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The Weekend Vote

V.com weekend vote: When did you first learn to tune your violin?

July 19, 2013 at 2:10 PM

When did you first learn to tune your violin?

The process involves two separate issues: the aural and the physical. You must learn how to match pitches and to hear the fifths you violin; and you must learn how to turn the pegs and fine tuner(s) on your violin in the right direction and just the right amount. When you get good at it, you should be able to turn those pegs without taking the fiddle down from your shoulder

I still remember one of my very earliest solo tuning sessions: getting completely lost aurally and making a complete mess of it! But one has to be able to experiment and make some mistakes in order to learn. Also, as a teacher, I have to fight the fact that it's just easier to tune a student's instrument than it is to take 15 or 20 minutes of the lesson to help them learn to tune. But those are well-spent minutes, if a student can learn to tune for themselves!

When did you learn to tune, and what were your experiences with learning to tune? Did anything help you a great deal with the process of learning this skill?


From Bart Meijer
Posted on July 19, 2013 at 3:37 PM
I don't remember!
From Zlata Brouwer
Posted on July 19, 2013 at 4:09 PM
As a teacher, learning students to tune there instrument is a great exercise...

When learning to tune, they learn:
- to listen while playing, to take over the A and learn to hear the fifths
- to have a good violin hold, because they need there left hand to tune and they must be able to hold the violin without supporting it with their left hand
- to play their first double stops on two open strings
- to multi-task doing all this together

As in the beginning it's important to learn to intonate... I think tuning must be taught as early as possible, so students play on a tuned instrument at home when they practice.

If it's too early to learn a student tune with a tuning fork, I insist that they buy a electronic tuner or download a tuning app on their smartphone (there are several good ones for free!) and use that until they are able to tune their violin with a tuning fork.

Just my humble opinion ;)

From Brian Kelly
Posted on July 19, 2013 at 5:35 PM
I have had Wittner geared pegs installed on all my violins and I use an electronic tuner.....all problems solved now !
From Jim Hastings
Posted on July 19, 2013 at 10:15 PM
Although I began playing simple tunes by ear first, before having lessons, I don't remember just how I went about tuning at that stage. Then, after watching a couple other kids play from what was to become my first instruction book, I got the hang of tuning the A string to middle A on the piano, then D, G, E. I could already read music, thanks to prior piano instruction, and had a good sense of relative pitch, which helped, too.

I remember my teacher covering the basics of tuning at the first lesson. Soon I could tell when the 5ths sounded pure and when one or more strings had drifted off pitch and needed adjusting.

From Helen Lawrence
Posted on July 19, 2013 at 11:43 PM
I started violin when I was 16, and with a piano background, I was fairly eager to start tuning. At first I used an electronic tuner. Always after tuning I would listen to how the open strings would sound together. Within the year I was tuning by ear.
From Mark Roberts
Posted on July 20, 2013 at 1:06 AM
Things that can go wrong include: slippy pegs, tuning one string and another moving, and so on....
From Mendy Smith
Posted on July 20, 2013 at 1:25 AM
I learned to tune within a few years of starting viola. At the same time I also learned how to change my own strings, check that my bridge was straight and adjust it as needed, change out a chin rest, and do basic maintenance/cleaning. A valuable lesson(s)!
From Kathryn Woodby
Posted on July 20, 2013 at 7:43 AM
I don't remember either!

Most of my students learn the aural part within their first year, as I have them listen and tell me too high, too low, when to stop, etc. The physical is harder when you are a little person with uncooperative fine tuners or pegs. Depending on age I would say it takes sometimes several years to be physically able to fully master that. I try to teach fine tuners around age 7 and show mom and dad how to do the pegs--usually if they can do the tuning and the child can do the listening they'll come out ok :)

From Rosita Hopper
Posted on July 20, 2013 at 10:50 AM
As a new player of only six years (in string playing barely any time at all) I recently decided to add fine tuners to my viola instead of trying to make myself learn to use the pegs. Trying to tune from the pegs had almost become a vanity thing, i.e. "I'm expert enough to know what I'm doing," but the truth was that rather than use half my practice time trying to manage the pegs I would just not tune at all! Overcoming vanity and permitting myself the convenience of relying on the fine tuners has been another important step on my quest for the daily communion of making music.
From Nicky Paxton
Posted on July 20, 2013 at 12:55 PM
After tuning with the pegs and fine tuners, my previous teacher recommended tuning to harmonics to get the fifths spot-on. When they are perfect, apparently you can hear the lower note an octave below pitch in the background. I have never tried this since - I gather that this procedure can be messed up by the harmonics ringing false if a string has become false compared with the others.
From Paul Deck
Posted on July 20, 2013 at 9:56 PM
just as much to do with age as how long one has been playing
From Emma Otto
Posted on July 21, 2013 at 11:18 AM
Ha! This is a great question. As a beginner, I always tuned my violin by myself, by playing a G on the piano, then a D, and so on.

When I started lessons at age 9 (after about two years of playing), my teacher recommended that I start in the small orchestra she conducted. At my first rehearsal, she pulled out a tuning fork and gave an A. Everyone started tuning just like orchestras do. I had never heard of such a thing!

At my next lesson, I asked my teacher what that was. She happily told my by un-tuning my violin. She then tuned the A to a tuning fork, and I told her how (bring it up, down, etc.). After correcting the A, she played the D and A together. Without any instruction on how to do it, I immediately knew the answer. We continued, tuning the G and the E until the violin was tuned correctly.

When I tried to explain the process to my mom, I remember telling her, "You kind of think as if you were playing the first two notes of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."

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