Intonation in scales and arpeggios
My teacher shared with me a practice tip yesterday for working on intonation in scales: set a drone not of the tonic but of the supertonic (the 2nd of the scale, e.g., D in C major). I found this really helpful!
It made me wonder what other tips or tricks there might be out there for working on intonation in scales and arpeggios. If you have any, would you share?
I sing my scales in solfage for 5-10 minutes to get the sound of the scale in my ear. I start singing the scale while playing on my instrument today which seemed to work also
curious what the rationale behind the drone was?
As well as this excellent practical advice, may I insist on attentive listening to top violinists: we must "nourish" our aural memory by hearing good intonation more than we hear our own efforts!
I have a chromatic tuner that I place on my music stand along side my Carl Flesh scale book when I do my scales and arpeggios. Sometimes, i will play my scales on my piano before I play it on my violin. But most of the time, I use my chromatic tuner.
"Supertonic drone? Come to think of it, the supertonic harmonizes with all notes except the tonic..."
Irene, she didn’t say specifically why...but I find the overtones I hear are more helpful than when I use the tonic. There must be a better explanation for this, but I haven’t quite figured it out...
Tuning to a drone or open string is an intermediate step in the long learning process to improve intonation. It will give you correct just intonation of the thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths intervals relative to that drone note. Those pitches will need to be adjusted very slightly when we change to another key or chord. That is one reason why the Bach unaccompanied S & P set is so difficult. At the beginner's level I find that most intonation problems are caused by not making a clear distinction between whole steps and half-steps. The remedy should be simple; play wide whole steps and tight half steps. The fingers touch on half-steps, for whole steps there is enough room for another finger.
Ok, but how would you work on intonation in scales and arpeggios as an advanced learner on this long learning process?
@A.K.--and then for the advanced class for intonation, you find out that there is no single frequency # that is correct, perfect for all situations. Perfect pitch is relative to the musical context. When you are practicing alone on your solo you will naturally prefer Pythagorian tuning, also known as melodic, "expressive" or leading-tone intonation. When you are 2nd violin or viola in a quartet you blend your note to the chord with just or chordal tuning. Working with a piano, you naturally compromise with the piano's equal-tempered tuning. You also try to use equal-tempered tuning with highly chromatic or non-tonal musics, and when playing the ambiguous chords; diminished, augmented, the chromatic scale and whole-tone scale. Of course it is impossible to think about all that complexity while playing, so at some point you just trust your ear and fingers to do the right thing. It's a huge topic that frequently comes up on these forums. Why does the violin not have frets?-- So we can play in tune.
Anita - if you're looking for a comprehensive guide to developing intonation with scales, you could do worse than get hold of a copy of Simon Fischer's "Scales" book. It goes beyond most scales systems in its focus on helping you to play in tune.
I have that I think. Some helpful stuff in it
Thanks for the answers!
On top of all the manual work I'd suggest just listening and dissecting recordings of players whose intonation you agree with. Listen to a phrase, stop and play it yourself, pay attention to each note. Find the same phrase against a different chord and compare etc etc. Lower the pitch of the recording and play in a flat key
Anita I think the main tip, which has been said often on this forum already, is to play your scales and arpeggio's supercritical, meaning that you stop immediately when a note is out of tune. Then focus on that part until you get it in tune. Then continue. Etc. Don't practice too slowly, as the fast habits have to be ingrained too. Practicing fast is only bad if you trash sloppily through your material. Practicing fast while still having high concentration and attention to detail, is, I think, essential and gives you things you will never achieve by practicing slowly. I think another tip is to continually pay attention to your tone too. At all times you must produce a clear and solid tone. That goes hand in hand with intonation. If you do two hours per day you can become a very good violinist I think. You use the Flesch scale system? That one has the most variation so enough material to be busy for two hours even in a single key. The Max Rostal edition of the Flesch scale system book also has an interesting introduction that gives many helpful suggestions on how to go about practicing scales systematically.
I don't do a supertonic with my scales. Gin and tonic works better.
Thanks for these additional tips! J I, it has never occurred to me to listen so specifically. Seems like it would be helpful. Important question: how does one lower the pitch of a recording??
Anita, you can download Audacity and do it. Or use Garageband, put an effect(pitch adjuster) on the track which has the audio file.
@Paul Deck Good idea! I might try that. However, It very much depends on what level player you are: for beginners: definitely playing with an accompaniment (ask your teacher to accompany the scale) will help. For intermediate players: sing along in yoiur head and test frequently with open struings or double stops. Advanced players: test fingers with as many different double stops as you can find. You will discover that intonation depends very much which note you tune to: try playing B, first finger on A together with the open E string (perfect fourth). Now play that same B together with the open D string (Major 6th). How did you change the B to be in tune?
Very helpful, thank you!
I like to sing WHILE I play the violin. Like, I'll sing one of the notes of the arpeggio and play over it. Like my own drone.