Progress & intonation

Edited: February 20, 2018, 9:06 PM · Hello everyone, this is my first time here.

I've been learning violin for about five months now. However, it feels like I have had the equivalent progress of a two to three months of practicing, since there were lots of breaks and my former teacher could only teach during half of each month. I'm currently at approximately 65% of Laureox I.
I would like to know of you how late I probably am if compared to where I should be with my progress.

I also have some issues about intonation:
1) when playing out of tune, should I slide my finger to the right place or take my finger off the position and put it again to reach the right intonation?
2) is playing the violin with the tuner on a good or bad idea? I realized that I do worse on tuning playing with it than without, probably because my attention gets focused on the tuner. My teacher says I should only play scales with the tuner, and I think I agree, but would like to know your opinion.
3) can I trust that getting the right intonation is just a matter of time practicing scales (and training my ear)?

Replies (11)

Edited: February 20, 2018, 9:30 PM · You're right, intonation is a matter of training the ear and practice. It'll come with time - at 5 months I'd worry less about always being in tune and more on getting my fundamental techniques correct - that stuff is super hard to fix later.

1) This is only my thoughts on the matter, but I think both are correct. During practice you should stop and replace the finger to build correct muscle memory, but when you're playing and not practicing I would correct the pitch on the fly.

2) You'll get mixed answers here, but I think the consensus is it's not really that helpful. It can be useful for scales in the beginning because you need to learn what a scale sounds like and get it in your ear, but during playing it's probably not sensitive enough to respond right away to the correct pitch and teaches you to do intonation with your eyes and not your ears. Your teacher will (should) tell you when you're out of tune and help you fix that. It's likely everything is out of tune at this point - no big deal. It will come.

Edited: February 20, 2018, 9:51 PM · Can't say anything about your progress, it varies from person to person, but it feels like (just from your language) that you're feeling impatient or perhaps discouraged. Maybe you're used to progressing faster at things you try or you had an expectation of yourself.

About the intonation, I agree with Micheal. Sometimes I correct my fingers, taking special note of formation, position, distance, etc. Sometimes I slide up to the correct note. It's based on how many times I've gotten the note off, how far off the note is (if it's only slightly sharp or flat) and if I am learning a new pattern.

There are so many elements to the violin, you really can't fault yourself for not being able to absorb and get every aspect correct super quickly. There is a reason this instrument takes years to learn, hours and hours of practice to be a professional and even more years and hours to be a virtuoso. My point being, I have been at the violin for several months and am just now getting comfortable enough with my bow, posture, wrist, scale patterns and so on, to start using a tuner effectively. I would think it would be merely frustrating in the beginning to stare at a tuner because you are simply not going to be that great at intonation to start. Now that I am landing my marks accurately 90% of the time, the tuner is very useful to start focusing on being mildly sharp or flat and staying on track when practicing shifting and 3 octave scales. I would say staring at a tuner when you are beginning could be as discouraging as focusing on a scale when you're just starting a diet.

I believe I answered question 3 in the last rant. Concerning learning your piece in relation to intonation, I'm just going to leave this video here that you should watch:
I find this to be great and humbling advice. I actually suggest you go through the whole section here:
Best of luck, have patience and faith in yourself. Respect

February 20, 2018, 9:57 PM · Suggestion after thought, perhaps a better exercise than a tuner at this juncture and one I used myself when first learning the scales, would be to find recorded scales and practice matching the intonation with the recording. For the amount of practice I would be willing and want to do, it would be awkward to have someone try and accompany me on a piano as I figure out my fingers, though I imagine that would be good occasional practice as well. There are many great teachers here who I'm sure will be willing to weigh in on this advice.
Edited: February 21, 2018, 7:46 AM · Let's say you are playing along, A-B-C#-B-A and you notice your second "B" is out of tune. You try it again, and still it's out of tune. Here is a technique you can learn to use to fix such intonation problems.

Play the notes leading up to the bad note, in this case A-B-C#. Then, FREEZE! Form an "auditory image" in your mind of what the next note should sound like. Place your finger on the next note, the B, and play. Does it match your mental image? Do that repeatedly until you land the note consistently (at least 3 times in a row) and then gradually close the gap.

As a hint, in a phrase like A-B-C#-B-A, one thing you really want to listen for is that both "B" notes are the SAME. As you advance on the violin you will continue to listen for that consistency forevermore. Why? Because you can. It's one of the things your brain can pick up on, even in fast passages.

By the way I second Gabriel's recommendation of the Sassmannshaus Master Class videos. That professor knows what he's doing. In fact my "method" really comes from him.

I think using a tuner for intonation on the violin is only going to be more frustrating than helpful. Tuners are finicky in how they respond and possibly even "too accurate" in some cases for a beginner because you can get paranoid if the needle is not right in the center of the dial (using ClearTune for example). Again I like Blake's suggestion of playing it on the piano to see how it sounds there and then matching that. Piano intonation is not EXACTLY the same as violin intonation, but if you can get "piano intonation" as a Book-1 beginner, you're doing pretty darned well.

As far as your Question No. 3, the answer unfortunately is "No." You can't trust yourself. Intonation requires "reference" or "calibration" points. For starters that can be the piano. But eventually you're going to learn to use the violin's own internal system of "resonance" to bring your intonation into true accuracy. I'm afraid to say that's something that is hard to learn without a teacher, but here is something you can try. Place your third finger on the A string to play a "D" note. Make sure you are not touching the D string at all. Play the note and move your intonation up and down VERY SLIGHTLY (half a millimeter at a time). Watch the D string with your eyes and listen to it with your ears. When the upper "D" is in perfect tune, you'll hear the open D vibrate and you can see it too. Notes that have the same "name" as an open string will all do this, whether the string is lower or higher than the stopped note. What about the others? Well -- for that, I think you need the teacher.

February 21, 2018, 8:18 AM · As to question no.1 it depends whether you are practicing or performing a piece for an audience. In the former case, you should STOP immediately upon hearing a false note. Practice in more detail the sequence of notes in question where intonation should be improved. You can also practice scales to improve intonation in general. On the other hand, when you are performing a piece for an audience (even if it is just your sister or your mother, say) and it is a long note, you can correct it by sliding. If it is a short note however you should simply forget about the intonation slip and play the next note on time, so as not to spoil the basic rhythm of the music. Enjoy the trip in violinland, it lasts a lifetime!
February 21, 2018, 9:30 AM · About question 2, it would be much better if you could recognize on your own when a scale is in tune. If you actually cannot, you should work on that, e.g., play scales on a piano in order to ingrain how they should sound, sing scales together with the piano, etc. But in a sense, this has nothing to do with violin playing. Any musician should ideally be able to distinguish out-of-tune from in tune.
February 22, 2018, 3:56 PM · Thank you for all responses!

Michael McGrath,
I think you're right about worrying less about playing in tune, even because I don't play out of tune too much.
"... not sensitive enough to respond right away to the correct pitch and teaches you to do intonation with your eyes and not your ears." says it all. I realized many times I had played a lot better when not looking at the tuner, because I could be able to focus with my ears and tuner just made me correct myself with my eyes, then I kept doing it wrong and wrong again when guiding just by vision. Also, it was frustatig the fact the tuner couldn't refresh as fast as I play.

Gabriel Blake,
it is true I was feeling impatient. However, I've been working on that and, fotunately, I have watched a video by Eddy Chen in which he talks about plateus in our progress and many other things. This helped me a lot, really. I'll make sure to check out all the links you recommend.
It is indeed frustating to play looking at the tuner and not being yet as good as I'd like. Problem is I'm used to demanding a lot from myself and I forget it's a game of patince. But getting better, as I've told you.

Paul Deck,
that's a really great tip! I'm gonna do it. There's a video, also by Eddy, in which he talks about consistently reaching the exact right note and he also says we must hear it in our minds before we play.
"get paranoid if the needle is not right in the center of the dial" - that's so true! I was getting so paranoid my head was even aching.
As far as it concerns the piano, I'm not sure I'm able to do so. I can't recognize which note is playing on the piano just by hearing, even though I can on the violin (first position only).
About the ressonance, that's fascinating and I've already realized it by myself, but I didn't know it happens only to notes matching the names of the open strings; i just realized it used to happen to some of the notes. Now you got me too curious why it doesn't happen to the other notes!!

jean dubuisson,
thank you! "Enjoy the trip in violinland, it lasts a lifetime!" is the way I must see this journey in order to appreciate it as something good and not an obligation.

February 22, 2018, 3:59 PM · I'm not sure how this site works, if you get notified when a new reply arrives, but I want to drop out two other questions, hoping not having to open another thread:

4) can anyone tell me where I can find proper scales for violin? I have a good sheet of scales but they aren't really meant for the instrument.

5) as we develop ourselves, is it expected to play any note in tune without the need of reference from other fingers (as the first or fourth)?

February 22, 2018, 6:04 PM · 2. I do recommend that students use a tuner, which is why I recommend a tuner with 3 octaves of tuning pitches. It's especially helpful for keys with lots of flats and sharps.

However, I have them do it a couple of ways: A. put the tuner on tonic. This will result in some intervals being easier to hear than others. For example, in the key of D-flat, you can easily tune the octave D-Flat and the 4ths and 5ths, but of course it's more difficult to tune the 2nds and 7ths. For that you B: put the tuner on the dominant (5th note of the scale). In D-flat, that is now A-flat, and you are comparing different intervals. The C natural in the key of D-flat was a 7th compared to D-flat, but against A-flat it's now a major 3rd--much easier to hear.

This method isn't for everyone. You still have to have listening and adjusting skills.

4: I use Hrimaly, followed by Flesch.

5: using reference fingers is almost always helpful. But there are some that one should just know, such as the fingers in first position, and the 1st finger in 3rd position. The more advanced you get, the less you may rely on some reference fingers, but they are generally always useful. It depends on the exact situation.

February 22, 2018, 6:26 PM · I forgot about this but in the beginning I practiced with the tuner on all the time so I could tell if I was even playing the right note --not to mention being in tune. After all, a B and a C might both be "in tune" but only one of them is indicated by the sheet music at any given moment. I've been playing less than 3 years but already long-forgotten about that early phase --I probably did it for a few months at most. I think it helped me and if it works for you I recommend you keep doing it. As you get better, you will naturally know when you don't need it anymore. Also, I wouldn't worry about my "rate of progress" and just always work on getting better at what's in front of you. I'm teaching myself so I just keep buying sheet music and turning the pages. Technique is probably "wrong" and progress probably "behind," but I hear massive progress and feel great playing, so I'm very satisfied with my progress no matter what might be slow or wrong with it.
Edited: February 23, 2018, 3:35 AM · Google [hrimaly scale studies violin imslp]

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