Why do teachers expect you to play more in tune if you go slower?
Here's a quick experience I've had with 2 different violin teachers I'd like to share. When practicing a piece in a lesson, or when you're learning something taught by your teacher, I've noticed that if I start to play some notes out of tune, they will say "play it slower", expecting me to be more in tune.
What? No, I can't do that. If I play slower, I'm gonna sound just as out of tune as before, but slower. Playing slower makes me control better the sync between bow and fingerings, but I won't play more in tune, I don't see the correlation between tempo and intonation.
I mean, yeah, there's a limit, if you go crazy on speed of course you will go out of tune, but I'm talking here about small changes. For example, I'm playing a 90 bpm piece, and since I'm a beginner I have not mastered intonation yet, so sometimes I will play slightly out of tune, noticeable. My teacher would say "play it slower, may be 60 bpm". What happens next is that I play it slower, but more or less just as out of tune as before, and I notice a frustration look from my teacher, expecting me to play... almost perfectly in tune now that I'm just at 60 bpm?
I don't get that.
Your teacher may expect that you'll adjust (i.e. slide) each out-of-tune note at the slower tempo. It could be that either 60 bpm isn't slow enough for you to adjust the notes, or you're gripping the violin so tightly that you can't move your fingers at all once you've put them down.
It's because audiation is (or should be) a significant component of intonation. You "pre-hear" the note in your head before it goes down. Intonation is not really just a physical thing. You can de-tune the violin of a good violinist and they'll still play in tune, automatically adjusting where their fingers go.
Doing any kind of complex physical activity slower should, in theory, result in greater accuracy. The same is true whether you're serving a tennis game, pitching a baseball, doing a gymnastics routine, or learning a passage on the piano.
My teachers always suggested playing slower when my intonation was off. I never assumed that that would fix anything, rather that it would raise my chances to fix it. The slower you play the better you can hear every note, the more time you have to hear exactly what you are doing.
Slower pulse = the note lasts longer so more time to react and get to the correct place OR there is more time between notes to think about where the next finger is going.
I'm all open to face mistakes, indeed I do. I don't, or don't try to, cover my intonation mistakes by speeding things up. Not at all, or at least not consciously. If I play slower my aim for the note is pretty much the same, I guess. My point is, talking about accuracy and aiming: I don't know how to aim with a gun, I shoot more or lees to the target but I can't control my aiming really. Shooting slower/waiting more until I pull the trigger is something I don't find helpful, my problems is not the tempo or that I shoot too fast, my problem is, no matter how slow I perform, the intonation problems are there.
Adjusting the finger is a step toward getting the note right the first time. Much of learning to play music is learning to listen to oneself accurately. If you aren't listening to your own playing at a slow speed, then you likely won't play more in tune when you slow down, but it's a skill that comes with time.
You have more time to slide around and find the correct pitch, so naturally they should expect you to have better intonation overall.
You sound frustrated, Paul. I believe there are very few violinists who have never been frustrated by intonation problems. So keep at it, use the tips you are getting and be patient!
Slower tempo allows you to hear the intonation problems. But in real time, adjusting the pitch by sliding is not practical. Either there isn't enough time, or the audience will hear you bending the notes. The real challenge of playing in tune is teaching your fingers to land on the right spot every time, with a margin of error of about 10% (1 mm !) in first position. Vibrato saves all of us. It is not cheating.
"Yeah, you can re-adjust your finger, or slide up/down, to tune to the actual note, but the thing is you have to play the right note in the first place."
I don't consider 60 bpm to be slow. I expect my students to play much more slowly than that when they are first learning a piece. Some do, some don't. The ones who do play better in tune.
Mary, the piece I was talking about is played at about 110 bpm. I practice it at 90 bpm to control it and learn it solidly, and reducing it to 60 bpm is a lot of reduction. You can't know if 60 bpm is a lot or not if you don't know the original tempo of the piece, and more important, if there are mostly quavers, or semi-quavers... I might play it even slower, I'm not 100% sure it's 60 bpm, but I guessed.
It's pretty common for me to practice something at 1/3 (or so) of the tempo to make sure intonation, string crossings, chords and any tricky rhythms are correct and as clean as I can get them. For me 90 would be way too fast for careful practice if the tempo is 110. If the piece is quarter note equals 110, I might work at eighth note equals 80 for a while.
When I ask my students to practice something slowly, especially when they are first learning the piece, I mean something well under half tempo. 60 bpm on a piece with a performance tempo of 110 is too fast for effective slow practice.
I haven't read previous replies, but just a quick thought based on my teaching:
There are also different types of "playing slowly" - such as slower overall tempo (bpm) vs. stopping between each note or groups of notes (basically, it's practicing a passage with different rhythms). The piece can be going by slowly but you prepare your finger and/or bow quickly. The sync between bow and fingerings is really that the finger arrives (or leaves) a split micro second before the bow draws the sound.
Thanks for your help! :)
Mary Ellen - it's wonderful to read that a seasoned pro approaches their work in this way (just as you/others teach students to work up a piece to speed)! I'm doing this with a piece whose performance tempo ranges from 110bpm-130bpm (depending on the interpretation one is referencing), I'm aiming for 110bpm to start. Following the same methodology as Mary Ellen: starting with 40bpm per EIGHTH note (which is like 20bpm/quarter note - talk about slow...), I'm now up to just past the halfway mark at 138bpm per whole note - which feels torturously (needlessly?) slow in terms of learning curve. I made some interesting discoveries along the way with this (right and left hand stuff) so it has been worth it to put the work in beyond the intonation benefits.
continued,- Slow practice also gives you time to plan prepared fingerings, decide when to leave fingers down, and when to lift them. Most of our technical problems happen between the notes. Another possibly apocryphal Heifetz story; He would practice a piece at exactly 1/2 tempo.
Yes...Heifetz could practice at half tempo. The rest of us mortals need to go more slowly. :-)
Practicing slowly gives you time to anticipate the pitch, but you have to actually practice the act of.... 'anticipating'. This requires even much slower practice than you ever thought. The inner ear needs to be trained to hear the notes in a micro second before it is played, and that takes very slow practice. Scales, arpeggios, and intervals are utilized in this initial training. The exercise is simply to hear the note before it is played, and if the note is not played in tune no adjusting is permitted, one must begin again until you can 'hear' it....hear it in tune, play it in tune, repeat. That can take years until one can play all notes in-tune with or without micro adjustments. Because it is what you hear is what you play.
There is a wonderful video on slow practicing for intonation by Sassmannshaus at violinmasterclass.com. He shows you exactly how to do it, with demonstration by a student.
Let's put it this way: I start at half tempo if I have limited time to learn the piece. Otherwise, much more slowly.
Here is a video which demonstrates what I was trying to describe at the basic level of learning intonation.
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