Intonation training

Posted: 6/25/2011 10:41:00 PM
Thomas Grillo

From: Jackson Mississippi

Joined: 8/13/2006

Some of you may be familiar with this technology already, but for those who are not, this is a great way to check intonation accuracy, and stability.

What I'm referring to is software that works a bit like a guitar tuner, only it does much more.

There are at least two kinds of software I know of that are designed for use by singers to check singing accuracy with.

One product is Sing & See which runs on PCs, and I think Macs. I have a link to the producer of the Sing & See software at my site.

The other is an app for Iphone or ipod touch, and can be found here:

This one is called Magic Staves. It works a bit like Sing & See, only it's not as detailed, yet provides a lot of information regarding note name, shapr/flat, cent value, freqency, ect. It also shows graphical representations of the incoming tone in the form of musical notes on staves, where on the keyboard the note would be found.

Both applications do this to some degree.

About the only caution I would have is that thereminists don't depend on this for pitch preview, as there is a bit of lag time between sounded note, and display response. However, I think these are invaluable tools to fine tune one's intonation skills, and familiarize them selves with what the sound looks like on paper.

Posted: 6/26/2011 3:40:01 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005


Can these apps analyse prerecorded audio files as well as live playing?

It seems to me that they would be of more benefit as a pitch [i]review[/i] than a pitch [i]preview[/i].
Posted: 6/26/2011 7:27:38 AM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

This looks like a nice bit of software but Thomas pointed out it is not a pitch preview. It is a "pitch review" but I'm not sure how valuable that kind of a tool might be to thereminists. Can it be used for ear training? There are many software applications that will tell you whether a particular note is on pitch but they do so after the fact. This does not help a thereminist or a singer in performance, and I'm not sure it helps "post mortem" either.

EAR TRAINING is what singers and thereminists are most in need of. You have to refine and hone your ability to hear exactly where a note is sitting relative to where it should be as you are performing. It seems to me it is of little use to come along after the fact and say to someone they were 25 cents flat on a particular note because that won't help them do it right the next time.

I have always urged thereminists who want to cultivate pitch sensitivity to take up one of the stringed instruments of classical Indian music - the sitar, the veena, the sarod etc. Of course, not everyone is drawn to that musical genre but for those of us who are, it is an excellent way to improve pitch AND it is loads of fun! By playing Indian music you get acquainted with the quarter tones and there is always a background drone (a sruti box, or a tamboura) to keep you on track. Since Indian music doesn't modulate or use chords, you don't have to worry about being thrown off by changes of key etc.

For those drawn to the Celtic tradition, another instrument that is good for ear training is the tin whistle (or "penny whistle"). It's not expensive and it can play quarter tones (using a technique called "half-holing").

The theremin is useless for ear training because unlike a properly tuned sitar or an Irish whistle (whose pitch is fixed), it does not have a built-in pitch reference.

For effective ear training you need to do it AS YOU HEAR IT, and hear it AS YOU DO IT. It's not like writing an essay and then having a teacher (or a computer program) point out your spelling & grammar mistakes. Nothing will replace regular sessions with a qualified ear training instructor.

The greatest obstacle to the improvement of your pitch perception is the belief that you already know when you are on pitch and when you are not.

You may have noticed how hostile people get on those TV talent competitions when one of the judges points out that there was a pitch problem in the performance. Contestants are not allowed to argue with the judges on stage, but their backstage remarks to the camera after a performance are often very revealing. It's usually either anger or tears (or both).

On more than one occasion I have seen Simon Cowell tell someone that he or she was off key and then, seeing the negative reaction from the performer add, "I hope you realize that I am doing you a favor by telling you this."

They never do.
Posted: 6/26/2011 8:54:02 PM
Thomas Grillo

From: Jackson Mississippi

Joined: 8/13/2006

Hi Gordon, As I mentioned, I don't recommend these apps as preview, just an on the fly method of checking, and enhancing intonation. It's not intended for playing along with music.

It's kind of akin to an artificial horizon in a plane. It tells you if your slightly one side of a pitch, or the other, and what note you're on, but certainly not good as preview. As a "review" it would be pointless as you would not have the benifit of live visual feedback with which to work. Review would only show you what happened in the past. ;)
Posted: 6/27/2011 4:23:48 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Well I'm certainly not an expert on intonation, but I do recall it being mentioned that intonation errors are not just random, but often associated with particular intervals or phrases in a piece. I am thinking of sportsmen who analyse their performance to identify bad habits.

Either way, if I was interested in intonation, I would certainly rather have the question "how did I do?" answered by an impartial machine than by Simon Cowell.

(Bearing in mind that any mechanical analysis is inevitably only half the story. Computers can't differentiate between musical intent and accidental flub. And that mysterious thing referred to as musicality is not quantifiable, so outside of the range of a computer's abilities.)
Posted: 6/27/2011 6:03:30 AM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

When an athlete watches a video of his or her performance in action, there is usually an expert coach or specialist of some kind present who is trained to see details that the athlete may not recognize. The coach can then identify the problem and tell the person what to do, or what not to do, to correct the situation.

With theremin intonation we already know what to do. There are only two choices: place your hand a little closer to the pitch antenna to raise the pitch, or pull it farther away to lower it. Knowing how to correct poor intonation is not the problem for thereminists. The problem is recognizing it in the first place, in real time, as it is happening.

Being told by a machine, or by Simon Cowell, that you are off key is valuable only insofar as it lets you know you have a problem. It does nothing to help you deal with it. Thomas doesn't need "Magic Staves" or "Sing & See" to know if he's off key because he has an excellent sense of pitch already. I suspect that for him these apps are fun but they aren't necessary.

Aspiring precision thereminists without a good sense of pitch are either going to have to develop one, or choose an instrument that does not require one. Of course, if you just want to have fun and play for yourself, it doesn't matter.
Posted: 6/27/2011 6:56:37 AM

From: In between the Pitch and Volume hand ~ New England

Joined: 12/17/2010

"Being told by a machine, or by Simon Cowell, that you are off key is valuable only insofar as it lets you know you have a problem."

I'm with Gordon on that one, I'd rather have a machine - in the comfort of my own home telling l me that I need help with my pitch rather than Simon Cow-hell lecturing me about it in front of millions of people. Then again, it comes down to "how you say it".
Posted: 6/27/2011 12:31:20 PM

From: Colmar, France

Joined: 12/31/2007

I seem to have an inner Simon Cowell who is most times telling me during my practice sessions to not to perform in public.

He tells me rather to take my soldering iron in my hand and tinker something together which will help others to improve their theremin performances.
Posted: 6/27/2011 8:24:46 PM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

People who don't want to have their performances torn to shreds by Simon Cowell shouldn't perform on his shows, or in any other public forum where the same sort of thing can happen. As they say, "If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen". The thing is, most aspiring artists are not as lucid in regard to their own talents as our friend and colleague, Thierry.

I hosted the CBC talent show THE DUMAURIER SEARCH FOR STARS for several years in the 1980's, and what I found was that for most contestants, rejection was inconceivable. The young performers I encountered believed in themselves so completely, so totally, that their own elimination from the competition was unimaginable. Failure was simply not an option. I think this kind of blind faith in oneself is a prerequisite for doing what they were doing but it was unrelated to how gifted they were. The genius and the goofball had the same unshakable confidence in their abilities and potential to be a star.

Being told by a judge on national TV, "I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but what you just did was probably the worst performance I've ever seen in my life." can be a crushing and debilitating defeat for a fragile ego. But egos are clever, and they can often find some kind of alibi that will save the person from a meltdown. I have seen many people say, after being given the boot, "I knew I shouldn't have performed that song. I was originally going to do a ballad but I thought maybe a dance number would be more lively. I should have listened to myself." (or words to that effect)

In the mind of someone who says this, the problem was not a lack of talent or skill, it was repertoire. That can be easily fixed, facing the truth is avoided, and all is well once again. Here is someone doing exactly what I described. I have seen this personally time and time again over the years. Notice that Cowell is the only adjudicator on the panel who says nothing and does not laugh at the contestant.

American Idol Audition (
Posted: 6/28/2011 3:26:09 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

[i]I hosted the CBC talent show THE DUMAURIER SEARCH FOR STARS for several years in the 1980's[/i]


You seemed like such a nice guy. Whatever happened?


You must be logged in to post a reply. Please log in or register for a new account.