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How a tuning fork works

Tuning forks have been used by musicians and vocalists since the 18th century as a standard method for tuning instruments. Even people outside of the music world tend to be familiar with the two pronged tool and the ringing tone it produces when struck. But not a lot of people actually know how a tuning fork works. How does this device produce a sound so consistent and pure that you can use it for tuning your instrument?

When you hit a tuning fork, the tines vibrate several hundred times per second — so quickly it’s imperceptible to the human eye. The speed of these vibrations is called frequency and is measured in hertz (Hz), or vibrations per second. For example, a universal A-440 tuning fork vibrates at 440 Hz. As these vibrations push the surrounding air molecules together and pull them apart at rapid speed, a sound wave is formed. The length and material of a tuning fork determines the quality of the sound by altering either the speed or pitch of the vibration.

Learning how to use your tuning fork

tuning fork

Now that you know how a tuning fork works, we’ll review how to use it to tune your violin, viola, cello, or bass. When tuning your instrument with a tuning fork, you’ll usually be tuning it to an A. Take your A-440 tuning fork, strike it, and hold the end of the stem against the top of your violin to amplify the sound. Then, tune your instrument’s A string to match the sound of the tuning fork. Pay attention to the intervals, or the distance between two notes, as you tune. Most violinists work with perfect fifth intervals.

Of course you can use a tuner or an app on your smartphone, but being able to tune your instrument with a tuning fork is a unique and wonderful skill.

Want more volume?

Not getting enough sound from your tuning fork? Fortunately, there’s a simple tool to solve that problem. 

If you’ve looked at pictures of tuning forks online, many of them are shown sitting atop a wooden box. That box is called a resonance box and it helps amplify your tuning fork. By placing a vibrating tuning fork against the box, vibrations have a larger area to move through, producing a louder tone. Since the resonance box is open at one end, the sound is amplified like a makeshift speaker. 

Johnson String Instrument has a tuning fork and resonator box by Wittner that works great and looks classy! We also have a selection of metronomes, tuners, sheet music, bows and so much more.

Additional Resources

Carriage House Violins

Located in Newton, Massachusetts, Carriage House Violins is the instrument sales division of Johnson String Instrument.

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Whether searching for a job, learning about the "Mozart Effect," looking for a summer music camp, or choosing the right instrument string, you need look no further.

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Johnson String Project

A charitable foundation whose goal is to provide high-quality instruments to children who live in under-served communities and who are participating in El-Sistema-inspired programs in Massachusetts.

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