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How to Tune a Cello

    When you’re starting out on an instrument, it’s not only important to learn how to play it but also how to tune it. Tuning is a crucial step for any instrument and should be one of the first lessons you learn as a novice.

    It is better to learn this sooner rather than later as an out of tune instrument will drastically impede your performance.

    Some instruments are easier to tune than others. The cello is one of the more complex. At first, an instructor will help you tune your cello but mastering this on your own will improve all aspects of your performance.

    Learning to tune a cello is tricky at first but with the right instruments, and a touch more finesse, you will soon be tuning your cello with ease.

    To tune your cello properly, you will have to be familiar with all the features involved and how the instrument works. Cellos can change shape slightly in a humid climate which can affect their pitch.

    We will discuss this and the entire tuning method below so you can progress even quicker on your cello journey.

    The Basics

    Let’s start with the basics of a cello. It has four strings and each is tuned in perfect fifths. Its notes are C, G, D, and A. The first trick to tune the low C is to play it alongside a piano.

    A cello’s low C is two octaves below the middle C of a piano so simply match these in tune for the right pitch.

    There are four tuning pegs on the scroll and four fine tuners on the tailpiece. These are used to tighten and loosen the strings. This should be done with caution as a cello’s strings are secured to the bridge and soundpost through tension which should be moved slightly.

    A cello’s strings are tuned from an open position. As we will discuss, it is best to start tuning with a digital tuner that clips onto the peg box. After some time, you should be able to use a tuning fork or harmonics to tune your cello just as easily.

    Tuning devices

    If you are a beginner, there are a number of devices to help you tune your cello. These will deliver precise intonation and help you progress quickly to tuning by ear. These devices are:

    • Digital tuners – Clip ons are recommended to receive the vibrations and tune precisely
    • Pitch pipes – Simply blow into these to get your desired pitch
    • Tuning forks – These resonate at a constant pitch when struck across an object to get your specific pitch
    • Other instruments such as a piano – Listen to the pitch of another instrument and match it with your cello

    Cello tuning sequences

    With a cello, you are able to tune your cello according to the number of strings that need tuning.

    You can make minor adjustments using the fine tuners but if the strings are way off pitch, you will have to sort them using the pegs and tuners.

    If you need to tune more than two strings, use the sequence of C, G, D, A. These strings will usually need to be tightened as the tension is loosened over time leaving the pitch flat.

    As we mentioned earlier, the climate can affect the tuning, and changes in temperature can sometimes require you to loosen the pegs.

    The method

    1. This is where you work with the open C. You should slowly tighten the open C to bring it up in pitch until it is close to the correct note. You do this by plucking the string to get a tone and slightly turn and push the peg to tighten it. Do the opposite if it needs loosening with a digital tuner. You shouldn’t tune the string perfectly at this point as this could create an irregular pressure on the bridge affecting each string.
    2. Repeat this on the remaining strings but stay below the pitch with each one.
    3. Once this is done, ensure your bridge alignment hasn’t had too much pressure applied. It should be completely perpendicular to the soundboard.
    4. Repeat this process again but with smaller adjustments, each time until each string is tightened and external close to the pitch.
    5. You should now be within one note of your perfect pitch. To finalize this, use your fine tuners to achieve the perfect pitch. You should be careful here not to tighten the finer tuner completely as it can dent the soundboard on extreme occasions.

    Tuning tips

    When you are tuning a cello, you must do so with extreme caution. It is possible to damage the cello’s components such as its soundboard, pegs, and strings if tuned too tightly or too loose. Here are some tips to help you.

    You should never remove or slacken all of the strings on your cello at the same time. You should only remove one string at a time. If this isn’t followed, the bridge and soundpost could fall without the right amount of string tension. This can only be fixed by a professional at a cost to you.

    Keep the temperature of your room in mind when tuning. Higher temperatures often make the strings go flat and lower temperatures sharpen the string’s tone. Dry to tune in a moderate climate.

    Every time you play your cello, fine-tune it to keep it maintained and sounding great.

    Try out a range of tuners to discover which is right for you. What may be preferred by someone else won’t necessarily be the right choice for you.

    You should never tighten your fine tuners all the way down as this can dent or scratch the instrument’s belly.

    Maintain your strings by keeping them clean with a soft cloth to reduce rosin on the fingerboard and the instrument’s top.

    Final word

    As you can see, there is an intricate process in tuning your cello. Through careful practice and time, you will be able to tune your cello easily.

    Whether you use tuning devices or your own ear, you will eventually get that flawless intonation every time.

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