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Intonation Help

This is my INTONATION RECIPE. When you make a recipe, it contains a variety of ingredients. You include a bit of each ingredient, in varying amounts. If you forget an ingredient, your recipe does not turn out very well! So, every ingredient is an important part of the recipe. Here are the ingredients for good intonation:

  • Pitch Recognition
  • Interval Recognition
  • Placement Recognition
  • Mini Scales / Arpeggios
  • Testing

Pitch Recognitionis a two-part process:

1) Make sure you know WHAT NOTE you are playing. This sounds elementary and simplistic, but sometimes I discover that a student knows what finger they are playing and what position they are playing, but not what note!

2) If a pitch occurs more than once in a short amount of time in a piece, especially if it occurs with a different finger, make sure you make the pitch sound the same each time you play it! Recognize that you have played it before, and match the pitch!

Interval Recognitionis an essential ability that musicians need to have. An INTERVAL is the distance between two notes. If you are playing one note, you should be imagining how the next note will sound. Try to sing the next note before you actually play it. Force yourself to imagine how the note will sound, then when you play it your foreknowledge of how it should sound will direct you to play it correctly!

Placement Recognitionis something that naturally occurs over time. For example, do you know where first position is? Yes! But were you born with that knowledge or did you pick it up somewhere along the line? The answer is that you were taught, and now you just know. Eventually, you become as comfortable with the placement of every position on the cello are you are with first position! This is learning the geography of the fingerboard.

Mini-Scales and Arpeggiosappear in your pieces, all over the place. Seek and ye shall find! Knowing where the mini-scale and arpeggio series are will help you recognize, again, how things should sound.

Testing...is the habit of every conscientious musician. I have been playing the cello for nearly 30 years and I test my notes ahead of time or in the midst of things! If I need to do it, than you need to do it! Any note that is the same as an open string or that corresponds with a harmonic should be tested for accuracy. The more you test, the less you have to!

Pat White

>>More on Testing Intonation

I simply insist that any note thatcanbe tested be tested. Sometimes, I stop a student and insist they test their note when I already know it is in tune, just to see if they are confident of their own listening ability! But, to be very specific about testing, let's say the piece contains a shift to E on the A string in 4th position. This is a note that tends to be flat, so I have them play the E as a harmonic. I explain that it is an octave higher, but that it is still an E and it is a very nice E to match! Students who have problems with their intonation begin to apply the testing on their own, and learn how to right themselves.

In order to teach my students to realize that intonation is relative I have them conduct the following experiment:

First, play an E on the D string in first position with the first finger.Second, add an open G underneath so that you create the interval of Major 6th. Once that interval is nicely in tune, stop playing but DO NOT MOVE the first finger on the D string.Next, play the same E, but add the open A as the double-stop so that you create the interval of Perfect 4th. You will find that the very E that was beautifully in tune with open G is FLAT with open A. Raise the E a bit, and you have a wonderful P4 and a new awareness of just how relative pitch really is.

Someone else asked about how to learn to tune with 5ths. That is a matter of interval recognition. First, be sure to play the strings together very softly. Play one string, then add the other -- don't start with both strings right away. Listen for the 'knocks' in the interval. If the interval is out of tune, it will 'knock' or be 'unsettled'. To know what 'knocks' are, play a G# in 4th position on the C string while playing Open G at the same time. This is a dissonant interval, and will knock. The Perfect 5th is a consonant interval, and will blend. You truly learn to recognize the blend.

One more point: when my students start, I have them do the Cossmann finger exercise from the get-go (1434,1424,1323, 4 times each ... you know the one). Initially, it is presented as a finger exercise. They learn speed and coordination from it. Then, later on down the road, that same exercise is re-examined. It is presented as a way to learn to hearleading tones. The 3rd finger is an ascending leading tone to the 4th finger. The 2nd finger is a descending leading tone to the 1st finger. I love Starker's intonation exercises. I have my students do them softly and slowly. How do I know when they have got it? When they play with "The Listening Look" on their faces. There is no way to fake The Listening Look, and it is a thing of beauty to behold for it means the connection from the brain to the ear to the finger has been established. Once that has happened, they teach themselves!

Pat White

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