William Fitzpatrick - violin expert

What are Tartini's Tones?

A very useful way to have perfect intonation!

In this video, Prof. Fitzpatrick teaches you what Tartini's Tones are and how they can help you achieve a perfect intonation on your violin.

Released on July 3, 2019

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

So, do you know this? Have you heard it before? Well, it's the theme from Il Trillo del Diavolo, The Devil's Trill Sonata, written by the great composer and violinist Giuseppe Tartini, who lived from 1692 to 1770.

You are of course aware that the great violinist Kreisler made an arrangement of it and it's performed quite a bit by a lot of different people. Well, as you might now imagine, Tartini was a prolific composer for the violin with a gazillion concertos and sonatas. As for his playing, well, it was said to be remarkable.

What intrigues me today is that he is credited as discovering the phenomena of an audible third voice when playing double stops on stringed instruments. You see, if I were to play a G on the D string with my third finger ... and a B on the A string with my first ... and if I were to play them together ... A third voice would clearly be discernible and this is called a Tartini tone, named of course, after Mr. Tartini.

So, you see, Tartini was not only a genius musician, but also a genius thinker who wrote down the detected correlation between mathematics and the third tones in his treatise on music according to the true science of harmony. Now, this opened up entirely new possibilities for practicing musicians and served as a tool to control the intonation of intervals and to build entire scales to very precise proportions.

The reason behind this acoustical phenomena is tied up with the harmonic series and some pretty complicated physics, which means that the mix of harmonics from the lower and upper note have many matching components and therefore a missing fundamental is heard. It's like the effect of a shadow and it's sometimes called a ghost note. It's in this sense that the Tartini tone is an auditory illusion.

A few lines of math shows that a non-linear function of two vibrations at different frequencies produces a component at the different frequency, the Tartini tone.

Okay, so how can this help me? How can this help us? Well, because Tartini tones are only produced with the exact positioning of the two fingers and double stops, such as sixths and thirds, I often tell students that when you hear it, it means that the double stop is in tune.

Now, this may be pushing a bit too hard for you who are more scientifically oriented, but listening to these Tartini tones has helped me tune many a third in my career.

So, here is what Tartini wrote. When I play my violin on two strings I can physically meet the form of the interval, the third tone, which must result, is its physical sign and proof. I must have for myself and my students the benefit of reliable intonation and consequently, the benefit of the actual use of the above mentioned scale with its precise proportions.

I guess it's impossible to hear it, but I want to try it any way. Why don't I try a C natural ... and an A. C natural, second finger on the A string, third finger on the E.

Did you hear it? What about a C sharp and an A?

Did you hear that one? I heard it. Has to be really in tune to hear it. That one was loud and clear, did you hear it?

So, with that I guess we have proof that Tartini tones have their origin in the human ear, but maybe not on a recording device. Tartini's discovery of several physical laws which play an important role in the perception, theory, and performance of music allows the violinist to obtain a better understanding of intonation and tuning systems.

Influential violin schools followed in Tartini's footsteps. Among them, those of Leopold Mozart, [inaudible 00:06:14], who mention the third tone as a possible means to obtaining reliable intonation.

So, with all of this, knowing about and learning to hear Tartini tones, gives us the possibility of an even higher degree of practice awareness. Knowing this gives us another point to focus on, to pay attention to, when we are practicing double stops and trying so desperately to get them in tune.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Yasuo Torimaru on August 14, 2020 @11:47 pm PST
Time 5'14"
Tartini Tone for C sharp and A is not E but A according to Leopold Mozart's "Violin Playing" Eight Chapter-Third Section page 165, Oxford University Press.
William - host, on August 15, 2020 @11:15 am PST
Hi and thanks for your observation! After having gone through my notes and looked again at "combination tones" I realized that I spoke in error and you and Leopold Mozart are correct as it is an "A"! Here is one of the articles I used in my research: https://www.academia.edu/30974857
Steven McMillan * VSM MEMBER * on July 3, 2019 @6:32 am PST
when the two tones are transmitted through the same medium the Tartini or difference tone is actual. also this tone is present whether playing in-tune or out. it is that the alignment of the 3 tones which can become balanced into "Just" intonation. it is also the phenomenon which is foundational to functional harmony.
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