The violin is one of the most difficult instruments to learn and master. But it is not only playing it that is a challenge, tuning it is no cake walk either! If you have just started learning the Western violin, you might need help with tuning it. Don’t worry, it is normal not to know how to tune a violin as a beginner. Your violin teacher will be able to help you tune your violin before every class. This will ensure that you play in pitch.
However, once you get used to violin classes and playing, you might want to know how to tune your instrument on your own. Especially in case your violin goes out of tune at home when you want to practice. To ensure that you don’t have to wait to get to your class to tune your violin, it would be best for you to learn to tune your violin.
This might not seem like a fun activity when you dream of playing Beethoven or Bach but there are few things as unglamorous as playing an untuned violin. So, let’s get down to the brass tacks and learn some technical details about playing the violin.
Open strings on a Western violin
First, you will need to know what the open strings of a violin should sound like. The Western violin is tuned in fifths. The open note on the lowest string is G and then the subsequent strings are D, A, and E. Now that you know what each string’s note should be, if you are a complete novice, how do you know how these notes will sound? You can do this manually as well as electronically.
Tuning by ear vs. using a digital tuner
You can tune your violin by simply listening to the sound of the string when you play both independently as well as in relation to each other. This will involve a fair amount of trial and error at first but it is a good practice for the long run.
If tuning by ear sounds ambitious to you as a beginner, till you train your ears, it would be best to use a digital tuner. When you are ready, you can, in any case, test your ears by comparing the sound of the note on your metronome with the sound of your violin string as you play (rather than reading the note displayed in the tuner).
You can use a piano to help you tune. Playing the piano will help you understand how the note should sound. (Just ensure that the piano is tuned!) This will also give you a good sense of sound – as you will train yourself for the same note on a different instrument. Also, as piano and violin are instruments that complement each other, and often played in duets, this is a good way to tune the violin.
Ways to tune a violin
There are two ways to tune your violin:
- Turn/tweak the pegs
- Adjust the fine tuners
If your violin is just a little out of tune, fine tuners are enough to help you get the right pitch. It is perfect for minor adjustments.
However, for more major adjustments, where the string is not in the same pitch, adjusting the pegs will be required. As a beginner, it would be best not to fiddle too much with the pegs as there is the very real possibility of the string snapping.
Tuning using a digital tuner
You can tune the strings by playing on the open string.
Note: It is better to play rather than pluck an open string as the
pitch changes slightly on plucking.
Watch for movement in the digital tuner. The indicator will let you know if the string is sharp or flat in reaction to the desired note. So, if the string is flat, you need to move the corresponding fine tuner clockwise. There is a screw under the fine tuner that goes deeper into the violin when you move it clockwise; this ensures that the corresponding string is pulled, making it tense; this makes it sharper and if it is sharp, you need to move the fine tuner anticlockwise to make the string less tense, this will make the note will sound flatter. You can repeat this for each open string.
You have to use the corresponding peg when the string is way off the required note – for major adjustments. For instance, if you want to tune the E string but it shows A note, you will need to slightly turn the pegs.
Turning the peg
Interestingly, whether you have to bring the pitch up or down, you must first turn the peg anti-clockwise to reduce the tension. Otherwise, if the pegs are very tight, you can accidentally break the string when you suddenly try to tighten it. Once it is slightly looser, you turn it clockwise or anticlockwise depending on the string you are tuning.
Turn the peg clockwise or away from you to make the string sharper. Turn the peg anticlockwise or towards you if you need a flatter note. It is very easy for pegs to slip so turn it very slightly when making adjustments.
In case you do not have a metronome or a digital tuner, you can use a violin tuning app for Android users.
See if these instrument tuning tips for violinists can help you tune a violin on your own.
Tips to tune your violin
1. Violin strings are tuned to fifths
The strings should be tuned to G3, D4, A4, and E5. There is an interval of a fifth between each string. The standard is A4 = 440 Hz. You can use the left hand to pluck the string and the right to adjust the fine tuners if you are right-handed. And vice versa if you are left-handed.
2. Tune your violin before every practice
If you tune your violin regularly, adjusting the pitch with fine tuners should work effectively. If your strings are new, you might need tuning more frequently.
3. Tune one string at a time
Ensure that you play or pluck only one string so as not to confuse the sounds and get the wrong note on the metronome or digital tuner. Also, ensure that the peg/fine tuner corresponds to the string you are trying to tune!
4. Start tuning from the lowest or highest note string
You can start tuning a violin from the highest or lowest string. So, start from G or start from E. And then work your way in ascending or descending pitch. Rather than starting in between with the D or A string.
5. Push the peg inwards
The trick with the peg is that you need to push it inwards rather than only turn it – if you turn it too much there is the possibility of the string breaking. Tweak rather than turn the peg so that there is not too much fluctuation in the note.
6. Re-check tuning of other strings when using pegs
Tuning with the peg of one string can affect the sound of the other strings. So, you will have to re-check the tuning of all the strings. Also, the strings must sound correct in relation to each other. So, ensure you have the right pitch and sound with each string – G, D, A, and E.
Tuning your violin properly is the first step towards playing well. So, ensure that you follow all the tips and steps to tuning your violin before you start playing it.
Learn to play the violin from educators who are also performers with SaPa. Embark on a musical journey and acquire a skill that will be your lifelong companion.