Intonation: By Ear

Developing your ear:

I have tried different approaches to developing my ability to hear notes accurately.


When you tune a note against another one and they are close but not quite in tune, ‘beats’ are produced.

These beats slow down as the two notes become more closely in tune.

They can be hard to hear at first but this becomes easier as you come to recognise them.

(This is more the case for strongly consonant intervals like octaves and fifths and fourths, but also true for other intervals, just less easy to perceive)

I have found it useful to practise playing octaves and fifths, and slighly angling my bar to put the interval out of tune. Then adjusting my bar to make the beats disappear.

This is a useful pedal steel technique, and very useful for coping with cabinet drop issues if your guitar suffers from that.


Another beat related technique is to set up a drone note (there are mobile apps and PC apps that can do this and many metronomes will play drone notes).

Then play your pedal steel to the drone, play any notes that come in to your head and experiment with dissonance and assonance, the simplicity of it can really help you focus on


Lights On Or Off?:

I find that doing these exercises in the dark helps me concentrate on the sound and prevents me from trying to use the fretboard as a reference.

You will thank yourself for this when you are on a stage with bad lighting!

Higher or Lower?

The beats technique lets you know whether you are out of tune or not but it doesn’t tell you which way.

We all have some ability to recognise if we are sharp or flat. In my opinion this is a different skill to recognising in tune and out of tune, and so should be developed


I have been using a mobile app called ‘Intonatio’, which plays you notes that are either sharp or flat to another note, or within a chord and asks you which way it is.

It is pretty damn hard when they’re close together but I think I am making progress. If anyone has any good approaches for developing this I’d like to hear.

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