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8 views on intonation

Tips and tricks on playing in tune – or giving the impression of playing in tune – from 100 years of The Strad

March 4, 2014

‘De Beriot, in his violin school, very wisely wrote: “True intonation in double strings requires an exquisite sense of harmony. In order to acquire this precious quality, the pupil must become familiar with those thirds and sixths which are consonant with the open strings G and D. These lower strings are only set in motion when the higher stopping is played with the most perfect accuracy; then a third sound is produced, which serves as a regulator to the ear and to the position of the fingers. This true intonation of double strings once acquired will extend to all parts of the violin.”’
Percival Hodgson, The Strad, December 1916

 

‘Particular attention should be paid to the intonation, when practising, not only as regards playing the notes in tune with the open-strings and harmonics, with which they can sometimes be tested, but, even more, in their relationship to the other notes in the bar or passage. Strings often go out of tune during a performance. Thus it is not enough to be able to play an interval correctly when the fifths are perfect. A wise player also educates the ear through constant listening to be so alert that it immediately detects the smallest discrepancy in the easiest positions, while accustoming the fingers to correct any such defect, however minute it may be, without the fraction of a second’s hesitation.’
M. B. Stanfield, The Strad, March 1941

 

‘Every violinist knows that the piano is tuned in tempered intervals. To most violinists this simply means that such an octave has 12 equal semi-tones. In relation to true or just intonation, the tempered scale has only one true interval – the octave. We find that the thirds and sixths are sharp, the fifths are slightly flat, with every other interval being slightly altered. For the violinist to really appreciate the extent of this deviation, he must tune his A string to a single piano A. Then the same can be done with the piano D sounded alone. The result on the violin will be a decidedly out of tune fifth, even though the ear of the violinist may not be trained well enough to determine whether the interval is sharp or flat.’
A. A. Babynchuk, The Strad, February 1957

 

‘Itzhak Perlman once said, comparing Dorothy DeLay with Ivan Galamian, “If Galamian heard a note out of tune he would say so. DeLay would say instead, “Well, dear, what is your concept of an F sharp?”’
Simon Fischer, The Strad, September 1995

 

‘Intonation is a lifelong challenge for string players – which is not surprising, since perfect intonation is mathematically impossible. A note is in tune only in relation to other notes, specifically their pitches. Pitch and tone colour are the subjective perceptions of the objective phenomenon of frequency. Frequency relationships are simply numerical ratios, and this fact allows us to think about them mathematically.’
Christopher Brooks, The Strad, December 2007

 

‘Part of the art of playing in tune is adjusting notes that are fractionally out of tune so quickly that nobody else notices. This makes it possible to give an impression of playing in tune. Sometimes this instinctive, instant adjustment – which occurs at the very start of the tone – is hidden in the vibrato, which may be wider than the pitch correction anyway. Sometimes the adjustment is made by fractionally altering the exact angle at which the finger leans into the string – again at the very start of the note, as the fingertip first begins to touch the string.’
Simon Fischer, The Strad, July 2008

 

‘I am convinced that subliminal signals go from the tips of the left-hand fingers to the brain when the notes are in tune. In third position, students can play the D on the A string with the first finger and feel it vibrate in sympathy. With the second finger they can play E and feel it vibrate with the E string. This sensitivity is affected by a player’s stance, so I even have some feathers that I use to tickle the ends of students’ left-hand fingers while they adjust their position, to find where they are most responsive.’
John Krakenberger, The Strad, August 2010

 

‘Dealing with bad intonation is a bit like coping with people with bad breath – you tend not to mention it too obviously!’ 
Sir Neville Marriner, The Strad, April 2014

 

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