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The first thing you will need to do when you pull your cello out of its case is tuning it.

Every time.

You have 4 strings. When seated behind the instrument, the cello’s strings (A, D, G, and C) are ordered from the highest (the leftmost string) to lowest (the rightmost string).

Traditionally, professional musicians have tuned their instruments using a tuning fork.

As you can imagine, we have evolved quite a bit since the days of the tuning fork, yet it’s an inexpensive and reliable tool by which students and professionals can tune their instruments.

I only suggest you use a tuning fork to tune your cello if you are at least an intermediate level player since it requires a trained ear to get the other strings right.

Fret not. There are easier ways to tune and they are just as effective:

· Electronic tuners (size of a deck of playing cards, cost around $20-40) click here to see what’s on Amazon!

· Tuner apps. Most are FREE in the Google Play store or App Store.



Our cell phones are supercomputers in our pockets. There are many FREE tuning apps you can download. The one I suggest to all my students is called Pano Tuner and it’s available for iPhone and Android users.

Pano Tuner is automatically set for 440 Hz. If you’re living in the United States this is the setting you want to use. If you’re living in Europe you can increase this default setting to 442 or 443 by clicking the “i” icon in the lower right-hand corner of the screen.

Why do I use a tuner app?

Unlike a tuning fork, you can tune each string without having the ear training required. An advantage your phone has over even an electronic tuner is that you may forget to pack your electronic tuner—like I usually do—but your phone will probably be with you.

It comes especially handy when I tune my cello backstage while a trumpeter is warming up his lips down the corridor, a violinist is practicing a concerto in the background, and other musicians are chatting and doing warm-up scales.

It gets loud!

I can’t hear my strings clearly over all that noise, but with an app, it’s a breeze to tune.


Before we tune, here is a diagram of the anatomy of the cello:

cello anatomy.jpg

Now that you’ve seen it in all its glory, here is how you tune your cello using PanoTuner:


  1. Open the app and set it on your music stand. I have dropped my phone on my cello a couple of times while holding it and trying to tune at the same time. Not fun. Sitting it on the stand prevents that.

  2. Locate your fine tuners found atop the tailpiece. I suggest beginners not tune their cello by the pegs (found on the scroll) since it can be very tricky and hard on the hands. If you are not familiar with the parts of the cello see the diagram above. Note: If the cello has loose strings or sounds so out of tune that it cannot be tuned with the fine tuners, please let your teacher or local professional tune your cello. You may accidently break a string if you turn the pegs too hard.

  3. Start by tuning your A string (the highest and left most string). Play your A string at a medium volume, with long and slow bowings. You want the app to clearly hear the pitch. Do not play too softly and do not play too loudly.

  4. There is a red line (usually it’s red although it can be any color) that runs through the middle of the pitch meter. You want to align the letter A with that line.

  5. If your note is too low, the letter A will appear on the left side of the red line. If your note is too high, the letter A will appear on the right side of the line.

  6. Screw your fine tuner in (clockwise) if you need to make the pitch go higher. Unscrew the fine tuner (anticlockwise) if you need to make the pitch go lower.

  7. Once the letter A is perfectly aligned with the red line, you will see the top portion of the screen turn green or the note letter itself.

  8. Congratulations! You have just tuned your A string. Repeat steps 2-7 for your other 3 strings.



Most tuning forks are made to vibrate at 440 Hz, a tone known to musicians as “Concert A”. Before we dive into how to use it, let’s take a quick tour of this two-pronged metal tool that was invented in 1771.

tuning fork.jpg

The easiest way to get the fork to ring an A is to hold it by its stem and hit the prongs against your knee then place it on top of your cello’s bridge; ensuring clean contact with the wood. This allows the tuning fork to resonate through the instrument’s body and amplify the sound. You can also bring the tuning fork to your ear or place the stem atop your head to hear the sound through your bones!


To make the sound stop, simply touch the prongs to any soft surface. As long as the prongs vibrate, you will hear the note.


Never hit the fork against any hard surface, if you hit it against a desk you may crack the fork. Always use a soft surface. Any rubber coated surface may also be used to get the tuning fork going (just don’t hit it too hard).


Once the A is ringing from the fork, start playing your A string and tune it to match the A coming from the tuning fork. A good practice is to play softly with your bow so that you can still hear the correct A ringing from the fork.


Once you’ve tuned your A, start playing the A and D string together. Listen for a perfect fifth. Use your fine tuners to adjust the pitch. Once your D string is tuned, play the D and G string together and go through the same steps you did earlier.


If you would like to know more about cello tuning don’t hesitate to contact me.


Happy playing!

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