William Fitzpatrick - violin expert

Achieving Great Intonation - Part 1

In this first video of a series, William tackles intonation and its basics.

In this first video on "Achieving Great Intonation," William starts from the basics of the perfect pitch.

Released on February 12, 2014

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Video Transcription

Hi, and welcome to VirtualSheetMusic.com's Meet the Expert. My name is William Fitzpatrick, and I am professor of violin at the Hall-Musco conservatory of Music, which is located on the Chapman University Campus. I am, as well, director of MusiShare in Irvine, California. Today, I thought we'd begin a series of discussions about pitch or intonation. Now, when we start to think about pitch or intonation, we have to understand a fairly basic thing, which is that pitch, or being in tune or playing in tune, well, it depends on the note prior to the note that you're trying to get into. There is no real, absolute C-sharp or absolute A. For example, an A in the United States is at 442 cycles per second, thereabouts, while in Europe, it could easily go to 406 or 407. You see, there's a huge disparity between the single note A and where that A is in the spectrum of all of the notes that we're playing.

This idea of relativity with regard to pitch is very important to understand, as well as something else, and this is really important as a base of information, a base of knowledge about playing in tune. This is the scale. You see, when I started to teach, I went and I asked all of my learned colleagues, those who I thought really, really had students who were really doing well, I asked them a single question, "What one element is responsible for the success of their students?" To my utter, utter disbelief, they all answered the same thing, "Scales." I went on a mad tour to try to figure out why scales. When I was young, I really, really hated and despised playing scales. It took me quite a long time to understand why we needed to in fact play scales, and it wasn't just to warm up.

Let's begin this by by talking about a very integral part of a scale, or at least that part of the scale, which is important for us as violinists to understand how to do a little bit of theory. We'll start there. First, we need to talk about tetrachords. Tetra means four, four notes. In a major scale, between the first degree and the second degree of the scale, there is a whole step. Between the second and third degree of the scale, there is a whole step. Between the third and the fourth degree of the scale, there is a half step. This pattern represents the lower tetrachord. The upper tetrachord, fifth degree to the sixth degree is a whole step, six to the seventh degree is a whole step, seventh to the eighth degree is a half step. In the lower tetrachord, there is a whole step, whole step, half step, and in the upper tetrachord, a whole step, whole step, half step. In between the two tetrachords, there is a whole step. That is a major scale.

Now, to help us to understand how to use the tetrachords that we just found out about on the piano, we need to understand that the same things exist, the same uses of the half steps and whole steps, on the violin. If I'm going to go and do an A-major scale, whole step, whole step. That pattern, if I take it like the tetrachord and do the same thing on the E string, why, I end up with a major scale. Now, one of the things that's really important to understand is something my teacher from when I was four and a half, five years old told me, because she said, "When you've got a whole step, it's happy. When you have a half step, it's sad." Now, if we use this as a basis of understanding, it means if I'm playing a minor triad, it's sad, or a major, it's happy. I can start to hear how the pitches become organized on the violin because, in fact, on the violin, it's only half steps all the way through, all the way up.

I think you will see a fingerboard that will come up now, and you will see on that fingering board exactly what I'm talking about. It's all about the half steps. I know this is a little tedious, but suppose I wanted to do a one octave scale starting with the first finger on a B flat. What would I do? Whole step, whole step, half step. Not only can I hear the half steps, but I can see it with the patterns, with my eyes. I can hear it, I can see it, I can feel what it feels like in my head. If I do that whole step, whole step, and the same thing on the E string, I have my scale. One of the things I love doing with the little kids is I'll have them move their finger and go, "Okay, do the same thing here." If they follow the pattern, they have a scale. "How about here?"

Wow. They have just learned to use their ear and to think it through with an idea and come up with a scale that is in tune, because the half step and the whole step, it remains constant, regardless to how far or how close your fingers are as you cut in half or bring higher your finger to cut the string length. Now, I think you see where I'm going with this. For example, let's move it along and talk about a three-octave scale. Now, for this one, if I'm going to use my patterns... Let's be sure we understand what I mean. Those tetrachords, but the tetrachords can be whole, whole, half; whole, half, whole; half, whole, whole; whole, whole, whole. They are limited, what we can do. In a very funny way, we can do, half, half, half, but that's not very practical with our four fingers, or we could do half, whole, half, which was that harmonic minor scale.

Now, what happens if we play a major scale? On the G string, it's half, whole, whole; whole, whole, whole on the D; whole, whole, half, but we're going to shift. After three, whole, whole, whole; whole, whole, half, but we're going to shift after two, and then shift again, whole, whole, half. Why, with those tetrachords now, or with the idea of those patterns, we can describe/define a three-octave scale. Now, before we move on, are we understanding what I'm saying? These patterns, if I play a B-flat major scale, what if I want to play B major? It's the same thing, half, whole, whole. C sharp, D, it's absolutely the same pattern if I'm doing the same fingering, of course, which I advise my students to do. Now, at least to me, it's obvious that by understanding those half steps, I have now begun to understand one way to play better in tune.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Moe on December 20, 2018 @2:24 pm PST
I'm 65 had a teacher for string builder book 1 , & been self taught for 43 years, & just trying to learn 3rd pos. Love your videos thank you,from a 43 year beginner ,could you do a video on stage fright, i can't play in front of anyone ,without blur vision, can't breath, I'm ashamed thank you
William - host, on December 21, 2018 @11:24 am PST
Thanks for the suggestion! I am not a psychologist but can give my 2 cents so will do so in an upcoming video! ps Never be ashamed!
GHennigan * VSM MEMBER * on November 9, 2018 @10:36 am PST
Really really helpful video.Will try to apply to my practice and understanding of scales and chords on violin - getting the hang of them on piano keyboard ( not a piano player unfortunately ) but lost on “seeing” them on violin. Now you’ve helped with seeing, visualizing,feeling, and hearing and have “connected the dots” for me!
I am an adult learner so not very advanced / skilled. ( Even after 10 yrs the youngsters pass me out!). However as I am still slowly progressing I have the advantage of persistence and determination. It would be so nice if you made a very simple video of the basics for adults. It’s amazing how bad habits hamper progress. I am still grappling with basic bowing , movement from the elbow and proper bow-grip. Those who learned as children have no idea of what kind of a mess adults can make of the beginning steps in learning to play violin. I have an excellent teacher who is correcting my bad bowing/ arm movements but I am finding it difficult still - every time I understand what is actually required and train my unruly muscles nd brain to coordinate it becomes increasingly easier to play and play nicely with an improved sound. Long way to go but trying. Love all your videos and hope to make more and more use of them as I learn. Thank You.
William - host, on November 19, 2018 @10:27 am PST
Thank you!
Mr Dimitrov on May 2, 2016 @1:26 am PST
Hello sir,

I would to know what do you think about some questions:
1Do each note have a fix place on the violin like the A4 and other strings?
2Do the violinistes use equal temperament?
3How much notes are used into one octave? If more than 12 then what is highter C sharp or D flat?

Thank you to reply
Cody Bursch on November 5, 2015 @5:58 pm PST
Hello, Professor! Cody, here. I've been watching your videos. I thought you would like to know that I've been keeping up with your teachings from Chapman here at Maine and I think you'd find some good development in my playing if I came back and played for you--hopefully! Ha-ha! Anyway, I hope all is well. Your teachings stick with me!

P.S. If you had any suggestions for repertoire for me--granted you haven't heard me play in a while--I would be very grateful. I've been working on the Mozart's 5th violin concerto and that is what you left me with before I left Chapman.
Park, sugil on September 11, 2015 @12:40 am PST
Hello Mr.William Fitzpatrick..
I am amatuer violin lovoer. You tube has been big bless in learning violin. Of course your instruction is so easy and the method you suggest is effective..How amazing it is that your reselbelence to virtuoso Izack Perlman!! and that you two gradute Julliard and taught by Delay and great players!!
We live in really good time that Internet enables me, Korean, to reach virtuoso like you!
victordovitalia * VSM MEMBER * on July 9, 2014 @12:17 pm PST
Eugenie van Zyl * VSM MEMBER * on April 2, 2014 @7:44 am PST
I now notice Tim's enquiry about an online teacher. Tim, I am with Loralyn from Reddessertviolin.com and it is absolutely wonderful! She is a great online teacher - it is not expensive at all and I have been taken lessons for more than a year with her now AND do not look back one moment!
Tim on February 15, 2014 @5:34 am PST
Can you recommend an on-line violin instructor? I am 69 years old and began studying violin when my son began Suzuki about 38 years ago.


William on February 26, 2014 @8:19 pm PST
I will look around for you and see whats available!
Eugenie * VSM MEMBER * on February 15, 2014 @5:31 am PST
You are a good teacher, thank you William! Although you are a professor, you have the ability to teach in such a manner that I
who still battle to get my playing sounds clear and on the pitch, do not get desponded. I realize once again the importance of practicing scales and knowing the different finger positions.
William on February 26, 2014 @8:20 pm PST
Its all about scales!!!!!
Elizabeth * VSM MEMBER * on February 13, 2014 @1:24 pm PST
I think this video might address shifting in tune more than playing in tune. My biggest problem with intonation is getting my fingers to remember the exact spacing for whole & half steps.
William on February 13, 2014 @7:00 pm PST
Hang in there with me and I think you'll see what I am saying as it relates to those whole and half steps ...
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