Intonation Practice

August 5, 2005 at 10:54 PM · I was wondering if you guys had any good techniques that help you focus on intonation. I'm going to be practicing slowly and checking out each note but was wondering if there's any other things that would be helpful.


Replies (99)

August 6, 2005 at 01:10 AM · Hi,

Here are some suggestions... First, find out what is out of tune and why. Good things to practice are scales against open strings to tune your ear (suggestion from Henryk Szeryng). Slow practice is good. Practicing with intermediate notes is also good since it helps to control shifts and movements of the hand.

These are just some idea, but they can give noticeable improvements quickly. Of course, this is advice out of left field since I have not heard/seen you play. Asking your teacher is also never a bad idea!


August 6, 2005 at 03:46 AM · singing can be very good for your aural sense of intonation, i strongly recommend that if you havn't already (i see you're a conservatory student). I'd imagine you're fairly advanced, what sort of intonation troubles do you have?

August 6, 2005 at 05:16 AM · I have this theory that if you can simply always sound in tune you'll be at a level where half the people will love you and half will hate you. I might not like you, but somebody else will. Isn't just about every famous artist in that position? Interesting. Anyway, very careful interval scales would always get my hearing and left hand back in shape pretty quickly.

August 6, 2005 at 05:30 AM · Owen - my trouble is that I'm doing alright at aural, it's just that I'm not really applying what I'm learning there into practical use when playing my instrument. I can't really hear when I'm just slightly flat or sharp. It's these fine tuning issues that I'm having trouble with.

August 6, 2005 at 06:48 AM · The best thing I have found is my Yamaha electronic piano. I play/record the etude on the piano. Then I playback the piano and play along with violin. I can increase/decrease tempo easily on the piano. First I go real slow, so I can hear each note on violin and piano clearly, and adjust my violin intonation to the piano. Then gradually come up to proper tempo. This quickly establishes the sync between fingers, ears, and intonation.

August 6, 2005 at 06:50 AM · One of my very accomplished friends was talking to me about how to practice effectively, and she told me that on practicing shifts and intonation, it's really good to NOT practice fixing your notes when you are out of tune, because what you're practicing is FIXING your out of tune notes. Instead, if you mess up on something, say you're shifting to a really high note but you hit it a little flat, don't fix it, just do the SHIFT again and again until you can hit the note correctly the first time consistently, because remember when you perform, you're not going to be fixing things in the performance, you're going to have to play everything right the first time. This way, instead of training your ear to hear out of tune notes, you're training your hand to play in-tune notes. I personally think that's more effective to playing violin well :-P (of course being able to hear is important too, but I'm just saying how to fix your playing).

August 6, 2005 at 09:27 AM · What she said is good advice for learning to shift. Everyone makes adjustments too, though. Inaudible ones, ideally.

August 6, 2005 at 09:53 AM · Might it be that your hand is not striking the string in exactly the same way every you might have a set up issue? Check to see if you always play with the instrument in the same position on your shoulder/collar bone and that your elbow is always following your fingers from underneith. Sometimes I find I have slightly changed the angle at which my instrument sits and this effects my fingers and my bow.

I would also practice scales against open strings and really listen for the intervals...but do this with very slowly your eyes closed and really pay attention to how it feels and how it sounds. If you are watching notes, sometimes your ears deceive you.

I also pay attention to the sympathetic vibrations in my violin when I play. The most obvious example is when you play E on the A string in 3rd position. When this is perfect in tune, the open E will ring out as well. If you listen really close a lot of your notes should do this while you play (unless you are playing in 5 flats or something).

Last suggestion I have is to think about the role of the note in the key you are playing. For example, know that the C# in D minor is a leading tone. There are slight adjustments to be made in this way when playing a melody to be certain you sound in tune. Pianos are tempered in pitch (as another thread discussed) but violins are not so you have more freedom to use minor minor adjustments of pitch to emphasize a note...especially in minor keys.

August 6, 2005 at 05:04 PM · Am I right that you need in fact to train your ears to be more accurate, Ben?

I've had the same problem for a short period: we were doing scales in the lesson and for each note my teacher told me if it was too sharp or too flat and I just couldn't hear it myself! The only thing I had to do to adjust the intonation was changing the angle of my finger just a tiny bit, so I'm talking about very precised work.

To be able to hear whether you are playing out of tune or not, you should practice scales comparing each single note with an open string by building octaves, fifths and fourths. (p.e. compare f# on D-string with B on A-string and B with open E-string)Try to memorize the exact pitch of each note. Each note has an own specific 'colour', so when you play a D, that D should have the same colour over all octaves. Remember that also when you are playing scales and arpeggios.

I think it's a question of memory to know the right pitch and to be consequent: when you always repeat exactly the same pitch, nobody can shoot you.

August 6, 2005 at 08:33 PM · Hi,

"Am I right that you need in fact to train your ears to be more accurate?"

YES SARAH! That is correct. The first fault of intonation is the ear. I would recommend that anyone read the article in Flesch's Art of Violin Playing. I know that with my own students at the Conservatoire, if they cannot do something in spite of correct practice, the faults of intonation are usually due to their hearing. I give them a special series of exercises and the result is always the same: within a short span, they should marked improvement, while their ear becomes more sensitive. They think at first that they are playing more out of tune, while in fact, they are simply hearing the intonation mistakes better.

In other words, you can do everything right in terms of practice, but if your ear is not sensitive enough, then you will still play out of tune, as you will not be able to hear the intonation accurately when you practice. Ear-training is essential. Singing is fine, but what one needs to learn is the resonance that exists on the violin when playing in tune, and that is best acheived by training your ear while playing notes against open strings. Not only in the end will this help your intonation, but your sound as well. The better the intonation, the better the violin resonantes (if the sound is never pressed) and the more the sound will vibrate, have beauty and carry in a hall.

While mechanical training is good, I would caution in regards to what Wenhao has said, against blind repetition. What is important is control, both mental and physical. A great violinist once told me this and it is true: "Never repeat something a second time if you have missed unless you know exactly what you are going to do to solve the issue. The only reason you should repeat something without knowing is if you couldn't figure it out the same time. Only then can you train your hand."


August 6, 2005 at 09:02 PM · I'm not sure anybody advocated blind repetition, but what you said applies of course. It applies even more when you learn midair loops on your motorcycle.

August 6, 2005 at 09:17 PM · Try learing a really slow, cantable piece and play along with a recording until you can get through the whole thing in tune. Maybe Rachmaninovs' vocalise, or Meditation. Preferably something with accidentals and key changes. When you can do this, it is a case of applying that slow practice to any piece. Like I said on your Blog Ben, it is a tough skill to acquire, it takes time and a whole lotta practice. Even some people who can sing, who obviously have a musical ear, cant play a violin in tune. You have to

a) acquire fine aural skills,

b) translate that to the sound coming from the violin under your ears, and

c) adjust your finger minutely to find the centre of the note, so that it matches the sound in your head.

The suggestion of playing etudes on a keyboard and playing them back slowly with the violin is an excellent one.

August 6, 2005 at 09:48 PM · Hi,

Jim, that's funny! You are right, no one advised blind, mindless repetition. I was just cautioning against it. Thanks for pointing out the need for clarification.


August 7, 2005 at 06:28 AM · I like what you said about only repeating to discover what was wrong previously. It's obvious, but it's like an obvious thing waiting to be found. I think where these things are present as an instinct there's innate skill, and when an item like that is brought out, there's good teaching. It's possible for skilled people to communicate and work together on that level to a large extent. It's very common for managers to throw a monkey wrench into that kind of situation.

August 7, 2005 at 02:14 PM · I practice intonation with a tuner.

A tuner that picks up sounds, not one that generates a pitch and I have to match it (because you could be slightly off and not know it).

And the advice from Henryk Szeryng is good: playing a scale along with an open string.

My teacher says that Henryk Szeryng has the best intonation she has ever heard. What does everyone else thing of Szeryng?

August 7, 2005 at 04:09 PM · Playing your scales with an open string is good for the ear, but remember the intervals aren't going to be quite the same as if you were playing without making each note a double stop. Adjustment has to be made and the intervals will be a bit less sharp on the sharps, etc. Check out Pythagorean as opposed to tempered intonation...

August 7, 2005 at 07:15 PM · Hi,

Szeryng is fantastic. He really answer the question that one does everything right on the violin, with the perfect setup, he should sound perfect. And he does! He was a spectacular violinist and a profound intellectual mind.


August 7, 2005 at 11:27 PM · Started making good progress on playing in tune consistently when I finally started doing what my teacher had been teling me to do for 3 months. Practice scales, play them very slowly and make sure each and every note is in tune. Compare notes to open strings/octaves/etc. I also have a keyboard nearby for reference. Slowly build speed.

Why I didn't just do that from day one I don't know. After a month of slow and accurate work, I no longer feel like I have to warm up for 45 minutes before my fingers start landing where they should - they just know where to go now (mostly).

August 10, 2005 at 06:04 PM · I must admit I have found out the best way and fastest way to clean intonation from my teacher tried and tested. Play scales...but well you noe everybody says that but how to go abt doing it nobody actually says much. Wad im telling you is the Heifetz method.

You should everyday start by playing 2 octaves of thirds (4 notes a bow) instead of single notes. Start C major then A minor (both melodic and harmonic). And if you decide to play sharps on that day, play G major, E minor, D major so on and so forth till you reach the key of 7 sharps or flats.

Now the trick is on the start, ignore all the bad intonations you produce. Concentrate on producing a good tone, even notes, and shifts and try to endure to finish till the last key. Treat it like a game or challenge. You will be quite proud of yourself when you accomplish that. Tell yourself tmr you will do better but dun repeat the scales over and over again. Just once every key. Alternate the sharps and flat keys every 2 or 3 days.

Then after the thirds, play single notes and appeggios (same once every key). That should take about 1h-1 1/2h already.

The idea is to get your fingers in good shape and to develope the shifts because when you play thirds, all your fingers automatically tend to curve up to form a perfect shape and to let your fingers get to know every position on the fingerboard.

Try this for 6 months (at least 3) you will find that your intonation is close to perfect (almost).

August 12, 2005 at 11:49 AM · Hmmm...I dun quite agree with Don here (Sorry!) Yes a chromatic scale exposes you to every intonation. But, if you play scales of all keys, it exposes you to positions and shifts of a tone and semi-tones instead of doing 1212340 and high positions 12121212 or 123123123 in a chromatic scale. And to be honest there arent any music (except flight of bumble bee maybe) that makes you play chromatic throughout the piece. The thing is its not about cleaning all your wrong notes I discovered. Its more about developing a natural hand position or shape (needs training) so the moment you pick up your violin, put your fingers down it is in tune.

August 12, 2005 at 05:21 PM · I don't understand: Of course you need a good shape of your hand, to be more secure, but what's the use of having a steady hand, if you don't know the violin itself and the place of each note on the strings?

August 12, 2005 at 07:44 PM · Thats the reason why I said earlier on to practice scales (including single and appeggios) of all keys to train your fingers for that purpose. But play thirds first instead of single notes. When you play thirds, it not only force you to shape your hand, you practice hearing harmonies (2 notes at the same time), intonation, shiftings, train your finger muscles including 4th finger...I should say almost everything. But of coz single notes and appeggios are juz as important because the way of playing thirds and single notes are different. For example you dun shift the same way but because you have a better shape from playing thirds and all your fingers are warmed up already, it makes playing single notes much more easy. If you practice in that way everyday for at least 6 months, I can promise your intonation will improve more than 80%. Your double, triple, quadruple stops will be in-tune not to say single notes.

August 12, 2005 at 10:51 PM · I agree with Siew - The most important part of intonation is getting the fingers down in the right spot, and this is done through learning the hand shapes and the shiftings. Chromatic scales are important, but they aren't used in real music all that often.

August 12, 2005 at 11:23 PM · And for all those scales exercises, make it a point to practice them first whenever you pick up your violin. Its quite dry stuff so try to do them when you are fresh with mental stamina. Heifetz played scales everyday till the day he couldnt play anymore. Another point is after 1 month or so your fingers will kinda go autopilot (if you have been playing everyday), make sure to start checking if you are in tune. Later, if required, you can add sixth, finger octaves and tenth to the set.

August 13, 2005 at 12:56 AM · That's interesting stuff Siew, does Mr. Amoyal start his scale routine with third scales? I never thought of doing that but it makes sense. I think one thing to pay attention to while playing scales with the left hand is something that Mr. Friedman noticed while watching Heifetz practice scales, and that was how he studied the angles of the finger for every note. An extended/flat angle in the higher registers could result in bad intonation due to the very nature of the close distance of the notes, add vibrato to that mix and it usually winds up really sharp. Getting back to scales, you really have to do them everyday for at least an hour, they do make a big difference. I can tell by hearing someone if they practice scales or not. Friedman told me the first few weeks he worked with Heifetz, all they did was scales mostly. So in order to play in tune at a really high level, the answer is scales, arpeggios, and double stop scales in every key and as Siew said checking those notes for instance with open strings. There's no subsitutes for that, no Dont, Rode, or Sevcik in my opinion is as helpful as practicing a scale. I think also starting scales with a turn down to the leading tone is helpful in order to insure that the scale is grouped in fours.

August 13, 2005 at 01:59 AM · Yes, he does start his routine with thirds. And according to him from his experience, the method work for everyone, improving their intonation greatly. So the first thing he teaches to whoever goes to his class as a new student is to practice scales in that manner. I myself improved quite a great deal from that and it motivates me greatly to play them everyday knowing it benefits me. I think the most important thing I learned from it was to play each scale juz one time instead of repeating it endlessly (as I had always done so in the past) in hope to make it perfect. It doesnt really help much because everyday is different and it wears you out. Now I only play once but of coz during that one time I try to make everything as perfect as possible.

Mr Friedman is right because if you play let say a Gb major scale, its impossible to play in tune on the higher registers with flat fingers especially double-stops.

I used to think that it is impossible to play in tune without warming up the fingers. Now I discovered actually once you get the shape right, the moment you pick up the violin, its there. Warming up is juz to flex your muscles a bit so they wake up.

Scales to me its the only way (if I can say that) to perfect intonation. Dont, Rode, or Sevcik to me are juz exercises aimed to further develop the technique in specific areas. But you must get the basics right first before jumping into them. They are like vitamins to improve on your already possesed fondamental skills. For example, you must already know how to change strings properly in the right way (ie knowing the mechanics and movts of your wrist, arm or shoulder, which part does what job) before attempting exercises like Kreutzer No.13. So without knowing the way to keep your intonation constant, those exercises cannot do much to you.

Nate, does Mr Friedman has special way of teaching how to practice in general? I mean stuffs like wad you should play each day and how to go about tackling difficult passages.

August 13, 2005 at 10:09 AM · Rhetorical question ;)

August 13, 2005 at 10:10 AM · I know Pierre Amoyal is a great violinist, but I have difficulties with this method of learning intonation, particularly with the fact you should start with thirds, which are imperfect intervals. I myself play thirds everyday, because they are SO complex and you meet them in almost every peace, but I don't think it forms the very basis.


August 13, 2005 at 10:36 AM · The theory behind it is that by doing thirds you are forced to get your fingers in the right positions for every note. It's more the shape of the hand rather than the interval itself. By having two fingers down it gives you a point of reference for your hand to figure out where it is in relation to other fingers.

August 13, 2005 at 11:08 AM · It is that complexity we muz take advantage of because it exposes you to different hand and finger positions and postures at the same time develop your muscles. It takes time to develop and you have to experiment with different hand/finger postures for different positions in different keys (thats why you have to play ALL of them). Of coz it is difficult from the as well. In the beginning, I play the thirds outta tune not to mention playing keys like Gb major or Eb minor which goes way high up on the fingerboard. But as time passes, your fingers learn that they have to take certain form in order to play the various positions of a thirds scale and how to shift between positions. When your fingers learn that, it makes single notes scales so much more easy because your hand already takes shape and is trained to take different postures for different purposes (unless you are talking abt tenth or finger octaves). It feels absolutely different to start playing thirds first instead of single notes. Its not a one day or one week thing. It takes time.

Well but of coz if you have been using your own method and as a result you have perfect intonation, Its wonderful. Feel free to share! This method, from my observations and my personal experience proved that it works for almost everyone.

August 13, 2005 at 03:18 PM · That's really a lot of interesting stuff about Amoyal's method, he's a fantastic artist. Occasionally there's a really interesting discussion here, this is definitely one of them. It certainly makes sense to practice third scales a lot, I think the main finger angles Siew you are referring to is the flexing and extending motions which really can be learned from playing these third scales. They teach the hand to move as a unit in proper form to positions as opposed to individual notes. For instance a C-major scale in thirds teaches your hand to navigate not only with the tips of the finger but also with the palm or base of the hand a key instrument in dividing the fingerboard, something that Heifetz used a lot to find positions according to Mr. Friedman and if you watch those videos I think one notices that. Isaac Stern and Perlman also use this device.

When I spent that afternoon with Ruggiero Ricci a few months ago he told me something quite similar to what Mr. Amoyal teaches and that was if he had the choice of playing only one scale a day he'd do B-flat major in thirds.

About Mr. Friedman Siew, and the way he practiced passages, he would practice very slowly while also making sure that the fingers had enough lift or resistance while practicing slow so that the fingers wouldn't be like pasta when speeding up and playing up to tempo. This adds lift or articulation training while practicing slowly according to him and by doing this it trains the fingers actually to move at the same rate of speed as when playing fast, the only difference at a faster tempo is that the fingers hit the fingerboard at a much closer distance. By practicing this way, he felt in a sense that he was actually practicing fast; slowly.

How does Amoyal work on passages? Is it something similar? I'd be really interested to hear about this.

August 14, 2005 at 12:00 AM · Nate, I'll be in Salzburg tmr for 2 weeks for the Academy Mozarteum so I will write abt it after I come back. But yes, it is interesting for me to explain and also to hear abt other's opinions of the methods they use for playing/practicing, especially when both our mentors were student of Mr Heifetz.

August 14, 2005 at 05:41 AM · Siew, looking forward to hearing about his ideas, I too find this very interesting comparing Friedman and Amoyal philosophies, if there are major similarities which I have already noticed from what you've described I venture to guess we can trace these ideas back to Mr. Heifetz and his wonderful gift as a teacher. Have a nice time in Salzburg!

August 14, 2005 at 11:10 PM · I only read a few of the first responses, so please forgive me if I'm saying something out of turn. (out of tune, ha ha)

My teacher says that everyone plays out of tune, it's just about how fast you can correct it.

Also, just something to keep in will sound good if you play flats on the low side of the "in tune" range and sharps on the high side of the "in tune" range. It gives it a really unique sound that I like a lot.

August 15, 2005 at 12:58 AM · "Also, just something to keep in will sound good if you play flats on the low side of the "in tune" range and sharps on the high side of the "in tune" range. It gives it a really unique sound that I like a lot."

It's better to just play in tune.


August 15, 2005 at 06:20 AM · I absolutely agree with Preston. I know I might come under fire from some theoreticians, musicologists, or mathematicians for pointing out in reality f# and Gb are the same note and should not sound different bottom line. Expressive intonation is just another excuse to play out of tune. Any violinist should strive for playing as in tune as a well tuned piano.

August 15, 2005 at 07:01 AM · You might come under fire from other players too. If I had the control to make use of "expressive intonation," I wouldn't be willing to give it up. Either sounds in tune. I don't think that's what Carley was talking about though. Violinists can play more in tune than a piano, unless you define in tune as like a piano.

August 15, 2005 at 08:28 AM · f# and Gb ARE different from each other, at least in violin playing. The violin is a non-tempered instrument, whereas the piano is tempered. Unlike in piano playing, we divide the a whole tone of nine kommas in one semi-tone of four kommas and one semi-tone of five kommas. That makes the difference between chromatic (five kommas) and diatonic (four kommas) semi-tones.

August 15, 2005 at 05:56 PM · No good performer on the violin like Jascha Heifetz followed that system. Hilary Hahn also. It is hard enough as it is to play in tune, expressive intonation is really very unrealistic, it's a nice theory, that's all it is! Hilary and JH both use tempered/piano intonation which sounds better. Sorry to dissapoint you but F# and Gb are the same note in reality, maybe on paper they look different to you. Futhermore I haven't heard any violinist except for Heifetz and a few others come close to playing as in tune to a well tuned piano.

August 15, 2005 at 06:13 PM · I agree Nate, though I think there is something to be said about tempered playing not being absolutely attainable in chamber playing. Often in a string chamber group I find that I MUST tune down when playing really high stuff in duet with the cello. To me it sounds dreadfully out of tune if I would be playing it solo, but when paired with the cello, there has to be some flexibility between the two instruments in order to simply overcome the properties of the physics of sound waves.

But when playing a recital with piano or a concert with orchestra, there is no sustitute for just playing IN TUNE.


P.S. Gb and F# are the same note in reality, but in context I find that I hear a VERY big difference between the two...and sometimes just random pitches to me will sound the backing up of a truck I'm hearing right now sounds like an Eb, definately not like a D#...don't ask me why?! LOL

August 15, 2005 at 06:15 PM · Sorry to disagree, Nate, but F# and Gb are actually different. Not on a piano, that's true. However, the piano is a very limited instrument, tonally. Because of the way it's structured, F# and Gb have to become the same note -- because it's "close enough" that way.

Keyboards before the "well-tempered klavier" were tuned diatonically -- the discussion about different tunings is elsewhere on this board -- such that each half-step was in tune according to a specific key. A keyboard that was tuned to the key of C sounded wonderfully rich in overtones when playing in C, F or G. In the key of Cb, however, it sounded positively horrendous -- because the intervals and their positions in the scale mean that Cb, the tonic, and B natural, the leading tone to the tonic, should be tuned differently. Eb, the flatted third in C and leading tone to D, is different from Eb, the major third in Cb and leading tone to Fb.

In composition and in a non-fretted, free-pitched instrument like the violin, F# and Gb are different because their functions within the scale are different. F# leads up to G, and therefore the half-step between F# and G is just a hair smaller than the one between F and F#. Gb leads down to F, inverting those half-steps. F# should be a couple of microtones higher in pitch than Gb. "Expressive" intonation may exaggerate this, but tempered intonation is just as bad in minimizing it.

A well-tuned piano is very much out of tune. We're just used to it.

That said, Ruggiero Ricci is one of my violin heros! I grew up listening to his Mozart concerti. If you see him again, please thank him for me!

August 15, 2005 at 08:19 PM · I think what Nate is saying is only that no one really has that much control. I know I don't.

And I think what Preston means by "play in tune," is play to your aural perception of in tune. He did give an example of an adjustment away from normal for him.

My pet theory is that we cannot hear equal-tempered intonation, that we hear Pythagorean intonation then try to make adjustments. I have no evidence, just a theoretical basis. All of a sudden this thread has potential. I'll sit back with a beer and watch from now on.

August 15, 2005 at 07:29 PM · Why does it always come down to this discussion? Someone throw a monkey in the room and at least make it more entertaining.

August 15, 2005 at 11:15 PM · Ug ug ah ah.......

I agree with jim's theory. I think that if you sang something, you would'nt sing it in tempered intonaton. UNLESS you played it with a piano. Its down to the situation you are in, I was playing in a quartet once, and like preston, I had to play flatter than usual in some places to make it sound in tune. Wheras playing solo, some notes are gonna be marginally higher than others, just to hear all those lovely perect intervals. Just my opinion, feel free to shoot me down.

.....(chomps on banana)

August 15, 2005 at 11:47 PM · Everybody always chokes on what I say before they finally agree with me.

P.S. Oh, those were monkey sounds...sorry :)

August 16, 2005 at 01:51 AM · Well for G D A and E the notes ring when they are in tune, and you can check them with open strings. It helps a lot.

August 16, 2005 at 04:08 AM · Well, I would agree insomuch as I've never met a well-tempered monkey.

August 16, 2005 at 07:00 AM · > I had to play flatter than usual in some places to make it sound in tune. Wheras playing solo, some notes are gonna be marginally higher than others, just to hear all those lovely perect intervals. Just my opinion, feel free to shoot me down.

You are extremely correct here (not there). Therefore, many notes are NOT in tune if tuned against the open strings. Both the fellas telling others (poor students) to check EVERY note against open strings or "perfect" piano are trying to ruin (train) them.

I was shot out of the air.

August 16, 2005 at 08:18 AM · Linus any g,d, a, or e that isn't matching with the corresponding open string is out of tune or maybe I should say it's "expressive". That's common knowledge. I don't know who taught you this garbage about not playing in tune with your open strings. If you are not trying to play in tune with your open strings there's a big problem!

As I pointed out before theoretically expressive intonation is a nice idea however tempered tuning (piano intonation) is far more reliable( from a performer's standpoint maybe not from a theoretical point of view always) even for yes violinists. The greatest violinists like Heifetz I know for a fact tempered intonation. Heifetz played his violin like a pianist (being also a wonderful pianist), he would often according to my teacher check intervals with a piano during practice. I still haven't heard anyone on the violin play as in tune as a well tuned piano. Maybe once there is someone that plays as in tune as a well tuned piano that person can think about "expressive intonation", I wouldn't hold my breath though. My apologies Linus for "ruin"ing a future generation of violinists.

August 16, 2005 at 08:01 AM · This is absolute garbage nate. For example the e in an F harmonic minor scale shouldn't be in tune with the open e string. (And that's so basic!!!!)

August 16, 2005 at 08:14 AM · Don't forget to study up on your theory books Frans! Yes and theoretically an open e is sharp to the open g. We live in an imperfect world! However piano intonation is still the way to go and if you have a teacher that tells you to not play in tune with your open strings switch teachers!

August 16, 2005 at 09:06 AM · > I still haven't heard anyone on the violin play as in tune as a well tuned piano

Every midi instrument (incl. violin) plays more "perfect" than any "well-tuned" piano, and every piano is tuned differently because it is done by man.

And we all know that all midi solo instruments, esp. violin, sound out of tune. Or have you never heard midi?

You are your own witness to the falsity of your statement.

August 16, 2005 at 09:19 AM · Nate, you are so stubborn. Who is your teacher anyway? And don't you have an ear? Don't you hea that an open e is flat in an F harmonic minor scale??

Ok let me give you an example that you can maybe understand. Play a pure B natural (1st finger on the a string). It sounds good right? Now play that with the open e. If your ear is trained, you should be able that that B is now badly out of tune. You have to play the B flatter to sound in tune!! Now if you can't listen to something basic like this, I wonder why you are playing the violin.

Now having said this, ok the majority of notes you play should be pure (i.e. match with open strings and the piano). However some notes as in the examples I gave you above cannot be pure. Now you may ask, why do they sound well on the piano but on the violin no? Well I don't think anyone can answer this question. Perhaps you should ask JS Bach.

August 16, 2005 at 09:31 AM · I also think there is something wrong in Nate's theory. Of course you need to check every note with open strings, but by doing so, you will find out that your intonation is NOT the same as in piano playing. A piano is not tuned perfectly.

I also would't say making a difference between f# and Gb is called 'expressive intonation'. Expressive intonation is EXAGARATING this difference, which really exists. In my opinion using this expressive intonation with intellegence, makes the music even richer.

August 16, 2005 at 12:10 PM · Nate, your theory is far from perfect. Violin playing according to a tempered system is very faulty and makes us less than perfect artists if we truly believe a D-flat has the same frequency as a C#. It is true that we do frequently check against open strings as REFERENCE POINTS and ofcourse if these notes are major parts of the scale(Tonic, Subdominant, Dominant) then you can almost say that these notes are fixated. But after a significant amount of ear training and/or having a great ear anyone could tell you that even e's, a's, d's, and g's are lowered or raised subjectively to the nature of the key or the piece. Think about atonal music Nate...what then???

August 16, 2005 at 01:16 PM · Ye I would like to know what Nate has to say about these last three posts!!!

August 16, 2005 at 01:24 PM · Frans, if the B would be played against the E string, it shouldn't be out of tune, because it is a perfect fourth. Instead, if the B natural is played against the D string, which would form a major sixth, the B would be out of tune and you would be forced to adjust. Another example would be if you play the third note from a D-major scale, which would be a F#, playing it against the a string would force you to adjust, altough you would have played the F# in tune. You don't have to adjust, if the interval is either a fourth, a fifth(open string) or an octave, which is quite obvious. So, to play in tune, we have to use many systems instead of just one. We would only use tempered tuning, if the melody is in unison with the piano, or if we play a chromatic scale.


August 16, 2005 at 02:03 PM · Lauri, not everybody would agree with you about the fourth. Indeed the B which forms a major second up from the open A (a pure B) doesn't form a perfect fouth with an open A. You can try it out for yourself. But this is ridiculous really. If one just listens to himself, he would not have to think about such things!

August 16, 2005 at 02:11 PM · Frans - remember that it's not just a case of listening to yourself, but also having had the training to know when it is out of tune. Also, being able to take that training (which is usually done vocally and aurally, away from the instrument) and being able to implement it onto your instrument.

August 16, 2005 at 02:55 PM · Yes exctly. Isn't that what listening to yourself is all about. You have to train your ear to listen to yourself. Did I say that you didn't??????????

P.S. Still awaitng Nate's reply to several posts against him!!

August 16, 2005 at 03:40 PM · "Indeed the B which forms a major second up from the open A (a pure B) doesn't form a perfect fouth with an open A."

Frans, I believe you mean "...doesn't form a perfect FOURTH with an OPEN E".

And you are correct...if you play out of tune, which I suspect you do if your "pure B" does not form a perfect 4th with the open E.

Nate R studied for years with Eric Friedman and has quite an impressive resume. Yes, he is stubborn but often because he is right. And in this case he is right. If you have a teacher that is encouraging you to play out of tune against your open strings...switch teachers. Of course those of us with any amount of experience understand that to play a B against an open E is going to produce a perfect 4th and when it is played against an open D is produces a 6th and must be adjusted...that's still playing in tune to open strings. You just have to be intelligent enough to know to which open string you must tune.


August 16, 2005 at 04:06 PM · Ok then Preston. I can assure you that I don't play out of tune. Let me drop the issue of the open E with the B. But remember I also said that you don't have to worry about these things when you listen to yourself and that is presicely what I do. To come back to the stupid issue of the open E, what I was trying to say although perhaps I did not express myself well is that the same B doesn't form a major 6th with the open D and a perfect 4th with an open E. The two Bs are different in both cases. However what Nate said about playing "like a piano" all the time is absolute garbage. Come on doesn't this "world renowned teacher" teach him that the leading note of a harmonic minor scale should be higher than the pure note. Can on are you saying that Nate is right when he says that you should always play like a piano??????????????

And is that what Friedman teaches? I'm quite sure that he doesn't. And by the way none of my teachers when I was a student has told me to play out of tune with open strings!!!! I basically agreed with nate on that. What I argued against is that we can't plat "like a piano". So preston be sure before you say certain thigs like I don't play in tune and my teachers encorage me to play out of tune!!!

August 16, 2005 at 05:38 PM · You surely played/sang in tune if you taught choir taking an A from a tuning fork, put it away, rehearsed a cantata correcting everybody's intonation, without reference to anything beside your own voice, two hours later to check to find your A was still dead on.

Or play the second movement of the Brahms G major sonata 2nd mvt, no piano, there is not an open string played until measure 41, the 16th note D is on the open string. This note is either exactly in tune, then the playing is ok, or badly out, then the whole movement must be completely out of tune.

The D an octave above a beat later in the same measure is a shade sharper, the D yet another octave higher sharper still. So there are 3 different intonations of the D very close to one other.

If you think there are just 4 strings for all the notes to be "tuned to check against", you are looking at the sky through the key hole. Imagine there are the B string above the E string, then the F# string ... and there are the C string below the G, etc, know what I mean. Many note will be tuned against these, not just the GDAE strings.

Or if someone said you sound like Kreisler / Szigeti / Huberman, or download your playing, or kids repeating your CD, and listened to it over and over again hours on end.

That likely could have been played in tune.

And a pianist student of mine just passed a performance diploma exam.

August 16, 2005 at 06:01 PM · Good one Linus

August 16, 2005 at 05:51 PM · First of all Frans my point was that I've never heard a violinist play as well as an in tune piano. Secondly if you are in fact playing with a piano tempered intonation is the way to go. Preston made a good point about chamber music tuning earlier. There have to be adjustments made in that case for instance if the violin and cello are tuned properly the e - string will have to be tuned down slightly to match the c string of the cello especially with a piece in c major! I didn't say we should be like pianos (you should read a little more carefully), what I said was playing as in tune as a piano is no sin which mind you I haven't heard done yet. Jascha Heifetz considered tempered intonation proper, was he wrong? No. He would practice with a piano as I mentioned earlier. His Beethoven with Toscanini sounded pretty in tune to me! The raised leading tone is very minimal mind you and it is more theoretical than a succesful performance practice. If you are making it obtrusively obvious that you are raising the e in the thoughts of being a good musician you are playing out of tune and judging from your last few comments I wouldn't put it past you!

August 16, 2005 at 06:19 PM · Oh ok so keep going like you're going. How can you say that I'm playing out of tune when you don't even know me and have never heard me!!!!

And the numerous other people who replied against your garbage also play out of tune, right? It seems that only you play in tune!! Of course you're a genious!!

If you thimk you;ve got a good teacher, don't be so big headed. I also studied with renowned teachers years ago. And I never heard anyone say that you've got to play with tempered intonation except in a chromatic scale of course.

Another point that interests me is that you say that when playing with a piano you should go for tempered intonation!!!

So right if for example you practice the Tchaikovsky with piano and then play it with the orchestra, the intonation will be different in both cases. 10 points for that. You can't be more ridiculous really.

August 16, 2005 at 07:08 PM · Ok "genious".

August 16, 2005 at 07:17 PM · Yes you see I'm not that's a spelling mistakes. You certainly are. You don't make any!!

Except for the inconsistencies in your post. You don't even know what you're saying

August 16, 2005 at 08:25 PM · My computer is going to explode! Calm down a little bit!

Seems to me that we are only trying to proove the other is playing badly, without even having heard each other. Go back to the original subject.

August 16, 2005 at 09:35 PM · OK guys, the proof is in the pudding. Nate has hung his music up on the net and you can go listen for yourself.

I have my own opinions about his playing from what I have heard him post--some good, some not so good (but all really,really good in the sense of being very much closer to the top than the middle of hte range of talent. all I am saying is that he is much closer to Hiefetz than I ever will be :).

The quibbling here is something like gilding lillies or something--and yet we can hear the differences--if subtly. Frans--go listen to Nate's recordings (objectively) and then you can speak to intonation relative to Nate's theory put into practice.

As far as this out of tune with the open string thing goes, well, that depends on how you tune your open strings!!!

Your homework (to test your maths):

1. Given all strings tuned exactly perfect 5ths apart (frequency ratio of 1.5) what is the major scale that will find all 4 open strings in tune with a "just" system? [**added sentence:Please show your work, i.e. show what your "just" ratios are (there is more than one possibility though generally only two that are in common use).]

2. Is a "just" scale appopriate in all unaccompanied circumstances?

3. What is the difference between a just scale and a Pythagorean scale?

4. What scale do you use for double stops?

Only question one (1) has an absolute answer! Whoever posts the correct answer first, will receive a free chunk of rosin from me.

Answer these questions--or attempt to--and I think you will come to realize that this is NEVER a simple answer. TO that extent I think both franz and nate need to cool off a bit. It does not have to be a shouting match--it is rather an interesting and fascinating topic which loses its worth if we chest-pound and try to "improve" one another. Rather, let us discuss the choices and how they are made--and differ on the interpretation--but not on the facts, if you know what I mean.


August 16, 2005 at 08:47 PM · Whew! Bill's right. If we approach it with maturity and an objective perspective, I think we would all learn a lot more about music...

August 16, 2005 at 09:05 PM · The difference between 'Thag and just is the thirds and sixths, I seem to remember. Just adjusts them because they don't sound in tune in this world of woe. I blame it on satan's meddling.

I appreciate your observation on the fifths. If you're going to try equal-tempered, you'd best start by tuning each string individually to a piano.

Bring me a beer, Mom. And keep little Jimmy away from the channel changer.

P.S. As for hearing discussion members' playing, there's a little-known thread here with a link to video of Preston playing live. Live to 100,000 people, in fact.

August 16, 2005 at 09:32 PM · Hey Frans, simmer down, eh? Lower your defenses. First of all, I didn't say you played out of tune...I said I suspect you do IF...if if if... your B does not form a 4th with the E. The B is flat (at least to my ear) if the major 2nd is sounds above an open A is more than a split-hair away from being a P4th against the open E. And again, I will clarify by repeating what I said in my last post: You just have to be intelligent enough to know to which open string you must tune. You have already shown you know that there is a difference in tuning between the P4th above a B and a 6th below it, the trick is knowing which to use. This isn't something to get so worked up over.

You said: "So right if for example you practice the Tchaikovsky with piano and then play it with the orchestra, the intonation will be different in both cases." Well, I've played Tchaikovsky with both piano and orchestra and to be completely honest, playing in tune with an orchestra is a completely different exercise than playing in tune with a piano.

And frankly, I am still baffled as to why you are arguing against Nate. He very plainly stated "if you have a teacher that tells you to not play in tune with your open strings switch teachers!". Here you are arguing with him to tune to open strings. The way I have read his posts is that one should aim to play as in tune as a piano (already pretty hard to do) and not screw around with "expressive" intonation. I don't believe I have read anywhere that Nate has said NOT to take advantage of tuning to an open string. I believe that what he is trying to get through to you (and correct me if I'm wrong Nate), is that indiscriminately playing leading tones sharp, and the thirds of chords low and applying "expressive" intonation without discretion is simply playing out of tune. There are very very few instances (in classical music) where one should play around with intonation is such a way.


*LATER* I started this reply and then left it for quite a while and missed all the subsequent posts.

Bill, thank-you for your post. Very good. And Jim, thanks for the pulicity plug! I think even more interesting than the video is that's first marriage proposal occured on that thread! ;) See for yourselves...

August 16, 2005 at 11:02 PM · Yea you're right about the B and the E. The pUre B forms a perfect fourth with an open E and you have to adjust to form a major sixth with an open D.

What I am really pissed off with Nate is that he is saying that the difference between the leading note in a harmonic minor scale and the pure note is not significant. I agree that the difference is very little but it is very sigificant. I mean come on!!!

August 17, 2005 at 12:02 AM · What on earth have i created? All I wanted were some excercises on how to improve intonation.

August 17, 2005 at 12:10 AM · Ben, don't feel bad. I was the one who started the "playing on the sharp side of in tune and playing on the flat side of in tune." Sorry!

August 17, 2005 at 12:31 AM · I agree with (Fran?), there is a definate difference between a leading note going up or down. Very subtle, mind. Heifetz was undoubtedly one of the all time greats at playing consistently in tune. If he used tempered intonation, and tuned his strings to tempered intonation, that explains why his open g clashes with the orchestra in the Sibelius concerto, 1st mov. On the other hand, when I hear him play fifths, not on open strings, they are perfectly in tune. This is such a tricky issue! So basically what it comes down to is, because we dont have fixed intonation, we have to adjust to everyone else. In an ideal world, everyone would play tempered. In my personal OPINION, it sounds good on a piano, but not on a violin. I agree with Nate in that nobody comes close to playing like an in tune piano. But I wouldnt want to. If im playing fifths, I strive to play them as perfect intervals. For me it is #the# violin sound. Anyway, I will leave this thread before I get a black eye. For the original poster, I would say :- always check your strings are in tune, play along to recordings, and close your eyes and listen like mad!

August 17, 2005 at 12:52 AM · Ben,

In short, PLAY SCALES like mad!!! Play them in double stops and in octaves.


August 17, 2005 at 01:17 AM · I agree with Preston, scales make such a big difference. I tried Siew's suggestion earlier from Mr. Amoyal about starting the practice day with a third scale. That's an excellent idea and a wonderful warm up. Also sixths, octaves, fingered octaves, and tenths are very helpful to practice daily.

August 17, 2005 at 03:25 AM · I've found that 4ths and 6ths in double stops are the most beneficial for improving intonation.

August 17, 2005 at 06:36 AM · > PLAY SCALES like mad!!! Play them in double stops and in octaves

Which scale? It could not be one of these 3,000?

Not knowing what you play is like jumping into a deep, black hole.

Four out of these 3,000 were created by me. But outside the context of the particular music, a scale is not defined, and would only "train" you to play without discernment.

August 17, 2005 at 07:12 AM · Linus, stop being pedantic (look it up, it's a good word). When I say "scales" everyone seems to know exactly what I mean; I'm not being mysterious and arcane. Perhaps yours was an effort to hock your product, I don't know...but I'm quite sure everyone understands what it means to "practice scales" and I'm certainly not sending anyone down a deep dark hole of obscurity by suggesting it.

Anyway, I've said my bit regarding proper intonation and ways to practice good intonation. As far as I'm concerned this thread is locked.


August 17, 2005 at 07:55 AM · Preston, I am not writing against you, but just because you brought it up.

pedentic - Characterized by a narrow, often ostentatious concern for book learning and formal rules.

I told you I had four entries about how a scale can be played in different ways, and yes, I wrote a book on the subject, as mentioned with the achive.

If many people understood that the earth was flat does not mean that it could no longer be round.

And there are still people out there who is needing help.

August 17, 2005 at 08:31 AM · Striving to play as "in tune as a piano" is a results-driven concept that's independent of tuning systems. I like it.

August 17, 2005 at 08:29 AM · What reasons?

August 17, 2005 at 09:58 AM · I'd tell you, but you just want to make some crack.

August 17, 2005 at 09:22 AM · Oh, well, I didn't want to know, really, anyway. Ha.

August 17, 2005 at 09:57 AM · Ha!

August 17, 2005 at 01:24 PM · Nobody has answered my quiz yet. Doesn't anyone need a chunk of used rosin? ;-)

August 17, 2005 at 04:59 PM · Umm, well I have four and a half chunks lined up on my window sill already, from all those other pop quizzes. I didn't want to be a hog.

August 17, 2005 at 06:21 PM · You need better prizes to keep the ladies interested. That's why my gf has totally blown off flash night at Bazookas. No chunks of rosin or phony tickest to the Bahamas.

August 17, 2005 at 06:39 PM · Preston, I'm very sorry to say that the recording of your performance is no longer accessible at that site. Does it exist somewhere else? After two marriage proposals on account of it, I'm quite intrigued!

August 17, 2005 at 07:08 PM · I think it has something to do with the leopard print g-string which he performs the piece in

August 17, 2005 at 07:45 PM · I believe you can order those colorful g-strings from Shar--along with the perennial favorite, the mouse mute and the bunny shoulder pad....and be sure to get the color coordinated glasser bow to further accentuate the g-string...

August 17, 2005 at 08:30 PM · Dont be ridiculous this is a serious site.

August 17, 2005 at 08:40 PM · My my.... intonation really seems to get the blood pressure up.

August 17, 2005 at 09:35 PM · Patty,

I just checked this link mms:// and it still seems to work...though I can't imagine why anyone would want to watch me perform in a leapard print g-string..... LOL


May 8, 2013 at 07:40 AM · John, you have particular talent for finding old hot threads. This is better reading than SR wars.

Do you want us to learn the major scale in Just tuning or Pythagorean tuning? Quoting from previous post: ('Marine Band /Blues Harp/Pro Harp are 3 possible models with tuning very close to Pure Pythagorean intervals').

Pythagorean and Just tuning are different as shown below; one of the climaxes of the thread was a duel between two renowned gentlemen Frans and Nate whether B played in the first position on A string is in tune/the same when used as sixth from D string and fourth from E string.

If those gentlemen used the advice from 'always check your tone against the open string' and agreed which tuning they used they would have a clear answer.

Let us play the violin and check the B against open strings D and E. On paper only, intonation is much clearer that way.

Let us start with basic information. Violin is tuned in perfect fifths, Pythagorean (and Just as well) ratios 3:2.

Then the strings are defined as:

A - fundamental

D - (2/3)A

G - (2/3)(2/3)A = 4/9A

E - (3/2)A

And here are our Pythagorean and Just ratios for Major Scale. Just tuning has alternate ratios for Second and Sixth.

Pythagorean Just

Unison/Prime P1 1:1 1:1

Major Second M2 9:8 9:8*

Major Third M3 81:64 5:4

Perfect Fourth P4 4:3 4:3

Perfect Fifth P5 3:2 3:2

Major Sixth M6 27:16 5:3*

Major Seventh M7 243:128 15:8

Octave P8 2:1 2:1

*Just Major Second (alternate ratio 10:9)

*Just Major Sixth (alternate ratio 12:7)

B as a sixth exists in D Major, B as a fourth from E exists in B Major. Let us play our scales:

D Major Pythagorean / Just:

(b is a sixth from open string D) (D is defined above and we just use the ratios from the table)

d - (2/3)A

e - (9/8)(2/3)A = 3/4A / (10/9)(2/3)A = 20/27A

f# - (81/64)(2/3)A = 27/32A / (5/4)(2/3)A = 5/6A

g - (4/3)(2/3)A = 8/9A

a - (3/2)(2/3)A = A

b - (27/16)(2/3)A = 9/8A / (5/3)(2/3)A = 10/9A / (12/7)(2/3)A = 24/21A

c# - (243/128)(2/3)A = 81/64A / (15/8)(2/3)A = 5/4A

d - (2/1)(2/3)A = 4/3A

B Major Pythagorean / Just (b is a fourth below open string E)

b - (3/4)(3/2)A = 9/8A

c# - (9/8)(3/4)(3/2)A = 81/64A / (10/9)(3/4)(3/2)A = 5/4A

d# - (81/64)(3/4)(3/2)A = 729/512A / (5/4)(3/4)(3/2)A = 45/32A

e - (4/3)(3/4)(3/2)A = 3/2A

f# - (3/2)(3/4)(3/2)A = 27/16A

g# - (27/16)(3/4)(3/2)A = 243/128A / (5/3)(3/4)(3/2)A = 15/8A / (12/7)(3/4)(3/2)A = 27/14A

a# - (243/128)(3/4)(3/2)A = 2187/1024A / (15/8)(3/4)(3/2)A = 135/64A

b - (2/1)(3/4)(3/2)A = 18/8A

Checking the results: B played in D Major scale and B Major scale in Pythagorean tuning is the same, 9/8A.

B's played in D Major scale and B Major scale in Just Tuning are different, 10/9A or 24/21A depending on ratio choice for sixth in D Major scale, 9/8A in B Major scale.

Personally I prefer scales played in Pythagorean tuning, chords (harmonies) in Just tuning.

This is post 99, post 100 should be made by the person who finally answers Bill Platt's quiz (Aug 16) from the middle of the thread.

May 8, 2013 at 10:13 AM · This is post 100 and words fail me.....

A good technique to focus on intonation is.....

'just listen to what you are playing'

Deciphering all those numbers will not help one must develop the concentrated skill of 'LISTENING'..........this takes concentrated effort....

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker

Miroirs CA Classical Music Journal
Miroirs CA Classical Music Journal

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Corilon Violins
Corilon Violins

Classic Violin Olympus

Coltman Chamber Music Competition

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Jargar Strings


Violin Lab



Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine