The first important thing to remember when you are tuning your violin is to listen to the sound you are tuning to first! Don’t just start playing the strings first. You need to hear the correct pitch before you can adjust your strings.
Basically, the idea is to listen to the note and to adjust the string until it matches. This can be harder than expected if you have never tuned an instrument before. However, if you have tuned before or if you have had ear training before, you should be able to get the hang of it.
So first, we talk about tuning your violin WITHOUT an electronic tuner and in the second part of this post, we’ll look at how to tune your violin WITH and electronic tuning device.
Usually, the steps go like this:
- Play your tuning sound/note. This is the note you are tuning to and is usually played on a piano, pitch pipe, or another instrument. Usually, this is an A.
- Listen to the note for a few seconds and pay attention to it if you want to learn to play the violin.
- Play your A string for a few seconds while the A is playing.
- Compare the two sounds and adjust the string using the fine tuners for small adjustments and your pegs for larger adjustments.
You may or may not be able to tell if your string is high or low. This comes with practice and experience and we have more posts on tuning your violin. Try playing and humming the note your string is making, then playing and humming the note you are tuning to. You need to be careful that you do not tune your string too high above what the note is supposed to be.
Do you know what happens if you pull a rubber band too tight? It snaps! The same thing can happen with a violin string, so you need to be careful. Generally, this is only a possible problem if you are using the pegs to tune and are tuning very quickly.
After a lot of practice, once the two notes are identical, you will be able to tell because playing the string with the sound you’re tuning to doesn’t sound bad and please don’t forget that maintaining your instrument properly is important as well!
After you finish tuning the A string, you usually will then tune the D string, then the G string, and finally the E string. This is the order in which violinists tune in most orchestras. After you tune the A string, you have two options (the first option is suggested for beginners and kids):
- You can tune each string individually to its note. This means tuning the D string to a D played on another instrument, then the G string to a G played on something else, and so on.
- After you have more experience, you can tune the other three strings to the one string (the A string) that is in tune. How? By using the unique sound of fifths, which is a fancy way of saying “notes that are five notes from each other” (D, E, F, G, A). An A and a D string played together, make a unique sound. If one or the other is slightly out of tune, the result is dreadful. Especially students who wish to learn to play the violin on their own should pay attention to this!
How to Tune Your Violin Using An Electronic Tuner
Having an electronic violin tuner simplifies the process a lot! However, some teachers believe that using a tuner deprives a student of being able to hear if a note is out of tune.
My experienced opinion is that you will hear yourself playing many in- and out-of-tune notes and that you will benefit from playing on a well-tuned instrument from the beginning…regardless of how it was tuned. To see what, for example, the price would be of a Stradivarius Violin, check out this post. You’ll be surprised!
You will need to eventually learn to tune your instrument from a reference pitch (as described above), especially if you intend to play with other instrumentalists or an orchestra. You can also choose to go through ear training, which isn’t as hard as it sounds and read also this post about how to choose the right rosin for your bow!
Here is the process of tuning with an electronic tuner:
- Place the tuner near where you’ll be playing. If your environment is quiet, you can usually be within a couple of feet of the tuner. Some tuners actually clip onto the instrument!
- Turn on the tuner. You may need to select what pitch (note) you need to tune to. Usually, for violin, you start with A. Then, D, G, and finally the highest string, E.You may be able to simply play a pitch and the violin tuner will tell you what note you’re playing. Usually, this is called the “Auto-tune” mode, or something similar.
- Play only the string you’re tuning. Try to play specifically only that string and make sure there isn’t a lot of background noise. This particularly counts for students who learn to play the violin from the comfort of their home.
- Pay attention to the information on the tuner. Sometimes, you will see a set of lights that indicate if the string you’re playing is high or low. Other tuners have a needle that swings on a dial.
- Adjust the string(s) you are tuning by using the fine tuners for small adjustments and your pegs for larger adjustments. The fine tuners can only adjust within about one note of the string’s correct pitch. (So, for example, if you are tuning the A string and it is actually making the note G, you will probably want to use the fine tuners.) You may also want to take a look at this post about the world’s most expensive violins.
The tuner that I recommend for my students is typically something like a Korg tuner. It’s generally less than $20 and works on more instruments than just the violin and is okay for the early stages of learning to play.