Tuning your violin
Getting the best sound from your violin requires proper tuning. Like any activity, knowing how to keep your tools in working order is important for achieving your goals.
Very often, new students experience frustrations and disenchantment when their violin is out of tune. They haven’t yet developed their “ear” for correct pitch and get discouraged, thinking that they simply aren’t playing the notes correctly.
Since first impressions are very important to the success of learning any new skill, knowing how to tune your violin can make a big difference in how quickly you advance in your practice, and your proficiency. An out-of-tune violin will fail to resonate and “open up;” but the more you play your violin in tune the richer the sounds will be, and your violin will eventually produce even deeper, lovelier music as it opens up with time and use.
There are few things to keep in mind when learning how to tune your violin.
- New strings will require more frequent tuning as they stretch, or you may need to tune more often if there are fluctuations in humidity and temperature.
- Always begin tuning from the lowest pitch and work upward—this helps prevent string breakage from overtightening.
- Use pegs for large adjustments, fine tuners for small interval adjustments (half tones).
- The tuning technique is a “push” motion, with a miniscule turning motion.
- Make very small changes with the tuning pegs. A millimeter can make a big difference.
Although there are different options for how to tune your violin, it’s best for beginners and new students to use a chromatic tuner. In fact, very early on, before you’ve developed your sense of pitch using it to tune all four strings is better than guessing and ending up with poor sound quality.
Tuning forks offer a valuable way to develop intonation, and other mechanics involved during play.
Relative tuning involves a method of tuning the violin to itself. Because the violin is tuned in perfect fifths (each string is a perfect interval from the next), once the A string has been tuned, the others can be tuned to it.
If you’re a beginner, probably your violin features four fine tuners; one for each string. However, some violins only have one fine tuner, typically on the E string. If you don’t have four fine tuners on your violin and you’re a new student, speak to your teacher about a reputable luthier who can install them for you.
Learning how to tune your violin isn’t difficult, but it does take time to develop your ear.
- Check the pitch of each string using your chromatic tuner. As long as the strings themselves aren’t severely out-of-tune (more than one-half tone), use the fine tuners to adjust the pitch with small turns.
- If the fine tuners are wound down all the way, see the instructions below.
- Start with the G string. As you bow across the open string, adjust the fine tuner using very slight turns to alter the note until it matches with the electronic tuner. Proceed with the strings D, A, and E. (Incidentally, orchestra violinists tune their instruments starting with A, followed by D, G, and E.)
An alternative way to tune: in fifths instead of , fourths.
Violins are tuned in fifths because this harmonic relationship produces the richest set of overtones. Even though it produces problems for the player in certain passages and keys, the difference in sound is striking.
-Robert Spear, Professional luthier for 35 years.
If your violin is badly out of tune, you’ll need to use the tuning pegs to correct it. This can be a bit daunting for beginners, so you may want to wait until you have the help of your teacher, or you can take your violin to a luthier for tuning.
- Remember: always tune from the lowest point and gradually raise the pitch to help prevent breaking your strings.
- Tighten the tuning peg (by pushing it into the box) for it’s appropriate string only until the pitch is right under the note you need, then use the fine tuners to finish tuning the string.
- If you can’t wind the fine tuners any farther, carefully unwind it as far as you can without it falling out, then gently tighten the string at the peg until the pitch is right under the note you need. This resetting can prevent excessive wear.
- Be careful, if you accidentally get the pitch too high, you’ll need to adjust the peg because you won’t be able to unwind the fine tuner to adjust it.
Check out the best apps available for learning to play the violin.