Tuning up is a fundamental part of preparing to play your violin. Any violin tutor will tell you this.
Just as you tighten the horsehair on the bow and apply rosin to prevent slippage, you should also make sure that the violin strings are at the desired pitch before you start playing – skipping this step can make for some uncomfortable listening!
Being in-tune is not just important for your own violin music, but it is also incredibly important if you’re playing in an ensemble such as a string quartet or symphony orchestra: if your violin isn’t in-tune with everyone else’s, it will be noticed.
How are you supposed to tune a violin? Where can you buy violin tuners from? Is there such a thing as an online violin tuner?
Whether you’re a complete beginner violinist wanting to find out how to tune your violin before playing your best rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, or you’re an advanced player looking for the more efficient way to tune up your Stradivarius, this article will guide you through the world of violin tuners.
How to Tune a Violin
For beginners, learning how to tune each violin string before practicing or before a lesson can take some getting used to.
What is the best way to tune a violin? When do you use the tuning pegs? What are the fine tuners for?
The four strings of a violin are tunes in perfect fifths. This means that the note of each string is five notes above the one before it (according to its key signature). From lowest to highest, the strings are tuned to G, D, A and E (where G is below middle C and E is one octave above middle C).
To begin the violin tuning process, always start by plucking the A string and either comparing it to an A on a piano or use a violin tuner.
If the pitch of your A string is very far away from what it should be, bring it into tune using the corresponding tuning peg located on the scroll of the violin. If there is only a small difference between the pitch of the A string and concert A, you should use the fine tuners.
- Tuning Up with Tuning Pegs:
Generally, a violin’s tuning pegs only need to be used after the instrument has been restrung or exposed to extreme temperatures. If you have to adjust your strings too often using the pegs, you might need to overhaul your instrument or look to a better quality violin.
If the pitch of the string is too high (or sharp), you will need to loosen the string to lower the pitch. In the same way, if the pitch is lower than it should be (or flat), tightening the string will raise the pitch.
When using the violin’s tuning pegs, be sure to turn them slowly and carefully as yo continue to pluck each string to avoid damaging the violin or breaking the strings.
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Continue plucking the A string until you are satisfied that it is at the correct pitch, then firmly push the tuning peg into the scroll whilst supporting the scroll in the palm of your hand to ensure that it retains its position.
Next, do the same with the D string, then the G string, followed by the E string.
Once all of the violin’s strings are close enough to being in-tune and their tuning pegs have been secured, move onto the fine tuners to make the tuning even more accurate.
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- Tuning Up with Fine Tuners:
Fine tuners are used when a violin’s strings are mostly in-tune, but which may need slight tweaking to make the overall tuning more accurate and harmonious with the rest of the ensemble.
You should aim to use your violin’s fine tuners as much as possible, only using the tuning pegs for restringing the instrument.
The fine tuners are located just below the bridge of the violin, at the top of the tailpiece. Each one is a screw which turns in both directions to tighten and loosen each string.
Players should start by measuring the pitch of their A string against a keyboard or tuner before adjusting its tightness accordingly.
Top tip: For fine tuning, remember the saying ‘righty tight, lefty loosey’. Turning the screw to the right with tighten the string, making the pitch higher, and turning it to the left with loosen the string, making the pitch lower.
Once again, when the A string is in-tune, continue tuning the violin starting with the D string followed by G and E.
Buying a Violin Tuner
Unless you have perfect pitch (the ability to memorise the exact pitch of notes), you’ll need something to help you tune your violin.
When it comes to tuning up, there is a wide range of gadgets on the market to suit every violinist - and every violin you buy.
Here are the main categories:
- Standard microphone tuner: microphone tuners, as the name suggests, work by listening to the note being played by an instrument. While the electronic tuner ‘listens’ to the note, it displays the note being played on the screen and features a needle indicating whether the note is sharp or flat.
- Metronome tuner: Metronome tuners are simply instrument tuners which are built into metronomes. Some may work as microphone tuners, whereas others might simply play a given note for musicians to compare their tuning to.
- Clip-on chromatic tuner: Clip-on tuners work by sensing the frequency of the vibration of the strings through the headstock of the violin, rather than by listening to the note itself. This can be incredibly useful for orchestral rehearsals, where a microphone tuner may be influenced by the sound coming from other musicians and offers a higher level of precision.
It’s worth bearing in mind that tuners which are used for tuning violins are rarely ever sold as ‘violin tuners’. This is because they can also be used for other stringed instruments such as the viola, cello, guitar or the ukulele, and some are even suitable for tuning the trumpet or clarinet.
Instrument tuners can be bought from most music shops and online stores. Remember to look at the reviews - like violin prices, the price of tuners is often proportionate to their quality, but that doesn't mean you can't get anything decent for as little as £5 – so there’s no excuse to be flat!
Which is the Best Violin Tuner App?
The birth of the smartphone has made simple daily tasks easier than ever before.
For musicians, being able to tune instruments using a mobile phone make life far easier.
So, if you happen to turn up to rehearsal without your digital tuner, don’t worry – there’s an app for that!
However, tuning apps tend to work using a microphone rather than by sensing the vibrations of an instrument directly, making them slightly less sophisticated than the headstock tuners available from music shops, but if you’re looking for convenience, using a tuning app could be the best option for you!
So, what are the most popular tuning apps among violinists and why?
- Availability: iOS and Android
- Price: £99
- Superprof’s favourite feature: Support for transposing instruments and non standard tuning
The Cleartune chromatic tuner has been acclaimed by famous names including the Black Keys. As a microphone tuner with a pitch pipe feature, Cleartune is top of the pile when it comes to tuning apps.
It is very obvious that this app has been developed with the musician in mind, as it features options for automatic and manual note selection and help for people transposing their instruments (changing the key of an instrument).
- Availability: iOS and Android
- Price: £99
- Superprof’s favourite feature: Customisable sensitivity
If you’re looking to spend a little less on your tuning app, then Pano Tuner is a fantastic alternative to Cleartune – and there’s also a free version available on iOS!
Pano Tuner works using the device’s microphone to ‘listen’ to the pitches being produced by an instrument.
As Pano Tuner is a chromatic tuner, it can display any note played by your instruments, which makes it suitable for a range of instruments regardless of pitch or timbre.
- Availability: Android
- Price: Free
- Superprof’s favourite feature: No interruption from advertisements
This tuning app is very highly rated on the Google play store – and the best part is that it’s free!
Tuner – gStrings Free offers chromatic tuning, custom temperaments and a pitch pipe – all for free! And the ads are so small that they will never hinder your ability to tune up.
So, when it comes to tuning up, forget the tuning fork and the piano – find yourself a violin tuner online through the app store!
Once you have tuned your violin and practised, don't forget to wipe down your bow and instrument to remove the excess Rosin and keep your violin in good condition.