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How Do I Tune a Viola?

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  • Written By: Amanda R. Bell
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2014
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A digital tuner is one of the easiest ways to tune a viola, a string instrument in the violin family, although more experienced players may be able to do so by ear using a piano or tuning fork. If using a digital tuner, set the device and tune each string individually, using the pegs and fine tuners while you continuously run the bow over the string slowly and with steady pressure. Then work your way up or down to the other strings, never tuning more than two notes up or down without adjusting the other strings. If tuning by ear, listen to a perfect “A” note using a tuning fork or piano and adjust the “A” string using the pegs and fine tuners. Once this string is in tune, play an open chord with the “A” and “D” strings, tuning the “D” until it is a perfect fifth between the two strings, repeating this process with the other strings.

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To tune a viola, set a digital tuning device according to the string that you need to tune, and slowly move the larger tuning pegs located under the scroll of the viola until the string is as close as possible to the specified note. A digital tuner is set to a specific note and then the open string is played slowly as you tune a viola; the device will show you whether you are higher or lower than the specified note, typically beeping once your string is in tune. Then, use the fine-tuning pegs, located just above the bridge of the viola, to finish tuning. Some violas do not have fine tuners on all of the strings, especially higher-end instruments; in this case, you only need to use the pegs. If a string needs to be higher, turn the pegs away from your chin and the fine tuners to the right, and, if it needs to be lower, then turn each in the opposite direction.

If any of the strings are more than two notes too high or too low, it is important to tighten or loosen all of them gradually when you tune a viola. Adjust the “C” or “A” string, depending on where you prefer to start, up or down two notes as necessary, then move on to the other strings, tuning them up or down two notes. Move back to the first string, repeating this process until the viola is in tune. This helps to prevent damage to the bridge.

Many advanced players prefer to tune a viola by ear. To do this, you first need to listen closely to an “A” note, which can be done using a tuning fork or piano. As you listen to the note, you can tune a viola by slowly adjusting the “A” string using the pegs and fine tuner while playing the open string until both notes match. Then, play an open chord between the “A” and “D”, “D” and “G”, and “G” and “D”, tuning each individual string to a perfect fifth from the one you previously tuned. This manner of tuning a viola can be difficult, and it can be helpful to check tuning with a digital device when learning how to do so.

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