Use of Fine TunersThe teacher of beginning strings should make sure ALL violins, violas, and cellos are equipped with fine tuners on ALL FOUR STRINGS. As students become more sophisticated and start to use better strings and buy better instruments they can remove the fine tuners - but at the beginning they save huge amounts of time, in addition to the money they save by avoiding lots of broken strings.
Tuning GamesThere are many activities to prepare the ear for the act of tuning:
Higher and Lower Game: You play your A string. Ask a student to play his A string. Is his A higher or lower? Ask different people in the class.
Match Pitch: Play a note on your D string. Ask the class to match the pitch.
Open String Song: Start on High E string and play down open strings- E-A-D-G-C. Start on C and go back up. Get students used to hearing the descending and ascending pattern of 5ths. (Basses ascend while others descend).
Sing the Other String: Once instruments are tuned have everyone play their A strings. Stop them quickly with a cut-off gesture. Ask them to sing (hum) a D. You may be pleasantly surprised, or bitterly disappointed, but if you keep at it, they will be able to this, and it will help. A variation on this activity is to have them play the A string while they sing (hum) the D string. Repeat this process with all 4 strings. Students will need to do an octave displacement of some strings to accommodate their vocal range.
Find the Tuner: Teach the violins and violas how to reach under their
right arm with their left arm to reach the fine tuners. Show the cellos how
to lean their instrument to the side and reach around with their left arm to
reach the fine tuners.
Going In and Out of Tune: Start with all the instruments in tune. While class listens, tune your A string down (make the pitch flat), but not too much. Have the class imitate and try to match your pitch. Then turn on an electronic A, or play on the piano, and tune your A string back up until back in tune. Then ask the class to do the same.
Journey to the Center of the Pitch: Ask the class to play a stopped pitch (for example, E on the D string). Use your arms to indicate sharp or flat. If you hold your arms together (on the same vertical plane) then students should play in tune. Wiggle your arms around - this indicates to play out of tune. Then bring your arms back into the same plane - cue to play in tune. You can get very creative with this game. For example, have the low strings do what you show in the right arm, while the high strings follow the left arm. Bring your left arm up - high strings go sharp. Bring right arm down - low strings go flat. Bring your arms back together - everyone moves back to the center of the original pitch.
Hearing Perfect 5ths: Students need to get used to hearing 5ths harmonically,
as well as melodically.
Open string double stop song: Play E-A, then A-D, then D-G, then G-C (not so great on bass 4ths, so have basses play just the lower pitch).
Fiddling tunes can be accompanied using open string double stops.
It's Tuning Time!We are at the point where we can try having everyone tune their own instruments.
Tuning one string at a time individually, listening to the harmonic 5ths across the orchestra.
Step 2 -All Basses play their A and sustain it. Tell them if they get tired to rest for a few seconds, but the rule is you can’t rest while the person next to you is resting.
Step 3 - First stand cellist plays A, and adjusts to the basses. When the first cellist is in tune, they keep playing, while you ask the second cellist to QUIETLY play his A. Repeat until the entire cello section is in tune. Always add ONE person at a time.
NOTE: Tuning should be done upbow, at the tip. Quietly. Encourage students to tune quickly and insist that they bow their string and turn the fine tuner at the same time so they can tell when they are in tune.
Step 4 - Repeat this process with the violas and violins. Always adding to the sound, always playing softly. Effective tuning is never done at a loud dynamic.
Step 5 - Congratulations. The A strings are now in tune. Have the first bassist go to D, while everyone else sustains A. Gradually add the D strings, until everyone is playing a D. Important: Students should sustain A until they go to D and tune D.
Repeat with all strings, going in this order: A-D-G-C-E.
To tune the E string, first have everyone play an A. then have the violins tune their E strings, one at a time until everyone is in tune.
The first time you do this complete tuning process it may take 20, 30, even 40 minutes depending on the size of your orchestra. Each time you do it, however, it will take less and less time - until it can be done in about 5 minutes. Do this everyday!!! Make it part of the routine.
In Stage 4 students tune in sections.
Unison tuning in sections, listening to the harmonic 5ths across the orchestra.
1) Follow the same process as in Stage 3 to get everyone’s A strings in tune.
2) Basses play D, let ALL THE BASSISTS TUNE D STRINGS AT THE SAME TIME, while other sections sustain the A.
3) When basses are in tune to D, have the other instruments (one section at a time) tune their D strings.
4) Repeat this process for all the strings.
Tuning in sections in 5ths
The big moment: Teaching the basses to tune with harmonicsThe double bass is tuned really tuned with unison harmonics. Here’s how to do it:
Concertmaster plays another open A. Cellos and violas tune their A strings. When you feel satisfied with the quality of the A strings, let them check their other open strings (D-A, G-D, C-G, check A-D again)
Concertmaster plays another open A. Violins tune their A strings, then check
other strings (A-D, D-G, A-E)