Intonation is the seemingly simple art of playing in tune. Good intonation means you play exactly the right note every time. Not one that is sort of close to the right note.
There are many layers to intonation, from a beginner’s “ball park” intonation, to extremely finite intonation, special “tempered” intonation to match a piano, and “untempered” intonation, for a string quartet or small ensembles not involving a piano.
As you become more advanced, your ear will become more sensitive and your expectations for intonation will also become greater.
The very first thing I train my beginners to do is to use their eyes to play in tune. In other words, I train them to aim precisely for the finger tapes, and I teach them to be very picky.
This consistency helps to train their ear. As they get accustomed to hearing notes in tune, they will sooner be able to do it without the tapes.
Suzuki Book 2 presents the perfect opportunity to remove the finger tapes and move to the next level of intonation improvement—the “Ringy Note” intonation. Using the sympathetic vibrations of your violin, you listen for the hollow, ringing sound created by open strings when you play any G, D, A, and E.
I explain this concept more fully in my video, “Violin Intonation, a Simple Approach”.
After this phase of intonation, I like to use several tools to bring myself and my students to the next level. One of my favorite tools is the pitch generator or tuner (I like the Korg TM40). Many metronomes have these built in, but you can also buy them separately.
Or you can rig something up with an electronic keyboard. And by “rig something up,” I mean setting something heavy, such as a heavy Swiss Army Knife, to weigh down any desired note.
Practice your scales by droning the TONIC of your scale and listen to the intervals created. As you are doing this, pay particular attention to string crossings. That is a real danger zone for playing out of tune because your hand angle changes slightly as you move from string to string.
Pay attention to your tendencies and you will gain accuracy more quickly. The only issue with this technique is that your intonation will develop in a non-tempered fashion, and you will have to adapt when playing with a piano, but I still highly recommend it.
Another tool I like to use to further refine intonation is simply to record myself playing. This can be very depressing because you really notice the intonation problems. But rest assured, if you can HEAR the problems, you can FIX them! All it takes is awareness, anticipation, and focused practice.
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Do you think it is a good idea to record a snippet from a piece/etude one is learning at a slow tempo on a keyboard and then play it simultaneously with violin in order to practice intonation? In theory it seems like a good idea but I don’t want to get bad habits. Thanks
I do not think playing along with a keyboard recording will help your intonation in the best way. It might improve it by happenstance, but it’s not the best approach.
The benefit of playing along with ANY recording is to gain solid rhythm and continuity in your playing.
I have recordings of SLOW SCALES which offer a back-drop of harmony, which keeps your pitch centered, THAT is a different story.
The best way to improve your intonation is to become familiar with your “ringy notes”, and to practice slowly with a “drone”, and of course, lots of scale practice.
I’m pleased to join RDV.
My teacher says ‘fis’ and ‘ges’ (e.g.) are the same in their finger placements on the fingerboard. Is it true?
Hmmm….”fis” is “F#”, and “se” is g flat. They are the SAME NOTE.
But I”m not familiar with “ges”….
if that is the flatted form of “Sol”, then yes they are the same.
So if you have “do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do”…….and lets say we raise “fa” to “fis”. Then lets say we lower “sol” to “se”……they would be on the SAME NOTE.
Hope that answers your question!
I have to say it is really depressing when i record myself playing, but guess im not alone
You are NOT alone. It’s like listening to your own voice on a recorder….it takes getting used to. YOu have to filter out your self-consciousness, and focus in on patterns. Do you have a pattern of playing sharp, or flat, on what note? Do you have a tendency to rush, or hit extra strings? etc…..
The pay-off of recording yourself is HUGE, if you do it regularly, and if you listen right.
I was told to do it in college, so I did it. But I did not benefit from it, because I was listening for single mistakes….like, “ooh, I screwed that one up”…..that’s NOT the point. You want to listen for TENDENDCY, or HABITS, or PATTERNS. I wish someone had told me that back when I was wasting time listening for the wrong stuff.
Hi Loram I’m from Brazil and I’m here because I need to learn mor and mor about play violin. I’ve been estudy some years ago and now I’m back to play and study violin. I subscribe your news and I hope learn with you. You’re not in Brazil but, I belive that I’ll learn anyway.
Hi Daniel! Yes, you can learn ALOT through video. Make sure you also find my YouTube channel, and my YouTube Fiddle Channel. I have alot of helpful videos there too!
I have more newsletters planned, so please be patient!
What level are you playing? What songs are you working on?
My Suzuki instructer, tunes my violin according to a perfect pitch (which she has), and to the pitch of the actual performance by Suzuki himself in book 1. How does that affect me now?
A440 is the most widely accepted calibration world-wide. Some people tune to A442, but there’s no advantage to that, and I think it adds unnecessary tension to our violins.
If you have a metronome at home, it will have an A440 built-in. Tune to that. If you need each individual pitch, you can access my TUNING video under the MEMBER RESOURCES section of online lessons. (but I don’t see it there…..I’m going to have to find it, and I’ll let you know where it is!)
I believe the digital age has eliminated the variance in PITCH that occurred with older, analog recordings. Your teacher may have been tuning your violin to compensate for the ANALOG pitch. And that’s fine to do that, because no one likes to play along to something when you are tuned differently!
So, Yvette, feel free to get your tuning off of your Suzuki CD….just listen to the first notes of TWINKLE, and that gives you a perfect A! Otherwise, tune to an A440, which is what I tune to, without exception.
P.S. If you need a free online Pitch Generator, let me know, because I have found one that doesn’t have lots of spyware attached to it! –L
Lora, it is so nice of you to personally respond. The problem is fixed. Thank you.
Your confirmation email somehow got lost in cyberspace. Could you resend it to me. Thank you and I really like your YouTube tutorials.
Thanks, Rena! I have some REALLY GREAT YouTube videos planned….just gotta find the time to do them!!! I’m really excited to put them out there!
Not sure what you mean by “Confirmation email got lost in cyberspace”….because I’m not a technical genius. Can you email me, and describe your problem, and I’ll Joe (the technical genius) fix it! 😉
Hi. I’m a senior adult beginner, though I’ve practiced the violin on and off for five years. I continue to struggle with merely holding the bow on the strings, weighting the bow with a relazed bow arm and hand, and “pressing” down with the bow. Any helpful advice on how to develop a relaxed and weighted bow? Thank You.
I have a TON of videos that you will find helpful because your problem is a common, typical problem. If a person doesn’t develop a proper bow hold, then they never learn the art of RELAXED POWER….that is the whole reason the bow hold is so strange.
Also, you need to learn how to “pronate” the bow using your forearm. Professor V compared the motion of pronating to the motion of pouring a glass of water. Hold your bow vertical, pointing it to the ceiling, like you are holding a full glass of water. Tip your bow toward your left, and it’s like you are slowly pouring the water out.
Anyway, I have a whole list of videos which you need to view, and take some time to DIGEST and apply the concepts. Once you do this, write back and let me know how you feel after trying my concepts.
Video #1: Advanced Bow Hold. However, many fiddle players prefer my “Beginners Bow Hold“. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the bow hold used for beginning Suzuki students is the “thumb under frog” bow hold, which fiddlers swear is the best…..and you may find that bow hold easier to control. That video is here: Beginners Bow Hold
Video #2: Keys to Good Posture
Video #3: Tone Video about BOW WEIGHT. It will probably be helpful if you go ahead and watch ALL 3 tone videos, because they overlap and tie in together.
That’s over an hour of videos for you to view and digest. Give it a try, and PLEASE let me know how they helped you, and what other questions you have. The next 2 videos I’d have you watch after you digest the ones above are my videos on YouTube about Greasy Elbow and Straight Versus Crooked Bow…..those skills are the next steps.
Thanks for visiting RDV….I’d love to see you again, and see your progress!
I think that photo was probably taken after one of my recitals!!! LOL (from YEARS ago, before I learned to play in tune, of course) 😉
Great photo! Same as my face whenever I play.
I have some question, If I tune my violin by using as reference the A with 415 Hz will I need to adjust my hand to be in tune? or it will have the same spot that I used to hit with 440 Hz.
Btw I had a friend who told me that on G Major Scale I could go slighty out of tune ( I mean few more Hz than the standard of the F#) if there is a G after the F# and both from the same octave. (E.G F# G) 7th 8th
Can I really do it?
Also one more question about the special “tempered” intonation to match a piano, and “untempered” intonation. Maybe It is just me but I didn’t get it could you please explain it or do you know any book that explains it?
Thanks alot! I really like your website 😉
If you tune your A to 415 Hz, then EVERYTHING you play will be MUCH lower than if you tune to 440….so YES, you would have to move your fingers up MUCH HIGHER to be in tune with other instruments, such as piano. If you play with guitar, they could also tune DOWN to A415, but I don’t recommend it. I also don’t recommend tuning to A415 and then trying to adjust with your fingers. It’s just too confusing.
YES, you can play your F# higher in a GMajor scale, because in that scale, the F# has a special function as the “leading tone”….meaning it “leads” into the tonic, which is G. So if you make it a little higher, you increase that “leading” tendency. It’s very subtle, and you don’t want to over-do it, but your friend is correct.
I’m afraid I’m not an expert on tempered intonation and how to practice it. But I will post your question at Violinist.com (also a GREAT site) and you can post a question there as well. I’ll let you know what I find out!
Thanks for your compliment, and i look forward to more questions from you!
Thanks Lora by demystifying these questions, I will indeed, make peek on that website!