Tuning a violin can be done in a few simple steps. Understanding how to tune a violin is essential for beginning violin. This post moves past violin basics and dives in to what violin strings are made of and how the tuning of a violin works. A on violin is 440 Hz, one of the easier pitches to remember.
How to Tune A Violin
This youtube does a fanstastic job of walking you through violin tuning. This simple online violin tuner is a handy tool for adjusting the pitch of your violin strings.
What Are the Strings on a Violin
The four strings on the violin are separated in fifths. The violin strings notes are G, D, A and E. The strongest argument for using fifths, is the increased playability of the instruments. Others argue, violins are tuned in fifth to provide richer overtones. Over the years, violin strings evolved to provide a good balance of tension and thickness to meet tuning in fifths of the four strings. But this was not always the case. In a nod to quality over features, the E string was dropped on many models during the second half of the 18th century. Instrument makers of three string violins felt the quality of that thicker string didn’t live up to the tone of the other strings.
Originally, violin strings were made of sheep guts. Since the 1920s, violin strings were available as different metals. The original steel strings resonated too strongly. Metal strings have since mellowed yet people claim “metal will always sound metallic”- synthetic materials have since been developed to compete with guts. For each type of string there are multiple manufacturers that provide different claims to timbre, reliability, longevity, dynamics and feel. Shapechanginginstruments has yet to do our own study on different violin strings.
Finally, its worth noting some violins do have 5 strings by adding a C. Electronic violins can add lower notes with a sixth or seventh string. Naturally, these versions of the instrument are used in more modern styles of music like jazz, country fiddling and swing. But the additional strings leads to compromises in tone that prevent these violins from universal adoption.
Introduction to the Physics String Vibration
Violin lengths, materials and thicknesses in general are chosen to have equal tension across the strings. Light gauge violin strings or heavy gauge violin strings can be both be used. The tension affects the decay of the note, the playability, timbre and amplitude dynamics of the strings. Heavily tensioned strings – on a certain style of bass instruments – require a large amount of bow force to start the attack on the string. The classic model for understanding string vibration is:
Freq = v / (2 * L)
v = standing wave velocity = sqrt( Tension / (m * L))
m = hanging mass of the string
L = String Length
T = String Tension
This provides enough background to adequately design materials for the well pitched strings and the violin neck that won’t break. But it likely lacks some of the non-linear affects that come from the coiling found in many strings. There is more in depth research on violin physics, but we have yet to digest it.