How to play in tune

How to play in tune

One of the initial problems for many people when learning to play a fiddle is learning to hear what the notes sound like when they are in tune. Unless you have perfect pitch, or have experience of singing, or playing another instrument that isn’t fixed pitch, you’re unlikely to be able to do this with confidence. With a bit of patience it’s a skill that can be learned.

How to adjust the pitch you’re playing

If you play a note that sounds sharp (the pitch is too high), move the finger closer to the scroll of the fiddle. For a note that sounds flat, you’ll need to move your finger closer to the bridge.

Learning to play in tune
Photo ©Ros Gasson

Learning to hear when a note is in tune

There are a number of things you can do to train your ear to hear when a note is in tune.

  • Start to try to tune your fiddle by ear. Doing this will start to train your ear to hear the pitch of the notes more closely
  • Once your fiddle is in tune, try playing a chord with the open string above or below the string you are playing your note on. The easiest chord to ‘hear’ in tune is an octave. Do do this play the third finger with the open string below (for example, play the 3rd finger on the D string, along with the open G string below). See if you can hear if it sounds in tune
  • Play your fiddle along with someone else who is playing a fixed pitch instrument (such as an accordion or piano), and focus on listening to your own playing in relation to the notes of the other player.
  • Get yourself an electronic tuner (one with a clear visual display is best). Try placing a finger on the string then adjust your finger position until you think the note sounds in tune. Use the electronic tuner to check if the note is in tune. If it’s not, adjust your finger position using the tuner until it indicates the note is in tune. Then, without moving the finger on the string, continue to play the note while really focusing on listening to the the sound and pitch of the note you’re playing. Then lift your finger from the string, and see if you can find the note again, while listening to the pitch (and without looking at the tuner!) Once you think you have the note in tune, check again with the tuner to see if you have it in tune. Doing this for a few minutes a day over a period of time will help train your ear to hear when you are playing notes in tune.

Learning to play in tune

  • Always position your left hand in the same place on the neck of the fiddle when you’re playing. You can learn to become familiar with the hand shapes needed to play in tune if your hand is always in the same place
  • It’s important to  check your fiddle is in tune before you start to play it. Fiddles can go out of tune very easily, and for all sorts of reasons, and playing in tune is much more straightforward if your fiddle is in tune. Find out more about tuning your fiddle
  • Learn to anticipate what the in tune note should sound like before you play it. Many players try to work on their tuning by reacting to what they hear – placing a finger on the finger board, trying to decide if it sounds in tune or not, and adjusting their finger position if they think it’s not in tune. Aim to ‘hear’ the pitch of the next note you’re going to play in your head, before you play it.
  • Try playing with your eyes closed so you can totally focus on listening to the pitch without any visual distractions
  • Try recording yourself and listening back to the pitch of the notes. Listen for any particular notes you are consistently playing either sharp or flat
  • It’s also important, when you’re playing scales or tunes, to not allow an off tune note to put you off knowing what the next in tune note should sound like. Don’t worry if you feel you can’t already do this – it’s a skill that can be learnt!
  • Listen for the resonance of the notes as well as the pitch – when a note is played in tune the other strings will resonate. This resonance is a good indication the note is in tune. You can read more about this here

More tips for learning to play your fiddle in tune