Thoughts on practicing intonation by playing along with playback

November 28, 2018, 7:57 AM · So I've been convinced that looking at a tuner for improving intonation is at the very least insufficient. It's also pretty frustrating, because you're adjusting your sound to the visual feedback of the tuner, so you don't even necessarily hear an improvement, but just see it.

With that in mind, I've moved on to another crutch(?): Practicing scales along with violin playback (no vibrato). In this way I actually hear when I'm out of tune, so I'm not just seeing it. This makes it so that I have to figure out whether I'm too sharp of flat, and I'm actually listening instead of looking.

A variation on this kind of practice would be to alter the playback so that it always plays, for example, a third below the original pitches. Perhaps also some kind of reduction of the score, where only the bottom chord tone of the harmony is played. The extreme end of this reduction would be just the constant drone of the tonic. So really, it's just augmented drone practice.

Of course I'm sure this kind of practice needs to be combined with solo scale practice as well!

Replies (12)

November 28, 2018, 9:02 AM · Just play with a drone. That's a better exercise for your ear.

I personally HATE playing to any sort of track or click. Unless I have a wire, I can never hear the bloody thing; I spend more time trying to sync with it than I do playing. It's incredibly frustrating.

Edited: November 28, 2018, 9:09 AM · Yeah, you have to have the speakers set quite loud.
I understand drone is a harder exercise, but wouldn't this kind of thing work you up to that? Basically, you gradually strip down the playback until it's only the drone. That's in case you aren't always sure about all the intervals relative to the tonic drone.
November 28, 2018, 10:16 AM · If you aren't already doing so, you should be checking any g,d,a,e you have in your scale with the open string. You can also check c on the d string with the open g, even though it isn't quite as obvious.

It can seem like painstaking work, but it will give you an architecture for tuning the whole scale in scales where those notes are naturals, and it will pay off.

November 28, 2018, 10:46 AM · What helped me greatly was to forget about notes. Don't play "notes". Don't worry about accidentals. Learn what a perfect scale sounds like, and then play what you hear in your head.
November 28, 2018, 2:14 PM · We might notice our faults, but will there be time to correct them?

I tell my students to listen to 4 or 5 notes and the copy them, rather than playing with them.

November 28, 2018, 3:13 PM · The objections are noted! I still intend to try this method same as I had to try out the tuner method before being convinced not to use it. :)

Of course I will combine in with standard practice as well and tuning my ear and audition.

@Adrian
Yes! This is a great alteration. First play in unison, then play solo after hearing it!

November 29, 2018, 1:51 PM · I find singing/whistling the passages works well for me, another way to familiarise myself with the notes and also vibrato

Just need to listen to a lot of classical music to learn the intonation used, play those pieces in your head and with time you'll learn how certain phrases work

November 30, 2018, 3:54 AM · Urban, my preference is to not try to play in unison, (unless the notes are very long), but to imitate single notes or short phrases after attentive listening.
I find we can "hold" 4 or 5 notes in mind
Edited: November 30, 2018, 6:37 AM · Urban, I find it fun to play along with a track (I'm talking Suzuki book 2 so beginner stuff) and I certainly notice when my intonation is off when doing so. But there's a lot of other stuff going on at the same time that I'm taking cues from (rhythm, dynamics...) It's a lot of fun but not a pure intonation exercise.

I agree with you that working on intonation using a digital tuner is for the birds... even counter productive when practicing in any kind of flow. (I do use it sparingly to check the sound of one note that I'm repeatedly having trouble hitting.

November 30, 2018, 8:33 PM · Drones are the answer here. Search "cello drones" on youtube, find the note that pertains to the key of the piece (e.g. G drone for G-major or G-minor), and use that as your constant reference.
December 2, 2018, 12:41 PM · I just finished playing an opera, on the 1st violin part solo, sitting next to the lead flute, and our intonation was frequently out of synch. On the last performance I noticed that she had an electronic tuner on her stand, running all the time, presumably calibrated to equal-temperment.
December 4, 2018, 4:02 AM · I have found that in terms of playing WITH playback, just drone does appear to be better. Who knew established practice techniques would once again prove superior to my home-brew!

Adrian's idea of repeating after a phrase is still proving useful though.

I had tried using drones before, but it seems to be doing more for me now. Perhaps I've developed my ear somewhat after all.


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