Local Violin Lessons-In or Out-tonation?

Intonation is a touchy subject for string players. It’s one of those things where everyone knows what’s going on,especially the individual playing, but everyone feels a little uncomfortable mentioning the issue. In local violin lessons, the way a teacher handles intonation can be complicated. I mean, if a teacher were to be extremely strict and serious, she could mention every pitch and its relative out of tune-ness, while the student painfully squeaks out each note, desperate to please. The teacher could hold a tuner up to the student’s face and point to it with crinkled eyebrows and perhaps even screa, “sharp! Flat!” That of course is the easy way out though, and we all know this micromanaging will only teach the student that private music lessons are: “just terrible.”

But you can’t exactly ignore intonation either can you? It’s impossible to completely “tune out,” when a student is playing a song, which is supposed to be in a minor key, in a major key because the thirds are so sharp, or when a tune changes keys in the middle because all sense of pitch has been lost. I think in between total obliviousness, and stern, immediate punishment, there is some sort of middle ground when teaching intonation in violin lessons.
The Ear
This is why the ear must take precedent over the abstract. The only way to properly teach a student during local violin lessons about pitch is to teach them about listening. Every student- or violin teacher, we all have room to improve- is born with the ability to detect and perceive differences in frequencies. Most students do it on a daily basis when listening to their favorite songs and singing along. Why can’t they tell when they are on the wrong pitch on the violin then? It’s important to try and tie these two things together for the student.
Show them that the same powers which give them the ability to sing along with their favorite song also empower them to detect the slightest pitch difference between the note they are playing and the notes they are supposed to be playing.  Often times it’s a matter of attention.  It’s so rewarding for the teacher to observe when the student suddenly realizes they have the power to manipulate their pitches at will when they just pay attention. It’s even better for the student, because then they feel that they are not only just hacking away at a piece of wood with strings on it, but they are producing music on a beautiful instrument. The ear is the most valuable and really the only reliable tool when it comes down to it.
If you can sing it, you can play it!
Of course once the student realizes they have the power to hear and change, the real journey begins.  In local violin lessons, the choice to change is only the first step in the long road to great pitch. I find that singing is always a good indicator of whether the ear is in line with the music; it’s difficult to get all my students to sing, though. When a student is shy, it takes a long time for them to gain the comfort to “expose their soul” by opening their mouth and singing. Once they do though, it’s such an eye opener (or ear opener) because the student then can tell if what they are hearing in their head matches what is on the page. Even though physically violin playing has little to do with singing, mapping out the pitches with your voice first helps in finding the pitches on the instrument.
There is always more to learn for both student and teacher about how to learn intonation, but I think it always comes back the fact that music is all about pretty sounds from an unlikely mix of materials- wood and strings, wood and metal, brass and silver. Everyone knows what they like, and they can use their own taste to determine if what they are playing is pretty…or not! Contact us today to find out more.

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