How Good is an Electronic Piano’s Tuning?

There are so many good things to say about electronic pianos.

  • They’re easy to carry.
  • They have many sounds.
  • They can be hooked up to a computer.
  • They can be used as a midi controller.
  • They can be used with headphones so you can practice at night.

But, “They don’t have to be tuned” is not one of them.

A piano that does not have to be tuned, implies that the piano is already in tune.

In all my years as a piano tuner, I have been looking for an electronic piano that is in tune. Almost every electronic piano I check, is so badly out of tune, that I can use any electronic piano after I give a 20 hour course in aural piano tuning, as an example of how badly electronic pianos are tuned, and the beginners who take my classes, with their barely learned aural skills,  can tell.

We shouldn’t say, “They don’t have to be tuned.” We should say “They can’t be tuned, but they should be tuned!”

Many aural piano tuners tune the octave F3 to F4 first, setting each interval size so that they fit with each other. One criteria for equal temperament is that the major thirds increase in beat speed smoothly and evenly.

Listen to this recording of a Roland electronic piano. The first recording is of the major thirds from F3A3 to C#4F4. The second recording is filtered around the beating partial of each major third. You can easily hear how bad the tuning is. The major thirds vary wildly from progressive.

I have added a graph of the beat speeds so you can see, as well as hear the changing beat speeds.

I offer to score aural piano tunings that people send to me, and this one scored 55%. The minimum to pass is %80.

Roland Electronic Piano. Major Thirds. Unfiltered.

Roland Electronic Piano. Major Thirds. Filtered.

Graph of Beat Speeds.
The beat speeds should be within the green lines.


Also, listen to the first beating major third. The beat speed actually starts at 7.8 beats per second, but by the end of the interval, it has risen to 10 beats per second!

Electronic pianos have many benefits. But being in tune is not one of them.

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5 Responses to “How Good is an Electronic Piano’s Tuning?”

  1. Paul says:

    Which model of piano? Current pianos that use samples of every note of a real piano are as in-tune as the original piano. So I think your generalization is rather out of date, to be honest. Then there’s the physically modeled pianos, where the tuning can be specified on a per-note basis, as well as the stretch. It would be interesting to see an analysis of one of these, or a modern fully-sampled piano.

    • I have been looking for an electronic piano that tests as close as an aural tuning. If you have one you think might pass, please send it in.

      The modeling pianos you speak of, are very expensive, aren’t they? My comment is simply directed at those people who think all electronic pianos are in tune. They are not.

      However, many aural tunings wouldn’t pass the test either. 😉

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. Dimitrov says:

    Hello Mark,

    How about Pianoteq where we can determine the strtching of the octave?
    Do you think it stay still out of tune if the temperament is equal flat one?

    Thank you


  3. Cobrun Sells says:

    The other deal is that with an acoustic pianos one can change the touchweight if they install Hans Velo’s Magnetic Balanced Action which is adjustable on the fly by technician or pianist. On an electronic piano the touchweight is not adjustable on the fly like Hans Velo’s MBA. Plus, hardly any electronic pianos have simulated or real aftertouch.

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