Archive for the ‘Tuning Pianos’ Category

Sneek Peak at Piano Tuning Theory Book – Chapter 3.6 – Cents

CLICK HERE to read this chapter of my book, Piano Tuning Theory.

In this chapter I develop the common formula for calculating the cents difference between two frequencies.

The book is targeting piano owners and technicians who may not have a strong mathematical background, but are still interested in the theories of piano tuning.


You can pre-order the book HERE

What’s Happening?

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving to all my subscribers and way to go Bluejays!

I’m posting on my site tonight, realizing that I haven’t posted here in a while. The reason why, is that I have been posting on other public forums. The nature of my posts on those other forums has been to share my piano tuning and repair methods with other piano technicians.

I’ve been doing this for a few years now, and while I receive positive feedback from many, I also raise the ire of many as well, to the point of being called a “piano butcher”, a charlatan, and deluding people, when all I am doing is relaying to other people the way I am doing something. The results, from my perspective as a Registered Piano Technician, and piano playing musician, are acceptable at least, and often impressive. But for some reason, my posts bring out the haters.

I’ve known for a while now why I post on those other forums. You see, about a year ago, I took an online test to see if I was a narcissist. While the average was 19/30, I scored 5/30.

I am insecure. Often, I have been posting on other technician forums because I am looking for validation of my methods.

For this I am ashamed. Ashamed because I have ignored the positive and glowing feedback of my students and my customers. Ashamed because I am looking to strangers who are my competitors, to find confidence.

And ashamed because I have not had the confidence in my own results. How can I expect others to have confidence in my own methods, when I don’t?

So, today I pledge to never go looking for validation from strangers again, many who are insecure in their own abilities.

I came to the realization today, while reading some posts on aural piano tuning methods vs ETD methods, that I will never find widespread acceptance of my methods. The reason being, is that my Beat Speed Window method is too empirical. Too many aural tuners tell of tuning by feel, with no consideration for empirical feedback, like those obtained by using beat speed windows.

When so many tuners are now using, and some revering, the results of machines, machines that use math to tell us what the best tuning is, math that uses approximations and error data as input, you would think that using a scientific and empirical aural method would be welcomed.

This has not been my experience. For the last week I have contemplated posting a few times about my empirical beat speed window method, but after receiving little or no interest from previous posts, and fielding a bombardment of criticisms which, by their own wording, show that some tuners have too easily chosen to leap at an understanding of the method that makes it look weak or even foolish, instead of assuming that they themselves may have a misunderstanding of the method which they obviously do, I have quickly abandoned the idea.

So, the challenge remains. How do I spread the word about a new aural piano tuning method that produces highly accurate and precise results, using a technique that only a few ingenious technicians have ever used, but that I have been able to package within a set of procedures that make it user friendly enough to teach to beginners?

Beat Speed Windows with Double String Unisons produces
– Consistent and accurate stretch that produces the most number of pure intervals,
– A method of valuable and high resolution feedback that fast tracks the tuner’s understanding and ability to produce clean unisons and superior stability
– An accurate and precise temperament right from the first setting of a temperament note, producing pitches that are the final pitches needed for each note.
– A method that catches drifted notes before they are needed as references to tune other notes.
– A method that asks the tuner to tune specific beat speeds within windows, instead of guessing what they should be.
– A way to perform one pass pitch raises that require the tuner to keep creating accurate pitches instead of guessing at over pulling,
– A way to speed up tunings incredibly, without having quality suffer.

There is no way I can explain all these things in one post. In fact, even after people take my basic tuning course, which now is taught using this new method exclusively, there are elements and understanding that are missed.

So, the question remains; how do I spread knowledge about an aural piano tuning method that I know is superior to current methods, can produce precise results, as precise or better than any modern ETD, and I know this because no tuner, programmer or not, is aware, or if they are aware, is convinced of the superior criteria I place on beatless octaves and pure interval stretch.

The only answer I can come up with, based on my recent years of developing this method, enjoying its beautiful results, and sharing with other technicians is…slowly.

Please comment and keep in touch.

Please ignore the last blog post

Hey Subscribers,

I just realized that I inadvertently sent out a garbled page/post that was part of my new Ear Training for Piano Tuners course. Just ignore it.

If you are interested in trying out my new online ear training course for free, just CLICK HERE


Hooke’s Law and this Long Non-Speaking Length (NSL) Mean I Have to Turn the Pin Quite a Bit Before the String Slips Across the Agraffe and The Pitch Changes. 

NSL analysis is invaluable in figuring out what to do in these unusual cases in order to acheive a stable tuning. 

Hooke’s Law

DSU Saves Time by Allowing You to Tune a Piano Without Taking it Apart. 

The Secret to Tuning a Piano by Ear

A recent poll suggested that 90% of professional piano tuners use a machine to help them tune pianos while most agree that you need aural skills to tweak the machine.

The piano tuning exam to become a Registered Piano Technician (RPT) with the Piano Technicians Guild (PTG) still requires examinees to tune part of the piano by ear, and many still fail that exam.

I have been teaching aural piano tuning since 2005 and since that time, I have be fascinated by how people learn to tune pianos by ear, and I am passionate about finding the best way to help people learn this skill easier.

Piano tuning has been around for a long time, yet the field of tuning pedagogy still seems young. There are schools and instructors still teaching methods that were taught 100 years ago. I find it interesting that few schools and instructors make use of technology to help students learn how to tune a piano by ear, instead of just using a machine to tell you where to put the pitch of each string. I make this observation based on the fact that at the time of this writing, no formal schools had any YouTube videos describing any of their methods. Actually, most had no videos at all.

Since I teach short courses about aural piano tuning, my methods have to be as succinct and efficient as possible. I have spent my entire career looking for specific skills that are necessary to learn this craft, while weeding out the myths and incorrect information, often perpetuated by professional technicians, that gets in the way.

Here are the three specific skills that I have identified as the most important skills needed to be able to tune a piano by ear. In fact, if you haven’t got all these, your aural tunings will be poor.

1) The ability to focus the ear, at will, to specific frequencies, filtering out all unwanted frequencies, in order to make accurate judgements on where the pitch of a string needs to be.

2) The ability to change the pitch of a string by the smallest of amounts, thereby zeroing in on the precise pitch that you know the string needs to be, based on your skill in #1.

3) The ability to tune a string to that specific pitch, and have it stay there, even when the pianist plays the note fortississimo.

If you have these specific skills, all you need is an accurate and precise procedure, or method, in order to produce high quality aural tunings that sound beautiful. My Double String Unison (DSU) method is one way to do this. It contains a complete set of instructions, based on beat speeds, that tells the tuner exactly where the pitch of a string needs to be.

For example, many aural piano tuners advocate tuning midrange octaves as wide 4:2 and narrow 6:3. (I’ll explain a bit more about what these are later, but an indepth discussion can be had on this subject, and is in my courses.)

Now, in very simplistic terms, we will listen to two intervals. They will be beating at a high frequency. If the 2nd interval beats faster, it is wide.

You will hear two pairs of intervals. The 1st pair will be the test for the 4:2 octave size. The 2nd two will be the test for the 6:3 octave size.

The Wide 4:2, Narrow 6:3.
In this video, you will first hear four intervals. Listen for these relative beat speeds:
1) This beat speed is the reference for the 4:2 size.
2) This beat speed is slighter faster than #1, indicating a wide 4:2.
3) This beat speed is the reference for the 6:3 octave size.
4) This beat speed is slightly slower than #3, indicating a narrow 6:3.
Then the actual octave is played.

The iPhone app, Soundbeam, allows us to zero in on the exact partials that are beating and actually see how they beat. We can even get an idea if one is faster than the other, even if we can’t hear it.

In the views below, the 4:2 partial is the first peak, and the 6:3 partial is the 3rd peak.

Many standard methods advocate that the octave should tuned as this one is; a wide 4:2, narrow 6:3. Listen and watch as the wide 4:2/narrow 6:3 octave is played (5th interval). Listen and watch as the 4:2 and 6:3 peaks are beating when the octave is played. A pure interval does not have any of this motion or beating in the upper partials. This octave does not sound as good as the next one.

The Pure 4:2, Very Narrow 6:3
Watch and listen as this pure 4:2, very narrow 6:3 is played. Here are the 4 intervals and their relative beat speeds:
1) This beat speed is the reference for the 4:2 size.
2) This beat speed is the same speed as #1, indicating a pure 4:2.
3) This beat speed is the reference for the 6:3 octave size.
4) This beat speed is very much slower than #3, indicating a very narrow 6:3.
Then the actual octave is played.

Watch and listen to the 4:2 partial (1st peak) and the 6:3 partial (3rd peak) as the octave is played. The 4:2 partial doesn’t move (beat) much while the 6:3 partial moves (beats) quite a bit.

Common methods tell us that this octave should not sound good, but compare its sound to the wide 4:2/Narrow 6:3 above. The pure 4:2 octave clearly sounds more pure, even though the 6:3 is beating wildly. I believe it is exactly this fast beat that allows our ear to ignore it.

I am NOT saying the pure 4:2 is always the best size octave for every piano, it isn’t. The actual size that sounds best on a piano depends on the inharmonicity of the piano strings. The DSU method has a procedure that shows you how to aurally measure the inharmonicity of a piano’s strings, and determine what size is the best for that piano.

See Tuning Beatless Octaves

CLICK HERE to watch a video that describes the DSU method in more depth, also called the Go APE method.

Relative Humidity

Relative humidity (RH) is a term that piano owners are concerned with because too much or too little is not good for a piano, being made mostly of wood. Excessive humidity can cause metal parts to rust, and wood to swell. Too little humidity in the air and the wood parts can become dry and brittle, and crack or split, and the glue joints can fail.

As piano technicians, we advise that the piano be kept at 42% RH, but it’s actually the wide swings that can cause more damage.

RH can be a difficult concept to grasp, as witnessed by a recent exchange I had on a piano tuner’s forum where some posters were actually quite angry with me for saying that cold air can be more humid than warm air.

I understood their reaction becasue this is counter intuitive; common experience says that cold winter air is drier than warm summer air.

Before explaining my comment, let’s take some time to discuss exactly what relative humid is.

What is Relative Humidity?

Air can hold water. Hot air can hold more water than cold air. Relative humidity is the amount of water in the air, relative to amount of water the air can hold.
See Wikipedia article HERE

Consider an air mass that has a constant amount of water in it, at different temperatures.


The fraction of Actual Water to Maximum Possible Water is clearly higher in the cooler air.

In other words, cooler air has a higher relative humidity than warmer air with the same water content. Counter intuitive, but true.

Take a look at the data I recorded in a simple experiment. I took a hygrometer, which measures temperature and relative humidity, and put it outside on a warm day. I recorded the temperature and humidity and then brought it inside our air conditioned home. If the cooler air conditioned air, did indeed have less moisture than the outside air, then common knowledge says the cooler air should be drier.


Clearly the cooler air was more humid. (Any error in the exact RH measurements is moot since we are looking at the relative measurements, not the absolute measurements.)

Here are photos of the hygrometer outside in the warm air, and inside in the cool air. Time between photos: about 15 minutes.



Air Conditioned Air

Let’s consider the case where we use an air conditioner to cool down the outside air before it enters a home.

For this situation, we must discuss Dew Point.

Dew Point is the temperature at which the air has been cooled so much that, if the temperature goes lower, the air will not be able to hold the current amount of water, and the water will condense out of the air. We can see this water as dew on the cool morning grass after a cool night.
See Dew Point.

Air conditioners have a drain pipe to export the condensed moisture outside, when the air is cooled below the dew point. Just because AC units have this drain pipe, does not mean that the air will always be cooled below the dew point. Let’s consider the situation where an air conditioner is used to cool outside air, but the air is not cooled below the dew point.


In this case, it is easy to see that, for all inside temperatures lower than the outside temperature, the cooler air inside the home will always be more humid than the outside warmer air, if the inside and outside air contain the same moisture.

But what about when the AC unit cools the air below the dew point and condensation occurs?


In this case, there is a point of equal RH where the air is cooler, has less absolute moisture, but has the same RH as the warmer outside air. Any place in the home that is above that temperature, will have more humid air than outside. Lower temperature areas will have drier air. Again, counter intuitive.

The implications of this data have to do with our possible misconceptions with respect to RH.

It is true that pianos are recommended to be kept close to 42% RH, and that swings in humidity are not good for pianos.

But with this new information, some interesting conclusions regarding maintaining a piano’s RH can be deduced.

For example, if a piano is in an air conditioned home, keeping the piano close to the AC unit with the idea that the colder air will be drier and therefore protect it against the outside humid air, may actually increase its RH instead of lowering it.

Similarly, piano owners concerned that leaving their pianos in a cold garage over the winter will dry it out, can be relieved knowing that the cooler garage air may actually be more humid than the warmer inside air, even if the furnace has a humidifier. (There is a chance of wood damage if the air gets below freezing; the moisture in the wood may freeze and expand.)

I was told this stuff by a friend of mine who is an accomplished high end piano rebuilder and technician, and also a mechanical engineer.

When he first told me, I was confused because it went against my common knowledge. But because of my technical training, he was able to easily explain to me why this was true.

I hope that this article, with the links to Wikipedia, and the graphs I produced, will make it easier for you to understand this subject as well.

My Grateful Experiences Tuning Pianos on Prince Edward Island.

This might be an inappropriate post, as it can easily be interpreted as bragging. I can only temper that by explaining the reasons why I’m posting it, hoping that they will help put the post in a more modest light.

Also, I will try to list all the factors that led to this situation, including the ones beyond my control, hopefully reducing any “get rich quick” quality that may be viewed in the post.

First, the facts. In the next three weeks, I will be tuning pianos on Prince Edward Island, a small island province in Canada. Due to events I will explain shortly, I find myself about to tune 8 pianos a day for three weeks, at $150 each. The total revenue generated will be approximately $18,000.

I know some people may scoff in disbelief – I am, just looking at it that number myself.

The reason why I am posting this, is that I am very grateful to find myself in this position and I want to share it with others. Also, some people out there may be interested in making money tuning pianos and I want to qualify how this happened, so that they do not have unrealistic expectations.

There are only two elements that made this happen; opportunity and ability.

Here is how the opportunity presented itself.

About 9 years ago, a lady named Cecelia Bell from PEI contacted me. She found me on the internet and wanted to learn how to tune her own pianos. I couldn’t come all that way for one student, so she suggested she try and find me pianos to tune. She did.

That was the first blessing. Cecelia has been a God send, calling all my customers every spring and fall and booking appointments for me.

The 2nd opportunity presented itself when we tried to sell our farmhouse, the one we bought to stay in, while tuning on the island.

First, the agent couldn’t sell it, so we decided to try and sell it ourselves. I planned to fix it up one spring, but would need time. I told Cecelia that I would have to raise my prices 50% so that I could create some free time. (I was hoping people would choose not to tune their piano with me because of the price increase.)

What happened was that the vast majority of people were fine with the new price.

That was the opportunity. Now I had to deliver. Also, because we did not want to stay long, I had to book all these tunings close together with limited time. So, I had to produce high quality tunings efficiently.

This is where I feel the Go APE method has served me well. With it, I am able to tune a piano within 75 minutes with good results. PEI’s climate is temperate, so regularly tuned pianos are not too demanding. Another blessing.

In addition to the speed of the tunings, the quality has allowed me to keep my customers happy and rebooking.

Finally, the Go APE method uses a low impact technique (NSL analysis) and Double String Unisons to help me develop good stability and unisons, allowing me to tune 8 pianos a day without getting too tired. Some days I may even do 9 or 10 without much more fatigue.

For sure, this situation has fallen into my lap, and for that I am grateful. Even discovering and developing the Go APE method seems, at times, to be a stroke of luck.

I hope other people who have studied the Go APE method with me have had similar experiences.

If so, please share them in the comments section.

Error in Stretch Methods

I have developed what I believe to be a very accurate method of producing consistent stretch that creates pure P11/P12/P22 and even P19 if we are tuning a Small Scale piano. (Small Scale pianos are pianos whose F3F43 and A3A4 octaves can be tuned to a pure 4:2 and a pure 6:3 simultaneously.)

But this beat speed window method can’t be used in the extremes because the beats are too fast (treble) or too slow (bass), so I use a different, less accurate/precise method.

For the treble I just listen to the P8 (octave), P12 (octave plus fifth) and P22 (triple octave) below and try to get them to sound as clean as possible.

For the bass, I listen to what Virgil Smith called, “The Natural Beat”. There’s no good science to prove that when playing a bass octave, there is a beat produced at the fundamental of the bottom note if the octave is not clean, but that’s what Virgil said he did, and that’s what I do.

If this method is not as accurate or precise as the beat speed window method, I still think it is appropriate because the error is so small.

For example, consider the Railsback curve, shown below, that shows the sharp treble and flat bass of a piano tuned by a “fine tuner”.


Now, let’s consider that the green line represents the “perfect” stretch, or at least the P12/P22 stretch produced by my beat speed windows.

Pure 12:22 stretch

Now let’s consider that my stretch method in the extremes, is not as accurate. Once I begin using that method, there will be error.

Minor error using inaccurate method in extremes only

However, if I was to use an inaccurate method from the beginning, like just listening to octaves, the error would start closer to the center, and the accumulated error would be huge once we would get to the extremes.

Major error using inaccurate stretch everywhere

Looking at the above curve reminds me of what my tunings used to sound like before I started using beat speed windows for stretch. I could never get the treble and bass to sound clean enough for my ear.

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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