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How to play in tune on the violin

I often get asked the question “How can I improve my intonation?’ or “How to play in tune on the violin?”

The good news is that once you ask yourself this question, you are already on the path to improvement! When you realise that there might be something to improve, the awareness is there, and you are on the path to learn how to play in tune on the violin.

How did you realise that there was something that needed adjusting? Perhaps you were playing and noticed that a specific note, or several notes did not sound as well as they should do, or some notes were ringing less than other notes.

There are a number of things you may need to check to improve your intonation In my opinion, the first thing to make sure is that you know what you are listening for. In other words, can you sing the passage and do you know what it should sound like? Being able to ‘hear’ each note in your head, before you play that note, is vital for good intonation. Singing along with the music (in your head) is a very useful habit.

How to play in tune on the violin?

The second aspect to look at is the left hand position. Is your wrist straight and are the fingers playing on their fingertips? Are all fingers and their base joints level with the strings, and not dangling underneath the fingerboard? It may help bringing the left elbow underneath the violin and not let the elbow stick out to the left. Do you have a ‘tunnel’ underneath each finger, so other strings can ring freely? Frequent checking of the 3rd fingers with open strings will help getting a good grasp of the intonation, as will checking your finger patterns. Being aware of the intervals between the notes and the corresponding finger pattern, your fingers placed next to one another or having a space between the fingers, makes a big difference to playing in tune. This goes for beginners, but it is equally valid for advanced players too, for instance when playing double stops. Once these issues are sorted, you are well on your way to playing in tune! Now it is a matter of practising short sections of the music slowly, without vibrato, and you can be sure that you know how to play in tune on the violin.

How to play in tune on the violin – advanced players

For advanced players, there are some additional tricks that will help improve intonation. One very useful exercise is to play in double stops wherever you can. Find open strings to add to a passage, or play arpeggio patterns as double stops and you will be surprised how revealing this can be. As before, a questioning approach is the right one: never settling for anything less than perfect. Be aware that the intonation may vary, depending on the function of the note in the harmony. Check out for instance, the difference in the B (1st finger on the A-string) when played in combination with an open D string, a major sixth, and playing that ‘same’ B together with the open E-string, a perfect fourth.

In the higher registers of the violin, fingers may occasionally be wider than the space between two notes. In that case, rather than playing two fingers next to each other, you may need to move a finger slightly when placing another finger next to it. You can probably imagine that this will need very careful slow practice before speeding up the tempo.



By | 24 August, 2016 |

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