Now that you have acquired your cello, the next step is getting it to produce the beautiful sounds you’ve heard the experts make. Of course, you already know that you’d have to learn to play the instrument itself. But even more importantly, you have to make sure that your cello is perfectly tuned to get the best sounds of it. Now here comes the million-dollar question – how do you tune your cello?
It may be impossible to overemphasize the need for every cello player (student or not) to know how to tune their instrument. For one, it helps you stay on pitch when playing with other cellists and instruments. Furthermore, learning how to tune a cello and continuously practicing it trains your ears to be more musically-attuned. So, you see, it’s a win-win!
However, it may shock you to find out the number of cello players out there who cannot properly tune a cello. Thankfully, you’ve taken the first step towards adding this crucial skill to your musical capabilities.
You see, the first thing every pro cellist does when they pull their instrument out of the box is to tune it. Yes, every single time! Of course, as a beginner, you may likely have your instructor there to tune it for you before you practice. However, if you progress on your cello learning as fast as possible, one way to do it is to learn to tune your instrument.
After all, your instructor will not always be there every time you want to play.
Here are major methods you can use to tune your cello:
- Cello Pegs
- Finer Tuner
- App / Electronic Tuner
- Fork Tuning
In light of this, we have good news for you – tuning a cello is not a complicated process. However, it does require a level of technical know-how. Not to worry, we’ll walk you through how to do it. In this blog post, you will discover a comprehensive guide on how to tune your cello. But, first, let us lay some necessary groundwork.
The ABCs of Cello Tuning
If you’re reading this article, it is a safe bet that you already know a Cello has four strings. Sitting behind your cello, the string order from left to right goes A (highest pitch) to D, G, and finally, C (the lowest pitch). Also, like the violin, the strings on the cello are tuned to the perfect fifths. Fun fact? The cello’s low C corresponds to two octaves lower than the middle C on the piano.
To tune your cello, you’d have to make use of two mechanisms built into the instruments – four tuning pegs and four fine tuners. You will find the four tuning pegs on the scroll of your cello while the four finer tuners are its tailpiece. Each tuning peg and fine tuner tightens or loosens a corresponding string when you control them. Of course, there is a logic to the process, which we’ll show you soon.
Still on strings and tuning them, here is something you should note. Like most string instruments, the tension of cello strings is what secures its bridge and sound-post. Therefore, we recommend caution, especially when loosening the strings. In fact, you should not, at any point, loosen all the strings on your cello at once.
Now, concerning the tuning sequence of a cello, there are several approaches to achieving a perfect tuning. On the one hand, professional orchestras start tuning from the highest string A and work their way down from D through G to the C string. However, if more than two strings need extensive tuning, it may be best to use the C-G-D-A sequence.
Before we dive into the various ways you can tune, you can tune your cello, let us share some insight into how the tuning pegs and fine tuners on a cello works. This way, you can relate better when we get into the technicalities of tuning a cello.
Cello Pegs and Fine Tuners: How to Use Them
You already know there are two separate mechanisms for tuning a cello. However, if you’ve never tuned a cello yourself, it is likely that you don’t know how to use them. That said, here is a brief description of how they work.
How to Use cello pegs
Each string on a cello runs across the fingerboard, on top of the nut, and into a peg. Also, each peg has a tapered form, which corresponds to the holes in its box. This way, you can secure them by carefully pushing and wedging them in place with your hands. However, you must make sure that the cello strings come under their respective pegs and not over them.
Turning a cello peg clockwise will tighten the string in question, while twisting it anti-clockwise loosens it. However, it is crucial you take things slow in the beginning. Otherwise, you may turn the pegs too quickly and risk damaging your strings or, worse, the peg holes. Moreover, most times, you may only need to use the cello pegs if the strings are significantly out of tune.
This brings us to the fine tuners.
How to Use Fine Tuners
From the nut on your cello (the carved ebony piece on top), the strings run down the instrument, over the bridge, and into the tailpiece’s fine tuners.
Using these fine tuners is relatively more straightforward than the pegs. All you have to do is turn their screws. Like pegs, turning a finer tuner clockwise tightens the corresponding string and raises its pitch, while an anticlockwise twist will loosen it, thereby flattening the string.
More often not, you will only need to use the finer tuners for your every day (or every play) tuning. The only exception is if it somehow happens that the cello strings are too far off-tune. Then, you will need to use pegs.
That said, to help put things in perspective, let us explain the C-G-D-A tuning sequence using the above information.
- First, start by using the cello pegs to tighten the open C string until it is relatively close to the correct note. Remember, the pegs are tapered (conical). So, be gentle when pushing them into the holes.
- Then, repeat the tightening process on the remaining strings making sure to stay below the perfect pitch for each one.
- Once you’ve done this, check that the tension you’ve introduced has not changed the bridge’s alignment (it should always be perpendicular to your cello’s soundboard).
- Next, perform the tightening action on all strings again. Use progressively smaller adjustments till they’re all closer to their ideal pitches.
- Now, it’s time to use the finer tuners. Twist the screws on the fine tuner for each string until you have an all-round perfect tone. However, you should try as much as possible not to over-tighten your screws as that may cause a dent.
At this point, you should already have a sound knowledge of how the pegs and finer tuners on a cello work. But, here comes the bigger question – how do you know the perfect tune for each string? Well, we’ll tell you in a bit. So, don’t stop reading.
Tuning Your Cello: A Detailed Step-by-step Guide
Before you can declare that your cello is perfectly tuned, you need to have a means of evaluating the sound it produces. Indeed, this is the basis of how to tune a cello. That said, there are various methods that beginners and intermediates can use to tune their cellos. In the next few paragraphs, we’ll share them with you:
1) How To Tuning Fork To Tune Cello
In the stringed instrument tuning world, many describe the tuning fork as ‘old but gold.’ Indeed, the tuning fork is one of the oldest methods (over two centuries) of tuning the cello and other similar instruments. However, it has remained just as effective over the decades. In fact, most pros and longtime cello players prefer to use the tuning fork over all other options.
Most tuning forks have a vibrating frequency of 44oHz, or as musicians call it, the ‘Concert A.’ Before we explore how to use the tuning fork to tune your cello, let us give you a quick rundown of what the tool is.
A tuning fork is a metal tool that has existed since the 18th century, 1771, to be precise. It consists of two prongs and a stem (it handles). Although the tuning fork sees applications in diverse fields of study, one of its more famous use is as a means of tuning musical instruments. Now, you’re probably wondering how musicians use the tuning fork. Well, we’ll tell you.
When you strike the tuning fork against an object, its prongs vibrate on the Key A, which then gives you a standard for tuning your cello. The best way to make the fork produce its A note is to strike its prongs against your knee and then place them on your cello’s bridge. Hint: make sure it has a clean contact with the wood of the cello. This way, the sound resonates through the cello’s body and becomes amplified.
You may also try bringing the tuning fork closer to your ear so you can listen. Or, more interestingly, you can place its stem on top of your head so you can hear the sound through your bones! Yes, it actually works.
As long as the tuning fork’s prongs are vibrating, it will keep producing that A note. As the A rings from the fork, you can start playing the A string on your cello and tune it until it matches the fork’s tune. It is usually best to play softly with your bow so as not to overshadow the fork’s sounds. Once you’ve tuned the A string, you may then play the A and D strings together while listening for a perfect fifth.
You may use your fine tuners to make sure that you are on the right pitch. As soon as you’ve tuned the D string, play it with the G string and repeat the tuning process. Then, finally, tune the C string.
If you want to make the tuning fork stop producing its sound at any point during your tuning, simply touch it against a soft surface. Also, never strike the prongs against a hard surface to getting it going. Otherwise, you may risk cracking it. Instead, use your knees or perhaps a rubber-coated object. But, even at that, do not strike too hard.
2) How To Use Digital App on a Mobile Phone To Tune Cello
Today, it is rare for anyone to walk around without their mobile phones. So, if you forget to take your tuning fork along to a cello practice or performance, chances are your phone will be with you. Thankfully, there are now digital applications on both IOS and android phones that can help you tune your cello. All you have to do is download one, and you’re good to go.
Besides, digital tuning apps are generally easier to use for beginners with ‘untrained’ ears. That said, let’s walk you through how to use it. Note that you will also be starting your tuning from string A.
- Once you have downloaded the app, launch it, and set it on your music stand. You don’t want to drop your phone accidentally while fiddling with your cello. You should see a dial on the phone screen ready to tell you the pitch you play when you pluck a string.
- Next, play on your A string with long and slow bowings at a medium volume. You don’t want to make a sound that’s too loud or too low so that the app can ‘hear’ you clearly.
- If the note you played is in tune, the app will display a letter A and turn on a green light (or other means of indicating correctness).
- However, if your note is too high (or sharp), the display light will be red (sometimes, orange), and you will see some bars to the right of the middle line. In this case, you will need to loosen your fine tuners a bit. Then, play again until the app goes green and displays the letter A.
- If the bars show up on the middle line’s left side, then it means your pitch is too low. In other words, you need to tighten up your finer tuners. However, if your cello is too far out of tune, your fine tuner may not be able to compensate for it. In this case, you’ll need to fiddle with the tuning pegs too.
- The first thing you need to do is loosen the finer tuner by twisting it anticlockwise. Then, identify the corresponding peg for the A string and turn it downwards to loosen it too. The reason for this is to make sure the string is not stuck in the grooves. Tightening a string in that state can cause it to break, which is why we advise that you loosen it first.
- Next, twist the peg slowly and steadily to tighten it while plucking the string periodically to ensure you don’t overdo it.
- When you’re close to the ideal pitch for string A, gently wedge the peg in place so that it does not slip out for the hole. Then, you can use the fine tuner to boost the pitch to the required level.
- Finally, once you’ve tuned string A perfectly, play A and D together, D and G, and then G and C while looking for perfect fifths.
- Note that if your cello is hugely out of tune, you may have to repeat the entire process twice or thrice. This is because one string may stretch or settle while you’re tuning others.
3) How To Use keyboard or Piano To Tune Cello
Some people, usually the pros, may also tune their cellos using the two octaves lower than a middle C on a keyboard as their guide. In this case, you will have to start your tuning from the string C on the cello and work your way backward to string A. But, we generally don’t recommend this method for cello players at beginner and intermediate levels.
Additional Tips on Tuning Your Cello
- If your fine tuner screws are stiff, you may use some WD40 to lubricate them. But don’t spray it on your cello!
- If your pegs are always loosening on their own, seek professional help. You may need to replace them.
- Never slacken all four strings on your cello at once. Instead, loosen them one at a time, so you don’t disrupt the instrument’s bridge and sound-post. If this occurs, it can be very costly to fix.
- Note that at higher temperatures, your strings may go flat while cooler temperatures tighten them.
- Impacted rosin on your cello strings can make them go out of tune. So, always keep them clean.
- Lastly, you can experiment with various tuners to find out which one suits you best.
Learning how to tune your cello is a process that takes some time to master. So, if you don’t get to the first time you try, don’t let that frustrate you. Indeed, it is very rare for anyone to master tuning on the first try. The truth is, you will need to invest significant time and effort into learning the tuning process. But once you do, you will find it is a very worthwhile investment in your musical career.
If you are a beginner, we recommend starting with a digital tuner as they are relatively more straightforward. As you progress on your cello learning curve and attain the musician’s ear, you may move on to tuning forks. Then, you can then try using a piano and even other instruments.
Have fun playing!