Intonation practice techniques for Fiddle

Intonation practice techniques for Fiddle

I’ve been working a lot at the factory, getting myself settled in this new town and now I think its safe to say I am officially "Out of practice".

It’s been months since I sat down and had a good practice, and after hearing a recording of myself I’ve learned that my intonation is shot! It’s horrible, I sound like I’ve fallen back into "beginner’s awfulness"…. Then I realized, my intonation has never been great, it being the one thing that was completely new to me when moving from piano to fiddle.

What are some good ways to practice intonation, especially if you’re solo and don’t have others to practice with?

Re: Intonation practice techniques for Fiddle

it’s basically ear training. get a pitch standard (not an electronic gizmo, but a pitch fork) and tune up to a standard pitch using your ears several times a day. Play slow scales practicing both tone and intonation.

Listen for the harmonics reinforcing themselves in your fiddle when you are playing with good intonation. Get used to what good intonation sounds like so you know it when you hear it.

and then just play alot

Re: Intonation practice techniques for Fiddle

"Listen for the harmonics reinforcing themselves " —that’s basically what the Youtube videos are saying. Learn what good intonation sounds like and then play like that. You can tell if a note is a little off because the tone won’t be as full. Being in tune all the time to a consistant pitch will help you develop this.

Re: Intonation practice techniques for Fiddle

Scales, scales, scales, and more scales! And arpeggios. Arpeggios are great for lots of things, including practising Irish music.

While you’re at it, get a tuned metronome so you can practise your rhythms at A=440 Hz.

Re: Intonation practice techniques for Fiddle

All this scales stuff and metering is just dead boring! It’s a counsel of despair. If you play an instrument where the pitch has to be set as you go along - and everyone thinks of the fiddle, but a lot of wind instruments alter pitch according to how they are blown (including the voice itself) - then you are best to play along with one or more loud, fixed pitch instruments. The obvious instruments are accordions and melodeons. They are loud, so the player is not put off by you, and they are fixed pitch, so you can constantly compare your note to theirs - only don’t think about the comparison. Just listen to the resulting notes and enjoy them when they sound good. You have to be able to get that result automatically so you’re never going to get anywhere by thinking about it. You have to feel it. The feeling will pull you in - eventually. Also, watch the player you are playing along with. I don’t know what you get by watching them - but it helps, somehow.

If you don’t know any deaf or very tolerant accordion or melodeon players then you can play along to recordings, but that is very much second best. Much playing along with a metronome is for novice classical musicians - not us.

Re: Intonation practice techniques for Fiddle

Well said Gallopede.

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Re: Intonation practice techniques for Fiddle

Assuming Gallopede’s post isn’t a wind-up… and I’m not so sure, I must say I completely disagree with Gallopede - precisely because accordions and melodeons are fixed-pitch instruments. You cannot alternate between Pythagorean and just intonation when you play with them. The best you can do is compromise between the two, and you will never develop an ear or feel for advanced intonation techniques on the fiddle. The ability to transition between different intonation systems, (or come up with something a little different, a la Paddy Canny,) is at the very heart and soul of string instrument and vocal performance.

Put another way, a "B" over a "G" tonal center is a very different note than a "B" with a "C" tonal center. Accordion makers know this, and the "B" they put on their instruments is a compromise between the two notes - if they’re any good. Playing with an accordion or piano requires you to play differently than playing with other string instruments, or playing solo.

I don’t know how far along you are, but why limit yourself? It is possible for a novice player to really hear a big difference between just intonation and equal temperament, for example - especially if it’s pointed out to them by an experienced player. This is something you aren’t going to get from playing with a fixed-pitch instrument. The accordion, concertina, piano and other fixed-pitch axes have many charms. But intonation isn’t one of them.

Re: Intonation practice techniques for Fiddle

Oh, and don’t get me started on "wet-tuned" accordions. Ain’t NOBODY knows where the pitch is within a country mile of those things! (But if you’re stuck with one, and you want the fiddle to jump out a bit, tune to the highest reed for a given pitch. If you want to blend, tune in the middle of the series of pitches. I much prefer dry accordians, but that’s a matter of taste. A guy like Joe Derrane or Paddy O or the other Paddy O sound great, no matter what they’re playing!

Re: Intonation practice techniques for Fiddle

One of the reasons I play over a drone is to help improve my intonation. You could do worse than to find a couple of slow airs played on a well-tuned set of pipes and play along, concentrating really well on the harmonics and beats generated by the combination of fiddle, chanter and drone. It’s good bowing practise as well, and you’ll learn some new tunes (and probably some new keys!). Google ‘slow air uilleann pipes’ and take your pick.

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Re: Intonation practice techniques for Fiddle

Yes, drones are fantastic. Classical Indian musicians do this extremely well, and there is a lot you can learn about intonation from them, as they take it very seriously.

Re: Intonation practice techniques for Fiddle

The trick is "well-tuned set of pipes!" 🙂

Re: Intonation practice techniques for Fiddle

Jason-Wow! Those videos brought home to me how tricky violin intonation really is. Thanks

Re: Intonation practice techniques for Fiddle

I agree with Gam and Jason on using drones to help with intonation. Yes , I think the Indian intonation system is much stricter than the western ones.

There are a number of options for drones, and Gam mentioned one.

For drones in all keys :

There’s a set of ‘drones in all keys’ available from the great Darol Anger :

http://darolanger.com/index.php?page=cds&display=69

…plus some free Indian tanpura ones :

http://www.karnatik.com/shrutibox.shtml

..or you could go over the top (like I did) and get a digital tanpura :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RAsOk7giJZc


… with fine tuning feature.

Re: Intonation practice techniques for Fiddle

Awesome folks! Thanks 🙂 I’ll be getting some drones then, cause I don’t have the privilege of playing with other musicians right now. Man, I sure miss it.

Re: Intonation practice techniques for Fiddle

I like to throw in a few chords now and then, as an accent to the tune, but also to check that my intonation hasn’t wandered.

Re: Intonation practice techniques for Fiddle

And also pay attention to your open strings (keep your fiddle well-tuned) as they sound next to notes an octave or intervals away—-it’s a nice thing about not playing in a flat key—-intonation is much easier.

Re: Intonation practice techniques for Fiddle

Drones are where it’s at for me. You can play slow phrases and improvise and it’s actually kind of fun as opposed to playing scales into a tuner.

Re: Intonation practice techniques for Fiddle

It may already have been implied but under the "drones" heading include double noting against an open string, (keeping the term double stop to mean fingering two strings at once.) Gives a fierce check on what sounds good (with no need to worry what temper you’re in.)
And the toughest of the lot, but a great check on the "pinched" slightly flat third finger notes that so many fiddlers are guilty of, practice hitting the third finger octave with the lower open string dead right, first time.

(And it’s enjoyable.)

Re: Intonation practice techniques for Fiddle

I completlely agree with the drone comments, and making sure that your fiddle is in tune to start with!

One thing that you might want to think about is your finger placement on the string - make sure that your left hand fingers are bent when you’re pressing the string down, and not flattened (hope that makes sense - hard to describe in words). If you fingers are bent/curved, it’s a lot easier to be accurate with tuning. If your finger is flat, more of it is touching the string, and it can sound flat, and can also muddy the tone. This is one of the most common reasons for poor tuning that I have to correct with my fiddle students.

Re: Intonation practice techniques for Fiddle

Play slowly, and like others have said, listen for the harmonics, or "ringing tones." Example: 3rd finger D on the A string will ring your open D string if in tune.
Don’t get your shorts in a bunch… play slowly so you are actually hearing what you are doing and making the connections between the physical and the aural.

Re: Intonation practice techniques for Fiddle

Regarding the drone idea, there is a nice video by Todd Ehle (Prof V), where he demonstrates the advantages (and limitations) of the drone approach. He notes that most common electronic tuners have the ability to sound a tone that can be used as a drone for intonation practice.

Re: Intonation practice techniques for Fiddle

Michael! Hope you’re well! Just downloaded your app! Looking forward to working with it!

Re: Intonation practice techniques for Fiddle

Cool, thanks! Hope it’s useful to you!

Re: Intonation practice techniques for Fiddle

I’m all for drones too (being a closet hurdy gurdy player) - but isn’t this site about playing in Irish sessions? You get pipes in once in a while, but most of the instruments in an Irish session will be strictly equal temperament and a fiddler needs to be able to hit those equal temperament notes, and hit them spot on. There’s no need to restrict yourself to equal temperament in all circumstances, but in most sessions if you can’t hear and hit the notes the other instruments are using then you will be very unpopular indeed!

Re: Intonation practice techniques for Fiddle

Would anyone like to point to a clip of a fiddler consciously playing the same tune in equal temperament and in just intonation.
Learn to play in tune, with your own previous notes, open strings, and what you hear around you, and let other people worry about temperaments. In tune is what sounds good.
(And don’t forget that rhythm is far more important than tuning anyway.)

Re: Intonation practice techniques for Fiddle

While we’re discussion intonation and fiddles, it’s just so nice to play with the occasional fiddler that is aware of just intonation and lower their F#s and Bs when I’m playing with them on the Uilleann pipes…

Make your local piper happy, learn to play consonant with a D drone when the opportunity presents itself!

Re: Intonation practice techniques for Fiddle

Tom:

This video does a good job of contrasting the difference between a passage played in Pythagorean vs. Just intonation, one after another. The specific passage is from a Bach sonata, but it illustrates the principles very well.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QaYOwIIvgHg#at=72


I disagree with "letting other people worry about temperament." That’s a string player’s job.

Re: Intonation practice techniques for Fiddle

Thanks Jason, that clip was fascinating, very much what I hoped to hear.

To my mind it’s part of the string players job to worry about playing in tune, but you don’t need to be thinking about, or knowledgeable about, temperament systems to do that. The flatter Bb at the start of the clip sounds right, and in tune. When playing double notes it will naturally usually be a matter of putting the lower note in tune with the higher, so it sounds in tune. Train fingers and ear, and you can play beautifully in tune without ever thinking or knowing about temperaments.

Re: Intonation practice techniques for Fiddle

gam-just like that.Mighty,mighty stuff. Thanks

Re: Intonation practice techniques for Fiddle

I think I’m seconding people rather than telling you anything new, but slow down sometimes when you’re practising and *listen* to yourself. Also try and play with other people (ideally in quiet intimate contexts) and *listen* to how your intonation matches theirs (or doesn’t). Listen for sympathetic resonance. (You can also actually see it sometimes- when you play third finger notes spot on you’ll see the next string down vibrating.)