Scale issues

April 28, 2021, 4:18 AM · Hello all,
I've recently started doing a B major scale as part of my practjse for the first time in a long time. When I go up, intonation is sort of okay ish. Coming back down, the intonation shifts to a C major scale and its driving me crazy. Any thoughts?

FYI, its only a 2 octave scale

Replies (27)

April 28, 2021, 4:24 AM · A lot of my students do this for D flat major, which slowly morphs into D major. Practice slowly and quietly, focusing on just your intonation.
April 28, 2021, 4:31 AM · I've done it with D flat as well haha. Thanks!
April 28, 2021, 5:11 AM · greetings,
get a copy of Simon Fishchers scale manual. it will give you a clear methodology for resolving these kinds of problems.
April 28, 2021, 5:30 AM · Buri, its funny you should say that. I used a technique of his that I had read in one of his other books (Violin Lesson or Basics, can't remember which) for a different scale recently But I'll take a look. Thanks!
April 28, 2021, 6:13 AM · Greetings,,
another useful practice method is the ide arodney Friend puts forward of practicing everything in fifths. You may find this frustrating at first but it will pay enormous dividends. Incidentally , when doing this kind of practice it is useful to use a hooked bowing. That is slur two notes, then slur the second note of the first pair with a new note and so on.
Edited: April 28, 2021, 6:28 AM · Odd. B morphing into Bb is easier to understand.
My guess is your pinky is to blame. It's over-reaching for those semitones on the D and G strings. Maybe make sure that first it isn't overreaching for the E on the A string? Maybe you can use the F#,E on the D string to recalibrate your hand shape, as well as using the B on the A string as an anchor point?
April 28, 2021, 6:27 AM · I think you're right there Gordon. Buri, I found his video about that really interesting, but have never found myself inclined to use it for some reason
Edited: April 28, 2021, 6:42 AM · Or the D string may be the major problem - you have three full tones, and maybe after you play the A#, your fingers are not staying far enough apart.
April 28, 2021, 6:52 AM · I should have mentioned, this is on the viola
Edited: April 28, 2021, 7:26 AM · Yes, you should have!
If you're playing it all in 5th position, it's down to ears and practice.
April 28, 2021, 10:13 AM · You could also try practicing the scale with a drone:
Edited: April 28, 2021, 10:56 AM · A frequent danger zone is the four wide apart fingers e.g. Eb-f-g-a, or E-F#-G#-A.

Depending on where we come from and where we are heading, this can be an out-stretched pinky, or a leaned-back index, with vital semitone shifts as we cross three or more strings.

As we correct the offending group for intonation, we'll probably adopt an intermediate position with the 4 fingers opening symmetrically: a quarter-tone shift. Once we have established a reliable strategy, we must stick to it!

With stubby fingers, we must remember to swing the elbow to keep our hard earned intonation when re-descending towards the lower strings.

Bb scale? ("-" = whole-tone, "." = semitone, "b" = flattened finger)

G: (0-1).2b-3-4 in 1st position)
D: 0.1b-2b-3-4 (still in 1st position)
(or symmetrical 0.1-2-3-4 in 3/4 position)
(or 0.1-2-3#-4# in half position)
A: 0.1-2-3#.4 (in half-position)
E: 0.1-2-3#.4 (half position)

This avoids
A: 0.1b-2b-3.4b (in 1st position)
E: 0.1b-2b-3.4b (still in 1st position)
where 3 out of 4 fingers are curled back..

In arpeggios, these adjustments have to be well assimilated!

April 28, 2021, 10:56 AM · For me, the easiest way to implant the steps of major and minor scales in my mind was with the G major and minor scales. However, since those fingering patterns apply only to scales starting on an open string, I suggest familiarizing one's ears and fingers with the A major and minor scales with no open strings. Then move up one position and play the B major and minor scales. Then if you want to play it with different fingerings, your ears should be able to detect pitch errors.
April 28, 2021, 11:10 AM · Andrew, that is the exact finger pattern one of my previous teachers suggested and its something I (try and) do every time I practise scales
April 28, 2021, 12:26 PM · Jake and Andrew, that's what I do too.
My elaborate scheme can sometimes be necessary, though, and can avoid "surprising" lapses of intonation.
Edited: April 28, 2021, 8:45 PM · Jake, you have to figure out if there is a certain pitch that is consistently throwing you off, which could be because of where it falls in the scale, or could be because of an unfamiliar hand position (or possibly other culprits), or whether you are slowly drifting out of key over time.

(curses, I had to go back and rewrite this for viola)
B major has two pitches that you can compare to open strings - B and E, and all the other pitches are unfortunately hanging there from that scaffolding. You should stop on those pitches where you can and play them together with an open string to check - You will have more opportunities to do this when playing in 1st position (you can play e on d-string with open a, or you can play b on g-string with a double stop on that same e on the d string that you checked with the open a), but it's still good to learn this scale in 2nd position.

Since this seems to occur going down and not up, it something might be happening when you change strings (and your hand doesn't know where to go). Some places where you can check on things is by focusing on one octave, playing it up and then down, and then seeing if you stayed in-key on the way down. Then you can move on and do only the other octave and check the same thing. If you found the culprit with that, then you should practice within that octave until you start to hear it better.

It helps to have a logical way of finding where the problem really lies, which allows you to work specifically on that problem and resolve it quickly, without spending a bunch of time on things which aren't issues. Break it down to the simplest thing you can practice, practice it there until it makes sense, and then add complexity back and practice that until you have gotten to where you wanted.

(I play the analogous-on-violin 3 octave scale of f# major in 5th position, so starting on the 2nd finger - It's actually quite the comfortable finger pattern, but it would be easier to train that pattern on a b-flat major scale, because you get to check intonation 4 times on open strings)

April 28, 2021, 3:07 PM · Agree with Adrian; the problem might be the half-step between 4th and first finger. Depending on the size of your hand, length of the 4th finger, and the string length, we should not do all of the extensions that we can do on violin--too dangerous. Descending scales are always a little more difficult than descending. Two ways to "cheat", break the rules a little: do the half-step as 1-1 instead of 4-1. Or, try fingering it as Cb (!) which puts you into 1/2 position. Intonation drift happens when we do not have the resonance of open strings to keep us on track. Singers have the same problem when doing an unaccompanied solo line. Another cause of intonation drift when playing alone is the very small differences between our 3 systems of intonation; melodic-chordal-tempered.
April 28, 2021, 3:12 PM · @--Adrian. "quarter-tone shift" ?!. I have not heard of such a thing. Please expand---. I think of the all whole step pattern, W-W-W as either a 4th finger extension in one position or a 1st finger extension in a position a half-step higher. --jq
April 28, 2021, 6:14 PM ·
Does the same problem occur with arpeggios?
April 28, 2021, 10:25 PM · I agree with Christian. If you record yourself I bet you will find one interval that is causing you the most trouble, rather than the trouble being distributed evenly.
Edited: April 29, 2021, 3:02 AM · @Joel
I agree about choosing"high 4" or "low 1", and I imagine a new position for the hand on each semitone. I like to define a position by the placing of the base of the index rather than of its tip.

I too find no mention of the quarter-tone shift, nor the "symmetrical" spread of the fingers, but I think we all do it if we have a flexible left hand, and at high speed: e.g. rapid, highly chromatic passages in e.g. Wagner, Rachmaninov, or Bartok, or in wholetone or diminished scale (hwhwhw) passages. I like to practice it consciously to avoid being caught out.

@ Henry
Arpeggios need different preparation, with only one or two notes per string, and "diagonal" intervals akin to double-stops. I find I use more stretched pinkies than I would like to avoid too frequent mini shifts..

Edited: April 29, 2021, 5:49 AM · Given that it's in 5th position and it's drifting sharp, the pinky is the obvious culprit on the way down - any of the other fingers is more likely to drift flat.

How are you at remembering the key notes so that you can correct the F#, D#, B,F#, D# and B on the way down?

Edited: April 29, 2021, 8:45 AM · Use a B drone and go slow.
April 29, 2021, 9:29 AM · I don't dislike the idea of a drone, but it may make the exercise more mechanical and less musical.
April 29, 2021, 10:07 AM · The drone is probably the fastest way to internalize the key, and staying in key precedes making any kind of coherent musical statement. Once Jake can stay in key, and he can hear the key in his head as he plays, he can drop the drone. I've never played with a drone, so I probably took the slightly longer route when I was running into issues like Jake. This is likely to be a quick stage to pass through, even if it is frustrating in the moment.

If he goes with the drone, he won't have to slog through my excruciatingly long post.

April 29, 2021, 11:29 AM · I have just read the OP properly! The main problem is downward shifts?
Well, whatever the finger pattern, the whole hand has to open, fanlike, towards the scroll, rather than forwards with the pinky.
April 29, 2021, 6:27 PM ·
"Internalize the key", that was my point that arpeggios may help with this, despite the 'different preparation'. Slow practice and the anticipation of every note must be imperative.

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