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MMD > Archives > February 1997 > 1997.02.08 > 07Prev  Next

Communicating Expertise and Critical Adjustments
By John A. Tuttle

Hi All, I think that most piano technicians would agree that one of the most critical and difficult adjustments on the grand action is the repetition lever spring. In every book I've ever read on the subject, the qualifying terms are subjective not objective. This forces the technician to interpret those subjective terms which leads to vast differences in the actual regulation of identical actions from technician to technician.

Case in point. On page 298 of John Travis's "Let's Tune Up", he uses the term" decidedly firm, rather than 'jerky,' 'up-kick.'" On page 172 of William White's" Piano Tuning and Allied Arts", he uses the term, "slightly rises".

So which is it? Decidedly firm or slightly rises?

I don't know if I mentioned that I started learned about the piano action at age eleven from books I got from a local library. After trying to understand the writing, I gave up and studied the action just like Craig and others did and referred to the book for terms and the like. Interestingly enough, it was to be another 14 years before I would meet a 96 year old piano builder that put virtually all of my questions to rest regarding regulating. He admitted that it was almost impossible to convey the actions necessary to do a great job with words alone. I can remember his exact words like it was yesterday. He said, "John, explain to me what 'raise gently' means to you." I couldn't do it without moving my hands. He told me to hold my hands still and try again. I gave up! He then said that unless someone SHOWS you what 'raise gently' means in regards to regulating, you'll most likely never really understand how to set it correctly. The owner of the company I was working for, who had been in the business for more than 40 years had told me that no one was ever able to adequately explain how to set the spring tension. His idea of up-kick was like what you find on the new Yamaha pianos. They literally 'jump' up.

My point is very simple. Without very expensive testing equipment and the skills necessary to use that equipment, it is, in my opinion, virtually impossible to gain the skills needed to successfully repair or rebuild complex musical instruments by reading a book! It just doesn't work like that. Only a person with years of "hands-on" experience who has been properly trained by a master technician/craftsman can begin to refine the education of an apprentice or novice. Considering the number of manufacturers that have come and gone over the past century-and-a-half and each of their peculiar differences, the importance of "hands-on" experience AND an experienced technician is absolutely essential if a job is to be completed successfully _without_ learning from mistakes.

Furthermore, it is my opinion that the major problem lies with our own language and our limited number of adjectives and verbs. We simply don't have enough words to accurately describe the actions that are required in every case. Just as an example of what I mean, the Japanese have a different word for each of the different sounds that rain makes when it hits something and the force with which it hits that object. So there is never any confusion about what the rain is hitting or how hard it's coming down. In English, we must describe the situation. If we simply say, 'pitter-patter' or 'drip, drip, drip' we can only surmise that the rain is falling at a slow rate. But can we tell whether it's a pitter-patter on a tin roof or a pitter-patter on the sidewalk? No! We must elaborate by 'adding in' the defining characteristics of the situation. Very cumbersome and long-winded.

It has been my understanding for may years that books are to be used as a reference. Only an experienced technician can lead a novice through the thousands of individual actions required to correctly rebuild or maintain an instrument on the first try. Converting written words into actions requires a certain amount of interpretation and reading a book does not qualify one as an interpreter, no matter who does the writing.

Look at it another way. Why do we have piano teachers? A six-year old can learn to read music and play the piano without a teacher. I know that from my own experience. But it takes an experienced teacher to interpret the music and then convey that interpretation to the student by _example_ before the student can excel. The teacher does _not_ communicate _anything_ with words other than to say, "Like this!"

I think that _all_ writers can benefit from understanding this reality:

You _must_, when using subjective terms, relate those terms in ways that even a child can understand _or_ in actual terms of time, distance and speed. In other words, KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid!

Case in point. When asked about 'up-kick', I use the phrase 'like dropping a feather'. I think even a child can relate to that picture. Or I say, 'you should barely be able to feel it happen under your finger tips'. But even here, the term 'feel' is subjective because we all feel things differently.

What's your opinion, I'd like to hear from you.

John A. Tuttle "Self-Playing Pianos" 908-840-8787 (leave message)
407 19th Avenue
Bricktown, NJ 08724
"We Keep Your Music Rolling" Authorized QRS Music Roll Dealer

(Message sent Sat 8 Feb 1997, 20:12:52 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  Adjustments, Communicating, Critical, Expertise

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