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About Tuning

It is remarkable how little attention violin teachers as a rule give to teaching their pupils to tune the violin and to keep it in proper condition for playing. Yet this is absolutely of the first importance. It is one of the principal duties of the teacher for the first year or so of the pupil's instruction. If the violin is out of tune, how can a pupil be expected to want to practice, and how much good will his practice do him? Yet very few teachers systematically devote a portion of the lesson hour to teaching the pupil to tune, to put on strings, to keep the bridge perpendicular, and other things necessary to keep the violin in condition for playing.
The first duty of the teacher is to see that the pegs are in proper condition. If they fit badly, are too much worn, or if the peg holes of the violin are worn or not accurately cut, the violin should be taken to a good violin repairer—not a cabinet maker or carpenter—and a new set of pegs fitted, or if the fault is in the string holes, these can be filled up with plugs of wood, and a new set of holes bored. This must be done by an expert workman with the proper tools. If a peg break at any time, the violin should be taken to a violin repairer and a new one fitted. Many people buy one at the music store, and try to whittle it to fit the peg-hole themselves. Of course the operation is a failure, and yet they wonder why they have so much trouble with tuning. A peg in good order should turn smoothly and yet hold firmly to the point to which it is turned. Patent preparations for putting on the pegs can be obtained, but common soap and chalk will answer equally well. Wet the finger and rub on a cake of soap, then rub the finger on the peg. This will coat the peg with a very slight film of soap, then rub chalk over the peg, and the operation is complete. Some little experience is necessary to learn just the right proportions of soap and chalk to use, but it is soon learned.
An accurate musical ear is required to put the violin in perfect tune. If a pupil be found with musical hearing so dull that he cannot learn to tune the violin after a few months' instruction, it is of no use to continue the instruction, since he can never make a success of the violin. Of such pupils Spohr, the great violinist and teacher, says in his violin school: "Such pupils, if they do not give up the study of music altogether, should choose another instrument, such as the piano, where the intonation does not depend on the performer."
Any pupil who can sing the scale and simple melodies in tune can learn to tune the violin, as soon as he has mastered the mechanical side of the operation, if he is instructed properly. The A string should be tuned first, the pitch being taken either from the A of the piano or organ, from an A tuning fork, or from the clarinet (or oboe, if there is one), when playing with the orchestra. Then the E string should be tuned with the A, the D with the A, and the G with the D. The proper way to tune 'is to play the two strings evenly with the bow, while the peg is being turned, as in no other way can a perfect tuning be accomplished. As the peg is turned, the perfect blending of the tones into an exact fifth is at once grasped by a keen , ear, as soon as the proper point is reached. The pupil should be taught to tune quietly, the full length of the bow being used, and both notes of the chord being made to vibrate equally. .The hand of the master shows even in tuning, as it is easy to tell an artist by the way he handles his violin and tunes, before he plays a single note. One of the most fearful and wonderful sights and sounds in music is the tuning up of a country orchestra, everyone sawing away for dear life, in quick, spasmodic jerks, and every violin player seemingly trying to drown out his neighbor. Contrast with this the quiet tuning of a large symphony orchestra, which on one occasion in Washington proved so interesting to a visiting Chinese statesman, that he declared that he much preferred it to the symphony which followed.
Many violin students make the mistake of trying to tune "pizzicato" without using the bow at all. A perfect tuning in this way is practically impossible, since, although a violinist with a keen ear can closely approximate an accurate tuning in this way, an absolutely perfect fifth can only be obtained by playing the chord with the bow as the peg is gradually turned. Tuning the E string with the A with the bow, while the peg is being turned, presents some difficulty, particularly if the peg does not work well. With a perfectly working peg, however, it can as a rule be safely accomplished. Many players tune the E "pizzicato," constantly trying the chord of the E and A with the bow, until a perfect fifth has been produced.
Probably the greatest error made by the student in learning to tune is his failure to press the keys into the peg-holes as he turns them. They become loose if they are not pressed in, thus allowing the string to become slack. When a string "runs down" in this manner, the pitch of the other strings is disturbed, owing to the relaxed pressure on the bridge.
The beginner on the violin, as a rule, finds it difficult to tune in the correct manner with the bow, and various expedients must be used at first. If the pupil have access to a piano or organ, he can for the first few weeks be permitted to tune the four strings of the violin to the corresponding notes on the piano. It is also possible to get a little instrument called the "violin tuner," consisting of four small pitch pipes, fastened together, giving the notes E, A, D, G. The difficulty about the "violin tuner" is that the manufacturers make them at high "concert" pitch instead of "international" pitch, the result being many broken strings and much difficulty for the beginner in keeping the violin at such a high pitch.
No time should be lost, however, in teaching the pupil to tune by ear as soon as possible. Every pupil should have an accurate tuning fork giving the correct "A" at international pitch, since this is the standard pitch of the musical world, and the student's ear should at all times become accustomed to hearing the notes of the scale at their correct pitch. The A of the violin should be kept tuned to the international A at all times. Many different plans are followed by teachers in developing tuning by ear. One way is to draw a line across the fingerboard at the point where the fourth finger falls when playing in the first position. Thus, if the pupil puts his fourth finger on the mark when playing on the A string, it will give the proper pitch to which the E string should be tuned. The other strings can be tuned in a similar manner. Another plan is for the pupil to sing up and down the scale until the proper note is reached. Thus starting on the A string, if he will sing up to the fifth note it will give him E, the note to which he wishes to tune his E string. By singing down to the fifth note from A he can get D, and from D he can get G. This is a thoroughly practical method. A pupil with a real musical ear, however, will have no difficulty in grasping the nature of a fifth almost at once, and can be taught to tune in a surprisingly short space of time, as soon as he has learned the mechanical part of it. As soon as the pupil's ear is able to comprehend the chord of a perfect fifth, all make-shifts should be discontinued, and he should be allowed to tune only by playing the open chords of the violin with the bow.

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