Approaches to Violin/Viola Pedagogy

An Intervallic Approach                                          
December 27, 2008
The essence of music is not individual notes, but the patterns of movement that they signify. Not pitches, but the distances between them – what musicians call “intervals” – this is the stuff of music. An exact measurement of intervals, correlated with an awareness of the relative positions of the stops – the geography of the fingerboard – is vital for the string student.. Especially important is a knowledge of the larger intervals which cross strings. A student needs to become aware, for instance, that to play on the D string from E to F# (a major 2nd) is the same fingerboard distance as to play from that E to C# on the A string (a major 6th). These are “fingerboard equivalents” – they need to be drilled into the muscular memory.

The “Interval Melody” is a chart to teach interval nomenclature – the necessary theoretical background. The chart is also a map to be explored by playing. The model below suggests how this is can be done. Interval names have 2 parts. One part is the numeral. This is an alphabetic concept. From A up to B is a 2nd.From A up to C# is a 3rd – there are three alphabet letters involved: A, B, C. From A up to Db [the same stop on the fingerboard as C#] is a 4th – four letters of the alphabet are involved, A, B, C, D. The number part of an interval’s name is an approximation. There are different sizes of 2nds, different sizes of 4ths, etc. The numeral part of name only approximates the measurement. Another part of the name – expressing the quality of the interval-- establishes an exact designation. The following paragraph explains. It first divides intervals into two groups – those that come in 3 sizes, and those that are found in four sizes.

This figure [learn to write it] is a convenient way to remember the 2 classes of intervals: those above come in 3 sizes, those below come in 4 sizes. The intervals of the major scale [bold type on the chart] are either P or M; regard these intervals as “standard”. Then for the upper group [3 sizes], 1S [semitone] smaller than standard is diminished [ o ], while 1S larger is augmented [+ ]. For the lower group [4 sizes], 1S smaller than “standard” is m, and 1S smaller than that is diminished [ o ]. While 1S larger than “standard” is augmented [ + ].

Route #1 going left to right
   The high road: short (Major scale – bold italics), or long (chromatic scale), starting string, then to next higher.
   The low road: starting string, then to the next lower string.
Route # 2 “Navaho rug zig-zag”-- i.e., crenelated.
    Upper road: P1, up to P5, right to m6, down to m2, right to M2, etc..
    Lower road: P1, down to P5, right to 4+/5o, etc.

In the next segment of the lesson are models for practicing intervals. The model shown there starts on E, first finger on the D string. But in the chart above, the intervals may start on any pitch, with any finger – the chart shows relationships, not specific pitches or fingers.


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