How to tune a violin (the truth!)

June 11, 2018, 2:25 PM · I have managed to completely confuse myself about tuning.
Everyone thinks that all you need is some sort of meter to do the job.
Not so in the advanced tuning world.

I recently collected 4 or 5 tuners at one time and this seemed like a good chance for comparisons of the meters. The test only used one violin which I tweaked to perfect pitch. EXCEPT As the tuning progressed,I noticed that the violin sound quality improved . This stood out for one case with G,D.
I am not talking about tuning a la pitch!
The violin actually took on a better sound as "good" tuning happened. (really?)

Replies (11)

June 11, 2018, 4:16 PM · You did not imagine it - the instrument WILL sound better as the strings go more in tune, because of sympathetic vibrations that occur. Also, when your fingers play in tune (especially G's, D's, A's, and E's) you will get a "ring" that is from sympathetic vibrations.
Edited: June 12, 2018, 2:37 AM · "Everyone thinks that all you need is some sort of meter to do the job." I have never heard that. There again, I started violin at a time when small modern, affordable tuning meters did not exist.

I would be as cautious of any violin teacher who suggests tuning by eye rather than by ear, as I would of a driving instrutor who teaches parking by ear rather than by eye.

June 12, 2018, 6:39 AM · Maybe I'm a throwback.
I tune the 'A' using a fork, and tune the other strings from that - by ear!
According to my old leader, if you can't tune a violin within 30 seconds, there's something wrong!
June 12, 2018, 6:40 AM · I don't think any electrical tuner is as accurate as a trained ear.
June 12, 2018, 6:55 AM · It's not so much the fundamentals we're tuning; the coincident partials also have to align. That's why the violin will "open up." Tuners don't necessarily detect partials, although some" harmonic" tuners do produce partials in their sound profile. That's one of the the differences between a cheap, simple tuner with a needle and the software I use as a piano technician, and why our software costs in the $1000 range, even on an iPad.

As Lyndon says, if you know what to listen for, you don't need devices or software. All you need is the cleanest-sounding 5ths you can achieve. And vibrate everything else...

June 12, 2018, 11:50 AM · I'm with Malcolm - a tuning fork and an ear. No batteries to wear out!
June 12, 2018, 1:42 PM · Agreed, the "best" way to tune is with a fork and learning how to properly hear a perfect fifth.

That being said: Every Monday finds me in a practice room with 40 or more violins and noisy young musicians all needing their instruments tuned (and some requiring bridge adjustments and other minor fixes). The digital tuner is a godsend.

June 12, 2018, 4:22 PM · Definitely, a tuning fork. Inexpensive, accurate, no battery, and it lasts forever. It trains your ear, not your eye. For certain occasions, such as the one George describes, or as when -- astonishingly -- I found myself playing onstage with a loud folk-rock band last week, a digital tuner is handy.
Edited: June 13, 2018, 6:21 AM ·
Scott C

I think your comments are closest to the truth. "Coincident partials" rule.
Data point ...... I actually did a few tunings using a PITCH PIPE and I would say that sometimes the partials sounded very good.
I ALWAYS have to do a touch up after using any meter(ing).

June 13, 2018, 8:39 AM · I'm not sure what's so great about a tuning fork. For one thing, they're kind of a pain to use. You need a third hand to do it and the sound quickly decays. Much easier and accurate to use the A on a metronome.
Tuning forks will change with temperature, although you can calibrate them to a particular temperature.
Edited: June 13, 2018, 3:11 PM · "'m not sure what's so great about a tuning fork."
It's fun. You can use the violin as a resonator if you hold it on the bridge, so that makes it somehow easier to match the sound (though one teacher used to hold the fork to her skull). And violinists enjoy the sense of history: you'd be surprised how many will pick a used instrument when they could afford a new one (not me, though I understand the sense of continuity with the past).

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