Learning to tune piano
  • Kevin814
    Posts: 39
    For those of you that can tune a piano, I'm curious: how did you learn to do it? How long does it take to learn? And is it the kind of thing best learned in person, or would an online course be effective too?
    (Not contemplating a career change -- yet! -- but I think this would be a useful thing to add to my skillset).
  • I learned how to tune my piano by reading some manuals I found on Google Books and watching videos on the subject on YouTube. Of course, I'm not a professional at that, but I can keep my piano acceptably in tune all the time.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,870
    time to learn - years to do it well, with much practice.

    in person definitely best... i learned from a blind tuner... can't beat a blind tuner

    the most difficult part is not the theory, it is that no two pianos tune the same and are of vastly different quality to do so... there are false beats, overtones and inconsistencies in scale, fighting harmonics with fundamentals... its a forest of wolves that you are constantly fighting against to keep the focus and get the thing into tune (with itself). less expensive pianos with smaller harps are the most difficult to tune... (wurlitzer, kohler and campbell, yong chang, etc.) Pin blocks are a whole nother problem... some are springy, some are dry (loose), some are tight (swelled), and setting the pin with the right amount of torque in each direction is the 'art' of tuning a piano so the string stays where you put it.

    setting a temperment is the most difficult of the theoretical part of tuning, as you have to work your fourths and fifths to be slightly large and slightly small and the ascending thirds to beat gradually faster... learn on a large grand or an upright... they have the purest string tone and you hear better what you are doing.

    you can pm me if you have other questions.

  • @francis: my piano is a Wurlitzer. ;-)
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,870
    @Juan Andres

    There are a lot of Wurlitzers in the world. I started on a Wurlitzer upright with a mirror at the top (see image). Some Wurlitzers are better than others, but they are in the lower echelon of pianos of quality.
    600 x 450 - 28K
  • I have a friend who is a certified piano technician. It took her a year to learn and get certified through The piano tech program at the university of Western Ontario in London. It was known for it’s Supervised practical application to the theoretical concepts studied in class. My friend said this is what sets learning in person apart from learning online. You need an instructor who can actually hear if the piano you’re practicing your tuning on is actually in tune. It would take an exceptionally good recording to do that.
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 827
    With the large number of chromatic tuners out there, you could use a tuner to see if it is actually in tune. I have an upright piano and when I got it, the piano tuner said that you can't completely tune an old out of tune piano at once, you have to do it gradually to get it back into tune, since tuning one string will change the tension (i.e. tuning) in the other strings.
  • ncicero
    Posts: 29
    I learned the basics this spring when every one of my outside music gigs got cancelled!

    I did some online reading, and lots of watching YouTube tutorials (look around to find a good one- I found the channel Howard Piano Industries to be particularly effective). If you have an Android phone, there is an app called TuneLab of which you can download a free version at its website (NOT the Google Play store I don't think). This made it easy for me to dive in to tuning without quite the level of training that tuning by ear takes.

    There was an old piano in our parish center that was over a half step flat in places, so I basically tuned it in 2 passes- one to bring it up to pitch, and one to fine tune it. Really not too bad for my first try! Be prepared to spend some time though, between the two passes, I probably spent close to 8 hours total- totally makes you appreciate professional tuners!
  • TCJ
    Posts: 698
    I have tuned my piano once. It took me about three hours and I could tell the quality wasn't nearly as good as the tuner I hired. That said, it was free and it was still a huge improvement over not tuning the thing. I learned by watching three different tuners and being given instructions by one of them. I think I will start practicing some more on an old piano at the church.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,516
    Chromatic tuners are nice to have. Tuning in phases is a good idea, too. I actually saw a tuner tighten a string too much at one time and it broke the string. That piano hadn't been tuned in years so too much tightening too fast did it in. I have wondered what the increasing numbers of digital pianos has done to the tuning profession.
  • CatherineS
    Posts: 478
    When I bought my digital piano at the Yamaha piano store there was an old blind man tuning one of the upright pianos. It was interesting listening to him work.
  • Carol
    Posts: 575
    I had a lecture at college that was accompanied by the tuning of a piano. It was so torturous that the professor went across the hall and complained to no avail. He let us all out early. The constant sounding of the note and turning of the peg a little bit up and down over and over again was more than he could stand.

    For some this might constitute a level of Hell.
  • dad29
    Posts: 1,908
    a level of Hell.

    Like tuning the altos?
  • I just tried doing mine - this is the second go round, trying to stretch the time between pro tunings. I'm halfway through but might have to start again - I used a tuning fork and my As sound all right with themselves but now they're flat to some other pitches. I know there are more efficient ways of doing this but my aged but lovely Stieff is a great guinea pig for trial by error.
  • Just don't use one of those electronic tuning aids!
    If one can't tune by one's learned of expert ear one really isn't tuning his piano.
    Thanked by 1Schönbergian
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,516
    Not everyone has Jackson's musical gifts. If you are learning to tune, or perhaps it is the only way you can tune, work with the chromatic tuner. Or you could do as a friend did in college for a girl who had jilted him, relax the tension on all the strings and walk away.
  • Just don't use one of those electronic tuning aids!
    If one can't tune by one's learned of expert ear one really isn't tuning his piano.

    I'm sorry, but this is a snobbish thing to say.

    By all means, use a tuning aid to set your first octave if you're new at it. I've witnessed professional tuners use fancy $400 tuners to set their temperament before tuning the rest of the piano.

    I learned by simply doing. I bought a grand piano and just tried tuning it myself (to be clear, I had tuned harpsichords before, as well as a few ranks of pipes). I was even complemented by the professional when he came a few weeks later. But at any rate, you just have to try. Set your primary octave and go from there. Youtube videos can help. A digital aid to set your first octave and to double check things here and there is helpful. Note that upper octaves have to be stretched a little higher to make the piano a little brighter and not sound flat. The math isn't perfect.