Teaching Adult Beginners to tune?

September 26, 2016 at 09:19 PM · Teachers of adult students (or older teens), do you teach your student to tune their violin from the beginning? Why or why not?

If you do, do you teach them using a tuner or by ear? Why?

Replies (21)

September 26, 2016 at 09:39 PM · I'm just a student, but I don't see why you wouldn't; especially in the case of teens/adults. If they don't know how to tune then how can they practice in tune... Perhaps for 5 year old children tuning could be a tad difficult, but an adult or teen should be able to get it down fairly easily. Probably would recommend to make sure they have quality strings on their instrument though. Those dollar store tin can grade strings that factories put on cheap vso's can take an eye out. What you teach a student to tune to is a difficult concept though, and I'll leave that to someone much more qualified to explain.

September 26, 2016 at 09:46 PM · Nope, my teacher tuned the violin for me during the first weeks. Then, when I was practicing, I do tuned my violin myself, using a tuner, but because I learnt by myself. Sometimes I tried to tune it by ear, but I failed, hahaha, so I rechecked with the tuner. My teacher never "wasted" one class explaining me how to properly tune by ear.

I wouldn't recommend tuning the violin at the beginning since it's a difficult task to do and you get nervous because the strings do weird sounds and it seems it's gonna broke, that may scare the student, hahaha. Eventually, when the student starts to develop a good sound and his ear is getting better, I would spend some time teaching him how to tune.

In the other hand, tuning is so important, and I'd understand if someone here says the opposite of what I said.

September 26, 2016 at 09:48 PM · Developing proper technique requires that the instrument be in tune. With that in mind I consider it important that the student be able to get the instrument in tune by any means necessary. If that means that at the earliest stages a tuner be used --- so be it!

Once they have the instrument in tune it can be used to gradually get the concept of tuning by ear to perfect fifths.

Eventually - if they play viola (or cello) with a piano accompaniment or for sonatas they may find that tuning the lowest (C) string to a perfect fifth will not match the piano well enough. After a long lifetime of tuning by ear I still can't get that low C string by counting beats (actually, I don't even hear beats) so I either tune it to the piano or have pre tuned it to a "tempered" tuner..

September 26, 2016 at 10:00 PM · @Tim I taught myself for the first 3 months off videos when I started at 16. If the violin has 4 fine tuners it becomes pretty easy, and much less daunting. All you need to do is get it in tune with the pegs once (the teacher can do that if need be) and then for a few weeks you can just use the fine tuners, until you can't screw them in any further. Then just loosen the fine tuners and repeat cycle.

Like all things, practice makes perfect, and the only way to learn how to tune is to do it. Just try to avoid taking a couple eyes out in the process!

September 27, 2016 at 12:23 AM · Butting in here although I am not a teacher; I am an adult student: it is especially important to teach teens and adults how to tune at this particular time of year, when seasonal weather changes affect the tuning most strongly. Really, knowledge of tuning is essential. A tuner like a Snark is necessary unless a student has perfect pitch... the tuner is helpful for practice as well.

September 27, 2016 at 03:20 AM · Tuning "by ear" is a two part problem.

First, you have to get the A string somewhere close to 440hz. In the beginning, it is certainly easier to just use a tuner. But a little practice with a 440 tone will "burn" the sound into one's head.

Second, the other strings are tuned to perfect 5ths by playing adjacent strings together. This is actually easier than people might think if it is demonstrated a few times. It becomes easy to tell if a string is flat or sharp with just a little practice and careful listening.

I found the biggest obstacle to tuning by ear is the peg itself. "Student" violins are notorious for badly setup pegs. It can be frustrating just trying to get the string close to the right pitch so fine tuners can be used to finish the process.

Geared pegs make the tuning process quick, reliable and trivial. With a little practice, even an E string can be tuned without the need for a fine tuner on the tailpiece.

September 27, 2016 at 05:48 AM · Back in the 1960's we were given a domo a few times. Then a A was played via a sound box the first two minutes of class. With a fine tuner only on tha E we went through a lot of those steel strings. Once learned we never had a problem staying in tune. Now days like everyone else, I use a tuner. I feel any student should learn to tune ASAP. By the way, I'm also just a begining student (starting over). It would be best to tune to an A but the modern times we live in means a tuner.

September 27, 2016 at 06:06 AM · A tuner might be a good starting point for beginners, but eventually one realizes that the fifths sound out of tune when tuned with one. A tuner is also not practical in orchestral situations.

September 27, 2016 at 06:24 AM · I teach my students first to tune using fine tuners and an electronic tuner (or app), so they can practice with an in-tune instrument. Later, in the lessons I coach them to learn to tune by ear. Later still I teach them how to use the pegs.

September 27, 2016 at 12:09 PM · When I need to check my A, which is normally only when I change the string, I use an ever-lasting battery-free tuning device called a tuning fork. On other occasions I take my A from the oboe in orchestra, or the piano if we're doing a piano concerto, or from a reed instrument if playing folk (failing the reed instrument, we all agree on an A - usually mine).

September 27, 2016 at 02:58 PM · Tuning strings vs. playing in tune!

When open strings vibrate they produce frequencies (and sound) at not only the fundamental pitch but also at a number of overtone frequencies that are the higher octaves and higher fifths of the fundamental. The lowest of these fifths is the "perfect fifth" to which the next higher string is typically tuned. So not only is it fairly easy to learn what a perfect fifth double stop sounds like, but actually the two strings have a common resonance to help you out.

Within the framework of these open string pitches a violinist plays music in various keys and adjusts the precise pitch of the individual notes played to stay in "tune" within the particular key (it can actually get quite complicated for double stops in string ensembles (consider for example the Dvorak, Op. 22 String Serenade with up to 13 possible simultaneous parts being played). An instrument that has all pitches pretuned (like keyboard instruments) does not have this flexibility, so its notes are not tuned harmonically or to any particular key. Instead they are tuned to an "even temperament" in which none of the notes are perfectly in tune in any key - even they are as close as it is possible to get that way. Most electronic tuners have also been pretuned to even temperament, as well, although with digital technology the option of any (and all) tuning schemes is now possible for electronic tuners.

So - playing in tune may start with the instrument being in tune, but the context of the music and the ensemble can change that -- and then (less a problem now than when were were all playing on gut strings) continuing to be able to play in tune as some strings go out of tune.

October 3, 2016 at 07:40 PM · When I started lessons (over 39 years ago) there were piano's and tuning forks as standards. We also had those lousy pitch pipes that were annoying and not too accurate. As I was an adult student my teacher did work with me on learning how to tune and hear fifths. Later I taught myself how to tune the A then stop the E on the A string to tune the E, stop the A on the D to tune the D and stop the D on the G to tune the G.

Today as a volunteer with a youth orchestra of about 40 young musicians I use a clip on electronic tuner as it is fast and accurate. I also adjust bridges, check for problems and alert parents of instrument issues.

As a teacher, I use the electronic tuners for multiple purposes. I also use Fretless Finger Guides for beginners to show both the placement as well as introduce music theory. FWIW: I teach Doflein, not Suzuki - yeah, I'm a dinosaur.

As I'm old and never had perfect pitch I find the electronic tuners to be really valuable.

October 4, 2016 at 02:08 AM · Clip on electric tuners are great - although I only use it for my A. The trick is to calibrate it to the piano before you start tuning the kids' violins.

October 6, 2016 at 05:03 AM · Thanks guys! I've been teaching for a while, but I hate teaching students to tune with a Tuner for various reasons. But I normally teach young kids, and I noticed my adults were getting frustrated with not being able to tune their violin. So I have taught them all to "tune" it using a tuner, and after their ear develops more I will teach them to properly time the violin.

October 7, 2016 at 11:24 PM · 440 Hz, 660, 293.3, 195.5 -- these are the frequencies for tuning the A, E, D, and G strings respectively in perfect fifths, with the standard A = 440.

While learning to tune by ear, and to play single and double strings evenly are important skills (as is learning to play in tune even though the strings are out of tune), if a beginner/adult has only 30 minutes to practice, spending 5 or more minutes tuning may be frustrating and wasted compared to doing it the simple way -- using an electronic tuner aiming for those specific frequencies.

October 8, 2016 at 05:32 AM · In the lesson I just had with my teacher we were comparing the electronic tuner to what a proper perfect 5th sounds like. If you play around with a fairly accurate one that gets down to a few cents and understand a little bit about the physics of harmonics you can begin to notice patterns.

October 8, 2016 at 07:32 AM · I would advise that geared pegs NOT be used with beginners violins. That will disadvantage them as they will not have learnt to use real pegs, when at a later stage, they move onto a professional level violin. Better to give them four adjusters which can be removed gradually once they get some skill at tuning, taking the G first, then D, then A.

Cheers Carlo

October 8, 2016 at 04:24 PM · Teaching beginners to tune is very difficult because, in addition to not having the technique to do it correctly, they usually don't yet have the ear either, unless they are coming from an extensive background on another instrument. If the student has a piano or keyboard, I encourage him to use that for tuning, although it isn't a perfect solution. I hate the electronic tuners, but I have yet to find a way around them in the beginning when the student does not have a piano and has no earthly idea what a fifth should sound like.

I think it takes a long time to really learn to tune properly. The motion itself is not terribly intuitive, and you have to have decent tone production to be able to do it at all, which of course is no small feat. Then, on top of that, you have to develop your ear. It's kind of like watching a toddler try to feed himself--you just want to step in and get it over with, but you know you have to sit on your hands because otherwise he'll never learn.

October 9, 2016 at 01:13 PM · To Bailey's post -- if you know the correct frequencies and get an electronic tuner which displays them reasonably well (or have one which can be preset to those specific frequencies), you can get the strings tuned to fifths bang on, better than a typical amateur can using harmonics in much less time.

This not so useful when you're tuning to an arbitrary reference, as would be the case if you're using a random instrument as a reference which is not precisely tuned or maintained afterwards, so is not a complete solution.

Regarding geared pegs -- using them also means going out of tune much less often and having less difficulty tuning, so I don't see the point of promoting friction pegs in this context other than learning to deal with their difficulties as they arise more commonly in other contexts (not beginners, as they as a rule use tailpieces with integrated tuners for this very reason).

October 9, 2016 at 03:06 PM ·

October 9, 2016 at 05:51 PM · I think tuning should be a priority, since playing on an out-of-tune instrument, especially a VSO all week, is simply excruciating. If you think teaching a beginning violinist to tune is rocket science, think about beginning harpists. They learn the tuning much quicker and have many more strings. Also, what is the worst that can happen when one "isn't ready" An out of tune instrument? A broken string? Certainly it isn't the appocalypse.

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