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I don't know anything about violins, and I won't have time for a tutor until much later.

When attempting to tune my violin, I was advised to get a digital violin tuner. Alright. But before I go get one, I did some surfing on the web and found lots of sites like this: http://www.violinonline.com/interactivefingerboard.htm

There, you can see a web application that apparently tells you how is your violin supposed to sound depending on what notes you play. Out of curiosity, I tried clicking the top-right E (I guess it is called Open E).

... that sound definitely is not the one I get when doing it with my new violin. In fact, I never produced it. For a moment I though that it was my bow technique, which apparently really makes a difference. But I've tried it a lot already and I was unable to do the sound from the web application. So I guess that the violin is out of tune.

I used both the tuning pegs and fine tuners over and over, but I am never able to get the sound suggested by the application. I admit, however, that being so new with the violin and with no instructor yet, I was turning the pegs in a rather "blind" way (with little idea what I was actually doing).

So all of that leads to my question: is the web application (or any other you can think of) accurate? (of course it isn't exactly accurate, but is it "useful" in any way?) If yes, then what else might I be missing?

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Tune to the frequency, not to the timbre. –  Matthew Read Jan 14 '13 at 15:20
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5 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

That's definitely not the sound of a real violin (to me it sounds more like an oboe!), which may cause some confusion. It also has some kind of vibrato which will make tuning even more difficult. It should be able to help you get close, though, since the pitch is the correct E.

Now, if your instrument has never been tuned before (or in a long time), it may be off a whole lot. Are you able to tell if your violin is too low or high? (It's probably low) Check which way the strings wind around the pegs and either tighten or loosen the strings until you get close to the correct pitch. I remember being a bit surprised how tight they actually have to be. I felt as if the strings or even the whole violin would just snap if I'd go any further... It's probably not good to just tighten one string all the way. Instead, bring them all up together little by little.

When you get close to the target things get more delicate. A digital tuner will, or at least should, have a microphone listening and will tell you which note you are close to, and how close, and whether you're a bit too low or too high. There are also computer applications which do that if you have a microphone (I used the one in my webcam). When you're less than a half tone away from the target use the fine tuners to get it exact.

If you don't have a tuner then you can use a reference note as the one from the webapp. First you tune until it sounds like the same pitch as the reference. Then you start listening to any kind of "wobbling". The slower the wobbling the closer you are to the correct pitch. This is where the vibrato of the reference note is problematic. The wobbling of a beginner's bow hand is another... When you're done make sure the open fifths (G-D, D-A, A-E) are stable also. If they aren't you have to do some more tuning.

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As a beginner, your bowing may not be too good, so try plucking each string using a right hand finger.Use a better on-line tuner than your quoted one, which doesn't sound much like a violin, you may find a piano sound works well.When you get better at bowing and better at copying the pitch, get only one string in tune(A is best) then bow two strings together.The sound of a hard fifth will become familiar to you after a while.
If your violin is way out now, it'll probably take a few times going through the four strings,as each time you tension a loose string,that action will change the pitch of the others, not much,maybe, but enough for you to go through them all again.Good luck!

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For starting out, you might be better with a tuner with feedback, either a physical device with a microphone and an indicator (this kind is good as the "needle" will show you how far out of tune you are) or a software tuner that uses a microphone, such as a smartphone app.

Without this it can be quite hard to know whether you are too sharp (high) or flat (low) without experience.

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It may be easier (depending on your ear) to tune just one string using the tuner or reference pitch, and then tune the remaining strings to be relative to each other.

This will also test your posture and grip on the violin since you must hold it without your hands. One hand is bowing both strings together; the other hand adjusting the peg.


Alright, I've read the other answers now. And I do agree. You probably want to start with a nice tuner that gives you a bar readout (row-of-lights, needle on a dial). This is so you get "set it and forget it" or "get it done and focus on playing".

But eventually you will want to learn how to tune the whole instrument using a single A440 tone. Most metronomes will do this. Many tuners do (but not all). This is how large ensembles will tune-up.

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If you are a new violinist, your ear is the the weak point. Part of what you'll be doing is training it to recognize pitches, because you aren't there yet. Get it out of the loop. Use an online tuner that uses your computer's mic, like this one (Not really a an endorsement, because HTML5 programmers are starting to write these things as an exercise, so that's just top on Google for me today.) Clip-on headstock tuners are less than $20 bucks. Don't use a pitch pipe, because your ear is weak and because it's a harmonica in disguise, and you can change the pitch of a harmonica by how you blow in it.

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