you get by how exact your relative intonation is.

Try this: Starting on open G, play each note EXACTLY in tune (to the degree that you have perfect pitch differentiation), and then tell me you don't feel a certain pulse coming from the string under your fingers.

It can also be felt to some degree when the intonation is off as well, which is why touch is an important skill to cultivate in playing. :)

November 13, 2016 at 01:23 AM · A.O, I tried and it does make a difference on the fingertips when in tune or not. I also noticed that when I press the finger down too hard, the sensation described above disappears. This is quite informative.

November 13, 2016 at 03:07 AM · Thank you, although I must say that things like this are much easier to perceive when you don't use a shoulder rest, as it aids relaxation and adds much more physical contact with the violin. :)

PS: I don't use a shoulder rest. :D

November 13, 2016 at 04:19 AM · I wonder how many players feel pitch in their finger while bowing? It seems much more likely to be felt in the finger on the string, as the string's vibrations initiate the pitch sound. I don't I really feel pitch on the bow or the string; I wonder how that is even possible since pitch is an air wave phenomenon, unless we are talking about very low frequencies...like the vibrations of a cello body.

November 13, 2016 at 04:40 AM · There is no "exactly in tune" for pitches on the violin, since intonation is entirely contextual.

November 13, 2016 at 04:50 AM · Well, perfect intonation in the context of the scale you use. I was assuming D Major, starting from open G. :)

November 13, 2016 at 04:51 AM · As A.O. said regarding left hand and pitch. Also I believe when my finger is not right at the centre but a little flat or sharp, there is a loss of luster in sound and the vibration. Acoustics is not my forte but I'm sure someone can explain this.

I don't think you feel pitches with your bow hand, but I can feel with my right hand, mostly the index finger and the ring finger, when I need certain color or texture in sound. Am I alone here?

November 13, 2016 at 04:59 AM · Same. The bow seems to "quiver" in a certain lively way that makes it much easier to draw a smooth tone that is easier to articulate to extreme nuances when you play perfectly in tune, vs sightly off which causes the bow to not draw out the sound as easily.

November 13, 2016 at 01:14 PM · Does this mean the bow "knows" when the pitch it draws is contextually incorrect?

November 13, 2016 at 02:07 PM · Sort of. Similar to how if a wolf is bad enough, the string is "rejected" by the bow.

November 13, 2016 at 02:48 PM · Check out the story of Evelyn Glennie:


She is a percussion soloist who is completely deaf! Her process for "hearing" pitch sounds similar to what people are talking about here.

November 14, 2016 at 01:10 AM · Lieschen, thank you for the link. Fascinating!

November 15, 2016 at 04:35 PM · "There is no "exactly in tune" for pitches on the violin, since intonation is entirely contextual."

Not true. If you play any note associated with an open string, there is one position on the string that will sound in tune. Regardless of the context, there is only one spot for E5 on the A string. some notes are more malleable than others, but for the most part the violin has to be in tune with itself. If you had to move that E to match another instrument, such as a piano, then the piano isn't in tune and you have an unreconcilable intonation issue. Pulling down that E will just make YOU sound out of tune.

It's not all just relative.

Also, I think someone claiming to feel intonation or sound quality (or stock quotes) in the fingers would need to totally muffle their ears so that the claim could be verified by a listener. Kind of reminds me (in a twisted way) of that scene in Garp where the father turns off the car headlights before coasting into the driveway to scare the kids. That didn't work out so well...

November 16, 2016 at 12:24 AM · Why does it need to be externally verified though? The physics make sense, and you have multiple people telling you that it is a thing.

Not like any lives or money rest on the point, so why the need to be so serious? :)

November 16, 2016 at 12:33 AM · My duet partner and I did experiment with earplugs to see what sensations of sound we experienced; I suggest you try it and I guarantee you will be surprised. We used open strings only, and had surprisingly similar results.

As for the bow hand, using a Baroque hold lets one feel the sound traveling through the stick; avoid the leather wrapping.

November 16, 2016 at 03:44 PM · I think Scott and Lydia might be addressing two different uses of the term "intonation".

For the violin, certain notes can sound particularly resonant when struck so that prominent modes are matched and are in phase with each other, such as sounding an E on the A string that matches the open E string, or a D on the A string that matches the open D string.

If one has a light touch on the strings, one can feel every note vibrate, even the out-of-tune ones. But strong, resonant notes, like a D on the A string, can give sudden feedback into the finger when it is spot on. If you happen to be playing a piece in G Major (where D is the dominant tone) or D Major (where D is the tonic tone), there is a strong psychological reinforcement of the note sounding in tune and vibrating under your finger.

In the context of a piece in G or D major, the violin almost demands Scott's observation, and "good/bad" intonation can definitely be felt in the finger for the tonic and dominant notes.

But many classical performers will adjust the intonation of a note, often in the same piece, depending on the musical context in which it is being played.

For example, when playing the core melodic line, you will hear them narrow half steps, especially on the Leading tone, while major thirds are noticeably widened, especially the Mediant tone of the scale.

But when playing double stops, that same major third will be dramatically narrowed.

Of course, you could set your internal tuner to equal temperament and play everything like a piano. But doesn't the real beauty (and curse!) of the violin rest in its flexible intonation?

November 17, 2016 at 07:16 PM · A favorite topic of mine, intonation. I have never felt vibration in my left fingers, so, for me, that sounds like an illusion, what is actually resonance. Play thirds wide or close? We have been debating that for centuries. My approach is that there are three systems of intonation; chordal, melodic, equal-tempered; each note is a cluster of 3 pitches. Equal-tempered is close enough, 10 cents,( 10% of a half-step), most of the time. The margin of error of our hearing is about 5 cents. The difference between the wide and close thirds and half-steps can be as much as 25 cents, the Pythagorian comma. The intonation problem is most noticed when tackling the Bach sonatas. ~jq

November 18, 2016 at 05:10 AM · I agree with what Scott said -- I think that your luthier was referring to that sensation that one feels with the resonant notes, E, A, D and G. I certainly feel it in my left hand -- then again I am left-handed and less apt to feel things so keenly with the right! But a perfectly in-tune "D" or something will really vibrate. If you have a friend who will cooperate, you can do an experiment (I do this with students to demonstrate the power of a good resonant note): Just have them play any good, in-tune resonant note, and while they are playing, just hold the scroll. It will vibrate, and you will feel it. Heck, sometimes I can feel the vibration in my paper cup, if a student is striking the right tone, and I can also feel the vibrations of another violinist in the room, in my own violin. But generally only if the pitches are matching up very well.

November 19, 2016 at 01:09 AM · True about pitch match-up, although it should be said that depending on your ears, 5 cents may sound exceedingly out of tune, as for people used to microtonal music, it is almost an entire comma(!)

Micritinal music: The key to extremely precise ears that can hear less than a cent in intonation difference

I recommend it to all! . :D

November 23, 2016 at 06:05 AM · A small experiment I ran tonight.

I was testing my sound-proofing system. I wore my headset-plug+ on-ear headsets that are both noise cancelling. With both layer, even without music on, I can't hear a thing.

I stood in front of mirror(s) and played few suzuki volume 4 pieces and recorded myself playing.

I somehow was in tune better than most of the time without the headsets. My violin "shoots" this vibration down my forearm, and its neck, and the vibration reaches my neck as constructive coherence, if I am playing several reference notes. C#, D, E, F# are most dominant.

In summary, from my reflection, I got to focus very much on my bowing, giving me a good projection and dynamics, and I think I am going to do this once a month or so. The shifts however, just couldn't get them. I need my ears.

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