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I'm sure the right answer is "practice more" but there's a limit to the amount of time I get to do that. Are there any obvious techniques or quick exercises I can use to improve my intonation? Even if it's just sticking stickers on the fingerboard?

To clarify, it's not so much that I can't tell when I'm playing sharp/flat - it's just that my fingers are clumsy and miss the spots, so I'm wondering if there are some common techniques to allow for more precise fingering or faster correction of an initial error.

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    How slowly do you practice? If you constantly practice excruciatingly slow, you will develop a very good sense of spacing / proportion. Thus, your fingers will be sure and intonation will improve. – jjmusicnotes Feb 22 '15 at 3:45
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Well Have you tried practicing scales? The way I see it that's the most efficient exercise to develop "muscle memory" so that your fingers will remember where to go. Play common scales like G major, C Major as well as Ab Major (4 flats) and B Major (5 sharps) so that your fingers cover all the areas. and once you've done 1 octaves, try 2 octaves and try conquering the third position on the violin by playing scales entirely in that position. (then there's fifth position and onwards of course. Not to mention the 2nd and 4th positions that I skipped)

Besides these, are you sure your posture and everything else is accurate? do your fingers form a square as they fall on the fingerboard? is your left hand and thumb slightly touching the neck of the violin (two points of contact is recommended)see this image for reference. Also, is your elbow in the right places when you're playing a certain string? For example as per Ivan Galaman's book, your elbow should be more to the left when you're playing the lower strings and more to the right when you're on the upper strings. also if your arms are short you might want to keep your elbow always slightly to the right so as to place your fingers more easily (vice versa for long armed people) also if your fingers are short you might want to move your hand to the right so that you can hit all the notes with ease. your first finger will then stretch back to hit the first note but your other fingers, especially the small finger, won't have to suffer. (vice versa for long fingered players)

Also another tip. you must check to see if your hand can cover two strings perfectly besides the one your hand is on. e.g. if your first finger is on "B note" in the A string, your fourth must be able to not only play E on A string but also A and B on the D and E strings respectively. try and see if you can hit the exact positions above and below with your fingers it will help you with string crossing. you will learn that it is more about rotating your hand up and down so that the finger can reach the similar position than it is about lifting and placing the finger anew (at least that's what worked for me)

  • I don't have so much problem with scales as with tunes with large interval jumps. Sounds like some great tips on hand position, thanks. – topo Reinstate Monica Feb 22 '15 at 15:29
  • Large interval jumps you can overcome through muscle memory development. Practice so that each finger can be commanded. first to four finger. first to third finger. open string to fourth finger. That should speed up the process. – Sazid Ahmad Feb 22 '15 at 18:05
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The key to success isn't perfect technique - heck, there are some extravagant players ranging from "perfect book example" postures to "how on earth do you manage to play at all" postures. The road to success is:

  1. Train your ear - know at least approximately what kind of sound to expect when playing a note. That can be practiced by playing the scales slowly or listening to high quality recordings with the sheet music in your hand and following along.

  2. Get to know your instrument. Maybe you haven't heard of this, but almost every violin is different. Some are more similar but some may be absolutely and completely different from each other - be it thickness of the neck, richness of the sound or even distances between positions (tiny distance nuances that make difference while trying to play perfectly in tune). Examine with the tuner where exactly are your higher placed notes, try slowly double stops to know where to put the fingers and you won't be disappointed in the long run.

Don't forget to have fun and relax, it will come with patience.

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I play many instruments and just took up the violin. The intonation issue is major, especially because many of my other instruments are precise note destinations: piano, Accordian, guitar, banjo, even harmonica, etc. but the violin is a road without lines.

What I thought of torturing myself with is to keep a Snark digital tuner on the scroll and the Korg box tuner on the music stand. With them both turned on, I practice one scale at a time, slow tedious note by note, until my eye and ear coincide on perfect pitch. When I hit it just right I play it repeatedly to get that sound clearly imprinted in my ear. It's boring but very helpful. I reward myself after by jamming along with a song I really like, freestyle.

Hope this helps.

  • This is a nice, up-to-date idea! – Tim Aug 19 '16 at 19:44
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You need to develop you ear sufficiently so that you can realise when you play falseWhen you have done this working on your muscle memory so that you can easily and quickly find the notes should then be the logical next step.

If you have a well tuned piano try playing in sync with the notes to help develop that musical sensitivity.

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I'm still struggling with violin (and have largely put it down for now), but continually hit the same issues with guitar bending, slide and steel guitar.

The answer is tuned accompaniment. Unless you have perfect pitch (in which case, why are you asking?), you have to start with relative pitch, and so you are not going to get anywhere without a reference pitch to play against.

  • It's not so much the hearing as the fingers that are the problem - have edited the question! – topo Reinstate Monica Feb 22 '15 at 0:54
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Do what guitarists "do" (already have) put markers on the violin finger board (no clue how it's called since it has no frets) so that you can SEE where the right place to press is. Play along with songs, that's the best way to force your ear compare the "right" notes with the "wrong" notes. And that's all I can think of for now, the rest is practice practice practice and instinct, the more you practice the right thing the more your brain will understand that you're doing the wrong thing and command you to correct it.

addition Playing slow with a metronome helps as well. Programming your muscle memory and then gradually speeding up. You probably hit it sharp/flat because your muscle memory commands you to. Try to re-write it. Not such an easy thing.

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    Technically speaking, on a guitar, it's called a "fretboard" and on the violin (et. al) it's called a "fingerboard". The distinction should be obvious. – jjmusicnotes Feb 22 '15 at 3:44
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    Well, the OP says he can hear the error, so I think he's past the stickers phase. It's really a matter of slowly repeating note sequences until the muscle memory kicks in and the fingers land on the right spot. – Carl Witthoft Feb 22 '15 at 13:34
  • @jjmusicnotes... yes naturally on a guitar it's called Ταστιέρα because it has frets, and in violin it's called μπράτσο (which is not even close to a board as a meaning) but yeah, thanks... It's "naturally" to you as a native speaker, I'm not. – Deus Deceit Feb 22 '15 at 13:57
  • @DeusDeceit - No need to be defensive, I was only trying to clarify your confusion as to why a violin has a fingerboard and a guitar a fretboard. – jjmusicnotes Feb 22 '15 at 14:46
  • I guess you could tell I was defensive but that's not how I felt when I typed the text above, I find it annoying that people think that what's "natural" to them should be natural for others as well. And I actually did guess it right, following exactly the reasoning that you described above in the first place, so there was no need for explanation? Cheers – Deus Deceit Feb 22 '15 at 15:36
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Opposite to many opinions, the violin must be played like the guitar. Why? Because there we have 4 strings or 4 fixed notes. To learn and memorise the places of all the notes for example in first position we must use maximum checks possible. The place of the pinky is very easy to find because in first position pinky must play unison with the upper string.Example: On G string we play with pinky the note D and we verify the unison with the D string.

But first little theory concerning the intervals. One octave is the interval where the frequence is twise. If the note A4 (your A string) is 442Hz then the note A on the E string 3th finger is 884 Hz (ratio 1/2). If we divide this octave in 12 half tons and then try to divide the fifth A-E (your strings A and E-ratio 1/1.5) in 7 half tons, we will be surprised than the half tons from the fifth are bigger! Or the first condition to play in tune is...to tune correctly the instrument. Or after taking the A from a electronic tuner we can tune E string with a pure fifth because after this string will be hot and will go slightly down-the fifth will become narrow. Then we tune the D string maximum hight possible to avoid the pure fifth D-A. Then we must rechecking E string if A string remain in tune.After that we tune narrow fifth G-D strings and if needs we can verify other strings. The basic problem when we tune the violin is that all strings use the same point of support and when we change one string the other ones strings change also...

Now we can see where are other correct places for our fingers. The 3rd finger on E string must form a octave with the string A but not a pure octave but slightly stretched one! For the note C on G string the place will be exactly in front of the note G on D string. We continue with the second finger. If we have to play a minor third with the upper string (for example 2nd finger on A string-C sharp and the E string), we will try to play this C sharp maximum hight possible to have one narrow minor third. If we check a major third-there we must try to play a stretched third. Or in the same example C-E the second finger for C must be lower possible.For checking the normal place for the first finger we have two possibility-4th with the upper string or major 6th with the lower one.Where the 4th must be stretched and the major 6th also. If we use low position for our first finger then the right place will be a narrow minor 6th with the lower string-for example A-F (first finger on E string)

In general we must remember that only the unison must be pure. The minor 3rd, the 5th and the minor 6th-narrow. The major 3rd, the 4th, the major 6th and the octave-stretched.

All that seems complicated but it is very useful to memorise these places! It will permit to stay in tune all the time(if the violin also stay in tune).

All corrections for play narrow or stretched intervals are very little ones and only your ear will confirm if the place is correct.

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