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MMD > Archives > March 1998 > 1998.03.10 > 12Prev  Next


Piano Tuning by Ear
By Jan Kijlstra

It's an old question: is it possible to tune a piano, using an
electronic tuner.  Well, it's just a matter of how good one's ears
are trained.

In my younger days I had to train my ears for a couple of years (almost
5), before I could call myself a piano-tuner. More important: before my
employer wanted to send me out to his customers to tune their pianos !

In those days no electronic aid existed: a tune fork was all one had.
Nowadays some very high-tech electronic tuning aids are available.
However, it is my strong belief that these instruments may be helpful,
but are not good enough.

Just one example: many times a string cannot be tuned properly,
because of the fact that some strings do have an odd beat of their
own.  A good tuner is capable of "covering" these odd beats, but an
electronic device will give incorrect results.

There is another argument: tuning by ear is faster, because you
do not have to operate the electronic device.  Unfortunately some
people do use an electronic tuning device because they are not able to
tune by ear.  Since most customers are not capable of judging the
quality of this tuning, this can be done without great risks.

Apart from the "hearing"-part: tuning is not just using your ears, but
is also asking for a skilled arm.  Every instrument reacts differently
when you are tuning it. You often have to play chords, in order to
judge if you are coming closer to what you have in mind. No tuning
device, as far as known by me, is able to judge these sounds properly.

If this was possible, we also could record a string-quartet, having
each part of the music printed out for the instrument that's playing
it.  Or even an orchestra.  Would be nice.....

In the end the answer is easy: if you do not have the ears for it and
are not willing or capable to train them, no electronic device will be
able to make you a good tuner.  But if you do have your ears (and
arm-muscles) trained, you will have no need for an electronic device.

But maybe I'm totally wrong?

Jan Kijlstra

 [ The problem lies within the ears of the customer.  As you say,
 [ many customers are not aware of the difference in the sound.
 [ The problem is "not a problem" to undiscriminating customers,
 [ and so there is lots of work for the piano tuner who charges
 [ the least.  The skilled tuner can help educate his customer to
 [ understand why the piano sounds better with proper tuning.
 [ So you are not wrong, Jan !  ;)  -- Robbie


(Message sent Tue 10 Mar 1998, 23:27:38 GMT, from time zone GMT+0100.)

Key Words in Subject:  Ear, Piano, Tuning

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