5. Getting Started¶
Without a teacher, you cannot dive right into tuning. You will quickly lose your bearing and have no idea how to get back. Therefore, you must first learn/practice certain tuning procedures so that you don’t end up with an unplayable piano that you cannot restore. This section is an attempt to get you to the level at which you might try a real tuning, without running into those types of difficulties.
The first things to learn are what not to do, in order to avoid destroying the piano, which is not difficult. If you tighten a string too much, it will break. The initial instructions are designed to minimize string breakage from amateurish moves, so read them carefully. Plan ahead so that you know what to do in case you break a string. A broken string per se, even when left for long periods of time, is no disaster to a piano. However, it is probably wise to conduct your first practices just before you intend to call your tuner. Once you know how to tune, string breakage is a rare problem except for very old or abused pianos. The tuning pins are turned by such small amounts during tuning that the strings almost never break. One common mistake beginners make is to place the lever on the wrong tuning pin. Since turning the pin does not cause any audible change, they keep turning it until the string breaks. One way to avoid this is to always start by tuning flat, as recommended below, and to never turn the pin without listening to the sound.
The most important consideration for a starting tuner is to preserve the condition of the pinblock. The pressure of the pinblock on the pin is enormous. Now you will never have to do this, but if you were to hypothetically turn the pin 180º very rapidly, the heat generated at the interface between pin and pinblock would be sufficient to cook the wood and alter its molecular structure. Clearly, all rotations of the pin must be conducted in slow, small, increments. If you need to remove a pin by turning it, rotate only a quarter turn (counter clock-wise), wait a moment for the heat to dissipate away from the interface, then repeat the procedure, etc.; without such precautions, the wood surrounding the pin will turn to charcoal.
I will describe everything assuming a grand piano, but the corresponding motion for the upright should be obvious. There are two basic motions in tuning. The first is to turn the pin so as to either pull or release the string. The second is to rock the pin back towards you (to pull on the string) or rock it forwards, towards the string, to release it. The rocking motion, if done to extreme, will enlarge the hole and damage the pinblock. Note that the hole is somewhat elliptical at the top surface of the pinblock because the string is pulling the pin in the direction of the major axis of the ellipse. Thus a small amount of backwards rocking does not enlarge the ellipse because the pin is always pulled into the front end of the ellipse by the string. Also, the pin is not straight but bent elastically towards the string by the pull of the string. Therefore, the rocking motion can be quite effective in moving the string. Even a small amount of forward rocking, within the elasticity of the wood, is harmless. It is clear from these considerations that you must use the rotation whenever possible, and use the rocking motion only when absolutely necessary. Only very small rocking motions should be used. For the extreme high notes (top two octaves), the motion needed to tune the string is so small that you may not be able to control it adequately by rotating the pin. Rocking provides much finer control, and can be used for that final miniscule motion to bring it into perfect tune.
Now, what is the easiest way to start practicing? First, let’s choose the
easiest notes to tune. These lie in the
C3-C4 octave. Lower notes are harder to
tune because of their high harmonic content, and the higher notes are difficult
because the amount of pin rotation needed to tune becomes extremely small. Note
B just below it is
B3 and the
D immediately above
D4. That is, the octave number 1, 2, 3, … changes at
C, not at
A. Let’s choose
G3 as our practice note and start numbering the strings. Each
note in this region has 3 strings. Starting from the left, let’s number the
strings 123 (for
G3), 456 (for
G3#), 789 (for
A3), etc. Place a wedge between
strings 3 and 4 in order to mute string 3 so that when you play
G3, only 1 and
2 can vibrate. Place the wedge about midway between the bridge and agraffe.
There are two basic types of tuning: unison and harmonic. In unison, the two strings are tuned identically. In harmonic tuning, one string is tuned to a harmonic of the other, such as thirds, fourths, fifths, and octaves. The three strings of each note are tuned in unison, which is easier than harmonic tuning, so let’s try that first.
a. Engaging and Manipulating the Tuning Lever¶
If your tuning lever has adjustable length, pull it out about 3 inches and lock it in place. Hold the handle of the tuning lever in your RH and the socket in your LH and engage the socket over the pin. Orient the handle so that it is approximately perpendicular to the strings and pointing to your right. Lightly jiggle the handle around the pin with your RH and engage the socket with your LH so that the socket is securely engaged, as far down as it will go. From day one, develop a habit of jiggling the socket so that it is securely engaged. At this point, the handle is probably not perfectly perpendicular to the strings; choose the socket position so that the handle is as close to perpendicular as the socket position will allow. Now find a way to brace your RH so that you can apply firm pressure on the lever. For example, you can grab the tip of the handle with the thumb and one or two fingers, and brace the arm on the wooden piano frame or brace your pinky against the tuning pins directly under the handle. If the handle is closer to the plate (the metal frame) over the strings, you might brace your hand against the plate. You should not grab the handle like you hold a tennis racket and push-pull to turn the pin – this will not give enough control. You may be able to do that after years of practice, but in the beginning, grabbing the handle and pushing without bracing against something is too difficult to control accurately. So develop a habit of finding good places to brace your hand against, depending on where the handle is. Practice these positions making sure that you can exert controlled, constant, powerful pressure on the handle, but do not turn any pins yet.
The lever handle must point to the right so that when you turn it towards you (the string goes sharp), you counteract the force of the string and free the pin from the front side of the hole (towards the string). This allows the pin to turn more freely because of the reduction in friction. When you tune flat, both you and the string are trying to turn the pin in the same direction. Then the pin would turn too easily, except for the fact that both your push and the string’s pull jam the pin against the front of the hole, increasing the pressure (friction) and preventing the pin from rotating too easily. If you had placed the handle to the left, you run into trouble for both the sharp and flat motions. For the sharp motion, both you and the string jam the pin against the front of the hole, making it doubly difficult to turn the pin, and damaging the hole. For the flat motion, the lever tends to lift the pin off from the front edge of the hole and reduces the friction. In addition, both the lever and string are turning the pin in the same direction. Now the pin now turns too easily. The lever handle must point to the left for uprights. Looking down on the tuning pin, the lever should point to 3 o’clock for grands and to 9 o’clock for uprights. In both cases, the lever is on the side of the last winding of the string.
Professional tuners do not use these lever positions. Most use 1-2 o’clock for grands and 10-11 o’clock for uprights and Reblitz recommends 6 o’clock for grands and 12 o’clock for uprights. In order to understand why, let’s first consider positioning the lever at 12 o’clock on a grand (it is similar at 6 o’clock). Now the friction of the pin with the pinblock is the same for both the sharp and flat motions. However, in the sharp motion, you are going against the string tension and in the flat motion, the string is helping you. Therefore, the difference in force needed between sharp and flat motions is much larger than the difference when the lever is at 3 o’clock, which is a disadvantage. However, unlike the 3 o’clock position, the pin does not rock back and forth during tuning so that when you release the pressure on the tuning lever, the pin does not spring back – it is more stable – and you can get higher accuracy.
The 1-2 o’clock position is a good compromise that makes use of both of the advantages of the 3 o’clock and 12 o’clock positions. Beginners do not have the accuracy to take full advantage of the 1-2 o’clock position, so my suggestion is to start with the 3 o’clock position, which should be easier at first, and transition to the 1-2 o’clock position as your accuracy increases. When you become good, the higher accuracy of the 1-2 o’clock position can speed up your tuning so that you can tune each string in a few seconds. At the 3 o’clock position, you will need to guess how much the pin will spring back and over-tune by that amount, which takes more time. Clearly, exactly where you place the lever will become more important as you improve.
b. Setting the Pin¶
It is important to “set the pin” correctly in order for the tuning to hold. If you look down on the pin, the string comes around the right side of the pin (grands – it is on the left for uprights) and twirls around it. Therefore if you rotate the pin CW (clockwise), you will tune sharp and vice versa. The string tension is always trying to rotate the pin CCW (counter clock-wise, or flat). Normally, a piano de-tunes flat as you play it. However, because the grip of the pinblock on the pin is so strong, the pin is never straight but is always twisted.
If you rotate it CW and stop, the top of the pin will be twisted CW with respect to the bottom. In this position, the top of the pin wants to rotate CCW (the pin wants to untwist) but can’t because it is held by the pinblock. Remember that the string is also trying to rotate it CCW. The two forces together can be sufficient to quickly de-tune the piano flat when you play something loud.
If the pin is turned CCW, the opposite happens – the pin will want to untwist CW, which opposes the string force. This reduces the net torque on the pin, making the tuning more stable. In fact, you can twist the pin so far CCW that the untwisting force is much larger than the string force and the piano can then de-tune itself sharp as you play. Clearly, you must properly “set the pin” in order produce a stable tuning. This requirement will be taken into account in the following tuning instructions.
c. Tuning Unisons¶
Now engage the tuning lever on the pin for string 1. We will tune string 1 to string 2. The motion you will practice is:
Except for #1, each motion must be smaller than the previous one. As you improve, you will add or eliminate steps as you see fit. We are assuming that the two strings are almost in tune. As you tune, you must follow two rules:
Never turn the pin unless you are simultaneously listening to the sound.
Never release the pressure on the tuning lever handle until that motion is complete.
For example, let’s start with motion #1: keep playing the note every second or two with the LH so that there is a continuous sound, while pushing the end of the lever handle away from you with the thumb and 2nd finger. Play the note in such a way as to maintain a continuous sound. Don’t lift the key for any length of time, as this will stop the sound. Keep the key down and play with a quick up-and-down motion so that there is no break in the sound. The pinky and the rest of your RH should be braced against the piano. The required motion of the lever is a few millimeters. First, you will feel an increasing resistance, and then the pin will start to rotate. Before the pin begins to rotate, you should hear a change in the sound. As you turn the pin, listen for string 1 going flat, creating a beat with the center string; the beat frequency increasing as you turn. Stop at a beat frequency of 2 to 3 per second. The tip of the tuning lever should move less than one cm. Remember, never rotate the pin when there is no sound because you will immediately lose track of where you are with respect to how the beats are changing. Always maintain constant pressure on the lever until that motion is completed for the same reason.
What is the rationale behind the above 5 motions? Assuming that the two strings are in reasonable tune, you first tune string 1 flat in step #1 to make sure that in step #2 you will pass the tuning point. This also protects against the possibility that you had placed the lever on the wrong tuning pin; as long as you are turning flat, you will never break a string.
After #1 you are flat for sure, so in step #2 you can listen to the tuning point as you pass through it. Go past it until you hear a beat frequency of about 2 to 3 per second on the sharp side, and stop. Now you know where the tuning point is, and what it sounds like. The reason for going so far past the tuning point is that you want to set the pin, as explained above.
Now go back flat again, step #3 but this time, stop just past the tuning point, as soon as you can hear any incipient beats. The reason why you don’t want to go too far past the tuning point is that you don’t want to undo the “setting of the pin” in step #2. Again, note exactly what the tuning point sounds like. It should sound perfectly clean and pure. This step assures that you did not set the pin too far.
Now conduct the final tuning by going sharp (step #4), by as little as you can beyond perfect tune, and then bringing it into tune by turning flat (step #5). Note that your final motion must always be flat in order to set the pin. Once you become good, you might be able to do the whole thing in two motions (sharp, flat), or three (flat, sharp, flat).
Ideally, from step #1 to final tune, you should maintain the sound with no stoppage, and you should always be exerting pressure on the handle; never letting go of the lever. Initially, you will probably have to do this motion by motion. When you become proficient, the whole operation will take only a few seconds. But at first, it will take a lot longer. Until you develop your “tuning muscles” you will tire quickly and may have to stop from time to time to recover. Not only the hand/arm muscles, but the mental and ear concentration required to focus on the beats can be quite a strain and can quickly cause fatigue. You will need to develop “tuning stamina” gradually. Most people do better by listening through one ear than through both, so turn your head to see which ear is better.
The most common mistake beginners make at this stage is to try to listen for
beats by pausing the tuning motion. Beats are difficult to hear when nothing is
changing. If the pin is not being turned, it is difficult to decide which of
the many things you are hearing is the beat that you need to concentrate on.
What tuners do is to keep moving the lever and then listening to the changes in
the beats. When the beats are changing, it is easier to identify the particular
beat that you are using for tuning that string. Therefore, slowing down the
tuning motion doesn’t make it easier. Thus the beginner is between a rock and a
hard place. Turning the pin too quickly will result in all hell breaking loose
and losing track of where you are. On the other hand, turning too slowly will
make it difficult to identify the beats. Therefore work on determining the
range of motion you need to get the beats and the right speed with which you
can steadily turn the pin to make the beats come and go. In case you get
hopelessly lost, mute strings 2 and 3 by placing a wedge between them, play the
note and see if you can find another note on the piano that comes close. If
that note is lower than
G3, then you need to tune it sharp to bring it back,
and vice versa.
Now that you have tuned string 1 to string 2, reposition the wedge so that
you mute 1, leaving 2 and 3 free to vibrate. Tune 3 to 2. When you
are satisfied, remove the wedge and see if the
G is now free of beats. You
have tuned one note! If the
G was in reasonable tune before you started, you
haven’t accomplished much, so find a note nearby that is out of tune and see if
you can “clean it up”. Notice that in this scheme, you are always tuning one
single string to another single string. In principle, if you are really good,
strings 1 and 2 are in perfect tune after you finish tuning 1, so you
don’t need the wedge any more. You should be able to tune 3 to 1 and 2
vibrating together. In practice this doesn’t work until you become really
proficient. This is because of a phenomenon called sympathetic vibration.
d. Sympathetic Vibrations¶
The accuracy required to bring two strings into perfect tune is so high that it is a nearly impossible job. It turns out that, in practice, this is made easier because when the frequencies approach within a certain interval called the “sympathetic vibration range”, the two strings change their frequencies towards each other so that they vibrate with the same frequency. This happens because the two strings are not independent, but are coupled to each other at the bridge. When coupled, the string vibrating at the higher frequency will drive the slower string to vibrate at a slightly higher frequency, and vice versa. The net effect is to drive both frequencies towards the average frequency of the two. Thus when you tune 1 and 2 unison, you have no idea whether they are in perfect tune or merely within the sympathetic vibration range (unless you are an experienced tuner). In the beginning, you will most likely not be in perfect tune.
Now if you were to try to tune a third string to the two strings in sympathetic vibration, the third string will bring the string closest to it in frequency into sympathetic vibration. But the other string may be too far off in frequency. It will break off the sympathetic vibration, and will sound dissonant. The result is that no matter where you are, you will always hear beats – the tuning point disappears! It might appear that if the third string were tuned to the average frequency of the two strings in sympathetic vibration, all three should go into sympathetic vibration. This does not appear to be the case unless all three frequencies are in perfect tune. If the first two strings are sufficiently off, a complex transfer of energy takes place among the three strings. Even when the first two are close, there will be higher harmonics that will prevent all beats from disappearing when a third string is introduced. In addition, there are frequent cases in which you cannot totally eliminate all beats because the two strings are not identical. Therefore, a beginner will become totally lost, if he were to try to tune a third string to a pair of strings. Until you become proficient at detecting the sympathetic vibration range, always tune one string to one; never one to two. In addition, just because you tuned 1 to 2 and 3 to 2, it does not mean that the three strings will sound “clean” together. Always check; if it is not completely “clean”, you will need to find the offending string and try again.
Note the use of the term “clean”. With enough practice, you will soon get away from listening to beats, but instead, you will be looking for a pure sound that results somewhere within the sympathetic vibration range. This point will depend on what types of harmonics each string produces. In principle, when tuning unisons, you are trying to match the fundamentals. In practice, a slight error in the fundamentals is inaudible compared to the same error in a high harmonic. Unfortunately, these high harmonics are generally not exact harmonics but vary from string to string. Thus, when the fundamentals are matched, these high harmonics create high frequency beats that make the note “muddy” or “tinny”. When the fundamentals are de- tuned ever so slightly so that the harmonics do not beat, the note “cleans up”. Reality is even more complicated because some strings, especially for the lower quality pianos, will have extraneous resonances of their own, making it impossible to completely eliminate certain beats. These beats become very troublesome if you need to use this note to tune another one.
e. Making that Final Infinitesimal Motion¶
We now advance to the next level of difficulty. Find a note near
G5 that is
slightly out of tune, and repeat the above procedure for
G3. The tuning
motions are now much smaller for these higher notes, making them more
difficult. In fact you may not be able to achieve sufficient accuracy by
rotating the pin. We need to learn a new skill. This skill requires you to
pound on the notes, so put on your ear muffs or ear plugs.
Typically, you would get through motion #4 successfully, but for motion #5 the pin would either not move or jump past the tuning point. In order to make the string advance in smaller increments, press on the lever at a pressure slightly below the point at which the pin will jump. Now strike hard on the note while maintaining the same pressure on the lever. The added string tension from the hard hammer blow will advance the string by a small amount. Repeat this until it is in perfect tune. It is important to never release the pressure on the lever and to keep the pressure constant during these repeated small advances, or you will quickly lose track of where you are. When it is in perfect tune, and you release the lever, the pin might spring back, leaving the string slightly flat. You will have to learn from experience, how much it will spring back and compensate for it during the tuning process.
The need to pound on the string to advance it is one reason you often hear tuners pounding on the piano. It is a good idea to get into the habit of pounding on most of the notes because this stabilizes the tuning. The resulting sound can be so loud as to damage the ear, and one of the occupational hazards of tuners is ear damage from pounding. Use of ear plugs is the solution. When pounding, you will still easily hear the beats even with ear plugs. The most common initial symptom of ear damage is tinnitus (ringing in the ear). You can minimize the pounding force by increasing the pressure on the lever. Also, less pounding is required if the lever is parallel to the string instead of perpendicular to it, and even less if you point it to the left. This is another reason why many tuners use their levers more parallel to the strings than perpendicular. Note that there are two ways to point it parallel: towards the strings (12 o’clock) and away from the strings (6 o’clock). As you gain experience, experiment with different lever positions as this will give you many options for solving various problems. For example, with the most popular 5-degree head on your lever, you may not be able to point the lever handle to the right for the highest octave because it may hit the wooden piano frame.
f. Equalizing String Tension¶
Pounding is also helpful for distributing the string tension more evenly among all the non-speaking sections of the string, such as the duplex scale section, but especially in the section between the capo bar and the agraffe. There is controversy as to whether equalizing the tension will improve the sound. There is little question that the even tension will make the tuning more stable. However, whether it makes a material difference in stability may be debatable, especially if the pins were correctly set during tuning. In many pianos, the duplex sections are almost completely muted out using felts because they might cause undesirable oscillations. In fact, the over-strung section is muted out in almost every piano. Beginners need not worry about the tension in these “non-speaking” sections of the strings. Thus heavy pounding, though a useful skill to learn, is not necessary for a beginner.
My personal opinion is that the sound from the duplex scale strings does not add to the piano sound. In fact, this sound is inaudible and is muted out when they become audible in the bass. Thus the “art of tuning the duplex scale” is a myth although most piano tuners (including Reblitz!) have been taught to believe it by the manufacturers, because it makes for a good sales pitch. The only reason why you want to tune the duplex scale is that the bridge wants to be at a node of both the speaking and non-speaking lengths; otherwise, tuning becomes difficult, sustain may be shortened, and you lose uniformity. Using mechanical engineering terminology, we can say that tuning the duplex scale optimizes the vibrational impedance of the bridge. In other words, the myth does not detract from the tuners’ ability to do their job. Nonetheless, a proper understanding is certainly preferable. The duplex scale is needed to allow the bridge to move more freely, not for producing sound. Obviously, the duplex scale will improve the quality of the sound (from the speaking lengths) because it optimizes the impedance of the bridge, but not because it produces any sound. The facts that the duplex scale is muted out in the bass and is totally inaudible in the treble prove that the sound from the duplex scale is not needed. Even in the inaudible treble, the duplex scale is “tuned” in the sense that the aliquot bar is placed at a location such that the length of the duplex part of the string is a harmonic length of the speaking section of the string in order to optimize the impedance (“aliquot” means fractional or harmonic). If the sound from the duplex scale were audible, the duplex scale would have to be tuned as carefully as the speaking length. However, for impedance matching, the tuning need only be approximate, which is what is done in practice. Some manufacturers have stretched this duplex scale myth to ridiculous lengths by claiming a second duplex scale on the pin side. Since the hammer can only transmit tensile strain to this length of string (because of the rigid Capo bar), this part of the string cannot vibrate to produce sound. Consequently, practically no manufacturer specifies that the non-speaking lengths on the pin side be tuned.
g. Rocking It in the Treble¶
The most difficult notes to tune are the highest ones. Here you need incredible accuracy in moving the strings and the beats are difficult to hear. Beginners can easily lose their bearing and have a hard time finding their way back. One advantage of the need for such small motions is that now, you can use the pin-rocking motion to tune. Since the motion is so small, rocking the pin does not damage the pinblock. To rock the pin, place the lever parallel to the strings and pointing towards the strings (away from you). To tune sharp, pull up on the lever, and to tune flat, press down. First, make sure that the tuning point is close to the center of the rocking motion. If it is not, rotate the pin so that it is. Since this rotation is much larger than that needed for the final tuning, it is not difficult, but remember to correctly set the pin. It is better if the tuning point is front of center (towards the string), but bringing it too far forward would risk damaging the pinblock when you try to tune flat. Note that tuning sharp is not as damaging to the pinblock as tuning flat because the pin is already jammed up against the front of the hole.
h. Rumblings in the Bass¶
The lowest bass strings are second in difficulty (to the highest notes) to tune. These strings produce sound composed mostly of higher harmonics. Near the tuning point, the beats are so slow and soft that they are difficult to hear. Sometimes, you can “hear” them better by pressing your knee against the piano to feel for the vibrations than by trying to hear them with your ears, especially in the single string section. You can practice unison tuning only down to the last double string section. See if you can recognize the high pitched, metallic, ringing beats that are prevalent in this region. Try eliminating these and see if you need to de-tune slightly in order to eliminate them. If you can hear these high, ringing, beats, it means that you are well on your way. Don’t worry if you can’t even recognize them at first– beginners are not expected to.
i. Harmonic Tuning¶
Once you are satisfied with your ability to tune unisons, start practicing
tuning octaves. Take any octave near middle
C and mute out the upper two
side strings of each note by inserting a wedge between them. Tune the upper
note to the one an octave below, and vice versa. As with unisons, start near
C, then work up to the highest treble, and then practice in the
bass. Repeat the same practice with 5ths, 4ths, and major 3rds.
After you can tune perfect harmonics, try de-tuning to see if you can hear the increasing beat frequency as you deviate very slightly from perfect tune. Try to identify various beat frequencies, especially 1bps (beat per second) and 10bps, using 5ths. These skills will come in handy later.
j. What is Stretch?¶
Harmonic tuning is always associated with a phenomenon called stretch. Harmonics in piano strings are never exact because real strings attached to real ends do not behave like ideal mathematical strings. This property of inexact harmonics is called inharmonicity. The difference between the actual and theoretical harmonic frequencies is called stretch. Experimentally, it is found that most harmonics are sharp compared to their ideal theoretical values, although there can be a few that are flat.
According to one research result (Young, 1952), stretch is caused by inharmonicity due to the stiffness of strings. Ideal mathematical strings have zero stiffness. Stiffness is what is called an extrinsic property – it depends on the dimensions of the wire. If this explanation is correct, then stretch must also be extrinsic. Given the same type of steel, the wire is stiffer if it is fatter or shorter. One consequence of this dependence on stiffness is an increase in the frequency with harmonic mode number; i.e., the wire appears stiffer to harmonics with shorter wavelengths. Stiffer wires vibrate faster because they have an extra restoring force, in addition to the string tension. This inharmonicity from stiffness has been calculated to within several percent accuracy so that the theory appears to be sound, and this single mechanism appears to account for most of the observed stretch.
These calculations show that stretch is about 1.2 cents for the second mode of
C4 and doubles about every 8 semitones at higher frequency
C4 = middle
C, the first mode is the lowest, or fundamental frequency,
one cent is one hundredth of a semitone, and there are 12 semitones in an
octave). The stretch becomes smaller for lower notes, especially below
because the wire wound strings are quite flexible. Stretch increases rapidly
with mode number and decreases even more rapidly with string length. In
principle, stretch is smaller for larger pianos and larger for lower tension
pianos if the same diameter strings are used. Stretch presents problems in
scale design since abrupt changes in string type, diameter, length, etc., will
produce a discontinuous change in stretch. Very high mode harmonics, if they
happen to be unusually loud, present problems in tuning because of their large
stretch – tuning out their beats could throw the lower, more important,
harmonics audibly out of tune.
Since larger pianos tend to have smaller stretch, but also tend to sound better, one might conclude that smaller stretch is better. However, the difference in stretch is generally small, and the tone quality of a piano is largely controlled by properties other than stretch.
In harmonic tuning you tune, for example, the fundamental or a harmonic of the upper note to a higher harmonic of the lower note. The resulting new note is not an exact multiple of the lower note, but is sharp by the amount of stretch. What is so interesting about stretch is that a scale with stretch produces “livelier” music than one without! This has caused some tuners to tune in double octaves instead of single octaves, which increases the stretch.
The amount of stretch is unique to each piano and, in fact, is unique to each note of each piano. Modern electronic tuning aids are sufficiently powerful to record the stretch for all the desired notes of individual pianos. Tuners with electronic tuning aids can also calculate an average stretch for each piano or stretch function and tune the piano accordingly. In fact, there are anecdotal accounts of pianists requesting stretch in excess of the natural stretch of the piano. In aural tuning, stretch is naturally, and accurately, taken into account. Therefore, although stretch is an important aspect of tuning, the tuner does not have to do anything special to include stretch, if all you want is the natural stretch of the piano.
k. Precision, Precision, Precision¶
The name of the game in tuning is precision. All tuning procedures are arranged in such a way that you tune the first note to the tuning fork, the second to the first, etc., in sequence. Therefore, any errors will quickly add up. In fact, an error at one point will often make some succeeding steps impossible. This happens because you are listening for the smallest hint of beats and if the beats were not totally eliminated in one note, you can’t use it to tune another as those beats will be clearly heard. In fact, for beginners, this will happen frequently before you learn how precise you need to be. When this happens, you will hear beats that you can’t eliminate. In that case, go back to your reference note and see if you hear the same beat; if you do, there is the source of your problem – fix it.
The best way to assure precision is by checking the tuning. Errors occur because every string is different and you are never sure that the beat you hear is the one you are looking for, especially for the beginner. Another factor is that you need to count beats per second (bps), and your idea of, say 2bps, will be different on different days or at different times of the same day until you have those “beat speeds” well memorized. Because of the critical importance of precision, it pays to check each tuned note. This is especially true when “setting the bearings” which is explained below. Unfortunately, it is just as difficult to check as it is to tune correctly; that is, a person who cannot tune sufficiently accurately is usually unable to perform a meaningful check. In addition, if the tuning is sufficiently off, the checking doesn’t work. Therefore, I have provided methods of tuning below that use a minimum of checks. The resulting tuning will not be very good initially, for Equal temperament. The Kirnberger temperament (see below) is easier to tune accurately. On the other hand, beginners can’t produce good tunings anyway, no matter what methods they use. At least, the procedures presented below will provide a tuning which should not be a disaster and which will improve as your skills improve. In fact, the procedure described here is probably the fastest way to learn. After you have improved sufficiently, you can then investigate the checking procedures, such as those given in Reblitz, or Tuning by Jorgensen.