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

July 17, 2020, 4:39 PM · 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?

tuning

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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Replies

July 18, 2020 at 12:45 PM · I started violin at age 7 and voted that I was tuning my own instrument within 4-6 years. I had major problems with sticky pegs. (I've heard there are much better pegs now that don't stick at all.) As for the Korg tuner, my friend's son plays guitar and he recently bought one. He went from hating to practice (because he knew the guitar was out of tune, but had trouble tuning it) to loving to practice (because he can now tune it with this device). I'm all for anything that makes practicing more enjoyable.

July 18, 2020 at 01:01 PM · I put 2-4 years, but I honestly am guessing because I don't remember. I was 10 when I started lessons with a Suzuki teacher, and she taught my mom how to tune it. I know thar by the time I joined an orchestra 2 years later I knew how to tune it. I also remember tuning it to the old Suzuki tapes we had, where the music was a different pitch so my violin had to be retuned to play along! I'm old!

July 18, 2020 at 03:27 PM · I started when I was 10 on gut strings. As the only String player on the house it was learn to tune or don't play when a peg came loose! We did have my dad's piano which helped.

July 18, 2020 at 05:56 PM · I can tune with planetary or adjusters, but my hands still aren't strong enough to bow while turning the pegs and have the pegs stay in place and not slip down.

July 18, 2020 at 07:31 PM · Before I started playing! I had my violin for three years before I started my first serious effort to learn to play, and already knew what perfect fifths sounded like because I played other instruments, so could already tune by fifths by the time I really started learning the violin.

July 18, 2020 at 07:40 PM · I had no choice but to learn within the first year. Despite having musical parents, they did not have much knowledge of string instruments. The rules were “righty tighty, lefty loosey”. Mum bought me a Korg tuner, which has remained faithful for nearly 15 years.

When starting new student, student and parent has to learn how to tune. Korg tuners are on my suggested “kit list” for new students.

July 18, 2020 at 08:51 PM · Since I was an adult my teacher started teaching me about tuning with the first lesson. Over 40 years ago there were chromatic tuners a bit on the pricey side but I bought one. I also got lessons from the local luthier on how to deal with slipping and sticking pegs, also how to maintain the bridge perpendicular to the violin top, even how to stand the bridge if/when it got knocked over or simply fell down.

I don't even pretend to have "perfect pitch" and I still use chromatic tuners although I can, if the need arises, use a tuning fork for the "A" and relative tuning for the other strings.

I've upgraded my violin to "Perfection Pegs" and settled on Dominant strings which tend to stay in tune for long periods of time. I do teach all of my students and their parents how to tune the instrument beginning at the first lesson.

I do a lot of tuning with the occasional field-repair with the youngest of the orchestras in our local Youth Orchestra program.

July 18, 2020 at 09:21 PM · I learned to tune my son's violin at age 38 and started to play at age 39. Difficult for me to find the correct answer...

July 18, 2020 at 11:23 PM · I decided to learn the violin when I was 27 y.o. Now, I am 29.It was my childhood dream. I learned to tune my violin using app tuner within the first year of my playing. Then I learned to tune using fifths after about 1.2 years of playing. T'was really fun learning!

July 19, 2020 at 09:53 PM · Got an A?

July 20, 2020 at 03:05 PM · I vividly remember my 4th grade strings teacher kindly letting me come to her house to have my violin tuned between classes one time when it was particularly horrible - it sounded so bad and I didn't know how to tune and was crying because I didn't want to practice with it out of tune!

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