Efficient Piano Tuning


Are you frustrated at how much refining you need to do to tune a piano? I was. That’s why I developed my Go APE method.

(WATCH VIDEO on the Go APE Method.)

I recently posted a reply on the PTG website forum that tries to explain why I did it. Here it is:

“Thanks for all the comments.

I apologize for the vagueness. I will try to explain.

When I started tuning, I used the method most people start with; cycle of fifths with landmarks along the way. (F3A3 = 7bps, the White Anchor, etc)

Then in 2006 I started teaching piano tuning. I was frustrated that I couldn’t answer questions like, “How much faster should F3D4 beat compared to F3A3 when tuning a wide P4? My response? “Not too fast??” These answers did not make me feel like such a good teacher.

Also, as my ear got better at hearing beats and small beat speed differences, I became aware that the piano was laughing at me. That’s right, the piano was actually laughing at me. Perhaps you recognize the sound:

“Ha ha ha. You set that beat speed to what you are sure is the best for this piano eh? And now you come back and it’s changed? Ha ha ha. Now you’re refining it? I can’t wait for you to come back later and check it. Loser!”

I was getting really ticked off at how much refining I had to do. I decided to find out, if I could, what was going on.

I started writing programs to test assumptions and graph curves. I learned about inharmonicity formulas. I designed methods to accurately measure beat rates. I enlisted the help of other technicians through online audio surveys. I am writing articles for the Journal and taught two classes in Denver.

The result is now I have an aural method that I am very happy with, a very accurate, precise, and efficient method. But I am getting little or no favourable response from other technicians.

This post was an attempt to find out why. One question that I am asking is, “Do technicians generally not use the m3/M3 test, and that is why my method is too foreign?”

My experience talking to many techs is that the vast majority use ETD’s. Even the ones who can tune aurally. Why? Most techs acknowledge that experienced aural tuners can do a better job than an ETD in many cases. The PTG remains adamant that an aural skill be kept as part of the exam.

My answer? Current aural methods are not easy to learn. There are too many vague ideas that are not at the root of the problem. My March article deals with one of these assumptions specifically. How many techs will ignore my research and say it doesn’t matter? How many other aspects of my method “don’t matter”? At some point, does all this “doesn’t matter” add up to one BIG MATTER!

One assumption I used to believe: Put the pitch “close” and then do a lot of refining. Like the old comment “A piano has to be in tune before you can tune it.”

One effort I’ve made is to figure out what that final pitch is, set it at the beginning, and try to reduce as much as possible any reason why that pitch might drift during the tuning. I am very close now.

In determining the final pitch of a note, I needed the m3/M3 equality.

Here’s an example:

1. Tune A4 from Fork

2. Tune A3A4 (Get the octave spread and hence, the m3/M3 equality from that)

3. Set F3A3 approx. 7bps

4. Tune F3F4 (Confirm octave spread and m3/M3 equality. Not always the same on poorly scaled pianos)

5. Set C#4 so F3A3<A3C#4<C#4F4 changes smoothly.

Aside: Try my online test for tuning C#4 this way HERE!

6. Check A#3C#4<C#4F4

7. Change F4 if it is not

8. Retune F3 from F4

9. Check F3A3<A3C#4<C#4F4

Now I use a Bisecting Beat Speed Window temperament sequence. (See the June Journal) All beat speeds are set exactly between two others. In this way, there is no guessing at where the pitch needs to be. Just set the beat speeds to be Slow-Medium-Fast, where Medium is exactly between Slow and Fast.

10. Tune D4 so that F3A3 < F3D4 < A3C#4. This is using G3B3 = F3D4 and setting up a F3A3 < G3B3 < A3C#4 eventuality.

Now comes the m3/M3 equality that bridges the F3A3C#4F4A4 to other parts of the temperament.

Assume we have a small octave spread AND we have tuned the F3F4 and A3A4 as a pure 4:2.

This sets up F#3A3 = B3D#4

11. Now I tune F#3 so that A3C#4 < F#3A4 < C#4F4. F#3A4 = B3D#4 sets up the eventuality of A3C#4 < B3D#4 < C#4F4.

I can also check the size of F#3C#4 just to be sure.

The entire temperament is finished this way. I have discovered reasons why these pitches drift, and have done my best to reduce their effect. (Who’s laughing now, eh?)

The result is a progressive temperament, from which a stretch can accurately be chosen and applied.

(This brings up another confusion of mine. Why do people think the size of the temperament octave affects the stretch? Look at the Rails Back curve. There is little to no evidence of stretch in the temperament octave compared to the extremes. Choices you make WHILE tuning the extremes is what determines the stretch.)

Sorry for the long winded post. I just have no idea how to explain these findings in less time. I am expecting criticism.

I am available for an online Skype meeting for anyone really interested in this stuff.

You can also text me at 514-978-8637″

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2 Responses to “Efficient Piano Tuning”

  1. Cobrun Sells says:

    Here is my dilemma. I purchased Sanderson Accu-Tuner IV ETD (not a cheap device by any means) before I studied with you, Mark.

    Now that I’ve studied with you, I am able to tune using the ETD or aurally using your APE method. I believe that technicians with ETD’s are less likely to change their current method of tuning in order to learn your method, especially if there are those who do believe that they can get better tunings using their ETD than if they tuned aurally.

    I still own SAT IV. I am currently using it on many of my customer’s pianos.


    1. Because it was expensive in the first place I am still using it for usage sake.

    2. Because many of my customer’s pianos are institutional pianos (with horrible climate control) and/or spinets/consoles I am more inclined to use the ETD as I don’t morally feel that these low quality pianos (or pianos in low quality climate controlled areas) are worth being aurally tuned using the APE method which I believe is better than SAT IV ETD.

    However, I plan to exclusively Go APE when I move to a bigger and more musically inclined city. I’ll charge higher than I charge in my small town currently so that those people who do own spinets/consoles or “lesser” pianos feel less inclined to hire me as their technician.

    By doing this my belief is that I’ll weed out the “lesser” pianos and get more better quality pianos to tune…pianos worthy of the APE method. So, when I do Go APE exclusively when I move to a bigger city and charge higher what will I do with the ETD?

    1. I could still use it on “lesser” pianos if someone is still willing to hire me even with high prices.

    2. I can use the ETD to tune pianos to different temperaments other than Equal Temperament.

    3. I can use the ETD to justify my aural tunings if need be.

    • Excellent reasons to keep the SAT. Let’s face it. Without an ETD, I would have never been able to confirm some of my aural assumptions. ETD’s have helped me to improve my aural tuning and therefore, to not need the ETD. Muuwaa haa haa! (Evil laugh)

      Seriously, there are very good reasons to use an ETD, and very good reasons not to.

      For example, a Verituner salesman in Denver phrased it perfectly. “They are good enough”. There are many tuners who do not want to spend the extra time and money to get better than good enough. Why should they? It’s good enough! I’m not trying to be facetious. Some customers don’t need better than good enough, and don’t want to pay for it.

      I charge a premium because I think my tunings deserve it. I am a minority because not many tune by ear anymore. If someone thinks I charge too much, I have a list of technicians that I refer them to, who charge less.

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