Claire Curtis Violins
violinmaking

Tuning your Violin

Article by Claire Curtis

Violins are tuned G - D - A - E.
GDAE on staff

D:
G:
A:
E:

The first string to tune is the A string, the one that connects to the peg closest to the scroll.

Violin pegs are tapered, and stay in place by friction. This means that when you turn the peg, you must also push it in. Some players can do this with one hand; others must use both hands. Some players brace the scroll against their chin and push against the pegbox that way.

Just as your bow needs rosin, the pegs need peg dope to stick (but not get stuck) in the pegbox. It doesn't need to be applied very often, but when you change a string, take advantage of the opportunity to lubricate the peg.

Bring the string up to pitch rather than go too sharp and come down. Too much tension can break the string.

The second string to tune is the D string, which is a fifth lower than the A. The peg is the second one down from the pegbox, on the left. If you can, tune this 'by ear'. You can also use a reference pitch or a tuning device.

The third string to tune is low G, a fifth lower than the D. This is the lowest string on the instrument, and the lowest peg.

The last string to tune is the high E, a fifth higher than the A. It probably has a fine tuner on the tailpiece. If the fine tuner is already tightened all the way, loosen it as much as possible and tune using the peg. That will give you room to do the final tuning with the fine tuner.

Now hold the violin horizontally and look at the bridge. The tailpiece side of the bridge should be straight upright (90°). If tuning has pulled the top of the bridge towards the fingerboard, you should very gently and carefully straighten the bridge.

Now you are in tune - or so you thought. Unfortunately, since tightening one string affects the tension on the others, you are probably out of tune again. If you had to straighten the bridge, you definitely will be slightly out of tune.

Go through your pitches again, and be more picky this time. Play two adjacent strings; you should hear a perfect fifth.

Other notes:
If your pegs are slipping, they may need to be refitted. This is normal; as the humidity changes through the year, the pegs react by swelling or shrinking. Since they move more across the grain than with it, they become oval. An oval peg in a round hole will stick sometimes and slip other times. Refitting the peg will correct this -- until the next seasonal change in humidity.

Some tailpieces have fine tuners on all four strings; this vastly simplifies the final tuning.

If you need to replace your strings, it is best to do it one string at a time, so that the soundpost and bridge stay put, and the stresses on the violin do not change too much.

New strings will stretch a little. Depending on the type of string, they may need major retuning several times over the first week or two, before they 'settle in'.

If your violin has no strings on it at all, put the strings on the pegs moving up from the fingerboard. That is, the G goes on first, then the E, the D, and finally the A. That way you have full access to each peg; it is not partially covered by the other strings.

At the beginning of this essay, I gave standard reference pitchs. You may also use an electronic tuner, or a low-tech device like a pitch pipe or tuning fork. You can also take the pitch from another instrument. In an orchestra, the oboe usually gives the pitch. Find the method that works best for you.

Tuning fork
Pitch pipe
clip-on tuner
tuner
tone generator
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