To tune an instrument is indeed the first thing you need to do before you are ready to master it, no matters if it’s a violin or a cello you have around you.
Well, we all remember how tricky it is to tune an instrument during the first period of learning stage, and we also know it is a MUST lesson to learn.
In addition, to properly tune a cello you will need to be familiar with the parts involved and how the whole instrument acts as a unit.
Just like other similar wood-crafted instruments, the cello is susceptible to changes in humidity, temperature, and atmospheric pressure (please do NOT ignore those environmental conditions, they not only affect how frequently you’ll need to tune the strings, but also, as the wood expands and contracts, can severely damage your cello.).
In this article, we are going demonstrate “How to Tune a Cello”.
An ordinary cello normally has four strings which are tuned in perfect fifths. The strings are 1(A), 2(D), 3(G), 4(C), in ascending order of thickness.
The lowest tone, C open string, is corresponding to two octaves below middle C on the piano.
*Please encourage your students to tune their cellos by ear training, and guide them to tune their cellos according to different pitches.
If your student is in his/her very first stage of learn (lack of ear training skill), to use a tuner app would be one of the easiest way to approach tuning. Yet, most tuner app in the market can not receive the actual sound of 1(C) string(any relatively lower bass) without external accessory, because of the limitation of the mic in your phone.
I personally recommend Simply Tuner. It is one of the best tuner app for string instruments in the market, available for both Android and iOS devices.
In this app, you can easily see the instrument option button on left top corner, and select cello.
Secondly, you can click the tuning peg symbols below to select which corresponding string to be tuned, which also means you have to tune the strings separately (Well, I am not very used to this feature from my perspective of view. After all, it is an app for the beginners.)
Next, play the corresponding string, and the indicator on the meter will show you how many cents are off, also there is also simple instructions above the meter that you can follow to tighten or loosen the string.
When the instruction word tunes into yellow Slightly Low/High, you can use the fine tuner(s) for the micro tuning.
When the word tunes into green Perfect~ The current string is ready to play.
Additionally, if you student is well skilled in ear training, you can always let him use the Speaker Mode by clicking the speaker symbol below the meter. The app can play each open string notes by 2(A) at 442Hz.
1, Never, ever remove or all of the strings of your cello at the same time.
2, It’s a good idea to ensure that your fine tuners are loosened before the beginning of the tuning process.
3, Use cautious movements! Over tightening your strings can result in damage to your cello and your person—particularly the face and eyes, so be careful!
4, Always ask your teacher or a trusted instrument dealer to help you if you need it.
Other very important notes for intermediate and advanced players:
The bridge actually moves when you adjust the strings up or down. You should pay attention to the angle of the bridge because if it’s not a good angle, the bridge can warp. This can happen after just a couple days at a bad angle. Warped bridges get gradually more warped if being used and it will affect sound and string height more and more. This can only be fixed by having a luthier put the bridge in clamps for a number of days and is a huge pain because it likely won’t fix tbe problem permanently.
This is why whenever putting on a new string, have a graphite pencil on hand to draw in the grooves where the string will sit on both the bridge and the nut. This will reduce friction and keep the bridge from moving a lot.
While tightening the strings, watch the feet of the bridge to make sure they are completely flat on both sides when the strings are at or near the correct pitch. Also observe the bridge angle from the side of the cello (in profile) to ensure it looks perpendicular to the top. Please note that bridges should always be flat on the tailpiece side and curved on the fingerboard side to give more leverage to counteract the weight applied by the bow. Because of this, the bridge will appear to be angled slightly towards the tailpiece even when actually perpendicular
As OP stated, you should never take all the strings off at once. The soundpost is held in place only by the preasure from the top, applied by the tension of the strings onto the bridge. It is likely the soundpost will fall down if the strings or bridge are removed and only someone with the right tools and expertise can return it to its correct position.