When everyone's violin, viola and cello lessons suddenly went online in March, a number of students and their parents were left with the question: How do I tune this violin, without any help? How do I keep it in tune, without the occasional "tune-up" from my teacher?
If a student has a parent who is a violinist or string player, then they have some in-house help. But for parents who are not musicians, tuning a very young child's violin can be a big challenge. And it's also a challenge for a young violinist trying to do it on his or her own, if they have not done it before - or sometimes even if they have!
Tuning a violin or other stringed instrument poses two separate issues: the aural and the physical. Aurally: You must learn how to match pitches and to hear the fifths on your violin. Physically: 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.
For my students and parents who are not musicians or experienced with tuning, I found that buying a nice chromatic tuner (that is not on someone's phone as an app) has really helped. (My students have been getting this Korg tuner from Shar - I welcome other ideas about good tuners).
Why not an app? I'm not against getting one - go for it. But I find that young students don't always have smart phones, so they have to go find their parents phones - there's no independence in that. It's also a little mind-boggling to have everything on the phone. A good chromatic tuner can sit right by your violin, or in the case, and it's accurate and intuitive. (I also recommend getting a separate metronome that isn't an app on your phone, so your metronome doesn't try to send you a text message you when you have finally mustered the will to turn use it!)
One of my young students got a chromatic tuner, and in just one week we went from a torturous Zoom session of "Oh it's a little high, turn it counter-clockwise, no I think you turned it clockwise, oh wait no that was too much...." to being able to completely tune her violin by herself, using the feedback from the tuner.
And if you are going to argue that this is somehow "cheating," I'll argue that playing on an always-in-tune violin is a far better option for training pitch in young ears (or in old ears!) than playing on a never-in-tune fiddle!
All of this aside, I'm curious about when people learned to tune. For a few of my students, the pandemic did it for them. Forced to tune their instruments, they rose to the occasion! I learned to tune within the first year of beginning to play, but I still remember my trepidation over "doing it right." (I had a "pitch pipe" for tuning, and the G was always way low and had to be ignored!)
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?
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