What Skills are Needed to Learn How to Tune Pianos Aurally

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately since I have to present my knowledge of this subject in a succinct a way as possible in my 20 hour crash courses.

I have boiled it down to three skills; Beat Speed Sensitivity, Pitch Precision, and Stability. 

Beat Speed Sensitivity

The speeds of the M3 in the temperament octave F3F4 go from F3A3 to C#4F4. So, the smallest beat speed difference one should be able to set is that between C4E4 and C#4F4. C4E4 beats about 10.5bps while C#4F4 beats about 11bps. So, it would appear that an aural tuner should be able to hear a beat speed difference between 10.5 and 11bps. This is quite small, and possibly not possible for most tuners, but with focused practice and creative resources, one can improve their sensitivity quite a lot, and that would only serve to improve the tunings, as the tuner would be able to “fish out” more intervals that were not following the gradually increasing pattern.

Pitch Precision

Precision is the ability to reproduce consistent results. Pitch precision is the ability to make consistently small changes in pitch when making the final adjustments that will put the frequency at the optimum position.

This skill comes from the knowledge of what is happening to the tensions in the different lengths of the string, how the tuning pin is deforming under the applied force of the hammer, and using a method that allows the technician to hear whenever the pitch changes by the smallest amount. (For me, Double String Unison is the best method ever for that.)

Stability

Being able to place the pitch and have it stay there is critical for a good tuning. Unstable strings produce out of tune unisons which are the most annoying and obvious characteristics of a poor tuning.

There are hammer techniques that create superior stability, but methods such as open unison tuning can hedge your bets that the frequency will stay put. No matter the hammer technique, any application without solid comprehension of why it works, is bound to fail sooner or later. It is the understanding of the relationship between forces, friction, and deformation, that allows the technician to change things up when stability is elusive, by knowing what is happening and choosing another technique that will deal with the unstable elements.

I have many ideas on how to teach these skills. Some I have already developed, and some are still in formation. 

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Stay Tuned!

Mark

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