I bought a new violin about a month ago, and its always going out of tune. On average, it goes out of tune in about 2 days. Is this normal? Is there a good method to keep my violin tuned for long periods of time (maybe a month or two)?

  • 5
    I tune my violin every time I play - if I play in the morning and at night I tune twice in one day. Same with my guitars. As far as I know, that’s perfectly normal. Apr 5 '19 at 0:52
  • 2
    I saw Isabelle Faust play her Stradivarius in a really hot concert hall last week, and it needed re-tuning after just one movement of Brahms' violin concerto. Definitely the result of poor air-conditioning, not a problem with the quality of the instrument. Apr 5 '19 at 4:54

As the comments point out, it is completely normal to re-tune multiple times in a day, or even in a performance. In fact, every instrument in an orchestra checks tuning often. String instruments are sensitive to humidity and temperature, and to a lesser extent the bow-drag affects string tension. Wind instruments change as the warm breath heats the physical material and changes the diameter of the bore or length of the tubing.
So pretty much everyone except the glockenspiel and vibraphone players (and cymbals...) have to retune.


I am 50% chastened as the result of some searching thru research papers. It was easy to find papers showing, correctly, that the air temperature strongly affects sound speed and thus note pitch as produced in a wind instrument, and that expansion/contraction effects of the instrument are miniscule by comparison.
What was difficult to find was a discussion of the variability of the musician's exhaled breath temperature. I finally found a very nice bit of research (and I recommend reading the entire paper - if you can't access researchgate, perhaps a direct request to an author, balasubramanian@mdw.ac.at would work ) which states, in part,

As the air travels inside the instrument it encounters various thermoviscous losses and consequently the temperature drops. This drop across the instrument has been found to be high as 12C [19]. [emphasis mine] As one would expect, the extent of this effect depends on the instrument itself. For example, in a cornetto using the mean temperature of the air column as opposed to the temperature gradient along the bore doesn’t appreciably alter the pitch [20] and on the other hand, in an experimental study of clarinets [21] a pitch difference of up to 8.5 cents was observed when the temperature gradient was replaced with an averaged temperature. The heat diffusion is a much slower process than audio acoustic vibrations, hence the air compression and expansion resulting from oscillations behave less like an isothermal process and more like an isentropic process [22], i.e. the temperature changes will remain local, and hence it would be safer to assume a varying temperature gradient as opposed to an averaged temperature within the instrument.

  • Actually, wind instruments get higher in pitch, not lower, as they get warmer, even though the warmth increases their length. This is because the increase in length is minimal and completely overwhelmed by the increase in pitch caused by sound traveling faster in warm air. Apr 5 '19 at 14:29
  • @ScottWallace I'm highly skeptical of that claim, because the temperature of the air you exhaust from your lungs doesn't change during a performance (or if it does, you better call an ambulance). BTW, I didn't make any claim as to which way the instruments went out of tune (up or down) Apr 5 '19 at 14:53
  • so why does the pitch of wind instruments go up as they get warmer? Apr 5 '19 at 15:12
  • @ScottWallace [citation needed] . Seriously. If you make that claim, please provide reference sources so we can review them. Apr 5 '19 at 15:13
  • well known facts: wind instruments get longer as they get warmer, and longer, ceteris paribus, means lower pitch. But wind instruments go up in pitch as they get warmer. Sound travels faster in warmer air. Thus, the effect of the warmer air is greater than the effect of the longer length. Do you have any other physical explanation for this? Apr 5 '19 at 15:17

Tuning multiples times per day is not uncommon (in fact most violins are in fact constantly tuned), but a violin requiring drastic retuning is most likely a result of several conditions, the most prominent being the weather. If a violin is kept in extreme cold and is introduced to warmer conditions, it will go out of tune. To prevent this from happening, try to keep your violin in a stable environment (temperature, humidity, etc.) when possible.

But no, tuning every few days is not out of the ordinary.


Violin tuning pegs are 'conical': they taper so that they can wedge into the tuning peg holes. It is the friction between the tapered peg and the hole that stops the string from unwinding and going out of tune. When changing strings, make sure you wind the string around the peg so that it winds across to the fat side of the peg and makes contact with the side of the peg box. This prevents any lateral movement of the peg and keeps it tight in its hole. Check all your windings and make sure they are actually touching the side of the pegbox.

  • 3
    Somehow, I don't believe this will keep it in tune for as long as the OP would like. It'll help, but minimally. Keep it in a vacuum? (No, not a Hoover!)
    – Tim
    Apr 5 '19 at 8:27
  • Tim is right. Yes, violins can get flat if the pegs slip. But in my experience as an instrumentmaker, this doesn't happen all that often. Most often, violins go out of tune because of changes in temperature, humidity, and stretching of strings. Apr 5 '19 at 10:57
  • This has nothng to do with tuning. Apr 5 '19 at 12:49
  • @Tim I don't think you meant that seriously, but – keeping it in a vacuum would actually be a horrible idea: that's the quickest way to dry out wood, and would likely make it crack in the process. Apr 5 '19 at 13:13
  • @CarlWitthoft - it actually has a lot to do with the tuning mechanism. However, it doesn't answer the question.
    – Tim
    Apr 5 '19 at 13:32

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