Tuning your violin is usually something you leave to your instructor or another more experienced player, because of the possibility of breaking strings. However, sometimes, you don't have that luxury! Because of that, we will cover how to tune the violin all by yourself on this page.
Note: There is always the possibility of breaking strings when you are tuning. Most of the time, when a string breaks, it doesn't damage anything or anyone. However, be very careful when tuning. There is always the slim chance that a string will break and strike you. Beginners are more at risk of breaking strings, usually by changing the pitch of a string upwards too fast or too far.
The two parts of the violin that are used when tuning are the pegs and the fine tuners:
It's very common to accidentally try to tune using the wrong peg or tuner, so pay attention to what peg/fine tuner you're turning!
The fine tuners can only tighten and loosen a certain amount. You turn them clockwise to raise the violin string's pitch/note and counter-clockwise to lower the violin string's pitch.
The pegs are turned so that the top edge of the peg turns away from you to raise the violin string's pitch and the opposite direction to lower the violin string's pitch.
Note: Tightening a string too much with the peg (way over the note that the string is supposed to be at) may cause the string to snap. Loosening a string too much may cause the string to fall off of the violin, which means you would need to have it put back on again.
Violins generally need to be tune at least once per playing session. The violin will need to be tuned more often than that if:
First of all, inspect the strings on the violin (if you just got the instrument). If there are any parts of the strings that have frayed parts or are very discolored (compare the color to the rest of the string), you really need to go get new violin strings to tune. If you get new strings, I strongly recommend you get someone at the music store to install the strings for you. However, if you need to install the strings yourself, check out this page (coming soon!). If your strings pass the inspection, though, continue below.
If you just got new string(s), you are in for a treat! New strings need to stretch over a week or two. This means that you will need to retune the strings quite often. In the first week, this usually means several times per playing session.
The other strings that were not replaced (during this session of adding new strings) sometimes also need to resettle in after the new string is installed. This resettling generally takes only a day or so. No other special treatment is needed.
For information about how (and if you should try) to install strings, please click here. (coming soon!)
There are three ways to hold the violin while tuning. My personal preference depends on how out of tune the violin is.
Method #1 (See the picture just below): I use this technique when the violin is not very far out of tune. Hold the violin in the standard playing position, including the bow.
Play the string you are tuning the regular way with the bow and reach around with your left hand (move your left arm further in front of you, so your hand will come from the side of the violin that your face is not on) to the fine tuners. Most student violins have all four fine tuners on the tailpiece. More advanced instruments often do not have all (or any!) fine tuners because the lower strings tend to be thicker.
Bow on the string while adjusting the fine tuner. Be aware that fine tuners only screw in or out so far. If you are still out of tune and the fine tuner will not turn in the correct direction anymore, the violin will have to be tuned using the pegs instead. Never adjust the strings on your violin without listening to pitch of the string you are tuning!
Method #2 (See the picture just below): While sitting, set the bow aside temporarily. Place the violin, upright, on your knee. The strings should be facing you. Hold the violin with one hand and adjust the pegs with the other. As you adjust the peg, be sure to press inwards gently at the same time, so that you maintain the friction between the peg and the pegbox. Never adjust the strings on your violin without listening to pitch of the string you are tuning!
Method #3 (See the image just below): This method is also used for when the violin is horribly out of tune. While sitting, set the bow aside temporarily. Take the instrument and hold it in your lap as if you were playing a little guitar. You should be able to look down and left and see the pegs. The bridge should be faced away from you.
Use your right hand to pluck the strings while adjusting the pegs with the left hand. You have to be careful not to put too much pressure on the bridge. Never adjust the tuning on your violin without listening to pitch of the string you are tuning!
If, while you are tuning with the pegs, the pegs won't move or don't want to stay, you will need to put something onto the pegs themselves to make them stay in better. Do NOT use glue or something not intended specifically for violin pegs! Please see this page for more information about how to adjust the pegs as needed. (coming soon)
When do you pluck to tune and when do you use the bow to tune? Generally, bowing on the string will give you a longer sound to think about. You have to listen to the sound to figure out if the violin is in tune or not. For most people, they tune better when bowing because of this.
The first important thing to remember when you are tuning is 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. For more information about ear training, please click here. (coming soon)
Usually, the steps go like this:
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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):
Having an electronic violin tuner simplifies the process a lot! However, some teachers believe that using a tuner deprives a student from being able to hear if a note is out of tune. My experiencd 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. 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!
Here is the process of tuning with an electronic tuner: