Is there a Connection between Balance and Intonation?

December 17, 2017, 4:58 AM ·

If someone is to have a good ear, and good sense of pitch recall, but their sense of balance is poor, would they have very inconsistent intonation also? Are the two related somehow? In my experience I think they are.

Just throwing the idea out there......


Replies (8)

December 17, 2017, 5:48 AM · That's a new one on me but an audiologist will be able to speak more authoritatively. Of course the hearing and balance systems are closely related anatomically and there is such a thing as vestibular hyperacusis where both audition and postural control are disordered but you seem to be describing a much more subtle connection
December 18, 2017, 8:58 AM · No, I don't think balance and pitch perception have anything to do with each other.

I have a suspicion that the poster, having balance issues, is looking for an excuse for his intonation problems. I had terrrible vertigo for 2 years following a car accident--it didn't affect my pitch perception.

December 18, 2017, 5:30 PM · I've known cases where Meniere's disease affected both intonation and balance - but that's both being symptoms of a larger problem, not one affecting the other.
December 19, 2017, 8:16 AM · The canals that provide a sense of balance are quite seperate from the auditory ones; but maybe inflamation in the porous mastoid bone could affect both?
Edited: December 19, 2017, 11:26 AM ·

I am not really saying there is a real connection to auditory, pitch and visual balance. What I am saying is what I found with 2 young students that had poor intonation after 2 years of playing, even though they were consistent at practicing. They both showed signs of a poor proprioception sense. They were able to pitch match fine, so they should of been developing good intonation, but their poor intonation wasn't consistent at all: always landing in a different spots of out tune, compared to others outoftuners(one word) who land in the same out of tune spot. An underdeveloped proprioception sense caused by growth spurts would explain this, but what I didn't do at the time was check their vestibular balance system to see if there was a connection to weak motor control and a weak balance system.
If there is a connection to having a weak vestibular system and poor intonation, a fix may be improving balance so finger placement can become more consistent.

December 19, 2017, 1:10 PM · "They both showed signs of a poor proprioception sense."

Did you train them without tapes and/or without a fixed left hand position (somewhat clamped on the violin)?

I've found that students with poor proprioception sense need to have a more structured and rigid left hand setup to get started, or the fluidity of the violin makes it impossible for them to know what's going on. Generally, this is amplified by a student not starting with tapes, since even though they can pitch-match well, their fingers are landing too far away from their marks for the ear to figure out how to correct it immediately. Not only this, but they don't have a good visual idea of imaginary "frets" on the fingerboard, so it makes it hard for the brain to conceptualize parameters regarding intonation. They need strong finger-maps to begin with.

Poor proprioception sense = use tapes to start with, and don't be afraid to keep them on for a while. Remove them as their body awareness catches up to their sense of pitch, otherwise it's like learning to walk in an earthquake for them.

Aside from all of that, maybe they just didn't practice slowly enough to actually train their fingers to land correctly? I have one student right now who has excellent pitch recognition, great motor skills, and knows where the fingers should be going. But every time I send her home telling her she needs to practice SLOWLY, she comes back with the same situation, where she practiced AT TEMPO repeatedly for the entire week. I've tried to get the mom involved, and both she and the daughter know very well what needs to be done (I've explained in excruciating detail for months upon months not only what needs to be done, but also WHY), but the situation keeps happening. It's like groundhog day, I swear. Actually no, it's like talking to a brick wall. But the brick walls repeatedly tells me that it understands, and is even able to repeat back to me WHY practicing slowly is important. I'm starting to think that no amount of explaining will ever cause her practice habit to change. /rantoff

Point being: maybe they just didn't care about playing in tune.

Edited: December 20, 2017, 1:11 AM ·

"Poor proprioception sense = use tapes to start with, and don't be afraid to keep them on for a while. Remove them as their body awareness catches up to their sense of pitch, otherwise it's like learning to walk in an earthquake for them."- Eric Williams
- I am not sure I agree with this, but it is nice to see other teachers out there who are able to identify students with a poor proprioception sense. But shouldn't our objective be to design techniques that strengthen the proprioception sense, instead of suppressing it even more.
Poor proprioception affects targeting (shifting to different positions on the guitar, mandolin, and violin. Targeting on the violin: being able to play a note 15 cents less or more then an in tune not from another lower note. Target in piano: being able to jump from one note to another note one or several octaves higher or lower).
My theory is to strengthen the vestibular system, which isn't that difficult, and this could take 3-6 months. When the vestibular system is strengthen there might be a huge positive affect on targeting; which therefore, will aid in good intonation. The problem for me is, I don't have a student with a poor proprioception sense to test this theory out.

December 20, 2017, 6:25 AM · When I recently had my old violin taken back to pretty well its original baroque setup I took the opportunity to have the fingerboard shortened to what would have been a 2-octave length in the 18th century. One immediate effect is that I can see exactly where the top E and D are on the E-string (although my proprioception is good enough not to need the visual assistance).

Other reasons to have the fingerboard shortened:

When you get more than a 3rd or 4th above that top E (i.e. G/A, which are manageable and quite playable beyond the end of a short fingerboard) the physics of the shortened length of string works progressively against tone production the further up the string you go.

The overall weight of the violin is reduced.

The shortened fingerboard enables more vibrations to escape from the belly of the violin rather than being absorbed or dissipated by a long fingerboard, so better projection.

No unsightly deposits of rosin dust to clean from the end of the fingerboard - always a nuisance and a little more awkward to remove than from the belly.

To my eye a violin with the short 18th century fingerboard is visually more "balanced".

Cons: how is "sul tasto" now to be interpreted? :)

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