A complete guide to violin tuning or how to tune a violin

The violin has four strings and belongs to the largest family in the orchestra among with instruments such as viola, cello, and double bass. It can be tuned by rotating the pegs, which are located between the scroll and the nut, and fine tuners usually integrated into a tailpiece or added afterward. Violin has four pegs which are used for violin tuning and that correspond to four strings: G D A and E. They are tuned to intervals of a perfect fifth. Usually, violin tuning for people with experience is quite easy, but if you are a beginner, it might get a little tricky. Thus, it is essential to approach it with caution.

violin tuning 1

The first string we are going to tune will be A, second string from the E string ( the thinnest one) or third string from the G ( the thickest one). “A” is usually tuned to 440 Hz meaning that it vibrates 440 times per second. Most orchestras use 440 pitch. However, some of them, such as Los Angeles Philharmonic or New York Philharmonic, tend to tune to A-442, while Boston Symphony Orchestra or BSO may go up to A-444.

Baroque violin tuning

Apart from classical violin, if you ever decide to play the baroque violin, you would tune it to a -415 Hz. The baroque pitch used during the Baroque period in the 17th century sounds almost like a “g” sharp in standard A-440 tuning.

What gear to use in violin tuning

For “A” string tuning, you can use a tuning fork, a piano, an electronic tuner, or even an app from App store( IOS) or Google store( Android). You can even use violin tuner online and you can find it here in “Let’s start tuning A string” section. If you just starting your violin journey, you would probably need help in tuning G D and E strings, so tuning fork will not work for you because it’s tuned only to A pitch 440 Hz.

violin tuning 2
Piano
Electronic tuner

Let's start tuning A string

Play the pitch A on your tuning device and then pluck the A string gently with your finger or play it with the bow. If the sound doesn’t match but is very close, go to the fine tuner section below.
If the sound does not match at all, then visually trace a corresponding peg by following the string to the pegbox ( the scroll) and locate it. For “A” string, it is the upper peg on the right side of the scroll. 

Violin A string peg

 Make sure that you can rotate it, but remember to do it slowly and delicately since even a slight rotation of the peg can make a huge difference to the string’s pitch. Thus, if you are not sure which way to tune the string, try to loosen it first with the counterclockwise movement of the peg ( move the peg by approximately one -eighth towards the body of the violin, which is opposite to the top), releasing the tension a little bit and protecting the string from braking by overtightening ( that’s why we want to loosen the string first). After loosening it, pluck it again and listen to the pitch. It should sound lower than A-440 ( your tuner). In this section you can you Violin tuner online below to tune A string.

Here you can hear violin tuner online for A note

Peg rotation

If the A string is way out of tune, it might not be very clear at first how to match its pitch to a tuner. You will have to gradually start tightening the string ( rotating the peg towards the top or clockwise) with stops, so you can pluck it and check if the pitch gets closer to your tuner or a tuning fork. If the peg doesn’t hold the pitch and the string becomes loose right after rotating it, it is advisable to push the peg into the pegbox. While turning it, apply light pressure towards the scroll and simultaneously push the peg into the pegbox with your thumb and the index finger. Be gentle, and do it slowly. If you feel that the peg tightens in the peg-hole and stays in its position, stop pushing it inside. Continue tightening the string and comparing pitches. When you reach the desired pitch and find that it’s too high or too low( too flat or too sharp), then loosen the string and tighten it again until the pitch becomes identical to the pitch of your tuner.

Do not worry; this task might be embarrassing even for experienced players

Tuning D, G, and E strings

After getting the A string tuned, it is time to move onto D string and then G.
The peg for D string is on the top left side of the scroll. Use the same technique you used to tune A string. D string pitch is 293.66 Hz.
After you are done with D string, go to the G string. Its peg is on the left bottom side of the scroll. Its pitch is 196 Hz. Finally?
Congratulations!
You tuned all three strings successfully. Let’s go to the E string, the thinnest, and the most delicate string, which is usually made of steel or gold-plated steel in case you use Pirazzi Gold Violin E string. During the Baroque era, all strings were made of gut ( sheep or cattle intestines- sounds scary, right?), and it was easier to tune them, however, they didn’t seem so bright as of today, although the sound was warmer and had a richer tone.
The peg of the E string is on the right bottom side of the scroll. Pluck it first gently to hear the pitch. If it sounds close to the tuner’s pitch ( E pitch is 659.26 Hz), locate the fine tuner installed into the tailpiece. The technique is the same, tighten it with the clockwise movement. Moving it counterclockwise will loosen the string.

violin pegs

Fine tuners

Fine tuners were designed to ease the tuning process and make it more precise, especially for E string. In comparison with pegs, you will hardly be able to achieve that preciseness with as with fine tuners. If other strings on your violin have fine tuners, you can use them to perfect the pitch as you did with E string. Normally, if you are a beginner and just bought a violin from a violin shop, your instrument would probably have a tailpiece with built in fine tuners which is very useful and makes the tuning process easier and smoother. On the other hand, a tailpiece with built in fine tuners is heavier that a custom made wooden tailpece and does not transfer sound well. Moreover, finetuners tend to dampen sound. That is why professional violinists use only one fine tuner for “E” string and tune other strings with pegs. If you have an expensive instrument you wouldn’t want to dampen its sound with fine tuners and risk to have a heavy tailpiece installed on it. 

fine tuners rotation

Tips for tuning

What tuning gear should I use?

You can use a tuning fork
Piano
Electronic tuner
Or an app from your android phone or an iPhone. I tested many apps and found this app to be one of the best for tuning violin or viola which is free and easy to use called Tuner Lite by Piascore.

Some of my pegs do not stay in place, and even after pushing them inside the peghole, they tend to slip loosening the pitch.

 If pushing your pegs inside while tuning does not help and they do not hold the pitch, you will have to lubricate them. There is a special peg compound called “Hill the Original peg compound,” which you will need to apply to each peg individually. Unfortunately, you will have to remove the strings to take out the desired peg you want to lubricate. If you decide to do that, do not remove all strings at once. Do it string per string to preserve the stability of the bridge and the soundpost.

My strings continue going out of tune after I replaced them recently.

It is ok for new strings to stretch, although all of them are different depending on a brand, type and name. It can take from a few hours to a week or two for them to settle. Steel strings settle in( stretch out) faster than the synthetic ones. I use Vision Titanium Solo strings, and when I put them first, I have to wait for one week and a half for them to settle in. In contrast, when I used Pirastro Chromcor, I didn’t have to wait that much, only a few days.
When you change your strings, make sure to tune your violin first and check them every time after you finish your practice by tuning them again. At some point, you will notice that they will not require tuning anymore, which means they finally settled.

I have four fine tuners already installed in my tailpiece, isn't that great?

While fine tuners can help you with tuning, some experienced violin players prefer to use only one fine tuner for E string because it is more difficult to tune it with the peg. Many times you can find a violin tailpiece with already integrated fine tuners. Also, fine tuners can be very helpful if you use metal strings. In general, fine tuners are a must for beginners, but for professionals, they have some disadvantages such as:
They add weight to the violin.
They dampen the sound.
Sometimes they become a source of buzzes.

Thanks for reading this guide, I hope it genuinely helped you in violin tuning. If you have more questions, you are a student, or a parent of a student, and want to improve your violin playing, or looking for a violin tutor, you can schedule an online violin lesson with me.