I never realised how much of a mystery violin tuning can be to the unitiated until I watched my wife trying to tune my daughters violin. So to help all you folks out there, here is a brief guide.
The four strings are tuned G, D, A, E from lowest to highest.
I would imagine student violins are most commonly tuned to a piano. Other common devices for a reference pitch are pitch pipes and tuning forks
Start with the A, play the note on the piano/pitch pipe or tuning fork and tune the string to match the pitch.
The pegs can be used for larger changes, fine tuners for smaller adjustments. Turning them clockwise will tighten the string and raise the pitch, turning them anticlockwise will lower the pitch.
One word of warning. When your 5 year old son tries to tune his sisters E string, you will most likely end up with a broken string, and a trip to the music store. This is especially fun on the morning of a concert.
Now do the same for the D, E and G strings (uhh, tune them, not break them that is)
Not confident at matching the pitch? These days there are a lot of electronic aids for violin tuning. You can get relatively inexpensive tuners which will show you if you are sharp (too high) or flat (too low) and how far away you are from the target note.
You can get software for your computer and even some PDA's which will turn them into tuning devices.
You may see experienced violinists tuning their A to a reference pitch and then tuning the other strings by playing two strings together. How on earth do they do this?
What they are listening for is the sound of a perfect 5th - the interval between adjacent strings on a violin. You basically only learn this by experience. However there are a couple of tricks worth knowing...
If two adjacent strings are played together and they are close, but not quite a perfect 5th apart, you will hear a throbbing sound, which will increase in frequency as they get futher out fo tune, and decrease as they get closer. When the two strings are exactly in tune, you will get a very open sound with no throbbing.
You can also take a leaf out of the cellist books when violin tuning. Once your A is tuned, if you touch the string lightly exactly one third of the length of the string away from the nut you will get a harmonic note which is one octave above the E. If your E is in tune, when you touch the E string lightly at the exact middle of the string and play the note you will get the same pitch. If the two pitches do not match, adjust your E until it does.
Now do the same for the A and D - Play the D string at the 1/3 point and the A at half way - the two notes should match. Repat for D and G.
One final note (sorry for the pun) of caution - violins object strenuously to being dropped. Hitting the floor does all sorts of exciting things to violin tuning, none of which sound pretty. Take home message? Don't do it. (Please excuse me for a moment while I drag my daughter over to read this!!)
Hopefully this goes some way to demystifying violin tuning. If anything is not clear, drop me a message on the contact form.
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