Teaching Intonation without exterior guides

December 26, 2004 at 05:29 AM · 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.




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!


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.

Replies (37)

December 26, 2004 at 05:32 AM · Sounds like it might work well for an auditory learner, but I am skeptical about it working for most students. It's a noble ideal, that children ought to use nothing but their ears to figure out where pitches are on the violin, but the reality is that many (in my experience, most) children are not able to place their fingers with that kind of accuracy, using only their ears as their guide.

All this is new to them: holding the violin, drawing the bow, learning music, placing fingers on a fingerboard, keeping some kind of hand position while performing an incredibly awkward task. To expect them to put their fingers precisely in the right place on a consistent basis from the beginning involves skipping quite a few steps, in my estimation.

Certainly, a student must eventually be weaned from the tapes on his/her fingerboard. But keep in mind, learning finger position involves more than matching pitches. It involves training the hand in an entire system of positions.

Don't confuse the means with the end. Yes, in the end, none of us needs tapes. But these "crutches" for students are not "wrong," just because they eventually won't use them. It's no more "wrong" than allowing a baby to hold on to a table while learning to walk, or allowing a child who is learning to write to use lined paper with a dotted line in the middle so they know how high to make their letters.

Sure, teach pitch, teach it early. Train the ear well. But use the tapes and train the hand, too.

December 26, 2004 at 06:21 AM · Did you also say that most people can sing in tune?

December 26, 2004 at 06:46 AM · I sure can't :)

December 26, 2004 at 06:37 AM · That's the very useful guide for teachers, Lisa. Thank you. For me it's especially helpful, because I don't have enough experience to work with kids (I worked mostly with advanced level for many years and the only 5 years past since I was sertified as Suzuki teacher.)

What I found: my 3-4 years old beginners easier sing in tune intervals of 5th and 3rd and after that descending scale. The most difficult intervals for them is ascending 2nd, especially minor. That's why I prefer to start from "Twinkle" (I'm not addicted too much to Suzuki approach, but it works great for beginner kids). But to do it, I should place tapes (I hate tapes!)

About movable 'DO'... It looks kind of complicated to me: what if students have the perfect pitch, this system might destroy it?

December 26, 2004 at 07:53 AM · Laurie, this system Lisa described is combination of the best world traditional violin methods. It works successfully for many years. Almost all famous violinists grew up from traditional schools. But we have to face the fact that today we teach all coming students, we don't accept the only those who already sings in tune, have a good rhythm and memory. That's why traditional method doesn't fit to some students and we have to adapt them using some painless ways.

December 26, 2004 at 09:05 AM · Ah... I didn't realize I'd be hitting a big nerve. Oops. Well, here goes. For all those people I might offend, please know it isn't intentional. This is just the way I teach, developed over the course of 30 years. Of course, I'm still learning as well, but in these basics, I have no evidence to think otherwise at this time.

So, first, I didn't say that everyone can sing well. I said in tune. There is a difference. I don't sing well... if I did, I'd be a singer not a violinist. In addition, I should have specified that it is only necessary to sing a one octave scale in tune. Eventually, singing out loud develops into internal hearing.

I teach my students who have trouble singing (for a variety of reasons, most having to do with self-consciousness) to listen to sound in the room. Then to calm and center themselves and use their diaphragm for support. Then to sing a note and hear how far it gets from them before it dies, then to sing in such a way that they can hear the sound in the furthest corner of the room.

That is the beginning of being able to do the two functions we need for performance: one: to be the performer, doing the playing, and two: to be the audience listening to the playing. As performers, we have to do both jobs nearly simultaneously. Singing and listening to your projected voice is the beginning of doing that while playing. (It is also the beginning of understanding what is necessary to have in sound to make it project.) Laurie is right, playing is so complicated that that skill is much easier to do singing than playing in the beginning.

Once I get my students listening to the sound of their own voice in the room, they automatically sing in tune. It is actually the same with playing... once you really, truly hear the pitch in your head first, you will automatically play in tune - there is a ear/body connection that I don't know how to explain, but was immortalized in the musical, "The Music Man" (called the "think system") lol (Well, the Sound of Music was on TV tonight, so now I'm drawing on all my lessons learned from musicals!) This process, of course, needs to be practiced so the skill of singing gets familiar for those students who have never done it before.

Secondly, I really adhere more and more to the adage: practice the way you are going to perform. As I get older (and older and older and....) I realize that anything else is wasted time and effort and in reality, develops bad habits which are worse than not practicing at all.

Thirdly, I neither use, nor "believe in" the Suzuki system. I believe one of the many flaws in it are exactly what Laurie's concern about my idea is: it puts too many things together at once right from the beginning. That means that everything the student does in the beginning contributes to inaccurate intonation and uncontrolled tone production. That then starts a long process of correcting problems rather than learning good habits from the beginning.

As I said in other posts, I use a method for children called "Adventures in Violinland" which is a traditional approach written especially for very young children. The skills are separated: bowing learned on open strings once do, re, and mi are established on at least two strings with pizz. Only when there is facility with the open strings bowed and a variety of 10 second songs have been learned with two fingers on all the strings are the bow and fingers put together. This gives plenty of time to establish a lot of good habits without putting too many skills together to be able to get some facility with them all.

Of course, position of holding the violin and hand are taught right from the beginning before any note work is started. I teach the rudiments of reading notes, rhythm and ear training during the beginning violin position exercises. Children learn in their first book how to match their voice to their strings in the course of learning what "high" and "low" are. They also play imagination games with color associations with the strings and voice timbre associations. All this happens as preliminary steps to singing.

In addition, a good hand position will guarantee 90% accuracy for intonation. If you use your hands efficiently and naturally, with the initial scale position of the half step between finger two and three, then good intonation is virtually established by hand position alone. So, from there, learning to sing and match becomes quite easy.

These are some of the steps I take as precursers to actually playing notes. I have not had one student, in all my years teaching (who was not tone deaf) who could not sing in tune and match their notes to their voice, when taught how to do that. That includes children as young as three, adults as old as seventy, and learning disabled children with autism and other behavioral issues also.

Laurie, I also want to say that I never said in my post that using exterior guides was "wrong." (At least I don't think I did... hope I didn't!) There are a million ways to do anything, but I'm lazy (really lazy). I would rather put in a lot of effort getting a few foundational things good and spend the rest of my practicing life working off the efficiency that gives me, than always have to work for everything. So, that is why I teach like this.

Rita: the method I use deals only with step-wise motion in a scale for the first year. Then intervals are introduced after the scale is really firmly established in the hand and ear. (That is another problem I have with Twinkle and other beginning songs in Suzuki - it doesn't establish a scale in the ear of the student - it starts out too complicated to do that.) In the beginning, we do only three notes: do (open string - pretty easy), re and mi. That establishes pitch and reinforces hand position over and over because in the method I use there are lots of little songs - new ones for each week, not bigger songs that take forever to learn (ick.. I wouldn't have the patience for that so I'd never expect a kid to).

Intervals are practiced for another year (of course, depends on the age of the student - I'm talking four/five year olds) while vibrato, speed, bow articulations, rhythmic structure, and dynamics are all being practiced. Then going below and above the single octave, then major scales that do not start on open strings, then minor. So, I would never expect a youngster (or even an adult) to be able to sing anything more complicated than a single octave major scale for quite a long time. This takes longer than Suzuki, but ends up with the kids knowing far more than a Suzuki student at the same level. But by the time they get to these points, they have played hundreds of little songs, not four or five for years. There is a huge philosophical and practical difference between the two methods - and I think a huge difference in results. But in today's instant gratification society, this method is getting less and less appreciated... :(((

As for perfect pitch.. (oy! I don't "believe in" that either! Geez... I never thought I'd hit all the "icons" of violin teaching in one thread!) To have perfect pitch as I understand it, you need to know note names. In other words, you hear a note and can call out that it is a F#. I don't teach note names to children until all the above steps are well established. They learn note RELATIONSHIPS by learning the solfeggio names for the notes. All my kids can take their little two line pieces and read the notes out loud in solfeggio at sight. If they can read them, they can play them. This trains sight-reading from the beginning. It also teaches what we need for violin - relational pitch. Perfect pitch is objective and thus, non-relational. I don't know where you'd ever use it playing with others. With the moveable do system, the kids eventually can pick a spot anywhere on their fingerboard with any finger and play a scale in tune - because they know the RELATIONSHIPS between the notes. In fact, that is a game that introduces scales other than ones that start on open strings. Once they have that "lightbulb" moment of realizing that the "do re mi" relationships can sound the same no matter where you start or what finger you start on, you never have to explain that second finger has to be high or low - they just listen and adjust according to the scale they are learning. It is pretty amazing actually. I called Shirley Givens once many years after I had been teaching this and (stupidly) asked her whether she had intended the depth that is in her books, or whether it was an accident! LOL Of course, she had intended it.

Lastly, I never said that I only accept people who "already" sing in tune, have rhythmic understanding, etc. All this can be taught through simple basic steps, and I think it is possible for most everyone to learn.


December 26, 2004 at 09:51 AM · While I agree with the idea of using the open strings as tonics and getting beginners to listen to the progression of notes it would be very difficult to find young children who will study and be that autocritical at home.For years I too negated the use of tapes but I do use themnow,not for intonation but for very the young,especially boys who have co-ordination difficulties.I have found that I achieve much better results in terms of relaxed hand position when the children know where to place their fingers.They can do lifting excercises without the bow,merely thinking about the finger action.Also not all my pupils can sing in tune but after a while of working on five note scales with or without tapes they can play in tune.

December 26, 2004 at 04:20 PM · I have found greater success using Twinkle with the lower open string as the tonic - not only is Twinkle a more familiar and ingrained theme than Do Re Mi, but it acts as a precursor to double-stopping the first finger submediant with the open tonic. I also find that initially lining up the thumb with the first finger usually produces a reliable hand positon; but then I teach a wide second finger position first, so lining up with second would be inappropriate. However I can see that reaching a good fourth finger would be easier using your method, Lisa, and have used it when there are problems in this department.

When it comes to teaching the mediant, I find Frere Jacques works for me but, as with Twinkle, I think it's still a good idea to play chords along with this exercise, to encourage a *really* major third etc. Most of my beginners are producing spontaneous Pythagorean intonation with this system, as opposed to many inherited students who play consistently flat due to insufficiently wide finger spacing. I believe one of the most important aural checking devices we can drill into our students is listening to open strings.

About singing in tune, I disagree with this: I had a six-year-old boy beginner over a year ago who couldn't seem to pitch a note, no matter how many times we practiced it. Nor could he sing a simple song (Frere Jacques etc); he sort of growled and sounded as if his voice was breaking! Now he's about to take his first grade exam, and plays in tune almost all the time. He has also spontaneously developed an ability to pitch notes and sing in tune.

With regards teaching the major scale, yes, of course this is important. What baffles me, however, is how almost all my beginners - including those without a musical background - instinctively recognise the structure of the major scale. If I put a note out, they know it, and this is when they're still playing open strings. Most of them can sing a scale, given a starting note, and it appears to have little to do with The Sound Of Music. I don't know if anyone's done any research into this area?

Lisa, don't worry too much about hitting nerves: violin teachers all disagree with each other - it's par for the course! Skinning our cats in different ways doesn't mean we have nothing to learn from each other. I enjoy your thoughtful posts - it's good when someone takes the time to broach the nitty-gritty:)

December 26, 2004 at 11:41 PM · Greetings,

I think I am just going to comment on singing in tune. I found in my experience as an adult that the inability was psychological and technical.I think one thing we often forget and even singers don"t realize at times is that the face is a mask covering a huge set of muscles that are almost -never- exericses to the point where we have terrible habits about misusing our jaws, brow (how many violnist make an efofrt to consicously relax their brow before practicing? Pretty damn useful thing to do ;)). All this atrophied muscle and jaw tension really screws our playing up so the benifits of singing and thinking about the face are huge.

I had to take as a start point the idea that singing is not natural for me (too many mean aurul teachers and so forth). Thus I had to painfully make myself learn to be able to sing even the most simple musical line over a period of two or three years.

Once I had got through this torture to the point where I could play one line of a Bach fugue and sing another simultaneously I found immediate leaps in technique both in terms of naturalness and musicality. Not to mention concentration.

I concluded from this that the ability to sing is not the same as playing the violin (duh!) but it is an essential part of the playing and I think if a student of any age is deficient in this area then this should be a priority. Of course it needs to be explained to either kids or parents or whoever and done in such a none threatenign, fun way it leaves everyone feeling happy.



December 26, 2004 at 11:44 PM · Lisa: if you start from the open D string, then it is not do-re, but re-mi.

December 27, 2004 at 12:11 AM · Buri:

agreed. Thinking back, I remember that I have had a couple of singing lessons. In addition, I have played in opera orchestras for years and spent much of my time there observing and learning from singers. It is a simple matter to learn a couple of basic skills (support and making a cavity in the mouth and throat to make a round sound) to be able to sing a scale in tune. The ones that have the hardest time are my adults, who are convinced they "cannot" sing. Once they realize they can, I grin to myself when I see that they have incorporated the habit so much that they automatically do it without realizing anyone is there watching. hehe

Tristan: if you read my posts you will see that I said I use a moveable "do" system in order to learn the relationships between notes and fingers. There is no benefit from a fixed do system on violin. The whole purpose of using solfeggio is to hear the functions of the notes in the scale. On violin, we have to adjust our pitches to our strings according to what degree of the scale the strings are... therefore we need to have a solid aural conception of a scale in our ear. You can't do that with a fixed do - it is as arbitrary as note names.

If I say to a five year old, to sing me a "B" on the G string, they cannot do it - it is an intellectual concept. But if they can match their voice to the G string and I ask them to sing me a "mi" they can easily do it, and then easily match their finger to that sound.

And if they learn that mi and fa are always close and ti and do are like magnets pulling together, then when I ask them to play me a scale starting on F# with second finger on the G string they can do it, without any knowledge whatsoever that it is an F# or in Vth position. They can do it because they know how a scale is supposed to sound (by beginning with do on F#).

That is the philosophy behind using a moveable do system to learn intonation on a stringed instrument.


December 27, 2004 at 01:35 AM · Ok, Lisa, I understand. I would simply think in terms of degrees. I imagine that the kid would want to know that the open string is a D (or G or whatever).

December 27, 2004 at 01:34 AM · I know a number of accomplished professional musicians who can't sing in tune! Yes, it is because their voices are not physically trained to do so. Also, I've had a number of students come to me who seemed hopelessly unable to match pitches, though after several months of singing at lessons and at home they were able to match pitches better and better. So it is a good idea not to give up when a student comes in without any apparent ability to sing and match pitches.

There are separate issues to the problem of pitch, though: physical ones and ear-related ones. I just like breaking it down for beginners: give them physical guides while also incorporating these kinds of very good exercises Lisa is suggesting for learning pitch. They can close their eyes if you want to try it without the tapes. If they are getting really adept and consistent, by all means remove the tapes. And if they start playing horribly out of tune, put them back on.

The problem is that if a student goes home with no guides (no tapes, no parent that can help with this particular issue) and plays out of tune all week, he or she is practicing both incorrect finger position *and* bad pitch. I just feel that having those tapes there helps establish good habits until both the fingers and the ears are trained to do so on their own.

December 27, 2004 at 02:11 AM · Lisa, I learned without tapes and started with movable do solfege because it happened to be the only kinds of notes I knew a few years ago, and my experience of playing in any key without confusion is as you describe it. There has to be a transition at some point from that to note names that I assume you do. What I really see here are two teaching approaches that seem opposing, but really they are climbing the same mountain from opposite ends and will meet in the middle. One thing that has struck me in recent years is that while human beings are equally visual and audial learners, as a society we are training our children and are being trained by the media toward becoming overly visual (as well as digital and linear-minded). Are our ways of teaching and learning being affected by that trend? Just a thought which I don't know whether it leads anywhere.

December 27, 2004 at 07:09 AM · About movable 'Do'... There was an interesting research in Russia (Sorry, I can't remember the name of theorist who created it) It was the same idea as movable 'Do', but because in Russia musicians use the pifagorian system (do, re, mi...) there was equivalent syllable for each note:

Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti

Yo Le Mi Na Zo Ra Ti

This system was successfully used in some schools. I think, it should work well for those, who might have perfect pitch. I think of it, because have experience with my own daughters. They felt confused when they learned solphege using movable 'Do'. They both complained on their perfect pitch. I understand them very well.

December 27, 2004 at 09:55 AM · In Italy we have a similar problem as do is c and it would be very confusing to start calling sol or re do or even a similar sounding name.However as we base early intonation around the four open strings and most of us I assume begin with the scales of G,D and A major the open string is always the tonic so intonation is easy to establish.There is something to be said for both the scale and the well known tune approach however twinkle is not well known everywhere in the world and most children in Italy do not know it.Nor do they have a wealth of little nursery rhymes that can be used so I find it easier to use a five note scale to establish basic intonation and then move on to the octave.Scales remain in the ear once learnt and it the scales that are transferable not whether you call the tonic do.

December 27, 2004 at 03:48 PM · Janet, do Italian children not have little songs for children as well? I live in a neighbourhood with a lot of immigrants and when on occasion I hear parents singing with or to their children, I'm struck that most of those little songs seem to have simple melodies that are almost "scale training". If I think of a few in German and English off the top of my head that seem to simply go up and down the scale I hear "I'm a little teapot", "Alle Meine Entchen" (which could be a variation of the Teapot song) and "Haenschen Klein" which has been adopted in Suzuki as "Lightly Row".

December 27, 2004 at 04:06 PM · Inge:

In the Violinland books, Shirley Givens uses those types of songs to teach the intervals:

Do-Mi is the Bugle Call (come and get your beans, boys, come and get your beans.)

So-Mi is Cuckoo, how are you?

Do-Mi-So is Hop, Hop, Hop, never, never stop.

So-Do is I'm a little teapot!

Do-Do is Somewhere, over the rainbow...

:0) Same idea.

Rita: If someone has already learned the fixed do solfeggio system (I had in college before I started teaching these books), it is simply a matter of thinking of it much the same way you would using the same letters to learn a new language. The moveable do solfeggio syllables are just words associated with PITCH relationships - they don't mean anything except that they are a universal word system. You could make up your own words for a scale and it would serve the same purpose. The fixed do solfeggio system is just words for NOTE NAMES. Note names have no meaning in terms of intonation.

But, again, a beginning violin student aged three through five, more than likely would not know a fixed do system of conceptualizing music. So to teach them a moveable do system right from the beginning on violin is only for the purpose of establishing intonation and an understanding of the intervalic step-wise relationships between our strings and fingers. It is the same thing that Janet is saying about always using the open strings as the tonic in the beginning (but five year olds don't understand what a "tonic" is... maybe I don't either.. doesn't that require gin?? lol).


December 27, 2004 at 04:55 PM · Thanks Lisa, and your songs for teaching intervals remind me of a recent thread looking for suggestions for newer songs to which the most recent crop of students could relate. I was simply addressing the cultural issue that was brought up: a song that is familiar in North America or even more broadly in the English speaking world will not necessarily be familiar to children in another part of the world. I doubt many children in Italy would be familiar with "I'm a Little Teapot" and I was wondering if children there would have other songs that would do the same trick. Well, at least since reading your post and Sue's before that I finally understand why the accompanist for one of my choirs shouts out names of children's songs when the choir doesn't get a particular interval straight. Being thoroughly solfegified, I simply think "sol do" or "perfect fourth" and get on with it and hadn't a clue what all these nursery rhymes were about. :-)

December 27, 2004 at 07:09 PM · My teacher makes me sing my piece when I have trouble with intonation. It's not fun. I can sing the note in tune, but I just don't like to sing in front of people unless it's in a big group. It does help though..tremendously.

December 27, 2004 at 08:25 PM · I usually don't sing but started to do so with double stop scales. If after doing a dss 6ths in G the next one was a dss 6th in A I would find myself playing as though I were in G major but starting on the supertonic (in other words, the C# would be a C) because I was still thinking in G major. If I sang the solfege words (mi do, fa re, sol mi) etc. then that mistake wouldn't happen. After a while the fingers would be trained to reach for that C# and the ear to hear the scale as it should sound.

December 27, 2004 at 09:23 PM · Amy,

take a musicianship class, after a month or so you won't care if people watch you sing.

December 28, 2004 at 05:50 AM · Owen, what types of musicianship classes? I've been in summer music programs where I was in theory classes. The teachers in the theory classes made us sing intervals (alone) pretty much everyday for five weeks. But yet, I'm still nervous and very self-conscious about singing by myself.

December 28, 2004 at 06:08 AM · I dunno, at most conservatories they make you sight-sing solfege (and sometimes scale degrees) in front of the class five days a week for at least a year, usually two.

December 28, 2004 at 02:30 PM · Inge,surprisingly and also sadly there is no great culture of mothers singing to children or of children singing together at nursery school or kindergarten.Very little music is done in schools in general.However slowly but surely things are beginning to change.I myself have made a little collection of childrens songs but first they have to be taught as new repetoire by singing them together as they are not ingrained from the cradle as in other countries.

December 28, 2004 at 03:33 PM · That is sad but I suppose it's the reality everywhere. When my youngsters were small, we attended mother-run playgroups that gave housebound mothers a chance to get together several days a week. They would have an informal program of free playtime, "snack time", but also an "activity time" involving children and mothers singing together, children often on the mothers' laps, and sometimes accompanied to body motions. "I'm a little teapot" involves miming being a teapot.

About music in the early grades: Some time back some little girls knocked on my door and asked if I could play the recorder with them as they 'took recorder' at school. They played a well known little song involving perhaps 5 notes, and soon an argument erupted among them about the melody. Except it wasn't about a melody, it was about a random sequence of numbers. The entire playing of the song involved memorizing something like 1-3-3-4-2-1-1-1-5 etc. and the children hadn't a clue about the relationship between melody, tone, fingering, notes etc. I later gave the one little girl, who has the aptitude to become a fine musician if given the opportunity, some recorder lessons and watched her delight as she suddenly grasped the concept of notes going up and down and the relationship to more or less fingers covering the holes. The delight was mine as I watched discovery after discovery making connections in that active little brain. What kind of harm could that kind of careless teaching of number-memorization (is it teaching?) do I wonder.

My schooling in one of the earliest grades involved solfege and only solfege. I resented not having learned to read notes properly in all those years, but am finding the solfege aspect is serving me very well in addition to the musical literacy I now have.

December 28, 2004 at 04:10 PM · Inge:

" Except it wasn't about a melody, it was about a random sequence of numbers. The entire playing of the song involved memorizing something like 1-3-3-4-2-1-1-1-5 etc. and the children hadn't a clue about the relationship between melody, tone, fingering, notes etc."

You have just made my point for me so much better than I did with all my words! Without starting the debate again about tapes, vs. other things - this is exactly why I teach the way I do. It is rare (very) that I would get a transfer student that has learned with tapes on the fingerboard that does not think this way (I can't remember one at all, but I'm getting old so I'm leaving the possibility that that happened once upon a time lol). They look with their eyes at the tapes (no ear activity at all) and look at the notes with the numbers written above them - no comprehension of scale relationships, or even note names, much less anything pitch or musical-wise. And, that even affects the sound because it is all a visual/intellectual experience, so of course they are not listening to themselves and the sound they are producing at all.

Now, I do understand that the argument for the tapes is to get a habit in the hand, but my point is that that habit is governed by the ear not the eye. Anyway, I won't go on about it more. You just gave me the opportunity to stamp hard on my point again! ;-) Thanks!


December 28, 2004 at 10:05 PM · Having read Laurie's blog from beginning to end when I first stumbled upon this site, I know that there is at least one innovative and THINKING teacher around who uses tapes but also all the musicianship and teaching skills available to bring this difficult art to the fore. There is seldom anything wrong with teaching tools, but sometimes in how such tools are used. The tape-taught students coming to you as you describe them, Lisa, must have also not been taught properly in the sense of little thought residing in a paint-by-number methodology --- which doesn't have to be that way. It is the same with the kids on the recorder. The recorder is a simple instrument with simple fingering in its most basic range and one hears way too much of the "toot toot toot" variety of playing. It is very easy to reduce a melody to a series of numbers because the holes themselves are a little bit like fingering tapes on the violin: but that does not constitute teaching the playing of an instrument at even the most basic level. Besides, a recorder needs to be "blown into tune" with some of the ear sensitivity inherent in strings (you should have heard the final note of our impromptu bassoon-recorder sonata "Christmas performance" between a baroque & modern instrument, matching the final D upward (me) downward (him) until meeting somewhere in the middle). Music has to be taught, and taught well, with as many aspects and future aspects kept in mind. I would imagine that the weaknesses as well as the strengths of each methodology should be kept in mind and countered by the teacher of either. I noted for example the care you took in forming the shape of the hand (a weakness in my own playing) which is something that the tapes would provide to some degree: visually-oriented teaching would (I imagine) make certain that aural development was enhanced in some way.

As much as I favour learning audially and thus tapeless, I did spent some time recently putting on some temporary "tapes" in the form of wool strands for a day. The reason? I needed to picture the path a finger travelled from string to string physically and "geographically" and in some odd way that did the trick, even though I knew by touch and sound exactly where my fingers would end up. If we have so many senses, why should we restrict ourselves to only one at a time?

December 29, 2004 at 12:47 PM · Lisa I share most of ypour views on this thread with one exception.It is the notes with the fingerings written above them that are the prime cause of musical illiteracy not the use of tapes.As I mentioned in an earlier post I like to use tapes (but only if I feel that there is a real need) to establish a relaxed hand position.I don't teach Suzuki and I don't have mother involvment either at the lesson or helping the children at home so it helps the children to become self sufficient.Once I had overcome my initial aversion I discovered that istead of hindering aural development it can actualy aid aural development as the child becomes used to playing in tune far quicker and with less negative response.Continually stopping and questioning intonation often leads to frustration as although building from the tonic gives a base it takes time to establish the sound of the different intervals.My real reward using tapes has been to see badly co-ordidated small children develop a relaxed and in tune left hand technique far quicker that before.

December 29, 2004 at 05:52 PM · As the student in the equation I find it interesting to read that tapes facilitate proper left hand form (if I'm understanding that right). It is in the question of form that I zeroed in on Lisa's description of carefully shaping a student's hand. I was taught tapeless and spent a lot of my first year playing scales etc. along to the piano and adjusting my intonation that way until it became second nature. When I have intonation problems now it is almost always in terms of clumsy or unnatural fingering. Knowing where the notes are and having the facility to reach them are two separate things. My case is an anomaly because my first instrument was destructive to proper form. Nonetheless the experience has driven home the importance of developing good left hand technique from the beginning.

About numbers, Janet: I do find that when faced with a plethora of numbered fingerings I will tend to read the numbers and ignore the notes. Sometimes when they are put in unnecessarily they actually interfere with note reading. Recently I cut out the glued edges of post-it notes and laid the resulting strips of paper over the pencilled in fingerings in my studies book (chromatic scales) so that I could start actually playing the notes. In some cases I had to remove the strips again when there was a choice of fingerings in order to find the preferred fingerings. In that case numbers written over notes actually have a purpose, and I assume that as I progress as a student I will learn THROUGH the sample fingerings in the earlier grades how to choose my own fingerings well later on. For some reason though I find it infuriating when going through a new piece when I see number above a note that is unnecessary - for example a 1 for D# on the D string - because to me a number makes me anticipate doing something unusual or preparing for a shift.

Re: parental involvement. When my son started at 13 I was to simply watch for proper form for the first few weeks but he would have none of it. Dutifully obeying the teacher's instruction I tried hiding in the hallway and peeking around the corner while he practised. In a short while the music stopped, the bow lay perfectly still mid-bow on the string, eyes crept up from the music stand to the far corner of the room to the peeping mother, he quietly said "That was creepy!" and resumed playing in perfect form and intonation. This particular parental involvement was not needed. For that age group at least, the involvement is one in which the parent is sought out rather than imposing involvement.

December 29, 2004 at 06:19 PM · I'd like to call into question the *accuracy* of tapes; in my experience the students who have taped fingerboards rarely land their fingers sufficiently accurately to be in tune. Also, I've encountered many students whose tapes are in fact in the wrong place - slightly flat or sharp. They are also prone to sliding around when the glue wears off. In short, I have yet to meet a student who a) plays in tune with tapes, and b) has benefitted from having them. I myself have used tapes with two students as a matter of last-resort desperation, and I don't believe they were helpful in either case: one student is perfectly capable of playing in tune when he chooses, with or without tapes, and the other cannot land her fingers anywhere near the tapes I've provided.

December 29, 2004 at 07:49 PM · LOLL Sue, you just reminded me of my dog. I've been trying to train her not to whine in the car and I have to keep reminding myself that she is perfectly capable of not whining when we are not going somewhere she intensely wants to go. When I remind myself of that then I insist upon her compliance to proper manners. When I feel sorry for her - "this is hard, I know you really want to go here" - then I let her slide and she establishes really bad behavior! (Your student who can play in tune when he/she wants reminded me of that.)

I understand what you all are saying, and Inge, I really thought about your comment about the visual as opposed to just auditory stimulus. I admit, I do use the visual in terms of the shape of the hand, although I try to get my students to "feel" that more than see it. And I insist on that hand shape first before any intonation work is done at all. To my mind, it is useless to practice intonation if your hand is not prepared to be able to do it correctly. So in that sense, I am using a visual tool. It would be as if I were putting a little mark on the side of the fingerboard and saying, "this is the one for your thumb and this is the one for the base of your first finger." I think I would not do that (now that I have thought about it) either, though, because of my belief that you need to learn to practice the way you are going to perform. I realize that makes it harder in the beginning - takes longer to develop that structure, both physical and mental. But I would rather spend that time in the beginning establishing that structure, than doing it later. ALTHOUGH... my students would probably be happy with an aid like I described above. That is a hard one. I don't know if it is better to give a guide like that to make the adjustment easier, or to just go through the emotional pain of just getting it right from the beginning. That is frustrating though, I admit.

Good discussion. Any more ideas for me to consider? :0)


December 29, 2004 at 08:17 PM · Yes, this is a good discussion; it's come up before of course, but this round is the most constructive, I think. It's easy to descend into 'Yes it is'/'No it isn't'-style exchanges when discussing these issues, and it's refreshing to stay friends:)

December 29, 2004 at 09:34 PM · Agreed! Some things are worth thinking about but not worth fighting about. (even though I'm right!) LOLLLLL



December 29, 2004 at 10:53 PM · Greetings,

just a though, but if you are using tapes and cocnerned about the visual thing why not make two different situations, one where the student can look at the tapes and one where they don"t. Ie eyes closed or intentionally looking elsewhere?



December 30, 2004 at 01:07 AM · I've just been reminded of the first time I performed the Czardas as a teenager; I was crippled with stage fright and certain I wouldn't make the octave shift in the opening. So I decided to give myself a little helping hand, in the form of a tiny dot of Tippex on my fingerboard (I can't believe I'm admitting to this). Did it work? No; so much depends on the angle of your finger as you approach the string, and my dot gave me a pitiful idea of the precise location of the note (understandable, considering the area of one's fingertip). So the second time I went for the shift, I ignored my trusty dot and went with my ears instead - and made it. Of course it's not the same for everyone, and we're all bound to disagree... but if there are teachers out there who've found a way to *place* the tapes/dots in a way that produces reliable results, can they please detail how they do this?

December 30, 2004 at 08:05 AM · I think maybe that I should stipulate that I only use tapes with the under fives.Many of you are recounting tales of older students who have sufficient co-ordination,patience and aural perception to learn perfectly well without.They also know what they are aiming for.I also find that very young girls often don't need tapes either as both their physiological and mental development is often in advance of their male counterparts.One of course could advise the boys to wait a couple of years.I often find that the problem with the boys is that they press down too hard with the fingers collapsing the hand completely.The violin is usually clutched tightly between thumb and forefinger distorting the shape of the thumb.Common problems for beginners.The Szilvays Colourstrings method overcomes this by playing entirely in harmonics for the first year.This would be a good idea if you could persuade parents and pupils alike that it is a valuable method.Most of my parents however want a tune for their money.Also it is very difficult to give left hand co-ordination excercises without sounding the note.ie merely articulationg finger movement if the chid (5yrs or under)has no idea where to place the fingers.I certainly wouln't advocate tapes as a method for achieving good intonation.We sing and note name everything before playing a piece.After all in the end it is the sum total of all strategies used that counts and each student is different with different needs and must be treated as such.

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