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violin, viola, cello and bass lessons in nyc, new york city and beyond

students' area : oh no!

broken string

If a string breaks on your instrument, don't panic! It happens. If you have an extra in your case already, great, if not, you'll have to go out and get one. If you call the violin shop or music store before you go, you can ask if there will be anyone who can change the string for you. If not, the string is not so hard to put on yourself, just be careful not to over-tighten it.

One end of the string will usually have a ball or loop, the other end will just be wound and straight. First remove the broken string completely. Next insert the straight end of the string (without the loop or ball) into the tiny hole in the tuning peg. Push the string all the way through until about 3/8 inch is poking out the other side of the tuning peg. Carefully start to wind the peg away from you, when the end that's poking out comes full circle, try to overlap it with the string that's being wound, this way it won't slip out when playing. Also it's best to wind the string in the direction of the peg you are holding, it will hold better.

Do not wind the string all the way yet, however you'll need to keep some tension on the string to keep it from unwinding. Now put the ball or loop in its holder at the tailpiece. Now start to tighten the string fully. If you are worried about over tightening, just get the string to the point where it has a little tension on it and bring it to your next lesson to be tuned.

tuning your strings

If you're just starting out, it may or may not be difficult to tune your instrument. I'd recommend that you get a "pitch pipe" or electronic tuner to help you with tuning your strings. You'll need a pipe that is made for tuning the violin with the notes "G, D, A and E", or the viola with the notes "C, G, D and A". Simply blow through the pipe and be sure you're tuning the right string. Try to match the pitch of the string to the pipe, while tuning, always ask yourself, "is the note on my violin string higher or lower than what I'm hearing on the pitch pipe?" Adjust accordingly. Don't get frustrated if this seems terribly difficult, it can be and may take some time to learn to do. Intonation, like anything else, will need to be learned over time.

If you'd rather use an electronic tuner, these are fairly easy and straightforward to use, pluck or bow the string and the tuner will indicate if the string needs to be raised in pitch (tightened) or lowered (loosened.)

Electronic Tuner

Here are one minute recordings of the violin / viola string tones: A, D, E, G and the low C for viola. It is good to do two rounds of tuning over all strings.

how to use an electronic tuner
by Ed Davis

From huge, heavy oscilloscope-like contraptions to today's credit card sized units and applications for handheld devices, needless to say, electronic tuners have come a long way - at least in terms of becoming portable and affordable. Though tuners may come in many varieties, all of them basically do the same thing : tuners sense the frequency of your pitch and give you visual feedback on what pitch your instrument is producing. For the acoustic musician, a tuner that is either specifically for your instrument or one with a microphone, or contact mic, that is "chromatic" will help you tune your instrument.

One must know a little about music notes to begin using a tuner. The music alphabet begins with A and extends to G, then begins again with A. What does that mean? As you sound a string, you may see the tuner read "F" for instance. "F" is in between "E" and "G", and "F" will be a higher pitch than "E", and a lower pitch than "G". Another example, if your tuner reads "A", this is a higher pitch than "G" and a lower pitch than "B", etc. Also tuners do register in increments smaller than basic lettering, let's start with "A" and go up, that is, each pitch is becoming progressively higher :

A - A# - B - C - C# - D - D# - E - F - F# - G - G# - A (The cycle begins again.)

Let's say you wish to tune a string to the pitch "D" and when you pluck or bow your instrument, your tuner is displaying "C". This will most likely mean that you need to tighten the string. As you carefully tighten your string, you may see your tuner read "C", then "C#", then "D"...then "D#"! Whoops, if it went to D#, you've gone too far and need to relax the string just a bit back down to "D" as "D#" is higher than "D". Now here's where some tuners will display either lights and/or have a wand than moves right and left, this visual is to help you hone in on the exact pitch. If the display is showing "D" and the wand is to the left, or the red light is on the left, you will need to gently tighten your string. If your instrument has them, using the fine tuners on the tail piece may be a good idea at this point (if there is room to turn the fine tuner knob in a clockwise direction). If the red light and wand is to the right, you'll need to loosen your string just a little. When the green light (or center light) and wand is in the center and the tuner is displaying "D", your pitch is tuned to that note.

Whether or not you may think that the above steps are easy or difficult, now come some scenarios that make using your tuner more challenging....

"My string is completely loose and wobbly."

Here's where having a tuner that also plays an audible tone will be desirable : the tone can help you, at the very least, tune the instrument to near the target pitch. Carefully tighten the string keeping an eye on the string inside the peg box as it might become detached from the peg. Pluck the string repeatedly as you turn the peg and always ask yourself if the pitch you are hearing from your instrument is matching the tone you are hearing from the tuner. Once the pitch is near, switch over to your tuner's listening mode and you can begin using your tuner to hone in on the exact pitch.

"My string isn't tightening at all."

There are tiny holes in each of the pegs that hold the end of each string. Check to see if the string is indeed through that hole. If it isn't, first of all, take it out of the peg box and straighten out the curly end a bit being careful not to kink the string. Reinsert the string into the peg hole and let a small portion of it stick out the opposite end of the peg. When winding, try to overlap this outcropping so it can securely hold the string while you are winding it. Also as a rule, it is better to wind the string in the direction of the peg handle, winding to the edge of the peg box. While keeping hold of the string and after enough of the string is wound, insert the ball (or loop) end of the string into the tailpiece. Continue to wind until it is tight enough to hold on its own.

"Aaaah, I broke my string!"

Let me be the first to welcome you to the club - new string players will undoubtably break a string, it happens. Though strings are much more resilient than they were in the past, tightening a string quickly or over-tightening can break the string. Go out and get another, and for good practice, always have a spare set in your case.

"I can't tell what pitch my violin is, tuning is very difficult for me to do."

Along with technique (bowing, fingering, balance, movement, etc.), a sense of intonation is developed as well. Recognizing pitch and playing music is learned, one is not "born with it" much the same way one is not born reciting Hamlet. Music is a kind of language, pitch is one of the nuances within that language. It is normal for the teacher to tune a student's instrument for the first few years, so do not feel bad if you're having difficulties. Just keep at it and have patience with yourself as you learn, everything will come in time.