How are pianos tuned?

Hi, folks!

Jamie here from Paul Hahn & Co. With a video about Piano Tuning.

That’s right, but if you thought that you could watch a video and learn how to tune, you’ll be disappointed to find out that learning to tune is like learning to play. It takes years of practice!

These are the tools needed to tune a piano: a rubber mute with a handle, A special long-handled wrench called a “Tuning hammer”, a special tweezer called a “Papp’s Mute” used for muting one or two strings in a set of three strings, two long strips of felt called “Temperment strips”. I also use a large pair of tweezers to insert the temperment strip between the sets of strings.

First I push loops of the felt strip between the strings of each note. This will mute the outer strings of the set so I can tune the middle string without the other strings for that note sounding.

What exactly is piano tuning? Well, tuning a piano is a skill, a craft, and an art. Knowing how to tune, tuning, and understanding tuning are three completely separate things. My father patiently taught me how to tune, but it took a long time to learn how to do it myself. It took an even longer time to really understand, and be comfortable with it.

There are many skills that have to be learned to tune a piano accurately, but there are just three basic parts to each tuning. The first, and the most important from a Tuner’s point of view, is called “Setting the Temperment”. This is the foundation on which the rest of the tuning is built, and the hardest part to master. It is also rather difficult to explain.

What I am doing is using an app on my phone to tune the A above middle C. I then tune all the other notes around it by comparing them to this initial note.

The Temperment, set into an octave in the middle of the keyboard, is the first thing that is done when a piano is tuned. I use a pattern of intervals to tune the other notes. There are many ways to do this, but the goal of each pattern is the same – I am equally spacing each note from each other. It’s a little like building a staircase: Each step has to be the same size, and divide equally from the foot to the landing. Many tuners use an app to do this, but I prefer to use my ear. Not only is it fun for me, but the end result is to have a temperment that sounds right to the ear. From years of experience, I know when the temperment is accurate.

Each string on the piano (and there are over two hundred of them) is attached on one end to a finely-threaded screw called a tuning pin. This pin is held tightly in place in a laminated maple board called the pin block which is behind the gold-coloured metal plate.

To turn this pin, I use the tuning hammer and either twist it slightly or I tap it either clockwise or counter-clockwise to make sure that the tuning is accurately set.

When the temperment is tuned, I move onto the next part of the tuning where one string of every set of strings per note is tuned from the Temperment octave. When I say “set”, I am referring to the fact that in the Mid-Range and Treble (Top) of the piano there are three strings per note, in the tenor, there are two, and in the bass, there is just one. Finally, the other strings in the sets of strings, called “Unisons”, are tuned.

I can do this entire procedure in about thirty minutes on this piano. It is my own piano, a 1972 Yamaha P2 that my father bought when I was learning how to tune.

When I first started, my Dad would do the first two steps, and then I would do the last. As I mastered this, he would move me onto the previous step. Each step is an art in itself, and it takes a lot of practice to do it well. There is also the matter of learning to become comfortable with the tuning tool, called a Hammer, not to mention the differences between pianos.

When a Piano is tuned properly, it is actually put very accurately out-of-tune, because each interval is slightly but precisely compromised. It is no wonder therefore that my Dad used to call his trade “The Art of Compromise”.

For more information, see the description for this video.

Thank you for watching!