Search This Blog

Friday, December 24, 2010

Intonation, part III: can you spell Ševčík?

I've been talking to several of my colleagues about how they address intonation issues with their students. Most of the answers or suggestions I have received have to do with giving the student feedback "after the fact." This is indeed a useful way to alert a student to the fact that intonation is less than stellar, but I would like to focus my efforts and this discussion on how to teach a student to learn for themselves what is correct intonation. I want to introduce my students to ways that they can identify intonation for themselves without having to resort to external feedback exclusively. Although I realize that we all decide "externally" what intonation is correct by using our ears to evaluate the produced sound, what I'm referring to by external is another person providing the feedback. I'd like my students to learn how to play in tune by whatever means are available without having to resort to another person. Why? Because if my students only learn correct intonation when I am there to provide them with immediate feedback, then that means my students are probably only learning how to play in tune one day a week at their lesson. This is not the ideal situation in my opinion.

I've talked about some ways to hear and see tone, which generally leads to a student's seeing and hearing what correct intonation is. I would like to focus on some ways to hear and feel correct intonation on the fingerboard, and I'm going to suggest that the student use a tuner for the purpose of this exercise. Yes, I realize that the intonation discussion is much more complex than just using a tuner and focusing on tempered tuning. That is certainly a worthwhile discussion for another day. As a violinist, I realize that a C# and a Db may be located in slightly different places on the violin fingerboard depending on the context of the melody I am playing. I also recognize that I must adjust my pitches to accommodate the piano's tempered tuning if I am playing with a pianist. When I play with the Artisan Quartet, I need to make other types of adjustments depending on what role my part plays in the overall harmonic structure. In the beginning, however, when I'm working to help a student learn how to do this alone, I find a tuner to be a good starting point.

I have my own series of finger patterns, and I am saving that discussion for a future set of blog posts. So for right now, I'll use the Ševčík, op. 1, book 1 exercises:

Ševčík, op. 1, book 1, #1 (initial 3 measures)
Taking the first measure, I ask the student to play the first pitch until the tuner shows that the pitch is in tune. Then I ask the student to move on to the next pitch and tune it, and so forth until the notes in the measure are in tune. I ask the student to do this a few times until the student is accurate. Then we stop focusing on the tuner and increase the tempo while playing the notes with separate bows:

·    quarter notes: play the measure 2 times
·    eighth notes: play the measure 4 times
·    sixteenth notes: play the measure 8 times

Then I ask the student to focus back on the tuner and play the initial four notes once more to see if the correct tuning has remained in place. I ask the student to work through three-measure segments of the Sevcik and follow the above pattern. After the student completes a portion of the page, we return to the beginning of the exercise, but the student slurs the increased tempo notes.

It amazes me how quickly students learn to hear the correct intonation, even if it is tempered tuning. The tuner also helps the student to produce a more even tone quality with the bow, as every little uneven bow speed or weight will alter the pitch in some way. Even my youngest students can learn to tune their instrument with a tuner and simultaneously learn to control their bow speed and weight. I enjoy watching my students work through the first set of Ševčík exercises and make their own discoveries about pitch accuracy. The students realize fairly quickly what the "in tune" note requires that was missing when the tuner registered the pitch as "out of tune."

If a student combines these exercises with the exercises in my earlier intonation blog posts, the student will make considerable improvement in the area of intonation.

No comments:

Post a Comment