I have been reading some past posts in moments of chore procrastination. I just finished Buri's column on "Kreutzer Violin Etudes 19 and 23. This developed into a discussion of how to play in tune and I wanted to comment on it. I noticed that if you add to the column it stays in Buri's section rather than coming to the discussion board, so I thought I would start a new thread on how to teach good intonation.
I wholeheartedly agree with Buri when he says to start the bow on open strings. I start teaching finger placement with pizzicato using a moveable "Do" system. I use the moveable "do" because I believe that learning the stepwise relationships in a scale will allow a young violinist to play in tune anywhere on the fingerboard. I teach using solfeggio rather than learning letter names for the notes because almost everyone in the western world knows a scale with the solfeggio syllables due to the classic movie "Sound of Music."
I also agree with Buri when he says NOT to wiggle fingers around when practicing, and agree with him when he says that a violinist must hear the pitch PRIOR to playing it otherwise good intonation is near impossible (with the exception of luck, and I would not want to count on that in a performance). Some discussion occurred in the thread about exactly how to teach that to children without the use of tapes, lines, or the teacher playing along or playing the note for the child to adjust to.
I think that children can learn correctly from the beginning how to play in tune with THEMSELVES and don't need lines, tapes, or teachers to tell them when they are in tune. I teach children as young as three years old to read music, sight sing, and play in tune (this is all in the Adventures in Violinland method books written by Shirley Givens and carried by SHAR). Playing in tune is a matching game, albeit an auditory one, and children all know how to play matching games. It is an easy step to transfer their understanding of things matching visually to things matching aurally.
What follows is a series of steps that I give my adult students, but is basically a step-by-step guide to the same thing that my children learn in "Violinland." If this is something that has been discussed before, then I submit my apologies.
LEARNING CORRECT FINGER PLACEMENT
1. There are NO guideposts for correct finger placement on the violin. In order to put your fingers in the right place, you MUST hear the correct pitch before you play it. This exercise is designed to help you develop a finely tuned ear so you can hear whether your fingers are in the right place.
2. Learning to put your fingers in the right place on the violin is an auditory experience. YOU CANNOT USE YOUR EYES - you must use your ears. It is a listening matching game.
3. To play the matching game you must have something to compare your playing to and that is your own voice. Most people can sing in tune. So if you sing in tune and listen to yourself, you can match your playing to your voice. This takes concentrated listening!
LEARNING THE DO-RE-MI SYSTEM:
1. Pick a string. Your “D” string is the easiest to start on.
2. Play that string over and over and match your voice to your string, singing “Do.” BE SURE you match your voice accurately before you go to the next step.
3. Once you match your voice, sing loudly and clearly “DO – RE.” (If you are not sure you are singing it correctly sing the “Doe a Deer” song from the “Sound of Music.” The first line is: “Doe a deer, a female deer, RE…” Stop on RE and then go back and sing “DO-RE, DO-RE, DO-RE” loudly and clearly. Really listen to RE long enough that you can memorize the sound of it.
4. Play “DO – RE” on your violin. (It is your open string and your first finger.)
5. NOTE: YOU MUST BE USING THE CORRECT POSITION FOR YOUR HAND, which hopefully you have practiced enough to remember!!! If you are using the correct position, your wrist will be relaxed and slightly toward you which will cause you to play on the pads of your fingers, rather than your fingertips. Your fingers will be arched, not collapsed. Your thumb will be lined up with your second finger, NOT your first and your elbow will be under the violin.
6. Ask yourself: Did it match what I sang? This is a yes or no question. Do NOT instantly try to adjust your finger and try over and over to make it sound “right.”
7. If the answer is no, then ask yourself: Was it higher or lower than what I sang? If you do not know with certainty, then keep your finger in place and try steps 4-7 again until you know for sure whether it was higher or lower. When you really concentrate and listen to yourself sing and play, you will know for sure.
8. Once you decide which way you need to move your finger, do steps 4-7 again and again until you have a match. DO NOT WIGGLE YOUR FINGER AROUND. (Do you want to do that in a performance? No? Then don’t practice that way.)
9. Count how many times it takes you to match your playing to your singing. Double that and practice it correctly over and over. Make sure you listen and make sure you play it the same every time. If your finger slips forward or back, start again until you can do the repetitions without changing the pitch. (Even if you got the note in the right place the first try, practice it at least five times to continue to cement your good habit.)
10. Congratulate yourself! You got one note in tune!
11. Start over and do steps 4-10 again, but this time sing “RE – MI.” If you don’t know how they sound sing: “Ray, a drop of golden sun, MI…” and sing “RE-MI, RE-MI,” over and over until you can hear it and memorize the sound. Your second finger should be on the pad and directly across from your thumb if your position is correct. Your first finger should be about one inch back from your thumb and second finger. Remember to lean your wrist slightly toward you to make sure it is relaxed.
12. Do steps 4-10 again, but this time sing “MI – FA.” Note how close your voice sounds. If you can’t hear this, then sing: “Me, a name I call myself, FA…” “MI-FA, MI-FA,” until you can memorize this sound. If you have been playing on your pads, you will only have to slide your third finger down your second finger like a slide and you will be right on “FA.”
13. Try this on every string. Each string will have a different position for your elbow under the violin in order to make your fingers position themselves above the fingerboard. The “G” string will require your elbow to be the furthest under your violin and then each string will be more relaxed after that.
14. Read the page for preparing your fourth finger for “SO.” This is a very difficult motion for your finger and should not be included in this exercise in the beginning.
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