I Need Help On Intonation!!

March 29, 2004 at 07:15 AM · I have been practicing intonation for two months now, and I can only get close to the note I want, and not that perfect pitch (sometime, it's not even near the that note). So I feel like I didn't get anywhere again (note, I ask for help alot). So how long does it takes for you to get that perfect pitch? I usally practice by playing along with a tuner and a scales midi. Is there any other practice I should do? I often listen to midi scales when I'm not playing, too.

Replies (33)

March 29, 2004 at 09:32 AM · Greetings,

Jimmy, it seems to me that this -playingalong with tuners- and stuff isreally becoming a fashion. Personally, I think it should be banned, along with cranberry juice. What might be happening (apart from teaching yourself to play out of tune with tempered pitch- not for the violin in general) is thta you are actually doing things the wrong wayround, or using your head less.

Youtune the open strings and then these are the guide. From these you imgaine the pitch of what you are going to play and then play and try to make decisions about what might need changing, again, using the open stirngs as a hint.

In other words, you do the work, not a machine.

The secret of intonation is a lot of careful scale work with no vibrato. It"s that simple...



March 29, 2004 at 04:20 PM · I second that Bury! Along with the cran. Juice.

Slow scales and listening to every note. Working with the teacher on this is also importante, maybe the teacher can use the piano sometimes.


March 29, 2004 at 04:24 PM · ..also, one thing that seems to help my students is to play scales along with them a few times.


March 29, 2004 at 04:38 PM · You could play the scales with someone playing the tonic note (the first note of the scale), preferably on the violin.

March 29, 2004 at 04:44 PM · Try studying chromatic scales.

It'll help.

March 30, 2004 at 12:51 AM · Greetings,

Laurie`s suggestion ties in with the one way of using the infernal machines: set the machine to play a tonic drone and then practice your scale,



March 30, 2004 at 01:10 AM · Intonation is one of those things that is completely relative to ever specific thing you play. I remember back to a lesson with Ms. Delay and I believe I was playing the Tchaikovsky and I played a G# out of tune, or at least that was what she told me. Then she asked me, "what is your concept of a G#?" So I played my open A string and played the G# again, still "wrong". Then she had me play a scale for 10 minutes and she said, "now that was a perfect G# all the time", so then I played the passage again, and my G# was right on. What she was trying to prove is that Tonalities change according to different factors, such as bow pressure, Harmonic structure and relationshis, and the Key. So, you really should never base your intonation on a tuner or piano, and train yourself to hear pitch that way. A useful I've discovered is to really hear the piece or the passage in your head first, or sing it/hum it to internalize what you thing it should sound like. Most of the time, your instincts are correct. Also, confidence I've found in oneelf and the placement of your fingers really does affect your intonation, so be confident about where the notes are on the fingerboard and picture your finger there in your mind. Violin playing definitely has a mental aspect that needs to be excercised.

Chris :D

March 30, 2004 at 04:23 AM · Thank you guy! I will stop using the play along midi, and real start listening hard. I hope that work. :)

March 30, 2004 at 04:36 AM · Greetings,

Jimmy, don`t forget that Casal@s said tuning wa s our life`s work and that it is our moral duty to always pay attention to it!

Heifetz also had the knack of offering -extremely- good advice in very simple sounding sentences which is the mark of someone who is at leats potentially, a good teacher. he said `If it sound slike we are playing out of tune, then we probably are.`

Best of luck,


March 30, 2004 at 04:11 PM · Hey everybody, I love this topic every time. But I never understand why people say "don't use a tuning machine, but play with a piano!" What is the difference, people?? And playing tempered isn't out of tune if you WANT to play tempered, which can be a good choice sometimes. And playing with your strings is good (I think of it as internal hall, the violin rings so well that way), but how do you know you tuned the violin well? All perfect just fifths??? That leads to some real problems.

I don't think intonation is esoteric "touchy-feely" stuff all the time. Sometimes it is just the frequency at which the string is vibrating, and the mathematical relationship that two notes have with each other. If it sounds in tune, I'll bet the notes are in a simple ratio with each other ie: 1:2, 2:3, 3:4, 4:5, etc.

Everyone who says that intonation is our life's work is absolutely correct. We have to hear it, understand it, produce what we hear.

2 months is a pretty short time to master intonation. Daily work will produce results over time. I like the idea of midi scales if you are going to play with a piano. And learning how to hear and play just intervals is great for certain solo and string ensemble playing. And learning harmony is necessary to "expressive" intonation.

I love my tuning machine and pc! Go midi!


March 30, 2004 at 07:30 PM · "don't use a tuning machine, but play with a piano"

i think what they are trying to say is this, use the piano to establish the tonic (first note) of the scale and then play the rest of the notes on top of that, as opposed to tuning each note with a tuner. The fourths and fifths could theoretically be tuned with a tuner, but all the rest of the notes had better be tuned off the tonic unless you want tempered intonation (you dont).

March 31, 2004 at 12:47 AM · Greetings,

I thought you might jump in here Chris! You are always so polite about the way your ideas are rejected.... But it really is great to have different ways of doing things. Sometimes when people take the advice of one person as gospel it scares the prune sout of me!

Intonation is both an art and a scince. Thus , in my opinion it can only be reduced to theories on string vibration up to a ooint.

As fra a spalying with the piano is concerned I think it is competely wrong to tune by listening to indivual notes asa scale. Ther eis a nothe rproblem that nobody ha smentioned yet, too. The sound of a piano actually decays after the string is struck so that pitch drops, to my ears rtaher drastically . This must be demosnatrtaed to beginners many times.

What a piano does do well is give the underlying sense of harmonci structure even if it does sound out of tune. Once a studnet has absorbed this more macro sense of musicla structure then it is easy locate the significant expressive notes in some framework,



March 31, 2004 at 02:07 AM · Tuners are temperamental (if you'll pardon the pun) gadgets. Try simple one and two octave scales using your open strings rather than fourth finger wherever possible.

March 31, 2004 at 08:21 PM · Hey Jimmy,

You might also try listening for resonant tones when you are practicing your scales. This really helped me a great deal when I was having pitch problems.

For example, If you finger a G on the D string, and you are in tune, when you bow you should hear a ringing tone from the open G. If you can't hear it, watch the G string and if you are in tune you will be able to see it vibrate. The same goes for the other strings. If you finger an A on the G or D string, and you are in tune, you will hear the A string resonate and see it vibrate.

For a few weeks I began every practice by finding as many resonant tones (G's, D's, A's, and E's) as I could. Although at first it was slow going and difficult to find and hear, after a few weeks my ears were 'opened' and it became significantly easier.

Doing this helped me to make sure that at least my G's, D's, A's, and E's were in tune. The other notes slowly began to fall into place.

I hope I didn't describe this in a confusing way. It was so helpful to me.

Best Wishes,


April 1, 2004 at 10:08 AM · ok, i've got a few things to say here.

1) there is no perfect pitch. There is only absolute pitch. How so? because if pitch was perfect, then when you play the bottom c on a piano and play the c 7 octaves higher, they would be exactly in tune. But they are not. the top c is about 2/100ths out of tune (i can't remember whether it is flat or sharp). So therefore you cannot aquire perfect pitch, because you will always be out of tune slightly.

2) in my uni course, we have 4 hours of Aural classes a week. part of what we are doing in these aural classes is developing Absolute pitch. meaning we memorise a certain pitch (a440 for strings, middle c for most other people) and from that we use the intervals to get whatever note we need.

Process for doing this - Get a tuning fork. Hear the pitch. Sit down in front of the cricket, or footy (NFL would be great, seeing as it takes 5 hours to show a 1 hour game. hmm.). At every break, hum or whistle the pitch you believe you have, and then sound the tuning fork, see how far out you are out of tune. Eventually you should be getting more and more in tune, and you'll be able to hear that pitch, it's just making a point of sitting down and doing it.

i think that's about all i had to say

April 1, 2004 at 04:15 PM · I find checking with open strings when ever possible helps. If you can't check with open strings i.e. the note is not a G,D,A or E then play the note in first position and listen to see if the note you are playing in another octave is a perfect octave.

Hope that helps!


April 1, 2004 at 06:46 PM · someone said (cant remember who now):

playing with perfect intonation is like trying to shoot a small moving target from horseback with a bow, so i'll settle for beautiful intonation instead.

April 1, 2004 at 08:25 PM · I have used allot of the techniques suggested in this thread and they are very helpful.

But, regarding the open-string/tonic-dominant relationship, what if you are in a higher position and dealing with, say a Bb?...

What sort of resonant clues could I use to figure out if I have proper intonation?

April 1, 2004 at 09:16 PM · Ryan, Re: your question, what my previous teacher told me to do in cases such as this, is find the nearest half-step note (in this case, it would be an A, an easier note to tune). Once you've found that note, then you must simply come to a decision about how far away the b flat should be--what sounds "in tune" to your ears. With every violinist, this will vary slightly. The trick to making it sound in tune (for a scale, let's say) is making sure that the a's to b flats in all the different octaves sound like the same interval distance. The actual pitch b flat might vary slightly from octave to octave to make it sound in tune. Gosh I hope I'm making sense, this is very difficult to put in writing!

April 2, 2004 at 12:46 AM · Greetings,

Ryan, another way of looking at the problem that Violet gave such good advice on is this: the ear (actually the mind) very quickly comes confused about intonation, often within milliseconds so when we are fumbling abou trying to alter notes we are simply creating more posisbilities to screw things up. What is always primary is a clear mental image of what we are trying to do. One way to achieve this that really helps is to practice the passage or fragment in question in the first position before doing it in the tenth or whatever. It is amazing how often this helps. Perhaps the problem in the higher positions is also connected to timbre rather than pitch? If so , the more familiar brillianc eof the lowe r positions can help to bring things back into focus.

One of the excellent principles of the arch-fiend Sevcik, was to master the low positions and then transpose what one has learnt into the upper positions.

In general, I think we try and do too much in order to master intonation in pieces. I am thinking more and more that working through very small purely tehcnical units with no distractions and serious attention (Sevcik opus 1 book 2 is tailor made for this kind of work) s veyr beneficial.



April 2, 2004 at 02:01 AM · Thanks to both of you for helping me out on this one!

Violet: Don't worry, that made perfect sense and I greatly appreciate it.

Buri: Yes, it does seem like timbre could be adding to the confusion...And 10th position?!...Give me a few years...

The problem I was having was essentially that, in higher positions, I would actually end up changing key, and, as a result it sounded 'right' until I was back down in first postion and suddenly realized that *that* sounded wrong...Sounds allot like the symptom Buri was describing...

I have actually used first position playing as a model in the past and then gone to the higher position when I thought I had a good grasp of it, but I didn't really know if that was the right thing to do or not, and of course the fingering was then different (i.e.- a 1-3 becomes a 2-4, etc...).

Thanks for the confirmation and the advice!

April 2, 2004 at 02:05 AM · Greetings,

Ryan, glad things helped. The differencein fingering doesn`t matter unless thta is what you are choosing to pay attention to... Sometimes it helps to keep in mind that the fingering in, for example, 6th position is the same as second position and so on.



April 2, 2004 at 06:42 PM · i might just add that while a Bb doesnt ring like an A, it still has a different sound and resonance than any other note, and if you do enough scales and listen enough, you'll recognize it and know when its in tune. thats what they tell me, at least..

April 2, 2004 at 09:39 PM · Marcianne,

Resonant tones ... so that's what it is! I thought that I simply got this fuller sound when I hit the correct note, and that when I didn't I wasn't quite in tune. I hadn't realized that it only happened with G, D, A and E notes (actually mostly with a D on the A string in my case).

I tried it out after reading your post, and sure enough these notes do have an extra something.

This was quite a revelation for me, thanks so much.


February 7, 2008 at 03:34 PM · Marcianne, your explanation has helped me tremendously. Thank you.

February 7, 2008 at 05:55 PM · Regarding the use of tuners in practicing: If you wanted to improve your weight lifting, would you buy a machine that lifts the weights for you? If you use your ear as best you can (and listen to gorgeous intonation on beautiful violin recordings) your ear will get better and better. The more frequently you do the best you can, the better your best becomes!

February 7, 2008 at 06:35 PM · I love "The Tuning CD." It plays a chorded drone

in any key you want. It helped a lot.

February 7, 2008 at 07:46 PM · Sorry I didn't read all the posts, but I think you may want to check your posture - really. It's just about impossible to play in tune if you're tense and not able to actually reach the spot where the note is very well.

February 7, 2008 at 09:46 PM · A violin teacher friend of mine always advises that often intonation has more to do with the bow arm than the violin hand. The player must be able to draw a tone that is even and full before he/she can even hear if it is in tune or not. As this teacher demonstrated on his beautiful instrument, at close range, I was able to hear for the first time overtones that I never knew were there. Once you know what to listen for, and are able to produce a tone that allows you to hear the pitch, playing with beautiful intonation is much simpler.

February 7, 2008 at 10:25 PM · Yo, this thread is 4 years old!

The original post is so old--the poster hasn't read this page in years!

February 7, 2008 at 10:51 PM · I will have to disagree with some. I will have to find myself a tuning CD. I haven't played long compared to many here (3 years). I always get the wrong notes and this is mainly because I have no idea how they are supposed to sound like.

I have stickers on my violin to ''see'' were the note should be but this is imprecise.

But I think these things help but there is limit to it's use. One should not abuse of such thing as to become lazy. But to help getting a physical memory in place and a sound memory to know how each note should sound is a very good idea.

February 7, 2008 at 11:13 PM · Greetings,

unfortunately a tuner does not tell one what a note is supposed to sound like becaus eit is out of context (aside from being extremely ugly). If someone cannot hear the soudn they are suppsoed to produce it is not a quesiton of leanign on a crutch which further weakens things in the long run. Rather it boils down to examining the whole idea of violin playing, its purpose, what one is trying to achive. At the end of the day it`s just a tool to express somethign within the person. So the rpimary step is to find out what is inside you. This can be done by singing and listening to great singers and violinsits. One of the founders of the French School of playing, Balliol, insisted a studnet should work on basic theory, generlas muscial skills and singing before taking up the isntrument. it would save a lot of trouble and heartache if this tradition was still central to violin study.

Avoidence of the nature of the violin often occurs, in my opinion , when one becomes attracted to more peripheral aspects of this seductive isntrument IE woyuldn`t it be do that where doing is viewed from a largely visual perspective.



February 8, 2008 at 01:11 AM · I find there is a wealth of information in some of these ancient threads and well worth bringing back up to surface. : )

From a beginner's point of view...Todd Ehle's YouTube videos on intonation and tuning are extremely helpful because he tells you what you should be listening for, and then he demonstrates to drive the point home.


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