Sunday 28 August 2016

How to Improve Intonation on the Violin - Intonation Post Part 2

How to Improve Intonation - Intonation Part 2

Hi violin students (and other music students) reading this article! Today I wanted to discuss some tips on how to improve intonation. Good intonation can be developed from the moment you start learning the violin, in fact it is much easier to develop good intonation from day 1 then to go back and correct/develop it at a later stage.

Good intonation comes from inside the player's head, how they "pitch" the sound. If the student is not pitching the notes in their mind as they play, then their intonation will not be secured, and they will not be able to make a good sound on their instrument. So hearing the notes in your head before you play them is the first step to developing good intonation.

Here are some other tips suggested in an article by M.E. Martin (Jump Right In: The Instrumental Series—for Strings (GIA Publications, 2004)):
  1. Sing everything before you play.
  2. Relate all the other notes to the tonic (most notes will want to gravitate to this note)
  3. Hear the music in your head before playing
  4. Find the notes by ear and correct your intonation on your own.
  5. Avoid relying on tapes and dots (I generally don't use these with my students unless they're very young)
  6. Play alone in the lesson
  7. Learn both major and minor keys at the same time including their modes
  8. Develop a vocabulary of scales and tonal patterns that you can sing, play, and recognize.
  9. Develop proper instrument position and a good, flexible left-hand position.
  10. Play music by ear rather than focusing on the notation.
  11. Spend lesson time playing scales and pieces by ear
  12. Play the same song in many different keys.
  13. Play the same song in different tonalities (major, minor, Dorian, Mixolydian, and so on) - for more advanced students.
  14. Improvise.

So there you have it. 14 ways to improve your intonation.

Thanks for reading!

Sydney Violin Studios

Thursday 25 February 2016

Intonation Part 1


Hi Everyone! Hope you are trying to stay cool in this heatwave we've been having here in Sydney. Now before I get started on today's lesson about intonation, please take a minute to subscribe to this blog. 

So intonation.  This is one of the most difficult areas of music that I found in my experience as a teacher.  The information given below, is not only applicable to violinists or other string players, but to all musicians who play an instrument that requires them to play in tune.

Why is intonation so difficult?

It is difficult for many students to listen to the sound that they're making, especially young children. When we start to play, we tend to imagine the sound we want to make rather than focus on the actual sound that we're making.  As the years progress, this method of 'listening' becomes a habit, and our brain falls into imagining the sound we want to make all the time.  This is one of the first difficulties with intonation.  I will discuss more on how to train the brain into listening to the actual sound you produce with your instrument further below.

The second reason why intonation is difficult, and this mainly happens in the case of younger children, is that they focus on reading the notes in front of them and do not pay attention to things like the sound their making, whether their bows are straight, or whether their left hand is free and detached from the violin.  But because of this distraction, focusing on intonation is hard.

The last difficulty with intonation is that some people cannot hear when they play in or out of tune, and they cannot tell when someone else plays in or out of tune.  This is quite common in students of all ages, and is very common in adult beginners.  

So how do we deal with these difficulties?

There are few ways to overcome intonation difficulties.  The first method is to encourage the student to listen to their playing.  This may be difficult the first few times, especially if the student is hearing the sound they would like to be making (psychological). One of the easiest ways to help the student realise that their intonation is not as it should be is to record them playing a passage and play it back to them.  Ask the student what they thought of their playing before you play back the recording and them ask them the same question after they've listened to themselves play.

The second method is to encourage students to play each note of the passage slowly, listening to the sound of the note.  If the note is in tune, the instrument will generally let you know, as you'll be able to hear a strong resonance from the note.  Or if you are unsure, you can always check with a tuner.  Try Cleartune, only $5.99 from the App Store, and set the tuner in the settings to A441.

The final method is to spend time with the student doing aural and other intonation listening exercises during the lesson.

So I hope this article was helpful in understanding the difficulties with intonation and provided some simple ways in overcoming this difficulty.  Over the coming weeks, I will go into this topic in a little more depth for teachers and music practioners alike. 

If you have any questions feel free to contact me at

Tuesday 5 January 2016

Welcome to the start of a great year! Plus FREE Practice Printout

happy new years


Welcome to the start of a new year.  Lessons for the year have resumed and we are off to great start. Seeing that it is the start of a new year, it is a good time for developing and focusing on creating good practice habits.  So today, we are offering readers a free download of our practice printout.

How to use the Practice Print Out:
  1. Download and print the practice diary print out.
  2. Write down your goal for the week. This could be something like develop good intonation on scales or focus on correcting left hand posture.
  3. Write down the things you need to practice to achieve this for each day of the week.
  4. As you practice each item each day, write down how much time you spent practicing.  If you didn't practice something that day, write 0 mins.
  5. As the week progresses, you can write down what you need to practice next week.  
  6. Take the print out to your lesson with your teacher.  Write down in the To Practice Next Week Box anything you need to work on for the following week.
Good luck with your practice!

To download the file, please right click and save the image file.

Tuesday 6 October 2015

Why Playing in an Ensemble is an Essential Part of Being a Musician.

Why Playing in an Ensemble is an Essential Part of Being a Musician.

First of all, we play music together! So it is very important to play with others.  It also helps us develop our ears so we learn to improve our pitch, our sense of rhythm and our expression.

But most of all it is fun!

There are also less obvious benefits:
  • Time management skills:
    • This is developed through scheduling rehearsals, planning what sections of the music will be rehearsed and to make sure this is all done in time before our performance.
  • People skills:
    • Helps develop our communication skills.
    • We learn to collaborate with others.
    • We learn to cooperate with others.
    • We learn to resolve problems with others (in actual fact studies show that musicians tend to be better at handling crisis situations).
    • Ensemble playing helps us to think on our feet.
    • Share ideas.
    • Listen to others.
    • Respect one another.
    • Team-building skills.
  • Creative skills:
    • Thinking outside the square.
    • Working on a creative project with others.
    • Expressing yourself through music.
Plus it is a great social activity!

Thanks for Reading:
Sydney Violin Studios

Wednesday 5 August 2015

How many hours should I be practicing?

This is a common question by both parents and students. Basically, there is no set amount of time to practice. Practicing shod be about quality, not quantity. This goes for all instruments, not just violin. 

However, the following is a rough guide:
Beginners - preliminary grade: 5-10 mins/day
1st - 2nd grade: 15-20 mins/day
3rd - 4th grade: 20-30 mins/day
5th - 6th grade: 45 mins - 1 hour/day
7th - 8th grade: 1-2 hours/day
Certificate/AMusA/LMusA: 3+ hours

Please remember that this is just a guide and will vary according to each student's performance goals and how efficient the practice is. 

More on efficient practice techniques in the next blog. 

Thursday 23 July 2015

SYO Auditions


SYO applications opened this week. This is a great opportunity for any musician to experience playing in an orchestra and learning how to rehearse with others. SYO offers different types of ensembles for musicians of different playing abilities. 

Apply now for this priceless experience:

Tuesday 21 July 2015

News Announcements

Welcome to the start of term 3! We have an exciting term ahead of us with HSC performances, exam enrolments and recitals. 

On another note we want to welcome our new teachers to the Sydney Violin Studios. We are very excited that our studios are growing. We now have new teachers traveling in the eastern suburbs, inner city, Sydney CBD and upper north shore. We also will be starting a program for toddlers starting in term 4. Watch this space for more details. 

So here's to a wonderful term 3 with both our new and existing students and teachers!