Is there any harm in tuning to A string without tuning A first?

July 14, 2018, 10:27 PM · I admit that I'm quite lazy when it comes to tuning my A string. I normally just pick the violin up and tune the strings with whatever my A is currently tuned to. Is there any harm in doing this? I guess I've just always assumed that as long as my strings are tuned relative to each other I can't do any harm. I retune my A string maybe twice a week and then once more before a lesson.

Replies (41)

Edited: July 14, 2018, 11:05 PM · contact the Roth factory, I think those labels were used before 1925 and are worth $7000 about if real;

Edited: July 15, 2018, 1:02 AM · I'd say that there is harm in that. Sensitivity to pitch develops over time, and so called perfect pitch can be learned. But these things won't happen if every time you pick up your instrument the pitch is different. Also, in my youth recorded music came on LP's, i.e. phonograph records, and recording and playback equipment speed varied from one machine to the next, so when I used to try playing along with recordings the tuning was never consistent. With the digital recordings we have now, the speed, and therefore the pitch of recorded music is reliably accurate, and if your instrument is in tune too, you can develop your sense of pitch and intonation by playing with recordings. I probably could have explained this with more clarity, but the bottom line is yes, it's very important to be scrupulous and consistent about tuning your violin.
July 15, 2018, 1:12 AM · Just tune to the E string. It is more likely to keep in tune
July 15, 2018, 1:16 AM · Frank Song, why did you post my message from another thread????
July 15, 2018, 1:33 AM · Bo, with all due respect, you're exactly wrong about that. The thin steel e-string is the one most affected by temperature changes.
July 15, 2018, 1:37 AM · not true, the e string always stays in tune better than the other strings, but you should tune to pitch because the violin resonates best at the pitch it is played at all the time, if that pitch varies, its not going to help the tone playing it in.
July 15, 2018, 1:53 AM · Are you a violinist Lyndon? Anyway, we're going to have to agree to disagree about that. When I put my violin away on any warm evening and then take it out again in the cool morning of the next day, it's the e-string that will have gone sharp. Then as I play it and warm the strings up, the e-string responds by going flat. Metals expand when they are heated, and contract when cooled.
July 15, 2018, 2:01 AM · Nylon (perlon) is more sensitive to temperature than steel, fact.
July 15, 2018, 4:12 AM · I think what happens is that the wood of the violin responds to humidity, causing the distance from pegs to tailpiece to change. Steel strings respond much stronger to that than nylon strings, because the elasticity modulus of steel is much higher (200 GPa vs. 3 GPa).

The coefficients of thermal expansion (CTE) are 12 and 80 ppm/K (steel, nylon); at a 5 °C (9 °F) temperature change, that would amount to 0.1 mm length change for nylon, which I think would be just noticeable in the tuning. For steel, the length change is much smaller, but steel also responds much stronger, tuning-wise, to length changes. You can't just draw conclusions from the CTE alone. If you're interested, I can work out the math to show exactly how the material properties influence the response to temperature changes, but I'd bet that it's mostly the humidity that detunes a violin.

Does your indoor temperature swing that much anyway?

July 15, 2018, 4:20 AM · In my experience the string that is most out of tune when I take the instrument out of the case is the A. I have perfect pitch so I can hear if it is off. I keep an electronic tuner in my case and use it to check the A. I rarely have to touch the E. I was referring to my experience - yours may be different.
July 15, 2018, 4:22 AM · Seems like a case of theory trumping the facts.
July 15, 2018, 5:10 AM · I find myself fine tuning my E string every fifteen minutes or so. I had always thought the A string was stable because it sounded good with the D string and after a week of installing new strings do not have to touch the G, D,A, very often.
July 15, 2018, 7:46 AM · I play with any number of poorly tuned pianos so my "A440" could be+/- 30 cents.
In practice sessions, solo,I don't tune the A unless humidity and or temperature has really changed. Then it is a matter of peg release control.
July 15, 2018, 8:27 AM · If we tell you to tune the A first, will your lazy tuning habits change? I’m thinking not...
July 15, 2018, 8:28 AM · Why not just make sure your A is somewhere close to 440 before you tune the rest of the strings? It really doesn't take much more time -- maybe 5-10 seconds?

If you play regularly with a violin that's tuned correctly, your ear will be learn to remember what a 440 A sounds like and feels like. So you won't need to use a tuner so much -- you can quickly get that A to where it rights just right.

My experience is if I don't play for 2-3 days my ear has forgotten 440. But if you play every day...

It doesn't really make sense to play the violin at a low tuning -- the strings just won't sound as good. And if you tune high, you could be putting stress on the violin because strings carry MUCH more tension if they're tuned high.

Edited: July 15, 2018, 3:49 PM · Han N. asked "Does your indoor temperature swing that much anyway?"

This time of year my house tends to heat up in the daytime, typically to about 80 degrees F by the end of the day. Then I run a fan all night to circulate hot indoor air out and cool outside air in to bring the indoor temperature back down, typically to about 65 to 70 degrees. So yes, a 10-15 degree swing is common.

Edited: July 15, 2018, 12:52 PM · I just did a small experiment: heat the violin strings for a few seconds with a hair dryer while not heating up the violin body at all.

Result: a small detuning (about 5 cents flat) of all strings. It's hard to tell exactly how much the string temperature increased, but the air from the hair dryer was 20 to 25 degrees C above ambient, measured 15 cm from the exhaust.

Nylon GDA, steel E (Tonica).

July 15, 2018, 1:31 PM · After the Obama inauguration, there was a discussion here about how the string players performed in those cold temperatures, and whether or not they were faking along to recorded music.
So I took a violin outside at roughly the same temperatures as those on inauguration day. The steel E string went much sharper than the other three Dominant synthetic strings.

So yes, the thermal coefficient of expansion and contraction of steel may be much less than that of nylon, but the pitch is affected much more, since the steel is less "stretchy". Think about how little you need to turn the E peg to make a large adjustment in pitch, versus how much you need to turn the peg on synthetic or gut strings to get the same pitch change. That's a major reason why we use fine tuners on our steel E's.

July 15, 2018, 1:40 PM · Scott, if I weren’t willing to change, then I wouldn’t have asked the question.
July 15, 2018, 1:40 PM · What strings then are good for outdoor performances in different kinds of weather or seasons?
July 15, 2018, 1:49 PM · Yes.
Edited: July 15, 2018, 2:37 PM · Here's are the formulas. The pitch change (cents per degree C) is about -0.6 [ct/K] for wound nylon on the A440 and -1.8 [ct/K] for steel, assuming that the length of the string doesn't change; only the temperature. For a wound string, it depends on the proportions of aluminum and nylon in the cross section.

David, did you wait for the entire violin to cool down to the outdoor temperature (15 minutes or so), or just long enough to let the strings cool down?


Δp/ΔT = -(1200/ln(2)) a Y / (8 L2 ρ f2)

with Δp the pitch change in cents, ΔT the temperature change in degree C, α the CTE (80E-6/C for nylon, 12E-6/C for steel), Y the elasticity modulus (3 GPa and 200 GPa), L the vibrating string length, f the tuned frequency in Hz, and ρ the effective density (8E3 kg/m3 for steel; estimated 5E3 kg/m3 for nylon with aluminum winding).

July 15, 2018, 2:55 PM · @Lyndon Taylor: Derp. Not what I posted! Must be a bug with the system ...

My original message was basically saying: even if the open strings will be in perfect fifths, overall the pitch will be lower so that will alter your hand frame, and the finger distances will be wrong.

July 15, 2018, 3:05 PM · Frank, you can edit or delete your first post.
July 15, 2018, 3:19 PM · Finger positions are the same no matter what pitch you tune you violin to, as long as its tuned in fifths.
July 15, 2018, 3:28 PM · David, et al.,

After the Obama inauguration Pearlman admitted that they played very cheap fiddles with bows that were slick to a pre-recorded performance. At those temperatures you simply do not take your expensive instruments outside and risk the potential damage as well as simply being totally unable to keep the instrument in tune.

Orchestras tune often because the temperature of the stage can, and does, change rather dramatically and the tune suffers.

July 15, 2018, 11:56 PM · "What strings then are good for outdoor performances in different kinds of weather or seasons?"

Cheap ones on a cheap violin, and even then there are limits to what can be tolerated. It doesn't take much chill, especially if there is wind, to make playing painfully close to impossible. Too hot is very nearly as bad. Direct sunlight damages the varnish. Rain, even a few drops of drizzle, is a dealbreaker.

July 16, 2018, 8:06 AM · @Rhiannon Malone when I click on Edit it points me to the wrong post. So I think there's some major bug here ...
July 16, 2018, 11:55 AM · Frank Song - Ah, I see!

Mary Ellen Goree - I made the mistake of buying a cheap violin online. It was only AFTER I received it that I came across and read the article that warned not to buy VSOs. So maybe I can use this violin for that when I get a better violin!

I did also read that carbon fiber violins are good for the outdoors as well? They said the Luis and Clark carbon fiber violins (as well as their entire collection of outdoor band instruments) are perfect for the outdoors, withstanding the variable changes in weather and time of day and they seem reasonably priced. But I also saw a comparison video of the Luis and Clark violin against the German made Mezzo Forte and I thought the Mezzo Forte one was amazing! Costs much more (around $2,500+) but I think it's worth it. It'll be a while before I buy it though.

I'm just happy to know I can use the cheap violin for something in the meantime! I also heard cheap violins make great travel violins because you won't care as much if gets jostled around in the overhead.

July 16, 2018, 3:03 PM · The solution to the OP's problem is to get gear pegs. Then you will enjoy tuning your violin much more and the laziness factor will go away.
July 16, 2018, 3:36 PM · oh brother, you don't stop, do you!!
July 17, 2018, 4:46 AM · Actually its getting really old, perfection pegs are for people that don't know how to tune regular pegs, and who's luthiers don't know how to make pegs work properly, basically there is nothing wrong with traditional pegs that needs to be fixed, except perhaps to have them gone over by a competent luthier. Mechanical pegs devalue the instrument by damaging the pegbox so they are something of a liability.
Edited: July 17, 2018, 6:44 AM · Lyndon, some very good players use the mechanical pegs on some very nice instruments. I don't agree with the notion of them inherently damaging the pegbox. In fact, I think they may pose less risk to the pegbox because they don't expand and contract with humidity changes like wooden pegs do.

They aren't my first choice for my own instruments, but I have installed them without qualms if a client requested it.

Han, I'd say I had the instrument outside for about a half hour, because part of the controversy had to do with whether the cold would damage the instrument. My opinion was, and is, that that those temperatures pose much less risk to an instrument, than extreme changes in humidity, (although the two CAN be related).

July 17, 2018, 6:39 AM · If you need to ream the holes bigger to fit them, and you glue them in, you are essentially damaging the pegbox.
Edited: July 17, 2018, 6:54 AM · Naturally, one would try to get the appropriately sized peg, and ream the pegbox as little as possible. Some reaming is usually required when installing or replacing conventional pegs too. However, there is also the option of installing a "spiral bushing" to reduce the size of the peg hole, so no reaming or enlargement of the peg hole is required at all.

Glues can be released by heating the shank, with no damage to the pegbox.

July 17, 2018, 7:45 AM · Getting back to the topic, no, there is no harm to just tuning to your A string. A440 is not a god-given commandment. Since you are tuning your A twice a week, it will not stray into a dangerously high tension zone.
July 17, 2018, 8:50 AM · So, now that I've been playing viola in chamber orchestra, I turned to the oboe player just behind me who was blowing his tuning (supposedly 440Hz) note and I said,
"That sounds like 441."
He checked his tuner and then replied,
"My God, it is, how can you tell?"
"My pianist's piano is tuned to 441, and I always have to adjust when I play with her."
Then I confessed the truth that I had just tuned my viola to A=440Hz with tuner attached to my viola and he sounded a bit sharp.

Only "God" knows what pitches were standard (if any) when classical violin design was perfected, and certainly all instruments respond somewhat differently to different fundamental pitches, but we get used to how our own instrument sounds and responds when it is in tune with our usual pitches. So I think it is a good idea to always tune the instrument as perfectly as we can. Some people have perfect absolute pitch; some have perfect relative pitch; and some (who should have studied piano instead) just struggle along.

July 17, 2018, 12:12 PM · My sense of pitch is not that good but I usually tune my A to 444 so my instrument sounds brighter.
Edited: July 31, 2018, 6:49 PM · My violin teacher once (i.e. 50 years ago) noticed that I played flat when my violin was tuned a little sharp. He said that many people have partial perfect pitch and that perfect pitch is trainable (don't know, never tried training it). So I played the pitches I remembered rather than correctly in relation to the tuning of the instrument. Or so he said. I might just have had a bad intonation phase (I have them regularly).

Anyhow he was probably right that tuning at the correct pitch at all times helps with intonation.

And then of course you have to play in a church where the organ A is at 425...

July 31, 2018, 7:19 PM · Mark, my teacher had relative pitch. She would not have developed absolute pitch in a month of Sundays, however often she tuned her A string to concert pitch (and I'm sure it was often).
When I was younger, I had very accurate absolute pitch (We tested it using my school physics department's oscilloscope). It was a mixed blessing.
I've quoted Theresa Finzi's experience elsewhere on
Edited: August 2, 2018, 10:04 AM · To All re Pitch 'n Tune ~

Perfect Pitch is Rare ~ In our Jascha Heifetz USC Violin Master Classes, Mr. Heifetz asked whom of the 7 of us had perfect pitch? All raised their hands! Mr. Heifetz being HEIFETZ, decided to conduct a formal Perfect Pitch Test. Each of my class-mates was put through exhaustive issues of absolute pitch identification. Only 2 of us out of we 7 were pronounced by Jascha Heifetz as possessing perfect pitch! I don't think anyone can argue with Jascha Heifetz about this, nor do I think & know that some suggesting perfect pitch 'can be learned' is Folly! One's 'relative pitch' can be greatly sharpened from consistent practise & being in the presence of those who actually play violin In Tune!!! You cannot 'Wing it', kids! And it must be said that even the 2 of us whom Heifetz proclaimed as having authentically perfect pitch, Erick Friedman & yours truly, had to consistently refresh our ear's to keep & maintain a keen sense of God's gifted perfect pitch! (And with great Gifts come ever more responsibility ~ )

Another critical element, ever so slightly touched upon here, was A = 440, then A = 441, & even an Organ A = 424!! Truth be told ~ the truth of A 440 has been altered by the Great Orchestras of the Concert World & string playing soloist's must follow along!! When performing w/ various orchestras & chamber orchestral ensembles one does adjust one's inner ear concept of A = 440. Quite a few regional U.S. orchestra's are still tuning to an Oboe A = 440 which isn't any longer in keeping with international 'Norm's' ~ 'New' International concert pitch is A = 442 ~ This is and has been The Standard for at least 15 Years globally in major orchestras, and must add I do find it strange for Principle Oboist's of 'The Big Ten' U.S., to use tuning machines! Ray Still, the famed Principle Oboist of our Chicago Symphony Orchestra Never deferred to tuning machines!! His ear was his guide and Maestro Solti never questioned it, nor did the top string players or soloist's!! Stern once broke a great Bow in half due its extreme tightness of hair ridiculously stretched far from the wood, but always took the A from Ray Still ~ We all did. One exception: my 'other' violin mentor Icon, Nathan Milstein - an acknowledged Master of Intonation, which yet again, yesterday, I was 'ordered' to write a Book about regarding all things violin & bow of both Mr.'s Heifetz and Milstein, although choosing not to reveal much here, I'll drop a hint that tuning the violin slightly (Only slightly) at Lowered pitch at evening After a full day of practising, is extremely healthy for the instrument which requires rest after all 4 strings have been used at maximum stretch (so to speak) at concert pitch with a Brilliant way to surely secure safety of the Bridge by slipping a small block of expert luthier made wood just under the becoming raised part of the fingerboard ~

This practise is Not for untrained amateurs, but artist's Milstein & a few other's always followed this regimen to preserve the health of their rare instruments ... If, & only IF those reading this have access to fine luthier's with years of successful experience having worked on fine violins, violas, violoncello's & double basses, then go & seek advice about this. Beware of those who stare at you w/a blank look; they're not whom I'm speaking of ~ Better to leave well enough alone than risk a relatively uninformed luthier to make (carve) a square block of smooth wood to insert just under the black of the fingerboard at night. The other part is to tune down the A string & all other strings a bit to rest overnight. Before attempting anything, please do
ask your teacher or an experienced Pro about this practice ~ (As many TV commercials warn: **Don't try this at home without expert advice ~**)

Intonation is a mighty Subject to be addressed seriously in depth! Being so fortunate to learn much from top tier parents/teachers & legendary violin mentor's, I know that A = 442 now rules, Yet if in recital with Piano, one can 'adjust' pitch to better express A to Z emotions in violin w/piano recital string repertoire ~ More for another Year!

With best wishes to everyone, I remain

Yours musically from America ~

Elisabeth Matesky (August 2, 2018) **

**Our Jascha Heifetz USC Violin Master Classes were 3 days pr week ~

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