Tuning the Instrument

Tuning Tips

How to tune a violin:

To make a string higher, turn the corresponding fine tuner clockwise, or for large adjustments turn the tuning peg toward the scroll.  To make it lower, the fine tuner should go counterclockwise or the peg should turn away from the scroll.  Note that any time you are working with the pegs, you’ll need to push in slightly as you turn, so that the peg has enough friction to stick in its place.  Usually it’s fine to just “get close” to the correct pitch with the pegs, and then use the fine tuners to get the string exactly right.


Standard tuning procedure is as follows:

Tune the “A” string to a reference pitch.  An electronic tuner is the best, but a piano or pitch pipe will also get you relatively close.

From here, the professional and most accurate method is to tune “by fifths”:

·         Play D and A string together, adjusting D while you play so that it is in perfect blend with A

·         Do the same with D and G, tuning G till it blends with D

·         Violins will next tune E with A; celli and violas will tune C with G.

For students who are not yet that coordinated, or who have a hard time hearing the blend of the strings, it is acceptable instead to bring the instrument down on your lap and tune each string to a reference pitch from tuner, piano, or pitchpipe.  This will not be as fully accurate, but it will serve the purpose.


Reference pitches for individual strings:

Violin— EADG in descending order. Highest string is the second E above middle C.

Viola and cello: A, D, G, C in descending order.  Viola’s highest string is A above middle C; cello’s highest string is A below middle C.


Suggestions for tuning by fifths:

Often students can tell a string is out of tune, but aren’t sure whether it’s too high (sharp) or too low (flat).  Playing the strings separately at this point will help: for example, in tuning A and D, play A alone; give you mind a moment to register what D should sound like, then play D and see how it really does compare.  Then put the strings together again, and tune the appropriate direction until you hear the strings blend into tune.

If your ears just lose track, or still aren’t sure whether a string is in tune, compare to a reference pitch again.  Or take the problem string completely out of tune with the fine tuners and start afresh—that sounds crazy, but it almost always works!

And if you’re completely stuck—bring it in to your teacher! J

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