Minna Chung: On the Mysteries of Intonation and a Few Things We Can Do to Play More in Tune - Nottelmann Music Company
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Minna Chung: On the Mysteries of Intonation and a Few Things We Can Do to Play More in Tune

Minna Chung: On the Mysteries of Intonation and a Few Things We Can Do to Play More in Tune

Curated from The Bulletproof Musician –

Like most Suzuki youngsters, I went through a phase where I had little stripes of tape placed on my fingerboard to guide where my fingers ought to go. Which I’m guessing was my first lesson on intonation, and the idea that there’s a precise place on the fingerboard, where if you put your finger right there, all is good in the world because the resulting sound that comes out of your instrument rings, and just sounds right.

Of course, the rebellious part of me resented those lines, and I remember getting into an argument with my mom one day because she said I wasn’t putting my fingers square on the lines, and I insisted that the lines must not be in the right place because it didn’t sound right (I know – maybe sort of cute in hindsight, but probably not so much at the time).

Of course, years later, as my repertoire grew more difficult, and intonation became more of a challenge, there were many a day when I wished there had been frets on my fingerboard to help guide my fingers (even though, as you’ll learn in today’s episode, that actually would have made things harder, not easier).

In any case, if you’ve ever struggled with intonation, or got into an argument about intonation with your quartet while tuning chords, or diligently practiced with a piano or electronic tuner or drone and were still told that your intonation needed work, today’s episode is for you.

Meet Minna Chung

Cellist Minna Chung is a fellow Oberlin grad, who serves on the faculty of the University of Manitoba, and is co-author of the book CelloMind – a book which gets into all the details and intricacies of intonation, from the different types of intonation (and why that matters) to practical exercises for improving one’s intonation.

In this episode we’ll explore:

  • Why using a piano to find the right pitch can be problematic (4:12)
  • The three basic string intonation systems that we ought to know – and when to use each (6:09)
  • A few things to know about harmonic intonation (9:34)
  • Can Noa handle a basic music theory question? Spoiler alert: yes – but it’s not pretty (13:58)
  • Why some chords need to be played flat, and others sharp, to ensure that they sound in tune (14:34)
  • I try to sum up the CliffsNotes version of what to do with each interval (19:05)
  • What to do when you have a series of chords with a melodic line going through them (23:53)
  • What should you do when playing with piano? (28:25)
  • Is it true that if in doubt, we should err on the side of playing sharp? (33:13)
  • Which type of intonation do your ears prefer? Listen to these three samples and see which one you like the best. (33:47)
  • When playing in a quartet, who should be deferring to whom, in terms of intonation? (40:40)
  • How do we practice getting better at intonation? (spoiler alert: maybe this is why ear training is part of the music curriculum?) (44:13)
  • A potential problem with drones, and an alternative – the “Tartini tone” (45:01)
  • Why do cellists tune from their top string (A) to their lowest string (C), while violinists tune from the second string (A) down to the lowest string (G) and then add the top string (E) last? (55:07)