F major out of tune? (violin)

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Laura said: Mar 9, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

Question for violin teachers:

When played with the piano accompaniment, one piece my kid has in F major is consistently played too sharp compared to the piano, and must be consciously tuned down while playing. Other pieces in other keys with piano are just fine, it’s just the F major piece—and specifically, F major with piano, because on its own during practice it also sounds fine.

And yes:
- the violin is tuned to the piano before playing
- overall intonation is generally not a problem (this is higher-level repertoire, not in Suzuki books but roughly equivalent to Books 7-9)
- pieces in other keys sound fine with the piano, it’s just F major that seems to be the problem

Is this a common thing, or just a problem unique to the individual? If it’s common, can anyone explain why? Something to do with non-tempered tuning? As a well-tempered pianist, I am not very well-versed in concepts such as fine tuning in string playing. I can only tell overall if it sounds in tune, without really knowing why or why not. This F major piece sounding too sharp is an enigma.

Tiffany Holliday said: Mar 9, 2012
Tiffany Holliday
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Eugene, OR
12 posts

Dear Purple tulip,

Welcome to the world of even tempered vs. mean tempered intonation. The rest of the world feels your pain.

In simple terms, the piano is out of tune to the violin because the piano is tuned evenly between octaves. The octaves are tuned evenly but within that octave things go awry…

The violinist has to be flexible. Even within itself you might notice the difference between harmonic and melodic intonation. The violin has the capacity to play perfectly in tune, but will always be out of tune with itself when playing with the piano.

Try playing a third or sixth double stop perfectly in tune and then check it against the piano. You will notice that you will have to adjust yourself to be out of tune to be IN tune with the piano.

We should talk more! Feel free to email [javascript protected email address]

Don’t worry…the violinist can always cheat intonation by using more vibrato! (that was for you Merietta!)

Sent from my iPhone

André said: Mar 9, 2012
André AugensteinViolin, Piano
55 posts

If the piano no way,you(or a) has to adaptar fiddler on the piano,if it
can go unnoticed,with no abnormal interference on the part to be
performed .
I hope to have helped.
Greetings
André Gomes Augenstein
Violin/Teacher

Violin Student(International Suzuki Association) in Germany 1987
Violin teacher (International Suzuki Association) in Dublin 1995

Laura said: Mar 9, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

Well, I understand the concept of tempered intonation, and how certain intervals (e.g. perfect fifths, major thirds, minor sixths) can be notoriously out of tune when played against a piano, and therefore need to be adjusted. I have experienced this in vocal and choral music.

However, what I’m describing is how a piece played in a specific key (in this case, F major) can be consistently sharp across the board, not just certain intervals. It’s as if the violin was originally tuned too sharp altogether. When the next piece is in G major, it is suddenly in tune with the piano again.

What is special about F major? (This inquiring mind needs to know!)

Paula Bird said: Mar 10, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

Some students have trouble hearing certain pitches in different keys. To some, F major has a “dullness” to it. I have to spend time with these students teaching them how to fInd that extra grain of sugar to make the notes sound sweeter. In this case your student seems to be trying to make it sweeter. Notice how students have similar issues playing Ab and Db scales. I do a lot with a tuner to help students over this hearing issue.

One exercise I use is to have my student play a C on the A string. We tune it up. Then while my student plays the note, I vary the chords on the piano. We discuss how the note stays the same on the piano but that the “quality” seems to change before our eyes, uh ears! I’ll play C major and C sounds perfect, maybe with a hint of sugar. Then I play Ab chord and the C sounds dull and flat, and we want to adjust it down a smudge. Odd that one. Then I play F major and C sounds sweet again. Then other weird chords that have other functions, such as D7 (maj-min 7), D# fully diminished, F# half diminished, etc. The note C “changes”. My purpose in this exercise is to teach students how to listen deeper to the issue of playing in tune. I’m in the camp that perfect/absolute pitch can be taught. Listening in more depth is the first step on this journey.

We talk about pitch all the time in quartet rehearsals. Many times what we think is a leading tone and needs to lean more to the tonic in our “melody” is actually the third of the dominant chord and needs to be played more “squat,” as in “the biscuits done gone squat” (they didn’t rise).

Sorry to be so technical. Hope this helps the enquiring mind.

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio
http://teachsuzuki.blogspot.com (blog)
http://teachsuzuki.com (podcast)

André said: Mar 10, 2012
André AugensteinViolin, Piano
55 posts

If the student is actually beginner will be difficult for him to understand,
but is necessary for any serious student of violin(or other instrument) to
study all major and minor scales on the violin,so the student will not have
problems later.
I hope to have clarified your question.
Greetings
André Gomes Augenstein
Violin Teacher

Violin Student(International Suzuki Association) in Germany 1987
Violin teacher (International Suzuki Association) in Dublin 1995

Laura said: Mar 10, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

Thank you, Paula and Andre. Very helpful explanations, particularly about the function/degree of the note in a given chord.

The student is starting to do more serious repertoire, i.e. Mozart concerti. In general, does not have problems playing in tune, at least from a listening perspective—with these sorts of pieces, intonation is often more of a technical one!

Unfortunately, I am only the parent of the student in question, not the violin teacher. (I am a Suzuki piano teacher :) ) I also have some background in choral singing, so the concept of fine-tuning certain notes, both with and without piano, is familiar to me. So I’m just trying to understand these things from the perpsective of a violin parent during home practice. I did ask our teacher, who, due to time constraints, only confirmed wholeheartedly that F major is hard to play in tune with a piano. Compounding the issue is that have absolute pitch myself, so many aspects of listening are more intuitive to me rather than logical. (I do question whether absolute pitch can be taught or is even useful, but that’s a another discussion that I believe already exists somewhere on this board!)

My kid does do lots of scales, etc., but is still on the younger side and comes from a Suzuki background, so still very much a beginner in terms of understanding music theory comprehensively. The understanding of intonation is still mostly based on listening, experience, and context. I think that Paula’s explanation is more useful to me than to my kid for the time being—but it did satisfy the inquiring mind, so thank you!

Wendy Caron Zohar said: Mar 10, 2012
Wendy Caron Zohar
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Ann Arbor, MI
94 posts

@purple_tullips:

It might be helpful to know what piece your daughter is playing, to be able to give some specific feedback or suggestions on why it might be out of tune when played with piano, and specific instructions to help. For instance, the Beethoven 2nd Serenade is in F major, and playing it in tune w piano relies heavily on careful listening and adjusting throughout. Though all the open strings are present to tune against, one must start out with a very low 1st finger on the f natural, as well as subsequent low 1’s on the A string, where the Bb fa is played in that key.

Many students find daunting the stretch between 1st and 3rd finger when playing with a low 1st finger in the key of F, or in C (1st finger fa on E string), when played in first position. This will mean more to the violin teachers than it might to you. Ask your daughter to play 0,1,3 on each string in the key of F and make sure she’s getting the change in where she is placing the 1’s, and how that affects the spacing between the 1 and 3. Also ask her to play the F major scale, slowly—one note at a time, going up as many octaves as she knows (can she play 3 or 4 octaves?) against a drone F on the piano, listening carefully to each doh as she passes F, and each newly created interval as the scale rises, and then descends. Then she should play the scale slowly with the piano playing each scale pitch with her, so she can hear the “altered” pitches in that key. That may help toward resolving the intonation problem.

On top of all this, you may be aware that no piano or harpsichord can achieve perfect tuning: they are all out of tune, and every tuning is a compromise to be able to play in any key and avoid harsh dissonances wiithin the keyboard instrument itself. These occur in the tritone between the fa and the ti, and are also due to the unstable nature of the 2nds, 3rds, 6ths, 7ths. It naturally takes an adjustment for an instrumentalist to adapt to all this compromise, but some keys have more “adjusted” notes than others. Ask any harpsichordist about this; they go crazy with their tuning hammers before each rehearsal and performance, not only because the strings go out so quickly, but because they need different tunings depending on what they’re playing! It’s a very big subject worthy of its own thread, especially for adjustable keyboardists (clavier, harpsichord, etc.). Alas, string players must adjust to both their own instrument and the keyboard!

I love discussing intonation—- fascinating topic!

Wendy Caron Zohar

Merietta Oviatt said: Mar 10, 2012
Merietta Oviatt
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools, Cello, Viola
Stevens Point, WI
104 posts

@purple_tulips—rarely have I seen a question answered with such detail! Though a lot of this is very technical, being a musician puts you in a great advantage to understand all of this—how lucky your child is! I think that Wendy is very correct though, to give much more help/detail would require more information regarding the piece that your child is playing—each piece is so individual. Thank you Tiffany…I needed that.

Dr. Merietta Oviatt
Suzuki Specialist
Viola/Violin Instructor
Aber Suzuki Center, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point
www.uwsp.edu/suzuki
www.merietta.com
[javascript protected email address]

Paula Bird said: Mar 10, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

Bravo Wendy! I want to be your friend! This is a very thoughtful discussion.

Folks, we haven’t even brought up the overtone series! There is more to this potential thread than meets the eye, uh ear!

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio
http://teachsuzuki.blogspot.com (blog)
http://teachsuzuki.com (podcast)

Wendy Caron Zohar said: Mar 10, 2012
Wendy Caron Zohar
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Ann Arbor, MI
94 posts

As for keyboard tunings, knowing more may either clarify or further obfuscate, depending on what you’re ready to hear. The following website describes all the historic temperaments. Some keys fare better or worse in the different tunings. F Major is one that suffers, but not as badly as others. I hope this will be of interest and perhaps help.

http://www.hpschd.nu/index.html?nav/nav-4.html&t/welcome.html&http://www.hpschd.nu/tech/tun/hc.html

You can find more interesting video clips on tunings, on Youtube, and more treatises and articles on tunings are available on the Web. If you can find a knowledgeable early music keyboard specialist with whom to talk, and try these ideas out by playing, that may be best.

When we string players attempt to play with keyboard, we think we’re playing in tune (at least with ourselves), but then find we’re caught in the middle of all this. We’ll think the piano is badly in need of a tuning. And sometimes maybe it is. While it’s true that vibrato may be used to good effect to smooth over, or sweeten the discrepancies between string player and piano, vibrato should not really be used as a heavy sweetener but rather as a light condiment. It’s up to the violinist [violist, cellist, bassist] to form our notes and to adjust substantially to be in sympathy with the keyboard instrument. They can’t adjust to us. Slow practice with the keyboard is paramount, and in performance, careful listening and a laser quick adjustment response.

Wendy Caron Zohar

Wendy Caron Zohar said: Mar 10, 2012
Wendy Caron Zohar
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Ann Arbor, MI
94 posts

Thank you, Paula. I’d be glad to be your friend!

Yes, the overtone series and resulting ring tones are an invaluable method of tuning. I agree it deserves a thread of its own, this concept of Pythagorean tuning. Sometimes I feel that learning to play violin is like being in touch with the music of the spheres, the universal vibrations. The natural physics of strings vibrating is definitely fascinating! This natural tuning is based on the overtones that each note emits: Octave, fifth, fourth, third, etc.

However, when applied strictly, without tempering the tuning, these ascending or descending series of fifths will eventually result in a gaping discrepancy between octaves when you go up or down far enough, as the fifths spread out slightly… and we’re trying to play with the piano or other keyboard, which is tuned octave by octave, tempered (in whatever system) within each octave. All very interesting indeed.

Wendy Caron Zohar

André said: Mar 10, 2012
André AugensteinViolin, Piano
55 posts

Good to summarize this topic intonation,it is necessary that student has full knowledge
of the entire length of the arm violin,and it seems to me the student is still starting to have
a notion of the extension arm of the instrument ,and will ask to be executed is Mozart,Mozart is so highly crystalline and transparent ,where any discord appears,therefore
a healthy challenge to the student in question ,and for any serious student of Violin(Music)
not to have doubts with Mozart must have an extensive musical background or have to have
lots of experience.
I hope to have relieved this thread
André Gomes Augenstein
Violin Teacher

Violin Student(International Suzuki Association) in Germany 1987
Violin teacher (International Suzuki Association) in Dublin 1995

André said: Mar 10, 2012
André AugensteinViolin, Piano
55 posts

Suzuki said it is preferable to have a musical instrument in the hand of a child than a gun
in his hand .
(I disd Master Class with Schinichi Suzuki in 1987 in”West” Germany)
André Gomes Augenstein
Violin Teacher

Violin Student(International Suzuki Association) in Germany 1987
Violin teacher (International Suzuki Association) in Dublin 1995

Laura said: Mar 10, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

Wow, I had no idea that such an innocent question would spawn such a rich discussion. Thank you, everyone for your continued input. I am still learning the ways of the violin, even as a parent spectator.

Actually, there isn’t just one piece in question—I’ve noticed the problem with several F major pieces, starting with Handel’s F major Sonata in Book 6, and more recently in the second movement of Schubert’s A minor Sonatina. At first I thought it was a random coincidence with particular pieces, but now I’ve come to almost expect it every time it’s F major. I appreciate how Wendy pointed out that it is common to have such problems in F major—my observations must not be that crazy. :)

Thank you, Wendy, for that site—I will definitely check it out. Meanwhile, we are working on fine tuning whenever there is piano accompaniment.

Fascinating comment about Mozart, Andre. I personally believe that in piano, one learns Mozart in two stages. Firstly, as a younger child, one has a simple exuberance that naturally lends itself both technically and musically to Mozart. Later, as a much more mature person (either musically, or literally), one can bring all sorts of technical nuances to effect the charm and innocence of Mozart. Unfortunately, during the “adolescent” stage, it is very hard to play Mozart effectively—there is a tendency either to “overplay it”, or to lack the technical mastery to control those little gems of interpretation.

I wonder if this phenomenon exists in violin. What do you all think?

Regardless of instrument, however, I completely agree that the transparency of Mozart’s music requires one to really work hard to master everything on a technical level. More so than any other composer, I believe, it takes a lot of hard work to make it sound so simple and charming. Even when Mozart gets more dark and dramatic, it is still challenging to maintain the clarity of texture.

By the way, I love Mozart. :)

Merietta Oviatt said: Mar 11, 2012
Merietta Oviatt
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools, Cello, Viola
Stevens Point, WI
104 posts

@purple_tulip—you are so right about Mozart pieces. However it does not end at Mozart: many works require a certain maturity to really “get” them. Young children (even teenagers or young adults) can have the ability to play things with wonderful technique and play everything in a correct way, but it is very difficult for them to get all of the little nuances. There are many pieces that I played when I was younger and have had to return to them at an older age to really perfect them. One may say that perhaps we should wait and just give students a piece when they have the maturity to really play it, but I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the fact that I already know the piece—having that strong foundation makes it so much easier to interpret the work in an artistic and highly technical way. I actually find this to be really true with viola as we have so much contemporary repertoire.

I took a course called music and the brain—and boy is there a lot as to why and how our ears/brain perceive music!! If you’d like to really understand, I would suggest getting these books:
“This is your brain on music” by Daniel J. Levitin
and
“Musicophilia: Tales of music and the brain” by Oliver Sacks

They have all kinds of information on the overtone series, the anatomy of the ear and why that matters, “perfect” pitch, why timbre can alter our sense of pitch, missing fundamentals, frequencies and why they effect us, etc…

What a fun discussion!!!

Dr. Merietta Oviatt
Suzuki Specialist
Viola/Violin Instructor
Aber Suzuki Center, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point
www.uwsp.edu/suzuki
www.merietta.com
[javascript protected email address]

Barb said: Mar 13, 2012
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Violin Masterclass videos really helped me to understand the different intonation systems and how intonation depends on context.

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Robin Lohse said: Mar 16, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Cello, Viola
Souderton, PA
29 posts

I use the Family String Method books to help with some technical points
such as the F and B flat notes. For studying F major I refer to a a piece
called Potato Chips from David Tasgal’s book: Fun and Easy Book 2. Potato
Chips works the F natural and kids love playing it. Helps to reinforce the
low 1 position and is especially good for kids in mid book two getting
ready to study the Two Grenadiers, I also them practice Perpetual Motion
in B flat major as
preparation,
Robin Lohse

On Tue, Mar 13, 2012 at 2:25 PM, SAA Discussion
wrote:

Robin Lohse

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