How do you tune a hardanger fiddle?
This is the question that I have been asked the most often. It is somewhat confusing, especially since you have to keep two sets of notes in your head as you tune. I am going to break it down into small parts, to make the process easier.
IMPORTANT NOTE: To raise the pitch, turn the peg or finetuner clockwise. To lower the pitch, turn the peg/finetuner counterclockwise. With finetuners, do not force it clockwise, you will break the string. Loosen it by turning it counterclockwise, raise the pitch by using the peg and then tweak it by using the finetuner.
These are the strings which are at the bottom of the pegbox, with an approximate diagram below. You are looking at the fiddle from the front.
- For reference, the classical violin or fiddle are tuned G D A E, going from the lowest string to the highest string.
- The most common tuning of the hardanger fiddle is A D A E, so the G string is raised to an A.
- BUT - and here is where most people get confused, the hardanger fiddle is tuned a whole step higher than a violin. So, the ACTUAL PITCH of the A D A E strings is B E B F#. Regular violin tuning is not as conducive to having the strings resonate.
- When you start tuning your hardanger fiddle, use a tuner or a piano and tune to B E B F#. Pluck the strings to get approximate pitch and then bow the strings in twos (e.g. A D, D A, A E) to make sure that the interval between the two strings is correct.
- Congratulations, you are done with the top strings.
These are the strings which are towards the top of the pegbox, with an approximate diagram below (this is the most standard stringing for hardangers). You are looking at the fiddle from the front. Be sure to get familiar with what pegs turns which string!
B (extra 5th understring
F#-----D These are your understrings
D-----A These are your top strings for reference
- Now you are reading for the understrings. Some fiddles have 4, others have 5 of these understrings. From the highest understring (that is near the top high open E string) to the lowest understring (that is near the top low open A string), the pitches are A F# E D and if you have a 5th understring, it is tuned to a B.
- The easy way to tune is to remember Grieg's Morning. Strum the strings like this: A F# E D E F# - A F# E D E F#. This is probably where Grieg got the opening notes!
- BUT - again here is where people get confused. Remember that the hardanger fiddle is a step up from violin. So, the ACTUAL PITCH of the understrings is B G# F# E and if you have a 5th understring, that is tuned to C#.
- Use a piano or a tuner to get the understrings closest to the pitch you need. Then, to check for resonance, pluck your top open strings and see if the understrings vibrate. The more they vibrate, they better the resonance, so make minor tweaks to the tuning pegs to maximize the resonance
- Plucking your top open E should make your E understring resonate
- Plucking your top open A strings (both low and high) should make your A understring(s) resonate.
- Plucking your top open D should make your D understring resonate
- Check the interval between two strings by bowing across two of them and adjust the tuning, if necessary (e.g. bow A D, D A, A E). Tweak the understrings, if necessary.
- Now you are all in tune and ready to play!
A great tuning tip from Karen Solgard via Olav Jørgen Hegge:
Now that I have spent a page telling you how to tune the top and the understrings separately, I will tell you something completely different!
You can still do what I described above to get the fiddle roughly tuned. However, to make sure the fiddle is in full resonance, do the following:
o Tune your top open A strings (the “G” which is tuned up to the A and the open A) and then tune the A understring. Make sure that when you pluck the top As, the A understring resonates.
o Tune your top open D string and then the D understring. . Make sure that when you pluck the top D, the D understring resonates.
o Tune your top open E string and then the E understring. . Make sure that when you pluck the top E, the E understring resonates.
o Lastly tune the F# understring.
Tuning this way keeps the fiddle in balance from the highest and lowest strings and you will have less issues with tuning one string and having others slip.
Reading Music Transcriptions
- As you turn to the music, you will notice that the tune transcriptions are written as if you are playing a violin. It would be too confusing to transpose everything a whole step up and people with a previous violin background would have a lot of trouble with fingerings. For example, they know that the 3rd finger on the D string is always a G and written as such. If instead, they see an A, they will play it as an open string.
- The low A string (the violin G string) - a special case. The bass string that is the violin G and the hardanger A is most often written in the notation described above. But because the interval between the open strings is now between A and D vs. G and D, your 3rd finger on the G will be the same note as an open D.
- However, there are a handful of tunes that you may encounter, where only the G string is written transposed a whole step up. The result, in my opinion, is mass confusion. For example, you see the note B and you think that you have to play it as the 2nd finger on the G string, but in reality you are to play the first finger on the G string (A). This is because the open string is written as A, and thus all the notes on that strings are moved a whole step up. It is very hard mentally, because your eyes and your fingers are used to the normal violin notation. My advice is to use white out and fix those transcriptions.
- The hardanger fiddle has over 20 different tunings. Each tune transcription will have tuning for the top open strings and the bottom understrings written at the beginning.
- Look at the notes and tune accordingly. Remember, these tuning notes will be written as if you had a regular violin, BUT the actual pitch would be a whole step up.
- Some common tunings (open strings are written from lowest bass to highest treble). Understrings are from the highest to lowest (I am not giving you the extra low 5th string):
- G D A E - yes just like the regular violin. But that necessitates one understring change (A G E D) vs F#. So your open G should resonate with your understring G.
- Troll or huldre tuning - A D F# A - no change to understrings
- Another troll or huldre tuning - A E A C# or A E A E. But that necessitates one understring change (A F# E C#) vs D. Your open C# should resonate with your understring C#
- If you think through the tunings, you will see that the reason the understrings need to be retuned is to resonate with the changed top open strings.
- The jokes are that the hardanger fiddlers spend half of their time tuning the instrument and that it's called a hardanger, because it is so dang hard to tune.
- Old instruments, especially, get out of tune very fast. Weather changes are a factor, so do not expose to extremes, put a dampit humidifier (that green thingie that fills with water) in the body during the winter. Use peg dope for stubborn pegs.
- If you feel the fiddle does not resonate as much, sounds off, stop playing and retune. More often than note, it is just minor tweaks of the pegs/finetuners for the top and under strings.
- When you tune, do not hold on to the neck and upper body of the fiddle. On some old instruments, the stress of tuning may break the neck. As you tune with the pegs, pluck the strings near the bridge.
- Ask your luthier to put a small understring bridge in the pegbox. That keeps the understrings from twisting between the top strings and makes tuning easier.
- While you are at the luthier, have them put violin fine tuners on at least the E or both A and E strings. That helps with the minor tweaks of the open strings. Get the finetuners that go into the tailpiece. The ones that sit on the string break the string.
- Understrings are a huge pain to replace and you may need a professional to do it. Tweezers and good eyesight or glasses are essential.