who should I trust? A korg tuner or my teacher

July 8, 2010 at 08:54 PM ·


I've recently managed to buy a tuner Korg CA-40 (funny it's made in Vietnam).

Anyway, my instrument has been tuned by my teaccher, always. And tonight I play it with the tuner as I'm hopeless in tuning it myself. I figure all the notes are wrong according to the tuner. Last time my instrument was tune is 3 days ago and  I have not palyed on it.

So my question is: whether my teacher has great ears, better then the tuner or I should tune my instrument according to the tuner?

Don't laugh at me but I have not acquired the ability to tell myself, yet.

If my tuner is correct, then it would be the next question how to tell my teacher his tuning is not quite right.

And if the tuner is wrong, then well my 20$ + 29$ shipping + 40$ tax will be gone.

Some advices, please. Thanks!

Replies (27)

July 8, 2010 at 09:12 PM ·

The tuner is likely to be right, so long as you know and set the tuner for tuning to A-440 or whatever A you choose.  One problem in a place like Vietnam is the humidity which causes strings to go out of tune fairly quickly.  So, if you have not played in three days, the violin could easily have gone out of tune even if the teacher correctly tuned it to A-440.  The real test would be to have your teacher tune it and then immediately compare the tuning to the Korg.

July 8, 2010 at 09:54 PM ·

There is some controversy over whether the needle of the tuner should be dead center for all 4 strings.  I think everyone agrees it should be dead on for the A, but most people tune the D and G slightly flat relative to the tuner, and the E slightly sharp.  It's rather complicated, but perfect fifths will cause the tuner to be slightly off relative to the A.  Here is a thread I created on the subject.

Question about tuning

July 8, 2010 at 10:02 PM ·

I agree with Smiley, the violin is normally tuned to natural 5ths. I think electronic tuners will tune according to tempered intonation, which would suit piano tuning. Whatever you do, don't tell your teacher that they are not tuning your violin correctly!

July 8, 2010 at 10:21 PM ·

Luckily, my violin came ready-tuned from the factory - so I never have to worry about it again! ;-)

Seriously, I also agree with Smiley. I'm not an acoustician, but I'd call it living intonation vs robotic tuning.

July 8, 2010 at 10:38 PM ·

Beside equal temperament vs. perfect fifths, another factor is that bow pressure and bow speed can change pitch, and it's hard for a beginner to maintain consistent bow pressure and speed.

When you draw a long bow, does the needle on the tuner fluctuate?  If so, you are probably better off plucking the strings when tuning with a chromatic tuner.

July 9, 2010 at 12:06 AM ·

If you know that the teacher's tuning isn't quite right, tell him so -- there are tactful ways to do this.

I didn't have time to read the entire previous thread, Question about tuning, but I did skim through it a few minutes ago.  One comment really stood out to me:

"For the most part, I tune up with my Quartz metronome. It has the A=440. That's all you really need."

Agreed.  I tune this way, too -- or with the A-440 tuning fork.

"Trust but verify."  When it comes to tuning, I don't leave matters to pitch memory -- mine or anyone else's.  During my freshman year of high school, one chorale member, who reportedly had perfect pitch, started the ensemble a semitone too high for the loyalty song.  The song is in D.  The chorale delivered it in E-flat.

Even though I, too, have what's called perfect pitch, I frequently recheck the A string against the metronome A=440 or the A=440 tuning fork during practice sessions.  While the fifths may remain pure, the tuning as a whole can drift off so gradually during a session that I don't notice, because the left hand, guided by the ear, will compensate for this without conscious effort on my part.

July 9, 2010 at 12:12 AM ·

How does your teacher tune? Does he match against keyboard? Or just whatever the A is currently  tuned at?

July 9, 2010 at 08:20 AM ·

Most violins need to be tuned very often. If your teacher tuned your violin yesterday it may be way off today, and then an electronic tuner is better than nothing, even if pure fifths are a litter wider than the tuner's equal temperament fifths.

hope this helps,


July 9, 2010 at 10:19 AM ·

Techincal issues aside, unless you are playing with other people (piano, other violins etc) as long as your violin is in tune with itself then that's fine. Who cares if it's (the A string) tuned at 339 or 442 (instead of 440). Maybe others disagree. If your teacher is tuning the violin and it's in tune with itself then don't worry about it. You could always ask your teacher how to use a tuner, and show her your Korg.

July 9, 2010 at 11:02 AM ·

I think the electronic tuner is a handy device to learn how to tune the strings to pure fiths.

If the strings are tuned by the tuner, thus being equal tempered tunning, then as Smiley says the G and D strings are flatened and the E string is raised to reach pure fiths.

Knowing this, one can now adjust the tunning by turning the pegs/finetuners in the appropriate directions.

As this is done one must be aware of, listen to, the acoustic beats which are caused by the clashing of frequencies. As the pitch frequencies become equally divided the acoustic beats are reduced until they are imperceptible.   


July 9, 2010 at 04:45 PM ·


Needle or LED match-type tuners tend to be used by wind players, probably for acoustical/volume reasons (watch the oboe tune the orchestra).

I discourage my students from using them because they should be training their ear, not their eye. Most string players instead use a metronome-tuner--it's a lot easier to carry one unit in a case instead of two). Even better are the metronomes that have a couple of octaves of tuning pitches, but they seem to be getting rare on the market.


July 9, 2010 at 04:52 PM ·

I think you should tune the A (electronically). Then tune the strings from the A - when you know what you are doing. But I wish we had electronic tuners when I started.

July 9, 2010 at 09:20 PM · For the life of me, I cannot understand why tuning is not the first thing taught. It is the most basic part of playing a violin. How can you meaningfully practice if your fiddle is out of tune? The first thing I bought, after the fiddle, was a pitch pipe. Maybe not perfect, but it got me close without having to depend on someone else.

July 9, 2010 at 09:29 PM ·

>Who cares if it's (the A string) tuned at 339 or 442 (instead of 440).


Actually, my son has perfect pitch and his ear is calibrated at 441.  If I tune his violin to 440, he says everything sounds flat.  He first learned piano and it just happened that our piano is tuned at 441, so his ear is calibrated at 441. 

Interesting thing about the way he tunes.  He doesn't need a tuner, he just plays one string at a time and adjusts the fine tuners.  When I check with the chromatic tuner, every string is dead center.  I guess his ear is calibrated to narrow fifths not the pure fifths that you get when you play two open strings simultaneously.


July 9, 2010 at 09:52 PM ·

Smilley - that's some ear you son has!!

Lyle - hearing and intonation are the work of a life time for most. Then there's the physical part. Many children don't have the strength. Menhuin said that his teacher used to come over once a day to tune his violin. He said he was well-aware that it shortly went out of tune, but he did the best he could.

July 9, 2010 at 09:53 PM ·

Maybe I'm showing my age, but the batteries never run down on a tuning fork!

And then tune the other strings for zero beats.

If you're a beginner, an electronic aid will get you close - and then use your ears.

July 9, 2010 at 10:07 PM ·

 ahahahah well said Malcolm, I have a tuning fork too actually, LOVE IT! :)

July 9, 2010 at 10:53 PM ·

Lyle, tuning is harder for a beginner than most people who have been doing it for a while realize.  It takes me almost all of the concentration I can muster simply to bow two strings at once much less to bow them consistently and then listen for beats and count them.  Only recently have I been able to bow two strings at once while having enough brain left over to register what's flat and what's sharp.  :-)

Someday, I'll be able to use the harmonics, but until then, my own ear and piano and listening to the fifths get me there.

I have noticed that my ear is much more sensitive to the flattened fifths of my piano since starting viola, though.  Not sure how I feel about that ...

July 9, 2010 at 11:50 PM ·

Actually, if my memory serves me correctly,  Yehudi's violin teacher came  to his place twice a day to give him 'lessons', tunning his violin would have been....... 'as a matter of course'.

July 10, 2010 at 02:05 AM ·

 "For the life of me, I cannot understand why tuning is not the first thing taught. It is the most basic part of playing a violin. How can you meaningfully practice if your fiddle is out of tune?"

Young students, as Raphael pointed out, seldom have the strength or coordination to tune standard pegs. And the problem is worse for cheap violins. That's why I teach parents how to tune.

In fact, most adult beginners have a difficult time tuning.

July 10, 2010 at 07:53 AM ·

 maybe the teacher should still teach tuning at the first lesson and if the person finds it difficult to understand or do it in action then he/she should do it again later on at intervals, until the student understands or can or both.

My original teacher never taught me (and I started learning violin at the age of 37 so I was strong enough to turn the pegs), I just bought a tuner and 'got on with it' until I got fed up with waiting for him to show me and I HAD to ask him plainly: can you teach me how to tune the violin?????

July 10, 2010 at 08:13 AM ·

There's two types of 'in tune' discussed here - in tune with itself and in tune also with the outside world.  I'm a returner and lost my ear somewhere back along the way - so the electronic tuner was for me invaluable.  I then adjust the tuning for sweetness once its close.  I used to be able to do a smidgen of what Smiley's son does, tune A without any external note (the string orchestra tuned to my A in highschool).  I've found that using exactly the same pitch each time is retraining my ear to 'remember' 'A' - though its not quite there yet.

July 10, 2010 at 08:21 AM ·


for what its worth, carrying a tuning fork about and listening to the pitch many tiem sa day will gradulaly train ones ear.



July 10, 2010 at 09:11 AM ·

My previous teacher tuned against a keyboard -organ.

My current one uses a tuning fork.


July 10, 2010 at 10:19 PM ·

David Finckel, the cellist with the Emerson Quartet - and a soloist, recommends tuning all 4 strings to something like a Korg - to the needle and the light. It avoids arguments in the quartet. The fifths will be a little bit off from harmonic tuning, progressively so - but the lowest string WILL BE in tune with a piano.

If you have not yet learned to tune the other strings to the A string harmonically, tuning them perfectly with an electronic tuner will get them close enough for playing, and close enough that if you move the intonation around a little bit, you should gradually be able to train your hearing to the perfect (harmonic) fifths.

Playing to a tuner to try to get "perfect intonation" is another thing altogether. For one thing, the least bit of vibration in your  fingers will change the pitch recognition of the tuner. For another thing, the tuner requires too much time to recognize the pitch. If one is having trouble hearing perfect intonation in a scale or other melodic pattern, it is time to study solfage (or listen to "mother" sing you to sleep - in perfect intonation). It is not something that most people learn quickly - especially if Mommy sang out of tune.

Learning to play in tune in harmony with other players is something else again, because perfect intonation of any note will likely not be the same as it is for melodic intonation - and this is where arguments can begin (and thus Finckel's preference for tuning the open strings to a tempered reference.- but most players don't do this - I usually don't).


July 11, 2010 at 02:31 AM ·

I wouldn't trust a chromatic tuner for anything but the note you tune your instrument to. The only time I would trust it is when playing chamber music (I find it easier to play in tune when the group tunes in equal temperament).

July 11, 2010 at 04:10 AM ·


For what it's worth, I'd recommend a spork. You get your fork. You get your spoon. One utensil. Taco Bell has them--grab a bunch. But you knew that--I'm guessing "Buri" is short for "Burrito," si?


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