Few instruments are as expressive and versatile as the violin. That’s why the instrument lends itself to so many different types of music, from classical and pop to jazz and folk music. Violins can play soft, romantic pieces or exhilarating crescendos. It’s no wonder this essential string instrument has been used by musicians for roughly 500 years.
Listening to a musician playing the violin can be a moving experience, but if the instrument is out of tune, it could have the opposite effect on the audience. Tuning a violin can be a little tricky at first, but with some practice, you’ll be able to get your violin in tune in no time.
What to Use
The four violin strings are tuned to G, D, A, and E. To tune your violin, each string must be matched with the correct note, either audibly or visually. The audible method uses a piano or a keyboard, while the visual method utilizes an electronic tuner.
Piano or Keyboard
You can use a piano or a keyboard to tune your violin by ear. If you go with a piano, make sure it’s in tune. Start with “middle C” as a reference; you don’t want to accidentally tune the violin an octave too high or too low. Use the piano’s sustain pedal to let the note play longer, leaving both hands available to tune your instrument.
Most beginning violinists will find using an electronic tuner to be the easiest method. The tuner detects the pitch of the string and displays whether it is too high, too low, or equal to the proper pitch of the note. Electronic tuners are relatively inexpensive, and you can even get tuning apps on your smartphone. Some tuners also generate a tone for each string that you can match.
Tuning the Violin
Once you’ve decided whether to use the audible or visual method, it’s time to start tuning your violin. The thickest string is the G string, followed by the D, A, and E strings. Test the strings to determine how far out of tune they are. If a string is slightly out of tune, you can adjust the pitch using the fine tuner method. If the string is very sharp or flat, try using the peg method. Both are detailed below.
Fine Tuner Method
Fine tuners are the small, round devices that look like screws, located at the top of the tailpiece. If your violin isn’t equipped with fine tuners, you’ll need to use the peg method for tuning.
- Lay your violin on your lap, taking care to prevent it from falling.
- Start with the A string. If the string’s tuning is too low-pitched, turn the fine tuner clockwise to tighten the string and raise the pitch. Pluck the string again. If necessary, tighten the fine tuner some more. If the pitch gets too high, go on to the next step.
- If the string you’re tuning is too high-pitched, turn the fine tuner counter-clockwise. This will loosen it and lower the pitch. Repeat if necessary. If the pitch gets too low, go back to step 2.
- Repeat this process with the D, G, and E strings.
For this method, you’ll be turning the pegs at the end of the violin to tune the strings. A word of caution: over tightening the strings can cause them to break.
- While seated, hold the instrument upright with the strings facing you. Rest the bottom part of the violin on your legs. Hold the violin firmly with one hand and turn the pegs with the other hand.
- Each string is attached to a different peg. You can see which peg each string is attached to:
- E. bottom right
- A. top right
- D. top left
- G. bottom left
- Start with the A string and continue in the same order as the Fine Tuner Method. Turn the peg toward you to correct strings that are sharp, or high-pitched. Turn it away from you if the string is flat, or low-pitched.
- Pluck the string as you turn the peg. This allows you to hear the pitch change.
- When you’re finished tuning a string, gently press the peg into the violin to keep it from moving and causing the string to go out of tune.
- Pluck the string again to test it. If you need to make a small adjustment, continue tuning with the fine tuner. If your violin doesn’t have a fine tuner, continue tuning by moving the peg.
Congratulations, you’ve tuned your violin! Now you’re ready to play.