Why you should learn how to tune a violin for your child
Teachers always tune their students’ violins at the beginning of lessons, but what do you do if the violin goes out of tune during the week? Or what do you do if your child takes online violin lessons and the teacher isn’t there in person to tune?
It can be incredibly frustrating for kids to practice on an instrument that’s even slightly out of tune. Their ears and fingers are still in training. A lot of times, they’ll know something is off but they don’t know what.
If their violin is in tune when they practice at home, then both of you know that they need to adjust their finger, which is something they can do themselves, not adjust their instrument, which is something a lot of kids haven’t learned yet. Giving kids an in-tune instrument empowers them.
I’m going to walk you through how to get your child’s violin in tune in a simple, 4-step way so they can start practicing and you can quit worrying.
Step 1 of How to Tune a Violin: Find a safe position.
I always recommend that parents sit down when they’re tuning their child’s instrument. Feeling grounded will help you feel more confident and in control because the violin won’t slip and slide around while you’re making adjustments.
Once you’re sitting, prop the violin on your leg, letting the button rest on your leg. Hold the violin by the shoulder by putting your thumb in front and your other four fingers on the back. This will give you a firm, safe grip on the instrument.
(If you’re wearing a ring, either remove it before tuning your child’s violin or just be careful not to scratch the violin.)
I hold the violin with my left hand because I’m right handed, and I’m going to use the right hand to do the tuning.
If this were a tutorial for violinists on how to tune, I would have them go to play position, but I’ve found that parents feel much more confident tuning in this position. So don’t worry about posture or putting the violin under your chin or anything like that.
Step 2 of How to Tune a Violin: Rest a chromatic tuner or your phone with a tuner app on your right leg.
You have 2 options for what tuner to use:
Option 1: Use a chromatic tuner.
I have a chromatic tuner that I’ve had in my violin case for about 15 years. It runs on batteries, and I’ve been using it since before I had a smartphone, let alone a cell phone. Chromatic tuners like these are simple and easy to use.
My chromatic tuner is so old that I can’t link the exact one, but I found a comparable one on Amazon (that’s an affiliate link–thanks for your support!)
Option 2: Use a tuning app on your phone.
There are scads of tuning apps available–you might even have one on your phone already. If you need to download one, my favorite is ClearTune, although it does cost about $4. If you’re looking for a free download, TunerLite is a good choice. I’m going to show you how to tune with TunerLite since it’s a free app.
Why parents should use a tuner when learning how to tune a violin
I’ll just mention that there are many other ways to check the pitch when tuning. You can use a tuning fork, drone, or pitch pipe, or you can listen for beats in the sound with double stops. But since those are more advanced techniques, I’ll save them for a future video.
Using a tuner also means you’re tuning with your eyes instead of your ears, which is the opposite of what we want to teach kids to do. But, as I said, this is a tutorial for parents to be able to tune quickly at home, and a tuner is the simplest way to do that.
Step 3 of How to Tune a Violin: Start tuning.
Pluck the A string with your free hand while watching the tuner. The tuner will get confused if it hears more than one pitch, so you need silence to tune. (If you’re using TunerLite, make sure you hit the tuning fork icon on the left first.)
If you need a reminder of which string is which, the strings in order from left to right when you’re facing the violin are G, D, A, and E, so the A string is the second string from the right.
As you pluck the A string, you need to check two things on the tuner:
1. The letter and number
These two elements go together. For the A string on the violin, the tuner should say A4, which is 440 Hertz.
The number after the letter just refers to the octave. If the A string is close to being in tune, it will say A4. If the string is way out of tune, it will probably say a different letter and maybe even a different number. If the tuner says B4 when you pluck the A, it is a whole note higher than it should be, so you need to bring it back down to A4.
If you’re using ClearTune or another app, you might only see the letter, not the number.
2. The needle
If the needle of the tuner is centered, then that note (the letter and number) is in tune. If the needle isn’t centered, then that note is out of tune.
Follow this chart I made to help you know what to do when using a tuner:
- If the pitch name (A4) is correct and the needle is centered, then you don’t need to do anything. The A string is in tune.
- If the pitch name is correct but the needle is not centered, then use the fine tuners.
- If the pitch name is not correct, then use the pegs.
Should you use the fine tuners or the pegs?
Use the fine tuners for little adjustments, and use the pegs for big adjustments.
To tune with the fine tuners:
Find the A string and follow it down to find its matching fine tuner. When you adjust the fine tuners, remember “lefty loosey, righty tighty.”
- Turning the fine tuner lefty loosey (counterclockwise) makes the tuner needle move to the left and makes the pitch lower.
- Turning the fine tuner to righty tighty (clockwise) makes the tuner needle move to the right and makes the pitch higher.
When you’re tuning with fine tuners, you might run into the problem of one of them being tightened all the way or loosened all the way. If this happens, then turn the fine tuner to a spot where it’s not in or out all the way. Then use the pegs.
To tune with the pegs:
A lot of parents are scared of moving the pegs, but if you’re careful and understand the mechanisms, then you don’t need to worry.
Check with your child’s teacher that this is okay for you to do. Some teachers prefer that parents never touch the pegs, but it really just depends on the teacher. If I have shown my students’ parents how to tune with the pegs and they feel up for the challenge, I’m happy to let them tune at home.
To find which peg is attached to the A string, follow the string up to the peg box. The A-string peg is on the top right.
“Lefty loosey, righty tighty” doesn’t work as well with the pegs since they’re sideways from where you’re facing.
- Turning the peg toward you loosens the string and makes the pitch lower.
- Turning the peg away from you tightens the string and makes the pitch higher.
You already know from watching the tuner if you need to make the A string go higher or lower in pitch, so now just choose the correct direction of turning the peg.
There’s an important trick to turning the pegs.
As you turn the pegs, don’t let the pegs pull out from the pegbox. The pegs stay where they are because of friction. So if you turn the peg and shimmy the peg away from the tight hole in the pegbox, the peg will slip. Then you’ll have too much slack and you’ll have to restring the violin string. This can be a pain if you don’t know how, so always put a little pressure toward the pegbox as you turn the peg. In other words, push in as you turn the peg.
It can be hard to use just the peg to get the tuner needle centered. So once you’ve moved the peg and gotten it to the correct note (A4 for the A string), switch to using the fine tuners.
Once you can pluck the A string and the app says A4 with the needle centered, the A string is perfectly in tune! Now move on to the other strings.
Step 4 of How to Tune a Violin: Repeat Step 3 for the other three strings.
The more you practice tuning your child’s violin, the easier it becomes. With enough practice, you’ll be able to check and fix the tuning in a matter of minutes or even seconds.
When you subscribe to the Practice Pizzazz email list, you’ll receive a welcome email with the tuning guide.
Now you have everything you need to tune your child’s violin quickly, confidently, and correctly!