Friday, January 1, 2010

Piano Tuning By Ear Or Machine

There has been so much misinformation about this topic; most of the public is now completely confused. When the customer notices that a piano technician is using an electronic device to tune their piano, they assume that they have not been trained by ear.

That may or may not be the case. If the technician has trade papers (Registered Piano Technician Member of PTG), they most certainly have aural tuning skills.

Let me explain again using an analogy.
You go to a doctor's office because you have a feeling of chest pain. The doctor might use a stethoscope and listen to the beat of your heart from the front and back. Suspecting something (perhaps nothing), the doctor might decide to use:

1. An electrocardiogram to further study your heart's activity.  *At this point do you stop your doctor and tell them to not use a machine and only listen to your heart by ear!? They might be lacking valuable information!
2. Chest X-Ray to further diagnose any heart abnormality. *At this point do you again stop your doctor and tell them to not use a machine!?
3. A CT scan which gives incredibly detailed information about the heart. *At this point do you stop your doctor from using a machine!?

From this perspective, you can now see how a fully qualified, accredited technician should be using every tool (electronic or otherwise) at their disposal to produce a truly exquisite tuning.

What kind of piano tuner are you?
I am known as a "hybrid piano tuner". I tune both aurally and with a machine. While the machine gets the work done much faster, I find that I MUST still make refined aural adjustments to arrive at the best tuning possible. If I was to tune strictly with the machine without making minute adjustments, mistakes could be made - such as those made by unqualified machine tuners with little or no aural tuning skills.


What happens when my machine breaks down?
No problem! Since I'm fully trained by ear, I simply continue where I left off. That has happened about a dozen times during the last 5 years or so. If you find that your tuner is not able to continue without a machine, I would get someone else who has complete aural training.


Are tuning forks accurate?
These are just pieces of metal which are influenced by temperature changes. If a customer requested that I tune the piano aurally, I would first set A440 with a machine and then turn it off and tune the rest of the piano by ear. There is no question that setting A440 with a machine (then tuning the rest of the piano aurally if requested) is the most accurate way.

When taking an exam to become a piano tuner, how you set A440 is extremely important! Guest what? To determine how close you set A440 on the piano with a tuning fork, the final result is measured BY MACHINE!! The mark (for setting pitch) is an indicator of two things.
1. The technician may or may not have an accurate tuning fork (they should have taken readings of their fork with a machine and made minor adjustments by filing).
2. The person may have an accurate fork but may not be able to accurately transfer the pitch to the piano.

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