A well-tuned violin forms the base of good intonation! If just one of the strings is even slightly too sharp or flat, then every note you play will sound slightly out of tune and the balance of your sound will be off, meaning you won’t be able to hit the right notes or play a melody that you can immediately recognise. Ultimately, it’ll make playing your violin a miserable experience. Being able to tune up is an essential skill for any violinist, so here, Guestblogger and professional violinist, Nicolas Penel offers a clear guide to bring your violin up to perfect pitch.

How Do I Tune My Violin?

Perfect Fifths

The strings of the violin are tuned in perfect fifths. From the lowest pitched to the highest pitch:
G – D – A – E

When tuning your violin, your starting point is always the A string, which is tuned to 440 Hz as standard.

When your violin is well tuned, you’re able to train your ear and your intonation. Intonation describes the placement of your fingers to play specific notes. With a guitar, the frets provide a guide to the intonation of the instrument, but a violin has no frets. So to find a specific note, your ears and fingers are your only guide.

By playing open strings you can quickly check the tuning:

  • By playing the high A on the E-string with your middle finger and playing the A string, you can compare them and check the tuning of the high A. This should match the note of the open string, but be an octave higher.
  • To get a pure ‘unisono’ sound, you can (for example) play the A on the D-string with your ring finger while playing the open A-string.

A well-tuned violin also has improved resonance, which only leads to better sound.

Comment bien accorder son violon et se donner toutes les chances pour jouer juste

How Do You Know Your Violin is In Tune?

  • Use a tuner: for beginners, a clip-on tuner is the easiest way to accurately tune your instrument. This small device is simply clipped onto the scroll of your violin and detects the string vibrations or sound before indicating whether the note is sharp or flat via some form of display. Over time, you’ll start to recognise the correct pitch of each string more easily as you train your ear.

There are plenty of tuners available to help tune your violin. The Fazley T-30 is a nice and cheap example that’s easy to use, but there are plenty to choose from. You can even get tuners with an integrated metronome!

  • Use an app on your smartphone: tuning apps work in the same way as clip-on tuners and offer a visual guide. There are many tuning apps available for both iOS and Android phones, and some can even be downloaded for free. Tuning with the help of an app is actually very reliable. You can simply place your phone on a music stand nearby so it can detect the pitch.
  • Use another instrument: another option is to tune your violin with the help of another instrument like a piano. To use this method, you do need to have a well-trained ear, since you’ll have no visual reference like you do with a tuner or app. You’ll also need to be certain that the piano is in perfect tune!
  • Tune in perfect fifths, starting with the A: this method takes a lot of practice and will be more comfortable for experienced musicians. The first step is to tune the A string using a tuning fork, tuner, or another instrument. Then, you can tune the other strings by playing two strings at the same time:

A-D / D-G / A/E

To use this method, you need to be able to play two strings at the same time and be able to hear and recognise the perfect fifths. This takes a lot of practice and experience to learn, but for a violinist, it’s an essential skill since it means you can immediately hear if the strings are perfectly tuned.

Comment bien accorder son violon et se donner toutes les chances pour jouer juste

How Does it Work?

Violin strings are wound around tuning pegs. These pegs determine the tension of the strings, and by loosening or tightening the strings, you can change the pitch to tune your violin. Some violins have fine tuners on the tailpiece which can be used for high-precision tuning. Most practice violins will have a fine-tuner per string while many advanced violins will only have one fine-tuner for the E-string.

In any case, using your preferred method (a tuner, piano, tuning fork), it’s best to tune your violin by plucking the strings rather than bowing them. The resonance when plucking is better for accurate tuning and it leaves your hand free to adjust the tuning pegs.

If the string is clearly out of tune then use the corresponding tuning peg to correct it. Always start by loosening the string before bringing it up to pitch, even if the pitch needs to be raised. This will make adjusting the tuning peg easier since the peg is slightly loosened from the mechanics. Now, gently push in the peg and carefully turn it to tune the string. Turning the tuning pegs very slightly will already make a big difference in pitch. You can then use the fine-tuners to tune with a little more accuracy. Once done, you can use the bow to check your tuning as described above.

If the pitch of all your strings is almost perfect and you can hear, or see on your tuner, only a very slight difference in pitch, then you can make any adjustments using the fine-tuners.

Comment bien accorder son violon et se donner toutes les chances pour jouer juste

A Few Tips

  • It might be that one of the fine-tuners is fully screwed in and you can’t tune the string any higher. In that case: loosen the fine-tuner almost all the way and then tighten the string using the tuning peg.
  • Never tighten your strings too much or you’ll risk snapping them!
  • Keep an eye on the bridge! The comb can sometimes start to lean or bend forward while tuning, so make sure to straighten it to prevent it from tipping over.

Which tuning method works best for you? Do you use a completely different method? Let us know in the comments.

See also…

» Acoustic Violins
» Electric Violins
» Children’s Violins
» Violins Stands
» Violin Tuners & Tuning Pipes
» Violin Strings
» Violin Books
» Violin Cases

» 5 Violin Tips for Beginners
» How to Tune Your Ukulele
» How to tune your drum kit
» How to tune your guitar or bass

Guestblogger Nicolas Penel
Nicolas Penel is a highly versatile violinist and a big fan of chamber music as well as string quartets. He has been awarded multiple international prizes for his playing and has performed on many famous stages across Europe, including the Salle Gaveau in Paris and the Salzburger Festspiele. Nicolas also has more than 25 years of experience as a violin teacher and shares his knowledge with both beginner and advanced musicians via his website Violinotech.
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