Question about practising with drone for beginner

November 14, 2018, 9:36 AM · I am an adult beginner who started violin in September this year. So now we were taught how to play notes in the first position in class. It is all cool, but it comes with intonation issues. My teacher suggested that we should practise with a drone to improve on this area.

There is one problem: I don't quite see how practising with a drone supposed to work.

I very little music background prior to violin, but I don't think I am tone deaf either. When the drone is playing a note, for example A, and I play the open string A. I can't really tell if I am sharp of flat, or if there is beat (assuming I am not in tune). I actually do not have a precise idea what is a perfect fifth (along with other intervals) sounds like. If you play me a perfect fifth and told me that it is a perfect fifth, then play slight out of tune, the chance is I can't tell it is different.

With the drone, I feel like I am constantly guessing what's going on. Maybe I am in tune? Maybe I am out of tune? I just never seems to know the truth.

Is there a way to get this drone practice work for me? I have a feeling that I am not doing it right. And how much time should I be spending on this at my level (beginner of 2 months experience)?

Thank you very much.

Replies (21)

November 14, 2018, 10:08 AM · I think a digital tuner or tuning app could help you. It gives you a visual cue- your note is too high or too low. You can then make the adjustments to your fingers and hear what the correct pitch sounds like.
Edited: November 14, 2018, 10:32 AM · I think the best way for a beginner to hone his or her intonation is to play simple, extremely familiar songs that have notes in first position. Twinkle Twinkle and Lightly Row is how the Suzuki books start. But there is also Mary Had a Little Lamb and so on. You know how these tunes should sound, so you play them again and again, adjusting your finger positions slightly every time, until they sound right. I suggest you don't do your intonation adjustments note-by-note (as you will be tempted to do if you use an electronic tuner). Intonation isn't just about whether you can eventually find each correct pitch, it's about whether you can find the pitch in between two other notes. Allowing yourself to slide around and adjust during a "take" can instill bad habits.

To answer your question, the drone is supposed to help you because you can hear the intervals that your melody notes make against the drone. Problem is that interval (chord or "vertical") intonation is actually different from horizontal melodic intonation.

November 14, 2018, 12:38 PM · Have a look at the Dolflein books. There are excercises that lend themselves to using a drone, as well as the related use of open strings as a pitch reference. I am using the first chapters of books 2 and 3 exactly this way to improve my intonation, with a digital tuner as either a drone or pitch monitor. I use Cleartune, which does both nicely.
Edited: November 14, 2018, 2:53 PM · A single, private lesson could clarify this really well for you.

EDIT: I'm assuming this is a group class where the teacher didn't have time to explain *how* one plays with a drone effectively?

November 14, 2018, 6:26 PM · I think using a drone without first being able to differentiate two pitches in the case of a unison or knowing what each of the intervals should sound like, is a waste of time. I would suggest you find an phone app to work on your relative pitch sense first in order to improve these two areas.
November 14, 2018, 8:21 PM · Don't be discouraged if it's hard. This takes years to develop, and your ears will hear more minute details later on. Once you develop good intonation, you will not be able to watch TV shows like American Idol. You'll hear the nightmare these contestants sing.

Learning intonation on a violin is different from singing, or trumpet, or most instruments. In the violin/viola/cello/sometimes bass, you get cues from other strings. You play one note, and the other strings will ring a certain way. You'll have to learn how to use these context clues to develop your skills.

Starting with simple songs can be good. Scales also very good. Playing with a tuner will give you reference. Don't really know how to guide you in how to use a tuner.

Perhaps, play a note. check and make sure it's accurate. close your eyes, memorize the pitch. Then see if you can repeat it correctly.

...I dunno. you come up with a method that works for you. Bottom line, it takes dedication to learn intonation.

November 15, 2018, 6:47 AM · Beginner here too:

I find using a digital tuner when I start practicing slow scales to be useful to remind myself of the correct finger positions and to get the pitches in my ear. After that, for practicing even easy pieces, I feel it's a distraction.

Once I've figured out the fingering and basic bowing of a beginners Suzuki book piece, I will often play it accompanied by CadenzaStringsNC on Youtube (slow, medium and normal tempo versions online.) Great reality check to hear when I'm off. Just make sure you're tuned to A440 when you do this.

November 15, 2018, 8:09 AM · I'm not sure that having a small remote control helicopter with a camera is going to help your intonation very much. But then again, I've never tried it.

Handy tip, though - if you're using the drone indoors, watch out for the ceiling fan.

November 15, 2018, 8:30 AM · All,

Thank you very much for the suggestions. I will give them a try. I will start with a ear training app first. It is hard to know what the drone is telling me when I struggle to hear an interval or unison. I will pick an old tune and scale, and check out the books mentioned!

November 15, 2018, 9:24 AM · "I'm not sure that having a small remote control helicopter with a camera is going to help your intonation very much. But then again, I've never tried it.
Handy tip, though - if you're using the drone indoors, watch out for the ceiling fan."

Damn, beat me to it.

Anyway, there is a spectrum of abilities for being able to hear intervals. Some people will be helped quickly by matching against a drone, and some will need further aural training. Some are bothered when playing out of tune...and some are not.

Edited: November 15, 2018, 11:02 AM · "I'm not sure that having a small remote control helicopter with a camera is going to help your intonation very much. But then again, I've never tried it.

Handy tip, though - if you're using the drone indoors, watch out for the ceiling fan. "

If OP is a beginner I doubt he has many fans, but even if it were the case, why would they be in the ceiling?

November 15, 2018, 12:59 PM · @Demian this might be a small clash of cultures and meanings. Ceiling fans were once very common here in the US. The popularity has dwindled some, though they can still be found. I just bought a big one for a 14' ceiling.

I was going to make the drone comment too. Honestly that's the first thing I thought when I read it. The cheap ones are difficult to fly. A better one would get some nice video of a violinist standing on a mountain top fake playing.You could put it on YouTube with the other 100,000 violinist videos:)

One tip that's maybe helpful to the actual thread- I have found that using a rubber mute helps me better hear the pitch because you only hear the sound and not any overtones harmonics or additions from tone.

November 15, 2018, 3:54 PM · "A better one would get some nice video of a violinist standing on a mountain top fake playing"

Why would you ruin a perfectly good mountain top?

November 15, 2018, 8:31 PM · I just want to highlight and agree with Paul Deck's advice. Unless you have perfect pitch (which is not necessary), a note by itself is ambiguous. The important thing is the relation between notes. So if you have tuned the open strings, B (Si) is easier to find by its relationship with A (La).

Find a tune that is so rooted in you that you can always refer to it to "find" the notes. I advice about something that starts in a open string, so you have the base tuning and from there you may find all the rest.
If it is of any help for you, from the beginning I use the first half of "This Land" (H.Zimmer-Lion King). It is originally in A, and perfect for violin tuning. I start playing in A and then trasposed to the D and G. In the E, I go up to the positions necessary. Like Paul said, if it's a tune you know very, very well, you are going to autocorrect your misstunings.

After that, you can do the necessary practice, and stop from time to time to play again your base tune, to get your intonation back.

November 16, 2018, 7:33 AM · It sounds like you have taken the ear training advice already, so I would recommend www.tonedear.com. It's set up like a quiz, and after a short time playing I could recognize any interval. Of course using that knowledge on violin is a whole other struggle.
November 16, 2018, 8:10 AM · @Scott I guess if it looks good it is good for video :) In my case, you can surround ugly with anything you want to and it's still ugly.

Here's something I found in case a violinist or attempted violinist wants to try drones. The sound kind. There are different tones on the video channel you can select. I just put a drone into my DAW and set it to loop. Simples.

November 16, 2018, 11:49 AM · I would second what Paul says, and this was one of the original intentions of the Suzuki method, to start by learning folk songs that you know well by ear. (He used German folk songs, which are not necessarily familiar to all cultures!)
November 16, 2018, 4:49 PM · MIGHT give the drone some excitement before he does himself in, mating with the queen bee!
November 16, 2018, 4:52 PM · "Unless you have perfect pitch (which is not necessary), a note by itself is ambiguous..."

Nothing could be further from the truth. While this is true on instruments such as a piano that produce a homogeneous tone from note to note, it is not true on the violin. I'll bet any violinist can identify the open E without perfect pitch.

Students must be trained to perfect their pitch based on TIMBRE. We all know that a third-finger D on the A string, or any note associated with an open string, must have a certain resonance. An advanced string player should be able to hear just that note and know that it's in tune without hearing an interval. The note will either be resonant or sour.

Once you are sensitive to the expected timber that every note produces, you live in a different sound world.
Students who can be taught to listen to timber--to what their violin is telling them about the note--will play better in tune. It's not a quick process, but it is effective. Some violins are better in this regard than others.

November 16, 2018, 5:27 PM · If you let the drone hover above your head, the results will be amazing!
November 17, 2018, 6:17 PM · Suzuki books have CD options. This day and age, you can input the song on the computer and have the computer play it as a slower speed...50%, 25%..etc. Practice alongside a slowed down recording and you match the pitches.

A viable option.


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