Violin Strings and Tuning

The violin has four strings representing the four musical notes G, D, A and E.

Learning the basics on how to tune a violin will train your musical ear and help you be more in-tune with your own instrument!

Advice for violin tuning

  • I would recommend an electronic tuner for a beginner violinist. An electronic tuner will give an accurate reference for the pitch(es) you are trying to achieve. By giving an accurate reference of what musical notes sound like, you will develop a musical ear to determine pitch variances on your own.
  • First, make sure that the bridge is not leaning forward and is properly placed between the two small notches in the F-Holes on either side of the fingerboard.
  • Reference the wooden pegs at the top of the instrument to begin tuning for a general pitch.
  • After tuning the wooden pegs, reference the fine tuners located on the tailpiece next to the bridge. The fine tuners adjust the general pitch achieved from the wooden pegs to a finer, more accurate pitch. (Note: Some violins only have one fine tuner on the “E” string. This neither impairs nor benefits a violin in regards to tuning.  A violin can be accurately tuned just by the wooden pegs. However, fine tuners are helpful to beginners to achieve the right pitch.)
  • It does not matter which string you begin tuning first, although most violinists start with the “G” string, following with D, A and E.
  • Turn the fine tuner clockwise to go up in pitch and counterclockwise to go down in pitch. Follow this procedure with each string. If the fine tuner will not go up or down any further, relocate the fine tuner to the center position and tune again with the wooden peg.

This is a video of Fred Carpenter from The Violin Shop putting the above points into visual format:

Keeping a new violin in tune:
Here are a few common issues with keeping a new violin in tune. Over time, the violin will adjust itself.

  • Slippage of the wooden pegs: Sometimes after tuning and achieving that perfect pitch the pegs will slip out of tune.
  • New strings: New strings adjusting to being stretched out across the fingerboard can sometimes make vary the pitch at different times.
  • String windings around the pegs need to be settled in and adjusted.

Violin and Bow Placement

When learning how to hold the violin and bow properly, beginners should be able to identity the different parts of the violin by name.

This diagram provided by Soaap Music identifies the different parts of the violin and bow.

Violin Placement
With the correct placement, the violin will be easy and comfortable to hold.

  • The violin is held horizontally (parallel to the floor) and is angled to the left.
  • Place the violin on your left collar bone, and rest the left side of your jaw on the chinrest.
  • Many violinists find shoulder rests helpful to hold up the violin, though it is not necessary. Usually, beginner violinists use round make-up sponges that are attached with rubber bands to the chinrest for added comfort.

Bow Placement
The correct placement of your bow is vital for creating the best tonal quality.

  • The wood of the bow should be tilted slightly toward the fingerboard.
  • The bow should be placed on the string between the bridge and fingerboard.
  • For louder sounds, apply heavier bow pressure and draw the bow closer to the bridge.
  • For softer sounds, use a lighter pressure with the bow and draw it closer to the fingerboard.
  • Your arm and the bow should always be kept level when playing on different strings. This is by far the hardest thing to master with bow placement, but with practice you will master it!

This video clip of Fred Carpenter from The Violin Shop provides an excellent example of the tips above. Also, note how Carpenter holds the violin itself.

Whether you are standing or sitting, good posture is necessary.

  • When standing, stand up straight with feet shoulder width apart and knees relaxed.
  • When sitting, sit up straight toward the front of the chair or whatever object you are sitting on. Sitting on a hard surface, like a chair, will keep you balanced as opposed to a soft surface, such as a sofa.

Violin Types and Sizes

Before learning how to play the violin, it is useful to know about the different sizes and types of violins.

The type of violin can be classified by the country of origin, brand or style of music.

  1. Acoustic (Non-Electric) Violin – This is the traditional violin that is more suitable for beginners.  It is the standard violin within the classical music repertoire.
  2. Electric Violin – This type of violin is usually utilized by more advanced players experimenting with different types of music, especially improv.  Electric violins convert regular vibrations generated from the strings to an electric signal for a more amplified sound.

Violin sizing is fractional, meaning that a full, adult size violin is 4/4, or a whole.

The smaller sizes were developed to fit the Suzuki Method of teaching violin, where children as young as three would acquaint themselves with the instrument.

The right size depends on your arm length and hand size. With your arm fully extended horizontally, perpendicular to your body, measure the length between your neck and the middle of your left palm. Another measuring approach is from the neck to wrist. Both methods of measurement are valid indicators for fitting a violin.

The different sizes of violins with approximate  arm and age measurements:

  • 1/16 – Three to 5 years old with an arm length of 14 to 15 inches.
  • 1/10 – Three to 5 years old with an arm length of 15 to 17 inches.
  • 1/8 – Three to 5 years old with an arm length of 17 to 17.5 inches.
  • 1/4 – Four to 7 years old with arm length of 17.6 to 20 inches.
  • 1/2 – Six to 10 years old with an arm length of 20 to 22 inches.
  • 3/4 – Nine to 11 years old with an arm length of 22 to 23.5 inches.
  • 4/4 or Full Size – For violinists age 9 and above with an arm length of 23.5 inches and up.  This size is the adult size.

Here is a reputable video from the respected SHAR Violins on how to find the correct violin size:

Although you can fit yourself, it is suggested that violinists go to a local music or violin specialty shop to be measured correctly.

Some reputable music shops in and near my city Tempe, AZ include:

For the next post, I plan to demonstrate how to properly hold the violin and the bow.