Sometimes it's just easier to have your teacher tune your violin for you. But as an aspiring violinist or violist, you will need to learn to tune it for yourself, and the sooner the better. Here is a guide to get you started, including some PDFs with the basics, a video to show you what to do, and a written version to show you what to do if you want to tune by ear, or with a chromatic tuner. As with everything, the more you do it, the easier it will get. Don't be too concerned if your first attempts are a bit frustrating and imperfect: just keep trying!
How to Use Pegs and Fine Tuners
If the pitch is too low (too flat), make it higher by tightening the string.
If the pitch is too high (too sharp), make it lower by loosening the string.
FINE TUNERS: Use to tune small differences in pitch.
To tighten, or make the pitch higher, turn the fine tuner clock-wise. To loosen, or make the pitch lower, turn the fine-tuner counter-clockwise.
PEGS: Use to tune larger differences in pitch
To tighten, or make the pitch higher, turn the peg forward. To loosen, or make the pitch lower, turn the peg back, toward you. Turn it only a very little bit. Since traditional pegs are held in place simply by friction, push the peg in a little as you turn, to keep the peg from slipping. If you have geared pegs then you don't have to push in because they work differently. You'll also turn geared pegs a little less; they are more like fine tuners in that way.
*If you are tuning a very small violin, a little goes a long way! Most will have fine tuners on every string; try the fine tuners first. If you have to use the pegs, turns them only a tiny, tiny bit, as even a small turn will change the pitch enormously.
Below are the basics, in picture form. Click on the links for the PDFs, and you can print these out to put in your studio or practice room. Teachers are welcome to send these links to your students or print them out for them.
Violinist.com Guide to Tuning Your Violin
Violinist.com Guide to Tuning Your Viola
If you want to make tuning easier for yourself, you can:
How to figure out if the pitch is too high or too low.
USING YOUR EAR
Comparing to a Reference Pitch: You'll need to compare the pitch of your strings to a correct pitch, usually starting with your A string. You can get a correct A from a number of sources, including a drone on your metronome or tuner, Youtube 440 A, a piano, a tuning fork, a pitch pipe, another person's in-tune "A." (An orchestra generally tunes to the principal oboe's A). If you have perfect pitch, you may be able to get it from your head!
What to do: Listen to the correct A, then play your A. Is your A higher or lower than the correct A? If it is higher, loosen the string until it is correct. If it is lower, tighten the string until it is correct.
Tuning the other strings: You can use a piano, pitch pipe, Youtube video such as this for a comparative pitch for the other strings, and do the same process: listen to the correct pitch, then play your string. Determine if it is too high or too low, and use the tuners to correct your string.
A violin, viola or cello is tuned in perfect fifths, and so it is possible to tune by hearing that interval, or by playing double-stops to listen for the meshing of the soundwaves. Listen for this by playing double-stops: the E-A together, then A-D together, D-G together, the G-C together. "Are they happy together?" is a simple question to ask, and as you play more, you will become more attuned to the answer. A more advanced violinist, violist or cellist will often tune the A, and then tune the rest of the strings using the perfect fifths as a guide.
If you can't tell if you are getting it right:
Try singing it. Do you have to raise or lower your voice, from the pitch of your string, to the correct pitch? This can help you determine if you are too high or too low, and the which direction to go.
If you really can't tell whether to make it higher or lower, just purposely make it a little too low and then raise the pitch until it sounds right. If you purposely make the pitch obviously too low, you can be certain that you have to raise it to make it right. You might have to do this a few times. Pro violinists do this all the time, without even thinking about it, and don't worry, it's not "cheating"! Your margin of error will decrease and decrease as you get better at tuning.
USING A CHROMATIC TUNER OR TUNING APP
This is a great option, if you are still learning to trust your ears, if you don't have a reference pitch, or if you want to tune to a specific "A" (440, 442, etc.)
A chromatic tuner or tuning app can tell you if your string is too high or too low, and it can also tell you if your tuning efforts have corrected the pitch. While tuners can all be a little different, one very common way they work is this: If you play your string and the line moves to the left of center, the pitch is too low and you need to tighten the string. If the line moves to the right of center, then the pitch is too high and you need to loosen the string. If it's right in the middle, hooray! The pitch is correct. Again, chromatic tuners vary in the way they work, but you'll get the feedback you need, and they will also show you when your string is tuned correctly.
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Thanks so much for this excellent video. I was planning to make one for our school as we go to online instruction, but this is so good, I'm going to share with our whole school.
Thanks for this!!! My students desperately this video!!
This is a much-needed video for my studio. I will share it with them!
I just showed this video to my students today, since we are preparing for possible online teaching because of Corona. I love it! Any chance you want to do one for viola, cello and bass ;)
Well I do have the pdf for viola, which maybe could apply to cello? (Though the angles are kind of different for cello!)
What is your opinion on Wittner FineTune pegs?
Thanks Laurie, really excellent video. I've taken the liberty of linking to it from my web site, it's at the bottom of this page - https://www.violincompany.co.uk/hints.htm
You always have such good articles, I've posted links to several of them from our Face Book page and they get lots of likes.
Best wishes - Dave (The Violin Company )
Victor, the Wittners are great; just make sure you have them installed by someone who knows how to do it, at a good violin shop or luthier.
Wittners are fantastic! I got them installed in my best violin (by the same luthier who made it).
If I ever need another instrument, it will be made with Wittners, I think a U$ 70.00 extra is not too much for a >U$ 1000.00 instrument.
I think it will cost more than $70 extra but I could be wrong, maybe the violin maker saves that much in labor. I have Wittner FineTune pegs in my viola and they're great. In my violin I have PegHeds, which look better and work well but not quite as well as the Wittners. My daughter's violin has Knilling Perfection Pegs, which are similar to PegHeds -- however in our single-data-point experience they do not work as well as either the PegHeds or the Wittners. Still they work better than friction pegs for sure.
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March 13, 2020 at 08:09 AM · Good, timely article.