Archive for the ‘Current State of Piano Tuning’ Category

Why You May Want to Learn How to Tune Your OWN Piano.

Pianos are not as popular as they were 100, 70, even 30 years ago.

They used to be the entertainment centre of the home. Then, with the advent of radio and television, it wasn’t the phenomenon it used to be. It was still quite popular, just not the same.

Now, the computer, video games, tablets and smart phones are competing for our entertainment hours.

The guitar has also become, in my opinion, the number one musical instrument played by North Americans. I can’t prove this, it’s just a feeling.

Pianos have also become smaller, which means the allure of their full size ancestors, is being lost. Smaller pianos don’t command the same awe as that of turn-of-the-century full size uprights, with their majestic detail, long bass strings, forgiving geometry, and impressive tone.

“But”, you say, “I love the piano. It will never go out of style.”

I agree with you. But the numbers don’t lie.

Look at this chart of US piano sales from 1900 to 2007.

US Piano Sales 1900 - 2007

It doesn’t look good.

But the real picture comes into view when you consider what will happen to piano tuning as less and less people play the piano.

Pianos need to be tuned, and piano tuners tune pianos. But they don’t do it for free. Piano tuning prices have increased dramatically in recent history, as the price of gas has gone up, and tuners have had to travel farther to find customers.

Look at the following chart. It is a dramatic illustration of New York City including outlying areas. Each circle represents the territory of one piano tuner. Within that territory, a tuner would presumably, be charging the going rate for piano tuning.

Lots of piano tuners

As less and less people take up the piano, demand for piano tuning will drop, and there won’t be as much opportunity for someone to make a living tuning pianos. The result will be less piano tuners, and those that are left will be charging premium dollars to travel to the areas not serviced by a local tuner.

Less piano tuners
(Note: the maps are not intended to depict actual tuners and their areas. They only illustrate the relative affect of lower tuner numbers on piano tuning prices.)

As there are less and less piano tuners, there will be more and more areas that are not being serviced by a local tuner, and if you live in one of these areas, you may have to pay more to get a competent tuner to tune your piano, or accept someone who is sub par as a tuner.

This is not a joke. It is happening right now. Because of a low demand for piano tuners on the Canadian province island of Prince Edward Island, Canada, the local tuners do not get as much practice tuning pianos, and as a result, the University has had to use a tuner from the mainland. Recently he retired and they were forced to pay me to fly 1400 kilometres from Montreal, to tune ONE piano, and then fly me home, the SAME DAY! With airfare and tuning, the cost to the University was about $800!

Their choice was, use a local tuner who may not be as proficient to tune the Steinway grand for a visiting performer, or pay for someone to come from away. If you live in a similarly underservivced area, your options will be the same. However, there is another option.

Learn to tune your piano yourself.

The pros to learning to tune your own piano are:

1. Save money on tunings.
2. You don’t need to be as versatile since you will only be tuning one piano over and over, YOURS!
3. Even if you just learn to do touch ups, you will be able to reduce the number of times you need to pay for the professional tuner to travel to you.
4. Tuning can be a fun and rewarding skill to learn, if it is taught right.

So, if you think this is something you might like to try, take some time to watch my free lessons and drop me a line.

A Review of YouTube Videos on How to Tune a Piano

There are quite a few videos on YouTube showing you how to tune a piano. The problem is, most of them are made by people who are not piano tuners, or are professional piano tuners, but not experienced teachers

Here are some typical examples of videos I have found on YouTube describing how to tune a piano.

This guy has been tuning his own piano for two months. Listen at 6:03 where he tunes a unison by ear. There is an audible beat of about 1Hz which is unacceptable.

Clean unisons are the most important element of a good tuning; they are the most common source of complaints from piano tuning customers.

This guy’s method involves first recording each and every key into his own software product. That alone could take an hour.

An experienced piano technician should be able to tune a whole piano in that time.

An experienced instructor is one who has been teaching for many years and has refined their explanations and pedagogical technique so that the method is concise and easy to understand, while at the same time presenting a professional and precise approach to the subject.

Yes, it is difficult, and that is why it takes so long for someone to acheive this level of teaching skill. You see, the best way to learn piano tuning is not just from a professional piano technician, but also from an experienced teacher. Both areas require expert skill for you to learn the fastest way possible with the best outcome.

I have been teaching tuning for many years and have yet to find a YouTube video that is clear and easy to understand and accurate. If you are a musician and are interested in learning to tune pianos, please consider subscribing to this blog. I am currently creating articles and videos that explain my personal method for tuning that I have developed over eight years of teaching piano tuning and repair professionally. My method is directed specifically towards musicians and teaches advanced aural tuning techniques without using any computers. Aural techniques are rewarding to learn and have the potential of producing superior results after some practice. Advanced techniques give you ways of producing highly precise tunings early on, and musicians grasp advanced techniques easily. This has been the most effective approach for my students and the one which has produced the best results.

I hope you decide to subscribe. I am looking forward to helping more musicians learn to tune their own pianos, or other people’s pianos for money.

Where are They Going?

Today, I tuned a piano at a mansion. Before I got to the door, I looked up the appoinment, and there was a note that said “Recommended new strings and pins, pins loose.”

Now, maybe because I am having a cash flow problem right now (Single income, homeschooling four kids), I felt a little arrogant and thought to myself “If these people are not going to take care of this instrument when they (appear to) have so much money, I am just going to drop them as customers because, one, they don’t care about their piano, or two, they don’t trust me.”

As I was tuning this piano, I started having different feelings. I was starting to feel sad for this piano, because if these people don’t rebuild the piano, it will probably end up in the dump. I spoke to the owner about the future of her piano and she seemed uninterested. “Oh well, my kids will probably take it after we’re gone. They’ll probably just junk it and get a new one.”

How are we, as a society of piano technicians, supposed to educate people? How are we to get the word out that $10,000 to rebuild this awesome instrument, will result in a better instrument than a new Yamaha U1 at less cost? And in 50 years, this instrument will still be around and the Yamaha will be toast. Of course, these are just my opinions and we won’t really know for sure until 50 years have passed. But from the current condition of 50 year old Yamahas, compared with some 100 year old uprights, that is where I make my judgement.

Also, wealthy people will think nothing of buying a luxurious sports cars at $50,000+, only to have it rust away in 15 years and be worth little, whereas, a rebuilt piano will hold its value for years to come, and also produce beautiful music, add beauty to a room, and exist as a work of art in its own right. These same people will hem and haw and try to squeeze piano rebuilders to get the lowest price possible from a piano technician who may not be a savvy businessperson. This kind of predatory activity is what pushes technicians out of the rebuilding business. I’ve seen too many shops go bankrupt.

There are so many reasons to rebuild old pianos, someday I will write an article describing them all. But the main reason is that, a part of our history is being bull-dozed off tractor trailers into city dumps as we speak. A rebuilding friend of mine burnt FORTY pianos this summer at his cottage in the country because they were taking up too much space in his workshop! This is musical genocide and very few people are taking notice. I know this is not a world issue relating to poverty or economics (there may be a connection here) but it still makes me very sad to think that the only things left to remind us of a different time, a time when people joined together in song around the piano, a time when the whole of society recognized the value of consistent effort and had all their kids take piano lessons, a simpler time when pianists transposed in realtime by ear instead of by a button, are disappearing forever. To look at an old piano and imagine its better days is like looking at our own future. Where are these pianos going? Where are we going? Shouldn’t somebody care?

So, if you have an old piano. Do me a favour and get a qualified technician to look at it and give you a realistic opinion of its potential. Then if you can afford it, and it has potential, have it rebuilt properly. You will end up with an exceptional musical instrument that will not be thrown out. It will not be thrown out because it will have value. At least for another 100 years anyway.

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