Before You Start
All violins have 4 strings which are G, D, A and E – G is the lowest in pitch and the thickest string, and E is the highest in pitch and the thinnest string. As you hold the violin facing you, they are strung left to right in this order.
When the violin is set up (made ready for the player) the strings are stretched along the length of the violin and wound at the top by a peg. They have a degree of stretch but will happily snap if stretched too far. The thinner strings are more likely to snap than the thicker strings.
It is a good idea not to encourage children to turn the pegs on the violin. Many student instruments will have fine tuners at the bottom end of the violin which enable it to be tuned without using the pegs.
The teacher will almost always tune the violin for their young or beginner students, but the temptation is always there to have a go.
New students often fancy giving the tuning a go, and once it has gone properly out of tune with experimentation it is quite tricky to know how to get it back in tune.
The strings on a quality student violin will normally be synthetic core strings and made from a variety of materials. They are durable and ideal for giving a stable sound to the student.
We use D’Addario Ascente strings on our smaller hire violins and D’Addario Helicore on our ¾ and full-size instruments. We have found that these strings are by far the most pitch stable. Lower quality strings can be extremely difficult to tune, and just as hard to keep in tune.
Tuning Your Violin
To tune the violin, you will need a tuner – these are downloadable, electronic or from another instrument and will give you the correct pitch of each string. It is ideal to start with the A string and once this is in tune use this to tune the other strings.
If a string is very out of tune you can raise the pitch by tightening the string at the peg, or if too high in pitch you will loosen the string. If it is needing small adjustments, you will use the fine tuners on the tail piece to tune the violin and this is a much better method of tuning.
Your violin shouldn’t go wildly out of tune between playing so the fine tuners should be all that you need to use on a day to day basis.
You may find that you need to go over each string a few times to get them all in tune and in tune with each other. The tail piece will shift slightly on each tuning and this moves the tuning. It is a task that string players get used to very quickly and is well worth taking the time over so that you haven’t got a lovely tune going on that is awkwardly out of tune in places!
Likewise, the bridge can shift very slightly if tuning is taking place by an inexperienced hand and if too far can bring the bridge down. This isn’t a disaster but something that either the teacher or a trained luthier will have to put right for the student.
If you are a more experienced player, you may not have fine tuners on your violin and instead rely solely on the tuning pegs. These are fitted very accurately but may stiffen over time and in this case, you will need to apply some peg paste to enable them to move to enable tuning, but not slip.
The pegs need to be securely in the hole in the peg box but not so secure that they snap. You will learn how they feel as time goes on. You don’t want them slipping either as this will lead to hearing some very interesting sounds!
The pitch between all the notes are a 5th and new violinists will learn to hear this interval between notes and once one string is in tune you can play the next string together and hear what tuning is needed.
Tuning is all part and parcel of learning the violin and not something to be afraid of. All instruments have their idiosyncrasies and it is all part of the learning journey of your chosen instrument.
All of our hire violins arrive ready to play, they can sometimes lose their tuning slightly in transit, but not much. It is a lot easier to tune a violin that is very nearly in tune, than starting from scratch!