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Piano Tuning - How It Is Done and Who Should Do It

 

by William Leland, D.M.A.
Las Cruces
, NM USA

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he piano is probably the most complex of all musical instruments, with more than 500 working parts in the action alone and a combined tension on its strings of between 15 and 20 tons (that's right--tons). So you can well imagine that tuning it correctly is far more difficult than tuning a clarinet or a cello, and takes a great deal more expertise. Here I'll give a brief synopsis of how a piano is tuned and some tips about who should (and should not!) tune your piano. If you would like to learn more about how the piano was invented and constructed, take a look at my article, The "Why" of the Piano.

keyinfo.gif (1045 bytes)Piano tuning and servicing is a very complicated process that takes a lot of training and skill to do it right.

 
A piano is hard to tune because it has more than 250 strings which are held under very high tension. This means that the tuning pins they wrap around have to be set very tightly in a strong wooden block.  THAT means that you have to have a special wrench to turn them up or down.

The technician starts with one string in the middle of the piano (where you can hear best) and gets the pitch for that from somewhere else, usually a tuning fork. Then he sets about 12 notes right in the same area (a chromatic scale). But if you've ever looked in your piano you've probably seen that each key has three strings (two or one in the bass)--so he has to block off the outside strings of each key with a strip of felt so only one string will sound at a time for each note.

After he gets enough notes tuned in the middle he can work in both directions by listening to octaves that go with the notes already set. The final step is to pull out the strip of felt and tune the two outside strings of each note to the middle one. And that's about it.

Be sure you choose your piano technician carefully, just as you would with any other professional service. You don't have to have a license to set up shop as a piano tuner, so there are a lot of poorly trained or untrained people around working on pianos and taking money for it. (It's not a good idea to let Grandpa or Uncle Bob do it, either, just because they happen to be handy with tools.) Piano tuning and servicing is a very complicated process that takes a lot of training and skill to do it right.

My advice would be to find a member of the Piano Technicians Guild who has "RPT" after the name. This stands for "Registered Piano Technician", and it means that he or she has passed a series of difficult tests given by experts who belong to a very old and respected organization with members all over the United States and in Canada. They have a very informative web site which includes a complete listing of members and their locations.

Oh, one more thing: DON'T TRY TUNING YOUR PIANO YOURSELF!

Dr. Leland is the recently-retired Artist-in-Residence and Professor of Piano at New Mexico State University. In addition to being a fine pianist and influential educator, Bill is a qualified piano technician and rebuilder. He is a frequent contributor to The Piano Education Page, a past Artist/Educator Interviewee, and has been an Editor at Large of The Piano Education Page.

 
 
 
 
 
Page created: 4/23/99
Last updated: 01/07/14
 
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Reprinting from the Piano Education Page The Piano Education Page, Op. 9, No. 2, http://pianoeducation.org
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