Perfectly in Tune: is that possible?

                                                                                                                                 Can anyone play the VIOLIN perfectly in tune?                                                                      Yes?                                                                                                                                                    No?                                                                                                                                                  Read on …                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Some people work for their entire violin-lives to improve their tuning (more correctly known as their INTONATION). Some actually quit playing, because they are convinced they will never get there. Others go to bed and analyze passages till four in the morning.

Most of us (the more balanced lot) accept the truth: our fingers feel different from day to day; the strings have variable tension and composition;  the violin itself is sensitive to humidity and temperature. Imagine: some of us think we hear differently (especially the danged E-string) from one day to the next.                                                                                                             So? Is there any hope of getting it right?

Here it is: We, the more reasonable lot, accept that perfect intonation is an elusive, likely impossible skill. We can come very, very close. We can do our best.

Wait: there’s more.                                                                                                           About fifths (what’s that? Wiki knows all).

Story about Fifths                                                                                                                                     Recently, I went to hear a very famous soloist. He bowed, and tuned his instrument in smooth, confident manner. What I heard then made me uncomfortable: I was certain his ‘A-D’ fifth was too narrow, that is to say, the ‘D’ was sharp, relative to the ‘A’. But he left it there. He was beginning with unaccompanied Bach – OMG!  (It’s overflowing with ‘open fifths’.)                                                                                                                                              The opening G minor chord seemed to my ears to be ‘off”. Who was this guy, who I paid good money to hear? Can’t tune his violin, grumble, grumble … Well, I have to tell you that within a few seconds, the intonation question resolved itself, and I enjoyed the performance thoroughly.                                                                                                         What’s going on here?                                                                                                                                       It’s seems that our ears are very forgiving (at least, when listening to someone in performance). We get used to what we’re hearing. Examples: the violin & the piano, having different tuning principles, should sound out of tune with each other. But, after a minute or two, they seem just fine together. Most fiddlers, who often play fast and loose with their sharps and naturals, sound, well, okay, after a tune or two.

Still, there is a standard to be met: when you tune your violin, use the keyboard for the ‘A’ and tune fifths from the ‘A’.  Please, don’t tune the other strings to the piano!                                                                                                                                                                                                                    YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST LEARN THE SOUND OF A FIFTH. (Get help)

Last word to everyone: if you keep re-tuning and re-tuning any pair of strings, and there’s still something wrong, get yourself a NEW STRING. It’s impossible to get a true fifth from old strings ….

How do you know which string is too old? Look for a later blog: “Small Things About Your Violin”.


About violinworks

Peter M. Dunn is a career teacher of violin. He specializes in teaching young children, preparing students for university, and helping adults to 'get started'. His principles are: learn to listen, learn to relax the muscles, learn how to work at home, and will enjoy a long and successful journey with the violin.
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