How do you tune a piano?


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2015-07-16 18:07:17
2015-07-16 18:07:17
How to Tune a Piano

To tune a piano all you need is a tuning fork, two pieces of rubber-like wedges and a tuning arm (lever). Yes, it does take practice - I bought my first piano for 500 bucks and have tuned it gradually over a year from a key of b-flat back to c considering it's 90 years old and I haven?t broken a string - I consider myself very lucky. However, to tune a piano all you need to do is remove the covers, tune the middle string accurately with a tuning device (fork - electric - ear - other) and once it is in tune, tune the other two strings (the same note) so that they are in tune. Remember that you must listen for the binaural beats when you tune it, to get a crisp precise note. You can pick up an electronic tuner for your PC if you search for one for free and it works fine (my piano sounds fine) Remember to tune your octave to the one below it. You don?t want to use the tuner as one has said before to perfect mechanical pitch or else your piano will sound BAD! You must also remember to set the pegs correctly. Setting the pins is easy, but go gently! Not harshly! Once you have gotten very close with the tuning arm, you can rock the pin in its' setting to fine tune it (setting the pin is the key to keeping the piano in tune or having it go out of tune very quickly). A word of advice: when tuning a piano, if you can't afford to replace it don?t tune it, but if you can get a hold of an old piano in good nice condition that doesn't have any cracks (anywhere!) then give it a shot. It is great fun and is very good for tuning the ear in pitch.

Additional opinions and answers from other contributors:
  • I can't believe how many people don't understand what it REALLY takes to tune a piano. The amateurs who do not understand the piano but think they do, all think it's a very simple undertaking. It is not. It takes years of training, experience, hundreds of tuning's, to do a good job not, just a "dozen" or so tunings. Our ears are literally trained on what to listen for. Yours is not. Everyone THINKS they can hear it. Why? Because if a piano is bad enough, almost anyone can. However, when it gets very close to being in tune, that's where the training comes in. You are not very likely to see an amateur doing a concert tuning. Not more than once anyway. An excellent tuning and I do mean, a VERY GOOD tuning, will take a person as many as a thousand tunings or more, before you will be able to accomplish what really needs to be done. That is where the men are separated from the boys in professionalism, quality and price. I've been tuning full time since I was 18 years old, starting when I was 12. I am currently 51. I tune on average, a 1,000 pianos each year so I'm not playing guessing games here and I'm not trying to be snide. Simply making the point that, there is much more to tuning, than the average person even begins to understand. And yes, tuning by ear, is always the best way to judge a proper tuning.
  • As a professional piano tuner, I can tell you that over half of all piano tuners use some kind of electronic aid. The best combination is to use the electronics to check on your ear, and your ear to check on the electronics. It actually takes just as much skill and even more understanding of physics to use the electronic aid properly than to tune by ear. A person with a good ear, basic mechanical ability and facility with tools, can usually make a badly our-of-tune piano sound better. That's not the same as doing a professional job. If those using the piano are happy, more power to them. But even with training, it takes dozens of pianos of practice tunings to be a fairly good tuner.
  • Tuning a piano is not that hard. Fair enough you do have to have some musical knowledge, for example which notes make a specific chord, but this type of information can be found in books and all over the net. Obviously it takes time and patience but after reading reply about G# and Ab not being the same note, I have to disagree. I?m not a professional piano tuner, but can play the guitar, which is in tune. So in theory the idea of tuning the strings on one instrument should be the same as another. I think a quiet room with an electric tuner should solve anybody's problem when trying to undertake this task. Remember, piano tuning is not a massive business and when a piano tuner comes to your house and sits in a room for three hours with Tuning Forks, just think - all he is doing is adjusting the tension of the strings. It's not that hard, but I kid you not if you have ever cracked open the back of a piano you will see how many strings there actually are! So in my opinion, it's all about patience.
  • I had to respond to this and point out that tuning a piano is NOT the same as tuning a guitar. A guitar has very few moving parts. A piano has many. They have to be adjusted every now and then to function properly. Felts have to be replaced, etc. A guitar, you just get a new pick and change the strings (or not even a new pick if you finger). As far as the tuning itself goes though, a piano actually is NOT in perfect pitch. The high notes will sound SHARP if they are in tune with middle C and the lows will sound FLAT if they are in tune with middle C. It takes a good 20 pages of physics to explain this phenomenon and I'm not that well versed in the why. Get a good book if you want to know that part or ask in the physics forum. But long story short, you have to tune the high notes sharp and the low notes flat or your piano will sound TERRIBLE. (This is called "stretching the octaves"). A good tuner uses a tuning fork for middle C and does the rest by ear. If you're not comfortable tuning the piano by ear, hire someone who is. If a piano tuner busts out an electrical tuner and uses it for anything more than the middle notes, it's a sure sign he's a rookie.
  • Pianos are only in tune with themselves. Before equal-tempered tuning, there were different pianos for different keys! Bach wrote "The Well-Tempered Clavier" in celebration of the change. But there is at least one piano-specific electronic tuner out there (Peterson) to compensate for the nuances.
  • Actually there are several. Check out Veritune, Accu-tuner and websites dealing with piano technology.
  • As a piano teacher and professional pianist, I have played on a great many pianos. I have seen some really messed up pianos which were tuned by an amateur. I have also seen some that were tuned by "professionals" that were also badly messed up. If you don't do it right, you can permanently damage a very expensive instrument! Look for an experienced professional tuner, probably through the local piano dealer, who uses the proper tools and a specialized electronic piano tuning instrument, and spends at least two hours tuning and repairing your piano. Pay him/her around $60 or more and count it a bargain. This should be done at least once a year or at any time that you have moved the piano. If it has been years since it has been tuned, it will take several tunings done a few months apart to gently get it back into tune without damaging it. Remember that a piano is also a financial investment and keeping it properly tuned will help preserve its value.
  • Another great way to keep you piano in tune is to PLAY IT. I have a piano that we largely ignored, except for the kids banging on it. It had some pretty sour notes. One day, I got myself a tuning lever, wedges and electronic tuner; I brought it back into shape. I had to do some touch-up tuning several months apart. But once I got in tune, I was encouraged to play it. I now play a few songs on it every day. Not much, but since I started playing it regularly, it keeps its tune much better. I touch up a note or two every couple months, but that is it--and the kids still bang on it, too. At some point, it will need a professional tuning. And some of the key mechanics need repair, which is beyond the casual do-it-yourselfer. But you can keep your own piano playable between tunings with some simple tools--and by playing it. Here is a recommended link on simple piano tuning: http://piano.detwiler.us
  • One thing that happens when the piano seems to stay in tune better when you play it is that your ear gradually adapts to the "out of tuneness" of the piano because you are hearing it all the time. Skip playing for a month or so and when you return you will suddenly notice how bad it has gotten and think it happened during the time you didn't play.
  • Earlier, someone talked about "stretching the octaves". The phenomenon is called inharmonicity. Let me attempt to explain what is going on here and why octaves need to be stretched. Remember in physics class, about vibrating strings, how a given length of string will vibrate over its full length (the fundamental frequency), also vibrates with a node (stationary point) in the middle (two times the fundamental frequency, or one octave above), and again with two nodes (3x the fundamental), and so on. An "ideal" string has no thickness, and no stiffness at the ends, so a real piano string (or any other real string for that matter), does not behave in such a perfect manner. Instead, the second harmonic (2x the fundamental) of a real string is actually slightly higher than 2x the fundamental, and the third harmonic is a bit more in error - again on the high side. Ever notice how on a spinet, the lowest bass strings sound muddy, they don't seem to have a real clearly defined pitch, but on a concert grand, they sound so clear and distinct. Don't just blame the small soundboard, it has a lot more to do with the length of those strings. The electronic tuners that are meant to tune more than the middle octave of the piano have tables in them for different sized pianos to compensate. Many tuners just use electronics to tune the middle octave (aka setting the bearing), and use their ear for the rest of the piano, listening for the absense of beats between the octaves. The method by ear automatically does the right thing because your ear will hear the beats between the higher octave and the second harmonic of the lower octave - as they will be the strongest. (I believe this whole tuning thing is one of the reasons why woodwind players can't stand playing with a small piano with a lot of stretch in it, it makes them sound like they are playing flat in the upper octaves).
  • Truthfully, I would rather get professional help. Doing it the first time(s) might not be as accurate as it should be.
  • To those that state "all you need is to open up a piano and use a couple of mutes and it sounds great" you have NO EAR. To a professional, your tuning will sound horrible. You do not just pick up a set of tools and say, oh, goody, I'm doing a perfect tuning now. It takes years of experience to hear what we hear. And, without this same practice, you do not hear it whether you think you do or not.
  • To the guitar person. Oh, 6 strings or so? A piano has over 200 strings and they are not tuned at all like a guitar is tuned. There is no comparison. Not even close. We tune a piano in 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, 6ths, 10ths's etc.... And, yes, we do stretch the octaves. We learn how many "beats" per second should be in the G below middle C for example, tuning that G (a 4th) to middle C. The G above middle C, in tuning to middle C has a completely different beat ratio than the other G does. It isn't just a matter of turning the "peg" and guessing. Just because you think it sounds great, doesn't mean that it would sound great to me because, it probably sounds horrible to a trained ear. It's all ear training. Like I said before, I can't believe how many people do not understand it but, talk as if they know it all when in fact, they know nothing.
  • I believe that it's very hard. The guitar player is trying to say that in relevance to the other strings, it's similar to tuning a guitar. G is a fifth above C, and if C is here, than G must sound like this in order to be the fifth, and so on. The physics in tuning is very involved, and I'm just starting to see that by the comments. The wood alone is probably a factor as well, and the weather probably intervenes a little, not to mention watching one string go out, while you are pulling another in. It involves going over your work several times after the basic tuning is done. The debate on using electronic instruments and your ear is a little vague after reading all the input, however. It would be interesting comparing the two afterward to see how they match up; identical pianos, identical rooms, identical times, one person using instruments, and one using their ear, after middle C is brought in tune the same way for both.
  • Whether the original submittor of the article was right or wrong about this task requiring a professional is fairly irrelevant based on my comments. What is more relevant is that there is no need to be a condescending ass about your profession.
  • The purpose of posts like this is to learn, and to try new things. To say that someone should not even attempt a task is sheer and utter crap. It would be of far more value to suggest ways a newcomer to the field could avoid damaging their instrument and proceeding cautiously than to discourage the attempt. An improvement on an abandoned instrument is better than leaving the instrument ignored. Obviously, a first timer will not achieve professional results, but if their efforts have improved their instrument, i consider them to be successful.
  • In regards to the 'guitar tuner' of this post, i say good for you. Six down, 214 to go. We all do tuning one string at a time, and more power to you for giving it a shot.
  • It is better to try and fail than to remain in apathy. If you have an instrument of significant value, it would probably be wiser to call a professional than to risk damage, but if your goal is to take a non functional instrument and make it work again, research what you can and give it your best shot.

The piano is tuned by turning the little nob underneath the piano.

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