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Intonation, a question?
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ratvn
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May 21, 2014 - 9:35 pm
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In my quest for better intonation, I got a bit crazy idea of doing scale and like to share it, as per some members suggestions, namely RosinedUp, Kiara, and DanielB (who also were the testees of doing the scale) to share it as they could give some opinion, feedback, input.
It will be a real short version, as I would ask those members to give more suggestions and inputs. IMHO, there is a weak/missing link in intonation recognition/adjustment in beginner's violin playing, myself included, that would be better/well formed to those more advanced/long time players.
My analyzing of violin pitch correction for better intonation came up with 3 phases in the following order, ear/brain pitch recognition, pitch comparison/brain order of required correction and actual mechanical motion adjustment to acquire the correct pitch of the playing note.

While the actual finger motion adjustment will be acquired with lot of practice, the other two phases could be trained to achieve the goal faster, ie active pitch recognition and active correction. So here is my scale test/exercise.

Let's assume that you're the testee of this, and let say we are working on E minor scale, for example. You got a minute or so to recital the scale, any way you wish, and try to memorize the note pitches. With that, next is to play the tonic, E on D to establish a frame of reference (during the exercise, you can come back to the tonic at any time you wish if needed and we are in first position). From here on, all notes are to be played in random access order, within the notes of the scale, of course, avoid sequential notes as much as you can. The more unfamiliar random notes will be the better, as not to resemble a tune/melody, to force the brain to guess/judge the different intervals.
Pick a finger and a string to play a note, any way you wish. Here comes the fun part of it, before the finger touches down, you are to sing/hum that note pitch, either out loud or mentally done. So you're humming/singing along (a bit ahead) of the playing notes, and you can check if you humming and playing pitch against your tuner if it's available, as a double error checking/correction.

You can alternately start with the normal up/down scale to get a feel for it, but randomly access is better to force the ear/brain to guess/estimate those intervals. It also serves as a ear/brain pitch training, a mapping of sounds to finger positions, as in sight reading the fingerboard, knowing ahead what pitch would be expected hence more active preparation of pitch correction requirement if needed, which can benefit intonation, improvisation, ear playing.

It doesn't have to be E minor, if start on G instead then it would be G major instead, same pitch classes, different starting point. I pick the E minor, just for convenience, but key signature of one sharp, with its popular modes of G major, E minor, and A dorian are the most "native" of violin "native key sets", which mean that tunes played in those keys sounded better and richer vs transposing the same tune to other less native keys, due to more resonant harmonics sympathetic vibration producing by open strings adding to the total sound/voice of the violin by its particular tuning of fifth selection (we can start another topic of discussion for this).

I was advised to have more input/suggestion by RosinedUp and Kiara before posting, so I'm surely asking for reply/input, as they are the testees and should have more additional info/explanation to my simple version.

I'm now upgrading to crazy rebel, so thank you for bearing it with me this far, and of course, your input, feedback, and advise are all welcome.

Thanks all,

Robert

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Oliver
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May 21, 2014 - 11:29 pm
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Where would you place pitch recognition and decision about finger board spatial location in your hierarchy of actions?  Is there really time for a complicated mental process at higher tempos? 

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

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ratvn
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Oliver said
Where would you place pitch recognition and decision about finger board spatial location in your hierarchy of actions?  Is there really time for a complicated mental process at higher tempos? 

Very interesting questions, @Oliver. I will give it a try, as to wait for others' opinions. I forgot to mention that the scale test/exercise is to carry out at slow pace, as there are two separate actions happening at the same time. One is the desire pitch by a more "controlled" medium, ie. our voice (which been trained for quite a long while), and less controlled of violin note playing. The exercise goal is geared toward pitch accuracy gaining from more/active awareness of correct pitch of violin playing notes, and corrective action responding to it, ie. what one does when played a note off pitch?

Fingerboard spatial location decision, of course come ahead, as one reads notes and translates them to finger locations in case of sheet playing, as mapping (that finger location decision was simulated in the exercise when pick a random finger and string), and memorizing the tune is to memorize the sequence of finger locations. When the next note/finger location is forgot (ie forgot what to play next in the middle of a tune), then it would be guessing the interval and estimating the next position, as for me.

Pitch recognition could be passive, ie waiting for the note to be played/heard first then doing a comparison with ear/brain pitch and then arriving at corrective action if intonation is off. Or it could be active, the pitch is anticipated before hand, hence quicker action. Lol, it works faster than I could type, so I could be wrong here.

Can one know if his/her playing notes are off even at high tempo? Yes, the process of recognition is fast, but the corrective action in case of off-note playing may not have sufficient time, but still one will be aware of it, make a mental note/and paying extra attention to the problem area the next time around it, say in the next repeat part of the tune, or phrase that employed the problem note, or notes.

Just my opinion, and waiting to be corrected.

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DanielB
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I think there is definitely something to your theory, Ratvn.  I have noticed some things in my own practice that I *think* fit in with some of your points.

I play more than one instrument, and I have noticed that if I start my practice sessions on a a fretted or keyboard instrument, progress is better.  When I first started playing violin, for the first several months I mostly neglected other instruments.  When I got back into the multi-instrumental routine, progress became easier.

Even before practice, part of my "daily ritual" is going through the house and tuning instruments.  It's a personal quirk that I have, I like any of my instruments that I pick up to be in tune and ready to play, needing at worst only a minor touch-up.  But that process, repeated over several instruments, I think may relate to your first phase of "ear/brain pitch recognition".  Since I usually tune by intervals/harmonics on most instruments, and only use an electronic tuner for the first note, there are also some elements of pitch comparison involved. 

I have found that practices go better if I start with fretted strings, rather than starting with violin.  My practice routine for guitar starts out pretty structured/methodical, with practising chord changes and then basically fingering exercises up and down the neck.  That usually takes about a half an hour to go through my routine, and that could further reinforce the ear/brain "image" of what correct pitches will sound like.  It also "warms up" the fingers and probably refreshes some elements of the muscle memory.

So I think I do see the elements of what you're talking about in the evolution of my own practice routines, as I tried different ways of doing things to see what works best for me.

I'll end there for now, and call that my $.02 on the matter for the moment.

"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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Oliver
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May 22, 2014 - 7:53 am
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At great risk of being chased by a violin posse .................. my theory is that violin playing is mainly about the location of notes on the X,Y coordinate fingerboard. Why?  Because the commitment to position precedes the audible sound.  I may know the desired pitch but I also must first make a decision about where it is.  When I miss a note it is not my intonation that is bad, it's my aim.  My intonation can  be bad and good at the same time.

Some virtuoso said if it were not for vibrato, he would have no intonation at all!

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

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Uzi
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Oliver said
At great risk of being chased by a violin posse .................. my theory is that violin playing is mainly about the location of notes on the X,Y coordinate fingerboard. Why?  Because the commitment to position precedes the audible sound.  I may know the desired pitch but I also must first make a decision about where it is.  When I miss a note it is not my intonation that is bad, it's my aim.  My intonation can  be bad and good at the same time.

Some virtuoso said if it were not for vibrato, he would have no intonation at all!

I think I agree with this idea. Knowing what note you want to play only works if your finger goes to that very tiny spot on the fingerboard that produces that exact tone. The key is to have your fingers trained to go to the exact right spot and that's muscle memory. That muscle memory comes from practicing scales and etudes over and over until it eventually becomes automatic.  After that, it may be possible to roll the tip of the finger a tiny bit one way or the other to make the tone more exact, to correct near misses, but your fingers must first be trained to hit very close to the exact spot through many hours of practice. 

Mentally singing along with your playing, though, is not a waste of time. Not only does it prepare your finger to move before it's time to do so (which doesn't happen when you're just sight reading notes from a sheet) it also helps evoke the proper rhythm and feeling of the music, resulting in more expressive playing, IMHO.  It also helps one to learn to play by ear, so that when you hum or think a melody you can translate that directly to the instrument, which is a big advantage over those who can sight read only.  

A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort. ~Herm Albright

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Oliver
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May 22, 2014 - 11:58 am
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Thinking Out Loud

We are encouraged to find notes by physical position.  For instance "third position", etc.

I wonder what would happen with a pitch approach particularly with a young/new student? 

PS  Baby Boomers are a bunch of kids to me but in my life time I have only known 2 people who I believed could and did play by ear and were very competent.  Normal folks but still spooky!

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

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RosinedUp
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Uzi said

Not only does [mentally singing along with your playing] prepare your finger to move before it's time to do so (which doesn't happen when you're just sight reading notes from a sheet)

I believe that sight reading does prepare the fingers to move ahead of time.  I don't see how it can be controversial that the eyes are looking ahead of what is currently being played, just as a typist is looking ahead of the copy they are currently typing.

Based on my experience, the usual for an ear player is to hear the tune in their mind ahead of actually playing it.  The memory of the sound of the tune is substituted for the sequence of dots on the page.

Players are actually playing one thing while 1) mentally hearing what is ahead, or 2) reading what is ahead.

The sight reader may be doing both at the same time, and that seems to be one skill that is supported by ratvn's proposed exercise.  It would allow a sight reader to simultaneously play by ear.

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Uzi
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@ratvn,

@RosinedUp posted a link. in another thread, to a book which is very relevant to this thread.  Check out pages 19-22 under the heading Intonation of the "Principles of Violin Playing."  It's a very interesting read.

https://archive.org/stream/principlesofviol00gala#page/18/mode/2up

A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort. ~Herm Albright

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Kiara
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RosinedUp said
I believe that sight reading does prepare the fingers to move ahead of time.  I don't see how it can be controversial that the eyes are looking ahead of what is currently being played, just as a typist is looking ahead of the copy they are currently typing.

Based on my experience, the usual for an ear player is to hear the tune in their mind ahead of actually playing it.  The memory of the sound of the tune is substituted for the sequence of dots on the page.

Players are actually playing one thing while 1) mentally hearing what is ahead, or 2) reading what is ahead.

The sight reader may be doing both at the same time, and that seems to be one skill that is supported by ratvn's proposed exercise.  It would allow a sight reader to simultaneously play by ear.

I agree there @RosinedUp , I know that when I play by ear or reading music I do look ahead, even reading a book I read ahead. :)

@ratvn Thanks for sharing this. Don't think I advised to have more input, I think it's a great exercise to strengthen intonation skills.

I also agree with Uzi and Oliver, about muscle memory. I think that both muscle memory and the ear, listening to see if intonation is correct, have big parts to play in getting a correct note.

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Oliver
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May 22, 2014 - 8:10 pm
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@Uzi

Your book reference.  Outstanding.  I D/L the PDF.

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

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ratvn
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May 22, 2014 - 8:15 pm
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Thank you, @Oliver, @DanielB, @Uzi, @RosinedUp, and @Kiara for your valuable feedback and input.

Robert

thumbs-up

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Fiddlerman
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May 24, 2014 - 8:42 am
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So to make sure I understand you ratvn, you are not really referring to scales but rather key signatures, right?
Also, your study's purpose is very much for learning to play by ear?
Hearing the notes before you actually put your fingers down is all part of playing by ear. :)

Yesterday I had a gig for a graduation. We played quartet while the audience was coming into the auditorium and then played "Pomp and Circumstance" of course. We ran through it once before the gig and I left the sheets sticking out so that I could find it FAST when I got the cue to play it. Unfortunately, the sheets got pushed in without me even thinking about it so when the time came to play P&C, I couldn't find it. All three other players were staring at me waiting to begin. The audience was quiet looking at us as well and I was searching through the sheets like an idot (I know what you guys are thinking) for what seemed like an eternity but was probably not all that long. Finally, I did what I should have done to begin with and played it by memory. Fortunately, I know the tune in my head quite well though I don't play it often. I was able to play it by memory flawlessly but I would have liked testing it by memory first sometime. LOL
It was also fortunate that I play the first violin because I would not have known exactly what to play on the other non melody parts. :)
My point is that playing by ear can be a very important skill for performers.

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

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ratvn
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Yes, you're right that it's rather key signatures as I tried to make it general so members could use it whichever particular scales they wish, as key sigs will lead to modes, Major, Minor etc.

My study, at first was for intonation but it then would benefit ear playing as well, IMO.

By letting the notes "speak" out first, it positively reinforces the ear/brain "image" of those notes, then by following by playing for the accuracy of pitches. This process leads to better intonation, as very similar to your advice for intonation correction (I hope I quote you correctly): Play the scale (of the tune to be played) slowly several times first and let the notes sink in.

My study also helps the ear/brain to build a mapping table of pitch/note associate with finger position and this would improve ear playing and fingerboard sight reading/singing (instead of sheet). Hearing notes/melody in the head and being able to carry out on actually playing could lead to improvisation/creation.

I love P&C. You're just humble, FM. We would expect you flying through the tune effortlessly, even if the non melody parts were to be generated on the fly.

Thank you for you input and feedback.

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coolpinkone
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@Fiddlerman .... wow.. I am not surprised you could do it.  I have been playing "Pomp" from the 2nd essentials books. I really like it. I know that the reason I can play it better than other songs it that my ears know it... the tune and the timing.

When I play a familiar tune the progress is very very fast for tune and timing.  I can't play by ear, but I do know my ears are participating in my playing.

The longer I play violin and the more songs and tunes I play, I have noticed a bit of instinct (muscle memory) that is proving reliable in times of memory lapse.

:)

Thanks for your story. Good recovery.

:)

Vibrato Desperato.... Desperately seeking vibrato

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Fiddlerman
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coolpinkone said
@Fiddlerman .... wow.. I am not surprised you could do it.  I have been playing "Pomp" from the 2nd essentials books. I really like it. I know that the reason I can play it better than other songs it that my ears know it... the tune and the timing.

I am lucky that way. Don't need to practice something as easy as Pomp and Circumstance to play it by memory as long as I can sing it. IOW, familiar with the melody. :-)

Thanks

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

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