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Intonation and Cello Playing

Dec. 27, 2012
Posted in: Cello
Learn how to play in tune on the cello.



In my continued series of blogs on the technique of cello playing, the topic of intonation was only briefly touched upon in my recent article, how to use the left hand in cello playing. Intonation and cello playing has very much to do with not only one’s technical set up early on, but consistent work from one's early cello lessons and throughout one’s career. Release of tension, active listening, and consistent scale and arpeggio work are imperative to well-focused and centered intonation.

As most often assumed, intonation is attached exclusively to the training and strength of the left hand. While this is partly true (the right hand cannot manipulate pitch), intonation starts not in the left hand, but in the ears.

Active listening is an amazingly important aspect of honing one’s intonation, staying centered in pitch, and blending with your colleagues. Listening attentively to what’s happening around you will keep you flexible and versatile, allowing you to adjust instantly to every nuance as it happens.

String players have the blessing (or maybe curse!) of having to control every detail of their intonation, and listening actively will account for all variances as they happen.

Furthermore, getting the most out of one’s careful listening involves having a proper set up that is consistently maintained. In addition to etude work, daily technical exercises should include four octave scales both major and minor in a given key, in one, two, three, etc up to seven notes per bow.

This is followed by four octave arpeggios with the tonic pitch in all possible locations. This includes: major and minor tonic, major and minor subdominant, minor submediant, flat submediant, dominant seventh built on the tonic pitch and diminished seventh, also built on the tonic.

Next, four octaves in the given key in thirds, sixths, and octaves. Going through all of this work slowly should take 45 to 60 minutes every day, in addition to tone and sound production exercises. Intonation and cello playing is an aspect of technique that needs consistent upkeep and constant listening, and if done right will lead to beautifully ringing and blended intonation in all aspects of playing.

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