Are you unsure of how to tune a violin? Below, violin teacher Carol Beth L. shares 10 different ways students can tune a violin…
Whenever you take out your violin–or any instrument for that matter– to practice, tuning should be the first thing you do. Learning how to properly tune a violin is important for many reasons.
Not only does it ensure you get the best sound, but it also helps train your ear. Even as a beginner level student, it’s important that you learn how to tune a violin so that you will be able to adjust it when your violin teacher is not there.
While some violin brands hold their pitch relatively well, others do not. Violins with recently replaced strings, for example, may hold their pitch less easily as the strings stretch to accommodate the new pressure placed upon them.
Every violinist has their own process for tuning their instrument and there’s isn’t one right way to do it. In fact, there are several different ways you can tune a violin.
This article will describe 10 different ways you can tune a violin, but let’s start out with a quick overview in this helpful tutorial:
Tips on How to Tune a Violin
Learning how to tune a violin is a skill one should acquire early on. Ideally, your violin teacher will review this process. In the meantime, here are some helpful tips to keep in mind, as noted in a previous TakeLessons blog.
New strings: Ask your teacher to show you how to put new strings on your violin, and even do it for you the first few times. New violin strings need a couple of weeks to settle in and need frequent tuning adjustment. Therefore, don’t get discouraged if you sound a little off after putting on new strings.
Know Your Violin: Familiarize yourself with which peg relates to which string. It’s easier to navigate the fine tuners, as they’re directly related to the string in question. To adjust the pitch with the peg, turn it away from you in normal playing position to raise it, and in the opposite direction to lower it. Pegs can stick; if this happens, pull it out slightly, and scribble around it with a graphite pencil to make it easier to move.
Careful Does It: Tightening a string too far or too fast will cause it to snap, so be careful when you’re learning to tune a violin for yourself. If your string is only slightly out of tune, use the fine tuners instead, turning them clockwise to raise the pitch, and counter-clockwise to lower it.
Points of Reference: Unless you have perfect pitch, you will need a reference note to help you out. Try any one of the 10 options below as a point of reference.
1. Electronic Tuner
Try using an electronic tuner that can sense and tell exact pitch. The machine is calibrated to have “perfect pitch” (so to speak), and can tell what note you are playing, whether it is sharp or flat.
For beginner violin students who aren’t sure of themselves when it comes to tuning their D, G, and E strings based on a tuned A string, this electronic tuner provides one method to double check and properly tune them.
Such tuners will typically base their pitches off of the standard 440 A, but can often provide tuning feedback for a non-standard A.
2. Steady Pitch From an Electronic Tuner
Using steady pitch from an electronic tuner is a great opportunity to train your ear. Good musicians should be able to hear and match any given pitch.
Tuning the violin’s A string to the A given by the electronic tuner is one way to do this. The D, G, and E strings will also need to be tuned to the A string – preferably in fifths (see “tuning in fifths” and “tuning in harmonics” below).
3. Online Violin Tuner
If you have an Internet connection with audio input, then try using an online violin tuner. An online violin tuner works very similarly to the electronic tuner in that it can sense and tell exact pitch.
If you’re looking for a great online violin tuner, check out get-tuned.com. The website has an online violin tuner that allows you to change the pitch for each string.
This option for how to tun a violin works similarly to the steady pitch from the electronic tuner, but can be found easily on YouTube. All you have to do is search for “440 A” on Youtube and match the pitch. Here’s an example below:
5. Violin Tuner App
If you’re always on the go, using a violin tuner app on your smartphone is a great option. Violin tuner apps typically work like an electronic tuner.
Since iPhones are super handy, using a violin tuner app saves you from carrying around an extra device in your case or bag. It also has audio input that is usually set up and working.
6. Nearby Violin
Use another violin to provide an A. This is a great method for when you are playing with your violin teacher or with a fellow student.
Ideally, one of you will already be tuned to a reliable A. If you are not, use a tuner, app, or tuning fork to tune one violin before tuning the other.
7. Another Instrument
Oftentimes, a violin may be tuned to a pitch provided by an different instrument. In symphony orchestras, for example, the principal oboe typically provides an A. If a piano or keyboard instrument is available, this instrument should be used to provide the base pitch.
A typical pianist cannot and does not tune his or her instrument as regularly as a violinist. Instead, specialists are typically called in every so often to tune the piano. Therefore, it’s a reliable way to tune an instrument.
8. Tuning Fork
Using a tuning fork is simple. First hit it on a table or another hard surface to help it start vibrating. Then touch the round ball at its base to the body of your violin. The resulting pitch is the A to which you should tune. Placing the vibrating tuning fork close to the bridge will generally help obtain a louder pitch, since that’s where the sound post is inside the violin.
Unlike an electronic tuner or violin tuner app, a tuning fork can only stay at the standard (or non-standard) A to which it was originally tuned, and cannot alternate between them. However, like the previous two methods, tuning forks don’t require batteries.
9. Tune in 5ths
Violin strings are tuned in perfect fifths. That is, the distance between two strings is five notes (or eight half-notes), including the first and last note. This interval (or distance between two notes) is harmonically important, and when two adjacent strings are played together, a good violinist will be able to hear the more perfect resonance of the two notes when they “click” in tune.
Thus, you will often hear violinists playing their strings two at a time as they tune them up. Once the A string is in tune, this is a good way to tune your other strings to that A. If you cannot do it at first, gradually train your ear to hear the interval correctly. You might try playing them together first, trying to tell which way to tune your next string, then separately, then together again.
Finally, verify and correct the pitch as necessary by comparing it to the correct pitch from another instrument, or by using an electronic tuner or violin tuner app. Then play them both separately and together again. By doing this repeatedly, your ear will gradually learn to recognize the correct interval and tell you when and by how much your strings are out of tune.
This violin tuning method can also help you tune your E, D, and G strings to an A that has already been tuned. It is not usually used by experienced violinists, however, it can help you tune acceptably well for many situations.
For this method, you will use two harmonics on each string. Harmonics are created by touching the string lightly in exactly the right place, and result in both halves of the string vibrating. When a player divides the string exactly in half, the resulting note is exactly one octave above the open string. When the player places the division 2/3 of the way up toward the bridge, the resulting note is a fifth higher than the first harmonic.
To tune each string, use the lower harmonic on the higher string, and the higher harmonic on the lower string. To tune the E string, for example, use the first harmonic (one octave above open E) on the E string, and the second harmonic (one octave plus a fifth above open A) on the A string. If your strings are in tune, the two notes should be the same.
Between an electronic tuner and harmonics, there are many options for tuning a violin. Different options are more suitable to different situations and people, but there are appropriate options to cover almost any situation. So don’t trap yourself in a situation where you cannot tune your violin!
Photo by Loreen72