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Posted by stew692 on Friday, March 2, 2012


I have been struggling with intonation for a while now.  It seems that no matter how much I practice scales with my electronic tuner, as soon as I stop looking at the tuner, my fingers move and I’m out of tune. I’m creating a bad habit by depending on the tuner to check my intonation.

 Recently, I purchased a copy of Brian Wicklund’s American Fiddle Method DVD/Book.  In the DVD, he mentions that you should open your shoulders and not collapse into the instrument.  I realized that when I play, I tend to hold the fiddle so that it points out between my shoulder and the center of my body, around 10:00.  It occurred to me that if I move my third finger from the A string to the D string, that it would not be a straight shift due to the angle of the neck to my body (I hope that I’m explaining this correctly).  I moved the fiddle back a little towards my shoulder and opened my chest – I also raised the neck a little, and my intonation got better.  It was also less stress on my left arm; with my elbow more open, I didn’t have to twist my wrist as far.

Today, I found a book on Google books called The Art of Violin Playing by Carl Fischer, and in the chapter on Intonation, he states that “To play in tune, in terms of physics, is impossibility.”  If you get a chance to read this, it’s very interesting.  He says that “There are however a number of violinists who create the impression that they play in tune…..even though they do not strike these notes totally accurately, correct them within a fraction of a second, either by changing the finger location or by shading the vibrato in the direction of the correct intonation.”

So, my light bulb moment is that maybe I shouldn’t stress about getting the note perfect every time, but practice listening and hearing that I’m off, and correcting it faster.   


(Since I'm currently a college student, and writing papers every week, I'm adding the book citation for future reference.)


Flesch, Carl, and Frederick Herman Martens. The Art of Violin Playing. Boston: C. Fischer, 1924. Print. 


17 comments on “Intonation.....again”

richdissmore Says:
Friday, March 2, 2012 @12:17:54 PM

it takes time to get intonation every time or very close don,t give up kathy it not easy to drop your finger down and be in tune and be able to add just in split second it will come all you got to do is keep work on intonation then one day you will have it

mudbug Says:
Saturday, March 3, 2012 @2:58:06 AM

Open-relaxed, collapsed/closed-tense, makes sense. "Correcting in a fraction of a second" that makes sense, too, and probably the better one is, the smaller the amount of correction needed. That's where practicing with "big ears" comes into play.

Andah1andah2 Says:
Saturday, March 3, 2012 @5:04:23 AM

IMHO it is also a mind game. I'll play certain notes just fine on some phrases all the time. But on other "trouble areas" I'll hit the note off every time. Why? Probably because I know it's coming and my mind has a knot in it to mess it up every time. So the only way around it is to play it slowly over and over until my mind engrains the right movement. I have struggled with the B part to St. Anne's Reel for a year now.

I've done the e tuner trick also and I drove myself neurotic with it. My old teacher told me that the best way to improve intonation is to play and use the notes in context. I showed her one time how I just couldn't hit certain notes in the A scale well, in particular on the G and D strings. She discussed that trying to hit a note in the middle of a scale without any reference point is a very difficult thing to do. Better to start from the beginning of an octave or play the notes in a tune.

bj Says:
Saturday, March 3, 2012 @10:08:20 AM

I suggest you consider getting a cd of cello drones to play against. When you're playing in the key of D play the D cello drone, when in the key of A play the A drone, etc. Then lock the tuner in a drawer for the rest of your session after your fiddle is tuned. Just put "cello drone" into google and you'll find bunches. I think the navarro site has a sample in C that you can try to get the feel for how it works before you purchase the cd.

Playing against a cello drone will help tune your ear in, and because it's below the fiddle it will allow you to hear better what's really going on with the fiddle itself. Playing on two strings with one being the drone and one being the melody also helps for the same reason. Playing with others is also very important.

Using your ears is the MOST IMPORTANT FIDDLER SKILL.

brya31 Says:
Saturday, March 3, 2012 @11:32:37 AM

Kathy , Gordon Stobbes video Twelve things your right hand should know was probably the most beneficial video I ever bought

Faire Fiddler Maid Says:
Saturday, March 3, 2012 @6:58:04 PM

training your ears is equally important as training your fingers. Listening to fiddle tune that you are working on as much as possible. , or listen to scales on an exercise CD. Also, listen for the resonant ringing when your fingers are in the right open "A" vibrates when you play third finger "A" on the "E"

Try to wean yourself off the tuner by watching where the bow meets the string instead of your fingers and listen. If it sounds off, then look up and correct.

When you have a good position, try to leave that finger down (usually first or third finger) as an anchor. Building finger memory takes time but its well worth it...keep at it :)

Andah1andah2 Says:
Sunday, March 4, 2012 @7:14:24 AM

Wow, I just practiced with the cello drones as BJ suggested. It is 100% awesome! That is superior advice, thanks BJ. It helped me find where I was even a bit off on scales and playing tunes. I had to go slow so I could recognize and correct.

stew692 Says:
Sunday, March 4, 2012 @9:21:02 AM

Thanks for the tips everyone...

Rob: I have that DVD too, and it's really good. I need to work with that again.

BJ: I just bought the cello drones CD from iTunes, thanks for the tip.

carlb Says:
Monday, March 5, 2012 @6:56:49 AM

Electronic tuners give notes in a tempered scale. Playing fiddle, the sweeter sounds (best intonation in my book) come from a justified scale which while close is not exactly the same pitch as the tempered scale. I suggest that your ear is a better indicator of good intonation (especially for double stops) then your electronic tuner. Here's an explanation of the two scales.

martynspeck Says:
Monday, March 5, 2012 @7:37:20 AM

I told my teacher (insert plug for Darol Anger here) I was using a tuner along with the drones to check my intonation and he told me that's fine but remember to close your eyes and focus on the sound your getting and the feel of where your finger is once you get the note right.

nancymae Says:
Monday, March 5, 2012 @2:16:41 PM

I had a similar problem teacher said that over playing time, I began to move the peg box lower and lower. Whenever you change your positions, you get out of tune. I encourage myself to keep the end up, I pushed my music higher--that may have been the problem anyway, trying to read the music. And it that I have a consistant position, I seem to play more consitant in my intonation. And you are sense in getting all stressed about it...we WILL get it...the more we practice! Thanks for the book reference...I'm going to look for it! Have fun!!!

stew692 Says:
Tuesday, March 6, 2012 @10:41:43 AM

So I bought the cd of cello drones, and I'm wondering if I fall asleep on the train listening to them, will my ear intonation get better? ;o)

lawrence lamear Says:
Wednesday, March 7, 2012 @9:10:06 AM

I suspect intonation is one of those "lifetime to master" situations....we get better and better, yet seem to fall short of perfection.
Tuners end up being a crutch, learn to trust your ears. Tape(s) on the finger board can also help, at least initially, but tend to also be a crutch as well.
Sometimes I get so tense my left hand starts to creep up the neck, until my ears just rebel.
The "reference point" is very helpful, (also helps on my mando)...sometimes I feel like I'm "lost,"
and haven't a clue where I'm at!

stew692 Says:
Wednesday, March 7, 2012 @10:02:34 AM

I've wanted to put a small dot of glue or something on the neck where my thumb should go - like on the f & j keys on a computer keyboard, so that I could find my place without looking. I just don't know what to use that would not damage the fiddle.

lawrence lamear Says:
Wednesday, March 7, 2012 @12:33:14 PM

Maybe a small piece of felt with some glue on the back of it, like they use for chairs/furniture? Cut to whatever size and shape you want. Dont think anything like that would hurt the fiddle.
My teacher suggested that to me because of my tendency to creep back, especially if I'm not relaxed.
He seemed pretty concerned about my thumb position at the time.

Best luck i had is using a narrow piece of tape going across the fingerboard, parallel to the bridge. Like they put on beginners' fiddles. Just a narrow piece across, say, the third fingers position (G on the
D string). You can even be slick, use black electrical tape (very narrow) and no one will even know its there. Kind of like having a "fret" in that position...slide right back into it as a rule of thumb, your ears will eventually fine tune your positioning.

lawrence lamear Says:
Wednesday, March 7, 2012 @12:38:58 PM

Sorry to babble on, I get carried away sometimes...
Also, tape in the third position will also give you a reference point for moving to and from second and third position. Ive used it for that reason, alone as well.

stew692 Says:
Friday, March 9, 2012 @8:45:09 AM

I had used black tape so that I could feel it and not look for it, but when I had a problem with the fiddle, the luither told me to take it off.

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