For the longest time, a tuning fork or pitchpipe was part of the basic gear you could find in a well-equipped violin case. Today, these charming tools have become increasingly rare: more and more musicians tune their violins with electronic devices, be it a small clip-on or a more impressive chromatic tuner, which usually only stays on the music stand with a certain amount of difficult. In this article we offer you an overview of the violin tuning aids that might be of interest to you – and whether it might be a better (and cheaper) alternative to tune your violin online.
- General information about tuning a violin
- Tuning a violin using a tuning fork or a pitchpipe
- Tuning a violin to the piano or other instruments
- Chromatic tuners for the violin
- Tuners with metronome: The all-rounder
- Online tuners and apps for violin
- The bottom line: is it better to tune online or analog?
General information about tuning a violin
You probably already know the basics: you tune a violin by turning the pegs or the fine tuners to change their pitch by altering the tension of the strings. The rule of thumb : Turning the pegs away from you (as you hold the violin under your chin) increases the pitch and turning them towards you lowers it. Turning a fine tuner clockwise increases the pitch, while turning it counterclockwise decreases it.
If you have any questions about the details of tuning, feel free to ask them in the comments. There is also a discussion about problems with tuning the violin here – and about the advantages of fine tuners.
Basically, “violin tuning” means two things:
- Adjusting the pitch of the strings to the corresponding tones on another instrument or to a general reference tone (concert pitch) or
- Adjusting the strings to each other so that the intervals are “correct”.
How to hear the correct intervals is an exciting topic that we will write more about another time. And the big mystery as to why you start with the A-string when you tune will soon be explained in another posting.
For right now, our main question is this:
Where do I find the right tone to tune my violin to?
Tuning a violin using a tuning fork or a pitchpipe
If you don’t have perfect pitch, you will need a tool you can use to find an A (concert pitch). You then tune the A string to it and then tune the other strings appropriately . Admittedly, this method is demanding, especially for beginners. How easy it is for you depends, among other things, on your previous musical experience. If you have done a lot of singing or already spent a lot of time playing or listening to music, your hearing will be better and it will be easier for you to determine whether two notes are identical and whether the intervals of the other strings are correct or not.
A tuning fork is the classic tool musicians use to get an A. Most commercially available tuning forks produce a clear A at a frequency of 440 Hz, which is the concert pitch that is most widely used today. Of course, there are also tuning forks for other frequencies, and you can get them in specialized shops. The same is true of pitchpipes.
Tuning forks and pitchpipes have some advantages: they do not need batteries, electricity or internet access, and they fit easily into any violin case – but as already discussed, you have to be able to apply the particular note to your violin correctly and then tune the other strings accordingly.
Tuning a violin after the piano or other instruments
This method basically works just like tuning by tuning fork or pitchpipe: you take an Afrom another instrument that is – hopefully – perfectly tuned. If you have a piano at home, you can tune your violin to it – or to the violin of your concert master, chamber music partner, piano accompanist piano or guitar.
Chromatic tuners for the violin
In addition to these analog classics, nowadays there are electronic tuners available in many different styles, and they facilitate or completely relieve you of the complicated task of listening for the right interval. These devices have a sound recording system that records the tones of the open strings of your violin and compares them to reference values. A display will show you whether the tuning is too high or too low.
Some tuners have a classic microphone; others are clamped to the body, to a swivel or to the scroll and record the vibrations of the instrument directly via piezo transducers. Of course, these tuners have the advantage that they return accurate results even if a symphony orchestra is tuning around you. A microphone can have problems if there is too much ambient noise.
By the way: Electronic tuners are called “chromatic” when you can tune any note with them some tuners only work with the preset values you need for an instrument like the violin or the guitar. Most of the electronic tuners available are chromatic tuners.
Tuners with metronome: The all-rounder
Many chromatic tuners also feature a metronome to help you keep time by emitting acoustic or optical signals, depending on the model. It is worth thinking about this feature if you want to buy a tuner.
Online tuners and apps for violin
On many websites you can find useful tools for tuning: for example, some reference pages let you call up the tones of the individual strings online. Real online tuners, which record and adjust the live sound of your instrument via the computer microphone, are available at sites like musicol.de (German only) or flutetunes.com Both of these tools work quite well, although obviously the results always depend on the quality of your audio technology.
Last but not least: Since nearly everyone nowadays has a smartphone in their hand ― including musicians ― there are of course different apps with tuners for the violin, and many also contain a metronome function as well. The app store or play store can help you find various options online, both free and for a price. What are your experiences with these tools, and which ones would you like us to test for you?
The bottom line: is it better to tune a violin online or analog?
There is no universal answer to this question:, it depends on a number of individual factors:
- Are you a beginner and still having trouble adjusting tones and listening to intervals? Then the classical methods ― tuning fork and pitchpipe or tuning to another instrument ― are first-class opportunities for you to practice! If you go to the trouble of learning with these tools, you will soon see major progress.
- In more hectic moments you can still use electronic tuning aids, online or offline.
- Will you be tuning your violin in a noisy environment? Then an electronic tuner is helpful – one without a microphone that picks up vibrations directly.
- Would you like to have a tuning aid that takes up little space and does not require a power supply? Then go old-school: use a tuning fork or a pitchpipe.
- Would you like to have additional features like a metronome? Then buy an appropriately equipped chromatic tuner, or download an app to your smartphone.