How Do I Tune a Viola?

Although more experienced players may be able to tune a viola ear using a piano or tuning fork, a digital tuner is one of the easiest ways to tune a viola, a string instrument in the violin family. If you’re using a digital tuner, set it up and tune each string separately with the pegs and fine tuners while running the bow over the string slowly and steadily. Then adjust the other strings as needed, never tuning more than two notes up or down without adjusting the other strings. If tuning ear, use a tuning fork or a piano to listen to a perfect “A” note and adjust the “A” string using the pegs and fine tuners. Play an open chord with the “A” and “D” strings once this string is in tune, tuning the “D” until it is a perfect fifth between the two strings, then repeat with the other strings.

To tune a viola, first set a digital tuning device for the string you want to tune, then slowly move the larger tuning pegs under the viola’s scroll until the string is as close to the specified note as possible. When tuning a viola, a digital tuner is set to a specific note, and the open string is slowly played; the device will indicate whether you are higher or lower than the specified note, typically beeping once your string is in tune. Then, to finish tuning, use the fine-tuning pegs located just above the viola’s bridge. Some violas, particularly higher-end instruments, do not have fine tuners on all of the strings; in this case, you must rely solely on the pegs. Turn the pegs away from your chin and the fine tuners to the right if a string needs to be raised, and the opposite if a string needs to be lowered.

When tuning a viola, if any of the strings are more than two notes too high or too low, it’s important to gradually tighten or loosen all of them. Adjust the “C” or “A” string up or down two notes as needed, depending on where you want to start, then move on to the other strings, tuning them up or down two notes. Return to the first string and repeat the procedure until the viola is tuned. This helps to keep the bridge in good shape.

Many advanced violists prefer to tune their instruments ear. To do so, first listen carefully to a “A” note, which you can do with a tuning fork or a piano. You can tune a viola while listening to the note slowly adjusting the “A” string with the pegs and fine tuner while playing the open string until both notes match. Then, between the “A” and “D,” “D” and “G,” and “G” and “D,” play an open chord, tuning each individual string to a perfect fifth from the one you just tuned. This method of tuning a viola can be difficult, so using a digital device to check tuning can be helpful when learning how to do so.