Knowing how to tune your violin properly is a vital skill any budding player will need to learn. Eventually, you will learn how to tune the violin by using just your ear but that can take a long time to learn. When you first start to play you will need to use a tuner or another method to tune your strings properly.
There are several ways you can tune your violin but in this guide we are focusing on using a tuner. You can also tune a violin using a piano or even a tuning fork, so a tuner isn’t the only way to get your strings in the perfect pitch.
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Tuning with a Tuner
To tune your violin accurately you will need to invest in what’s called a chromatic tuner. They sell these online or at any good music store. Usually, you can pick one up for $30-$40 but there are also free versions online if you don’t want to buy one.
If you own a smartphone there are also various tuning apps available either for free or for a few dollars. Just head to your app store and search for a violin tuner or a chromatic tuner.
Every tuner on the market will be different but all of them are easy to use and you will find that with practice you will be able to work them seamlessly. Generally with standard tuners there’s a display which will tell you what note you’re playing. A needle hovers over a dial in the middle of the display and this is what shows you the tune your strings are in.
For the correct pitch, you want to aim to get the tuner’s needle as close to the middle point of the dial as you can. Some of the fancier models will even light up once your string is in the right tune.
If the needle on the tuner hovers to the right side of your dial it is telling you that your string is sharp which means it’s too high pitched or tight. If it’s over the left side of the dial then that string is flat so the pitch will be too low or the string is loose.
Tuning Using Pegs
Violins feature a fine tuner and a set of pegs. The pegs are what you will need to use when the instrument is completely out of tune. The fine tuners are what you would use if the strings were just ever so slightly off.
If you’re just starting to learn the violin and aren’t used to tuning it yet then it’s best to avoid tuning using the pegs. They can be quite difficult to use so in this case you should ask your teacher or someone at a music store to adjust the pegs for you.
Your tuning peg should be in the same place most of the time unless you accidentally bump them or if the instrument is exposed to an extreme change in climate and temperature. If you notice that the pegs seem to be slipping more than a few times a week then it’s time to take your violin into a music store to get it looked at.
Sometimes a tuning peg can unravel and if you can’t get to someone who can help then you will need to slowly start tightening the peg yourself. This needs to be down incredibly carefully because when you tighten the string it may snap. Turning the tuning peg to the right will tighten the string and make the pitch higher or go sharp. Turning it to the left will loosen the string and will lower the pitch or make it go flat.
Violin String Names
A violin has four strings and these are what you will be tuning. Starting from the thickest string the notes are G, D, A and E. When you begin tuning the violin you will always start out on the A string. Sit down with your violin and place the instrument on your knee. Take your left hand and begin to pluck the string while simultaneously turning the peg with your right hand.
Continue to pluck the string as you turn the peg to the right to make it tighter. Have a look at your tuner to see how close you are to the middle of the dial and if you’re in tune. Once that needle is right in the center of that dial you can get your left hand to support the violin and put the peg back into the hole firmly. This makes sure that the string stays in the same place and doesn’t move from the perfect pitch.
If the peg happens to move while you are trying to get it back into the hole it makes that string go out of tune. You will really have to push that peg in firmly to make it stick and stay where it needs to be.
Getting a string to be perfectly in tune can be hard and if you can’t do it right away that’s fine. Just try and get it as close as you possibly can and then get it perfect with your fine tuner.
Trying to get the pegs to stay in the right position will also depend on what condition your instrument is in. If you have an older violin that has problems with the pegs then you may need to have it looked at by a professional.
To tune the rest of the strings you just repeat the process. The only difference is that when you come to the D and G string you’ll need to swap hands so the left turns the peg and the right plucks the strings.
Tuning with Fine Tuners
Now that you have the basics down you can move on to fine tuning a violin. To do this you will need to hold your violin the way you normally would if you were playing it. Take your left hand put it underneath the violin so that it is hovering over the fine tuners. This is so you can turn them when you are playing the strings.
We’ll start by tuning the A string and then proceed to go through the rest of the strings until you get that needle in the center of the tuner. It’s the same as the pegs when you are working with the fine tuner. Turn them to the right and the note goes higher. Turning to the left will loosen the string and the note gets flatter and lower.
Sometimes the fine tuner will have turned to tightly and if this happens you need to loosen it the whole way, If it begins to rattle then you know you’ve loosened it to much and you need to tighten it back up. Then you can re-tune using the pegs and touch up your tuning using the fine tuners.
It’s important to bear in mind that if you have a brand new instrument or you haven’t played your violin in a while, it will usually take a couple of weeks with you tuning it constantly to get it to stay in tune longer.
You will have to tune a violin before you play it every single time. Once you get used to tuning it then you will notice that the violin will stay better in tune the more it is played.
Keeping Your Violin in Tune
There are some important things you will need to remember to keep your violin in tune.
- New strings – Have you recently had your strings replaced? New strings have a settling in period where they will need to stretch themselves to fit your violin. You will need to tune new violin strings more often, at least once a day for the first few days, so make sure you have a tuner nearby to do this.
- Push the pegs – Even the slightest variation in the tension of a string can affect the pitch massively. Instead of turning the pegs, you want to push them very gently in the direction you want them to go. This will help you reach your desired pitch much easier. If you turn the peg too hard then it may move suddenly and this will cause big pitch problems.
- Regular tuning – You never want to play a violin that hasn’t been tuned – it won’t sound good. Any time that the instrument has been resting in its case, even if you’ve already tuned and played it that day, you still need to retune it again. When you are just beginning playing the violin and while you are learning to tune it properly you should keep tuning it throughout your practice sessions.
With plenty of practice, you’ll be able to ditch your tuner and tune your violin by ear. Until then though, we hope that our guide helped you out. Happy tuning!