Teaching Violin Tuning, When?

May 1, 2009 at 04:11 PM ·

 When do you begin teaching your student to tune his / her own violin / viola? What mile stones must be met along the path to tuning the instrument oneself?

Replies (15)

May 1, 2009 at 06:33 PM ·

I teach my students to tune when their ear training has progressed to the point that they can reliably identify (and match) a variety of intervals. We start with unisons and octaves and progress to fifths, fourths, major/minor thirds, major/minor seconds, and so on.

The important thing is that they need to have the sonic experience of that tuning interval so that they can reproduce it.

May 1, 2009 at 06:38 PM ·

This is a very hand-tailored answer.  There is no basic time frame.  Age and natural ability come into play.  I do some ear training at every single lesson, and we start with simple things like three note patterns in whole and half steps, and move on to more complex patterns.  Once they become familiar with the do-so interval, or perfect fifth, I gauge them on their ability to recall the sound of do-so.  Once they are able to pull that interval out of thin air, they can begin trying to tune their instrument.  During lessons, I tune most of the time just to save time.  But I will ask them if they can tell if a particular string is in tune or not.  Eventually, they are tuning themselves without my assistance. 

Tuning is actually a difficult skill when bowing.  The student must be able to balance the bow evenly on two strings and pull a nice, clean double stop that doesn't distort either pitch.  To be able to do that while turning a tuner or peg is quite an advanced skill.  Have them start with plucking.

May 1, 2009 at 08:52 PM ·

Wouldn't you want to teach this right from the beginning?  If they don't know how to tune their instrument, how do they practice?  Or do they practice with the instrument out of tune and have it tuned once a week during their lesson?  I would think that just about anyone can learn to use a chromatic tuner.


May 1, 2009 at 10:24 PM ·


mothers and electronic tuners are a judicious combination...



May 1, 2009 at 10:25 PM ·

My violin was tuned by my teacher and retuned by her and I practiced using finger tape.

May 1, 2009 at 11:16 PM ·

lol Buri!


May 2, 2009 at 02:24 AM ·

A better question is when and how.  I've been wondering about this myself lately.  I haven't addressed it much in my classes because there's so much to get done but I want my students to begin experimenting with it soon.  I agree that ear training is at its foundation, but applying that knowledge is tricky.

May 2, 2009 at 04:47 AM ·

I begin teaching the fine art of tuning in a basic way right from the start.  I play an open string and have my student play the corresponding string on his/her instrument.  Then I ask whether they can tell that the two are different (assuming that they are.)  Next I ask them whether their string is higher or lower than mine.  They usually start out clueless, but their pitch perception improves with time.  Later (the timing depends on the student), I show them how I tune by playing two strings together and have them try it themselves.

May 2, 2009 at 04:19 PM ·

 No one has mentioned having the kid buy an old fashioned tuning fork and tuning their own A string from day one. This seems like a must-have, certainly after a few months.

I bought an electronic pitch pipe to augment my tuning fork, but it was a piece of junk and had me mis-tuning my E string. (Worse, it trained my ear to think the E should be sharper than it was.) Six months later I bought a chromatic tuner. Great purchase. For open strings, for a beginner (and beyond), nothing beats it for confirming your own ear, on the six days you don't have a lesson with a teacher standing by. Mind you, I tune with the tuning fork first, try to adjust the other strings with my ears. But I'm so grateful for the tactile feedback. Then again, I could see how a kid might glue their eyes to the tuner and use it in place of really hearing the open strings first.

Back to the tuning fork idea. I stay start a kid with it right away. It's a fun gadget.

May 2, 2009 at 07:47 PM ·

 Tuning from day one. My progression looks like this:

1. teach them that 5ths should sound like twinkle-twinke. I pluck, and they try to figure out high or low. Most catch on very quickly.

2. Have them do the plucking, and show them how the fine-tuners work. Show them how and where to pluck, and how to make strings ring together.

3. two-string exercise: have them practice playing on two strings, legato down- and up-bows.

4. If student is young, the parent is also taught the method. Much easier for all if there is a piano/tuner at home.

5. At each lesson, they do as much tuning as they can, and I help them when they're stuck.

Tuning is often regarded as some esoteric knowledge that one must study for years to acquire; it's not. The just have to start doing it from the beginning. If you don't , they won't.

May 2, 2009 at 08:27 PM ·

My son is recently taught to tune his A relative to a reference (tuner, in his case), and then the other string usings 5ths. As long as his fingers can reach the fine tuners and twist them, I don't see a problem.  My son is 6.

Previously, I have been tuning for them, using a electronic tuner.

May 2, 2009 at 08:55 PM ·

Some little ones have difficulty with turning the pegs etc. as they can slip around and the strings unwind which can be overwhelming. We started with fine tuners after each string was close enought to fine tune. That was a good start. After they are strong enought to turn the pegs and not unwind the strings by accident, then that was next. The teacher worked with them on the pegs.

A teacher showed us to rap the tuning fork lightly and then hold it in our teeth while tuning. Some people put it non the bridge to hear the ring. That way however, it is harder to tune it at the same time. You can hear the A ring inside your head using the teeth method and you get some time to tune as the tone fades out. Then the kids would try to match it. As a parent, when they thought they had the right note for A, I would check it with an electric tuner to make sure. Then they would tune the 5ths as others have said. They didn't use the electric tuner for a long time and are now pretty good at tuning on their own. I would advise you not be in a big hurry though, but let them work with it a while ever day. It is pretty fun but not if you are in a rush. It took a few months and then they were on their own most often.

May 4, 2009 at 01:16 PM ·

I teach tuning in context from the first lessons. I ask kids to listen to their strings compared to mine, to the piano, to a tuner hum, to a mechanical tuner with needle or lights, and identify higher, lower or same. Then to tune D to a tuned A string, etc.  In rehearsals, I often do the tuning, but ask the kids to tell me which string & which way, ie, "My A is sharp, my D is loose, etc." School & rental instruments can be problematic due to aging or ill-fitted pegs.... another topic. Fine tuners only allow so much. So tuning with the pegs may not happen quickly or efficiently in PS programs, especially elementary school, but that is no reason not to teach everything that goes into tuning. Sue

August 18, 2009 at 04:02 PM ·

Then again, I could see how a kid might glue their eyes to the tuner and use it in place of really hearing the open strings first."

For this very reason I cring whenever I see kids using those little electronic tuners (the ones with the line to show you when you're "in tune") because I know it's training them to not use their ears...which will in the long run be detrimental to their pitch/in-tune-ness perception not only when tuning their strings but also just between intervals in their pieces, or when playing with others.  

But that's a side note, what I really wanted to ask was - what do you do with students who don't have fine-tuners on their violins? I know I started with fine-tuners, and I liked it because then I didn't have to struggle with the pegs when the string was actually just a tiny bit out-  I was always very tempted to just leave it as "good enough" (honestly, somedays I still really wish I had those finetuners!).  But the reality is, not every student is going to have fine-tuners.  So do you just tune their violin for them a little longer, or jump right to them using the pegs? 

August 18, 2009 at 05:12 PM ·

Even with fine tuners there comes a time (as I am told by teachers) to start training them to use the pegs as best as they can.  I still use fine tuners and some feel that it hinders the violin's sound.

I like peg dope/paste which I posted a discusion thread regarding that!  So you may check those.

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