Complete Tuning Guide for the Violin, Viola, Cello, and Bass

Tuning a Cello:
Tuning a Double Bass:
We hope this set of directions and videos helps you confidently tune your instrument!
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us:
info@krutzstrings.com
If you or your student has an instrument that doesn’t quite sound right, there’s a good chance it may be out of tune. Instruments made of wood and metal respond to changes in temperature and humidity and these small changes can alter the sound, or pitch, of each string. The pegs of the violin, viola, and cello are also held in place by friction and tension. If there is a drastic change in temperature or humidity, or if the peg is bumped roughly, the peg may slip and make your instrument go WAY out of tune.

To start, we recommend getting an electric tuner. You can purchase one online or download a tuner onto a phone or tablet. Look for words like “violin tuner”, “chromatic tuner”, or even “guitar tuner”. Any of these should work as long as they will tell you what note you are currently playing on your instrument.

The next thing you need to know is what pitch each of the strings should be. If you are looking directly at the front of your instrument, the thickest, and lowest sounding string, will be on the left and each string should be thinner and higher in pitch as you move from left to right.

Looking at your instrument, the strings should be in the following order:

If your instrument is just a little out of tune, you will want to use the fine tuners to make adjustments to the string. This is the tuning method we suggest you try first as you are not likely to break a string using this tuning method. This is also the type of tuning that most instruments require on a daily basis.

Please note, if you play the string and it is more than one note higher or lower than it should be, you likely will not be able to get it to the correct pitch using just the fine tuners and will need to use the pegs.

Below is a video that walks you through how to use the fine tuners on a violin or viola and/or you can follow the written “step-by-step” instructions underneath:

Step-By-Step Instructions On Tuning Your String Instrument Using The Fine Tuners:

  1. Find a solid surface to sit where you can securely hold your instrument.
     

  2. Place your tuner where you can see it while you pluck your strings. If you have a clip-on tuner, you can clip the tuner onto the bridge or any peg and it will use the vibrations from the instrument to tell you what note is being played. If your tuner has a button to change how many hertz a tuning A is set at, you will want to make sure your tuner says 440 Hz. This is the standard tuning pitch for most orchestras in the USA.
     

  3. Start from either the highest string or the lowest string. If you are following along with our video, we start with the lowest string, which is on the left. This is a G if you are playing the violin or a C if you are playing a viola or cello.
     

  4. Pluck the string, letting the note ring, and watch the tuner. The tuner will tell you the note that it hears being played and an indicator will tell you how close you are to being in tune with that note. If the indicator is to the left of the note, that means you need to make the string higher in pitch. Likewise, if the indicator is to the right of the note, that means you need to make the string lower in pitch. If the indicator lines up with the note name, and that note is the correct note for the string you are tuning, and/or lights up green, congratulations, you are in tune!
     

  5. If your string is too low, you are going to turn the fine tuner attached to that string clockwise, righty-tighty, plucking repeatedly as you do so until the indicator says you are in tune.
     

  6. If your string is too high, you are going to turn the fine tuner attached to the string counter-clockwise, lefty-loosey, plucking repeatedly as you do so until the indicator says you are in tune.
     

  7. Once the string you are working on is in tune, move on to the next string and repeat this process.
     

  8. After you go through all four strings, we recommend checking each string one more time as some strings might change their pitch a little bit while you are making adjustments to the other strings.
     

  9. Note: If you notice you run out of space to tighten or loosen your fine tuner and you are still out of tune, you will have to tune the string with the peg. Turn the fine tuner counter-clockwise, lefty-loosey, until it just barely is no longer in contact with the little lever that is holding the string. Then follow the set of tuning instructions for making bigger adjustments with the pegs.
     

But what if you know your instrument is WAY out of tune? At this point, you will need to use the pegs to help tune the instrument.
 

Before we begin, please keep the following in mind:
 

  • Pegs on the violin, viola, and cello have to be pushed in as they are turned so that they stick and hold their pitch.

  • It is really easy to break a string when tuning with the pegs. Even seasoned musicians will break a string from time to time while peg tuning.

  • Always loosen the string and approach the note from lower than the target note and plucking constantly as you go.

  • If you are nervous about peg tuning, it is okay. Take it slow, get close to the target note, and then use the fine tuners to get from close to in tune to all the way in tune.

     

Below is a video that walks you through tuning with the pegs on a violin or viola and/or follow the “step-by-step” directions underneath:

Step-By-Step Instructions On Tuning Your String Instrument Using The Pegs:

  1. Find a solid surface to sit where you can securely hold your instrument.
     

  2. Place your tuner where you can see it while you pluck your strings. If you have a clip-on tuner, you can clip the tuner onto the bridge or a peg on the opposite side of the instrument from the peg you are currently turning and it will use the vibrations from the instrument to tell you what note is being played. If your tuner has a button to change how many hertz a tuning A is set at, you will want to make sure your tuner says 440 Hz. This is the standard tuning pitch for most orchestras in the USA.
     

  3. We demonstrate how to do peg tuning using a drone, which is very helpful for getting closer to the correct note more quickly without going too high and breaking a string. You can also watch the tuner as you pluck and it will tell you what note you are currently playing. If the note you are currently playing is earlier in the alphabet than your target note, you are likely too low. If the note you are playing is later in the alphabet than your target note, you are likely too high. Do not forget that the musical alphabet is just a loop of A through G as you get higher or lower in pitch. For example, if you are tuning your A string and you are one note too low, the tuner will say you are playing a G. Likewise, if you are tuning your G string and you are one note too high, the tuner will say you are playing an A.
     

  4. Start from either the highest string or the lowest string. If you are following along with our video, we start with the lowest string, which is on the left. This is a G if you are playing the violin or a C if you are playing a viola or cello.
     

  5. Whether you are using a drone or the note indicator on your tuner, pluck the string a few times to determine if your string is too high or too low when compared to your target note.
     

  6. Just like the fine tuners, if you are looking at the peg straight on, a side profile of your instrument to look down the length of the peg, you will want to turn clockwise, righty-tighty, to make the note higher and counter-clockwise, lefty-loosey, to make the note lower. If you are looking at the front of the instrument, you can think of it as your thumb rotating towards you and the ceiling to make the string tighter and make the note higher or your thumb rotating away from you and towards the floor to loosen the string and make the note lower.
     

  7. Regardless of if your starting note is too high or too low, you will want to approach the correct note from a lower pitch to minimize the risk of breaking the string. Start by holding the peg of the string you are tuning with your hand that is on the same side of your body. Your left hand will tune the two lower strings and your right hand will tune the two higher strings. Then, rotate your hand so that your thumb is moving toward the floor and pluck the string with your opposite hand. The note you are playing should be a lower pitch than your target note. Loosening the string first also helps make sure your peg is not stuck before you start adjusting the string.
     

  8. Slowly rotate your hand holding the peg, while constantly plucking the string you are tuning with your other hand, so that your thumb is rotating toward you and the ceiling. While you are slowly rotating the peg to tighten the string, make sure you are pushing the peg into the pegbox.
     

  9. If the peg keeps slipping, you may need to try pushing harder. If you have pushed as hard as you feel comfortable pushing while turning and the peg still slips, you may need to apply something to the peg to help it create enough friction to hold in place or you may need to have a more seasoned musician help you.
     

  10. Once you have slowly turned the peg, the peg isn’t slipping, and you are either right on your target note or very close to it, move on to the next string.
     

  11. After you have gone through all four strings, go back and check all strings again. When you are making large adjustments to one of your strings, the tuning process can sometimes make the other strings go out of tune again.
     

  12. Finally, once all four strings are pretty close to their target note, use the instructions for fine-tuning to make sure your instrument is all the way in tune.

 

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