Is it possible to be a good violinist and still sing out of tune, not aware of it?

Edited: May 13, 2023, 12:02 PM · Hi, I was wondering if playing fretless instruments, like the violin, cello, viola... "forces" you to sing in tune, or if those are unrelated factors/skills.

Since violinists are constantly "fighting" and practicing to sound in tune, I guess they develop a really good ear to know if something is in tune or not. So, if they start to sing a song given the first note, they will sing it pretty much in tune.

I guess when violinists sing, they will hear their voice just like the violin, and will adjust it to the "perfect" note to sing in tune.

I see 3 possible scenarios:

1. The violinist listens to his voice and adjusts it to be in perfect tune with a backing track, for example.

2. The violinist listens to his voice, knows it's not really in tune, but lacks the skills to control his voice to tune it to the backing track.

3. The violinist listens to his voice and is not aware he is really not in tune.

Notice it's a yes or no answer. I am not trying to read "most violinists sing well". I am trying to find out if "singing in tune" and "practicing the violin for thousands of hours" can be 2 completely unrelated skills in a given person. Meaning being a violinist does not necessarily make you sing in tune or even be aware of it.

Replies (30)

May 13, 2023, 1:33 PM · Some players who don't have trouble matching pitch on their instrument need practice to get their voices to match pitch.

Violinists who can play in tune will be aware if they sing out of tune. Their ability to control their voice to correct their pitch will vary.

Edited: May 13, 2023, 1:59 PM · Depends if the person is aware or not, and how much aware. If he's well aware but unable to place his voice correctly, then it's voice related, yes. If he's not aware, it's ear related, then no. Go play the piano or drums.
Edited: May 13, 2023, 4:39 PM · Personal Experience: my own and my father's. We could both play in tune but had a very hard time tuning our voices - and we knew it!

EDIT: I should add: I did sing in tune without a problem before my voice changed.

May 13, 2023, 3:18 PM · Yep. As Grouch Marx said, "I resemble that remark."
May 13, 2023, 3:57 PM · It's less common for a person to be born able to sing in tune. However, it does occur. Most people need some training, however, to produce the voice in such a way that they are consistently singing in tune. A lot of this is just breath control. I learned a lot about this when I quit the violin at the age of 21 due to a physical injury. My musical outlet after that became voice in a youth choir.

In this way, violin is the same. Very few people can immediately play in tune. It's a process that is perfected over time. However, some people are much more effective with their ears, and able to adjust more precisely. There is a wide range of people from the person with perfect pitch to the person with a strong relative pitch to the person who is completely tone deaf. I think this statement applies to any person no matter what instrument they are playing.

Edited: May 13, 2023, 3:59 PM · no.
Edited: May 13, 2023, 4:46 PM · Jean, I'm not convinced you're right. Some people are actually able to differentiate between two notes yet, due to their education, fail to recognize how notes are sequenced from higher to lower or from lower to higher. For some people you need to train them to recognize this. Once they do recognize this, they are able to understand how walking up the fingerboard increases the pitch and walking down the fingerboard decreases the pitch. It's when a person truly can't differentiate between two different notes that they are likely not going to learn.

After all, what does out of tune actually mean? Are you out of tune if you are playing all notes correctly with respect to one another, yet you failed to turn your violin correctly to A440? Therefore, if a person isn't able to produce a starting note correctly with their voice, they will sing everything after that starting point, incorrectly with respect to the intended starting point, but correctly with respect to the starting point they actually used.

So the question for the OP then becomes: is the person singing a melody that makes sense, and simply starting on the wrong note, and not recognizing that they started on the wrong note, or does the melody make no sense at all because everything is out of tune.

For example, listen to what you hear the next time you go to a birthday party where many people are singing happy birthday. Yes, you will hear some that are just completely tone deaf. However, a lot of them simply haven't been trained to hear a starting note, and then quickly reproduce it with their voice. Consequently, they start on the wrong note, and then go on singing the melody correctly for the most part.

Edited: May 14, 2023, 2:26 AM · When I was teaching, my younger classes (middle school ages) would often tell me that it was somebody's birthday, hoping that some 'fun' activity take the place of 'work'. I nearly always would have the class stand up and do a few simple stretches and vocal exercises, the last of which was always based on the first five intervals of HBTY. When they caught on, I always said 'OK, let's sing it for .... but quietly to not disturb Ms Stacy next door.' This never failed to deliver a beautifully tuned rendition.
Edited: May 13, 2023, 5:07 PM · Okay, let's put it this way:

If a good enough violinist (a player that has been playing the violin for at least 5 years daily and efficiently, and is good at it) is asked to sing a Disney karaoke song... with a backing track to establish the key... will that violinist be able to sing it in tune due to his/her vast experience playing the violin, which forces you to constantly learn to tune your notes to play correctly?

Or can a perfectly fine violinist be bad at singing and sing out of tune, without remedy?

Is "singing in tune" a forced consequence of being a decent violinist, having played thousand of hours the violin? Or those are 2 different variables that don't go together?

Edited: May 13, 2023, 5:37 PM · If a person is good on the violin, they already have a good concept of intonation. However, that doesn't necessarily mean they have the capacity to correctly produce a note with their voice. However, be careful with how you think about this. There are notes on the violin that I can play in tune that I can't reproduce with my voice unless I sing it an octave(s) lower. If you have limited ear training, quickly shifting your voice an octave lower is not trivial.

If I'm interpreting Paul D. and Andrew's comments correctly, they can play in tune on the violin, but struggle to sing in tune. So, I guess it does happen. I would be interested to know what their voice background is, and if they understand the relationship between their voice's range and their violin's range. Andrews edit makes me wonder : "I should add: I did sing in tune without a problem before my voice changed."

May 13, 2023, 6:29 PM · I tell the people in one of the church groups I play with "I sing like an instrumentalist. I'll hit the pitch but I don't sound like a singer".
Edited: May 13, 2023, 6:59 PM · Luther, singing in tune and singing well are two different things. :)

However, you just made me realize something. I stopped playing the violin when I was 21 and started the process of recovering it over three years ago. I also let my voice skills lapse as well over those years. So I guess I need to recover that skill too. Maybe I can get my violin skills up to the point of being able to play the Ernst Erlkonig, and in a recital, I'll sing the Schubert song as a baritone and follow it immediately on my violin with the Ernst version. I hesitate to guess which one will be less in tune. Ha ha!

Edited: May 13, 2023, 7:55 PM · I imagine them to be tangentially related. I can sing pretty in-tune, probably from singing in church from an early age, but that's kind of a very particular technical-physical overlay on broader skills. I can whistle pretty well, because I've developed the musculature, but I have no idea how I do it. But that didn't mean that I automatically played in-tune on violin; part of playing in-tune on violin is developing my inner hearing, which is connects my more abstract sense of pitch to the particular technical-physical aspects of my fingers plus the tuning constraints of the instrument itself. I find playing in-tune on violin MUCH more difficult than singing in tune.

Anyway, clear as mud.

EDIT: What I'm getting at is that I know what sounds in tune, but the mechanics of singing in-tune is a set of particular skills that mean you develop all the "equipment" you use to sing, beyond just knowing what is in tune. So no, I don't see why playing violin would develop vocal intonation, and I don't see why singing would develop violinistic intonation. Does getting good at chess mean you develop really good ping pong skills, since they are both competitive and involve the hands?

Edited: May 13, 2023, 7:42 PM · Okay let me clear some points:

1. Singing good, well, beautifully, is not the same as singing in tune. I am asking just the in tune part of singing. Of course singing correctly has way more nuances than just hitting the notes in tune. I hope it's already clear, but this thread's point is to find out if there's a clear correlation between being a proficient violinist and being able to sing in tune.

2. Of course, violinists that have been going to singing lessons don't count. This destroys the scenario. The violinist is not supposed to know how to sing correctly or have taken singing lessons to sing in tune. The point is if being proficient at violin "forces" you to learn to sing in tune, naturally, no lessons required. You won't necessarily sing beautifully, just in tune.

3. Of course when I say "sing in tune" I always mean within your voice range. I hope I don't have to explain that I am expecting a violinist to sing as high as the E string up on the fingerboard. Just the concept "in tune". I said the perfect example: a karaoke famous Disney song. Will a proficient violinist be able to sing that given song in tune because of the years of practicing the violin, which makes you train your ear to know when something is in tune or not?

Or will the proficient violinist know he/she is not singing in tune but lacks the skills to modify or control the voice to tune it?

I feel like I am repeating myself.

Edited: May 13, 2023, 8:20 PM · Paul to clarify the point about voice range i mentioned their ability to shift their voice an octave, if a given note is out of their range. I don't think it necessarily follows that a good violinist can do this with their voice without training. In other words an out of tune note may simply be a missed attempt at shifting an octave. However I somehow doubt a good violinist can fail to recognize that they missed the note.

However even as "good" ( lol - am I??) violinist we can fool ourself into thinking we are in tune when we are not, if we rely on relative pitch rather than perfect pitch. A few weeks ago while fighting with thirds in B major where Flesch fingers it so you aren't using the open E, I was surprised to discover myself sliding sharp and would have missed it altogether if I didn't test it against the open string.

Edited: May 13, 2023, 8:12 PM · There's one other factor that may result in worse intonation when singing than playing violin: vocal range. My voice is a low bass, bordering on "Russian bass." While playing violin and viola helps with singing reasonably in tune, if I haven't sung in a while it can take a few weeks of practice to sing low bass notes with the same kind of precision I have on string instruments, because I'm just not used to hearing myself in that range.
May 14, 2023, 4:37 AM · We can't answer the question "yes or no" because to do that we would need to test a large number of good violinists who aren't aware whether they sing in tune or not!
Edited: May 14, 2023, 5:58 AM · When you sing, what hits your ears is internally generated and partly bone-transmitted and very different from what comes into them purely from outside, so that I can imagine in some people hearing the beats or even the notes is harder as a result.

Similarly, when you press the end of a tuning fork against the bone near your ear, the pitch seems to depend on how hard you press (in my case).

@Andrew "My voice is a low bass, bordering on "Russian bass." "
I was going to comment on this, saying that they were known as Oktavists in Russia (I had seen a TV programme on singing), but then I Googled it and realised that the expression Basso Profondo, which I knew, but didn't know the meaning of, was one of the ways of describing it.

The TV programme led me to believe (as you imply) that it was somehow exclusively Russian, but I guess it's more likely that the Russians are the last to retain an interest in it. (and it is very rare, so perhaps only large populations will reliably produce such singers)

afaik, I'm a bass-baritone, neither fish nor fowl, but maybe in reality I'm just a bass who needs to practise more.

Edited: May 15, 2023, 10:37 AM · Part of singing in tune comes from vocal technique and training. Singing the right notes is something else; interval recognition. All serious singers do interval training. String players adding vocals to their tool kit have an advantage because there is a clear physical and sound analogy for the interval distance between the notes on the fingerboard. I was fortunate to do singing lessons after violin. (baritone range + falsetto}. After a couple of weeks doing her usual interval etude book my teacher set it aside, I didn't need it. Once on a song I thought I was flat on the top note, I asked to do it again and fixed it. She asked how I did that, I said "I just thought major third up"
Edited: May 14, 2023, 3:39 PM · Paul N, you asked whether it's possible for a good violinist to sing out of tune and *not notice it*.

The answer is "no".

However, a few specifics are worth mentioning here:

1) By "out of tune" I mean substantially. Even the world's best singers aren't actually nearly as in tune as we would expect on a violin, so we're adjusting for what is considered "in tune" vocally.

2) I don't mean they can all sing in tune. I just mean they would notice if they weren't.

3) We're also going to assume that they were given a reference pitch when they started. Many people, when they sing, automatically translate the key down/up depending on their comfortable range. So it's important that they're given the correct pitch of the first note before they start singing. If they're singing to a backing track, this shouldn't be necessary.

4) The last assumption is that they know the song well. Obviously, if the notes aren't in their head, then they can't match the pitches correctly, but that's also true when playing something on the violin, assuming we're learning it by ear and not by sheet music.

If anyone can give me an example of a good violinist (or even just decent) that can sing out of tune and not notice, I would be *very* surprised.

May 14, 2023, 5:30 PM · Re: those low voices, I tend to think of a basso profondo as an opera singer and a Russian bass or oktavist as a choral singer, which probably isn't an actual distinction but it's the association in my mind. (Also, I associate that range with Russian composers rather than Russian singers.) To be precise, the bottom note in my vocal range is Bb1, which is lower than most basso profondo singers and low enough for Rachmaninoff's All-Night Vigil, but not quite low enough to be considered an oktavist.

As for tuning: I notice easily if I'm singing out of tune down to around F2, but the farther I go below F2 the harder it gets for me to tell if I'm out of tune.

Edited: May 14, 2023, 6:06 PM · I happen to know two violinists, one amateur, one pro, who can’t sing in tune to save their lives. It does not appear to affect their playing in tune, or their ability to hear whether others do or don’t.

The pro does not appear to notice. I am a bit flabbergasted myself.

May 14, 2023, 6:24 PM · Leonore, I wonder if it his sinus or bone structure related? When I'm stuffed up with a common cold, I don't touch the violin. Firstly, every time I try, I manage to hurt myself - pull a muscle, secondly, I struggle to hear the notes correctly. As I aged, I developed allergies, and I don't enjoy singing in the same way that I did before. Not sure if all of this is connected, but our voice depends on our bone structure and healthy sinuses, and what a person hears in their head may differ from what is actually heard by others.
May 14, 2023, 6:57 PM · Erik and everyone else:

1. Yes, of course when I mean "in tune" I always mean what we all mean when someone is "in tune", hahaha. In other words, I am not testing mathematically the sound waves of your voice. No, I mean it sounds in tune, meaning intonation is not a problem for that singer.

2. As I have said several times, the test is playing a backing track of a famous Disney song, and check if a proficient violinist, familiar with that song or she/he can learn in in a few minutes, can sing it in tune with the backing track. The song must be easy to sing, we are not testing the ability of the violinist to match a very high or low note, or nothing else beside just checking if they can sing in tune.

3. The question has several scenarios as I already said. One, can a proficient violinist sing out of tune AND don't notice it?
Two, can a proficient violinist sing out of tune, be aware of it, but not being able to control his/her voice to match the notes and sing in tune?

And, no, Bruce ( almighty :) ), the violinist tested must be healthy, if an illness is making you sing out of tune... then what's the point of this thread?

My idea is that, for me at least, it is HARD to imagine a proficient violinist that can't sing in tune, as for me that's kind of a contradiction. How are you training daily your intonation, tuning your ear and brain skills to match pitches and be in tune, and yet sing out of tune?
I don't care if you sing loud, ugly, quiet... as I am just focusing on the "in tune" variable, not anything else, as we all know singing is much more than just hitting the notes.

May 14, 2023, 7:17 PM · Paul, you're missing my point. I'm not trying to argue that illness is the reason for singing out of tune. I'm simply using the illness as an example of something that impacts how we hear sound. A variety of different issues can exist that will impact the sound we hear in our own head versus what another person will hear . This is particularly true when we are using our own body to create the sound. It's a question that I have : Are some people physically structured in such a way that their perception of the sound they create with their voice differs from what another person will hear, yet still be able to produce perfect sound on the violin since it's generated externally.
May 16, 2023, 10:19 AM · I taught aural skills for many years at the college level. Most non-singers, including excellent violinists, simply need practice controlling their vocal cords.

There is another issue: intonation on the violin is a matter not just of pitch, but of timbre. That is a dynamic missing from the voice, and just about every other non-violin-family instrument.

Violinists don’t tune from pitch alone—they listen and adjust to specific timbres for EACH note.
For example, stopping E on the A string must produce a very open, resonant sound, or it will sound choked off or sour. An E-flat won’t have that degree of openness, but will have its own, different timbre based on the mix of overtones, and it will be utterly different than D, E natural, or F.

Most of can hear when students are out of tune without any context at all—just by judging the timbre.

This is heterogeneous aspect of violin intonation is a phenomenon that the voice, piano, flute, trumpet, etc all lack..

Edited: May 16, 2023, 10:41 AM · Scott - As so often I wonder if we're using words to mean different things? To me "out of tune" is synonymous with "off pitch". "Intonation" on the other hand is more ambiguous and can be used to include timbre. But I completely fail to see that intonation (or do you mean timbre?) is a "dynamic missing from the voice", which as far as I'm concerned is the paradigm of expression by means of variation of vowels and other sounds.
Edited: May 16, 2023, 11:45 AM · If you sing a D, then an E-flat, then an E-natural, there won't be the dramatic timbral change as you'd hear from a violin. Each has a very specific quality. As I said, listen to a student play an E-natural on the A string, or ask them to play it very slightly flat. You don't have to compare it to anything--it will sound horrible.

For the voice, however, (or piano etc), you could get away with singing that E a tiny bit flat, as long as everything else is lowered the same amount. Only someone with perfect pitch would be able to tell.

May 16, 2023, 12:08 PM · Scott, in the case of the violin, I believe what you're talking about is called sympathetic resonance. The violin will resonate in a specific way, if notes are played perfectly in tune, with respect to the open strings. With your voice, you don't have this same affect with open strings resonating. Depending on the violin, this affect will be dampened even if the open strings are out of tune with respect to A440 or very close to A440.
May 16, 2023, 1:00 PM · For violin there are open string, air cavity, plate resonances. For voice, the entire vocal range is divided into several tessituras; "chest, head, falsetto, fry, cross-over notes, etc., each with it's own timbre and feed-back feel. When combined to an optimum resonance there is something called "singer's formant". Some teachers will have a long list of "fach"; vocal ranges with distinctive qualities.
What I have always found amazing is that an instrument designed in the 16th century for playing church hymns and Corelli, at about A flat tuning, with modification of course, will be able to play the Tchaikovsky concerto at A 440

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