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