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How does an instructor teach you to play in tune?
Topic Rating: 4.4 Topic Rating: 4.4 Topic Rating: 4.4 Topic Rating: 4.4 Topic Rating: 4.4 Topic Rating: 4.4 (49 votes) 
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It seems you must be able to recognize melodic intervals at some point to really be able to play in tune.  All the method books just assume you know, as just one example, the difference between a perfect 4th and a perfect 5th (in tuning the open strings) before you even start page #1.  I suspect the adults using Suzuki are just memorizing a sequence of notes in the particular piece they are learning by utilizing an electronic meter.   My complaint is that that way of learning doesn't teach you the most important thing which is to play in tune.  I've never seen a systematic approach to ear training on a violin.  Lots of handwaving about sight singing or software trainers but in reality, everybody just more or less ignores the issue entirely.

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FiJaPAW
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I think intonation on the violin includes a variety of factors, both physical and mental.

We learn intonation physically first, with stickers placed on the violin. This is in hope that your brain will catalog and memorize the spaces between your fingers and various finger patterns. Your brain also memorizes where the fingers should hit the fingerboard each time as you place them on the fingerboard. 

 

After that, ear training comes naturally because your teacher will say, "Uh oh you're not on your sticker, do you hear that?" Most students' brains will start to realize when they are out tune because the brain memorizes the accurate pitch after your teacher corrects you.  Much like Pavlov's dogs...

 

Physical intonation is accomplished through, keeping your fingers close to the fingerboard, proper left hand position, finger patterns and creating a mental map of where fingers should go.

many students have a "natural" relative pitch and learn to recognize when they're out of tune without learning sight singing or other ear training mechanisms. However, scales and arpeggios are what cultivate a "good" ear in either the natural "ear" or the person who can't tell they're out of tune. Memorizing the distance between intervals in scales and arpeggios cultivates a good ear. For a person who is "tone deaf", I am not sure how a teacher works with this. I don't really believe in tone deafness Because we all recognize a plethora of tones. JusT the act of recognizing your mom's voice or your child's is a form of pitch recognition. I've just never had the pleasure of working with someone who has a harder time recognizing and learning musical pitch intervals than others. I think physical memorization the the fingerboard is even more vital in this  person's case. 

I am a violinist cycling around the world with my dog, Fiji, and my violin. http://www.FiJaPAW.com

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Well, the proper way is that the ear is developed properly and acts as a guide.  As soon as you put physical markers (or depend on a tuner) on the fingerboard that process of ear guidance is subverted.  The problem with scales is that people memorize a sequence (both ascending and descending) of tones which is useful if you are learning all the positions instead of 1st position only.  But nobody out there in instructorland is constructing the skeleton of a scale by playing first the perfect intervals of a G major scale, for example.  They play the entire scale and learn the simplest melody which can be memorized.   This way does not learn intervals either. 

 

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Picklefish
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violin-dots.jpgImage Enlarger

In defense of Great Teaching regardless of method might I add (not that I am a great teacher)

Lets assume all methods being equal for a moment to focus on the teaching methods I believe are most effective.

The basic question is how do you teach someone to play in tune. Its a series of steps based on the ability of the student and the students comprehension and execution of that ability.

First the student must hear the tones over and over to get them in their head

Second the student must have some framework to learn how to generate those tones

Third the student must be taught to recognize the tone they made isnt correct and how to fix it

Fourth the student must be diligent in their training after the lesson, focused practice in intonation as taught must be done daily.

Fifth the student must have a passion for doing this otherwise it gets hard and practicing suffers.

 

A "method" is a collection of works preferrably in an order of progressive difficulty. The "method" does not teach the child or student. Many teachers use their own collection of music outside of any "method".

A "teacher" trains the child or student, The "student" studies to eventually become their own teacher, The "parent" guides the student through this journey and provides a loving encouraging home to foster the talent development.

I wish people would stop baggin on "methods" as if it mattered and recognize that teachers are the problem or solution. People take for granted that a teacher is fully capeable simply because they hold that teacher moniker. There is no one size fits all teacher and all teachers make mistakes cause they are human.

 

As far as Ear Training goes (and Im no expert). I found that I used three steps to be better at this.

First I used tapes for the purpose of learning the physical positional relationships the fingers needed to be in/at. This was great because it led to an understanding of the fret less fingerboard and how the notes are arranged in relation to each other. This took me about a year to be comfortable with this.

Second I then removed the tapes and played music with a tuner utilizing the whole, half, quarter bowing style to slow down the song. This allows me to focus on the bowing and see how accurate my intonation was while playing. This lasted another year or so.

Third the way I just started playing is I put positional dots down the side of the fingerboard. This is a visual reference since I cant feel them when I press down a string. Now I play music without the tuner and I listen to the notes. If I hear a bad note I can look down at the visual cue to verify the finger placement is off. I can then train the finger to the right note. I have hit some notes that were wrong sounding only to find that my finger was were it should be and then double checking with the tuner to verify all is correct. I am much more in tune with the instrument and its sounds now. I found that my third finger tends to sharpen notes so Ive been able to focus in on how I place it so I can be more accurate.

Once I am proficient in this in most of the 12 keys I will remove the dots and try it dotless once again. At anytime if I feel my intonation suffers I will not hesitate to try anything I can to be able to effectively correct the problem.

If you want to make dots like mine (cause Im cool like that) all you need is a hole punch and some adhesive labels. I use a variety of colored dots for the kids, they like that.

I hope it helps, I believe all learning is systematic, progressive and varied to be most effective. See it, Hear it, Do it has been a very successful training method in all manner of industries.

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"Please play some wrong notes, so that we know that you are human" - said to Jascha Heifetz.

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Picklefish
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Composer said 
  But nobody out there in instructorland is constructing the skeleton of a scale by playing first the perfect intervals of a G major scale, for example.  They play the entire scale and learn the simplest melody which can be memorized.   This way does not learn intervals either. 

 

 

  • Perfect Intervals have only one basic form. The first (or prime), fourth, fifth and eighth (or octave) are all perfect intervals. When you lower a perfect interval by a half step it becomes diminished. When you raise it a half step it becomes augmented.
     
  • Non-perfect Intervals have two basic forms. The second, third, sixth and seventh are non-perfect intervals; it can either be a major or minor interval (ex. Maj7, minor6, etc.). When you lower a major interval by a half step, it becomes a minor. When you raise it a half step it becomes augmented. On the other hand when you lower a minor interval by a half step it becomes diminished. When you raise it a half step it becomes a major

Nobody teaches that way because it is the most difficult way to teach fingering and intonation IMO. Especially with children it is much easier to use visual cues and repetitive listening techniques. I cant imagine a 6 year old being taught in the way you suggest, I doubt theyd stay focused for very long. I do think you may have hit upon a great idea though. Give it a try and see if it works first, you could definately change alot of peoples minds if you can prove it works and is more effective.

"Please play some wrong notes, so that we know that you are human" - said to Jascha Heifetz.

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I don't know how it is taught by teachers or methods, since I was mostly self-taught.  But I taught myself by sitting at an instrument called a "chord organ" and playing notes and listening to how they sounded different in relation to each other.  The keys were labelled with numbers, but I'd copied down what number went to what letter from other chord organs in the stores.  So I had letter names to work with.

Then I went to trying to guess which note I was hearing in a song on the radio or on tv or that I'd been singing or whistling and checking it against the keyboard on the chord organ to see if I had been right.  Over some time I got better at that.  I also started playing intervals and listening to the difference, and learning to identify what 2 notes I'd heard.  At first sequentially, and then played together. 

From watching TV, I had gotten the impression that musicians always knew what note they were hearing.  That's how it seemed when watching them on tv or in movies, anyway.  So that is what I worked on. 

I don't know if you've ever seen anything as antiquated as the books that came with chord organs, but they contain no theory and no explanation of anything.  Usually just some numbers to play on the keyboard and the names of the chords to play.  So I didn't have any sort of a theory context to put it in, but I taught myself how to recognize notes and (what I later learned were called) intervals and than chords by repeatedly trying to identify notes I heard and checking to see if I had been right.  I also worked on being able to sing or play pitches from randomly chosen note names and that sort of thing

I eventually got better at it, and learned to play by ear in the process.

But that's probably not the way most people go about it. LOL

 

PS: I do understand that you probably meant learning it for violin, but I think it would be harder if violin was the first instrument one was learning.  If you already know what the pitches and scales and etc sound like, then the challenge on violin is getting the fingers to actually do it, rather than learning it from sound in the first place.  Still working on that, and I rather expect I always will be.

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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Do you think you can accurately sing or play the first notes of a few well-known tunes?  If somebody plays an interval to you, can you fit that interval to one of those well-known tunes?

Ascending fifth: Twinkle, Scarborough

Descending fifth: Drunken Sailor, Flintstones' Theme

Ascending fourth: O Christmas Tree, Here Comes the Bride

Descending fourth: Eine Kleine

Ascending Major Third: Brahms' Lullaby

Descending Major Third: Frosty the Snowman, This Old Man

Et Cetera

If presented with an interval that is not a whole number of semitones, would you be able to detect that?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E.....r_training

The question is mainly to the OP, but I welcome anyone's answer.

 

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Okay, if every professional violinist was asked to perform a broad interval recognition test on a computer software program, would they all do very well?  My point is that I can learn to play scales and arpeggios in tune on a violin and still fail on that test (or even to tune the open strings in perfect 5ths).

Perhaps, its not until you study double stops that the student has to face up to the problem of ear training. 

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RosinedUp, I don't doubt that leaning in the direction of formal music study is important but my belief is that almost all instructors depend on 1 note = 1 physical location (of course the violin has the same note in multiple locations but with a different timbre but I'm ignoring that for convenience) and that muscle memory and not the ear is what guides learning. 

So, for example, the first stopped note in a G-major scale is A-natural.  My beef is that memory (both physical muscle and mental) is the sole decider as to in-tuneness and that is wrong way of learning.   I say the ear should compare the distance of the hopefully correct A-natural back to the tonic (which is a recent memory).  The correct interval should already be a developed skill before learning scales.

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I could probably recognize some intervals that were not a whole number of semitones, but probably not all.  Intervals are not used equally in actual music, just as some keys and modes are used more than others.  What one uses most often will be what one recognizes easiest, I think.

But personally, I think that what one can play and how well one can play is more important than how one learned it in the first place.  A listener doesn't care much about how much underlying grasp of theory a musician has or what practice techniques they may have used.

 

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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In another thread about the Suzuki method, Pierre stated that lots of instructors won't teach adult beginners.  From what I have heard, the basic complaint is that adult learners can never play in tune.  The usual explanation is that they don't practice enough. 

My response to that is:  Tapes don't teach the ear anything...neither does copying an external drone...or a teacher shouting "Flat"  "Sharp" "Wrong note entirely"  So what do they expect from beginners? 

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A person has to learn the sounds somehow.  How can one learn to play "in tune" if one never learns what "in tune" is?  I don't believe most people are born with an A440 (Ok, 443, in Pierre's case..LOL) chromatic scale in their head.  At some stage, it has to be learned, if the person is going to be able to play "in tune".

Since most people who are just starting in learning music will not have it in their heads, they will have to learn it, and I don't see how anyone could do it without some sort of an external source. 

Admitted, to make progress, one has to at some point move beyond external sources and helps like tape or shouting teachers by making the conscious effort to make one's own corrections, and to try and play a little better each time.  Like anything one learns in school or any other time, if the shift never happens to where the student tries to correct and improve themselves, then it just doesn't happen and improvements will quickly reach a limit.

And yes, if a person just focuses on more songs to learn at the expense of working on their technique for at least a percentage of their practice time, progress will be limited.  Just getting through a song or another song does not of itself help a musician sound better.  Working on sounding better is the greater "multiplier" for the learning equation.  

But people have to have some practical standard to work from to learn the sounds of intervals and etc before they can put much work into "playing in tune", and they do need some songs or etudes or etc so they can hear the improvement as it impacts on their actual playing.  Exercises one is told are good will meet with little enthusiasm, compared to ones where the person can hear the results for themselves when they try to play their songs or whatever it is that they play. 

And so far as the teachers that won't teach adults?  Well fine, then give money instead to the ones who will.  LOL

 

 

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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Learn scales. Scales consist of proper intervals and patterns for your fingers. Work on scales that correspond to the pieces you are working on.

You need the ability to recognize if your intervals are high, low or just right.

A correct hold so that your hand feels some sort of guide for proper positioning.

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I do believe that some people are born with a gift to "play by ear."  I have a non blood-related uncle (I wish he had been blood kin so I could have possibly had the gift as well) who can pick up any instrument and pick out notes to play what he wishes.  It may take him a few tries (and I mean two or three at the most), but he "gets it" very quickly.  4 of his 5 children have the gift also.  They all began playing various instruments at very early ages.  I do not personally know an instrument they cannot play, but I don't think I've ever seen any of them play drums.

I wouldn't call them prodigies; rather, gifted.  NONE of them can read music.  NONE of them have ever had lessons.  ALL of them can play piano/keyboard, strings, and horns - and I am talking about beautiful music. 

Oh, and my uncle did not teach his children to play.  They just sat down and began playing and quickly became good at whatever it was. How can that be anything more than a gift?

I do believe some people have the ability to hear even the slightest differences in notes prior to ever touching an instrument.  But that doesn't help any of us, does it?

The most beautiful things in life cannot be touched or seen. They must be felt with the heart. ~Helen Keller~

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LindaK > I saw a play a couple of weeks ago > It was "The Miracle Worker" > every time I see your sig at the bottom of your post I think about Helen Keller. It also made me think about this thread > So very interesting the ABCs of what one should do and what one should not do > makes for interesting thought on learning this instrument. I really enjoy the discussions that are brought forth. They make me think and consider all that has been said >>>>>

But your sig at the bottom of your post is truly the key.> >>>>

"The most beautiful things in life cannot be touched or seen. They must be felt with the heart"

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Composer, I am tempted to try this approach you suggest. I finally have made the connection to what your point is. (Im slow sometimes) I think it will be an interesting experiment.

"Please play some wrong notes, so that we know that you are human" - said to Jascha Heifetz.

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I tend to agree with, LindaK, in that some people are born with the gift to play by ear, but I don't necessarily think it's hereditary. Everything I play, I play by ear and my son has been around music his whole life and can't carry a tune in a basket. I don't think he could even sing, "Twinkle, Twinkle"  in tune and he informed me Easter Sunday that he want's to learn guitar. He will turn 50 June 16. I told him it's not too late to learn.

Getting back to the point of this thread. I believe if a person doesn't learn ear training that it become's very difficult to know when they're in tune. Placing your finger's on the "dot's" or "stripe's" on the fingerboard (providing they are in their correct location) is fine, as long as the instrument is in tune, but if it's not in tune then the note's are recognizable as being out of tune, therefore we have to be able to hear with our ear's the difference of "in tune" and "out of tune" and make split second adjustment's with our finger's. Sure, we can use a tuner, but what happen's if we are sightless and can only hear the note's and not able to read an elec. tuner, then what, we depend on our ears. FM/Pierre has said a number of time's here on the forum, "turn out the light's and play the same tune", then see what happen's, I think he is refering to listening to the note's rather than watching our finger's, memorizing finger placement along with tone.

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Pierre, you dodged the issue completely of how the ear can reliably ensure the scale is in tune and even what it means to be in tune on a violin. 

The only technique for learning a scale I have come across is Dorothy Delay's technique. You play the perfect intervals first -- the tonic (the note of the key), the 4th, the 5th, and then the octave, and then back down (5th, 4th, tonic). Then you add the leading tones so you do 1-3-4-5-7-8 then back down in reverse, 8-7-5-4-3-1. Then you add the second and the sixth, where you have more discretion, for the whole scale.

  The point of doing it this way is that the perfect intervals must be exactly placed -- there is no room for taste. The leading tones can then be tuned against those notes (3rd against the 4th, 7th against the 8th). Then you can place the 2nd and 6th.

But all of this assumes you can reliably determine by ear the perfect intervals of 4th, 5th, and the octave.  This is a skill that has to be learned on your own, I don't see how an instructor can really help here.

 

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Here is another technique for becoming interval aware without external aids.

To me, it is more valuable to learn to make intervals and diads on the instrument, and come to recognize what you are hearing. One way to do this is to start with a beatless "perfect fifth" tuning (which anyone can get to by using harmonic tuning methods) and then progressively finger the lower string up each semitone, while bowing the lower & higher string together. You can very definitely hear the consonances of the fifth, 4th, major 3rd, minor 3rd, 2nd etc.. Then do the same on the higher string and you will hear the 6th, 7th etc. It is a bit harder to hear the non diatonic positions.

After doing this, you can start to feel the instrument come to life as you play notes, and in my experience, you start to feel the intervals very acutely.

Of course what you are probably going to find are "just" (IOW perfect-ratio) intervals, yet any time you play with a piano, you will be following equal intervals, and so there are adjustments to be made. This is why there is no such thing as "perfect" intonation--it is contextual.

 

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Fiddlerman
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@ composer - I never dodge any issues. I never claimed to give every bit of information you need to know in order to successfully play in tune.
If you have a question you can simply ask that question.

The same way you can hear fifths and fourths, I and many others can hear minor 2nds, major 2nds, minor 3rds, major thirds. You should be able to learn how to recognize these intervals with practice.

The same way one person can have a very easy time working out mathematical equations while others can't even begin to comprehend those equations, some people can automatically understand what the interval should sound like when it is right.

Some people need to work harder to learn to recognize intervals and intonation.

The subject was about how to learn to play in tune. Not how to improve your pitch and interval recognition skills.

I have a game above that was intended for this purpose called the intonation game.

In regards to what it means to be in tune on a violin. It means the same thing with all instruments. Intonation is primarily a function of relative intervals and not of the pitch itself. We can play in tune even if our instruments are tuned a half pitch too low or high... As long as the intervals are close enough for acceptance (noone plays perfectly in tune - this is another discussion IMAO), say within 10 cents (for argument sake) we will perceive it as being in tune.
There are different standards of pitch for tuning standards and therefore intonation should be relative and cannot be absolute.

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