Advanced Tuning on the Violin
Tuning a violin is a skill which will develop over time, and I notice in my day-to-day practice that even players who are really quite advanced, sometimes have doubts about how to tune a violin perfectly.
Tuning a violin properly comes down to listening properly, and over time you will get better at hearing what perfectly in tune is. Learning to tune a violin requires patience and determination and I hope that I can share with you some exercises that will help developing your hearing and thus your tuning.
Learning to tune consists of the following steps, which once completed start from the top again:
- Learning to listen
- Being willing to experiment
- Being patient and keeping going
- Practising double stops
Let’s begin by playing an open A string with a long bow, and keeping this sound going for a bit, half a minute or so. Listen to the colour of the sound, if you hear any unevennesses, ruffles or other sounds. This idea to take time reallylisteningto a note is a key element in good tuning. You so often hear someone tuning with many short bow strokes – how can you hear properly?
Now add an open D string to the A and use very long bows again. Take a moment to listen to what you hear. If two notes are perfectly in tune, you will notice that the sounds are ‘melting’ together, and new sounds will emerge: higher frequencies, called overtones.
It may be that your strings are out of tune, in which case, instead of melting together, will clash and you will need to tune the strings.
This is where the experimenting stage begins. You may already know whether the string is flat or sharp, but as an exercise, it may be useful to deliberately tune the string out of tune, in order to hear the tuning either get better or worse. If you have fine tuners on your violin, tuning is easier, although initially, you may need to use pitch pipes or an electronic tuning device to help you get a rough idea of the tuning. I always advocate the use of fine tuners, even in my advanced students. Unless you have top-quality pegs, fitted by an expert, fine tuners will save a lot of time and effort.
Next, try to tune the strings one by one, or rather two by two, as well in tune as you can get them. Next time you tune, you will probably be slightly better at tuning for having practised it today. This is the ‘being patient and keeping going stage’. As with so many violin techniques, you will need to take the long-term view: from day to day, you may not quite notice the difference, but check again in three months’ time, and you will be considerably better at tuning.
Another technique that will enhance your tuning in general, is practising double stops. These don’t need to be very difficult double stops. Any double stops in your current music will do. What matters is the quality of your listening to them. So, hold your double stops for longer and listen to the sounds: do the sounds mix and blend together, or is there any way you can hear them clash? This exercise will help your hearing become more alert, more tuned-in to how notes sound together. A great exercise, not only to enhance your double stop playing and general intonation on the violin, but it also helps with tuning your instrument. And now we have come full circle, we are back where we started, with learning to listen and the whole process will start over again, now on a deeper level.
At Pro-Am Strings, we take the process of tuning seriously by having a fun-approach to playing in general and to tuning in particular.
Join us if you can – we would love to get to know you and your violin.