Learning how to play the violin is an amazing endeavor. After reading our e-book, “Getting Started On The Violin”, I bet you’re feeling energized to start learning the violin. We’re excited for you!
One of the things you need to learn how to do as a violinist is putting your fingers down on the fingerboard of the violin. There is a period of time where you’re developing your ability to put the fingers down. After all, the human body was not originally designed to hold a wooden sound box on a shoulder.
You’ll go through a phase of discovering how to put your fingers down on the violin. You’ll soon realize that even though you’re putting your fingers down, they may not sound the way you want them to sound at first.
There are different tuning systems in music. We’re going to talk about how to play in tune in the world of western classical music. There are other violin traditions like Indian classical music that have different tuning systems altogether that we won’t talk about in this article.
How do we even start talking about playing in tune? Let’s dive in:
First, you’ll have to initiate an immense amount of patience. Intonation doesn’t come easy for many and can take some time to get right. Until now, music has been a visual endeavor because you’re doing your best to look at your fingers and place them correctly on the finger board. In addition, you’re trying to learn how to hold the violin bow properly and you have to look over every five seconds to make sure that your right hand is holding the bow right.
Patience will help you get through the hurdles of what’s required of you and your journey with intonation. I can tell you now that violinists everywhere struggle to maintain good intonation.
Scales & Arpeggios
Practicing your scales on the violin is similar to warming up in a sport. Western classical music is made up of scales and arpeggios. It will help you in the long run because there are different systems of scales and arpeggios that help with figuring out fingerings for different pieces.
While practicing your scales, slow and steady is the way to go. Practicing slowly trains your ear to hear each pitch clearly.
A good method that you can use in the practice room is to place your finger down before playing each note. It takes practice to put the finger down in the right place. For intermediate and advanced violinists, try listening to the pitch before hand.
No no, not air drones….Cello drones! Cello drones are a great tool to use in the practice room. I always recommend my students use cello drones because your ear listens to the frequencies of the two notes against each other.
For instance, when you’re playing a G-Major scale against a g-cello drone, then the notes that will often be dissonant will be scale degree ii, and scale degree vii. In the context of G-Major, this would be the pitch A and F#. You’re aiming for purity with each interval that play against the drone.
Not pressing too hard
Intonation can be effected by pressing too hard with the left hand, and/or the right hand. I tell my students that they should use the natural weight of their arms to produce a sound on the violin.
An example I usually give to younger students ages 5 to 10 is the art class examples. I ask them to imagine what they do in art class when they’re painting. If you think about it, painting on a canvas is similar to playing the violin. The violin would be the canvas, the violin bow is your brush, and the strings alongside the rosin would be your paint. If you press too hard with the brush, then you’re going to get a specific texture on the canvas. Similarly with the violin bow, if you squeeze with you bow then you’re going to get an aggressive sound. This will alter your intonation.
Also, depending on what kind of strings you have, pressing the bow can result in the strings getting out of tune frequently.
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