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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Intonation, part 4: a Hodgepodge

In addition to our previous discussions about intonation, I have included here a mixture of additional ideas for practicing intonation. Please leave me a comment about your own personal favorite intonation exercises.

Drones: Have a note playing like a drone while playing scales or some passage. Most tuners are capable of sounding a note like a drone. At first play the tonic note as the drone. Later play other important notes in the key, such as the dominant or subdominant notes. When the exercise seems fairly easy, try playing to a drone note in an unrelated key, e.g., drone E natural while playing in the Bb key, or drone F# while playing in C major. It is also possible to play and use one's own open strings as a drone during practice.

Fun with Scales: Have someone whose intonation you trust play a scale a major third below you. For example, if you are playing D major, have the other person play Bb at the same time. I got this idea from a scale book entitled "Scales Plus!" by William Starr published by Alfred Music Publishing.

Have someone play a scale a major second below you. For example, if you are playing a D major scale, have the other person play in C major. This is another idea from William Starr.

Doublestops: Have the student do extensive practice with doublestops. There are several possible books that one can use:

A popular book for intermediate and advanced students is "Scales for Advanced Violinists" by Barbara Barber published by Alfred Publishing. For each key, Ms. Barber has provided the basic scales for doublestops in thirds, sixths, octaves, tenths, fingered octaves, and harmonics along with the basic major and melodic minor scales, broken thirds, and the general arpeggio routine through all the arpeggios related to the major scale (tonic minor, tonic major, submediant, subdominant, subdominant minor, diminished, and dominant seventh).

"Melodious Double-Stops" by Josephine Trott, volumes 1 & 2, published by G. Schirmer, Inc. Initially Ms. Trott presents doublestop etudes that incorporate the open strings, but the volumes progress in difficulty. My students generally like the tunefulness of the melodies versus just practicing scales alone.

"Quint Etudes for Violin" by Shinichi Suzuki, Revised Edition, published by Suzuki Method International. This book is my personal favorite. Dr. Suzuki discusses the difficulty of keeping the fingers in the correct placement across the various four strings. As the fingers move from one string to another, they may not land in the correct placement because the student's perception is inaccurate due to the finger angle changing. And, if the student has another problem, such as not moving the elbow under the instrument to accommodate the various string levels, then the fingers will not land in correct placement. The Quint Etudes address and correct these problems, and the etudes use perfect intervals such as fourths, fifths, and unisons to strengthen the student's ear. I have had great success with this etude book in identifying left hand placement issues and in strengthening the student's ear.

Hand in hand with the Quint Etudes, I have used the "Position Etudes" by Shinichi Suzuki, Revised Edition, published by Suzuki Method International. As a student plays progressively higher in pitch up the violin fingerboard, the tonal quality of the notes sounds thicker to the ear, and students can become confused about the correct pitch. This etude book can help to address that problem by progressively exposing the student to each position using a song that is very familiar to Suzuki students, i.e., "Perpetual Motion." Suzuki students learn this basic tune in book 1, but later in book 2, students are introduced to a transposition of this song into Bb. From that transposition, the students learn the basic fingering of the song beginning with the first finger. This fingering is then used to introduce the students to each successive position, still using the melody of "Perpetual Motion."

Playing Along: My husband is a professional trombonist, and I was curious as to how he worked with his students to build proper intonation, as the trombone seemed similar to the violin in terms of how easy it would be to "land" on the incorrect pitch. He told me that he plays along with his students constantly at their lessons and is relentless about having them match pitch.

We Aren't Finished Yet: Finally, the subject of intonation is more complex than I have presented here. So many areas of a player's technique and general life condition can have adverse effects on pitch, including improper posture, lazy ears, sloppy practice and listening habits, health considerations (waxy ear build up, or a cold or sinus infection), and less than stellar equipment (false or old strings and lesser quality instruments). And I haven't even touched upon the advanced tuning strategies that professionals employ to fine tune intonation in performance. The ideas included above are just a few of the many possible ideas I know about how to address intonation problems. I like to think of these ideas as arrows in my quiver: I have many different arrows stored up for use depending on the particular student and his or her intonation problem.

I look forward to hearing from you what ideas you favor and find useful that I may not have included here.

We are winding down 2010. Just a few days left to vote in the polls printed here in the right sidebar. Let your vote count! New polls are coming in 2011.

Stay tuned for the new year on January 1, 2011, because I will be issuing a practice challenge. You won't want to miss January 1st and my practice challenge! Everyone can do this!

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