How to Tune a Cello: All the Common Methods in Detail
You might know how to play the cello, but the instrument cannot produce perfect sounds if you do not how to tune it. The first step to tuning a cello is understanding how its different parts work together to produce music.
Like other wooden instruments, atmospheric pressure, humidity and temperature affect the quality of sound produced by the cello. If you overlook these factors, you will need to tune your instrument more frequently and in worst-case scenarios, it can get damaged. This is because when the wood expands and contracts, it affects the tension in the strings.
Basics of Tuning the Cello
Similar to the violin, the cello has four strings tuned to perfect fifths. The notes are C, G, D, and A in increasing order of thickness. Many players use the piano to tune their cellos because the two octaves below its middle C correspond to the low C on the cello.
The four fine tuners found on the tailpiece and the four tuning pegs located on the scroll are useful for adjusting the tension on the cello’s strings. However, you need to be careful when tightening or loosening the strings because the tension on them secures the bridge and the soundpost.
While you are still a beginner, you will want to rely on a digital tuner. Most models are affordable and easy to use. Once you learn how to set a good intonation, tuning using a fork and harmonics will be simple.
Methods of Tuning a Cello
The following are the methods that you can use to tune a cello.
- Digital Tuner
- Cello pegs
- Fine Tuner
- Fork Tuning
Using a Piano
Most people, especially the experts, like tuning their cellos using a piano. This method involves using the two octaves lower than the middle C on the piano as a guide. Tuning starts at string C and goes backwards until you reach string A. If you are a novice, it is not advisable to use this technique.
Using a Digital Tuner
Nowadays, nearly every person has a smartphone. Suppose you do not know how to tune using a piano or a fork, your phone can come in handy. All you have to do is download an app from Google Play Store, Apple App Store, or any other app repository.
Digital tuning is ideal for beginners who are yet to master intonation. It is worth noting that this method starts with string A.
Once you open the app, place your phone on a stand such that it does not prevent handling your cello properly. The app will display the pitch you play when you pluck a string.
Next, play your string A at medium volume. Playing a sound that is too high or too low can prevent the app from correctly interpreting the sound you play. If the note you play corresponds to the tune, the app will turn on a green light or display other means of correctness, depending on its configuration.
If your note is incorrect, the app will display a warning alert, which is mostly an ‘X’ or a red light. In this case, you will need to adjust your fine tuners.
Using Cello Pegs
When your strings are flat or sharp, the best method of tuning is by using cello pegs. Push in the peg during the entire process to avoid slipping and unravelling entirely. That said, you should not twist the pegs too far, can break the strings and injure your fingers. This is a common mistake among beginners.
Using Fine Tuners
Tuning using a tuner is the most accurate of tuning your cello. Like digital tuning, it is also easy to master. Start by setting the tuner at 440Hz and then listen to every note and the sound it produces. Some tuners can listen for you and tell you if your tune is flat or sharp, which is ideal if you are still new to the practice.
With fine tuners, turning to the left lowers the pitch while twisting to the right increases it.
Fork tuning is among the oldest techniques used for tuning the cello and other wood-crafted instruments. It is probably the reason why seasoned cello players prefer it over other methods.
Most tuning forks have a base frequency of 440Hz, also called ‘concert A.’ When you hit the fork against an object, it vibrates on key A, giving you a standard for tuning your cello. The best way to make the fork produce the perfect A note is by hitting its prongs against your knees and place them on your cello’s bridge.
The fork will continue to produce the A note as long as its prongs are vibrating. During this time, you can start playing the A string on your cello until it produces a matching tune. Play it softly to avoid overshadowing the sound produced by the forks.
Use fine tuners to ensure that you maintain the right pitch. If you want to mute the fork at any point while tuning, touch it against a soft surface. Avoid hitting against hard surfaces because you risk cracking the cello.
Additional Tuning Tips
When your fine tuner screws become stiff, use a lubricant to reverse the condition, but do not apply it on the cello. If the pegs are loosening, seek professional help because they might need replacement.
Never loosen all four strings at once. Instead, take one at a time to avoid the cello’s bridge and soundpost. If this happens, it can cost you a lot of money to fix.
It is worth noting that lower temperatures tighten your strings while higher temperatures flatten them. Also, accumulated resin on the strings can make them go out of tune, which is why you need to keep them clean.
It takes time to learn how to tune a cello. If you find it challenging when you are a beginner, do not give up. With effort and commitment, you will master the practice.
If you are a beginner, start by using a digital tuner, as it is easier to master than other methods.