For the beginning violin student, there are two basic challenges to playing music well: playing in time and playing in tune. Obviously, in order to play in tune, the violin student – as well as those students who study the viola and cello – must make sure that their instrument is in tune as far as their open strings. This is a must before a single finger lands on the violin fingerboard. If the open strings are not in tune, neither will any other notes be in tune.
Over time, violin students, and even their parents or an older sibling, can get very good at tuning a violin “by ear”, but even intermediate and advanced players aren’t usually able to accomplish that task easily. A tuning fork can help get the A string in tune, and pitch pipes may be slightly helpful, but no violin accessory helps tune an instrument as well as a digital tuner.
Tuners have become very important violin accessories for that reason. Tuners come in all types, shapes and sizes. Some tuners are compact enough to fit into an instrument case so that the student always has access to it. Other larger tuners sit on counters and still others can clip on to a music stand in a student practice room.
Parents will want to invest in a chromatic tuner, which can tune not just the four basic open strings of the violin, the G, D, A and E, but all 12 notes of the scale. The simplest and cheapest tuners can only tune a single note, such as the 440 A pitch.
Violin tuners are very much a “get what you pay for” item. The cheaper the tuner, the less likely it will be to offer an accurate measure of tuning. Lower-end tuners use LED lights to indicate the correct pitch. LCD tuners are a big improvement over LED tuners in that they can mimic needle tuners, which offer a better display of whether the note is perfectly in tune, as opposed to sharp or flat.
Most of these tuners are simple to use and a parent should consult with the student’s teacher as to what type of tuner is appropriate for the student’s age and experience. Depending on the age and experience, the teacher may train the parents to use the tuner in order to help the student tune his or her violin at home. This is especially true for the youngest of students.
Tuners can be found for sale at online violin stores, as well as most music shops and larger music retailers. It is best, however, to make a trek to the local violin shop and obtain the insight of the highly trained staff as to which tuners are available and appropriate. Most violin shops stock a variety of brands of violin accessories such as metronomes, humidifiers, shoulder rests and more.