How to tune your violin
Playing on a badly-tuned violin is of course not good for the development of the child’s ear!
Violins need to be tuned daily, because they are made of natural material which are sensitive to temperature and humidity variations. New violins, violins with new strings and seldom-used violins are the most unstable and will need more frequent tuning.
At first tuning will take you time but, once you get used to it, it’s not so difficult! However please note that it’s usually a little more difficult to tune the smallest children’s violins than it is for bigger violins, so you might want to train on the adult violin first!
Please do make sure to tune the violin(s) shortly before each group lesson, because if several violins in a group are badly out of tune the teacher will lose a lot of precious time at the beginning of the lesson!
First of all, make sure that the violin is in a good state and fully equipped: generally, any violin should be checked by a luthier (violin shop) at least once a year, because violins are delicate instruments (although children’s violins are usually a little more robust). A violin that is not checked will usually be more difficult to tune and not sound so good.
In particular, check the following with the luthier:
- the strings should not be too old.
- the tuning pegs (which are in the scroll or “head” of the violin) should be easy to turn as well as to fix in place (which is done by pushing them firmly back in after turning).
- a beginner’s violin (whether for a child or for an adult) should always have not just tuning pegs but also a tuning screw for each string. These are small screws attached behind the bridge, on the tail piece.
How to tune: each time you will need to check each of the four strings. An experienced violinist will do this by ear, but non-violinists (even if they are musicians) will generally prefer to use an electronic tuner (see accessories list). This will tell you, when you play a string, whether you need to tune that string up or down.
The four strings, when played as open strings (i.e. without pressing down a finger on the string or otherwise shorthening its vibrating length) and played in order from right to left (looking at the violin with the scroll at the top), are supposed to sound the notes E (mi), A (la), D (ré) and G (sol).
However you should tune the string in the order: A (second string) first, then D, G and finally E. Then you need to check everything again and again until you are satisfied that all the strings are in tune, because changing the tension in one string can affect the other strings. This effect is noticeable especially between E and G, the outer strings.
To tune a string up, screw in the tuning screw so as to inscrease the tension of the string. To tune down, unscrew.
The screw is very precise but has a limited range. If the string is too badly out of tune, or if the screw is already fully screwed in or out, you’ll need to use the peg. You probably won’t like this, because the pegs are less easy to use than the screws! So you might want to tune the string just a bit too high with the peg, fix it firmly in and then come down again using the screw (or the opposite, whichever is necessary to make the screw useful again).
If you need to use the peg, be careful not to break the string! The effect of turning the peg is much blunter than that of turning the screw: less than a ¼ turn should be more than enough, unless, of course, the string is very loose.