[Dixielandjazz] METHODS of PIANO TUNING

Elazar Brandt jazzmin at actcom.net.il
Tue Sep 16 22:55:42 PDT 2003

Shalom Janie,

I tuned pianos during my college and grad school years. Haven't done one for a
long time. But I used a tuning fork to get the A 440 and did everything else by
ear. Andy is right, that the intervals are not exact. Adjusting the 5ths, then
4ths and 3rds so they are off by the right amount in order to keep the
instrument in tune in all keys is called "tempering". Bach's pieces for the
"Well-tempered clavier" (I think that's right, or it's close anyway) reflect the
recently learned technique in his day of properly tuning a chromatic stringed
instrument so it plays in tune in all keys. Actually, they might not realize it,
but guitarists and banjoists and other string players also have to do this, but
usually they just learn it by habit and are not aware of the science behind it.
If you ever wondered why a guitar's strings can sound perfectly in tune with one
another yet the instrument sounds terrible when you play chords, this is one
common reason. Anyway, my customers used to ask me why I didn't use some kind of
electronic tuning machine to tune their pianos, and I used to tell them that the
machine doesn't have to listen to it after I'm finished -- but people do.

Your piano could be experiencing tuning difficulties because of the move,
because of changes in temperature and humidity, or simply because of the stress
of handling the thing. It can take some time for it to settle down and hold a
tuning properly after a major move like that. But it shouldn't take a year. When
moving from a damp climate to a drier one, it is possible that the bearings that
hold the tuning pegs in place could have experienced some drying out, which
would make them lose some of their grip and therefore the piano might not hold a
tuning very long. On this I am not an expert, and never was. There are other
factors involved too, like the condition of the instrument and the age of the
wood. But there are various things you can do to maintain the piano at the
proper humidity if that is the problem. Your tech should be able to determine

But the short answer to your question is that tuning the piano by ear is most
likely not the problem, unless the tech simply doesn't know what he's doing.

Ministry of Jazz
Doctor Jazz Band
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-679-2537

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Janie McCue Lynch [mailto:janie51 at socal.rr.com]
> Sent: Tuesday, September 16, 2003 3:35 PM
> To: Andy.Ling at Quantel.Com; dixielandjazz at ml.islandnet.com
> Subject: [Dixielandjazz] METHODS of PIANO TUNING
>   In response to my question ..."do you  prefer a manual "ear" tuning
> or the use of an electronic device for "perfect" accuracy? Or a
> combination of the two? And why?"  Andy wrote: "I'm not sure about
> modern electronic tuners, but my Dad had a
> go with one 20+ years ago. The piano was tuned perfectly so all the little
> lights flashed correctly. Then came the moment to play it - it
> sounded awful.   The problem is that the intervals are not perfect"
> Thank you, Andy.  I transported a piano from Pennsylvania to California last
> year and have had it manually / aurally tuned twice now. I can still hear
> inaccuracies, especially in the lower and upper registers, but two
> particular keys in the mid registers.    I had the same tuner do it
> both times, with the assumption that he knew the
> instrument from the first tuning.  I am going to ask him if a third tuning
> would be beneficial, or would an electronic tuning be helpful.  OR does it
> need servicing beyond tuning.   But I wanted some input from those
> who have professional experience in
> playing and listening to their pianos all the time.   Best regards,
> Jane Lynch  janie51 at socal.rr.com

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