Good Intonation: Don't Be Like The Boiling Frog!

Updated: September 1, 2021

Good Intonation: Don't Be Like The Boiling Frog!

If you’ve ever found your fingers have drifted out of tune without you realising it, then you’re falling into the same trap as the boiling frog!

Do you know the apocryphal story? It’s not very nice, so if you’re a frog lover, brace yourself…

A scientist places a frog in a pan of boiling water, and the frog immediately jumps out again, because it feels the heat! It reflexively understands that will be boiled alive if it doesn’t escape straight away…

The scientist then puts the frog in a pan of cold water, and sloooowly heats up the pan, until the water is boiling. The frog doesn’t realize that the water is heating up until it is too late...

Poor frog!

With your left hand finger placement, don’t be the boiling frog!

If you’re only ever thinking about the next finger placement, you’re not going to notice what’s going on around you … just as the frog didn’t notice that the scientist was heating up the pan of water!

Be aware of what's going on around your fingers

The thing is, good intonation requires not only a clear sense of what the next pitch is …

… but also an objective awareness of where your hand is in space and time!

Here’s a useful exercise that you can apply to any scale, piece, or indeed any other piece of music that you might be looking at in your practice!

  1. Play a 'reference pitch' (for example your open string, a note on a pitch app, or a note on a keyboard or piano), so that you know you are starting in tune.
  2. Sing the first note of what you need to practise
  3. Prepare to play that note on the violin. Think about where your finger needs to land, what your hand position is, and what the note will sound like. CHECK YOUR CHECKLIST!
  4. Play the note! Check if it’s in tune or not. If not, go back and do it again.
  5. Sing the second note of what you need to practise.
  6. Prepare to play that note, as before. Don’t forget to CHECK YOUR CHECKLIST!
  7. Play that note! Check if it’s in tune or not. If not, go back and do it again.
  8. Continue like this, note by note!

If you do this slowly and carefully, whilst listening deeply to what you are playing, carefully imagining the sound of the next note each time, then soon you will be playing more in tune.

But as you do this, remember what happened to the boiling frog … make sure to check your hand and arm position every time you change note!

Then you'll always be aware of what is going on around your fingers ... in particular, whether your hand and arm position is correct!

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