Archive for the ‘Tuning Pianos’ Category

Unison Drift

“When you tune a string and add other strings and tune a unison, the pitch changes.”

This is a comment that is shared by some experienced technicians and refuted by the vast majority of other technicians.

Virgil Smith wrote about this in “Techniques for Superior Aural Tuning”

Professor Gabriel Weinreich wrote about it in “The Coupled Motion of Piano Strings”

Yet many technicians still say, vehemently, that it doesn’t exist. In fact, I have measured this effect and have found:

  • A string’s pitch change by as much as 1.5 cents due to being tuned to another string in unison.

  • An interval’s beat speed change by as much as 13.7%, a drastic change in progressive beat speeds if we are trying to tune beat speeds of 5.9% for Equal Temperament.

So, there is no doubt in my mind that this occurs and is significant. In my opinion, the only possible valid, logical, and scientific responses a tuner can have to this information are:

1. “I will have to judge the final trichord before moving on if I want to be efficient and not have to retune drifted intervals” or,

2. “I do not need, wish, or care to tune to that accuracy”

A response of “This doesn’t exist” or “You are a liar”, in my mind, shows to me the weakness and insecurity of these people.

Unfortunately, 90% of the technicians I speak to about this, have this response.

Here is a video showing intervals changing beat speed simply by adding and removing a mute. But of course, I could have altered the video and recordings. I encourage you to do the same experiments. But take a few samples. I have found that about 10% – 20% of the notes experience unison drift when tuned to other strings.

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″

Another Cramped A0

Saved another 10 to 15 minutes with this trick.






I am offering you a free online one hour lesson on piano tuning and repair.

We can discuss any topics you like. Here are some ways you can use this service:

  • Ask me questions

  • Watch me tune

  • Have me critique your tuning

  • Have me test your tuning

Here is what you will need for this lesson to work:

  • Computer or laptop or ipad or smartphone with speaker and microphone.

  • High speed internet connection

  • Skype or Google account

I am offering this service because I have had many students who have learned a lot about piano tuning and repair with this method, yet there are still many people who doubt its effectiveness.

With this service I hope to prove to you that, yes, you can learn about piano tuning and repair over the internet.

The world of education is changing drastically; why wouldn’t the field of piano technology be affected as well?


$100USD per hour after the free hour, no minimum. (In other words, you can take the free hour only and pay nothing)



Unison Drift

This is a condensation of an article I wrote for the Piano Technicians Guild. The original article is much more complete with graphs and diagrams. I encourage you to join the PTG so you can receive more informative articles like this one, from other technicians. 

Virgil Smith has written that the sound of a tuned trichord is different than that of the single unison string. 

Professor Gabriel Weinreich had a study that showed that the pitch of two strings tuned pure was different than the pitch of the single string. (Called the Weinreich Effect)

Some technicians who are aware of this, assume the pitch drops when adding a second string, and some tune the single string slightly sharp. This is a waste of time because it is wrong. 

Professor Weinreich is clear: it can drop, or rise, or stay the same. 

To prove this, I did some simple tests that any one can do. 

Tune a pure unison trichord. 

Mute right two, measure left. 

Mute outside, measure center. 

Mute left two measure right. 

Mute right, measure left two as a single pitch. 

Mute left, measure right two as a single pitch. 

Measure all three as a single pitch. 


The pitch of the final trichord can go up or down or stay the same, relative to the pitches of the single strings, as much as 2 cents!

Even the pitch of the final trichord can go up or down or stay the same relative to the pitches of the double string unisons, as much as 2 cents! (Double string unison means the left two as one pitch or the right two as one pitch. I did not measure the outside two.)

The frequency variation with time, of the final trichord can be different than the single or double unisons, by up to 4 cents. (That is, the variation of the pitch with time can change up to 4 cents. The trichord pitch can change over time even if each single string has a constant pitch!)


If you are assuming that the pitch of the single string will not change when you remove your mutes and tune up the trichord, your tuning will suffer, or if you are planning to check everything over again after you remove all your mutes and tune the whole piano, you will be doing extra work you do not have to do. 


Always judge the final trichord before moving on. 

I have been able to drastically reduce my tuning time and increase the quality of my tunings using this and other specialized tuning techniques that I have developed. I have had to develop some of these myself because I couldn’t find any resources efficiently describing high level tuning techniques. It seems the big guys keep most of this a secret or aren’t aware or don’t know how or want to explain it. 

As for making more money, with a fast and accurate method that uses this and other techniques I have developed, I have been able to tune 9 pianos in one day and make $1350. There was two weeks where I was in high demand where I tuned an average of 7 pianos a day and made $10,500. I can post my schedule if you don’t believe it. (Personally I don’t believe it myself!)

But without these techniques that help me tune high quality tunings fast, I never would have been able to do it. 
With these techniques I am able to charge more because I am worth it. 

Some technicians are not able to tune these high quality, concert level tunings or would take too much time to do it and choose not to do it for residential customers. Yesterday I did a concert tuning for a residential customer in only 70 minutes. 

I encourage people to use an ETD to make these kind of measurements for themselves and really question some of the “common” knowledge that is passed around. I have found that some of it is not explained effectively and some is just plain wrong, passed on from decades of acceptance and not verified. 

We now have the technology to measure piano strings and confirm or disprove some of these “truths”. 

Hear Beats Easily


You can now hear beats more easily. 

I am making available components of the Audio Band Pass Filter I have developed from off the shelf components. Watch Video

I have also made available the plans that show exactly what the parts are and how to put them together, FOR FREE! CLICK HERE for plans. 

Finally, students of piano tuning can hear what experienced aural piano tuners hear. 

Using the Audio Band Pass Filter trains your ear so it knows what the beating partial sounds like. This makes it easier for you to eventually hear beats the without the device. 

It’s not a crutch, it’s a learning tool

The idea is that you use it and it improves your ability to hear beats without the unit! Eventually, you won’t need it. 

This is an incredible tool for me. Finally, I can help students get over this frustrating hurdle to effective piano tuning practice. Once a student can hear beats, they can begin using all the techniques I teach, but not before. 

It is very sad to watch a student who is having difficulty hearing beats and wants so desperately to learn piano tuning. I’ll never forget the girl who came to one of my 5 day courses and did not come to the last day, just because she couldn’t hear beats. I wish I had had one of these units for her to use then. 

Now students’ eyes, and ears, are wide when we turn this unit on. They finally get it. 

It doesn’t give you magic ears immediately, but it allows you to use the aural tuning tests right away, and guides your ear to becoming independant of the unit. 

I am very excited to hear what people think. And of course, there is a 100% money back guarantee.  

You can see the different component sets I have available to purchase HERE.


Two NEW Video Lessons!

I’ve just added two new video lessons to my site and I’m very excited about them.

Many people ask the question, “What tools do I need to tune a piano?”

The first lesson, Piano Tuning Methods and Tools, is a comprehensive discussion of piano tuning methods, and the related tools for each method. It is a great introduction to piano tuning, because it answers the question, “What tools do I need?” after you answer the question, “What method do I want to learn?”.

CLICK HERE for the Piano Tuning Methods and Tools video lesson.

The second lesson is an in-depth introduction to my favourite aural piano tuning method, the method I use and have used for years. It has allowed me to greatly increase my Accuracy, Precision, and Efficiency. That’s why I am calling it the “Go APE” method.

CLICK HERE to watch the video lesson on the Go APE method.

I hope you learn a lot from them. Don’t forget to leave your comment.


How to Achieve a Stable Tuning

I recently submitted this post to the PTG discussion page. I thought it appropriate to add to my blog, since stability is such an important skill. Look for a book and video course on the subject soon.

Posted on

I don’t use test blows. I planned on using them on my RPT exam but forgot. I passed anyway.

Why I don’t use them:
– Too hard on my ears.
– Too hard on my arms, hand, shoulders, next, etc…
– Too hard on the piano.

I use a method I call Non-Speaking Length Tension Analysis.

I teach piano tuning so I need a method that makes sense and people can understand.

Here are the concepts:

Speaking Length Tension (SLT): Tension in the speaking length of the string
Non-Speaking Length Tension (NSLT): Tension in the string on the tuning pin side of the v-bar/agraffe

Intuitively, we understand that for stability, we need


However, because of friction, there is a “band” or “range” of NSLT’s that produce stability. Some people call this the “Marshmallow Zone”.

Intuitively, we understand that NSLT should be in the middle of that band.
With experiments, I have shown that, for stability, the NSLT should be slightly higher than the middle of the band, to account for the rise in SLT during hard blows.

During tuning we have bending and twisting.
After tuning we have unbending and untwisting.
While raising pitch (clockwise), the NSLT is at the top of the stable tension band or range.
While lowering pitch (counter-clockwise), the NSLT is at the bottom of the stable tension band or range.

The change in NSLT brought on by the unbending and untwisting that occurs after we remove our force from the hammer, must leave the NSLT slightly high of middle for stability to be achieved.


Slow Pull
Untwisting always moves the NSLT toward the centre of the band.
Raising pitch – clockwise – NSLT at top – untwisting is counter-clockwise and reduces NSLT.
Lowering pitch – counterclockwise – NSLT at bottom – untwisting is clockwise and increases NSLT.

Unbending adds or subtracts to the NSLT depending on the hammer angle and the length of the non-speaking segment. (Short segment tensions change more for the same unbending, than long segment tensions do.)

Raising pitch at 3:00 (upright)
During tuning, bending is downward, toward string.
NSLT is at the bottom of the range of stable NSLT’s.
After tuning, unbending is upward, away from the string, thereby increasing NSLT.

With practice, the tuner can discover hammer angles for each piano and area of the piano where a slow single pull to pitch and the subsequent unbending/untwisting, will result in a stable NSLT.


Pitch Window

For a given tuning pin foot placement, there is a range (window) of pitches that are stable. If one tries to affect a given pitch that is outside this window, the pitch will be unstable and drift back into the window during hard blows, or after time. This can be shown by using excessive bending to change pitch and observing how unstable that technique can be.

Pitch Window Method
1) For a given tuning pin foot placement, gently massage the pin toward the string. This must be a very gentle massage not intended to change the pitch. If the pitch doesn’t change, the foot placement is a stable one for that pitch.
2) If it does change, the pitch was not stable for that foot placement, but this new pitch is. This can be proven by repeating the same gentle massage. The new pitch will not change.
3) If the pitch was desired and then changed, the foot must be moved clockwise, and the massage test done again.
4) If the pitch was too high before the massage test, hopefully this new pitch is good.

So, in essence, the procedure is:
1) Assess pitch
2) If it is correct, apply the gentle massage test. If the pitch passes the massage test, great. If it doesn’t (i.e. drops), move the foot clockwise.
3) If the pitch needs to go down, apply the massage test. If the pitch goes down, great. If is doesn’t, move the foot counter-clockwise and retest.
4) If the pitch needs to go up, move the foot clockwise and apply the massage test.

Notes on the Pitch Window method.
– The tuner must be able to change the foot placement as little as possible.
– The amount of force used in the gentle massage test is variable. Experience shows us how much is too much or not enough.
– With experience, a massage up technique can be used as well.

NEW LESSON! How/When/Why to Tune Pure 19ths

I made this video a while ago but never posted it on my site. I’ve sent people to it many times and thought it’s about time I posted it here.

It demonstrates my Beat Speed Window method which allows the tuner to be very specific in how they tune their intervals.

Pure 19ths Lesson

No Room to Tune A0?

Some grand and upright piano cases have a design where one must remove a piece of the case in order to get the tuning hammer into the tuning pin of the first string, called A0, (A zero)

This can take time and slow you down. 

If you have an extra tuning tip and a tip wrench, you can tune this note with ease. 

Just insert the smaller size of the tip wrench into the threaded end of the tip. The smaller size is thin enough to go all the way through, past the threads and grab the star hole in the tip. 

Then just put the tip on the pin and tune. The bend in the wrench will clear the interfering case part. 

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