V.com weekend vote: How do you tune your violin?

July 30, 2022, 11:19 PM · What if it were actually easy to tune a violin? For example, if most violins had really great, easy-to-use pegs. Or fine-tuners on all strings?

I feel like a lot more people would persist with playing the violin.

tuning violin scroll pegs

I was thinking about this as one of my students struggled with difficult pegs. I could see a certain mental struggle happening as well: Do I keep trying to get these strings precisely exactly in tune? Or do I give up and say "close enough"!

I'm afraid you really need to get it right on the dot, perfectly in tune!

But it can be hard, both because of issues with pegs and because of that requirement that the pitch be very, very precise. With tuning on my mind this week, I thought it was time for a tuning vote.

My own tuning habits have evolved over the years. In my earliest days of playing, I had very difficult pegs and just dealt with them. I had an E-A-D-G "pitch pipe," with which I would tune each string individually. However the G pipe usually sounded way too flat, so I had to just do that by ear.

Then I noticed people playing double-stop fifths to tune. It took me a while to hear when the fifths sounded just right, but it is a very useful method.

These days, fortunately my pegs are well-fitted to my violin. I find the most ease in using a chromatic tuner to tune. That way I can decide if I want to tune to 442 (for orchestra) or 440 (for students, whose schools tune lower). It's also quite precise. But even if I tune every string separately with a tuner, I still check the fifths to make sure the strings are "happy together."

How do you tune your violin? Please participate in the vote, but then tell us more about it. What do you use, as a base for pitch? Or do you have perfect pitch? Has your way of tuning changed over time? Do you have difficulty with your pegs? What solutions have you found, to make it easier to tune?

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Replies

July 31, 2022 at 06:56 AM · I've actually moved back toward the chromatic tuner after tuning by fifths for a long time -- as a violist I now try to tune "tight fifths" so that the C string doesn't sound out of tune relative to violin E strings. The goal is for the C string to be 5-6 cents below the equal-temperament C, which means I'm tuning to a fifth that's slightly narrower than just intonation but wider than equal temperament. I don't entirely trust my ears on that, so I tune each pair of strings by fifths but check each string with a chromatic tuner immediately after tuning it.

Fortunately I have very well-fitted pegs on my viola. That's not the case with my violin, but I rarely play violin, and for the times I do play it, I have fine tuners on all four strings. (I haven't added or removed anything from either instrument; the viola had only one fine tuner when I bought it, and the violin had four fine tuners when I inherited it.

July 31, 2022 at 07:10 AM ·

With age, I've lost some high frequency hearing. It doesn't affect my ability to play violin, nor how I listen to recordings. But, it's difficult for me to tune the "E" string.

When I began playing again a couple of years ago, I would tune the "A" string using my piano, and use fifths to tune the "D" and "G" strings. Then, I would tune the "E" string separately. I had a way of hitting the "A" (or "E") key on the piano, and while it sustained, I would pluck the "A" (or the "E") string and see how the two instruments would coincided.

Currently, I have a small tuner that clips to the ribs of the violin to the left of the fingerboard. It "listens" to the vibrations in the wood and displays the pitch on a small, color screen. It's a slick way to tune.

I also use all Peter Infeld strings, whose "G", "D", and "A" strings are synthetic. It's amazing how well they can old a pitch, even overnight.

July 31, 2022 at 12:03 PM · I use the A-440 electronic tuner I've had since 2005 to set the A string, then double stop fifths to tune the rest.

Only one fine-tuner - for the E string - on each of my three fiddles. No problems with pegs. A little peg dope now and then makes them turn easily enough here in the American Southeast, where the heat and humidity can start creeping in by late March and can last through October - sometimes even November.

Haven't used my A-440 tuning fork for a long time. The electronic tuner carries far better when you're wearing foam earplugs, L/R, which I started doing 10+ years ago on switching from Eudoxa to the more powerful Infeld Red strings on one fiddle.

Side note: I make it a point to play each of my fiddles daily, except for the occasional week off. They stay tuned better this way. I seldom have to retune them, even when playing in the garage, which I can do about 8 months each year. Right now - end of July, which is generally the hottest month in the Northern Hemisphere - the garage air temperature is 90+ F., late afternoon and early evening, on a sunny day. Even in these conditions, the tuning holds up well. A small fan keeps the air moving. My instruments - and I - are just fine.

Final side note, regarding the above-mentioned Peter Infeld strings: I have so far used only D-G on one instrument and can attest that they are, indeed, great at holding their pitch.

July 31, 2022 at 12:37 PM · I checked the 5ths - it really is the best way to get Just intonation I think. However, I also use the two harmonics method that bass and cello players use. Its particularly useful when there is a lot of background noise such as when the orchestra is tuning and your peg just decided to slip !

July 31, 2022 at 03:04 PM · I tune my A string (whether on violin or viola) and then I tune the other strings using perfect "beatless" fifths. The only limitation is my ear because I have gear pegs on all of my instruments (Wittner Finetune pegs on my viola and PegHeds on my violin -- the Wittner pegs are functionally superior but cosmetically inferior).

Honestly, if you have a student who is struggling to tune his or her violin, then you have three main options: (1) Ask the student to have a Wittner tailpiece installed with four integrated fine-tuners. (2) Ask the student to have their friction pegs properly fitted by a good luthier. (3) Ask the student to have gear pegs installed. Each of these options will be under $200 for a violin or viola. Among all the various expenses of our chosen hobby, gear pegs are certainly not among the most fearful.

I'll tell you what really chafes me -- watching people yanking on their strings to lower them or -- worse -- pushing them down inside the peg box to raise them. The latter is worse because it relies on static friction to retain the precarious differential tension across the nut, which will work itself free very shortly and you'll probably be worse off than you were before.

On my viola I do tighten the fifths a little -- all of my viola playing is ensemble playing. The only time I tinker with the violin G is when I am playing a piece where I know the open G is going to be a problem. For example if I were ever to perform the first movement of the Bruch No. 1 with a piano accompaniment, I would tune the G string directly to the piano and adjust the D to some kind of compromise. I like Andrew's idea of using the electronic tuner because then the C-string interval tightening can be quantified more easily. Presently I do it by listening for about two beats per second against the G.

When it comes to intonation I am a disciple of Sassmannshaus. I believe he correctly explains the differences between Pythagorean (horizontal) and Just (vertical) intonation, and that many aspects of intonation in ensemble playing are about compromise.

July 31, 2022 at 04:46 PM · double-stop perfect fifths. I use a fine tuner on the A string because it saves time for orchestra tuning. I see a lot of students spending too much time,having trouble with the A-peg. It is on the other side of the peg-box, more awkward to use. Sometimes in orchestra tuning (as a CM) I ask the violas and cellos to play just the C-string, then I might say: "someone is too flat".

July 31, 2022 at 06:20 PM · I use the tuner for the A and then double stops, with one modification, which I'd appreciate comments on: I notice that when I tune the A with no hands on the instrument (because I need them to turn the pegs!) the tuner registers differently than when I play the open A with both hands on the viola. Maybe it doesn't matter but what I do is tune the A according to what the tuner registers with both hands on the viola, then do the double stops with both hands off the viola.

July 31, 2022 at 08:47 PM · I tune on one string and then use open fifths. I have the toughest pegs to turn (but they are so pretty), so I confess to having fine-tuners on all strings. (I suspect I will now officially be asked to leave violinist.com.)

August 1, 2022 at 12:14 AM · I used to have a perfectly reliable absolute pitch, but now that I don't, i use a tuning fork (or occasionally and online A) plus what Elise does.

August 1, 2022 at 06:38 PM · After years of assisting with a youth orchestra, the chromatic tuner is the option of choice. I still can tune the "A" using a tuning fork and then tune the fifths (I have "Perfection" Pegs on my instrument.)

Age, arthritis, and using the modern tools is my method now.

August 1, 2022 at 07:38 PM · A possibly related topic is what method do you use - the bow or gentle pizzicato?

August 1, 2022 at 08:56 PM · Pizzicato will change the pitch of the string, even if slightly. One should always tune using the bow, but with a light stroke, not a heavy stroke.

August 2, 2022 at 05:07 AM · Guitarists tune Pizzicato.

August 2, 2022 at 04:07 PM · depends, for solo or string quartet one string then perfect fifths, with piano open strings the same equal temperament as piano, for orchestra D minor.

August 3, 2022 at 03:12 AM · @Joel, the guitar enjoys a lot more sustain so you can get a tone that's good enough for tuning without nearly the same kind of deflection that you'd need on the violin.

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