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12 Tips to Play in Tune on the Violin or Viola (1 to 4)

Zlata Brouwer

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Published: March 12, 2015 at 8:48 AM [UTC]

This video is the first of three videos about playing in tune on the violin or viola. In these three videos I give you the 12 most important tips to play in tune.

One could probably write books for of information about this topic and create loads of DVD boxes. In these three videos I present the tip of the iceberg.

Playing in tune, also called ‘intonation’, is one of the most difficult topics of violin and viola technique. In the beginning the fingerboard can look like a great unknown universe.

Besides that we have to adjust continuously to our musical environment. Intonation is different when you play with a pianist, in a piano trio, in a string quartet or in an orchestra.

Here are the first four tips:

1) Imagine the notes you are about to play.

When there is a note you are not able to reach time after time, try to hear this note in your head like you can imagine a familiar tune.

The ear commands and the hand follows.

Violin playing is not just a motor skill. You have to know what you want to play and sometimes your hands will follow like magic. 

When you play a note out of tune time after time, it often means you can’t imagine how this note should sound. It’s not about ‘not having the note in your fingers’.

Exercise: Try this technique out with a certain piece. Look at the notes, imagine the sound in your head and then play them. Is the note you play the same as the note you imagined? Which one is correct? What is the difference?

2) Practice scales.

Scales help you improve your feeling of tonality, your intonation and your bowing technique. Scales are a play ground where you can practice several techniques separate from specific pieces and other techniques.

On all levels there are several ways to practice scales. Consider buying a scale book that fits your current level and needs.

3) Know what you play.

When teaching my private students I see a lot that people can’t  make a good translation from the notes in a certain key with sharps and flats to specific fingerings. See for yourself if you really understand if and why you need to play for example a low or high finger or what position you have to play in. This really solves a lot of intonation problems.

Don’t coincidently drop your fingers somewhere and see if it’s right. After some bars you have the feeling that it’s not right, but you don’t really understand what goes wrong exactly and how to solve it. 

Exercise: It will get you great results when you look at the piece and imagine the fingers on the fingerboard (kinesthetically and/or visually). Also understand what the note names are and why they are what they are.

4) Analyze how you place your fingers.

This one is highly personal, because everybody has different hands, fingers and motor skills.

For example for me: I play a low fourth finger with a round pinky, a normal fourth finger with a slightly curved pinky (somewhere between round and flat) and a high fourth finger with an almost flat pinky. This differs depending on the position I play in and depending on the notes before the note I have to play.

Knowing how I place my fingers, gives me more certainty about my intonation. 

Some people tell you you have to keep your fourth finger always round or always flat. You can do both depending on the note you play and how you can hit it in tune.

Please implement these tips when you are practicing!

Is this video helpful to you? Please let me know in the comments below! If you like it, share it with your friends!



PS: Do you have questions or struggles on violin or viola playing? Post a comment below or send an e-mail to and I might dedicate a Violin Lounge TV episode to answering your question!

From John Cadd
Posted on March 15, 2015 at 6:27 PM
Well done Zlata. I am also in the middle of starting a blog on the same topic. Yesterday I made a quick list of ten reasons why I used to make mistakes with keys . The list may grow. If the blog is used we can compare notes. While reading another subject I came across a quotation from a famous baseball player , Yogi Berra , and there are two versions of his attitude to baseball which could apply to Intonation just as well .
Quote 1 ) This game is 90% mental . The other half is physical .
Quote 2) (my favourite) This game is 90% half -mental . The other half is physical .
From Zlata Brouwer
Posted on March 16, 2015 at 5:56 PM
Thanks for your comment! Yes, a lot is mental en certainly the inner ear is most important in intonation. When you can hear it, you can play it. Actually violin education should be more about developing the inner ear than only about motor skills.

Don’t know whose quote this is... “Practice is to make a translation from what’s in the brain to what the hands can do”.

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