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PhilipKT

Visual aspects of intonation. Thoughts?

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For years I have been teaching that intonation is a combination of what we hear and what we feel.

Our ears determine the pitch we want, and our muscle memory goes to the location that matches the  pitch. So, the ear is dominant, and the process is that sound determines location.

 Recently I have been considering the visual aspect of pitch determination. When I shift, I can look at the ceiling or the wall or my parents sitting in the third row, and still hit the pitch, but frequently, I find myself looking at the fingerboard during a shift, and it does seem to help, especially in a few specific spots Where are the starting point of the shift is an open string.

My question is whether anyone else has experimented with the visual aspects of shifting? I’m not talking about using those stupid tapes(which are the first steps down that long road to Satan’s den.) I’m talking about the eye’s role in finger placement/pitch location.

any thoughts?

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One of my teachers was quite keen on this and I have found it useful at times, especially when it is an awkward shift and also in orchestral playing when I can hardly hear what I'm playing because the brass and woodwind are going for it.

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1 minute ago, Muswell said:

One of my teachers was quite keen on this and I have found it useful at times, especially when it is an awkward shift and also in orchestral playing when I can hardly hear what I'm playing because the brass and woodwind are going for it.

I’m sorry, your answer is unclear. Can you describe what you mean?

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Well in my case it's mainly based on the visual relationship between the first finger and the edge of the belly.

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3 hours ago, Muswell said:

Well in my case it's mainly based on the visual relationship between the first finger and the edge of the belly.

That’s fourth position, if I understand what you’re saying, and the edge of the body is a physical landmark, but I’m not only talking about there, but about all around the cello. For instance, in the slow movement of the Haydn C major concerto, There is a “shift” from an open G on the G string to a high first finger Don the A string. Because we don’t use frets, or any kind of guide mark on the fingerboard for a visual reference, I’m not sure what the eye is actually looking at.

And yet, I look, and I never miss the shift.

My question is, how is the eye helping me locate the sound, when there is no guide mark of any kind on the fingerboard? Even if I am looking at the general area, I can’t possibly be looking at the exact spot, it’s just an expanse of ebony.

Edited by PhilipKT
Typos

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With cello or piano, with the visual perspective and the sizes involved I can see how it could be useful.  With fiddle, the perspective is terrible to judge distance and the distances are smaller than maybe the eye can usefully discern.  It seems to me the biggest impediment to intonation, besides not listening and hearing, is not trusting the muscle memory for fine distances that you spend all this time cultivating in practice

 

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1 hour ago, PhilipKT said:

That’s fourth position, if I understand what you’re saying, and the edge of the body is a physical landmark, but I’m not only talking about there, but about all around the cello.

Not only fourth.  If you are practised in judging dimensions it works wherever you are. It's a trivial comparison but can you fold a sheet of paper exactly in three in one go?

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16 minutes ago, Muswell said:

Not only fourth.  If you are practised in judging dimensions it works wherever you are. It's a trivial comparison but can you fold a sheet of paper exactly in three in one go?

That’s an interesting question, and no I can’t, althoughI did consider three-dimensionality when executing certain shifts.

Regarding the edge of the belly, by which I am assuming you mean the edge of the body of the instrument, that’s where fourth position is. If you go anywhere else, relating your point B to fourth position as point A, Then that is a muscle memory Oriented motion, and of course I do that all the time. I guess I’m not really verbalizing my question correctly.

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1 hour ago, Bill Merkel said:

With cello or piano, with the visual perspective and the sizes involved I can see how it could be useful.  With fiddle, the perspective is terrible to judge distance and the distances are smaller than maybe the eye can usefully discern.  It seems to me the biggest impediment to intonation, besides not listening and hearing, is not trusting the muscle memory for fine distances that you spend all this time cultivating in practice

 

 My question is about what role the eye plays in guiding the finger/hand to the correct sound location. Until recently, I considered the visual aspect to be a non-contributor to good intonation, but now I am not so sure, and I’m wondering if it does play a role and if so, what is that role, and to what degree does it factor into correct intonation. 

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Don't know if it would be worth the experiment.  My philosophy is whatever helps, as long as it doesn't lead to some other problem obviously.  In a recent thread here there was a video from I think it was the 2016 Wieniawski competition and the winner it seemed to me was playing about every third note subtly out of tune.  She beat ppl who played in tune like a machine.

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4 hours ago, PhilipKT said:

1.   My question is about what role the eye plays in guiding the finger/hand to the correct sound location.

2.  if so, what is that role, and to what degree does it factor into correct intonation. 

1.  If you play everyday and for the most part you're in the zone the eyes are just along for the ride.  Intonation and muscle memory are locked in if you're using the same music day in and day out. 

2.   If possible, quit playing for a month and a half.  yes, I know -sacrilege to a real player but you just may find out what role the eyes will play when playing is resumed after such mentioned break.

I checked out some cello music after reading your post.  I ran across some Bach - specifically cello suite no. 3 c major.   Question is if memorized in it's entirety by a player will the eyes do the guiding or will they just be long for the ride?  Or will they get in the way?   

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3 hours ago, Bill Merkel said:

Don't know if it would be worth the experiment.  My philosophy is whatever helps, as long as it doesn't lead to some other problem obviously.  In a recent thread here there was a video from I think it was the 2016 Wieniawski competition and the winner it seemed to me was playing about every third note subtly out of tune.  She beat ppl who played in tune like a machine.

I agree with your solution concept. Anything that works works even if we’re not exactly sure how, although it’s really interesting to consider exactly what you’re doing. Truly great players frequently have no idea what they’re doing or how they’re doing it, they just do it.

I remember chatting with a very great cellist with a very great recording of the Walton concerto. I asked him how he played the extremely fast harmonics in the second movement, and he blinked, gave me a blank look, and said, “you just play them.”

He didn’t even understand the question.

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9 hours ago, PhilipKT said:

 

Regarding the edge of the belly, by which I am assuming you mean the edge of the body of the instrument, that’s where fourth position is. If you go anywhere else, relating your point B to fourth position as point A, Then that is a muscle memory Oriented motion, and of course I do that all the time. I guess I’m not really verbalizing my question correctly.

I'm not clear why you refer fourth position.  In fact fourth and fifth are easy to find simply by physical contact between  the hand and the body of the violin.  But as well as that in 4, 5, 6,7, 8 the first finger visually is close enough to the edge to judge its position.  So, if I go from a  from a low position and  have time to look then it is helpful.  In shifts between high positions there is no need because it is all "muscle" memory in the hand.

It is obviously a different problem with the cello because of the bigger differences but I used to play classical guitar and although the frets are a guide, I that often don't think you shift to a fret but rather you shift to a point in a pattern of frets...you don't have time to identify a particular fret.

Classical guitarists are usually looking at the fretboard.  Now a technical master like John Williams could surely find any fret blindfold and in his sleep but my conclusion, while watching him in a recital, was that guitarists use the visual as well as the muscle memory.  I certainly did when memorising pieces, I would change positions and alter hand shapes remembering a sequence of patterns.

Your last point about not understanding the question seems absolutely correct and I think applies to any field.  Many years ago I wanted to be shown a bad weld and after a few failed attempts the supervisor told me that the welder had been doing perfect welds all his life and couldn't do a bad weld.

I go along with the Merkel "if it helps use if not don't" .

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11 hours ago, uncle duke said:

1.  If you play everyday and for the most part you're in the zone the eyes are just along for the ride.  Intonation and muscle memory are locked in if you're using the same music day in and day out. 

2.   If possible, quit playing for a month and a half.  yes, I know -sacrilege to a real player but you just may find out what role the eyes will play when playing is resumed after such mentioned break.

I checked out some cello music after reading your post.  I ran across some Bach - specifically cello suite no. 3 c major.   Question is if memorized in it's entirety by a player will the eyes do the guiding or will they just be long for the ride?  Or will they get in the way?   

I have performed Bach 3 from memory and I did look as I played, although it is not a difficult suite and doesn’t require elite technique.

I think your point is probably correct, and the eyes are just going along for the ride, but I also think there’s more to the question than can be gleaned here.

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On 6/11/2019 at 10:21 PM, PhilipKT said:

I agree with your solution concept. Anything that works works even if we’re not exactly sure how, although it’s really interesting to consider exactly what you’re doing. Truly great players frequently have no idea what they’re doing or how they’re doing it, they just do it.

I remember chatting with a very great cellist with a very great recording of the Walton concerto. I asked him how he played the extremely fast harmonics in the second movement, and he blinked, gave me a blank look, and said, “you just play them.”

He didn’t even understand the question.

I can picture that.  If you'd asked him for a lesson though, he would have delivered more. 

It's a mistake to say anything to a student that implies the best players don't think and they somehow just do.  An ambitious student is likely to stop thinking from that.  Also, there are many things all good players have in common.  It's not like some just reinvent playing because they're geniuses.  Any unusual things they do, it means it isn't critical stuff.

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7 hours ago, Bill Merkel said:

I can picture that.  If you'd asked him for a lesson though, he would have delivered more. 

It's a mistake to say anything to a student that implies the best players don't think and they somehow just do.  An ambitious student is likely to stop thinking from that.  Also, there are many things all good players have in common.  It's not like some just reinvent playing because they're geniuses.  Any unusual things they do, it means it isn't critical stuff.

You are mistaken. I didn’t say the best players don’t think. I said, and I meant, They don’t understand the details about how they do what they do, and they cannot convey it in a meaningful way.

And why in the world would an ambitious student stop thinking even if that HAD been my intent? That makes no sense. “ these great players don’t think so you shouldn’t either.”? I’m sorry bill but no. 

Every musician has the same goal, but the greatest musicians, by definition are able to achieve that goal in an unorthodox way. They don’t necessarily use an unorthodox method, but their gifts allow them the freedom to do things that less gifted players cannot. I have many examples like the one I shared.

The best teachers are those with talent but not genius, who had to analyze and experiment with every aspect of the cello In order to achieve their goals. They are then able to share that process with their students.

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18 hours ago, PhilipKT said:

The best players don’t understand the details about how they do what they do, and they cannot convey it in a meaningful way.

This is a gross generalization and not true in my experience.

Some great musicians are highly analytical, were taught by great teachers, and have plenty to say on every technical and musical issue.

The famous example of what you mention is young Menuhin.  But older Menuhin was no slouch.

Primrose didn't consider himself much of a teacher, he recognized Karen Tuttle as a great teacher, but she was also a great player.

Heifetz could teach...  I had a fascinating masterclass once playing for Roberto Diaz...

I'm sure we could go on all day listing great performers who were also great teachers...

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4 hours ago, Stephen Fine said:

This is a gross generalization and not true in my experience.

Some great musicians are highly analytical, were taught by great teachers, and have plenty to say on every technical and musical issue.

The famous example of what you mention is young Menuhin.  But older Menuhin was no slouch.

Primrose didn't consider himself much of a teacher, he recognized Karen Tuttle as a great teacher, but she was also a great player.

Heifetz could teach...  I had a fascinating masterclass once playing for Roberto Diaz...

I'm sure we could go on all day listing great performers who were also great teachers...

And I could match you name for name. My point is valid, but I never suggested there were no exceptions.

To clarify a bit: Playing well and teaching well are two different skill sets, and one need not to be able to do the one in order to successfully do the other. Also, neither automatically leads to the other. Of course there are exceptions: in 400 years of playing, lots of people have been both. But it is certainly not a given. 

Edited by PhilipKT
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On 6/15/2019 at 8:30 AM, PhilipKT said:

And I could match you name for name. My point is valid, but I never suggested there were no exceptions.

To clarify a bit: Playing well and teaching well are two different skill sets, and one need not to be able to do the one in order to successfully do the other. Also, neither automatically leads to the other. Of course there are exceptions: in 400 years of playing, lots of people have been both. But it is certainly not a given. 

So, let me get this straight...

You don't think that a great player is more likely to be a great teacher than a mediocre player?

No offense, but that's nuts, and that mindset is why we have so so many mediocre music teachers with jobs.

If you want to teach young kids or basic skills, fine.  That is a very important and difficult skill set to acquire.

If you want to teach elite violinists elite technique, there is no substitute for being able to play it yourself with style.  Of course, I was brought up as a student of Suzuki's Mother Tongue Method.  It is my believe that what you hear and see as a child/student is internalized.

Perhaps there are some music teachers who are mediocre players, but who exist at good schools.  Their students are surrounded all day by great players, so they require less reinforcement in the lessons.  But I would say that teacher is lucky, not necessarily a great teacher.

This is not to say that I don't know plenty of great players who are terrible teachers...  as you say, they are completely different skills.  But they go hand-in-hand here.

I feel like your opinion comes from a misunderstanding of the performance ability of people like Delay and Galamian.  Dorothy Delay was a superb performer in her late teens and early 20s.  Same with Galamian.

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1 hour ago, Stephen Fine said:

So, let me get this straight...

You don't think that a great player is more likely to be a great teacher than a mediocre player?

No offense, but that's nuts, and that mindset is why we have so so many mediocre music teachers with jobs.

If you want to teach young kids or basic skills, fine.  That is a very important and difficult skill set to acquire.

If you want to teach elite violinists elite technique, there is no substitute for being able to play it yourself with style.  Of course, I was brought up as a student of Suzuki's Mother Tongue Method.  It is my believe that what you hear and see as a child/student is internalized.

Perhaps there are some music teachers who are mediocre players, but who exist at good schools.  Their students are surrounded all day by great players, so they require less reinforcement in the lessons.  But I would say that teacher is lucky, not necessarily a great teacher.

This is not to say that I don't know plenty of great players who are terrible teachers...  as you say, they are completely different skills.  But they go hand-in-hand here.

I feel like your opinion comes from a misunderstanding of the performance ability of people like Delay and Galamian.  Dorothy Delay was a superb performer in her late teens and early 20s.  Same with Galamian.

(Sigh) Teaching and performing are two different skill sets. Being an expert at one does not automatically make one an expert at the other.

There have been many who ARE both and I never said otherwise. But I have known very many people who were one or the other but not both, and that group outnumbers the other.

That’s the essence of what I’m saying.

 

 

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