Developing Good Intonation – 1

Intonation, or rather a poor one, is one of the core problems of most aspiring violinists, and even most seasoned professionals and established soloists have to deal with correcting it constantly.  In this first segment of my blog, addressing the intonation, I would like to discuss one specific approach/principle that, in my opinion, is the most essential concept to understand if one is trying to develop consistently good intonation.   It is rather a simple concept but in my many years of studies I have rarely seen it articulated properly, and I can’t really complain about my teachers who were all first rate violinists and pedagogues.

To “grab the bull from its horns” (a literal translation of a Russian proverb that means to state the problem directly, without much hesitation), here is the core idea: It is not the NOTE that is out of tune, it is the DISTANCE between that note and the previous one that is being MISCALCULATED.

And this is pretty much it!  If I ask an average college sophomore violinist to play an “F#” on A string with his third finger in the third position, the chances are, I will get from him an “F#” that is more or less in tune.  (If I don’t, that sophomore really needs to think about a different career).  However, if that same note has to be played after a knuckle-breaker passage in double stops that ends with a high, screaming G on E string, somewhere past the fingerboard and in the territory of the bow soundpoints, the landing back to the aforementioned F# may not be so smooth.  Hope this makes sense.

Having spent countless hours teaching and practicing, I have noticed how much time we (myself included) waste by trying to correct mistakes and really just deepening the problem by inefficient repetition.  In fact, we often practice our mistakes and rather solidify them as a result.  So, to avoid this in the realm of His Majesty INTONATION, here is what I suggest:

When hearing an out-of-tune note, always go back at least one note to fix it.  Sometimes 2, 3, 4 and more notes if needed.  Never just adjust that particular note but rather learn how to play it in connection to the previous one.  This is especially true when it comes to the shifts, but that’s a different conversation and I will address it in a different post more thoroughly.  Make sure the previous one, in its turn is also in tune, and your hand and finger are relaxed as much as possible during the process of connecting these notes.  Always connect, always compare and do it without haste or anger.  Observe, don’t judge.  Otherwise, correcting the faulty note alone doesn’t put it in the perspective of the whole piece or the segment of it that you are working on.

To bring an analogy, here is how I look at it:  Think of an archer who shoots an arrow that doesn’t hit the target.  His/her reaction?  Bring the arrow back (or get a new one) and try again, from the same distance.  Would an archer ever consider it useful (unless cheating is the purpose) to walk to the target, pull out the arrow that missed the target and manually stick it in the bull’s eye?  This is what you are doing when you adjust the intonation of the single out-of-tune note rather than connecting it with the previous one, in order to calculate the “shooting” distance more accurately.  Of course, you can cheat, but if in the case of a desperate archer something of a sort may somehow, in some circumstances, bring an undeserved praise, in a case of a string player, you are merely cheating to yourself.

Have a good one!




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