The Flexibility of Intonation

May 31, 2006 at 01:17 AM · In "The Art of Violin", Ivry Gitlis talks about how great violinists used to deliberately play certain notes out of tune to provide "color".

Itzhak Perlman notes that nowadays, everybody tries to play everything with "perfect pitch". Yet Laurent Korcia observed that Isaac Stern "has a way of playing out of tune that sounds right".

In the recording world, I've heard Nathan Milstein deliberately play a C# in the D-minor section of the Dvorak Concerto sharp and then do it exactly the same way when the motif repeated.

When I'm playing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto 2nd movement, I'll play the final C# of the opening stanza in third position slightly sharp before going into the D-harmonic.

Bear in mind I'm not talking about intonational "mistakes" that happen when one is trying to play in perfect pitch. Nor is this thread an opportunity to take poorly concealed shots at the playing of certain violinists just because you don't like them as people. This is an honest attempt to explore the nuances of intonation and see if there are further possibilities on which imperfect intonation can create the kind of "color" Gitlis and Korcia were talking about.

Replies (100)

May 31, 2006 at 01:22 AM · Greetings,

there are three or four bars in the slow section of the Suk Appasionata opus 17 no2 where the `same@ note sare written as sharps and then flats or vice versa. I assume this is deliberate and use a quite marked contrast of intonation. I don`t think we can claim to be playign a piec eaccuately if we recue everything to a boring harmic norm.

Another example is the Phantom of the Opera (I think...) in which the penultimate bar reads d/e/gflat. I think that`s right. haven`t playe dit for a while. But I have picke dup string sections for reducing it to a boring enharmoic ending. Again the assumption is that the composer actually knows what he wants and can

hear it.



May 31, 2006 at 01:32 AM · You're one of the people who knows penultimate doesn't mean ultimate. Impressive.

May 31, 2006 at 03:24 AM · A brilliant example of this is Bronislaw Huberman. His sense of tonality was so amazing, that when it seems like he's out of tune to the orchestra, the orchestra is really out of tune. He really understood the function of each key, and the color it posessed. But, he also went a step further and understood the function of each note in relation to its key. For example, you would not play an F# in G major in the same spot as an F# in D major. F# is the leading tone to G major, but is only the 3rd in the D major triad. Szeryng's Bach possesed this quality, I think. I've never heard so many overtones in chords from a modern player. There is a discussion on here pertaining to equal vs. just tuning

May 31, 2006 at 03:45 AM · Greetings,

>You're one of the people who knows penultimate doesn't mean ultimate.

I probably just mispelt somethign else.

Kevin, I know I skewed things by mentioning enharmonic rather than what.. deliberatly overdone off center notes? Just wanted to keep things going.



May 31, 2006 at 03:51 AM · "You're one of the people who knows penultimate doesn't mean ultimate."

I use it like ultimate flat, though some use it like antepenultimate sharp.

May 31, 2006 at 05:36 AM · I was taught that the choice of note in an enharmonic situation depends on the chord.

For example, a Amaj chord is "A C# E" and not "A Db E". That's because a major triad has a major third on the bottom and not a diminished fourth.

I don't know if I use different intonation, but I definitely phrase differently on enharmonics. That, to me, is not the same as playing out of tune deliberately for color.

May 31, 2006 at 08:05 AM · don't they call it "expressive intonation"? If anything, I hear too much of it these days, even in Classical and Baroque, which is silly to me. I suppose, one could start exploring with late Beethoven, even though some of late Beethoven is for me closer to Renaissance than Romanticism...


May 31, 2006 at 08:29 AM · ***Caution - Long post below***

Ilya - I disagree. When we refer to a note being in tune or out of tune, we must define what in tune actually is. Is it each note played perfectly centered so that if we were to put an electronic tuner it would say that we were in tune?

Or is it when played in the company of the harmony when the chord sounds right.

I quote an example of personal experience. I'm in a string quartet and we're playing Haydn's Sunrise quartet (Op. 76, No. 4). It opens with a Bb Major chord. I've got the D, playing on the G string in third position. We tune the chord - the Bb is right, the F is a perfect fifth above it, so that's in tune. I get my D, which I've tuned with my open D string, and it's out of tune. I have to flatten my in tune D so that the Bb major chord sounds in tune.

Why is this? It's because of the Piano. "But Ben," I hear you say, "You're playing a String Quartet, there's no Piano in there." Correct, I haven't mentioned a piano before, so why do I mention it now?

It's because of Equal Temperament. Before Equal Temperament, keyboard instruments would have to be tuned to best suit the piece they were playing. But this meant that compositions for this instrument were limited - if you had a piece in C major, you might be able to modulate to G, D and maybe A major, but if you went to E major, it would be vastly out of tune.

So, Equal Temperament was invented - a compremise that involved flattening some pitches in order to have more flexibility in the keyboard instrument.

Now, when the piano came about, and became so popular, instruments started getting used to "tuning to the piano." This was necessary so that when we were playing, say, a Beethoven Violin Sonata, if the piano and violin played the same note, they would be the same note, not the "in tune" piano and the "in tune" violin. Perfect intonation goes out the window in order to get the tuning right with the ensemble.

So, going by that logic, we should play centered notes.

But No, I disagree. See, for violin, we are lucky in that it's easy to alter the intonation. What does this mean? It means that we can sharpen or flatten a note in order to emphasise the key. An example quoted above was with a C# in the key of d minor. It makes absolutely perfect sense to sharpen the C# because it is the leading note, it emphasises the relationship with the tonic. Likewise, in d minor, I would also flatten the Bb, especially if going to the C# as it makes the augmented second interval really stand out.

Again, in a Major key, say A major, I would probably sharpen the G#, possibly have to flatten the C# slightly to be in tune with the A.

What it all comes down to is the natural tuning - that of harmonics. IN C major, G tunes to C (perfect 5th), F tunes to C (Perfect 4th, with is a 5th inverted), D tunes to G which is tuned to C, E tunes to F (semitone), B tunes to C, and A is tuned to C (relative minor). Basically, everything ends up being tuned to C.

Now I think I've rambled on a bit, so if you need anything clarified, ask on here... I'll try to explain. But basically, Expressive intonation is in fact natural intonation, and is preferable for works without a well tempered keyboard. For works with keyboard, a mixture of equal tempered tuning and expressive tuning to highlight tonality.

May 31, 2006 at 09:00 AM · Mikhail Kopelman, formerly of Borodin St. Qt and Tokyo St. Qt, talked about learning the "their intonation" (i.e. Borodin Qt) in one of his interviews.

To me, the way Borodin St Qt (with Kopelman) played Tchaikovsky Quartets and Borodin Quartets illustrates very well that how different school of thoughts on intonation can have a huge impact on the performance.

Sadly there are still string players who try to play their instruments like pianos with equal temperament at all times.

May 31, 2006 at 11:34 AM · Ben - What you are talking of is Just intonation, an intonation made to fit in a chordal situation. Either vertically or horisontal.

Expressive intonation is when you adjust you intonation according to mood or line, ad it

differs a lot from Just.

An example

E major, dominant to A minor. The voicings are:




The "E" has to be intune in both systems.

Question, how do you play the G sharp?

In Just intonation you play it a bit low, and in expressive you play it a bit high, just like Huberman, Accardo, Gitlis and many others does.

When you have an orchestra that plays Just (like most do) and a solist that plays Expressive you get to those points where the solist will disagree with the orchestra.

May 31, 2006 at 12:32 PM · Ben,

you've taken this discussion into the realm of quartet intonation, which is a different matter completely. Quartet intonation is fundamentally screwed up, and basically everybody has to play out of tune to sound decent

With regards to Equal temperament, try playing an openG-E-B-E chord and see how out of tune the bottom major sixth sounds, even given that all the perfect intervals are perfectly in point is, we couldn't play in equal temperament even if we tried, but I was referring to purposely altering pitch for expressive purpose, which in my view applies to certain musical styles only...


May 31, 2006 at 01:33 PM · Mattias you make an interesting point about just intonation--I tend to want to hear things high and generally it is in a phrase with a sharp passing tone. But it still earns me a frown from my teacher.

May 31, 2006 at 02:01 PM · Problems arise if one chooses to define "in tune" as only one specific pitch for any note one names. I don't like this definition. We don't say of a painting that Van Gogh is "off color" when he uses a certain slightly greenish yellow rather than "pure" yellow. His color for that spot on the canvas is exactly right if it meets his expressive goal, rather than if it is pure yellow or yellow-green, etc. If it would not convey the feeling he wants, it would be wrong. Same goes for pitch. In the Milstein example you used in your original question, he is not playing sharp to make it beautiful. Rather, that specific note is "in tune" at the pitch he plays! Had he used a less beautiful C# it would have been less well in tune. If you find the first position on D string E that is in tune with open G, a different E pitch will be needed to be in tune with open A. Which one of the two Es would you call the "in tune" E?? This illustrates the problem of defining "in tune" as being only one specific pitch for a given note.

May 31, 2006 at 02:26 PM · I believe that perfect intonation is impossible to achieve on the violin or any instrument...Each performer has its own intonation...Shades and colors on the instrument is a more intellectual matter than a technical one... That is the reason why some sound so much better than others that seems to master intonation :I strongly believe that sensitivity is initiating all the technical aspects of shades and colors.


May 31, 2006 at 02:20 PM · I think we all would agree that notes go different places in different circumstances. But what takes practice and lots of ear development is the consistency that will provide a frame of reference. In the end, great violin playing sounds in tune, whatever that means to the listener. The great players have the consistency and artistry to draw the listener into the appropriate frame.

I am often greatly surprised how "forgiving" my ear is in my own practicing, to the detriment of my playing. I will play a passage and find that the same C, for example, will be in 4 different places over the course of the passage. This seems to be becase my ear can imagine the C in any of those places. But unless there are severe modulations going on in rapid succession, that just isn't necessary. Once I am listening for these "matches", they fall into place. I can then extend this to perfect intervals and by the end the passage rings much truer.

There will always be a place for "nuanced" notes, but like other expressive devices they gain in power only when the surrounding notes form a satisfactory foundation rather than a constantly shifting landscape.

May 31, 2006 at 03:39 PM · We in classical violin (and sometimes I wonder aloud if I should even lump myself in that category) emphasize perfect technique, often above a lot of other things.

That's definitely not the case in other styles of violin music. Ethnic fiddling has all sorts of leeway of intonation, depending on who's playing. Top level guys like Johnny Gimbel and Stephane Grappelli have intonation that wouldn't even get them past a college entrace audition, yet they've earned a lot more money and fame (both the ultimate indicators of audience approval) than a whole lot of people who play perfectly in tune in any style.

Indian violin playing is not something I know a lot about, but I've been told that they emphasize the quarter tones. I suspect that a lot of the expressive intonation used by guys like Milstein and Ysaye is actually a judicious and tasteful use of quarter tones.

Often, I wonder if my Chinese genetic has something to do with my tolerance of intonational leeway. When I was a kid playing violin, my teachers would be flabbergasted at my choices of intonation. They wanted everything in perfect pitch, which I just didn't see the need for. I also really enjoy listening to world music, most of which is NOT in tune as far as the violin concerned. I've trained myself over the years to hear and even play that perfect intonation, and I probably spend more time on the violin working on intonation than I do on anything else. But that doesn't change the fact that "bad" violin intonation doesn't irritate me as much as it does other people. I've noticed that pop audiences are just as forgiving of intonational gaffes as I am, which is why I really don't appear in front of "classical" audiences all that often anymore.

On the other hand, I have friends of all ethnicities who just cannot tolerate even properly played quarter tones and like classical violin because of its emphasis on the standard Western tone system.

May 31, 2006 at 07:54 PM · Kevin,

Would you explain to me what you think is wrong with Johnny Gimble and Stephane Grappelli's intonation?

In my opinion neither of these two have intonation problems at all.

May 31, 2006 at 09:14 PM · I subconsciously adapt intonation to make tone colours quite often. The problem is that every time I go to my violin lesson, my teacher tells me I'm playing out of tune at specific places, and then I realise...

I think this kind of 'playing out of tune which sounds good' is only accepted if you are a famous soloist.

June 1, 2006 at 07:29 AM · "Accepted" is a relative term too.

Violinists are a lot more critical of intonation than most other musicians are, let alone audience members. Even the most hardcore classical audiences and critics are nowhere near as tough on technical "imperfections" as the average professional orchestra section violin or college violin professor is. We all know that a lot of the famous soloists (the Perlmans and Kremers, for example), have intonation that would make almost any good student violinist blanch if they weren't big international names.

Besides, does anybody really sit down and keep a running tally of missed notes when there's a live performance going on? If they're doing that, then they're missing out on the beauty of the music and the joy of just going to a concert. Sure we want to be critical in order to better ourselves, but there comes a point where criticality is self-defeating.

Kreisler used to rave about how Ysaye dropped "bushels of notes", and those two guys were two of the biggest pop stars in the history of Western music. They knew exactly what they were talking about as far as not having to be "perfect" goes.

Rachel White, I totally agree with you that neither Gimbel nor Grappelli have intonational "problems".

However, they don't always hit that dead on perfect pitch the way a classical violinist tries to. Gimbel in his double stops is occasionally not in perfect pitch, and Grappelli often plays his licks with notes that fit his hand better than they fit the harmony. It should be noted that most classical violinists do NOT hit their double stops and little arpeggio runs in perfect pitch either. And none of us mind it either!

Personally, I like the intonation of Gimbel and Grappelli. It gives them color and uniqueness, both traits I like. I wouldn't change a thing about either of them, even if I could.

June 1, 2006 at 07:31 AM · Kind of an interesting thread.

I think alot about intonation..... but reading this and listening to the older violinists, and even some newer ones, I think maybe if I was to stop thinking so much about the intonation and focus on expression...... the intonation wouldnt be apparent.

June 1, 2006 at 07:39 AM · Kevin,

First you say that Gimble and Grappelli's intonation wouldnt get them past a college entrance exam, then you agree with me that you dont think they have intonation problems.

Then in your next paragraph you start talking about their playing being out of tune. You do not make any sense and you rarely stick by your original thought. I think that you are swayed by what ever wind blows you.

It might be wise to go back and read what your wrote before continuing on. You are not very consistent at all with your posts.

June 1, 2006 at 01:17 PM · I used to buy my shirts from Gimble's.

June 1, 2006 at 01:26 PM · I recently took some time analyzing slow passages of some of several of Perlman's performances, using some good transcription software with a self-contained frequency spectrum analyzer. Perlman was consistently about 10 to 20 cents sharp compared to the orchestra, and differed sometimes by as much as a quarter tone. I only analyzed relatively slow passages, where there was plenty of time to establish pitch. I have to think this was deliberate on his part, because the music sounded great, even on very close listening.

Here's a comment I read a while back and saved:

>>>Carl Flesch said in the Art of Violin Playing more than 3/4 of a century ago. That there is really no such thing as playing in tune, but that one can give the impression of playing in tune, hence the important of slow practice to get as close as possible to "true" intonation.<<<<

After analyzing some more pieces I have accepted the conclusion that intonation is purely an artisic choice, since no violinist I have found yet plays all that close to just OR equal temperament. In short, if it sounds good, it is good.

June 1, 2006 at 01:45 PM · On the point of big soloists' intonation being "accepted", it's an interesting phenomenon for sure, because it's not directly related to one's reputation. It has to do also with the kind of sound a particular soloist produces. It's hard to generalize I suppose, but imagine two types of player: one with a really meaty sound, wider vibrato, rugged style of phrasing; and one with a leaner, streamlined way of producing sound and line. As an audience member, you will notice variance in intonation more with the second type.

But add to all this the fact that the force of a soloist's personality can often render these differences meaningless anyway. That's why many are more successful live than recorded... if you've ever had the opportunity to hear a performance live, then the same recorded, you know what I mean. When listening through the speakers, you just notice the external features more, the "bottle" rather than the message. That's why it pays (no matter how famous you are) to have those things tidied up unless there's a good reason for it.

I'll get back to the practice room now! What a struggle...

June 1, 2006 at 03:00 PM · How can one be "in tune" or "out of tune" with an otchestra? Orchestra is a not a homogeneous structure, and there are very different A pitches throughout. The wind section is practically never "in tune" with the strings etc. etc.


June 1, 2006 at 03:16 PM · Some orchestras leave you feeling as if you drank too much champagne...there is this incessant sparkling,buzzing in your head afterwards.

June 1, 2006 at 03:29 PM · Ilya is right! although the winds would usually say we are not in tune with them. :) Often we get by on the expression, "better sharp than out of tune".

June 1, 2006 at 03:34 PM · could it be that soloists play sharper, whether consciously or not, on purpose? i remember the violist of this really fabulous quartet saying that the first violinist of the group always plays sharp, even though the group went nuts tuning themselves for 12 years or something to the tuner attached to their stands. i had never noticed it before, but had always marvelled at how his sound seemed to 'shimmer' and 'soar' above the other three. i knew it didn't have to do with him being a better player, or his instrument of better quality- he plays on a strad, but he had that same quality of sound when his instrument was in the shop for about a year. now i always notice that he's just a hair sharper than the rest, and they sound better because of it. maybe soloists do the same thing with orchestras? except they seem to be a lot sharper, because they have to be just a touch higher than the highest A there is in the orchestra.. does that make sense?

June 1, 2006 at 03:42 PM · lol~ i got so caught up in someone's comment on mr.perlman being sharp that i forgot about the original topic-

our ear wants us to play flat keys just a bit flatter, and sharp keys just a bit sharper. that especially goes for accidentals- just like they teach us in rudiments to lower the 6th and raise the 7th in a harmonic minor scale, when they could just easily spell out the intervals for us. these flats and sharps highlight the augmentedness of the chord. know what i mean? and as for "expressive intonation," yes, yes and yes. different players use it to different degrees, but all in all, i find it musically satisfying. tempered intonation is the work of the devil.

and so is tuning chords by cents mathamatics. i forget the real name for that- does anyone here know what i'm talking about? it's been bugging me for years..

June 1, 2006 at 03:35 PM · Rachel, I know that I sound like I'm contradicting myself. I'll try to explain how I can hear it when intonation is "off" and why I usually don't care. I'm not "swaying in the wind" in the least on this one, contrary to what you insist.

Don't use these posts as a forum for personal attacks on me - we can go that route elsewhere if you want but not here on We have "guidelines for writers" to follow, and I shall abide by them as was dictated by Administration. You should too.

MY standards for intonation are not anywhere as rigid as those of a standard violin college professor or even the average high school violin student. That doesn't mean that I don't hear it when people are out of tune. On the contrary, I hear just about everything that's in or out of tune. I even can hear it even when somebody like Heifetz is slightly off, as was the case in his Bruch Scottish Fantasy video. His entire violin tuning was slightly flat going into the Allegro Guerrero (he tuned his violin but didn't seem to hear how he was off), and he ended up compensating for the flat intonation the whole time. Of course, I didn't mind one bit that the tuning was off. He made me feel happy and energetic, and so his flat intonation didn't matter in the least to me.

If somebody is "a bit" out of tune and he's making me feel good emotionally, I'm going to cut him as much leeway as I possibly can. Grappelli, Gimbel, and Heifetz do exactly that even when they're slightly off on intonation - those three guys are some of my favorite players because of the emotion they play, not because of the technique they do. I hear perfect pitch recordings on the radio all the time, and often they don't make me smile or dance or feel any sort of emotion other than "Wow, what a technically perfect recording". Give me Fritz Kreisler anyday, who didn't even play his own Schon Rosmarin "in tune". Also give me a fresh faced beginner violinist trying his hardest to play properly than a jaded professional who's rolling his eyes as the technically perfect performance is going on (once saw an entire MAJOR symphony do that in a live concert, and I'm not telling which orchestra for PC reasons).

I've stated earlier, Rachel, that I am a big fan of "ethnic" fiddling. There intonation is a lot more flexible as pertains to the genre, and my ears have crossed the ethnic fiddling tuning into the classical genre for me. Like the greatest classical players, the best fiddlers make MUSIC and not intonation. I can hear it when they're off too, but I don't care. If anything, I ENJOY IT when they're a bit off.

When I think about how high my tolerance for bad intonation is if the music is there, it's way more than anybody else that I know. That's why bad intonation almost never bothers me unless it's spoiling the mood of the music.

June 1, 2006 at 05:43 PM · There are some interesting ideas here.

But there may be different tuning systems and scales used in a composition. Some are clearly set by the composers, and some are not.

The proponents of the "expressive intonation" may agree that they intentionally play notes sharp or flat- but it is still in tune in the context of their performance.

There are lots of folk music elements used in pieces by Mahler, Kodaly, Janecek, Borodin, Tchaikovsky, and many other composers. And sometimes these folk elements, in their original source, may not be in sync with the western tuning system (i.e. A=440 and equal temperament).

So when I hear the Borodin Sting Quartet recordings with Kopelman on the first violin, I like that he played some of the half steps much closer, and it adds folk flavor that are very interesting to me. So depending on what your preference is, intonation can be ascertained in relative terms.

There are of course different schools of thoughts on this. Some people think only A=440 and equal temperament is the only way to go, and they practice everything with a metronome, and they sound like students to me.

To me, music can only be exciting if there fresh insights and spontaneity involved.

June 1, 2006 at 05:58 PM · Intonation does not help the expression ! Intonation IS expression.

This is one of the reasons we have many ways to play in tune and many ways to play out of tune - people just express themself intonating the sounds.

So... they express their precision or their imprecision (psichologically this is actuelly their subjectivity or their objectivity in life in general)


they express their intelectual or less intelectual aproach in life

they express their cultural or less cultural aproach of life

they express their mystical or less........

....workful or less workful... ...lazy or less...

...sensitive or less...








June 1, 2006 at 06:36 PM · "Intonation IS expression"--

In many cases, that is true. Of course, it is a different thing for pianists.

June 1, 2006 at 07:03 PM · Kevin,

My post was not a personal attack on you but simply my opinion that you dont stick to your on facts. You do sway in the wind as you put it.

It's all thru your other post on this forum. You talk alot but your never very convincing.

June 1, 2006 at 08:32 PM · Rachel,

Bad Karma.

I got a compliment the other day that I value above all others...Somebody said to me: "You are one of very few violinists that don't play sharp." Apparently it really is an issue. Unless it implied that I played out of tune.


June 1, 2006 at 08:36 PM · I do talk a lot, Rachel, and I'm not convincing to you or a lot of people. That much is TRUE.

As far as "swaying in the wind", that's a COMPLIMENT to a guy like me. I learn stuff from people here all the time no matter what level they're at, so I'm going to change my opinions for the better (hopefully). The more I swaying, the more I'm learning.

Ilya Gringolts, I like your intonation. To be honest, I'm more interested in what you're trying to say musically than worrying about your pitch. As far as I'm concerned, you're in tune. I'd have to sit down with a magnifying glass to hear the nuances of sharp/flat, but I'm having too much fun listening to your joy of playing!

June 1, 2006 at 09:01 PM · Thank you Kevin. I guess I am sharp then


June 1, 2006 at 09:10 PM · I don't know anything about all this intonation babble... but what I do is play my Bb as low as possible... right on the nut on the A string.

That's crunchy.

June 1, 2006 at 09:14 PM · You are turning off the whole new music community by your post, Pieter. How do you expect to be playing that quarter-tone in-between


June 1, 2006 at 09:24 PM · Yeah well I give avante garde a whole new meaning.

You're just not hip enough Ilya...

June 1, 2006 at 09:29 PM · just because you live in Quebec doesn't mean you know what avant garde means


June 1, 2006 at 09:45 PM · O here we go... Act 3 scene ii... Ilya making derrogatory remarks towards the French.

June 1, 2006 at 10:08 PM · Ilya and Pieter, I'd like to know what you both ingested today, prior to posting here.

May I have some, please? ((Or wait - think I'll just sit back and continue to enjoy the show.))

June 1, 2006 at 10:12 PM · ... well someone has to ;-)

I too think patterns of intonation create emotional qualities in ones playing and it's another way of how violinists market themselves - bright, dark etc. Having heard Ilya recently I'd say he verges towards the dark too, never particularly bright and quite bitter at times, so less cover-up cr@p and more genuine quality in the tone.

Without at all wishing to show off or anything, I'd like to offer something in this context which I taped myself practising last week - a double-stop sequence which goes from C-G, A-E, G-C#, to E-Bflat, what's interesting is that to get what I think is the right effect, the C# has to be very sharp so that the G played against it is way sharp if you check it against the open G string, whereas against the C it does match the G string. It sounds right to me anyway - so proof of "The Flexibility of Intonation". Anyone recognise the piece I wonder.

June 2, 2006 at 12:11 AM · Ilya's thing is dishwasher fluid...

June 2, 2006 at 12:30 AM · "Ilya's thing is dishwasher fluid..."

I was going to suggest Draino, but then surmised it lacked that cosmopolitan flair, that acid twist so prevalent in the undertones of both your respective chosen words.

June 2, 2006 at 01:50 AM · Ilya,

I dont believe in Karma, also why do you feel that you have to correct me when I am talking to Kevin?

His post bother me and I know from others that I am not alone. If he doesnt bother you then your in good shape. He puts his theories out here for everyone to read and I feel that 98% of them are wrong. So I think it is my right to tell him my opinion.

If this about me bothers you then I apologize for the bother but I still intend to write a post about Kevin's hogwash.

Thank you.

June 2, 2006 at 02:25 AM · I think Ilya has just got off on impaling people. No dishwashing liquid needed.

June 2, 2006 at 02:59 AM · "Deliberately playing out of tune because it provides "color" "

Yeah, if you play too out of tune, the conductor's face is gonna turn all sorts of colors =)

June 2, 2006 at 03:29 AM · Greetings,

Naoko sesame oil is much better than dishwasher liquid when impaling people,



June 2, 2006 at 04:26 AM · Oh my goodness is this ever a strange website. :) Cheers and enjoy, everyone, I'm out for 9 days, off to Innsbrook with my quartet. Should be a great time but probably no computers in sight! Ilya, please don't impale anyone. :)

June 2, 2006 at 05:07 AM · Good luck, Maura. Enjoy yourself and tell us about it when you return.

June 2, 2006 at 06:31 AM · Rachel,

I don't believe in Karma either. But I do believe in bad Karma that you create by repeatedly tearing apart Kevin's posts on every thread. Leave it to Pieter, at least he is somewhat funny.

Back to work now,


June 2, 2006 at 06:59 AM · Ilya,

I can take care of my own post thank you. This is a forum and I am not the only one disagreeing with Kevin, yet it seems that I am the one that you chose to correct. That is fine with me, I still have the right to weigh in with my opinion.

Like I said if it bothers you then I apologize for the bother but I still reserve the right to voice my opinions as you do also.

As far as being funny, I do leave it up to others. Kevin's hogwash is not funny to me.

Thank you.

June 2, 2006 at 08:44 AM · Maybe I'm just imagining things, but has anybody else noticed that the most frequently out of tune notes played are B and C?

If you just take your violin, and try and play a B or C anywhere on the violin, it is very likely to be out of tune, more so than almost any other notes, in my opinion.

I was practising the cadenza of the Mozart Violin Concerto no 4, the first movement, and I noticed that before the string crossing section where there is the double stop with C, Eb and F#, that the F# needs to actually be quite flat in order to be in tune with the Eb, D and C!! If you get it perfectly in tune with these three notes, then play it alone, it is almost a quarter tone flat I'd say...(compared to the open E, for instance).

Intonation is certainly a tricky business...and most definitely notes can be pushed sharp or flat for expressive effect, especially in folk-type music.

June 2, 2006 at 08:06 AM · Larry,

now that u've said it...


June 2, 2006 at 08:44 AM · Lol Ilya what do you mean?

June 2, 2006 at 09:14 AM · Now I am self-conscious every time I play a C natural.


June 2, 2006 at 09:17 AM · Oh, haha! But honestly, do you think that it is correct, that of all the notes C and B natural are the most likely to be out of tune?

I know that G, D, A and E are the easiest to get in tune, because they have all the natural overtones and sympathetic frequencies of the open strings which somehow helps it to be in tune.

And I suppose somehow the notes with sharps and flats can sound a little sharper or flatter without sounding too bad...

Somehow F doesn't cause any problems to play in tune, and that leaves the B and C...

I think B has quite a "round" sound with lots of overtones so maybe that makes it harder to get in tune (and it has no open string equivalent), and C is quite a "dead" note (at least on my violin. Actually C on the G string is the richest-sounding note on my violin, but harmonically it's quite dead).

Anyway I'm probably just talking nonsense, but I have definitely noticed in orchestra string sections that B and C are very frequently out of tune...

June 2, 2006 at 12:43 PM · 4th finger b on the 1st string is often flat...

but if b on 2nd string is out of tune, how about f#?

b is certainly more round than f; but less so than C. A is very straight, except when it is small;-)

Seriously though, there is method to your ramblings if you look at it this way:

On the G string, A has a "friend" in the open strings, as does E on the D string. Up on the higher strings, the 1st finger position produces b and f#, which have no friends to give overtone lock. Back on the lower strings, the second finger is B on the G, and F/f# on the D, neither of which have friends in high places, but when you get to third finger natural position, you of course have friends again.

Yet just because these notes--A and E, have friends in open strings does not mean they will be in tune with the music...if your open strings are out, they will be hurting rather than helping the situation.

But I think the key you are playing in will also come into play. Certainly playing a C-major key is more difficult to start, due to the lack of resonant reinforcement of the tonic....

I suppose you could always capo your violin :-)

June 2, 2006 at 02:21 PM · "I can take care of my own post thank you. This is a forum and I am not the only one disagreeing with Kevin, yet it seems that I am the one that you chose to correct. That is fine with me, I still have the right to weigh in with my opinion."

You go, Rachel! I like your spirit. Aw, c'mon, Ilya - give her a pat on the back for fighting you back. ((Terez pauses to ponder uneasily whether, as with David Russell, it is PC to praise the lone contentious voice that challenges an icon. Hmmm.... Aw, screw it - we're all mortals posting here. Presses "submit."))

June 2, 2006 at 03:00 PM · Hearing intonation on recordings is one thing, hearing it live is another.

I'm not convinced audiences feel negatively about every little blown note, every little imperfection. They come to have a good time, not to nitpick a good performance to death. I just don't see audiences dwelling on nuances of intonation or technique when the performance makes them feel good.

If you listen to a lot of the old recordings, the tuning is off compared to modern day recordings. But if you compare the intonation on those recordings to what actually goes on in the contemporary concert hall, they're pretty much the same. The recordings from 100 years ago were basically live one-take sessions that required the performer to perform the song from beginning to end without stopping. He couldn't stop in the middle of the song and correct his playing - it was go on or fall flat, just like a real concert. Not coincidentally, some of those recordings are among the best sellers of all time and are still selling today.

It's easy to sit in front of a stereo console with a remote control and do "instant replay" on intonation or technique, but that's not how real concerts work. It's impossible to rewind a real performance when you're sitting there in the concert hall. Also, the concert hall acoustics have more of an effect on intonation than people realize. I know that I've had to constantly adjust my intonation to whatever venue I'm playing in because the room (or lack of one if playing outdoors) acts as am amplifier in itself.

Let's not forget that the violin is a fretless instrument. The nature of it dictates that nobody can be on perfect pitch 100% of the time, not even our best intonation violinists in the world. We try our hardest, but it's physically impossible to play perfectly in tune all the time. The instrument won't allow it, and that's a good thing.

The bottom line is that any violinist can nitpick himself to death practicing intonation and still not come up to a "perfect" standard. So we all might as well have some FUN instead of worrying to death about the inability to play in "perfect pitch."

June 2, 2006 at 04:45 PM · Even fretted instruments have a noticably wide range of intonation for each fret position. How you press the string can not only sharp it, but also flat it. Most fretless people fail to recognize this. Most guitar players are aware of the danger of sharping but do not realize that you can flat a note, too (something I just figured out last week).

I learned from two sources that for guitar recordings, it is not unusual to record different chords separately, retuning the instrument to optimize it, and then splicing these segments together.

"Pitch correction" software is now widely used in recording work. This sortware can take a tone-deaf singer, pull him into the chosen temperament in real time, and even add harmonizing vocals. So recorded sound is unreal--literally.

June 2, 2006 at 05:08 PM · This whole pitch thing is driving me crazy. If you can play in tune enough that the instrument rings and it sounds good that's all that matters. I've been seeing a trend with violinists with trying to over analyse every aspect of our playing. Practice the motions, listen to the notes and make music. Spend your time creating something beautiful rather than figuring out why it's beautiful.

June 2, 2006 at 05:36 PM · Good violinists obviously focus on making good sound and being in-tune in the context.

I don't think violinists in general know much about the scientific side of the pitch thing--it really is not important to being able to play well.

However, it also seems to me that a violinist who does not put a lot of effort into intonation is not going to produce a good sound.

So it might drive you crazy to hear all this talk, but count yourself lucky that I haven't brought out my mathematical dissertation on the topic! :-)

June 2, 2006 at 09:05 PM · The problem with becoming a better violinist is that the better you become the more you realize how bad you really are. I spent this year working on intonation. I recently listened to an exerpt of my playing from a couple of years ago. Not a single note sounded in tune to me!!! At least I have better intonation now. It's always a work in progress. I'm sure even Ilya can attest to that even though I've never heard him play a note out of tune.

And yes, B and C are definately the hardest notes to get in tune. In Milstein's Bach (I forget which year he recorded) he plays a C out of tune in the last movement of the A minor sonata. Or maybe it's just expressive tuning and I'm just not getting it. Why are those notes harder to get in tune?


June 2, 2006 at 09:15 PM · Laura,

Absolutely. It just gets worse and worse. The good news is everybody else sounds out-of-tune too if you listen REALLY closely


June 2, 2006 at 10:36 PM · Well I'm glad that you all seem to agree that my theory isn't nuts lol.

I might note that the high B on the E string (in 8th position I think) is really quite easy to get in tune. I have no idea why...

June 2, 2006 at 10:40 PM · I strongly suggest to close this thread. Certain things are best never talked about.


June 3, 2006 at 01:57 AM · Thanks Ilya... "somewhat funny". I thought I was being serious.

June 3, 2006 at 05:06 AM · The 8th position B on E string is a harmonic, perhaps?

June 3, 2006 at 04:54 AM · listen to Rabin's caprices and Midori's caprices back to back. Rabin is almost a quarter-tone sharper than Midori throughout. I'm sure some of it is due to the playback speed when it was transferred, but's unreal.

I was just in Italy. I think they were tuning to 442, but the humidity was so crazy, my violin would be at a different pitch from the time I tuned it to the time I began to play. Luckily, what with the Italian wine and all, maybe the people didn't notice so much...

June 3, 2006 at 06:18 AM · Regarding audience, Kevin said "they come to have a good time, not to nitpick a good performance to death."

Well yes and no... years ago I was surprised those old ladies in Vienna would just stand up and walk out, if they think the performer is doing a bad job.

In Chicago I have seen more than one occassion, music students bring their scores to the concert halls... but I guess that's one in ten thousand students that brings the score.

June 3, 2006 at 07:53 AM · Last summer I went to this symposium at a school in NYC and some of the kids brought their violin parts... during RECITALS they'd stare at the violin part for a concerto as if it would spew some meaningful revelation. I never understood that... does following along with a piece of paper in front of your face provide any interesting information at all?

June 3, 2006 at 08:03 AM · About soloists playing sharp...When playing with an orchestra I believe most soloists listen for the highest A in the orchestra and tune to that A. This may be one reason that they might sound "sharp". Since vibrato is a backwards (going flat) motion, perhaps this helps balance out that higher pitch a lot of the time.

Another thing that bothers me with intonation is vibrato on chords and double stops. This is especially noticable (for me) in some Bach. While I love Perlman's playing I can't stand his Chaconne because of the huge vibrato he uses on many of the chords. I believe it could make a baroque specialist sick. Bach is so pure and as such I feel the intonation on the chords should be as pure as possible with maybe only a slight vibrato to project and ring more. I also understand where he is coming from because it is a highly emotional and moving piece and he uses his vibrato to try to express that.

As far as "expressive" intonation goes, I say whenever Hiefetz or Milstein hit a note that doesn't sound just right they are doing this (partly as a joke and partly because maybe they did mean to do so). Since I learned about expressive intonation I stopped playing out of tune and started playing very expressively on bad days.

June 3, 2006 at 10:03 AM · Pieter,

I love that type. They always sit in the first row and occasionally make notes.


very wise about the chords. They get enough overtones to not need vibrato.


June 3, 2006 at 01:15 PM · I must sheepishly admit that I'm one of those students that used to bring scores to recitals!

However, I wasn't doing it to nitpick performances to death. When I was younger, I wasn't as familiar with a lot of the big concertos and sonatas people routinely play. I'd follow along for a few minutes, but then I'd get lost. If I brought the score, it helped me follow what violinists were doing. Often I would see and hear things done that didn't correspond with the score that made me go "Hmm, interesting". It wasn't "He fluffed the intonation at Measure 573.3", at least not for me.

Here's an example of that. Jascha Heifetz plays his "Ao Pao De Fogueira" by Valle with a completely different rhythm than what is in his own printed transcription. He even emphasizes that different rhythm in his masterclass. I was shocked to see how different his rendition was when I saw his printed transcription, but it didn't make me go "Ick" or "wrong" since it made me feel the fun of the song. After all, jazz violinists routinely change the meter of the songs they play (I'll play AC Jobim's "Chega de Saudade" in 3/4 and not 4/4 time for a totally different effect).

June 3, 2006 at 01:48 PM · Actually I was of the impression most modern orchestras made some wierd theatrical thing when tuning up where nobody is supposed to listen to anything at all, in case they look silly like the poor harpist.

Then when they finished their fooling around with the wind and brass, some nut on the first desk of the violins stands up and orders the rest to do the same and make a big noisy caca phony (good french caca), then when he's satisfied, the conductor knows he can safely walk on.....

I wondered why they all then try to play in tune (and usually fail) when they start Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet,- GREAT opening piece to start a concert!

June 4, 2006 at 03:47 PM · Kevin,

sorrrrrrrry, but even many told you before the same thing, i am tempted too and i cannot resist temptation:

your posts are to long, dear fellow!

sorry again

i hope you don`t mind


June 4, 2006 at 03:54 PM · no, i don't mind.


June 4, 2006 at 05:40 PM · As today is my 21st birthday, I'm QUITE sure that my intonation will be extremely flexible at about 11 this evening :)

June 4, 2006 at 07:23 PM · Nicholas Tavani mentioned Rabin's Caprices and Midori's caprices, which reminded me of something I'd heard on Schickele Mix (A radio show put on by composer-extraordinaire Peter Schickele).

He juxtaposed one of the caprices by Ricci and the same caprice played by Midori. Ricci played his octaves out of tune, i.e. the upper note a little bit sharp. But Midori played them in tune. The result was that it was harder to tell that Midori was even playing octaves, whereas with Ricci it was (painfully) obvious.

Peter Schickele then mentioned how Heifetz when questioned about the dubious intonation on his octaves said, "If I played them in tune, nobody would know I was playing octaves".

Weird, huh?

June 4, 2006 at 09:09 PM · Right, Stephen, but that is because when you play octaves in tune, the violin is only producing a single voice.

and kevin, you example of Heifetz playing a different rhythm made me think of a recording of Fritz Kreisler my teacher let me listen to. I was learning caprice vennois at the time, and when I heard Mr. kreisler play, I notice that there were more than two F-sharps in the beginning. it was something like 5. But, the first bow stroke is ricochet, so who honestly cares?

Talking about intonation, though...

There is a difference between expressive intonation and not being able to play in tune. Expressive intonation is done on prupose, and generally the soloist can justify it. Being blatantly out of tune is just carelessness.


June 4, 2006 at 09:24 PM · Happy birthday Andrew! (I don't even want to know about the celebration---just please don't let me read about it in the paper tomorrow ;-)

Kevin, I think intonation is relative to the accompanying medium. It is slightly different when with orchestra than with piano or string quartet. Leading tones and half steps in particular. Some people fool around with perfect fourths...but I feel that is a little bit dangerous. Surely, the use of microtones is useful to color if appropriate to the composition, but I feel that playing in general needs to adapt to the accompanying medium. Thoughts?

June 4, 2006 at 10:37 PM · Greetings,

I wou;ldn`t fool around with fourths. By keeping them er, perfect one ha s more space to play around with other bits and bobs.

There are , I think, two schools of thought and a compromise on adaptong to the medium. The extremes are eitehr adapt completely (violin to piano for example) play uncompromisingly out (Casals) or do both, of which I think one of the greatest exponets wa sMilstein.

Incidnetally, I have a pet theory about Kremer which may be compeltley off the wall: I think he adjusts his intonation on the flat or sharp side according to a number of situational factors. For example, if he feels the soloist is in amore accompanying role the pitch flattens slightly and then comes back up again when the soloiust reemerges . Possibly he also adjusts down on more gentle phrase endings. Personally i fele this tendency quite strongly in his MOzart recordings.



June 4, 2006 at 11:01 PM · Buri, you mean when he is in love he plays flat?

Back to playing around with my perfect fifths,


June 4, 2006 at 11:23 PM · Greetyings,

love elicits all manner of responses. I only got flatter as I got older.

I see it more in terms of Kremer vs. Kremer,



June 4, 2006 at 11:32 PM · To be honest, David Russell, I'm too DENSE to really notice the difference (at least in performance)!

I'll bet a lot of people do what I do, and that's merely to adjust on the fly without even realizing there's an adjustment being made. The human ear is a lot more forgiving of leeways in intonation than we realize.

Audiences don't seem to care all that much about those little intonational nuances, and if they're happy then I'm happy. I probably could beat myself to death trying to play intonation to please violin colleagues, but I realized fairly recently that they're NOT the ones paying money to hear me play! Besides, I've come to the realization that NO VIOLINIST plays perfectly in tune. Not even Michael Rabin on his Caprices is in tune, and why didn't EMI slow his recording to the point where A=440? Such a big company, such a big violinist, such a revered recording, and they botch the basic speed (likely from tape to CD transfer)???? The recording is so speeded up that most of the time his open A string is a legitimate Bb! Rabin sounds a lot more "human" at the "slower" real speed, and the timbre of the violin is less nasal.

I do notice that microphones can "lie". No microphone, not even the best one, can faithfully reproduce the sound of a violin. I've noticed that sometimes my pitch fluctuates on recordings based on the recording equipment and even the playback medium! Generally the better the stereo or the recording studio, the better the intonation on playback.

sorin horlea, sorry for being longwinded again. Just skip over my posts every time you see my name come up.

June 5, 2006 at 12:25 AM · It helps to have a CD player and phono with pitch control.

I found Henry Roth's take on Sarasate particularly amusing (he stated that Sarasate's recordings were sped up and one could easily tell by the raised pitch). Well, my recording of Sarasate is A=440 on the money, and that's without pitch control.

Perlman's caprices are about A=443, maybe higher...

Oh, well.

June 5, 2006 at 10:59 AM · oh dear Kevin...that`s so sweet... :)

June 7, 2006 at 12:00 PM · Hi,

A few thoughts on this topic...

Milstein in a masterclass was asked how he played so accurately and well in tune. His answer was: "Really! Nah... I just fix things faster than most people!"

Flesch used to say the same. Perfect intonation is not possible on the violin. Notes that last 1/2 second or more can be fixed with others have approximate intonation.

Lastly, Yuval Yaron once said this, and I thought is was brilliant: "If you think you are playing in tune, then you are not listening closely enough!"


June 7, 2006 at 12:06 PM · I once heard a story (who knows if it's true or not?) about Nathan Milstein. Supposedly (as the story goes), he was at a rehearsal with an orchestra. They tuned up. Then Mr. Milstein tuned up, almost a quarter-tone sharp. He then signalled the conductor that he was ready. Apparently, the conductor said sheepishly, "But Mr. Milstein, the orchestra is tuned below you."

Milstein's reply was, "Don't worry; they'll come up."

If this didn't really happen, it should have.

Cheers, Sandy

June 7, 2006 at 01:51 PM · I have noticed that trained classical violinists tend to judge intonation more harshly in perceived "amateurs" than in "professionals".

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

June 7, 2006 at 05:06 PM · Yes, beauty is in the eye of the beer holder.

1/4 tone out of wack, that sounds a bit exagerated... unless you want a really cheezy chorus effect that sounds like a sci-fi movie from the 60's.

June 7, 2006 at 07:16 PM · Quote from Stephen: "Peter Schickele then mentioned how Heifetz when questioned about the dubious intonation on his octaves said, "If I played them in tune, nobody would know I was playing octaves".

If you listen to Midori's Paganini A Minor (which one is it - 7 I think), the octaves at the start are so well in tune they sound like glass, not like two notes at all. You can listen on Amazon trailers.

June 7, 2006 at 07:39 PM · Yes, the recorded literature as well as live performances are dotted here and there with octave passages that are so perfectly in tune that they really don't sound like two voices. What has always amazed me about the Heifetz octaves (as opposed to anyone else) is that at his best they sound like to actual separate and distinct voices, not one voice on 2 strings.

June 7, 2006 at 08:30 PM · most people don't actually PLAY the upper voice in octaves...

Tuning higher than the orchestra is the only way to go, I find. The winds always play higher, and in general everybody just comes up. I am yet to figure out why that is.


June 7, 2006 at 09:41 PM · My teacher, said...OK, "let's do it this way", you learn to play the violin now in tune, (without tuning it up- with strings which are massively out of tune)'s a good exercise......sure makes you learn fast.

The we would do exercises REALLY listening and playing scales despite the adjustments which have to be made "in the nick of time" playing scales, 3rd 6ths octaves 10ths and fingered octaves....

I never regretted that exercise....

June 7, 2006 at 09:53 PM · My teacher (Maurice Hasson) says that you should always tune a hair sharper than the orchestra as it helps to carry over them. I guess that's slightly off-topic though...

June 7, 2006 at 10:20 PM · The strangest thing I just found out as a result of this thread was that my Yamaha PSR-GX76 MIDI keyboard is tuned higher than A=440!

I had previously thought that electronic keyboards were all calibrated to A=440. I was WRONG.

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