Here's a new Beginner piece we've just added to the ViolinSchool Library... the famous William Tell overture! You can download it (free login required!) from the ViolinSchool library... just click here:

Download It!

Legend has it that Tell, a Swiss marksman from the 1300s, was able to shoot an arrow into an apple on his son's head... at 80 paces!

The story of William Tell was made into an play by Friedrich Schiller, and then into an opera by Gioacchino Rossini.

The final theme from the opera's Overture has become one of the most famous pieces of classical orchestral music. Listen to it here, performed by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra:

Here's a new video from the most recent VIOLIN ORCHESTRA concert in London. The Violin Orchestra plays Rondeau from Abdelazer by Henry Purcell, arranged by ViolinSchool's David Worswick.

Filmed at St John's Waterloo in London, on Saturday 8th December 2018.


Would you like to join the Summer 2019 Violin Orchestra in London? We welcome violinists of every age and level, from first-time players who are just playing in first position, through to intermediate and advanced levels.

Booking for the Violin Orchestra is now open online - click here for full information and to register today!

'Sight-Reading' music is the process of playing something whilst you're looking at it for the very first time.

When you sight-read, you have to play the music as accurately and expressively as you can - even though you've never seen it before!

Sight-Reading Is Like Reading Aloud

Sight-reading music is a bit like reading aloud from a book.

Imagine you’re reading a story to somebody. You have to phrase the sentences in a way that makes sense, pronounce complicated words correctly, look ahead to see what's coming up next, and breathe in the right places.

But at least there’s no real ‘technique’ to worry about. People won't mind if you stumble over your words from time to time!

However, sight-reading music can be a bit more of a challenge. There's more to do physically when you're playing the violin, and there's a lot to take in from the music notation.

If you're playing at speed, there's not much time to do it, either!

Violinists often have to sight-read music when playing with other people, so you need to develop the skill to be able to play the right thing at the right moment, as other musicians may be depending on you.

For this, it's important to develop confidence in your sight-reading ability, just as much as in your violin technique.

If you're not a confident sight-reader, the sight of a new, unknown piece of music can make your brain freeze!

This happens because we feel overwhelmed by the amount of new information in front of us, so we forget about all the important technical and musical skills that we need to make the music come alive.

Other issues, such as dyslexia or poor eyesight can make you feel unenthusiastic about having to sightread, but...

Don't worry! ... whatever your age and experience level, you can always improve your sight-reading. You can learn to become a confident sight-reader.

In future features in this series, we'll be showing you practice techniques and approaches that will help you to practise your sight-reading... and to keep making it better and better!

Why Sight-Read?

Sight-reading is a really important skill, and the ability to sight-read fluently is a crucial part of your training as a violinist. It's useful for everyone - from beginners playing together for fun, right through to professional session musicians working in recording studios.

Violinists sight-reading in a recording studio

People often forget to practise sight-reading, or ignore it because they think it's just something you just have to do for violin exams! But it's a far more useful skill than that.

By learning to sight-read well, you can learn pieces more quickly, and you'll enjoy playing in orchestras and ensembles much more, because you'll have more confidence.

If you never include sight-reading exercises in your violin practice, the skill will remain undeveloped, even whilst other aspects of your playing get better. This isn't a good situation, because the longer you avoid learning the skill, the bigger an obstacle it will seem to be.

Learning new music becomes significantly easier when you can sight-read well. You can scope out a piece of violin music by sight-reading it through once, before you start to practise it. This will give you a sense of the overall structure and style, so you'll have a better idea of what you're aiming for when you start doing detailed technical work.

Highly developed sight-reading skills can also help to create opportunities for you to play in musical ensembles. It's much easier to get to know other musicians and to try out different types of ensemble playing when you can read through lots of music quickly!

Being good at sight-reading makes you a more versatile perfomer. You'll be able to assimilate new music and diverse styles very quickly, and play with minimal rehearsal time.

At our London school, we run events and ensemble sessions throughout the year, where violinists get together and play through new pieces of music.

Players develop a high level of fluency in their sight-reading, by building up their ensemble playing experience, and reading through as much new music as possible.

An Integral Skill For Good Violin Playing

A common problem with sight-reading is that people think of it as being separate from other musical skills, and from general musicianship. But if you don't approach sight-reading holistically as an integrated part of your approach to violin playing, it'll be much harder to play new music with other people.

But it doesn't need to be that way! Sight-reading is fundamentally just the skill of reading music, but applied to movement and sound in real time. It's a learnable skill, and the more you do it, the better you'll become.

Once you really understand the elements of sight-reading as a skill, and train yourself on each of those elements using good quality sight-reading exercises, you'll start to see massive progress in your ability to read music at sight.

And most importantly, you'll feel free to enjoy playing music - even if you're only seeing it for the very first time!


This is the first in a series of articles exploring Violin Sight-Reading... stay tuned to the ViolinSchool.com Blog for the rest of the series!

One of the loveable characters in our early stage tuition is the cool, ice-cream-loving tortoise George!

A connoisseur of ice cream, George is known to enjoy a wide variety of flavours. He tells us that snails work particularly well with strawberry, whereas a nice juicy topping of worms will make a raspberry cone come alive...!

George recently had his sheet music upgraded, and a great new playalong added too! So plug him into your earphones, and try playing along with the accompaniment!

We also strongly recommend singing along with George's song, to help you pitch the notes accurately. If you can sing it in tune, you're much more likely to play it in tune!

Have fun, and watch out for those snails and worms!

p.s. ViolinSchool Members can download George's sheet music from this page in the ViolinSchool Library, and our favourite tortoise will soon be making an appearance in the Beginner Violin Course as well!

p.p.s. for any tortoises reading, please note that ViolinSchool does not endorse a non-vegetarian diet.

Download It!

Many of the most frequently asked questions we get asked by first-time violin learners are about Music Theory, or 'note-reading'. And some of the most confusing topics are around musical KEYS.

So what is a key signature? This 'Explainer' from our new Online Beginner Violin Course will tell you...

Key Signature - ViolinSchool - 1
Download it from the ViolinSchool Library!
(free login required)

A key signature is the group of sharp or flat signs written at the beginning of each stave.

The positions of the sharp (#) or flat (b) signs tell us which notes need to be sharpened (raised by a semitone) or flattened (lowered by a semitone).

So, if there's an F# in the key signature, then all Fs are made into F#s! ... if there's a Bb in the signature, then all Bs are made into Bbs!

It's the key signature that tells us which 'key' the music is in ... ... and also saves a helluva lot of ink!

Which key am I in?

Depending on the number of sharps and flats in the key signature, you can work out which key you are in, and therefore which notes you need to play.

Here's a useful list of key signatures, to help you work out which key you're playing in!

THE KEYS - ViolinSchool - 1
Download it from the ViolinSchool Library!
(free login required)

Would you like to download and print all our 'explainers'?

Become a member of ViolinSchool today and access thousands of learning resources, including our online courses and video instructionals, and a library of sheet music, technical exercises, explainers, checklists, practice tools, and much much more!


In our new Online Course A for Beginner Violinists, we've integrated music theory tuition into the course, so as you pass through the sequence of lessons about how to play violin, you'll learn music theory too.

Or if you already read music, you'll find the music theory modules a really useful and fun way to revise your existing music-reading knowledge... and translate it to the violin!

It’s official... we’ll be launching a completely new Online Beginner Violin Course on 30th May!

Registration opens today, and you can read all about it here:

https://www.violinschool.com/beginner-violin-course/

It's taken a while to get our online courses right, but we believe this course - with over 150 lessons, including video instructionals, explainers, exercises, playalongs, sheet music, and more, will be one of the most comprehensive violin courses ever designed!

It’s also entirely online, so you can learn from anywhere.

Everything is ‘action-focused’, so the course is all about learning by doing. There’s a ‘full enrolment’ option for learners who want comprehensive support and a certification, or if you already have a local teacher, then VS Member access starts from just $19/month.

There are just 30 ‘full enrolment’ places available for the Summer Term, so take a look at the course and let us know if you have any questions, or sign up today at:

https://www.violinschool.com/beginner-violin-course/

Can you survive the 10 Beat Challenge? It's a great exercise for warming up your bowing action, and for making clear and consistent sounds on whole bows. As well as improving your bow control, it will help to get the instrument really ringing and resonating.

Good bow division and bow distribution are essential for this exercise. You’ll need to pace the amount of bow that you’re using, so you’re always at the right speed for each stroke.

Download it!
(login required)

Here's the next in our series of Intonation Exercises from the ViolinSchool Library - one per week, for you to improve the accuracy of your left hand placement!

Double Take: Play an open string whilst stopping notes in 1st Position. Work out the name of each interval, then compare the stopped note to the open string to make sure it is in tune.

 

Double Take

Click here to download it from the ViolinSchool Library!
(login required)

When you first start working on a piece of music, the most important priorities can seem quite clear. Maybe there are obvious technical problems that you know you need to fix, or tricky passages which demand extra attention.

Issues like these are reasonably straightforward to diagnose, and fix. So far, so straightforward.

But then there comes a point when you've sorted out all the obvious things. Everything is sounding OK. But you're unsure exactly what you need to do next.

So what do you do?

At this point it's easy to slip into 'mindless' playing, and play through your piece a few times, without stopping and making anything better.

But that's not practice! That's just playing it through!

What should I do instead?

To make your practise efficient and effective, you need to be mindful about what you're trying to achieve. Look for clear improvements, prioritise the most important tasks, and don't play the same passages of music repeatedly unless you're clear about why you're doing so.

True, that's easier said than done... particularly if you're tired, or losing concentration!

What do you do when you don't know what to do next?

How do you know what to prioritise?

The good news is that when you're learning a piece of music, there are a few simple concepts that you can use to focus your mind on what's most important, right now.

Be Clear About The Musical Fundamentals

As ever, we want to start by thinking about how we want the music to sound, and then work backwards to determine our technical decisions. The most fundamental elements of music that we need to consider are timing and pitch.

It's not just a matter of playing just 'in time' or 'in tune'. Once we know we're playing roughly the right thing in the right place at the right time, we can increase the level of detail that we operate at in each of these areas.

Therefore, the better we become, the more these musical elements become crucial to our expression as well.

Time

The timing of a piece can include the tempo (how fast or how slow the piece is), the rhythm (how long and short the notes are), and the pulse (the regular beat of the music).

All of these areas can change as we play a piece of music, and the precision of our timing will affect how the emotion of the music is communicated to our listeners.

Pitch

When you're working on your tuning (intonation), getting the notes 'in time' and 'in tune' is definitely a key priority!

But once that's done, there are many more layers of detail you can consider, in order to make sure your pitch is as effective as it can be for communicating the musical expression effectively.

For example, understanding the harmony of a piece that you're working on, and the key that it's written in, will give you a clearer sense of the emotional resonance that the music is capable of creating.

You can then delve into advanced topics such as expressive intonation and think about the subtle ways in which you can alter the pitch to create an even more compelling and interesting interpretation.

Sound

As we change the balance of the fundamental bow movements - speed, weight and placement - we are able to access an infinite number of different types of sound.

So once you've got a piece of music to a basic level of being 'in tune' and 'in time', then a lot of your practice time will be spent on trying out different combinations of bow strokes, to work out what's most appropriate for the music you're playing.

This is in many ways a never-ending process... there's no limit to the number of bow strokes to choose from, and many different ways to interpret a piece of music!

Ever Higher Levels Of Detail

Because Time, Pitch and Sound (types of bow stroke) offer an infinite number of combinations, you'll find that if you listen deeply to what you are doing - and use your musical imagination to create a clear vision for how you want to play - then you'll soon find that the feeling 'I don't know what to practise now...' becomes less and less frequent.

You'll have so many interesting technical options to choose from, and so many different sounds to experiment with, that there'll always be something interesting to focus your attention!

When to Move On

With this heightened awareness comes the risk of the opposite problem... you're listening in so much detail, and discovering so many possible options for your musical interpretation, that you feel you can never move on... analysis paralysis!

To get around this, it's crucial to have a clear vision of what you want your audience to experience when you are playing a piece of music.

Once you have this, you can make it a priority to ensure that the basic timing, tuning and sound (tone production, phrasing) are adequate for the whole piece.

Then, if you have more time, you can review the entire piece of music again at a higher level of detail. The important thing is to keep moving through the music, raising the level of what you're doing across the whole piece - not just getting stuck on one section!

Repertoire Practice Questions

To remind you of these musical fundamentals when you are practising, here is a short, printable list of 'Repertoire Questions' to get you thinking - at any level of detail!

Click to Download!
(free login required)

To play this happy piece, you’ll only need your first finger! Make sure it’s always landing in tune, exactly a tone (two semitones) above the open string.

Download it from the ViolinSchool Library:

Click here to Download It!
(membership required)

For this lovely, lilting piece, you’ll only need the second finger of the left hand. Each time, it should land at the interval of a major 3rd above the open string.

Download it from the ViolinSchool Library:

Click here to Download It!
(membership required)

Here's the next in our series of Intonation Exercises from the ViolinSchool Library - one per week, for you to improve the accuracy of your left hand placement!

In Pitch Perfect, you need to move the same finger from the same place on one string to the same place on the next (and the next, and the next!), to create a series of Perfect Fifth intervals.

 

Pitch Perfect

Click here to download it from the ViolinSchool Library!
(login required)

This gorgeous Scottish folk song is several hundred years old, and it's been passed down the generations with good reason... it's a gorgeous piece of music!

Today it's well known around the world, from recordings that have been made by artists in many different styles.

We've added a new MIDI playback, so you can practise playing the piece whilst listening to the music.

Play and Download it from the ViolinSchool Library:

Click here to Download It!
(membership required)

We're delighted to announce that at our London school, the new series of Beginner Violin Courses is now open for booking!

Courses for Adult Learners

Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in London

Our 10 Week Courses for Beginner violinists offer a sequenced program of learning that takes you step by step from first-time violinist to fluent intermediate player!
ViolinHub

https://london.violinschool.com/beginner-violin-course/

  • Course A for first-time beginners
  • Course B is for people who’ve already had a few lessons (or finished course A!)
  • Course C is for people who’ve already taken Course B! 🙂

Courses A & B run on Wednesday or Thursday evenings and also on Saturday mornings. Course C runs on Saturday afternoons from 12.30pm. Classes run weekly beginning 1st, 2nd or 4th May 2019.

Courses often sell out, so if you've already decided to enrol we recommend reserving your place as soon as possible. During the early booking period, you can also save £75 on the course fee if you book and pay in full before the end of March!

See the Full Information and Enrol Online

A comprehensive, step by step guide to changing a violin string safely, securely and efficently … and so that it stays in tune!

Changing the string of a violin doesn't need to be daunting!

Let's take a look at how to remove an old string and replace it with a new one.

We'll carefully consider all the steps of the process, so that you can avoid the string snapping, slipping out of place, or causing any other problems!

The Strings

It's best to change violin strings one at a time so that you don't disturb the setup of the bridge.

Remember that the bridge - and the soundpost inside the violin - are only held in place by the tension of the strings.

This means that if you remove more than one string at the same time, the bridge can become unstable.

We're going to assume that you already have a replacement string, ready to use!

A Violin String Packet

Remember that the type of string can greatly affect the sound of the violin.

You may wish to experiment with different types of string and see which brand works for you.

Strings can break for a variety of reasons, and sometimes with no warning.

A Violin with a Snapped String

So it's a good idea to have a set of spare strings with you at all times in your violin case.

This will allow you to replace the string, and keep playing… without having to trek to a violin shop or wait for an online order to arrive!

Removing The Old String

First, place the violin in a secure position, such as on your lap. It's important to make sure that the instrument doesn't slip out of place when you're changing a string.

Firstly, remove the old string. You'll need to gently unwind the peg so that the string is loosened.

Gently Unwind The Peg

Keep turning until the top end of the string pops out of the hole in the peg, then you can simply pull it away from the violin.

Then detach the other end of the string from the violin's tailpiece. Some strings have a 'ball end', which means there's a small ball in the loop at the bottom end of the string.

To help this type of string out of the hole in the tailpiece, you may need to wiggle it a bit before it comes loose!

Other strings have a 'loop end', which is exactly the same but without the ball - so the bottom end of the string simply forms an empty loop.

This type of string can be easily secured or removed by placing the loop on or off the hook that you'll find on the fine tuner.

Check The Peg

Before starting the string replacement, you should check the condition of the peg to make sure it will be smooth and secure when you put the new string in.

Make sure that the peg is clean. If not, the pegs can stick and squeak, and they won't turn smoothly!

Check The Peg

If you've taken the peg out of the pegbox, put it back in, but only halfway. Or if you didn't take the peg out, then pull it out of the hole just a little bit.

The aim is to make sure that the hole in the middle of the peg is visible and accessible, so that we can put the end of the string through the hole.

The String Threads Through A Hole In The Peg

Make sure that the hole is not on the wrong side of any of the other strings.

If you start to thread the string through the peg when the hole is on the 'wrong' side of another string, you might end up with the strings crossing each other in the pegbox.

This doesn't work, as it can compromise the pitch and tone quality, as well as making the strings unstable.

Thread The String Through The Peg

Attach The String

Once the hole in the peg is facing you, thread the end of the new string through the hole.

The string will poke out a tiny bit on the other side of the peg.

If you push it all the way in, you can usually feel the end of the string hit the back of the pegbox, so you know you've gone far enough.

Once the string is poking out from the other side of the hole, you'll need to turn the peg a few times to secure the string in place.

Make sure to turn the peg AWAY from you, not towards you, so that tension is held on the upper side of the peg. This way round, the top portion is angled more in line with the rest of the string, which reduces wear and tear.

As you turn the peg, you can use an adjacent string to guide you as you wind the string. The aim is to keep the string in a tidy coil as it winds onto the peg.

Once the top end of the string is well-coiled, you'll start to reach the end of the coloured wrapping at the top of the string.

At this point it's necessary to push the peg in, towards the pegbox, so that it is secure and there is enough friction between the peg and the hole of the pegbox.

This friction is very important… it's what holds the peg in place!

Once most of the coloured covered part of the string has been wound around the peg, hold everything in place with your weakest hand.

With your strongest hand (so, your right hand if you are right handed), reach for the other end of the string.

If your string has a 'loop' end, loop it onto the hook just above the fine tuner.

If your string has a 'ball' end, insert it into the hole in the tailpiece, and make sure that it's secure.

How To Change A Violin String
Secure The 'Ball' End In The Tailpiece

Sometimes it can be hard to insert the 'ball end' of a string into the tailpiece hole.

So if you need to, use a pointed object, such as a sharp pencil, to help push the ball downwards.

But if you do this, be really careful not to slip, as you could easily damage the varnish of the violin!

Tighten The String

Once the bottom end of the string is securely attached, hold the string tense, so that both ends remain secure.

Your other hand should still be holding the peg firmly in place, because if you let go now, the string will uncoil, and you'll have to start all over again!

Without releasing the tension in the string, move your hand slowly back up towards the top of the violin, until both hands are within reach of the pegs.

Start to wind the peg slowly away from you, until the string is no longer loose, but not yet fully tightened.

Once there is enough tension in the main area of the string, you'll be able to let go of the string, and it will stay in place.

Once you've done this a few times, experience will tell you when the string is tight enough that you can let go of the string and it will stay in place!

Until then, you'll need to assess it visually and by feeling it. If the string is tight enough between the nut and the bridge, you will be able to pluck it and it will vibrate enough to produce a definite pitch.

Check The Bridge

When the pegs are turned and the tension in a string increases, pressure is applied to the bridge in the direction of the peg box.

Over time, this will pull the bridge until it slants away from the tailpiece. If this is not monitored and corrected, it will eventually collapse!

That's why it's a good idea to check the vertical position of the bridge each time you change a string.

The Bridge should stand vertically... not slanted, like this one!

If the bridge position does require correction, use one hand to apply VERY gentle upward pressure to the strings, just below the bridge.

Be extremely careful … if you push too hard, you could snap a string or the bridge could collapse. And if you don't push enough, the bridge won't be able to move.

Very slowly and gently, use your other hand to apply pressure to the top of the bridge in the direction of the tailpiece. Nudge the bridge carefully back into an upright position, so that it is no longer slanting.

Changing a string is also a good opportunity to check that the bridge is still in the correct horizontal position.

Look directly at the face of the violin, and check the G and E strings are both positioned correctly in relation to the edge of the fingerboard. If the strings of the violin appear to be too far in one direction, you will need to re-centre the bridge position.

Secure the violin on your lap, then hold the bridge tightly using both hands. Slowly and gently, nudge it in the required direction until the strings are correctly aligned on the fingerboard.

String Support Tubes

Once the string is in place and the bridge position is checked, there's one more task that some strings require, before being tightened and tuned.

Many E strings (and some A strings) have a little coloured tube attached to them. The purpose of the tube is to provide extra support between the string and the bridge. It stops the string from cutting into the bridge.

If the string you're changing does have a tube, then slide it along the string until it reaches the bridge.

Depending on how tightly you have already wound the string, you may need to loosen it very slightly in order to lift the string away from the bridge momentarily.

As you do so, slide the coloured tube so that it is sitting directly on top of the bridge of the violin, supporting the string.

Once everything is ready, continue winding the string around the peg.

As you slowly wind it away from you, the string tension will increase, and you will start to hear the pitch of the string increase.

Keep plucking the string as you turn, so you can hear the pitch emerging, and the frequency increasing.

Remember, whatever you do, don't turn the peg too quickly… if you go too far, you'll snap the string!

Tune The String

Now it's time to tune the strings. Check out our feature, 'How to Tune a Violin' and follow the steps there to get your violin in tune.

Tune The String

Make sure that you check the other strings as well as the one you've just changed. The changing tension in your new string is likely to have changed the pitch of the other strings as well.

Even a small adjustment to one string can immediately have an effect on another.

For this reason, there's not much point in trying to get your new string perfectly in tune until you've checked the other strings haven't gone too far out of tune as well.

Once your new string is installed, and tuned to 'approximately' the right pitch, you can roughly check all the other strings, before coming back to the new string and tuning it for a second time.

Get all the strings roughly in tune using the pegs...
...then go around again to 'fine tune' each string!

You can then do a second 'round' of tuning (and if necessary, a third!).

Once each string is at approximately the right pitch, you can focus on individual strings and make sure they have precisely the right level of tension (and pitch).

At this point you can also use fine tuners, if you have them!

'Settling In'

Remember that a new string can take a while to 'settle' as it gets used to the new level of tension.

Sometimes this can take several days, or even a few weeks! So you are likely to need to tune the new string several times more than usual in the first few hours of playing.

For this reason, it's a good idea to avoid changing the strings just before an important performance.

We also recommend keeping spare used strings in your violin case, as well as spare new strings.

Then if a string breaks just before or during a performance, you can change to a string that's already been stretched and settled on the violin.

Always have spare strings ready to use!

Any Questions?

If there's anything else you'd like to know about changing a violin string that's not covered by this feature, just email our Learning Support team at support@violinschool.com and we'll be very happy to help you!


There's a lot to know about getting a violin ready to play!

So if you've found this feature useful, then check out our free course, 'Get Set Up', which covers all the essentials, from finding and selecting a violin to bows and accessories to chin and shoulder rests.

Click here to explore ViolinSchool's free 'Get Set Up' online course!

‘Wiegenlied: Guten Abend, gute Nacht’, Op. 49, is a bit of a mouthful, so let’s just call it ‘Brahms’ Lullaby’! Lull yourself to sleep with this beauty!

We've added a new MIDI playback, so you can practise playing the piece whilst listening to the music.

Play and Download it from the ViolinSchool Library:

Click here to Download It!
(membership required)

Mm-mmmm ... make your bowing and your string crossings smooth and creamy in this delicious, nutritious piece in ¾ time. No jerky arm movements! Glug glug …

In this NEW version of the piece, we've added lots of slurs, so that you can practise smooooooth string crossings back and forth between the different strings.

Keep your upper arm moving steadily as you move it up and down between the string levels. Don't forget to anticipate each string crossing, and start your upper arm early enough that you have plenty of time to reach the string you're moving to. No sudden landings!

We've also added a new MIDI playback, so you can practise playing the piece whilst listening to the music.

Play and Download it from the ViolinSchool Library:

Click here to Download It!
(membership required)

A ViolinSchool favourite, the beautifully lyrical Weeping Willow is a tear-jerker of a piece... and it's now updated with a new, refreshed 'partition'!

We've also added a new MIDI playback, so you can practise playing the piece whilst listening to the music.

Play and Download it from the ViolinSchool Library:

Click here to Download It!
(membership required)

Over the next few weeks, we'll be featuring a series of Intonation Exercises from the ViolinSchool Library - one per week, for you to improve the accuracy of your left hand placement!

We start today with Go The Distance, a very useful practice exercise for familiarising yourself with intervals in 1st position. Start first on open strings, then go one octave higher. Try singing the intervals too!

Go The Distance

Click here to download it from the ViolinSchool Library!
(login required)

One of the most common questions we get about tuning and intonation is ‘which tuning app should I use’?

We like Cleartune on Android and InsTuner on iOS, but we'd like to know what YOU use, so that we can test every single one properly, and make the very best recommendation for all our learners...

Therefore, we're running a survey to see what the most popular tuning apps are amongst ViolinSchool learners!

Tell us your favourite apps, and we'll announce the verdict in a few weeks' time...

Fill out my online form.

We've received a lot of good feedback about the G Major and D Major scale exercises (Level 1/2), so we've now added similar exercises for A Major as well!

You can find them in the ViolinSchool Library in the Scales and Arpeggios section.

1) Separate and Slurred Exercises:

free access, login required

2) Bow Division Exercises:

free access, login required

 

3) Rhythm Exercises:

membership login required

4) Pattern Building Exercises:

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5) A Major Pieces:

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Enjoy!

Everything you need to know to get the strings of your violin to the correct pitch... and keep them there!

In this feature, you'll learn...

  • How pitch works on the violin
  • How to use a 'Reference Pitch'
  • How to turn the Pegs and Fine Tuners to get the strings in tune

Pitch

First we're going to learn about the pitch frequencies of each string, so we know what to aim for when tuning the violin!

The Strings: G, D, A and E

The strings of the violin are tuned to the notes G, D, A and E.

Each of these 'note names' describes a frequency of sound. The exact frequency can vary a bit depending on what style of music you're playing, or where you are in the world!

But the most commonly accepted tuning for the note A is 440Hz (Hertz). This is the sound produced by 440 sine waves per second. It sounds like this:

A (440 Hertz)

This frequency was decided on by the International Standards Organisation in the 1970s. Since then, the tuning of each string has been measured on the assumption that the frequency of A is 'fixed' at 440 sine waves per second.

Although there's a big debate amongst some musicians about whether this is correct (at our London School for example, we generally use A = 441Hz), we're going to assume that you just want to get your violin in tune as fast as possible... so we're going to stick with the A = 440Hz standard for now!

From A, we can work out the frequency of all the other strings. Each violin string is different to the next by an interval of a perfect fifth. This basically means that each string is five notes of the scale away from the next one.

SIDE NOTE: Tuning is actually a bit more complicated than that... a 'perfect fifth' actually describes two notes which have a ratio of 3:2 between their frequencies... if you want to know more about this, look up 'perfect fifth' and 'A440' on Wikipedia, or consult the ViolinSchool Glossary!

So, here are the other strings:

The G string is tuned to the frequency of 196 Hertz:

G (196 Hertz)

The D string is tuned to the frequency of 293 Hertz:

D (293 Hertz)

Thestring, as we've already discussed, is tuned to 440Hz:

A (440 Hertz)

And the string is tuned to 659Hz:

E (659 Hertz)

Using a 'Reference Pitch'

Before we get into the physical 'how-to' of tuning the violin, let's get clear on what we actually want to achieve.

To tune a violin accurately, you need to be sure that you're aiming for the correct right pitch in the first place. So it's a good idea to have a sound that you can 'refer' to. Let's call this a 'reference pitch'.

Your reference pitch will usually be A. This is because the 'international standard' has led to musicians all over the world tuning the A first, to be sure that it fits the fixed standard of 440Hz.

This is why you will usually hear a symphony orchestra tuning to an 'A' played by the lead oboe player. It's also why violinists will often start by tuning the A string, before they tune the other strings of the violin.

A Symphony Orchestra usually tunes to an 'A', played by the lead oboist.

Where To Find A Reference Pitch

Thanks to modern technology, it's now easier than ever to find an accurate sound source to give you an 'A' you can tune to:

Piano or Keyboard
If you're fortunate enough to have access to a keyboard or a piano, then you can play the 'A' and tune to that. Listen carefully to the sound before you play it on the violin.

Tune to a Piano

Digital Pitch App
A smartphone app is a great way of getting a clear 'reference pitch'. You can set the pitch you want, listen to it, and get feedback from the app about whether or not you've hit the right note. Just don't become dependent on it!

Digital Pitch App

Online Tone Generator
If you don't have access to a smartphone, then you can use an online tone generator - like the ones at the top of this page - instead.


Offline Tone Generator (e.g. on a Metronome or Tuner)
Digital tuners pre-date smartphone apps, and are widely available from music retail stores. Be sure to check the accuracy level of the display, as some tuners measure pitch in more detail than others!

Some metronomes also have a pitch function built in, which allows them to generate the sound of an 'A'. But unlike an app, where you'll often be able to change the pitch of A, a piece of hardware like a metronome with an extra tuning function can often be fixed at 440Hz.


Tuning Fork
tuning fork is a two-pronged piece of metal (usually steel) that resonates to produce a pre-determined pitch (most commonly A 440Hz) when you hit it against something!

Tuning Fork

Pitch Pipes
Pitch pipes are small tubes that you can blow in order to produce a sound. Each pipes will be fixed to a pre-determined frequency, so they will always produce the same note.


SIDE NOTE: When tuning the violin, it's really important that you allow the string to vibrate clearly, otherwise you might not hear the pitch accurately. So try not to 'pick' at the strings with the bow… instead, play long, resonant strokes and use the whole bow.

Once you have plenty of experience, it is possible to tune a violin by plucking the strings. But it's still easier to hear the pitch if you play the strings using the bow!


Don't Rely On Visual Tools

If you’re a beginner or if you don’t have much experience with music, your listening might not be ‘attuned’ to the subtle differences in pitch. This will happen over time.

But whilst your pitch awareness is developing, it’s a good idea to use a visual reference as well as an aural reference. This will give you confidence and certainty about being 'in tune'.

Nowadays, a visual reference can usually take the form of a pitch app such as InsTuner on iOS, or Cleartune on Android. Beware of tuners and apps that aren’t very accurate though, and don’t just follow the traffic light system - look at the dial to see how far you are away from your target pitch.

A useful approach is to use pitch apps to check the pitch only once you have already made the adjustments by ear! Then you're training your ear by making the aural adjustment first... and the visual reference serves as a confirmation (or not!) of what you've already done.

Over time, the more experienced you become at tuning using aural references, the less you'll need to refer to the visuals. Eventually you may not need to refer to a tuner at all!

Pegs and Fine Tuners

We change the tension - and therefore the pitch - of the strings, by turning either the Pegs or the Fine Tuners.

Pegs

Pegs in the Pegbox of a violin

The pegs are the four wooden pins that sit in the pegbox of the violin, just underneath the scroll. Each peg has a small hole in the side of it, just big enough for the string to thread through.

This allows the string to be secured inside the peg, so that it can be wound and unwound safely and securely.

Fine Tuners

The fine tuners are four small metal screws which are mounted near the top of the tailpiece of the instrument. They work by bringing the metal attachments closer together when screwed.

The bottom end of each string is pulled further towards the violinist (and away from the pegs). This:

  • increases the tension on the string, which causes...
  • more vibrations of the string, which causes...
  • a higher (or 'sharper') sounding pitch when the string is plucked or bowed.

When To Use Them

As a general rule:

  • Pegs are for BIG adjustments
  • Fine Tuners are for SMALL adjustments.

How To Use The Pegs

If your violin is very out of tune, or if you've just changed a string and need to make a big adjustment to the string tension, then start by using the pegs.


WARNING! Whatever you do, don’t turn the pegs too quickly or too far ... otherwise the string might snap!

Also, do NOT try and turn the peg away from you without first releasing it towards you!

Although it can sometimes work to turn the peg away from you straight away, this should only be done if:

a) you're very experienced, and
b) you've already tuned the violin you're working with by turning the pegs (so that you can feel how the string responds)

The first time you pick up a violin you should quite simply NEVER turn the peg away from you without releasing it towards you first.

Otherwise you are very likely to overturn the peg, creating too much tension. If you do this, it will snap!


Turning the Pegs

Pegs can often be tough to turn, especially if the violin you're using hasn't been used for a while (or hasn't been 'set up' by a specialist violin shop). This is because of the friction between the peg and the peg box.

STEP 1: RELEASE PEG TOWARDS YOU (Release the String Tension)

Get into playing position, and be ready to play (you'll need to bow the string to hear the changes in pitch).

Hold the scroll or pegbox of the violin with your left hand, to provide support and leverage, and then extend your fingers/thumb towards the peg you'd like to turn.

Gently turn the peg towards you. Be careful in case it is extra-slippery or extra-hard. Use the other fingers and the hand to stabilise your movements.

Keep playing the string whilst you turn, so that you can hear the sound of the pitch changing.

Don't turn too far! Only turn enough that the pitch of the string is a note or two lower than the target pitch. Then it's time to wind it up again..

STEP 2: WIND PEG AWAY FROM YOU (Increase the String Tension)

Adjust your hand position so that you are ready to 'lever' the peg back to the right position. This usually requires your thumb to be underneath the peg, so that you are applying force to the underside of the peg.

Awkward-to-turn Pegs

If the peg has got into a near-vertical position, this can be very tricky... if you find you can't do it because you can't apply enough force at that angle, then try sitting down, placing the violin upright on your leg, holding the scroll in one hand, and turning the peg with the other.

Using pegs when the strings are very 'out of tune'

If all four strings of the violin are quite far from their correct pitches, then don’t try and get each string perfect the first time you turn the pegs. This is because if you turn the peg for one string quite a long way, then it will affect the intonation of the other strings.

Instead, go around all the strings couple of times, using the pegs to get each string to approximately the right pitch. By the time you’ve done this twice, or even three times, your movements will be smaller, and tuning one string will no longer affect the other strings.

Tuning only with pegs…

If you do not have fine tuners on your violin, then you will need to achieve an extremely high level of accuracy when tuning with the pegs.

But this can rarely be achieved by making smaller movements, unless the pegs are extremely smooth (or you have geared pegs, a relatively new invention that makes tuning with the pegs very easy!).

Therefore, you may find yourself needing to release and re-wind the tension of a string several times, making the string flatter, and then bringing it up again sharper.

Essentially you are synchronising your listening with the subtleties of the pegs and strings of the violin that you're currently tuning.

By listening to the change in the pitch the first few times you use a peg to change a string's tension, you are 'acclimatising' your ear so that you know how that peg and string behaves.

This is why you will sometimes hear a violinist releasing the peg and then tightening it several times. Essentially they are getting used to how the peg / string behaves on that violin right then and there.

Once you're used to this, you can adjust the speed and distance of your tuning movement to increase the accuracy of your 'big' peg-winding movements. Then you can land on precisely the note you want.

Only Pegs? Or Do I Need Fine Tuners Too?

Fine tuners were invented to make tuning a violin easier, but not every instrument comes with them fitted. However, they do make tuning significantly easier!

For first-time beginners, we do recommend getting fine tuners (or geared pegs) fitted if your violin does not already have them, because it is so much easier to tune the violin that way!

WHY do some violins have a fine tuner only on the E String?  

It's really hard to use a peg to tune the E string! Small adjustments are particularly difficult, because the string is so thin and wiry, and therefore more difficult to handle.

E Strings are also much more prone to snapping than other strings, because they are thinner and therefore do not handle changes in tension so well. Using a peg to tune an E string only makes this problem worse!

That is why a fine tuner is usually fitted to nearly all E strings, whereas it’s just not as necessary for the other strings.

How To Use The Fine Tuners

Fine tuners are good for making small changes to the pitch of the strings.

As a general rule, changes of approximately one note (i.e. a semitone , or a ‘half step’) are more easily handled with the fine tuners than with the pegs.

Anything larger than that will require so much turning, that it will take the fine tuner significantly out of line from the other fine tuners.

For this reason, it's a good idea to learn how to use the pegs so that you can handle big string adjustments, and then use the fine tuners to finish the job!

Which way do I turn the Fine Tuners?

  • Turn the fine tuners CLOCKWISE to tighten the string and raise the pitch (make the pitch 'sharper')
  • Turn the fine tuners ANTICLOCKWISE to loosen the string and lower the pitch (make the pitch 'flatter')

If you're having trouble remembering which way to turn, then drill this into your head...

Turn it LEFT to make it LOOSE!

Turn it RIGHT to make it TIGHT!


Troubleshooting

Sticky/Squeaky Pegs:

If the peg is 'sticky' i.e. it's hard to turn (or squeaky... or even won't turn at all!), then you can take the peg out, and rub some peg paste onto the pin at the point where it touches the hole in the side of the pegbox.

If you don't have peg paste to hand, then you can also use dry soap, or the lead of a pencil!

Tight or Blocked Fine Tuners:

If you have been using the fine tuners a lot, they will sometimes go all the way in to the end of the screw. When this happens, you won’t be able to turn them any more, because they’re as far in as they can go.

The reason we tend to turn the fine tuners more often to the right than to the left, is because more often than not the violin strings will go flatter in pitch, because the tension in the strings will reduce.

When this happens, you need to unwind all the fine tuners to a position where you’ll be able to use them again, and make adjustments with the pegs to bring the strings back to approximately the right pitch.

Loose Fine Tuners:

If a fine tuner is loose, it needs to be turned a bit further in a clockwise direction, to go back into its screw.

However, this will probably make the string too sharp, so be prepared to make some adjustments from the pegs as well, to compensate for the change.

If that doesn't solve the problem, the screw is likely to be broken, and the fine tuner will need to be replaced.

Temperature Changes:

Extremes of temperature can affect the physical state of the violin's strings, which leads to changes in the string tension.

For this reason, you may find that your violin goes out of tune when you take it between different places where there are different extremes of temperature (such as a warm home to a warm teaching studio via a cold subway train!).

If this happens, expect to need to use the pegs!

Any Questions?

If you have any questions about tuning, just leave a comment below and our Learning Support team will answer you as soon as we can!

Next Steps For Learning:

This feature is part of our free online course called ‘Get Set Up’, which explains all the most important information about violins, bows and accessories. Click here to explore the rest of this free online course!

We've been busy over the Christmas holidays! Here’s a sneak preview of what’s about to launch at ViolinSchool...

New Digital Library

To coincide with the start of New Year Term at our London School, we’re opening up our new and improved Digital Library to all existing members.

If you have an active subscription to ViolinSchool.com, you can already log in and download anything and everything (you may need to reset your password).

Each week we’ll be adding more learning resources, and of course we always welcome requests for new repertoire, video tutorials and exercises.

Explore the New Digital Library >>


New Online Courses

The Online Courses are moving back to the main ViolinSchool.com website, and we’ve been busy upgrading each course so that it fits the offline courses that we run in London.

Updated versions of the free-to-access Get Set Up and Beginner Quick Start courses will be available later this month, then during February and March we’ll be releasing Course A, Course B and Course C.

These comprehensively upgraded courses will include all the exercises and pieces of music from the Beginner Violin Courses that we run in London.

For the first time, we’ll also be introducing courses for Parents & Children.

And we’re updating the all-important topics of How to Practise, How to Play in a Group, and How to Perform!

Our weekly updates start again later this week - keep an eye on your inbox for all the latest new learning resources from ViolinSchool!

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Click below to play a Christmas Greeting from The Violin Orchestra!


Coming up in 2019...

We'll be back in early January with all-new online courses, our upgraded digital library and weekly updates of everything that's new in the world of violin!

Have a wonderful holiday season and we'll see you in a couple of weeks!


And now, some CHRISTMAS CAROLS... click below to download!

Need some lyrics for people to sing as you play? Click here for the lyrics!


Deck the Halls

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In The Bleak Midwinter

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Ding Dong Merrily on High

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Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

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Jingle Bells

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We Wish You A Merry Christmas

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Our new Beginner Violin Courses at ViolinSchool London have been growing in popularity over the past year, so we've now introduced three levels - A, B and C - to help first-time adult learners to reach a good basic playing level on the violin!

Until 10pm on 9th December, learners in the UK can save £100 on all courses (£50 on Children's Course) with our 'Earlybird' booking discount for early enrolments.

Adult Learners should take a look at the Beginner Violin Courses here:
https://london.violinschool.com/beginner-violin-course/

Beginner Violin Course for Adult Learners

Parents, check out our new Children's Violin Course here:
https://london.violinschool.com/childrens-violin-course/

Beginner Violin Course for Children aged 3 to 8

Or check out the full Tuition options at on the dedicated website for our London school.

If you're not in the UK don't worry... we'll soon be sharing all the content from these great courses on our eLearning platform.

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