Intonation
by Adam Hansen



                                                                                                 Article Level:
Beginner Cello to Advanced Cello

     One of the basic issues that faces all string musicians is that of intonation, that is, playing in tune.  Without frets like a guitar, keys like a piano, or valves like a wind instrument, string players are left with only four long strings where they have to find their notes. 

     Since this is the case, how do string players do it with such accuracy and consistency?  The key is in the memory of the muscles.  Every one of your little muscles has a memory, and they hardly ever forget!  But intonation is still very tricky because even a hair off is, well, off.

     Intonation definitely works on a "close but no cigar" basis.  This can be frustrating for a practicer, but the tolerance on poor intonation must be zero for the sake of the potential audience (who will not be sympathetic).

     Think of it this way. It's like reciting a poem, but accidentally using different words.  Even if only a few of the words are changed, the whole meaning of the poem is altered.  It's similar to singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with the words from
Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland:

Twinkle Twinkle Little Bat
How I wonder what your at!
Up above the world you fly
Like a tea tray in the sky!

     Discerning 'right from wrong' concerning intonation can be difficult, but as a student practices and uses their ears more and more, figuring out what each pitch should be becomes second nature.  When your ear becomes more sensitive to pitches, you may find yourself not even able to listen to pieces with poor intonation!  Even a hair off will send you running into another room cringing!

     This state of hating slightly sharp or flat notes is exactly how you need to approach your own playing and practice. The utmost scrutiny, paired with proper technique, will yield near perfection in your intonation.





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