V.com weekend vote: What do you use to tune your instrument?

September 25, 2020, 10:22 PM · How have you been keeping accountable, pitch-wise, during these COVID times?

I have to say, my A=442 orchestra gigs keep my fiddle nice and high-strung during normal times, as well as those times when I play quartets or church gigs.

tuning

But during these times, without any outside playing opportunities, I find that the pitch of my strings creeps downwards if I neglect to use a tuner. Because sure, you can tune your violin, but without the accountability of a fixed pitch (or your own perfect pitch, which I do not have!), it will likely meander.

At the beginning of the pandemic that was certainly happening with my students as well -- without in-person lessons, school or youth orchestra, their violins consistently went flat. They weren't necessarily noticing until lesson time, as many of them tuned the fifths, so things sounded relatively in tune. At a certain point, I asked everyone to get a chromatic tuner if they didn't have one, and that has pretty much solved the problem. Their tuners have adjustable hertz levels, so I'm even asking for A=442!

What are you doing to keep your fiddle on-pitch? Or are you bothering? Do you check things every time you play, or not so much? Has this been different for you, in the last months? Do you have lessons or other playing opportunities these days that help keep you accountable? Please share what you use as a pitch source, when you tune, and then share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Replies

September 26, 2020 at 11:50 AM · I tune the A on my phone and the rest from that, my ears are not yet that good that I could recognise the note a without a tuner. I can tune my guitar with my voice, which is how I learned to tune nearly forty years ago, I sing the e and go from there with the rest, in my opinion though guitar is easier to tune than violin, especially with the actually tuners, compared to the wooden nightmares on violin.

September 26, 2020 at 12:21 PM · I don't have perfect pitch, but somehow it never feels right until my strings are exactly, correctly in tune at 440. It's weird.

September 26, 2020 at 01:47 PM · I use the 440Hz on my metronome. I just recently learned that Alexa will give you a 440 A if you ask.

September 26, 2020 at 02:23 PM · I had perfect pitch, but it went unreliable a few years ago, so I either rely on what I still have, or consult my piano (which needs a tune, but the A is still OK, I think), or find something on my laptop using google (which isn't quite the same as using an app; but the latter is the nearest approximation to what I do, amongst the choices you offered, so that's what I voted).

September 26, 2020 at 02:53 PM · With music notation software, I tied some repeated whole note A's, then did E, D, and G. Still have a tuner in my case, but it doesn't get out that often now.

September 26, 2020 at 03:45 PM · I have what we call "perfect pitch" but still use a tuner -- religiously -- mostly the A-440 on my metronome. I tune at the start of each session and re-check a few times during each session, just to be sure. I also have an A-440 tuning fork; but I prefer the electronic device, because I can sustain the A as long as I need to, while the tuning fork A begins to die out as soon as I sound it. Chromatic tuners appeal to me -- I may order one soon.

I tune all three of my fiddles daily and divide practice/playing time among them. This keeps the pitch where it should be. I don't play just one instrument for a few months and let the others sit in their cases.

FWIW: I now use composite-core A-D-G + steel E on all instruments, and they seldom need re-tuning during a session. Yesterday, though, after about 10 minutes of practice, I thought, "The pitch sounds a tad low." Sure enough, when I re-checked open A against the A-440 tone, the pitch had dropped, by my estimate, 1-2 hertz.

If I had to tune to 442 -- please, no higher -- I could still play happily; but if the tuning drops below 440, I notice it right away and don't like it. Lower pitch also means lower string tension and less brilliance -- NOT what I prefer.

September 26, 2020 at 03:58 PM · I have to tune everyday as my strings loosen or contract depending on the humidity level of where I live (western Colorado), usually we’re very low humidity so I might be able to go for a few days in tune! During the winter I use a humidifier both in case and in the room I keep my violin, in the summer, because we use a swamp cooler, I have to use a dehumidifier ??.

September 26, 2020 at 07:34 PM · Snark-super tight

September 26, 2020 at 08:31 PM · Tuning is part of the ritual I have developed over the decades. Back in the day I used a 440 turning fork but when I started assisting with the youth orchestra - tuning over 40 instruments by relative pitch in a very noisy room became impossible. Now I have chromatic tuners and use them every time I play. I find rituals comforting because I don't skip steps. It can seem a bit OCD, or maybe part of my ISTJ categorization (with a highly skewed I-E score - I'm a serious introvert). Thanks to the Dominat Strings the tune holds true for days. But I still check every time.

September 26, 2020 at 10:07 PM · I put "tuning fork", but in fact I get the A from whatever is handy and then use that as the reference for the other strings. The "whatever" might actually be a tuning fork; otherwise it might be pitch pipe, a pennywhistle, a harmonica, a guitar, or a piano. Once in a great while it's even an electronic tuner. It all depends on what I'm playing and with whom, so obviously it's almost never classical.

September 26, 2020 at 11:33 PM · I have reasonable "perfect pitch" but not enough to mind if my instrument is a bit out if in tune with itself. That being said, since getting Evah Pirazzi strings I have become very lazy with tuning as my instrument never goes out of tune.

Interestingly, if my A is in tune at 440Hz, and the oboe in my community orchestra gives his A with an app in front of him, my A doesn't really sound the same. I leave it because I know the app would say mine is the same as his (and I hate tuning with pegs). Some other violins in my section hear the oboe higher and tune to that pitch, so we don't have tuning uniformity. I think the higher pitches win, because sometimes the whole section plays higher than the wind (or the piano soloist for example) Yikes...

September 26, 2020 at 11:35 PM · I tune my A string to A 220 on my electronic tuner and then pairs of strings by ear. Some of my string quartet partners tune each string with their tuner, which drives me crazy.

I'm still taking lessons, which holds me accountable for my practicing, but recently I have also been renting larger violas, which really challenge my ear and make me pay a lot more attention to my practicing.

September 27, 2020 at 01:26 AM · I tune my A using a tuning app. I don't check with the app every time I practice; I usually only check at rehearsals or if I'm about to record something.

Still, I'm rarely very far off. My A string tends to stay in tune, so I can always just tune the other strings to it. The A is usually 439-440 Hz when I check, even if it's been several days; I almost never find it below 438 Hz, not even if I've gone a month without using the tuning app.

September 27, 2020 at 02:30 PM · For my trumpet I use TonalEnergy tuner, an app which has a wave view giving constant easy to understand feedback in both pitch and volume, to be constantly conscious of both and you can visually see the volume and pitch of attacks. It has variable pitch, a number of different tuning systems, acceptable pitch range adjustment and a lot more. It also times practice accumulation and percentage of time on pitch. It is an incredibly useful practice tool.

September 28, 2020 at 05:36 AM · @R.H. Digital devices will have an error of +/- 1 significant digit, so if the read-out says 440 Hz without a decimal point and a number after it, then the actual pitch will be anywhere 439-441, and probably between 439.5--440.5

September 29, 2020 at 01:03 PM · Snark tuner here, though sometimes it seems to have issues picking up which string is being played. When that I happens I check with with my chromatic tuner.

September 29, 2020 at 03:42 PM · I am the unofficial tuner for my band (Mariachi!). We tune in the parking lot and leave the cases in the car. The Guitars and the Guitarron-bass have electronic tuners, but they trust me more. I just tell them sube, baje. When I listen to other bands it seems that the longer they need to tune, the less likely they are to play in tune. The best, and biggest mariachi that I played with did not use a formal tuning session at all.

September 29, 2020 at 08:41 PM · I tune the A with a tuning fork,then listen for the beat harmonics from the other strings to tune them to perfect fifths. I like forks - they're small enough to easily fit into my cases (one for my violin and one for my viola), and there are no batteries to go dead or leak.

After striking the fork, I place the end against my bridge, using the instrument itself to amplify the tone so it's audible for several seconds.

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