The Process

So, you want to know more about tuning a piano? Below I will outline the basic process that I use and was taught for tuning aurally.

Aural Tuning has been the preferred method since the inception of the instrument. It has only been in the last 30-40 years that Man has been able to scientifically quantify and display what the human ear has done naturally for centuries.

The very best piano technicians in the world tune aurally and I believe should be a requirement for all piano tuning. Unfortunately as interest has waned in the field of piano technology steps have been taken to allow lesser trained people, using mechanical aids to tune pianos.

In order for you to understand more completely I have included in parenthesis() the key number of the notes to which I am referring. The key number is stamped somewhere on each key, usually just behind the name board (fallboard). If you don't take your piano apart you cannot see these numbers but by counting every key beginning from the bass keys starting at number 1 you can count up and find the correct key. Middle "C" is key number 40

Step 1:

The first step to tuning pianos is to understand how the strings vibrate and to begin to learn to listen properly to the strings.

As a string is struck you hear several things, for now we will disregard any mechanical noise as we are concerned only with the string and how it functions. This string produces the fundamental pitch that the string has been set to, we will use A440 as our example.

As it vibrates the sound gets "broken" up into smaller vibrating parts, let's call these partials. These smaller vibrating parts complement the fundamental making it sound richer, fuller, and more complex than it would without the supporting sounds. If you compare the sound of a synthesizer to an acoustic piano, the synthesizer sound will not be as complex as a piano.

The partials we are concerned with are as follows using A440 as our fundamental note:

These are the key intervals we listen to when tuning. Get to know these for each key and series of notes so you will innately know what to listen for when tuning (the partials sequence goes further, but in piano tuning they are of lesser concern).

Step 2

Setting the temperament

  1. Tune A440 (Key #49)
  2. Tune A220 one octave below (Key #37)
  3. Tune down a Major 3rd F (Key #33)
  4. Tune up an Octave F (Key #45)
  5. Tune C# (Key #41)
  6. Tune D (Key #42)
  7. Tune A# (Key #38)
  8. Tune F# (Key #34)
  9. Tune D# (Key #43)
  10. Tune B (Key #39)
  11. Tune G (Key #35)
  12. Tune E (Key #44)
  13. Tune C (Key #40)
  14. Tune G# (Key #36)

That's the basic process. There are many variations to this process, but basically after tuning through step 5 using F below middle C as your starting point, the pattern is as follows: Up a 6th, down a major 3rd down a major 3rd, and repeat until you have tuned all of the notes within the temperament octave.

Step 3

Now that you have the temperament octave tuned, tune octaves down to key number 1 and up to key number 88, checking against all available intervals.

 

This is an over-simplification of the process of tuning a piano but it should give you a basic understanding of how an Aural Piano tuning will sound.

For a more technical, in-depth explanation, proceed to Aural Tuning Part 2