Anyone that plays any stringed instrument will know that it is vital that it is kept in tune. This applies particularly to those just beginning with the instrument. Therefore, how to tune your cello is a fundamental part of the early learning curve.
Important for Your Development
Being in tune or having the correct pitch, as some call it, is important for the development of the beginner. It will be almost impossible to achieve any meaningful improvements if the Cello is slightly off.
To help you develop your cello tuning skills, I am going to take you through some simple steps. This is to ensure your cello has the correct pitch for when you practice or play.
Instruments Crafted from Wood
This type of instrument is always going to be susceptible to environmental conditions. They look great when they are taken care of, and they give off a “classical and orchestral” feeling. But with that comes a set of problems.
All wooden instruments can suffer from changes in temperature and humidity, and even atmospheric pressure. These changes can cause a lot of damage to your instrument if care is not taken.
Wood will be wood
One thing that can be severely affected is the tuning. Variations in temperature and humidity, even very slight ones, can affect the strings. The wood will do what it does.
It will expand and contract, and this slight movement causes the tension in the strings to change. It may mean that you will need to tune up more often in places where the climate changes often.
Important Features to Know
The cello is a simple build. Virtually every aspect of it is designed to create that lush, warm sound that underpins the string section in an orchestra. Although for the purposes of tuning a cello, there are some features you need to know and appreciate what they do.
This is where one end of the string is attached to the Cello. The tailpiece is the lowest part of the body. It ensures the end of the strings sits as close to the body as possible. This is often made of plastic on budget range instruments. But it can also be made of steel or even Ebony.
The tailpiece also holds the fine tuners. This is a part of the tuning system that works in conjunction with the tuning pegs. Please note that some budget range instruments do not include Fine Tuners. This is not common, but where they are not included, all tuning must be performed with the pegs. We shall discuss the pegs again soon.
The bridge forms an essential part of the cello. The strings are attached to the Cello at the tailpiece. They then pass over the bridge, which holds them clear of the soundboard, the top surface of the instrument.
The bridge sends the vibration of the strings to the soundboard, which then produces the sound you hear. The position and height of the Bridge play a crucial role in giving you the sound.
These are located at the top of the Cello. They are the final piece in the jigsaw of how to tune your cello. They work with the Fine Tuners to create the Cello’s pitch. Tightening the string raises the pitch. So you don’t break a string, you should always turn the peg very gently.
Let’s Get on with Tuning
The first thing you do need to know is the names given to the strings. They are from the thickest to the thinnest string, C – G – D – A. You will note that the strings are tuned in fifths, meaning that each note is five notes or whole steps apart.
The C string played open is the same note as two octaves counted down from middle C on the piano. Some find it easier to tune a cello from a piano. That is usually best when you are a bit more experienced and have your “Cello ear-in.”
Two things to mention
Firstly remember to always treat the instrument gently. It will not react well to have tuners or pegs tightened too fast. A heavy-handed approach will send you back to the shop for new strings.
Secondly, in the early stages, while you are getting used to your instrument, make it easy to get the pitch right. A digital tuner is a simple and easy way to do that. If you don’t want to buy a tuner, there are some apps available to download to your phone. However, a tuner may be a better approach.
You may decide to use different methods for tuning your cello in time. But at first, a tuner is a great help. There are plenty available, and they are not expensive. For example, this D’Addario Eclipse Cello/Bass Tuner.
Bow at the Ready?
Attach your tuner to the top, or scroll, of the Cello and Bow your thickest string. The tuner will tell you what pitch the string is at. If it is close to a C and the tuner reads, possibly a B or a D or Db, then use the Fine tuners to adjust the string until the tuner reads C. You may have to bow a few times until it is right.
If the note is further away, then it is best to use the Peg tuners at the top until you get close to the C note. Then a final adjustment can be made with the fine tuners. Please remember to tune it gently with no aggressive or quick movements.
About a quarter turn at a time is enough. It may take you some time, but it will prevent you from hearing that awful snap as the string goes. The pegs are used to get you close to the pitch. The Fine Tuners to take you the final step. Do not use the Fine Tuners too early; let the pegs do the hard work.
Repeat for all the strings
It is then just a case of repeating the process for each string. I would suggest going from thickest string to thinnest. That is C – G – D – A. You may well find when you have done all four that they have slipped a bit. Some slight adjustments with the fine tuners will correct that.
After each string has been tuned, check the bridge to ensure that the pressure of the string hasn’t made it lean.
A word of advice
If all four strings are loose, then do not tighten the first string to its pitch straight away. That will cause tension and stress on the bridge. Tighten each string in turn gradually until they are all close to where they should be.
Some Final Points
- You should never change all the strings of your cello at the same time. If you need to change all the strings, replace one at a time.
- If you are using a tuner, it will react better to the sound from a bow rather than plucking the string.
- Remember to use gentle pressure and movements when you are using the pegs or fine tuners.
- When reducing pressure on the strings, use caution. The strings hold the bridge and the soundpost in place.
- Ensure the bridge is in its correct place through all stages of the tuning process. A lack of tension can cause it to move.
The Cost of a Cello
If you are thinking about buying a Cello, the cost will become an issue. There are some cost-effective instruments around. But it is best to get them from manufacturers with a reputation for decent quality instruments. Usually, the more you pay, the better quality instrument you will get.
This is a budget range Mendini By Cecilio and includes Fine Tuners and the complete package. If your budget will stretch a bit further, another Cello from the same company is the Cecilio CCO-600 Ebony Fitted, Hand Oil-Rubbed, Solid Wood Cello.
And if you are interested, some of the great composers produced works for the cello. A collection of simplified versions is in this Easy Classical Cello Solos.
Looking for other Great Stringed Instruments?
Then we can help you find exactly what you’re looking for. So, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Electric Cellos, the Best Electric Violins, the Best Bass Ukulele, the Best Violin Rosins, the Best Mandolins, the Best Violin Bows, the Best Violin Strings, and the Best Cremona Violins you can buy in 2023.
How to Tune Your Cello – Final Thoughts
The cello is a bit of an unsung hero in many ways. It often sits in the background of the string section of an orchestra or small ensemble. But the job it does is vital. Just play one and see what the sound is like; it’s magical.
Until next time, let the music play.