Intonation Triangulation

March 09, 2010

In watching some of the Cello Talk videos on David Finckel's site, I coined a new phrase from something he said: intonation triangulation.

Intonation is a musician's realization of pitch accuracy, or the pitch accuracy of a musical instrument.

Triangulation is a way of determining something's location using the locations of other things.

Intonation triangulation therefore is realizing an accurate pitch though the location of the left hand, and to some degree the right hand and the cello itself.

I am a rank beginner, having played the cello since November. I still rely heavily upon an electronic tuner to adjust my cello before each practice session. And I am refer back to it periodically during my practicing to verify my pitch accuracy. In Cello Talk 45: 1st Position, Mr. Finckel describes three different ways to approach 1st position each with methods (triangulation) to verify correctness. Some are easier for me to understand and some are harder. I already make use of 1st position 4th finger on the G-, D-, and A-strings to create an octave with their neighbors the C-, G-, and D-strings respectively.

Mr. Finckel adds to that with 4ths and other intervals that I understand but can't yet explain. Or recognizable hear. Yet.

For me the phrase "intonation triangulation" means building a set of muscle memories, reenforced by training my ear, to help me find the right pitch time and again. In practice I tend to look at my left hand and visually steer my fingers to the right locations. Recently, however, I have been able to play more and more confidently without watching my fingers. In some instances it feels easier to play without watching.

To some extend playing cello is a bit like juggling. You are dealing with one more object than you can hold on to at one time. With juggling you've got three balls, one of which is in the air all the time. In cello there are at least three things ongoing at any moment: fingering (hopefully) the correct pitch, using the bow properly to get good sound, using the right bow stroke (up, down, hooked, slurred), using enough bow pressure to get sound without it being crackly or wispy, and not introducing grace double stops. Oh, and doing all of that with the proper rhythm.

Developing a good solid sense of where my left hand is at and where it needs to be next is vital to being able to play smoothly, fluently, and correctly as I progress musically. I can type close to 60 words per minute and I don't look at my fingers there, but I had to start by hunting and pecking. I like some of the practice ideas and exercises that I've gained from Mr. Finckel's site, and I am looking forward to incorporating them into my practice

Author's profile picture

Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.