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How to Tune Your Violin

kennedyviolins-violin-setup-pegs.jpgWhile each Kennedy Violins instrument is completely set up, inspected, and tuned by our staff of professional luthiers before secure shipping, your violin will require tuning before every practice session or performance. Playing in tune is challenging enough, so starting with a properly tuned violin is essential for your success!

Tuning for Children

If you don’t play the violin, but your child does, knowing how to tune a violin is an extremely valuable skill. You can help your young student to tune from day to day when practicing at home between lessons and rehearsals.

Tuned in Fifths

Violin strings are tuned to the notes G, D, A, and E, separated by what are called “perfect fifths.” (To hear a fifth, hum the first two notes of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”) Each string is the fifth note from neighboring string in the following pattern:

G[ABC]D[EFG]A[BCD]E— or — 1[234]5[234]5[234]5

Starting with A440

Traditionally, the A string is tuned first, then D, G, and E in relation to the A. Because the E string is the thinnest and most sensitive, it will be affected by the tuning of the other strings and should be tuned last.

Use Your Bow

Tune with the bow, not with your fingers (pizzicato). It’s easier to hear the pitch more accurately, and drawing the bow allows you to play a continuous, long, stable pitch. If you remove the violin from you shoulder, holding it upright in your lap to more easily turn the pegs, do you use pizzicato to tune as close to pitch as you can. Then return the violin back to your shoulder and check the pitch with your bow.

metronome-tuner-rowin-3.jpgTypes of Tuners

There are various types of tuners including tuning forks, violin pitch pipes, clip-on tuners, tuner/metronome combinations, and pianos. Essentially anything that will provide you with an accurate pitch can be used as a tuner.

Two Approaches to Tuning

The two methods of tuning are 1) tuning by sight and 2) tuning by ear.

1. Tuning by sight, or visual tuning, involves looking at a device that measures the pitch for you. Using a tuner with a dial, watch the dial move from the left or right to the center as you tune. Dial tuners allow for quick, accurate tuning. Clip-on tuners that sense the vibration frequencies of your instrument even allow you to tune in noisy environments — this can be very helpful in a rehearsal setting when other players are warming up. 

2. Tuning by ear involves hearing a given pitch, then tuning your violin to match that pitch. If you are a new musician developing your sense of pitch, this may be a challenge at first. Once the A string is in tune, tune each string to a perfect fifth in relation to that A. This is called relative tuning and takes practice to develop.

Pitch Sources

If you don’t have a piano or tuning device that will play an A440 for you, there are plenty of other options. Search for a website, app, or YouTube video that will play an A. Tuning apps are also available that allow you to tune using your mobile device.

Which Way to Turn the Pegs

When tuning with the pegs, turn them towards the scroll to raise the pitch and towards the bridge to lower. If you’re facing your violin, this would mean turning the peg clockwise on the right and counterclockwise on the left.

Tuning Up

Always tune from below pitch upwards to avoid over-tightening or breaking the string. Slightly put pressure on the peg, pushing it inward to stay in place as you turn the peg in very small increments — think in terms of millimeters. Without applying a small amount of pressure, the peg will slip and the string will come loosely unwound.

Types of Fine Tuners

If your violin was set up with one fine tuner on the E string or no fine tuners at all, Kennedy Violins is happy to install fine tuners or replace an ebony tailpiece with a composite tailpiece with built-in fine tuners. The advantage of built-in fine tuners is that they preserve the intended length of the violin string from the nut all the way down to the tailpiece. Independent fine tuners work just as well, but do shorten the overall length of string along the body of the violin.

Using Fine Tuners

“Righty, tighty!” Turning the screw clockwise to the right will tighten the string and raise the pitch. Counterclockwise will loosen the string and lower the pitch. Tip: Don’t rely exclusively on your fine tuners — you will find that they are insufficient for tuning larger discrepancies in pitch. Fine tuners are meant for very small adjustments, while the pegs are intended for general tuning.

Resetting Fine Tuners

Once the fine tuners are screwed in all the way down and won’t go any further, simply unscrew the screw until it is as far out as it can go without falling out. Then use the pegs to tune as best you can before returning to your fine tuners.

Double Stop Tuning

More advanced players can check the accuracy of their tuning by playing what’s called a “double stop,” or two neighboring strings at the same time. Playing a pair of strings allows you to listen for the perfect fifth and adjust until the harmony is accurate.

How Often Should I Tune My Violin?

Tune your violin before every practice or performance session. Changes in environment, such as moving from the hot, humid outdoors to a cold, dry air conditioned room indoors, can cause your violin to go out of tune. Wood expands and contracts as it reacts to climate changes, requiring more frequent and intermittent tuning of your violin.

Tuning New Strings

New strings take some time to stretch after installation and need to be tuned more frequently until they have settled. Synthetic-core strings — such as Thomastik-Infeld Dominant Strings — are stretchier than steel-core strings and may fall out of tune more noticeably during the first week of use.

Common Problems with Violin Pegs

Sticky Pegs: Pegs sometimes make creaking and cracking noises as you turn them — or even get stuck. A small about peg dope can be used to lubricate the peg, allowing it to turn more smoothly.

Slipping pegs: As friction is what holds the pegs in place, the peg may just need to be pushed inward with some gentle pressure for a better grip. If the peg is still not gripping or staying in place, it is likely not properly fit or making complete contact around the inside of the peg hole. No matter the circumstance, DO NOT push the peg in too forcefully or too far as the pressure may split the wood of the peg box around the peg hole. This can be repaired, but is best to be avoided.

Improperly installed strings: Pegs may also slip if the strings are improperly wound onto the peg. For more information on how to properly string a violin to prevent slipping pegs, see the following article on the Kennedy Violins Blog by Kennedy Violins founder Joel Kennedy: "How to Prevent Slipping Violin Pegs."

Peg hole in the wrong place: If the string is slipping, not tuning up, or coming out when turning the peg, examine the location of the small hole drilled into the peg. Over time as the wood around the peg compresses, the hole in the peg may slowly move towards — or even into — the peg hole on the other side. A new hole will need to be centered and drilled into the peg to hold the string in the right place.

Common Problems with Fine Tuners

Stripped screw: If the screw is stripped, the best solution is to entirely replace the fine tuner instead of trying to find a replacement screw.

Fine tuner scratching the violin: When the fine tuner screws are screwed all the way down, sometimes they push the bottom lever low enough to scratch or damage the violin face below. The fine tuners may be too big. Try another type or size of fine tuner, or be mindful to never screw the fine tuner down far enough to make contact with the wood.

Questions?

At Kennedy Violins, we want everyone to sound their best, and starting with a tuned violin is the first step. Give us a call at 1-800-779-0242, email support@kennedyviolins.com, or stop by Kennedy Violins' Vancouver location for a fast and free “How to Tune Your Violin” lesson!