Tuning your cello is one of the first things you need to learn as a beginning cellist.
If your cello isn’t in tune at the beginning of a practice session, it’s very difficult to play in tune and to retain what you have practiced that day.
Before you even start playing, you should tune your cello!
A beginner’s guide to cello tuning
Your teacher should tune your cello in your first lesson. The cello strings are tuned with the pitches (top to bottom) A, D, G and C.
There are two methods of tuning the cello: you can turn the tuning pegs and you can use the fine tuners down below the bridge. I recommend that beginners stick to the fine tuners for the first few months of playing to lock in your pitch.
Unfortunately, since your cello is made of wood and the air humidity will vary, the wood will expand and contract and the strings will go out of tune! (check out this article on the affect of temperature on the cello)
I recommend downloading a good cello tuning app like Tunable, TE Tuner or Cleartune.
You will need to bow or pluck each string, read the meter and then adjust in the correct direction. Tune the cello string higher by turning your fine tuners clockwise (tighter) and tune the strings lower by turning the fine tuners counterclockwise (looser).
When should I tune my cello?
Before you start practicing, remember to tune your cello.
If you are practicing more than one hour per day, make sure to check the cello tuning at least once per hour.
Usually, I’d recommend taking a 10 minute break for each hour of practicing. When you come back to the cello, this is a perfect time to tune your cello!
Tricks for less cello tuning!
When you are putting on new strings ALWAYS use a pencil to get as much graphite as possible into the groves where your strings will sit.
This means BOTH on the bridge and at the nut. This way, the strings will slip over those junctures easily when you tune your cello.
When you are tuning your strings, make sure that your bow is moving at a consistent speed and weight.
If there are variations in your bow pressure and speed, this will affect the intonation and will make it hard to know if your strings are in tune.
Always start tuning with your A string. After that, I recommend playing two strings together with a staccato note that you let ring to lock the pitches in together.
Quickly move your hand to the fine tuners and adjust the lower string WHILE the two strings are resonating. If you practice tuning this way, you will be able to tune your cello much faster.
Tuning advice for intermediate and advanced cellists
Once you are further along in your cello journey, you can start using the pegs to tune your instrument.
These days, many cellos come with geared pegs which are very easy to tune and function like fine tuners. I do not recommend that you tune with your pegs frequently however since the strings will age faster and the instrument will not stay in tune as well.
For pegs, remember that counterclockwise is tighter and clockwise is looser.
Tuning with geared pegs is relatively simple and is similar to using the fine tuners.
To tune with traditional pegs, you must push in while turning so that the peg has enough friction with the peg box to stay in place. Imagine that you are using a handheld corkscrew.
Conversely, if the peg is stuck and will not move, turn counter-clockwise and allow it to come out a little bit.
I advise my students to only use the pegs when there is no other option.
Sometimes the weather changes dramatically and the strings are completely loose when you open the case. Other times, you are trying to tighten a string with the fine tuners and then you use up all of the tightening capacity at that end.
In this case, loosen the fine tuner at least half-way and tune from the peg.
For the expert cellists
When you are at a very high level, there are still ways to improve your intonation and your tuning of the strings.
In my cello quintet SAKURA, we tune the strings both in 5ths and in 4ths. Our goal is to tighten the fifths so that the E harmonic on the A string and the open C string aren’t too far apart from each other.
We start with tuning in 4ths (harmonic D on D string with the open A and so on) and then check the open strings to make sure it’s not so tight that it’s uncomfortable.
The goal is to tune as tight as you can without it sounding out of tune!
The good news is that you are playing a beautiful cello made of real wood–the bad news is that wood expands and contracts all the time and you’ll have to tune your cello frequently to compensate.
Always start your practice session off with tuning and remember to tune at least once per hour, typically after your break.
Did you learn something new?
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