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Violin family tunings

Page history last edited by Andrew Alder 15 years, 1 month ago

Modern concert tunings


As used in most symphony orchestras:

  • Violin: g - d' - a' - e' '
  • Viola: c - g - d' - a'
  • Cello: C - G - d - a
  • Double bass: E' - A' - D - G


All also have notable scordatura tunings.


Fractional scale lengths

Fractional scale length instruments, sizes such as 3/4 or 1/2, are reduced-scale instruments. Fractional sizes of violin family instruments (except the viola) are used by younger students and have some other uses as well.


Some of the traditional names for these go back at least to Stradivarius, who may have invented some of them and at least standardised those he used (like many other things). The fractions used to identify them have no mathematical significance, apart from roughly indicating the order of the sizes, so for example a 3/4 scale violin is a lot bigger than three quarters of the size of a 4/4, and a 1/4 is significantly larger then half the size of a 4/4. And there is little standardisation between makers, except for those violin and cello sizes established by Stradivarius. See fractional scale length.




Standard tuning: g - d' - a' - e' '


Scale length 12.8" (327 mm) (Stainer, Stradivarius, Guarneri).


Student sizes:

7/8: 12.5"  (317 mm).

3/4: 12.1"  (307 mm).

1/2: 11.3"  (287 mm).

1/4: 10.5"  (267 mm).

1/8, 1/10, 1/16 and 1/32 (rare) also exist.


Saint-Saëns' Danse Macabre:


  • g - d' - a' - eb' '


Béla Bartók's Contrasts:


  • g# - d' - a' - eb' '


Fiddle tunings include:


  • a - d' - a' - e' ' (Old-Timey D Tuning)
  • a - e' - a' - e' ' (Cross Tuning, A tuning, Open A, High Bass, High Counter or High Tenor, for Breaking Up Christmas, Cluck Old Hen, Hangman's Reel, Horse and Buggy, and Ways of the World)
  • a - e' - a' -  c# ' ' (A tuning, Black Mountain, Rag Tuning, Calico Tuning, Open A Tuning, or Drunken Hiccups Tuning)
  • a - e' - a' -  d' ' (for Old Sledge, Silver Lake)
  • d - d' - a' - d' ' ("Dee-Dad", Dead Man's Tuning, D Tuning or Open D Tuning, for Bonaparte's Retreat)
  • e - d' - a' - e' '  (for Glory in the Meeting House)
  • e - e' - a' - e' '   (for Get up in the Cool)
  • f ' - c' - g' - d' ' (Cajun Tuning)
  • g - d' - a' - d' '  {"Gee-Dad" or G Tuning)
  • g - d' - a' - e' ' (Italian tuning or That 'Ole Eye-talian tuning - the standard violin tuning!)
  • g - d' - g' - b'  (Open G Tuning)
  • g - d' - g' - d' '  (Sawmill Tuning)


Fiddle tunings are often also known by their four note names, so the standard is known as GDAE tuning, and so on.




Standard tuning: c - g - d' - a'


There is no standard scale length. Violas vary in body length, averaging about 16" compared to about 14" for a violin, some reaching 20". The scale length varies proportionately. Consequently, student sizes do not exist as such.


One Stradivarius viola has a scale length of 14.25" (362 mm).


The most common viola scordatura is to raise the C string to D:


  •  d - g - d' - a'



Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra:


  • c# - g# - d# ' - a# '



Lionel Tertis' transcription of the Elgar cello concerto:


  • Bb - g - d' - a'




Standard tuning: C - G - d - a


Scale length:

4/4: about 27.4" (695 mm), used by Stadivarius and normal for orchestral players.

3/4, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, and 1/10 also exist.



5th Suite by Bach:


  • C - G - d - g



Zoltán Kodály:


  • B' - F# - d - g




Double bass


Standard tuning: E' - A' - D - G



4/4: 43" - 43.3"

7/8: 43" - 43.3"

3/4: 41" - 41.5" (very common)

1/2: 37.75" - 38" (student model, only available since the 1980s)

1/4: 35.4" (even smaller and more recent!)


The double bass is unique in the orchestral string section in being normally tuned in fourths rather than in fifths. Occasionally, a tuning in fifths is used:


  • C' - G' - D - A


"Solo" tuning:


  • F# ' - B' - E - A


Eastern European "solo" tuning:


  • E' - A' - D - c


Five-string tunings


The five-string double bass has an extra treble or bass string.


Extended treble (rare): 

  • E' - A' - D - G - B


Extended bass:

  • B' ' - E' - A' - D - G

The ability to play notes down to B' ' is increasingly expected of professional orchestral players. This can be accomplished by either a fifth bass string or by a fingerboard extension on the E string.


Extended-range four-string bass


An alternative to the fifth bass string is a fingerboard extension supporting extra bass notes on the E string, generally with mechanical means for producing the extra notes. This does not affect the string gauge or tension, see fingerboard extensions. This extension, as an alternative to a fifth bass string, is common in Great Britain, the United States, and Canada. The fifth string tends to be favoured in continental Europe.


The extension is most commonly four semitones, meaning that the extended open string is tuned to C', while if stopped at the head nut it would still sound the normal open tuning of E'. This means that on those occasions when B' ' is required, the string must also be tuned down one semitone. But for the purposes of calculating string tension and figuring left-hand technique, the pitch must be measured at the normal head nut. Measured in this way this tuning is:


  • Eb' - A' - D' - G'



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