Ear training tips

August 12, 2018, 2:51 PM · Hello Violinists,

I recently returned to the Violin after a break of 12 years. I played as a child and teen, and while naturally things are quite rusty, I’d describe my level as “ambitious early intermediate”.

The thing I’m most ungappy about currently is my intonation, or better said: my ability to hear my intonation while I play. My teacher assures me that my intonation is actually quite good especially considering my level and how long I didn’t play before half a year ago, but I’m still unhappy with it. The main reason I think is because I naturally hear quite ok, so I can usually tell that something is a little off, but I sometimes (especially if it’s out of tune only a little) can’t tell in which direction. The fact that I constantly compare myself to my older brother who has perfect pitch and nails every note (he also plays violin) probably doesn’t help. I know we shouldn’t compare oursleves but hey, this is some good natured sibling rivalry, so I really need to

So what do you guys do to train your ears? Any specific exercises? Apps? Methods? Anything to learn to hear better is welcome :)

Replies (8)

August 12, 2018, 3:22 PM · As for apps, I found Intonia to be the most helpful. I would use it for scales and slow playing. Schradieck was helpful with me as well. I felt the same as you after returning from a long break, but after several months and lots of patience I now rarely hit a bad note. It took awhile for me to also get rhythm sorted out.
August 12, 2018, 3:26 PM · Ugh yes, I have the worst rythm. It doesn’t bother me as much tho haha. Thank you Timothy, it’s comforting to hear that it might be a returner thing. I’ll check that app. :) And I will look into Schradieck. I keep hearing good things. :)

Keep em comin tho!

August 13, 2018, 9:08 AM · Adult returner here. My teacher and I are really working on micro-adjustments to my intonation at this point. The best thing I can recommend is to sing scales or sing passages, preferably with a well-tuned piano. Sing it once, play it on the violin, repeat. It forces you to hear your violin differently.

Another trick is to just "feel" the resonances of the violin. Of course this requires your open strings to be in tune. Here's a little trick:

on G: A will resonate with open A, D with open D, E with open E.
on D: E will resonance with open E, G with open G, A with open A, B with Open G, D (octave) with open G.
on A: B with open G, D with open D, E with open E, G with open G, A (octave) with open D, B (octave) with G.
on E: G with open G and D, A with open A, B with open G, A...and repeat all the way up.

Edited: August 13, 2018, 9:27 AM · If you’re having big pitch problems, i think the best ear training you can do is to practice with a tuner that has fast response. Play your usual stuff slowloy and watch the tuner carefully but also listen very carefully so that you’re not just relying on visuals.

Then as you get better , listen first then tell yoruself if it’s good , low or high, and then look at the tuner to see if you were right.

EDIT: i know some people disagree with this approach because there are different interpretations of intonation , but when someone has so much trouble with pitch recognition already, why not just work on bringing it to a basic level first before worrying about tuning the leading tones

Edited: August 13, 2018, 10:34 AM · Here's a great exercise I discovered myself:
Scales in thirds. Only you sing the top voice (so, in G major, you'd play G ionian on the violin and sing B phrygian above it, or vice versa.).
It can be tricky at first, but it gets easier. You can try larger intervals if your voice goes real high, unlike my bassy baritone voice that can only go up to E5 if I reaally push the falsetto.
As for other ear training exercises, note recognition works wonders (naming a pitch given a reference C). There are some good free exercises on musictheory.net, and there is a myriad of apps available.
Edited: August 13, 2018, 10:37 AM · Thank you both for your input. I sadly don’t have easy access to a piano, but I’ll try the singing tip whenever I can.

I definatly don’t have a big problem. As I said, my teacher is quite happy with me, and he doesn’t slack on intonation. It’s more that I want to level up precisely because I hear quite well already so I can tell the difference between me and really good players.

Edit: ha, we posted at the same time. Thank you Cotton, thats precisely the kind of thing I was looking for. Thank you.

August 13, 2018, 12:10 PM · Play scales with the tonic droning on in the background. And Simon Fischer's scales book has a whole series of exercises to build a good concept of intonation. If you do these two things, in a few months I have no doubt you'll improve SIGNIFICANTLY =)
Edited: August 17, 2018, 4:49 AM · Lot's of good advice here, but let's not forget that our musical ear needs nourishing.

We should listen daily to the finest musicians playing limpid music (Vivaldi & Mozart rather than Bach(!) or Wagner) where we can concentrate on the solo violin or voice. Especially for those of us who are not surrounded by a musical family.

Suzuki recommended one third listening, one third reviewing, and one third progress. Thus two thirds of our time will be "perfect" and the remaining third more effective.

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