There are many issues beginner violinists are concerned about. For instance, some wonder should violin strings be tight. Or: some might be curious about whether or not should one practice violin with a tuner. Since we’ve answered the first one a couple of articles ago (click on the highlighted text), we’ll cover the second issue in the text you’re about to read.

Needless to say, some folks can’t solely rely on their ears while tuning an instrument. Whether it’s a violin or a guitar or whatever – it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that issues with poor intonation can sometimes demotivate folks from picking up instrument practice ever again. If you don’t like the sound of that, feel free to read our piece on violin practice with vs. without a tuner!

Most experienced violinists would recommend you use your tuner to tune only the A string. The rest of the strings (G, D, E) should end up being tuned to A. That way, you’ll exercise your ears by learning how to trust them and you won’t endure the pains of testing each tone using the tuner.

Now, now. Reading the preview doesn’t really count. So, yeah, you know what’s there to be done.

Everything you’ve always wanted to know about violin tuning

That’s a bit of an overwhelming title for an FAQ section (imagine if we’ve added the “but you were afraid to ask” part at the end), but who cares. Also, it’s not like we won’t cover all the basic info associated with tuning this wonderful string instrument. Anyway, here’s the stuff you’ll want to know about violin tuning!

How to tune a violin?

There’s a good chance most of our readers already know this, but tuning a violin is a process done by adjusting the so-called pegs or using the fine tuners (if possible) at the tailpiece. Most beginner violinists use a piano or a tuning fork to get the pitch of the strings to match. What about advanced players? They mostly bow the strings while modifying the violin pegs at the same time; the process is better known as bowed tuning. This type of tuning is, needless to say, much more accurate and it results in precise intervals of a perfect fifth between the violin strings.

Wait, what are fine tuners?

Have you noticed the little metal screws that are located on the top of the tailpiece? Yup, those are called fine tuners and they enable the violinist to modify the strings’ pitch quickly without much effort. Turn them clockwise and you’ll increase the pitch; turn them counter-clockwise and you’ll, of course, decrease it.

We’ve published an article recently about whether or not you’re able to take these fine tuners off a violin. Check it out!

Is it hard to tune a violin?

Of course, this one’s a beginner’s favorite. However, don’t expect a yes or no kind of answer. Tuning a violin isn’t something you’d call overly difficult nor totally easy. In other words: it doesn’t represent something that’s too difficult, but it’ll take some time until you’ve developed your ears properly. It’s safe to assume that regular, motivated practice is your best bet!

How often should you tune a violin?

You’ll want to tune your violin each time before practice. However, one shouldn’t be too afraid of playing an untuned violin (advanced players especially). There’s a saying about expert violinists playing well even if they’re out of tune. Imagine you’re performing; you can’t possibly tune your violin every 5 minutes or so. The thing is: your intonation needs to be pretty flexible and the way you practice should prepare you for the upcoming performance.

Also, if you’ve stored your violin with loosened strings, and it’s your first time playing the instrument this season, you’ll absolutely want to tune your violin before playing.

Why do professional violins not have fine tuners?

It’s not like professional violinists don’t use fine tuners; some of them don’t use all of the four fine tuners, they only keep one on their E string. It’s something of a tradition in the world of expensive violins. Also, fine tuners can sometimes “inspire” a buzzing violin tone or simply make it sound funny. One thing, though: nowadays, there are companies that produce tailpieces with built-in fine tuners that don’t possess the aforementioned issues, unlike the metal fine tuners beginner instruments are, well, usually stuck with.

Okay, so that’s that about some basic information surrounding the topic of violin tuning. Now it’s time to answer the question everyone’s pretty excited about: should you practice violin with a tuner?

A couple of violins without fine tuners.

Should you practice violin with a tuner?

First of all, one shouldn’t confuse this issue with practicing violin using fine tuners or something. Nope, we’ll be talking about standard digital violin tuners you must’ve seen someplace already. Okay, so shall we begin?

Most experienced violinists would agree with us when we say beginners shouldn’t practice without a tuner. However, most of them would also agree you should use it to tune only one string (A). Once you’re done tuning A, you’ll tune the rest to it. If you notice that you’re not so good at tuning your violin strings using just the A string, you’ll want to find a way how to do it. That’s because it’s a pretty good skill to possess; some would say it’s necessary since you need to be able to hear if your strings are in or out of tune, regardless of the circumstances.

Some folks tend to be a bit harsh, but we’ll still paraphrase what they had to say about this: if you’re unable to tell whether or not a certain string’s in tune without, of course, using a device, you’re in trouble. Violinists must “learn” to hear with their ears in order to find out if their strings are in or out of tune. See if you can get yourself at that stage where you can tune your violin using the tuner just for string A, and using that very same string to tune others.

Care to explain how that happens?

Okay, so here we’ll give you more of an in-depth look at the process of using your tuner to tune A, and then using fifths to tune your other strings. In other words: we’ll show you something every beginner should want to know. We’ve divided this section into three parts. Here’s what’s up!

Section #1

As we’ve said, start off by tuning your A string using the tuner. Once you’ve got the sound that’s alright, tune your strings D, G, and E by fifths. Why’s this so important? Well, you’ll learn how to hear the so-called beats also known as interference patterns. You’ll want to know that they occur once a perfect interval is out of tune. However, some folks suggest you can test out your strings using the tuner since that way you can track your success at hearing whether or not the strings are in tune.

Section #2

Next up, you’ll want to learn how to recognize the so-called ringing tones. What are ringing tones? They’re the ones that resonate with an open string; for instance, the most resonant are the upper octaves:

  • G on D.
  • D on A.
  • A on E.

The second most resonant are the lower octaves:

  • A on G.
  • E on D.

Finally, we get to the double octaves:

  • G on E.
  • D on E (third position).

We’ve excluded the somewhat obvious unisons such as D on G, for instance. After a little practice, you’ll be able to notice/hear resonance each time you play any of your strings. Afterward, once you’ve learned this, you’ll know for sure if a certain note needs a bit of adjustment and how you’re able to do it.

Section #3

Finally, you’ll need to learn how to focus on the so-called half-steps. As some experts say, they’re by far the most common intonation mistakes amount beginner violinists. To be more precise: failing on recognizing and executing them is the most “popular” intonation failure. Here’s how you’ll solve this issue without much hassle:

  • Now, most of the time, if you’re not sure where’s a half-step, your finger will most likely find a compromising solution and that will result in something that’s more of a 3/4 step. You’ll solve this issue by working with several lines of music and trying to identify every half step out there. Once you’ve identified them, simply name and mark them on the page. 

And here’s something for more advanced beginners (a bit of an odd construction, but you get the point):

  • Try to point out the so-called half-steps across swings. We’re talking about minor sixths and tritons, where your trusty fingers are at a half-step distance, yet they’re on different strings. Also, you can try recognizing the half-steps that are cut in two by an interning note (or two).

Even though some of you might disagree with the lines above, trying to get each note to sound perfect using a tune is a good old frustration drill no one’s really looking forward to. So, yeah, all in all: use the tuner to tune the A, and do the rest using that same string.

The bottom line

That’s that, dear music-loving folks. If you’ve ever wondered should anyone practice violin with a tuner, now you’re well aware of the answer! Also, if you’re on the lookout for some info and tips on various subjects all related to playing musical instruments, visit our blog page.