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Standard Tunings For Violins, Violas And CellosStandard Tunings For Violins, Violas And Cellos

For the practicing instrumentalist, tuning a violin, viola or cello is a daily task. Located in the peg box towards the end of the instrument, pegs are adjusted to tune the pitches of each individual string. Fine tuners, optional tiny knobs located in the tailpiece, allow for more subtle adjustments in pitch, especially on steel-core strings.  Each of the major stringed instruments (violins, violas, cellos and double basses) hastheirown traditional tuning.

The violin is typically tuned so that the strings, when played “openly” or without any fingers touching the strings to the board, are G-D-A-E from left to right, or lowest to highest pitch. Traditionally the A-string is tuned to 440 Hz.Theprofessional musician’s well-trained ear can detect ‘beating’ or the slight vibrations of sharpness or flatness, and make finer adjustments.

Though the viola is similar to a violin in size and is positioned and played in a similar manner, it is slightly larger and tuned an entire fifth lower. The strings are typically tuned to C-G-D-A from the lowest to highest pitch. The cello has the same tuning configuration as the viola, except it is another octave lower.  The upright bass is tuned so that the open strings are at intervals of fourths instead of fifths (E-A-D-G).It is the lowest in pitch of the stringed instruments.

While these conventions of tuning are the most widely used, there are many alternative tunings. In Indian classical music, the violin is most often tuned to D♯-A♯-D♯-A♯, while in Arabic classical music the two highest strings (A and E) are lowered so that the configuration is G-D-G-D.In Iranian classical music, the two lowest strings are raised so that the configuration is A-E-A-E.In the Western classical tradition, scores by some major composers call for slight or major tuning adjustments.

Studio City Music was the vision of Paul Toenniges, born in De Kalb, Illinois in 1908. Paul began his studies of instrument making under the promptings of Carl Becker Sr., his brother-in-law. He worked alongside some of the greatest names in American violinmakers and restorers while working at William Lewis & Son in Chicago from 1926 to 1940. While there, Paul established himself as an excellent repairman and fine bass maker. He moved to Los Angeles in 1945, where he worked at the Rudolf Wurlitzer branch from 1946 to 1950. Finally, in 1950, Paul opened his own shop, which he named Studio City Music.

Paul ran a simple family-owned and operated business along with his wife, Ruth, and two daughters, Nancy and Jane. Nancy Toenniges showed a remarkable talent in restoration at an early age and it was decided that she should attend the Violinmaking School in Mittenwald, Germany to further her education.

While in Mittenwald, Nancy met her future husband, Hans Benning, also a student in the violinmaking school. Together they returned to Studio City Music in 1964 to continue the legacy of their shop.

by Nathan Weiss
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