When you begin learning the violin, there is a range of playing techniques you’ll need to master – but another important skill you’ll also need to pick up is tuning your instrument.
Just like playing, this is something you’ll get better at with time and practice – and to help, here are our top 17 tips to tune a violin.
For a preview of some of the stuff we’re going to be talking about – as well as a couple of other tips – here’s a video about 8 ways to tune a violin.
How to Tune a Violin
1. Know the names of the strings and which tuning pegs go with them
The first thing to do for a complete beginner who wants to know how to tune a violin is to learn the names of the strings.
The thickest string is G, followed by D, A and finally E, the thinnest string.
There is an easy way to remember this by using the mnemonic Good Dogs All Eat.
Next, you need to know which tuning peg is connected to each string. With the violin facing you and the pegs at the top, the bottom peg on the left is G, the one above it is D, the top one on the right is A and the one below that is E.
However, you don’t need to remember this because it’s easy to see which peg is connected to which string. You just need to follow the string up from the instrument and it will be obvious which peg it is attached to.
2. Know which way to turn the pegs and fine tuners
You tune a violin using the pegs at the top and the fine tuners at the other end of the strings. However, before you start, you need to know which way to turn them to tighten or loosen the strings.
With the pegs, you turn them away from the violin to tighten the strings and raise the pitch, and you turn them towards the violin to loosen the strings and lower the pitch.
With the fine tuners, you turn them clockwise to tighten the strings and raise the pitch whereas if you want to loosen the strings and lower the pitch, you turn them counterclockwise.
3. Always tune low to high
When tuning a violin, you should always start with the pitch too low and tighten the strings to arrive at the desired pitch.
This is because this way, you have greater control over what you are doing than when loosening the strings to lower the pitch; beginners especially will find it much easier to do it like this.
This means that when you start tuning, if you find the pitch is too low, you should first lower the pitch to below the correct note and then tune up.
4. Tune A first
The first string you should tune is always the A string, the third from the left when holding the violin facing you with the pegs at the top. After this, tune the D string followed by the G and then finally the E string.
5. Use the fine tuners as much as possible
For beginners especially, try to use the fine tuners as much as possible, only using the pegs when you really need to (for example, if the string is more than a semitone out of tune).
This is because the fine tuners are much more accurate, so it will be easier to find the correct pitch. If you use the pegs, it will also be much easier to over-tighten the strings.
6. Turn pegs in tiny increments
If you need to use the pegs because the string is out of tune by a lot, make sure you only turn them a tiny bit at a time – less than one millimeter for each turn.
This is because even a tiny turn on a peg will make a significant difference to how tight the string is and will have a large effect on the pitch of the string.
This is especially true of smaller violins, so if you are tuning a violin for a young child, you need to be extra-careful with this.
7. Avoid over-tightening
Above all, avoid over-tightening. If you tighten the strings too much, you may increase the tension so much that the strings snap.
Worse, if the strings don’t snap, the increased tension may even damage the structure of the violin itself, so you need to be extremely careful not to do it.
8. Push peg in as you turn it
If you need to turn a peg, with most models you need to push it in slightly before it will turn. They are designed not to pop out by accidents, and this design means they won’t turn unless you push them in at the same time.
9. How to tune if fine tuner is wound all the way
As we have already noted, you should always try to tune the violin by tuning up using the fine tuners.
However, if your fine tuners are tightened as far as they will go – meaning they are fully tightened in the clockwise direction – you need to loosen the string and retighten with the peg.
First, untighten the fine tuner by turning it all the way in the counterclockwise direction.
Next, carefully tighten the string using the corresponding peg. You need to tighten the string to the point where it is less than a semitone below the desired pitch.
When you are approaching the correct tightness and pitch, stop turning the peg and switch to the fine tuner. Begin tightening it as usual by turning it in the clockwise direction until you achieve the desired pitch.
10. Use a tuning device
Many devices exist that can help you to tune your violin accurately, including digital, electronic and chronometric tuners.
If you have one of these devices, start by attaching it to the scroll of your violin and pluck the string or play it with your bow.
All devices differ slightly, but the basic design is usually similar. You will see an arrow that points to either side of a central line. If the arrow is to the left of the line, your pitch is too flat while if it is to the left, your pitch is too sharp.
This will allow you to adjust the string as required to move it towards the right pitch. Tighten or loosen it as required then play the string again to see if it is now properly tuned. If not, simply repeat the process until it is correctly tuned. You may need to do this several times.
Here’s a video that shows how it’s done.
11. Tune using a piano
If you don’t have a tuning device, you can also tune your violin using a correctly tuned piano or an electronic keyboard.
As usual, you should tune your strings in the order A, D, G, E. Find the Middle C on the piano and start by playing the A immediately above that note (five keys to the right). You then need to tune your violin to that note by ear.
The best way to do this is to use the pedal so the piano note continues and you have both hands free to tune your violin.
Play the note on the piano, and while you can still hear it, play the A string on your violin. You should be able to hear if you are too flat or too sharp, and you can then adjust the pitch until you are correctly tuned.
As we have already mentioned, since it is easier to tune up than down, if you find you are too sharp, it might be easier to adjust your string so that it’s too flat and then tune it up.
Keep playing the piano note and the corresponding string on your violin, adjusting each time, until you have tuned it correctly. Once you have your A string correctly tuned, repeat the process with the D, G and E strings.
12. Tune using a tuning fork or YouTube
If you don’t have a tuning device or a correctly tuned piano, you can use a tuning fork. The tuning fork will give you the A note, and you can use this to tune your A string.
From there, since violins strings are tuned in “perfect fifths”, it is then possible to tune the other strings from this – although this is a skill that takes some practice, and as a beginner, you might not be able to manage.
If you don’t have a tuning fork, you can even use YouTube to help tune your violin! Here’s the video that will give you the A note to tune to – simply use the tone in the same way as you would use an A from a piano or a tuning fork.
13. Check other strings after turning a peg
Since turning pegs will affect the pitch of the other strings, if you need to turn a peg to tune your violin, it is important to check the other strings again after because they may require further fine tuning.
14. Finish by checking strings together
Once you think you have finished tuning your violin, having checked each individual string, as a final check, you should play consecutive strings together.
Play D and A together, G and D together and finally, A and E together. Since violins are tuned to perfect fifths, when you play these pairs of strings together, they will just sound “right” if they are correctly tuned.
On the other hand, if they create a discordant sound – something that should be quite obvious to most people – you will need to go back and work through the tuning process again.
When your violin is correctly tuned, these strings will sound “happy” when played together.
15. Understand that new strings need tuning more often
Something important to understand – especially for novices who might not realize this – is that new strings need to be retuned more often, even as much as every 15 minutes or half an hour while you play.
This is because when you tighten strings to tune them you stretch them, after which they gradually go slack. This happens much faster with new strings, but after they have been stretched more, they go slack less quickly and you won’t have to retune them as often.
This means if you are playing with new strings, you should keep your ears open to hear when your instrument goes out of tune and be ready to tune it again as required.
16. Understand that the weather and other factors can affect your strings
Another point to note is that strings can be affected by the weather – including humidity and temperature – as well as even the style of music you are playing.
Again, this means that in certain conditions, you should be prepared to tune your violin more often, even in the middle of a practice session.
17. Stick with it!
When you learn to play the violin, learning how to tune it is a vital skill that you will need to master, just as much as any other skill or technique.
When you first try to tune your violin, it will probably take a lot of time, effort and trial and error, but with experience, you will get better at it.
Go slowly and work on mastering the skill just like any other, and eventually, you will be able to do it without any problems.
At the beginning, you will need to use a tuning device or tune with a piano, but with dedication and practice, you will find you are able to tune your violin by ear – and this is a very valuable skill to develop.
Learning to tune a violin takes time, but if you stick with it, you will soon find that you can do it without any problems.
A skill that needs to be worked on like any other
As you can see, tuning a violin is not just as simple as turning a couple of knobs, and there are a lot of techniques to pick up that will help you become better at it. However, as a beginner, if you apply our 17 tips for how to tune a violin, you will soon see how much your skill improves.