Intonation and "hearing" the pitch
I've been learning violin for about 2 years now. Got a teacher last year. At this point, I'm starting to play in 3rd position and struggling with intonation.
In discussions on this site, I'm reading that you're supposed to hear a pitch in your mind before you play it. The scary thing is, I don't really know what that means. Perhaps I'm overestimating what it means to hear a note in one's mind, but I think that's too optimistic a view.
I have spent quite a bit of money on this hobby up till now, and I do enjoy it, but I don't want to fall prey to the sunken cost fallacy.
So how exactly is it to 'hear' a pitch in your mind? Can you sustain it for 10 seconds? How clear of a thing is that? Is there even any hope in developing this skill? How does it compare to actually hearing the pitch?
Can you sing a song in your head? For instance, can you hear "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" without singing it out loud?
Try listening to something very well known - Eine Kleine Nachtmusik for example. After the first couple of measures mute the sound, but keep the sense of where you are in the music. After a couple more bars turn the sound back on. You may or may not have "heard" the music when it was muted, but you probably had an impression of what the sound would be. 'Hearing' the music in your head is called audiation, and some people are very good at it. It's a lot like visualization. If you ask me to close my eyes and pictures a basketball I can give you details about what my brain knows a basketball looks like, but I don't actually see anything.
Sing, sing, sing, sing...
Urban Kristan, I think it's about hearing the relation between pitches rather hitting than specific pitches per se, unless it concerns absolute pitch. And I think that it is a skill that can be improved on.
Scale. That's the most effective way for you to hear the pitch in your head and nail the intonation. Include at least 15 mins of just playing scale in your daily practice. Slow 1 note per bow then 2,4,6,8, and so on. It's boring but it will help tremendously.
Singing is a very good way of "internalising" melodies, intervals, scales etc -- or, at least, good, accurate singing is.
Is there an example of a piece you're trying to play, that has third position in it?
I am a beginner as well. Singing, yes, you will find your self singing in the shower, all helps. I find a reference note of an open string helps. I also have a strobe tuning ap, which I use when I can hear the note is off, I start from an open string, play a scale up to the note I am having trouble with and listen if it sounds right, then glance down at the tuning ap — did I reach the target? Oops not quite, try again a few more times without looking at the ap, and then recheck the ap. The aps are either free or cost a few dollars. Perosnally I like the ones with a round dial simulating the analogue stroboscopes. Playing along with a friend that plays an instrument where intonation is not a problem for them (for instance my dad playing the harmonica) helps to remind me which notes I am not hitting right.
I wouldn't get hung up on what exactly it means to hear a pitch in one's head. We can't be sure that all who hear pitches in their heads have the same experience.
I think you're just overthinking it. Hearing the pitch in your head means different things to different people, in all likelihood.
Singing? What's all this talk with singing to learn intonation?
Singing is all intervals, Tom.
Music is all intervals, Cotton. But you don't learn intervals from singing. That assumes that you already know the intervals.
This day in age, you have technology to help you learn. Buy this:
Dunno what you're rambling on about, but it's an irrefutable fact that singing is instrumental in becoming a complete musician.
And I don't know what you're rambling about with this singing nonsense. He's trying to play the violin, not audition for a choir. The only irrefutable fact is that you're an idiot.
Tom, the point of singing is that you can concentrate on copying pitch without a complicated technique getting in the way.
Thank you for all the replies! Many useful tips.
I've been playing for 12 years since I restarted and I still have trouble with this concept of hearing pitch in my head. As someone said above, everyone struggles with intonation so welcome to the club. It probably means you are improving and your ear is getting more sophisticated.
I guess I should insert my 2 cents regarding singing/intervals.
I disagree that when the tuner is gone the correction is gone. The tuner can be useful in the early stages when you are learning what something is supposed to sound like. It can also be useful in identifying when you've learned to hear something incorrect as correct. This happens to me somewhat frequently that I'll learn something sharp or flat and it will sound just fine to me. I won't even recognize that it's out of tune unless someone or something else tells me. Slowing it down won't help, "listening carefully" won't help. Playing with an open string might or might not help because there might not be an appropriate open string if it's in a key with a lot of sharps or flats.
Karen, by "drone" I don't mean droning an open string: I mean finding the relevant drone note on YouTube (or getting a drone CD). Search for "cello drones" to find the best ones.
I was in a very similar situation. Had an instructor who taught solfège to improve my intonation. It's amassing what a couple of months of serious doremi can do. Now when I'm trying to hit a note I'll actually sing it to see if I've hit it. I would bet have had t confidence begore,
A fascinating subject that would make an interesting scientific documentary episode. On the comment "
I'm glad that my haphazardly throw together post has prompted so many insightful ones!
Singing has helped my singing, but it hasn't helped my fiddling.
In fact I have a general question about using overtone sympathetic resonances for intonation. It's obviously OK with octaves and fifths, but the 5th overtone is a flat major third, and the 7th overtone is a very flat minor seventh, so I don't see how they can be useful.
Andrew, try reducing the sound level of the violin into your left ear with a simple ear plug. For starters just roll up a bit of Kleenex tissue to see if it works.
Andrew (F!) - I'm intrigued as to how you know you're hearing sharp and what the cause might be. I presume your violin sounds sharp in relation to the rest of the orchestra? Do your open strings also sound sharp, but you trust them to be correct? In which case, how do you tune up?! Does the violin sound sharp only when it's under your chin, or also at a distance?
I trust my open strings to be correct (they are indeed in tune). I play an E on the A string and find that it's very flat compared with the open E string. I play the A major scale from A to E. I suppose every interval is slightly flat and the effect is cumulative.
Andrew V, that is really interesting! I have also found that hearing my own intonation improves with a simple foam ear plug in my left ear. It cuts out weird overtones and buzzing and somehow makes the pitch more pure-sounding so that I can concentrate on pitch rather than other distractions in the sound. I started wearing the earplug when I practiced just to protect the hearing in my left ear, but hearing pitch better turned out to be an added bonus.
Erik, the other instance when a tuner was helpful to me was with my daughter when she was about 8 and was doing some simple arpeggios. The third she played was really flat--so flat that even I could hear it--and I mentioned it. She responded, "no it's not." She was practicing these arpeggios and learning them incorrectly. I don't know, but I can imagine from my own experience that she'd just played and heard it enough that way that it now sounded right to her. She was not interested in taking correction from me, and kept arguing with me. No, she was not flat, she was in tune! That was her reality: she was right and I was wrong.
I sometimes use a clip on tuner when playing a tune all the way through. That way it isn't just one note or fingering I can see.
Whilst we are on the subject of to use a tuner or not. Tuners are typically set to equal intonation, but who is to say that equal intonation is correct for a particular melody line, whether the melody line is correct when played over a harmonisation, is the harmonisation played by an equal tempered instrument or sung, where any sutable temperament can be chosen? I am a beginner violin player, but have been doing some reading on this, or maybe I just know enough to hang my self ... ok jokes aside. I do know that certain temperaments are more appropriate under certain circumstances, so my thought is in practice it comes down to developing the skill to listen to the tuning in the context of the surrounding notes — I suspect an electronic tuner of equal temperament is not going to help here. Is this perhaps why some say to dispense with the tuner device as soon as possible? Some comments from experienced string players on the choice of temperament would be appreciated (or perhaps new thread on it’s own?).
I use tuners for guitars (with tweaks to counter poor intonation) and bass guitars, but I find tuning forks easier for ukes and the violin. I've got forks in C, A and E, and I've got some pitch pipes too, including chromatic ones. And my harmonicas are also useful. For fingered notes, I can see why you might use a tuner out of curiosity, but I prefer trying to train my ears.
This thread seems to have gone in the completely wrong direction - from developing intonation skills to picking the best tuner. I use a tuner, and I can stop any time I want. Except when I can't figure out what the pitch should be, which tends to happen a lot more when I'm at a lesson and don't have a tuner, oddly. I blame the teacher.
At some point the concept on interval came up in the discussion. For instance I can play an entire piece with the right intervals... 1/4 tone sharp or flat and never have a clue that I did because... the intervals were correct, just off by 1/4 tone throughout! But... intervals is what allows one to play with a base note A=445 and not feel out of tune, whereas some how if I play an A=445 when the intended base A=440 it should feel out of tune, but that is only relative to the other intervals. So, how does playing in tune defined? Playing the right intervals relative to the set base A?
But Roger if you had open string notes then melodically it would be obvious. Also if you had fourths, fifths, octaves from the open string the lack of resonance would be indicative.
Roger - you express it well; like most of us you have a good sense of relative pitch but not absolute or "perfect" pitch. Ensemble tuning is always with relation to an arbitrary standard A that may be 440Hz in Los Angeles, 445Hz in Marsh Gibbon (determined by the church organ?). Those "blessed" with an absolute pitch sense that tells them the A should be sharper or flatter just have to grit their teeth and adapt!
If the intervals are in tune with open strings (which are 1/4 off relative to a fixed abstract A) that are relatively in tune with each other (I'm aware there is more complexity here), then the performance is in tune. The À is an agreed upon convention, thus Roger would be in tune anyway. Just that the reference point has moved.
Developing a sense of pitch is a process, give it time. The example of singers is valid; some of them have excellent intonation and there are no mechanical/physical impediments to fine-tuning their notes. They have the other problem of finding the right notes(!). You don't have to take singing lessons, but hearing the music in your memory is a huge advantage to memorization and intonation. Besides Solfegio, singers also do interval study, to get a feel for the tonal distance between the notes. Violinists can do the same thing; There are 24 melodic intervals and 5 fingerings for each = about 120 different combinations of two notes. That sounds like a lot, but it fits on 2 pages. Tuning to open strings is a good start, but only works for chords that contain those two notes. Tuning to the piano or the electronic tuner gives you equal-tempered tuning, close enough most of the time. At some point learn about Pythagorian versus Just tuning, to learn why and how to bend some notes. Our margin of error is about 5 cents (1/20 of a half-step!) and the most we need to bend a note away from piano tuning is about 10 cents.
I don't depend on a tuner on a regular basis. I think it helps to occasionally look at one and see how close you are to the target.
I just wanted to share what I do:
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