Improving pitch/intonation experienced intermediate

December 12, 2017, 10:45 AM · Need to get pitch inside +- 5 cents. My pitch is noticably off on solo recordings of practice. Tried ety ear plugs. Strings are old, new in next yrs budget.

Replies (16)

Edited: December 12, 2017, 3:30 PM · You can look for old threads on how to improve intonation. They are plentiful.
Edited: December 12, 2017, 12:01 PM · Everyone wants to improve their intonation generally so that no matter what you're playing it's just better. But my experience is that the way teachers operate is to identify *particular* intonation errors in the repertoire (and studies, including scales) that you're working on because as you get better intonation errors become less random and more systematic. Teachers want to fix the mistakes you're making repeatedly; everyone commits one-offs. Likewise it'll be hard for people here to help you without hearing you, unless you really want advice like "practice more scales" or "listen to yourself."
December 12, 2017, 1:28 PM · I'm going to jump in with a semi-related question: my violin opens up more (has that glorious vibration) when the G, D, A are played a little flat(third finger on the D, A, E strings). If I play with nigh-on perfect intonation with nigh-on perfect tuning of the strings, that vibration/ring is not there as much. Is this something my luthier can adjust? I will ask my teacher, but figured I'd ask here while I'm thinking of it.

To the OP:
I'll spend parts of practice sessions slow practicing with a tuner, and I will return to those sections or scales repeatedly until it "sticks".

December 12, 2017, 3:03 PM · Pamela, when you think of something "in tune", are you thinking of pianistic intonation -- i.e., equal tempered? You don't want to use that on the violin, really.
December 12, 2017, 3:38 PM · Simon Fischer's _Scales_ has the most systematic treatment of violin intonation I've ever seen (or heard for that matter). If you just get that book and do what he says your intonation will improve A LOT in a matter of weeks.

And the cool thing about better intonation is that as you get better, you can hear better, so then you get even better. At a certain point stuff that sounds out of tune to us isn't even very noticeable (if at all) to normal people.

Also, it's helpful to listen to good recordings of tonal music (especially Mozart and Haydn); to a certain extent you can train your ears even when you're not practicing, which will help the process of improvement to happen a little faster.

December 12, 2017, 3:59 PM · Masayuki Kino's recordings of violin etude repertoire (Dont, Kreutzer, Kayser, Rode) are a good place to start - his playing is very clear and precise. And then there are his recordings of the Bach sonatas and partitas, and 5 of the Seitz student concertos.

Kino's recordings can all be streamed from Naxos.

December 12, 2017, 4:48 PM · Pamela, a violin string has a slightly higher pitch when bowed, compared to when it is freely vibrating. You can check this for yourself if you use a fast-responding chromatic tuner (e.g. Pano Tuner for iphone and android). That can explain what you're observing. On my violin's A string, the difference is about 2 cents.

To make matters more complicated, the 2nd partial of a freely vibrating string is slightly more than a pure octave above the fundamental, which works the opposite direction. The amount differs between strings.

I'm assuming that you were comparing a bowed perfect-octave double stop; there is no difference between equal temper and violinistic tuning in that case.

December 12, 2017, 6:09 PM · Han, do you know of an article discussing the precise frequencies of the overtones? Everything I've ever read always says the first overtone is an octave above, and I'd love to read something that's more correct if it's out there.
December 12, 2017, 8:18 PM · A vibrating violin string is not perfectly harmonic, that's probably what's going on. String has finite thickness, there are edge effects, etc. You can either master the physics of it or you can make the systematic empirical adjustments that are particular to your instrument.
December 12, 2017, 8:19 PM · Do you know your tendencies? In other words, are you aware of the situations where your pitch is off the most and which direction it tends to go? Record a few samples of yourself and note where the biggest issues are. You likely make those same errors routinely and you'll notice a lot of the same issue over and over. For instance, shifting up a half step, you may hear that you go sharp frequently. Or you may find that 3rd to 4th finger when playing a whole step is too narrow, etc.
December 13, 2017, 8:21 AM · When playing, I can't distinguish between 5 cents sharp to 5 cents flat. Using a phone app set to Pythagorean. Thanks all for your suggestions.
December 13, 2017, 9:55 AM · I'd think that +/-5 cents is quite ambitious for someone who is, according to the user bio, at RCM 3. (Disclosure: I'm not there myself yet)

The difference between equal temper and just intonation is about 15 cents on major and minor thirds, but in Pythagorean intonation, minor/major thirds (counting from the tonic) are about 7 cents off from equal temper in the other direction, or 22 cents from just intonation. So, I don't think Pythagoric mode in your tuner is very useful for much else than tuning open strings. But I could be wrong.

So, for intonation within +/-10 cents, what counts is how the note fits in a harmony. The intonation will be different depending on whether you play with piano accompaniment or in a double stop. I think it's more useful to recognize whether a note fits in a harmony than whether you can recognize whether the note is "correct" within a melody line.

December 13, 2017, 10:05 AM · Simon Fischer's book indeed describes how to tune your scales, sort of. My problem is that it doesn't really describe its own basis for the choices it advises, and some of the nomenclature is a little convoluted - "Tune midway (Between the last and next note(presumably)) - like a keyboard" -What the hell does that mean?

I would be much more interested in knowing how he built that table up, not that I think that would actually translate to better intonation for me.

December 13, 2017, 12:18 PM · Its very helpful to make a recording and then play it back at a slow speed. You should be able to notice the intonation errors much better that way. In fact, it can be quite painful to hear them all so clearly! Also play the recording slowly and watch the tuner respond. You'll learn some things from that as well.
December 13, 2017, 1:32 PM · Good article on tuning in the new (January 2018) issue of STRINGS magazine. Applicable especially to playing string instruments with piano and or in string ensembles.

In mixed ensembles (with winds) we strings are at the mercy at the winds and however they chose to define (or be at the mercy of) intonation. (I recall a performance of Mozart's clarinet quintet many years ago in which the clarinet had a really bad A-flat. There was nothing I (1st violin) could do but go along with him.)

December 13, 2017, 7:49 PM · I agree with Jason's assessment of Fischer's Scale book. I recently picked it up and am very pleased with how in a short time (few weeks) my intonation has significantly improved. I wouldn't have believed it by just look at it. Definitely not 'just another scale book.'

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