The four strings on your violin are tuned to these notes:
See the letter names of your violin tuning pegs and the letter names of your violin strings? Turn one of your tuning pegs to the right and the pitch of that string becomes higher. Turn it to the left, the pitch goes lower.
Tune using acoustic violin sounds:
Tune using digital violin sounds:
Fine tuners on your violin tailpiece can also assist with tuning-especially with small adjustments to the pitch.
Tune to a tuning fork sound:
Ready for advanced tuning? Try tuning to an "A-440" tuning fork. Directions: hold on to the base of the tuning fork, and tap the tines against something hard like your knee. Then, while still holding the base of the tuning fork, gently touch the ball of the tuning fork to your violin or top of your bridge. Through the vibration of your instrument, you should hear the ringing sound of an A. Tune to that note! Once your A string is in tune, tune your other strings to your A in perfect fifths.
A digital tuner or app, an “A-440” tuning fork, a pitch pipe or a piano are all great tuning tools. Digital tuners can be especially helpful for beginners. Some digital tuners even display when the note you’re tuning matches the correct pitch. Visit our Violin Supplies for a sampling of tuners.
Want to know what a perfect fifth has to do with tuning? The violin’s four strings are tuned in perfect fifths. A perfect fifth (abbreviated P5) is the interval from the first to the last of five consecutive notes in a diatonic scale. Listen to the P5 pitch difference between each note: G D A E.
Violinists generally tune their A string first to the pitch of A-440, then tune their other violin strings to the A string in perfect fifths. If you’re playing in an orchestra, the oboe typically plays the A for orchestra members to tune to because of its pure, distinctive tone. Even if you’re using a digital tuner to tune each note, listen carefully as you tune. It’s critical that you train your ear to know when you’re in tune, not only for tuning, but also so you’ll be able to play your music in tune!
A-440 is the pitch that most violin A strings are tuned to. A-440 means this pitch has 440 hertz vibration cycles per second (hertz measures frequency). Why 440? In an effort to standardize tuning, in the 1930s, many countries agreed A should be 440, and in the 1950s, the International Organization for Standardization selected A at 440 hertz as the standard tuning frequency (confirmed in 2017). Some orchestras still prefer to tune to a higher A (e.g. the New York Philharmonic tunes to A-442).
Beginning violinists often have fine tuners on all four strings to help them easily make small adjustments to the pitch. You can even buy violin tailpieces with integrated fine tuners. Fine tuners can also be very helpful for those who use all metal strings. Most violins do have a fine tuner on their thin metal E string.
Most violins have an E fine tuner because E is the thinnest string and is more challenging to precisely tune using just the peg (turn the peg too much, and the thin metal string could break). Some violinists feel more than one fine tuner affects the sound of their instrument, but it's a personal preference, so decide what works best for you!
Many advanced violinists use double stops when tuning. Once your A string is in tune, learning how to use double stops to tune the rest of your strings in perfect fifths to the A is an important skill to acquire. A double stop means playing notes on two strings at the same time. Try it! After tuning your A string, listen very carefully for the interval of a perfect fifth and adjust your pegs or fine tuners as needed as you play double stops with the D and A string, G and D string, and A and E string.
If your pegs are slipping, make sure you’re pushing your pegs in while turning. If your pegs are still slipping or are too tight to securely adjust, you may want to purchase peg compound. If you don’t have peg compound and need a temporary quick fix for slipping or tight pegs, pull the peg partially out, and rub pencil graphite on the sticking part of the peg. For loose pegs, pull the violin peg partially out, and rub birthday candle wax on the peg to help it stick.
Be aware that when you put on new violin strings, it will take a while for the strings to stretch out and adjust and you’ll need to tune more often for the next few practice sessions. If you need help changing your violin strings, visit our sister site, Violin Online’s Changing Violin Strings section.
If your instrument is the reason why you continue having problems with tuning, you may need to have your peg(s) reshaped or repaired at a violin shop. It’s also important that you take good care of your violin and bow. Learn more at Violin Online’s Instrument Care section.