Tuning me Crazy!
I recently had a friend come to me asking for help with tuning her violin. She recently started playing it again and she was finding it hard to tune with the fine tuners as she was used to using. One of her fine tuners seemed to be stuck and would not continue any further for her to get the desired tone from that string. The description she gave me was that the strings kept slipping and that staying in tune was difficult. Always ready to help a friend, I was happy to take a look at her instrument and see what I could do or recommend so that she could get back to enjoying her fine instrument. I opened the case, half expecting to see loose strings everywhere and tuning pegs that were half out of their holes. Fortunately enough, I did not have to see a sight such as that. The violin sat nestled in its case, shiny, well tucked and the temperature seemed normal. With the exception of one peg that had a tiny shim in it, I saw nothing visibly wrong with the instrument. I inspected all of the pegs just to make sure they were snug and then inspected the fine tuners. Right away I could tell that one of them was not budging but had a lot of spinning to do in reverse. I loosened all of the fine tuners until they were at their very loosest and proceeded to tune all of the strings with the tuning pegs as close to normal as possible and then I used the fine tuners in the tiniest of increments so that they would have plenty of spin left in them. I placed the violin back into its velvety cradle, covered it with the blanket, zipped it up, and said goodnight. If the strings were really slipping then I should be able to witness it myself when I woke up in the morning and checked on them.
The next day came around and I went through the process again. I unzipped the case, uncovered the violin, and removed it from the soft, velvet sleeping place I had left it in. Testing all of the string, not one had budged. "That is very curious," I thought to myself. I put the instrument back in its case determined to catch it slipping later in the day. When I checked on the tuning again, there was nothing that would indicate that there was something wrong with the violin. I then realized that it could be the issue that I have seen time and time again with some of my students.
Sometimes, students who have not been formally taught one on one to tune their instruments will use only their fine tuners because they may have been taught in a group setting to do so or an old teacher never took the time to explain what it means to tune the instrument. Here is the long and short of it...a fine tuner is for SMALL incremental turning, to get the minute detail of the tone you desire. It is not meant to be the method in which you primarily will tune your instrument, that is what the tuning pegs are for. I know...I know...they are bigger and scarier and they do tend to slip if you pull them out of their perfectly sculpted holes. But never fear, they will make your life easier.
When tuning, make sure that your fine tuners are backed all the way down to their loosest setting (turning to the left - lefty loosy everybody!! :-)) so that you are not adding any extra tension to the strings.
Next, make sure you have a tuner that has batteries in it or get one of those free apps on your phone, they work just as nicely and you don't have to have any extra hardware.
Then, especially if your tuning pegs are already pretty tight, slightly loosen the peg before tightening the peg if you have a string that is flat. Do not wrench the string as that will be a sure way to break it. Move in small incremental doses until you see on your tuner that you are at most 15 cents or less away from being perfectly in tune for that string. (Note: if you have a tuner like mine on my phone, it just tells me to tune up or tune down so that I don't have to read the over and under numbers on how far away I am to tonal center of a note.)
Now you are ready to turn ever so slightly your fine tuners to get the note straight on (righty tighty). Note, if you are using your tuning pegs and you cant seem to make it close from the bottom of the notes center, but can get close and be above center...tune to above center and then gently pull the string up - like you are going to do a big pluck but don't release the string to pluck - to slightly loosen the peg and bring the tone down to center.
Do it this way and then later, when your string slightly shifts out of tune because of change in weather or just because that is what wood does...it breathes (tightens and releases) you can still use the fine tuners. If you find yourself turning them great distances, you need to release them and start over again with tuning from the tuning pegs as detailed above.
I hope this is helpful to anyone trying to tune their orchestral string instrument. But if you should need a video tutorial, comment below. Or schedule a couple of lessons to get one on one help with learning how to tune.
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