Tuning, Tuners and Intonation

Getting used to hearing when your violin is in tune, quickly being able to spot when tuning is out, and getting used to dealing with the intonation of your individual instrument is something that, for many, comes with time, practice and experience.  Developing ‘an ear’ for your music, understanding intonation, understanding functional harmony, and becoming proficient in the nuances of expression doesn’t happen overnight, and isn’t common to all. We all process music a little differently, and progress at different rates and in different ways.  One thing that’s common to all is the need to be ‘in tune’ when we start playing.

Thank Goodness For Tuners

In an ideal world, we’d all have perfect pitch, but until that happens it’s OK to use tuners. Although a tuner can make each string in tune with an individual note, the intonation of your instrument may mean that the instrument may still not be ‘in tune with itself, and this is where your experience and judgement comes in – using the pitch of A string as a focus, and finding your tuning from there. When playing with e.g. other violinists, the intonation is ‘relative’, and this again is something learned with experience.

As well as establishing the common language starting point for playing music, tuners can help players to learn pitch and can help to teach listening and adjusting tuning accordingly.

Tuners are, therefore, important tools for learning, playing and performing, and there are different types of tuners to choose from.

These include:

The Tuning Forks

These are relatively inexpensive and durable and have the advantage of not requiring batteries.  Examples include the John Walker 415 hz , 430 hz, and 440 hz tuning fork.

Electronic / Digital Tuners (Including Chromatic Tuners)

These are sensitive to a wide range of pitches, allow each string to be tuned individually, provide different visual options e.g. red and green lights or a needle / dial display.  They are easy to use, and there is a wide variety available at different price points.  Some are instrument-specific, whereas other can be used by several different types of instruments.  Popular examples of tuners include:

  • Combined electronic tuner and metronomes e.g. the Korg TM50 tuner and metronome. This has a high-sensitivity mic, audio plug-in socket, and produces a reference tone to tune-up to.
  • A general (orchestral) tuner e.g. the Korg 120 Orchestral Tuner. This produces a tone that wind and string instruments can tune up to.
  • Clip-on tuners, such as the Dolcetto-V (AW-3V) Tuner – a clip-on tuner/metronome that you attach directly to your instrument.  Clip-on tuners of this kind have a contact microphone built-in that detects very low-level vibrations.
  • A multi-use chromatic tuner e.g. the Korg CA-1 Chromatic Tuner.  Chromatic means that it senses all keys, including the sharps flats. This tuner, for example, has a wide range of pitch detection covering C1-C8, and the calibration function supports a variety of concert pitches. It uses a high-sensitivity built-in mic, produces reference tones, and you can use a (separate) contact mic with it to send the vibrations directly to the tuner.

Well Maintained Instruments

One way to ensure that your instrument has the best possible chance of getting and staying in tune, and has the right intonation, is to have it regularly checked and maintained by experienced and knowledgeable stringed instrument specialists.

Here at the Stoke Newington workshop of Bridgewood & Neitzert, we are fully equipped and staffed by expert craftsmen. Our staff are very experienced and are ready to undertake a full range of repairs and restorations, both common and not so common, on violins and all stringed musical instruments.

Our shop also stocks a range of instrument tuners (and metronomes).

Give us a call at 020 7249 9398 contact us online.

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