To get started with violin tuning, you want to make sure your violin is setup in the proper position.
The violin strings should be laying on four notches in the bridge as shown below.
It's important to note that each violin string is a different width/thickness. That means you have to have the correct type of string from left to right.
String all the way to the left - G string
Second string from the left - D String
Third string from the left - A String
String all the way to the right - E String
Every string brand is different and represented by different colors. Just because you don't have the same color strings as the above picture, doesn't mean you have the wrong strings on your violin. The string brand you see above are Dominant strings, which is a common brand that I recommend.
Violin Tuning - Getting Proper Tightness
Getting violin strings to the proper tightness is the core fundamental of violin tuning. Once you have each string at the proper tightness, the strings will ring to a certain pitch when played.
Many times when you get a new violin, or if a violin has been exposed to improper temperatures, the string tightness can be far off to where you need to have them.
The way to get strings significantly tighter is by using the violin pegs. In the picture below, you'll see four violin pegs - two on each side of the violin wood. They are removable black objects, turntable, and jabbed into the peg box.
By tuning a peg away from you towards the scroll, you will notice the string to get tighter.
But be very careful...
Turning the peg too far will break the string.
I'll help you understand how to do this properly, so don't worry.
Violin Tuning - Turning the Pegs
Check out the video below to learn how to turn the pegs properly. It's very important to press into the peg box as you are turning for the pegs to stick.
If you find that a peg is slipping (going back to the previous position), this means you aren't pressing hard enough into the peg box to get the peg to stick properly. It's important to turn and push at the same time - the video above explains this in detail.
Violin Tuning - Finding the Proper String Pitch
I highly recommend downloading a free tuner on your smartphone devices or Ipads. There are many free apps that aid in tuning - one of my favorites to use is the INSTunerLite app.
If you can't download a free tuning app, you can also get an affordable violin tuner like this one that clips right onto your instrument.
Now I want to explain to you musical notes as related to octaves. This is important in finding the proper string pitch.
An octave is a range of 7 notes A, B, C, D, E, F, G.
Just like on a piano (or when you sing), an "A" note, can sound differently, depending on which octave it is in. Sometimes higher in pitch or lower in pitch.
Think of a man who sings an A...and then a woman soprano who sings an A...they can both sing an A note but they sound much different. They are in different octaves.
When it comes to the violin, here are the four strings you are going to have to tune, including which octave they are located in.
G String Pitch - String all the way to the left - 3rd Octave
D String Pitch - String second from the left - 4th Octave
A String Pitch - String third from the left - 4th Octave
E String Pitch - String all the way to the right - 5th Octave
Now go ahead and turn on your tuner and pluck the G string. Plucking means just taking your finger and moving the string so that it vibrates and transmits a certain pitch.
You want your tuner to read G - along with the number 3 next to it. This indicates a G string pitch in the 3rd octave.
Getting the hang of how to get the string to stick to where you are moving it to is definitely an art. Refer to the video above for help with that.
Now do the same with the other 3 strings. It's very important to be in the correct octave, otherwise your string will either not be high enough, or it will break.
Violin Tuning - Fine Tuning the Strings
Once you get each violin string to a close position that it needs to be, you now need to "fine tune" the strings, to get them to be in exactly the right position.
This is very important for playing the violin properly, and always should be done before you start playing.
Even if one of your strings is a little bit "off," this will cause your music to sound out of tune, which is just like a singer not quite making a song sound like the way it should...
To "fine tune" each string, pay attention to where the meter reads when you are on the right string pitch.
When you see the tuner showing in the "red" range, this means it is pretty far off to exact pitch. Yellow means you are close and green means you are in the correct position.
To adjust the pitch to be in exact position, this is where you will need to use your fine tuners.
Violin Tuning - Using the Fine Tuners
The fine tuners are used to get your strings into exact string pitches in order to practice and play.
When you turn the fine tuner to the left, this will loosen the string slightly.
Don't be afraid to "crank" at least one full turn. Fine tuners adjust the string very slightly and only a slight move will do so much.
If you need to get the string slightly tighter, turn the fine tuner to the right.
Violin Tuning - Why You Sometimes Only See One Fine Tuner
Synthetic strings like Dominant strings don't turn as well with fine tuners.
They take a lot of cranking the fine tuner, and many times you won't see more than one fine tuner on a violin because of this (only on the E).
This doesn't mean you lack appropriate parts. The reason you commonly see this is that strings can be fine tuned with the pegs. When students are using Synthetic strings (instead of steel), commonly they are able to do just fine tuning with just the pegs.
If you are just a beginner though, this can be quite annoying.
You can request for a violin to have fine tuners installed. This doesn't cost that much and can be done by any local music shop that carries fine tuners.
It's best to learn how to use the pegs to tune, but using fine tuners is also acceptable.
One trick to fine tune with the pegs...
Pull the string away from the fingerboard to slightly lower the pitch and poke the string above the nut (near the pegs) to make the string pitch slightly higher.
Violin Tuning - Making Adjustments
When you first get a violin with brand new strings, the strings take a while to break in.
This means they will start at the proper pitch after tuning, and quickly loosen - thus getting your violin out of tune.
If you have new strings, I recommend tuning every 10-20 minutes to be in the good habit of having your violin in tune.
After a few weeks, strings will break in and it will not require as much adjustment after they have fully stretched.
In the case of strings being fully stretched, I recommend tuning once before each practice session. You'll find over time it will take less and less effort to get a string to stick where you need it to be.
Hope you enjoyed this post! If you want to learn more how to play the violin properly including learning vibrato and technique fundamentals, I highly recommend you check out my Violin School. I've been teaching violin for over 10 years and have been playing close to 30 years. I'm sure you'll find a lot of good advice and tips through the school.