Edited: August 23, 2021, 5:28 PM · Greetings,
I just watched a video of a very talented violinist in a RBP masterclass who tuned up by with loud , longish bow strokes with little difference between the ‘a’ he started with and the one he finished with relative to all that effort.
To add insult to injury the pianist sat through all this and then, for no reason I could think, of distainfully played a single ‘e’ as though this was going to be useful or resolve what she may have perceived as an incorrectly tuned string????!!
(Actually, the pianist appeared to be looking with disbelief at the score throughout the performance as though this pretty good performance offended her to the very core, represented the apotheosis of all she hated in life. I found this a tad unprofessional….)
So, tuning. So we teach it well? How do we teach it? What should we avoid? etc.

Replies (17)

Edited: August 24, 2021, 8:22 AM · Tuning a violin against a piano can be surprisingly difficult. Not sure if it's the unison pitches (which are never truly perfect) or the envelope of the sound that makes it so. Violin teachers don't really teach it. My teacher prefers to play a d-minor triad. Maybe there is some overtone cancellation that helps him hear the A better? I've been an accompanist for many student violinists at recitals and such, and it's also frustrating to the accompanist when you know the violinist cannot really hear the A correctly. But as soon as the soloist starts, then you've got to keep a straight face at least! No grimacing! The job of the accompanist is to help the soloist sound as good as possible. As for tuning to an orchestra, Sassmannshaus advises the soloist to "tune to the highest A that you hear in the orchestra."

What you also see surprisingly often are students who struggle with their pegs, and their teachers have compelled them to remove their fine-tuners except the E string, and they are on stage and they know the audience doesn't want to hear them tuning for 10 minutes so they tune until it's "close enough" which might actually be terrible. I have watched this happen so many times in student recitals.

Here's a fun video on violin tuning:

August 24, 2021, 11:14 AM · I have to admit that I don't hear the piano A well myself. I haven't performed anything recently but when I did I tried to "steal" the A well before the beginning when listeners still got seated and were in conversation. After that a quick check and last correction is relatively easy. (BTW I too hear it better with the d-minor chord vs. the naked A; I have always believed that the whole chord provides for more resonances).

I also don't find it easy to take the A from a flute or--ironically--from a tuning fork. The easiest tuning is from an oboe or a fellow string instrument.

What bothers me most in this context are people in ensembles that start "practicing" or just idly fiddling when they are in tune, making it even harder for the ones who are a bit slow to tune. Not to mention waste everybody's time, including their own! Even lots of professionals are guilty of this!

August 24, 2021, 11:25 AM · Maybe the placebo effect was worth it, and it was more about the ritual of the whole endeavor settling him down to play. You gotta know when to fold 'em.
Edited: August 24, 2021, 2:13 PM · I saw some classmates play last year who just couldn't seem to get the darn thing in tune to their liking. The violin would be perfectly tuned and they'd go and redo it all again, whilst the audience begins to cement in their seats.
And a few of them are fine players too, so their ear can't be so bad. Lack of confidence? Maybe as a result of relying on a tuner all the time.

Teachers should teach no-nonsense style tuning: check all the fifths, give all the strings a good tug, and check once more. That's it—you're good to go.

August 24, 2021, 3:38 PM · Some years ago I got used to tuning my instrument to a tuner (these days an app on the phone) or a fork before the rehearsal. Then, when everyone else is tuning, check my strings. I also find it useful (as a violist) to check Cs with the cello in a quartet - too easy for both instruments tuned in fifths to be a tad off by the time we get to the C string. I think it was in a book about Primrose where I saw he recommends that violists tune to a D instead of an A, and I've found this to be helpful also - get the D exact, then the G, C in fifths, then the A, which, to sound really correct, is slightly sharp. In a couple of videos where Zuckerman was giving a lesson, I noticed he advocates tuning quietly, and only with the bow going in one direction (up-bow if I remember correctly). And yes, playing in tune with a piano is difficult for string players who nearly always only play with other string players. The book "Violin Mind" talks extensively about strategies for playing in tune with a piano accompaniment.
August 24, 2021, 4:13 PM · Tuning:-- "There's too much tuning and not enough playing in tune" - (me). Before synthetic strings, playing in tune on out- of- tune gut strings was considered a necessary skill for professional musicians.
My two best pro level jobs were with non-classical "bands". In both cases I do not recall that we ever did a formal tuning session. All the guys just knew how to play in tune. I use a fine tuner on my A string, just to save time. Depending on the key, Cellos and Violas can tune to the Piano D, and easily play sharp on the A string when needed. I just returned from hearing a live chamber music concert. The string players tuned off stage - how refreshing.
August 24, 2021, 4:53 PM · I like this discussion..... :)

At conservatory where i'm studying, apparently all (young) violinists seem to have been instructed to tune with what i'd call a "sense of scare" ..... :)
Very quietly, brief notes, very polite.....

One of my ensemble teachers uses to blame the players who tune loudly and "with character", and it's obvious he addresses me ! :D

I'm used to tune not very quietly. I need to hear pitch well... :)
And then i'm used to go down with the note of a string, bow 2-3 times with force, especially double stops on open strings, and than raise the open string to pitch. This because i use tuneable tailpieces, and it's a way of riequilibrating the 2 parts of the strings (with the bridge separating them) after they have stretched or shrinked for heat, humidity, etc.

When tuning to a piano or a guitar, i prefer if they play a D minor or D major chord as a reference. Or a bichord without the third.

And after that i have a routine to check that the small part of the string behind the bridge is tuned well, with harmonics, etc.
It's always better not to do it too quietly :)

So, my opinion on this discussion is that anyone has his own method and routine for tuning. I don't believe in standardization, in these issues.

August 24, 2021, 9:42 PM · I teach my students to tune to the A and then tune their other strings by fifths.

It absolutely drives me crazy when students bow loudly while tuning. When in an ensemble, it is rude, and even when in the privacy of the practice room it can affect the pitch of the strings. I teach them to tune by bowing quietly near the tip.

August 25, 2021, 6:44 AM · Now, if they all had Wittner geared pegs fitted..... !


August 25, 2021, 7:48 AM · I switched to the D'Addario NS Micro Tuner when they first appeared. It avoids the problem of trying to tune to source not by overbowing the A string to hear yourself clearly. It is also close enough for E and D strings but tuning the G by ear is better. One other advantage of this tuner, which can be kept on the instrument (violin or viola) when playing is that it is perfect for retuning for temporary scordatura passages.

The D'Addario NS Micro Tuner clearly shows how the string pitch varies with bow force on the string.

If you can get agreement from the oboist to always tune to a specific frequency, setting that on your tuner will assure you will be right. I've been fortunate to be able to tune that way (to A=440 Hz) for the past decade or so. My string ensemble always tunes A to 440 Hz as did my previous pianists.

August 25, 2021, 8:13 AM · I'm a quiet tuner (having been instructed to tune quietly by a former student of Heifetz). However, I've always wondered whether it would be better to tune loudly before playing a solo. Even in pp sections in a solo, you're never going to be playing quietly. And so your pitch is already slightly off before you start. In an ensemble, however, you will be playing pp and ppp sections as quietly as you tuned.
August 25, 2021, 9:12 AM · I forgot to write that i have Wittner Finetunes pegs in all of my violins !
The difference in spent time, when tuning for example in orchestra, is very wide between me and all of my student colleagues :)
August 25, 2021, 2:41 PM · While studying with Ken Goldsmith, he taught tuning to the D because the fifths on the piano are compressed.

Tuning the A to the piano and then perfect fifths on the violin will lead to the G being a little flat. Although tuning the D to the piano and then with perfect fifths on the violin will result in the E a little sharp, a sustained open E is much more rare than the open G and so this compromise is a more workable solution.

August 25, 2021, 4:48 PM · I generally tune my G borderline sharp and my E borderline flat.
August 25, 2021, 5:47 PM · At a masterclass in Miami in 1975, Samuel Applebaum taught me to tune my violin quietly, in fifths, and using only up bows at the tip of the bow. I still tune this way!
Edited: August 25, 2021, 8:14 PM · continued-- The piano perfect fifths are 2 cents, 2/100 of a half step, short. When tuning to the piano A, the Cello and Viola C will sound 6 cents, 6/100 flat, compared to the piano C. Our best margin of error that we hear for melodic intervals is about 5-6 cents. Tuning to the piano D fixes that problem. Playing the open strings as a double-stop perfect fifth is different. Our margin of error is much smaller, because we hear the "beats", the interference tones of the harmonics.
August 25, 2021, 9:08 PM · Thank you Joel! That's the stuff.

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