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How do you handle inconsistencies in intonation?
I am so inconsistent!
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cid
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July 24, 2019 - 3:09 pm
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I am truly having a great time with my cello, and am still very pleased with my instructor. I would, however, appreciate some tips from how other student cellists achieve a couple goals.

I am having such an inconsistent time with intonation. Sometimes I can be pretty spot on. I can have a lesson and not hear the gentle, “careful” from my instructor. He is pointing off my intonation is slipping when he says that. Other times, I think he should just have a recording of it where it is said every 3 minutes. LOL
Other times we can do a song and I can have pretty good intonation. We do it again, and, “poof”, it is out the window. My instructor tells me that he knows I can do it. I already did it.

Sometimes I can have playing time at home and have pretty good intonation. Other times, I can’t even start with my fingers in the proper place for first position and can’t get it no matter how I slowly move my fingers up and down, listen and try to spot the correct place.

I do it over and over. I do it slowly. I listen carefully. Often times, during the middle of a song I will lose it.

This issue does not seem to go away. Little “tricks” seem to help, but don’t do it all the time. I think the note before I play it, like my instructor suggested, but it does not work all the time. With eighth notes and shorter, thinking the next note is impossible. I guess I don’t think quick enough. Actually, I am so concerned with moving my fingers fast enough that paying attention to intonation goes right out the window.

How have any of you student cellist tackled this issue? Have you tackled this issue. Why am I so inconsistent? I do not have finger tapes and am not putting them on.
Oh, I tried the exercise of dropping the left arm to the side and lifting it to the fingerboard and see of you hit first position. Adjust, drop, raise and see if you hit first position, drop, raise, etc. I do it over and over. After I get to where I am remembering how it feels over and over, I start playing my song. Poof, out the window. Even the next time I play, it is starting all over again.

I can get spot on, feel the vibration, hear the clear tones, it is so lovely, and then it is gone.

How do you deal with this? This is hindering my shifting. I love the shifting in this sonata we are doing, but, the intonation being so inconsistent is really an issue. I love the, what I call, fancy fingering in the runs, but again, the 8th notes and shorter notes, are really bad. The faster I go, the more my fingers move around and off the mark where they need to be.

They call me, “Mellow Cello” 

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Pete_Violin
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July 24, 2019 - 4:11 pm
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Disclaimer:  I play violin, and I am not ashamed!!!  LOL!

OK, so now that that's out of the way....

@cid Welcome to string playing!!!!  OMG! Not only is this typical, it is completely normal!

And yes, I realize my statement is not only true, but it is completely useless... LOL!  (As far as helping you...)

So I have been playing (violin) now for about a year and a half and everything you have just described I have been going through.  Intonation is not only one of the most difficult things to master in strings it is also the holy grail as far as how to play properly, beautifully, technically correct, and the way to making your instrument sound "right".  It is, in fact, what we work on for years and years.  

Now, this does not mean to say we will not achieve decent intonation.  Actually, it is attainable with practice and determination (like everything else on these instruments) within a reasonable period of time.  We will be able to play notes correctly.  It will happen and we can absolutely play so that we are hitting those notes well (pretty much) all the time.  But it is something we will ALWAYS be working on.  Always...

Here is a secret...  It becomes less about how well you can hit the note precisely each time, and more about how well you can adjust on the fly as you play because there will be times, even after years of play, that you will hit a note just a little off.  The trick is to train your ear well enough to hear it so you can adjust it as you play and bring that note in tune so fast that no one even noticed you were slightly off.  That is the mark of good intonation!  And that is when you have learned how to control it!

But to address your current concerns...  there are some things we can do (myself included) to work on our intonation.

First, I would say let's tune our instrument precisely to begin with... each time we begin playing.  We have to start with a perfectly tuned instrument.  Otherwise, we are off with intonation to begin with.  Our ear needs to be trained with the correct, precise notes, or we will never even hear what good intonation is to begin with.

Second is practice... repetition... over and over and over... We need to master our scales and arpeggios.  We need to hear every note correctly every time.  Over and over.  We must hear only correct intonation and feel where each finger plays those notes.... over and over again... until it becomes second nature.  In other words, muscle memory connecting with proper notes.

I know you already said you do it over and over... I know you have been working on it.  Me too.  We have been working on this... we will continue working on this.. we will not stop working on this... This is our lot in life.  This is string playing.  This is why not everyone plays these instruments.  DO NOT give up.... and neither will I.

Also, my teacher tells me exactly the same thing yours tells you.  I mean exactly!  Down to "Thinking the note!".  In fact, I was so pleased when I read your comment that your teacher tells you this!  I am not the only one!  And it is a valid concept.  Think the note.  It does work!

Why are we so inconsistent?  Because we are human.  We are playing an instrument that requires us to place our fingers in precise locations with no visual queues or aids on the fingerboard.  We have to rely on the memory of our muscles which takes time to ingrain into our motions and the electrical impulses of our brains and match that to what we hear.  Of course it will start out as inconsistent and clumsy fumbling with trying to learn, re-learn... then start again... repeat... try, try, try... it is how we play the instrument.  Do not be discouraged.  Eventually, it will all click.

Faster playing will only come with this repetitive, slow learning... We must first learn this slow before we can play it fast.  I am still really playing eighth notes.  And my tempo has only begun to speed up after a year and a half.  It is just how it goes, Cid. 

No tricks... No secrets.  Practice, repeat, over and over again.  And believe me... I am telling myself this every bit as much as anyone else! 

- Pete -

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cid
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July 24, 2019 - 8:35 pm
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Thanks, Pchoppin. I actually have an easier time with intonation on my violin and viola. It is weird because my natural finger spread with the curved fingers is perfect spacing for first position on the cello. I have to pull them closer together for the violin and viola. But, my intonation is much easier on the violin and viola. I think it has to do with the angle of the hands, instrument and my eyesight view.

For some reason, I keep wanting to stretch my fourth finger and I don’t have to. I see to be making it harder on myself than it needs to be. I will have to work on that, 

I did have a really good lesson today. My intonation was pretty good. My upper register shifting was actually quite accurate in the lesson.

I had an hour long lesson today because we won’t have one next week. I will be spending a lot of time with my scales and fingering. We spent time on it in my lesson. A lot of tips and encouragement from him. He said that he knows I can do it. He said I have the skill.

So, I think I just have to keep doing it over and over and work on it. We also started a new song. Other than intonation, he said that I learned all the skills in the sonata, so we are moving along. I love this new piece. More shifting and a terrific bowing workout. I will be working on that these next two weeks before my next lesson too.

I liked having the hour lesson. I also like having two weeks to work on it, it works at this particular time because I can work on getting more consistent. 

They call me, “Mellow Cello” 

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AndrewH
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July 24, 2019 - 9:12 pm
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Intonation is a constant struggle for everyone.

Even though I rely on sight-reading ability most of the time (I get too much orchestra music on too short a time frame to practice everything slowly) I still at least look through my parts, spot potentially tricky shifts, and practice them slowly. I'll practice the shift itself, possibly with the notes leading into it, often playing the notes as even quarter notes at quarter note = 40 or even slower. After I can nail the shift consistently at that tempo, then I start adding in the rhythm and gradually accelerating to performance tempo.

And even then, everyone makes occasional mistakes. In an instructional video on shifting high up the fingerboard, Nathan Cole gives away the professional string player's "dirty little secret": if you're slightly off you can conceal the error with vibrato. Of course, you have to land close enough to make it convincing; if you're too far off, you're not going to be able to hide it.

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cid
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I have heard that vibrato is often used to conceal intonation errors. I have not learned vibrato yet. It also read that you don’t or shouldn’t learn vibrato until your intonation is good and consistent because you have to be close to the mark to do a good sounding vibrato. Also, another article said that too many instrumentalists over use vibrato to cover bad intonation, professionals and non-professionals.

It has been a roller coaster. I think that having that hour long lesson, rather than the normal half hour lesson, today was a help. I asked my instructor about it, or mentioned to him that it frustrates me. I got a pep talk of encouragement, and more re-enforcing of the fact that my fingers are naturally spaced right for the cello first position. I always stretch and don’t need to. Consequently, I am usually a little sharp. The talk actually helped. I did not hear, “careful” very much during the lesson, not even on the shifting sections. I could hear good solid notes and sound, too. I mentioned this in another reply above.

I did get right back on it when I got home. I got my cello out of its case and played the scale we are working on right now over and over, played my new piece, and I also did the sonata we just finished up. It felt good and my intonation was much better. I want to do it right now, but it is 10:49 pm. There is quite a bit of land between us and the neighbors, but with windows open this time of year, I am sure they would hear me and think there was a sick cow in their yard. A mute messes up my hearing the intonation properly. Should give it a rest, anyway.

They call me, “Mellow Cello” 

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HP
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cid said
I actually have an easier time with intonation on my violin and viola. 

  

This is your solution then. JK.

 

Jokes aside, arpeggios and scales are golden when it comes to intonation. I'm the same as you, usually I'm pretty close, but very inconsistent when it comes to intonation. Some days I don't even bother because no matter what I do I can't get close to what's supposed to sound like. My suggestion is to listen to a lot of recordings of the piece you're working on. If you're able to, try to play along with a recording as well. Another thing that I find useful is to hum or to have the tune in your head while playing. 

'Armed with theory, practice becomes meaningful. Through practice, theory becomes fulfilled.' - Egon von Neindorff.

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@HP That was hilarious as a response! But also so cool and unique as a performance! 

They call me, “Mellow Cello” 

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GregW
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@cid said ....I got my cello out of its case and played the scale we are working on right now over and over, played my new piece, and I also did the sonata we just finished up. It felt good and my intonation was much better. I want to do it right now, but it is 10:49 pm. There is quite a bit of land between us and the neighbors, but with windows open this time of year, I am sure they would hear me and think there was a sick cow in their yard..

Well the important thing is to not let it discourage you and stay..ahem..mootavated.  laugh

 

Sorry.. facepalm  couldn't help.  

I always enjoy your post.  It's so funny how even with a different instrument we have the same struggles.  I think its probably harder for you with the style of music youre playing. At least with old time its possible, in some sections of a tune, to slide up to the correct note and it sounds planned.  This can help to get your hand in right spot.  It seems like with classical music a person would need to be precise the whole time.  Hang in there..sounds like you're enjoying the cello even though some things youre working on to make consistent.

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cid
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Thanks, @GregW Gotta have a sense of humor!

There used to be a farmer a couple house down, on top of a small hill. When his cows were in the barn he played opera music for them. Seriously. I am not a fan of opera music, but what the hay (LOL). If it made those cows happy. 

I bet if he played fiddle music for them, when he milked them he would get milkshakes!

Thanks, everyone for sharing your intonation experiences. Very helpful and encouraging. Off to sew so I can get busy with my cello.

They call me, “Mellow Cello” 

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AndrewH
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I am not suggesting that anyone should play a piece intending to hide inaccuracies with vibrato. But intonation errors happen, even to the best. In order to be consistently close enough to hide your errors with vibrato in performance situations, you need to be nailing the note quite consistently when practicing. Slow practice of the tricky intervals is how you get it.

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Gordon Shumway
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I am always studying a slow piece and a fast piece, but slow scales are surprisingly good for intonation training.

My experience is that on a good day I can often hit a note so that all I need to correct the intonation is a slight roll on the finger tip towards me or away from me. That roll can be combined with vibrato: worse can't. On the whole, the advice to use vibrato only when your intonation is perfect is the right advice.

 AndrewH: intonation errors happen, even to the best. 

I had a cheap CD of Pag 1, and the violinist hit the first D of the performance a quartertone flat. They should have stopped the take there and redone it. I binned the CD.

Andrew

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cid
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@Gordon Shumway  Maybe (s)he should have vibratoed that D! 😂😂😂 I could not resist. I do not know the names of classical pieces, might know what it sounds like and might not. So, if that note was not well matched to vibrato, take that into consideration of my smart @&& reply. pie_in_the_face-2223

I just love these stringed instruments. I think I try too hard sometimes. At almost 65, I keep seeing this clock running out on how long my fingers will be able to do it and I want to get a nice smooth tone before that happens. I wish I could have done this growing up.

I know people way over 65 still play, but still playing and training fingers at that age and older are two different things.

Ah, well, will just do what I can and hope to encourage young ones I know to pursue them. 

They call me, “Mellow Cello” 

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Gordon Shumway
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cid said
At almost 65, I keep seeing this clock running out on how long my fingers will be able to do it

  

Yep. I'm 59, and I'm the same. I already have some arthritis in my left foot and left hand: my mother has it bad, and my mother and my aunt have both had carpal tunnel operations. It's a race against time. My teacher now realises this and lets me call the shots.

I do not know the names of classical pieces, might know what it sounds like and might not.

Sorry about the thread drift.

Pag 1 is Paganini's first violin concerto. My favourite piece of vinyl in the 70s was Maurice Hasson playing Pag 1 and Prok 2. But I played the Prokofiev more often than the Paganini. That vinyl was still available until a couple of years ago, but it has never been made into a CD.

The note I'm talking about occurs at 3.51 in this Youtube video. You wait 3 minutes 45 seconds for an opening phrase and it ends on a note that's a quartertone flat. You see the problem (on the CD, not on this performance).

Curious that it says in D. I haven't checked the pitch, but the orchestra plays in Eb and the violin plays in D with his strings tuned a semitone sharp, in case anyone has perfect pitch and can't work it out.

Andrew

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cid
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@Gordon Shumway Sorry about the thread drift.

Not to worry. I don’t. If a question get off course and I need further explanation, I just start anew. Why sweat it? Interesting, funny and strange things come up when that happens. This is a fun and informative place to come. Why take the fun out?

That was a nice piece. Enjoyed listening to it. Thanks.

They call me, “Mellow Cello” 

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Fiddlerman
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July 29, 2019 - 9:42 am
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AndrewH said
I am not suggesting that anyone should play a piece intending to hide inaccuracies with vibrato. But intonation errors happen, even to the best. In order to be consistently close enough to hide your errors with vibrato in performance situations, you need to be nailing the note quite consistently when practicing. Slow practice of the tricky intervals is how you get it.

Actually, to play in tune without vibrato is WAY more difficult than with.
I am doing, or have done, some "Tune a Week" videos and I try to always play the tune without vibrato for beginners, and I must say, it's ridiculously difficult to be accurate without vibrato. Obviously you have a greater chance of hitting the right pitch when you go up and down constantly and it's not as noticeable to the listener as when you sit solidly on one note.

That being said, it's all relative. Intonation is relative also. There is no-one who does not play out of tune. It's more a question of what is acceptable and to whom it is acceptable to.

As many have said, slow practice with concentrated focus on each and every note for intonation is very helpful. Use of scales for this purpose is also fantastic. Just don't loose the focus. More focus is necessary when developing your hand and finger patterns but one must always keep intonation in mind. The most difficult thing to teach is to listen.... Not only for intonation but for everything. Listen, listen and listen.

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

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cid
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Thank you, everyone. Very encouraging.

They call me, “Mellow Cello” 

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Leaviathan
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I'm 56 and just started Cello, so I gave myself an instant advantage in the intonation dept by getting an NS Design Cello that has little dots on the fingerboard 🙂

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AndrewH
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Fiddlerman said

AndrewH said

I am not suggesting that anyone should play a piece intending to hide inaccuracies with vibrato. But intonation errors happen, even to the best. In order to be consistently close enough to hide your errors with vibrato in performance situations, you need to be nailing the note quite consistently when practicing. Slow practice of the tricky intervals is how you get it.

Actually, to play in tune without vibrato is WAY more difficult than with.

I am doing, or have done, some "Tune a Week" videos and I try to always play the tune without vibrato for beginners, and I must say, it's ridiculously difficult to be accurate without vibrato. Obviously you have a greater chance of hitting the right pitch when you go up and down constantly and it's not as noticeable to the listener as when you sit solidly on one note.

That being said, it's all relative. Intonation is relative also. There is no-one who does not play out of tune. It's more a question of what is acceptable and to whom it is acceptable to.

As many have said, slow practice with concentrated focus on each and every note for intonation is very helpful. Use of scales for this purpose is also fantastic. Just don't loose the focus. More focus is necessary when developing your hand and finger patterns but one must always keep intonation in mind. The most difficult thing to teach is to listen.... Not only for intonation but for everything. Listen, listen and listen.

  

We're in total agreement. I think you may have misunderstood my post. What I meant was that, because performance anxiety tends to produce inconsistency, you have to be nailing all the notes without vibrato in the practice room in order to be consistently close enough to hide the errors in vibrato while performing.

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cid
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I have been paying attention to what the whole step sounds like from A to B. I have started using that to find the first position on the A string. One of my major issues is placing my hand properly for first position to begin with. It worked really well today to keep me on track. I have been really working hard to identify what the whole steps should sound like. It seems to help. 

I keep doing those exercises like dropping the arm to the side and bringing it to the fingerboard. Doesn’t seem to remain for the next session.

Weird that I am beginning to nail the shift to E on the A string, and also the F, F#, and G. I can get those more often than the first position! I am even finding it easier to do the A and G# to B to G# on the D string followed by the E on the G string and up to the C on the A (normal first position. This is becoming easier than just hitting the G on the D string, etc. I can never hear when that G on the D is correct, or the C on A is correct, but those shifting sections in a Sonata don’t seem to give me trouble anymore. Seems so odd the shifting section seems to be clicking more quickly. I like shifting, so I am glad about that. I just wish first position was not such a pickle. 

I also wish I would stop walking up and down the fingerboard when playing a song and losing my positioning.

Am I asking too much? I keep telling myself that I have only been getting really good lessons with details being taught, and my playing being watched and listened to by my instructor since March. I know I have improved. I can feel and hear it. I guess I am expecting too much, too soon? 

They call me, “Mellow Cello” 

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Fiddlerman
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Exactly Andrew.... This is why I sometimes force myself to practice without vibrato. Though it's hard to turn it off. 😁

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

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