Intonation in 3rd position

Edited: July 3, 2019, 11:13 AM · I just started playing in 3rd position on several of my non-Suzuki pieces (Bach's Marche and 1st movement of Telemann's Sonata #1), just started Suzuki 2. I'm shifting and hitting the proper pitches - but I know my intonation is far from crisp and clean. My teacher has been kind about this - he only started me on this 3 weeks ago. I'm not unhappy on my progress, but while I'm hitting my notes, the quality just isn't yet there in 3rd and I know that.

My teacher is going on vacation so no class next week. I want to take this opportunity to clean this up as far I reasonably can at this stage - it would be a nice and, probably, welcome, surprise to him (and his ears). I suspect the problem to be the closer finger spacing - and I will say that 3rd position in the key of C (Sonata #1) is much better than key of D (Marche). Love what this does for my 4th finger though...

Any tips/drills that might help this? Pitch isn't the problem, but the notes aren't crisp and clean like I'm used to hearing. Sorry I can't be more specific.

Replies (16)

July 3, 2019, 12:39 PM · When I'm doing things up in higher positions, especially with new passages, I always have my tuner out to keep me honest in my intonation. I'd say just keep drilling it really slowly until you're comfortable with the changed spacing. It'll be very slightly different on each string too, by my understanding. A fourth finger G is going to have a slightly different placing than fourth finger C, and so on. (If this isn't right, please correct me!!! I read it somewhere)
July 3, 2019, 12:40 PM · Soundwise, we have to play a little nearer the bridge, a little more firmly, and with slightly longer bow strokes. Trial & error!

Intonation in G major:
Check 1st finger against open G, 2nd finger against open A;
4th finger double-stopped with open G;
3rd finger double-stopped with open G; but you may want it a little nearer the 4th finger.
Trial, but zero error!

Edited: July 3, 2019, 12:41 PM · It's slow work, but the best thing you can do is continually check against open strings, so that you can practice hitting at least those notes with assuredness. The key of C has no sharps, so you can always check any D you have with open D, either by bowing the unison on the G string, bowing the octave on the A string, or on the E string you can bow against the open A string, which gives you an octave plus a perfect fourth. This is an example of how you can check that specific note and listen for the cleanness of the perfect interval.

You can do the same or similar things with all your G A and E notes, so on the A string in 3rd position, you can check 3 out of 4 fingers to be in tune with the different strings, which means you have to fit the f natural in with the other three notes. Did I mention this is slow work?

There is time for playing through pieces, but you have to set aside time to do the slow and painstaking work, and eventually you will start to hear these notes a lot better and faster. A tuner is ultimately not going to get you to the intonation you want.

Edited: July 3, 2019, 1:57 PM · Catherine,

Obviously, the first finger on the D, A, and E strings should resonate (ring) with the G, D, and A open strings. Similarly, the second finger should resonate with the D, A, and E strings. Generally speaking the fourth finger should resonate with the string above if you move your first finger over to that string - i.e. "C" on the G and D strings should be one octave apart. The third finger, depending on the key, should either be next to the second or fourth finger.

One technical point that I notice a lot: Make sure your thumb is in the same relative position to your first finger as it is in first position. Almost all my students start third position leaving their thumb way behind where their first finger is and that tends to make the other fingers flat. Leaving the thumb behind is a very common problem when going into third position.

Over time you will get used to the logarithmic shortening of the distance between notes as you move up the fingerboard.

July 3, 2019, 2:16 PM · I'm sure you realize that as you play higher up the strings your fingers must be closer and closer together. The distance between the fingers, in fact, is directly proportional to the change in the angle between your upper arm and forearm at the elbow. This proportionality continues all the way up the strings to the point that far enough up there your fingers may have to get out of each other's way depending ou how thick they are (a la Perlman).

One way to help this in 3rd position may be to drop the neck of the instrument lower between your thumb and 1st finger.

July 3, 2019, 3:18 PM · If your problem is tone rather than pitch (it's not clear from your post; you first say "my intonation is far from crisp and clean" and then you say "Pitch isn't the problem, but the notes aren't crisp and clean"), then I'd suggest just playing very long notes on each pitch of whatever scales you're practicing in 3rd position. Play each note slowly and carefully and concentrate on making a pure tone. You will find that you need a different sounding point and that the feel of the strings under both hands will be different as you go up the neck. You can also practice playing two notes per bow, slowly, coming down on the string with a little extra force for the second note. This exercise is in Whistler's position book and is pretty good for cleaning up the sound of playing higher up.

I remember that when I first started playing in higher positions, my sound was awfully fuzzy, and these two exercises helped me get a pure tone.

Edited: July 3, 2019, 8:07 PM · This is very much about tone - my pitch is much better though of course "better" is relative at my stage. When I think I've got it spot on is when I get in trouble - it keeps me humble and reminds me that I only returned to the violin 8 months ago. Third position is also new so I certainly won't say that my pitch is always perfect. My teacher teaches new techniques in the context of pieces, so sometimes my "side" pieces take much longer to learn than one might expect. I really appreciate the suggestions and will read carefully so I can incorporate them.

Scott- your suggested exercise sounds quite useful and I will incorporate it withe the others. To me my 3rd position notes sound both fuzzy and weak no matter how much bow I try to give it. I did start playing with getting closer to the bridge this morning and noticed a difference - and for the better.

Andrew: thanks for the tip on dropping the neck down a bit, I will try it. I figured the tonal problem was, in part, because my fingers are closer and I'm unused to that - though I do have quite small fingers.

George - yep, I do try to leave my thumb behind (which is normally between my 2nd/3rd fingers - I've quite small hands). Good thing to remember.

Christian and Adrian - thanks for your comments - very helpful. It does seem a good time to set aside a bit of time daily to focus on these things. Nice to have a relaxing "staycation" this week during which I can focus on this.

Kristen - I understand what you're saying, though I can't explain it. I also keep a tuner going though I've positioned it to where I may, or may not, look at it unless bizarre sounds emanate from my violin :-)

Edited: July 3, 2019, 9:27 PM · Anchor fingers! If you're in third position and don't plan on moving, plonk your first finger down. It will keep the rest of your hand in tune. Also, if you have to shift up during a phrase, it's really helpful to shift with the finger you need AND first finger as backup (placing first finger in third position before finding the pitch you want---you should hear the intermediate note when you play slowly).

Make sure you know your ringy notes (eg G D A E and their natural harmonics). If a note seems deader than the others around it, it's because it's out of tune and the other strings aren't vibrating sympathetically. Also remember that intonation is all in the tips of the fingers. Never use your pads. Bring your left arm up and out to keep your fingers true on the fingerboard.

July 4, 2019, 5:27 AM · On the subject of tone, it's about getting to know each string individually, isn't it.

In first position I quickly got what seemed the best tone out of the G and E strings. Then came the A string. Last of all came the D string.

In third position the D string was the one to come in first for tone, quickly followed by A and E which I used more when playing pieces. I haven't done much work on the G string in 3rd. I should work on the scale of C major.

Edited: July 4, 2019, 10:23 AM · Good thought Gordon, and that makes sense. Right now my teacher has me focusing on a 2 octave G major scale with arpeggios that use both 2nd and 3rd positions. Perhaps it makes sense that I've less problem with tone when shifting to 3rd in C Major than for D...

Instead of using a book for this, he has me write out the arpeggio for his review after we discuss it - and I agree that I don't look it up on the internet. I like this approach - it seems to make it easier to learn somehow. We also have a separate theory lesson once a month.

July 4, 2019, 6:59 PM · Cotton - thanks for the reminder about intonation and fingertips. I'm there, usually (as evidenced by my calluses) but am finding for some reason I want to move to my finger pad further up the string. No matter, the point is to be aware of it.

On a side note I'm finding that my loaner violin has far more resonance in the ring notes then MY violin - which is likely an indication that my violin fingerboard has been a problem longer than I realized...

Edited: July 4, 2019, 9:27 PM · Also remember that tone and intonation are not orthogonal objectives. When you play in tune, your violin will catch more resonances and the overtones will sing more. A great way to discover this is to play scales very slowly. Just sink your bow into your strings and draw back and forth generating a rich "forte" tone, drawing a little closer to the bridge than the middle "lane". And play two octave scales, G, A, B, C, and D for starters. These will bring you into third position (go up into third position already on the D string!) and you'll hear it when your D's and your F#'s and your B's are really in tune. It's not drudgery -- you can make it a very zen-like experience.
July 9, 2019, 6:31 AM · Paul - thank you! I've been doing this the last few days. I like this approach- it is quite zen-like and effective. Am working with G, A, C, and D two-octave scales, one-octave F minor, and the Asian Pentatonic scale (the last two are for specific pieces I chose)

I've also been experimenting with the other suggestions in this thread (thanks to all), and even just after a couple of days I'm hearing a difference in 3rd position. I always start my practice with scales and arpeggios, and now adding shifting practice.

As my teacher presents new techniques in the context of pieces, I've really slowed down the tempo for Marche. I find my tone in 3rd position far more challenging in this piece, so I cut the tempo back far enough where I can play/hear each note clearly. It's fine to play fast - and I like that - but not if my tone/pitch gets out of control. I think that wanting to play fast at my level is a temptation to cover up mistakes :)

Can't wait to get my lovely violin back from the shop and see what it sounds like with a correct fingerboard scoop!

July 16, 2019, 7:30 PM · Thanks again for all of your good advice - my teacher noticed the difference at last night's lesson. I can now play the troublesome passages I mentioned at the start of this thread at my practice tempo - and while my tone still needs a bit of work in third - the quality of those notes is much improved. The rest will come with practice - and relaxing when I shift into third.

The corrected fingerboard scoop made a noticeable difference in the sound as well - but I certainly cannot blame anything at all on that!

July 17, 2019, 3:32 AM · And as mentioned early on in the thread, sldon’t forget to be sure that your bow is not too far from the bridge. Less forgiveness in high positions.
July 17, 2019, 4:17 AM · Recently I've been playing Ole Bull's Shepherd Girl's Sunday. It's a good introduction to this kind of thing.


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