12 Tips to Play in Tune on the Violin or Viola (1 to 4)

by | Mar 12, 2015 | Play in Tune | 4 comments

This video is the first of three videos about playing in tune on the violin or viola. In these three videos I give you the 12 most important tips to play in tune.

One could probably write books for of information about this topic and create loads of DVD boxes. In these three videos I present the tip of the iceberg.

Playing in tune, also called ‘intonation’, is one of the most difficult topics of violin and viola technique. In the beginning the fingerboard can look like a great unknown universe.

Besides that we have to adjust continuously to our musical environment. Intonation is different when you play with a pianist, in a piano trio, in a string quartet or in an orchestra.

Watch tips 5 to 8 right here. Watch tips 9 to 12 right here

Here are the first four tips:

1) Imagine the notes you are about to play.

When there is a note you are not able to reach time after time, try to hear this note in your head like you can imagine a familiar tune.

The ear commands and the hand follows.

Violin playing is not just a motor skill. You have to know what you want to play and sometimes your hands will follow like magic. 

When you play a note out of tune time after time, it often means you can’t imagine how this note should sound. It’s not about ‘not having the note in your fingers’.

Exercise: Try this technique out with a certain piece. Look at the notes, imagine the sound in your head and then play them. Is the note you play the same as the note you imagined? Which one is correct? What is the difference?

2) Practice scales.

Scales help you improve your feeling of tonality, your intonation and your bowing technique. Scales are a play ground where you can practice several techniques separate from specific pieces and other techniques.

On all levels there are several ways to practice scales. Consider buying a scale book that fits your current level and needs.

Hi! I'm Zlata

Classical violinist helping you overcome technical struggles and play with feeling by improving your bow technique.

3) Know what you play.

When teaching my private students I see a lot that people can’t  make a good translation from the notes in a certain key with sharps and flats to specific fingerings. See for yourself if you really understand if and why you need to play for example a low or high finger or what position you have to play in. This really solves a lot of intonation problems.

Don’t coincidently drop your fingers somewhere and see if it’s right. After some bars you have the feeling that it’s not right, but you don’t really understand what goes wrong exactly and how to solve it. 

Exercise: It will get you great results when you look at the piece and imagine the fingers on the fingerboard (kinesthetically and/or visually). Also understand what the note names are and why they are what they are.

4) Analyze how you place your fingers.

This one is highly personal, because everybody has different hands, fingers and motor skills.

For example for me: I play a low fourth finger with a round pinky, a normal fourth finger with a slightly curved pinky (somewhere between round and flat) and a high fourth finger with an almost flat pinky. This differs depending on the position I play in and depending on the notes before the note I have to play.

Knowing how I place my fingers, gives me more certainty about my intonation. 

Some people tell you you have to keep your fourth finger always round or always flat. You can do both depending on the note you play and how you can hit it in tune.

Please implement these tips when you are practicing!

Watch tips 5 to 8 right here. Watch tips 9 to 12 right here

Is this video helpful to you? Please let me know in the comments below! If you like it, share it with your friends!



PS: Do you have questions or struggles on violin or viola playing? Post a comment below or send an e-mail to info@violinlounge.com and I might dedicate a Violin Lounge TV episode to answering your question!


  1. Dimitrov

    Hello Zlata,

    I like your essay about the intonation but there missed a lot of things.
    It’s true that play in tune mean to produce any note like auditor imagine it.
    Only… your imagination can be different…And how to improve our imagination?!
    The violin use pure fifths and it’s a wrong way to play in tune.
    Also we have 4 strings witch mean that ALL the notes we use must have also FIXED places
    on our fingerboard.
    One simple example:
    Try to use narrow fifths (without hurting your ear!)
    Then play GEBE and you will hear where must to be your first finger to have acceptable intonation
    without moving this finger.
    If you want to talking more about the violin intonation, please contact me!


    Mr Dimitrov

    • Violinist Zlata Brouwer

      Hi Dimitrov,

      The intention of the video series was just to give students some practical tips to play in tune, not at all to be a complete lecture about intonation. Of course there are many more things to say about that topic and that can be very interesting.

      Do we need notes in fixed places? For example in the Adagio in BWV 1001, we first intonate to the chord and then play same notes, but intonate to the scale. We always need to adjusted depending on the notes before, at the same time and after. Also intonation in a string quartet is different than with a piano or an orchestra. I believe I talk about that in a video, but perhaps not this one.

      Best regards, Zlata

  2. Thisbe

    Thanks Zlata, again you gave some very practical tips, I wrote them in my homework-notebook to remeber. To imagine the sound is a very good one, I always try to find the piece I have to play on YouTube or Spotify to get used to the sound. And it’s true: sometimes your fingers find the right position in a magical way.
    If I have to study a new piece I mark the notes that are next to each other and also make a small scheme in the corner of the page. After some weeks the yellow marker is gone (maybe the influence of daylight) but that is not a problem anymore.
    Also being aware of your pinky is a good one: how round or flat it must me to catch the right note.
    It is brilliant how your brain works, how it can combine movements and sounds and even make you remember it.



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