Learning Violin Tuning - Step-by-Step

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:

Fine tuners on a violin
Tuning with violin pegs

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:

  • You accidentally bump the violin (especially the bridge or the pegs)

  • You play for more than a few minutes (although I've had instruments stay in tune for more than an hour
  • Your pegs do not have enough friction in the pegbox. You can use Peg Dope to fix this. Peg Dope is applied to the part of the peg that is usually in its hole in the peg box. You have to loosen the string a lot to put Peg Dope on. It makes it easier to turn the peg.

    If the pegs are sticking really badly, by the way, you can loosen that peg some and pull it partially out of its hole, then use a regular pencil (made from graphite...NOT a colored drawing pencil) to "scribble" some graphite onto where the peg grips the pegbox. The graphite makes the peg turn more easily.
  • The weather / temperature changes
  • The humidity changes
  • The violin is cranky (joking here...sort of!)

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.

New Strings

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!)

How to Hold Your Violin While Tuning

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!

How you can hold the violin to tune it

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!

A way to hold the violin while tuning with the pegs

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!

Sitting and tuning the violin

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.

How to Tune Your Violin by Ear without an Electronic Tuner
Learn How to Tune Your Violin, Part 2 of 3

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:

  • Play your tuning sound / note. This is the note your are tuning to and is usually played on a piano, pitch pipe, or another instrument. Usually, this is an A. For information on what instruments / devices to tune to, please click here. (coming soon)
  • Listen to the note for a few seconds and pay attention to it.
  • Play your A string for a few seconds while the A is playing.
  • Compare the two sounds and adjust the string using your 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. 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. 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.

[VIDEO COMING SOON]

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):

  • 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 a dreadful discord (assuming that the strings are somewhat close to being in tune).

what are the strings on the violin

How to Tune Your Violin using an Electronic Tuner
Learn How to Tune Your Violin, Part 3 of 3

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:

  • 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 "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.
  • 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 using your 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.)