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Tuning your Violin?


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Using an electronic chromatic tuner is just fine. I like the Korg-30. Just set the bowed open strings to the E, A, D, G until the red lights go away. After some tyime you will learn to set just the A string and tune the others to it in perfect fifths. You need to bow the strings softly and evenly or the pitch indication will fluctuate.

The tuner will not give you true (harmonic) fifths, but it will be close enough that you may learn to use what you get as a starting point toward the small dorrections necessary. If you are playing duets with a keyboard instrument, the electronic tuning will be the same as tuning to the same notes aon the keyboard.


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I use an electronic clip-on (Matrix 1000 SV, about $30) to tune my violin only for open strings. My former teacher used her piano to tune the

A, the rest by ears. (there is a reason for that) I think the clip-on is much easier to use than the light (green or red light ) because the

needle does not move that fast. In the old days before this kind

of electronic devices are available, violin learners might have a hard time to tune

their violins. Quite often they had many unnecessary frustrations.

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Just setting the A with an electronic keyboard and tuning by ear works fine at home but an electronic tuner is small and easier to use than a tuning fork or pitch pipe. I have an inexpensive Korg tuner and a plug in and clip on mic that makes it easy to tune, even with noise in the background.

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If I've been playing regularly, I can generally tune to within a few cents by ear only. For orchestra or other ensemble work, I usually use a tuner afterwards to check my ear.

I'm of the opinion that one can learn what A-440 sounds like without necessarily having "perfect pitch." For those using a tuner, I suggest you at least try to get the A before using the tuner, and then see how close you came. You may find that you improve quite a bit over time -- or not.


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I'm with you Hank; I don't think I have perfect pitch but can hear A-440 in my head and tune to it when needed, and am usually right on. I can't do this when there's noise or music going on though; I get influenced by what I hear.

For general tuning purposes I use a Korg CA-30 and have a bridge-clip mic for when it's noisy. I've been happy with it for general use--it's nice and compact, and it gets close enough--but playing around with it recently, I was interested to find that at least without the mic it apparently isn't sensitive enough to show differences between perfect fifths (obtained by tuning the A to the tuner then the other 3 strings by ear, eliminating "beats") and the tuner's equally-tempered notes. OTOH my old mid-'80s Seiko Tolv with manual switching between notes and analog (i.e., mechanical) needle shows this difference, which I think is a couple cents per string... I need to repeat this experiment using the clip-on mic and maybe fresh batteries in the Korg. Probably this difference isn't of interest to most players here, but I play music that uses a lot of open strings, and generally play with a pianist, so the difference between temperaments is somewhat important to me! -Steve

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After seeing, then buying the StroboFlip at NAMM a couple of years ago, I have thrown out all of my needle-type tuners. The StroboFlip has taken the tuner world by storm. I constantly read all about it on guitar and dulcimer forums, as it has a number of useful 'sweetened' tuning settings for fretted instruments. The 'sweetened' Baroque tunings are astounding and makes my gamba resonate like never before. It is accurate to within .1 cent (1000th of a semitone). It may seem pricey at $200, but is worth every penny. The clip-on mic is great for discreet tuning in noisy conditions, i.e. when I'm on stage playing fiddle music.

Peterson has been making electronic tuners since the 30's. They have a huge reputation amongst piano tuners.

Strob-type tuners will waste any needle tuner. The funny thing is that by using a higher quality and more accurate tuner, my ears have been educated to a more refined degree.

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Originally posted by:

I use desktop software for a true digital tone but when I get to the gig I have to retune to the guitar players who , after tuning to their electronic tuners , are still out of tune and balance that to the electronic keyboard who is out of tune to them. It's a losing battle.

At least you get to play with electronic keyboards! I'm always happy when we play at a venue with no piano because then our keyboardist will be forced to lug his electric piano and it'll be in tune, but more often than not we play dances in halls with un-maintained pianos, and good luck then! The other melody instrument in my group is a recorder, and the soprano recorder he uses most frequently tends to play the E above middle C a bit sharp; I have to remember I can't use the open E as a drone when I play with him. Ah well, at least we have gigs; can't complain too much.

Henry, that StroboFlip looks pretty cool. I'll have to check it out! We used to have a strobe tuner in my high school band room but that thing was huge...

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there is a problem using the vast majority of chromatic tuners:

1. they are using the equal-temperament system for tuning...where we normally tune in perfect fifths.

for us, this means that the d and the e strings will be 2 cents off, the g will be roughly 4 cents off...and the c (if present) will be 6 cents off!!!

2. they have a margin of error in their tuning which i find to be unacceptable...namely +/- 1 cent. this means that in the worst case scenario, 2 strings can be off by as much as 2 cents and the tuner will read that it is perfectly in tune!!!

here are some solutions:

a. buy a peterson tuner like the one henrypeacham suggested. using the pythagorean (all models) or the violin (in the later models) temperaments, the petersons can tune perfect fifths and have an accuracy of +/- 0.1 cents! in the very least try to buy a tuner that offers the support of different temperaments.

b. if you have a PDA or Smartphone running windowsmobile, go to here http://www.zeta.org.au/~dvolkmer/tuneit.html and purchase the software. it too offers different temperaments, and the author claims accuracy to +/- 0.1 cents PLUS it has the added bonus of showing you the tuning of of all the overtones present...so you can make sure everything is locked in tune. I believe that the author also offers a desktop pc version, but i've only used the PDA version. at only $25 this is very cost-effective...

c. if you have a tuner that shows the cents offset, but does not offer different tuning temperaments...you simply tune your A spot-on...then make sure your:

d registers 2 cents flat

g registers 4 cents flat

c (if present) registers 6 cents flat

you're still working within the limitation that the tuner probably has a bad margin of error, but it's a start.

now, whenever this discussion has come up in the past, someone invariably argues that you cannot hear the difference of a cent here or there.

to a trained ear this is simply untrue.

the difference of 2 cents is very audible...try it on a peterson tuner sometime by playing an open-e and using the fine-tuner.

when all the strings are perfectly locked into each other the violin really opens up a lot more.

another argument is that by using bowspeed alone you can adjust the pitch of a string by a few cents. this is true...

it is important to use a consistent bowspeed when tuning...and you should always tune to softer levels.

anyways, like troutabout says, it is a jungle out there. with a well-calibrated ear, everything simply becomes out of tune. pianos, guitars, etc.etc. (their tuning is flawed to begin with because of the equal-temperament).

and that's the key, a well-calibrated ear. some people think they have a good ear, but really it hasn't been calibrated to WHAT a perfect fifth really is. and so they consistently tune out-of-tune.

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