Intonation (music)

Intonation (music)

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


With fretless string instruments such as violins, intonation depends on the musician pressing with their fingers at the exact spot on the instrument's fingerboard. Learning to have good intonation typically takes years of practice, and is one of the most difficult aspects of learning to play an unfretted stringed instrument.

Fretted instrument intonation

Several factors affect fretted instrument intonation, including depth of the string slots in the nut, bridge saddle position, and the position of the frets themselves.

On fretted string instruments, pushing a string against a fret—aside from raising the string's pitch because it shortens the string—also causes a slight secondary raise in pitch because pushing the string increases its tension. If the instrument doesn't compensate for this with a slight increase in the distance from the bridge saddle to the fret, the note sounds sharp.

Most electric fretted string instruments have individually adjustable bridge saddles, adjustable with a screw driver or Allen wrench. Acoustic fretted instruments typically have either a floating bridge, held in place by string tension, or a fixed bridge, such as a pin bridge on an acoustic guitar. A luthier or technician adjusts a floating bridge simply by carefully changing its position until the intonation is correct. Adjusting intonation on a fixed bridge involves carefully shaping the bridge saddle with a file to alter the string's contact point.

Another cause of poor intonation on a fretted instrument is that the maker didn't cut the string slots in the nut deep enough. If the string is higher than fret height at the nut, the string deflection-caused pitch increase is progressively greater closer to the nut.

Other instruments

Like unfretted string instruments, the trombone relies on the musician precisely positioning something, in this case the trombone's slide. The margin of error, however is much wider on the trombone as it has only seven basic slide positions on a slide length of over 80 centimeters.

Intonation sensitivity

Intonation sensitivity is, "determined by how the preference for a chord varies with the tuning, or mistuning, of the center note," and may be used to assess and evaluate a known or new chord and its perceptibility as the harmonic basis for a scale [Max V. Mathews and John R. Pierce (1989). "The Bohlen-Pierce Scale", p.165-66. "Current Directions in Computer Music Research", Max V. Mathews and John R. Pierce, eds. MIT Press.] For example, the chord formed by pitches in the ratios 3:5:7 has a very similar pattern of intonation sensitivity to the just major chord, formed by 4:5:6, more similar than does the minor chord. The major or minor triad may be used to form the diatonic scale and the 3:5:7 triad may be used to form the Bohlen-Pierce scale.

emiotic concept

A concept which was taken over into musicology from the language area. In the Soviet musicology it is used for the purposes the Boris Asafiev’s concept of the intonation nature of music. This concept looks at intonation (интонация, "intonatsia") as a basis of musical expression, and relates it to the peculiarities of different national or personnel styles. The basis of the intonation doctrine was laid by Russian musicologist Boleslav Javorsky (1877-1942) and developed by Asafiev.


External links

* Konrad Schwingenstein: "Intonation of stringed instruments with straight frets" ,
* Malcolm H Brown: "The soviet russian concepts of "intonazia" and "musical imagery",
* Karen Pegley: "Censored Musical Messages",
* N Mahoney: "Intonation on the Classical Guitar" ,

ee also

*Musical tuning

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