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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