Piano tuning on the horizon

14th April 2021 | Daily Life, Musings | 1 comment

My poor old piano has not been tuned for almost a year because of the lockdown.

As the tuning became less delightful, I have practised ‘mind over matter’  – a kind of ‘fingers in ears, la la la! I don’t hear anything wrong’ approach. In fact, my piano has held up remarkably well, but the sourness in certain notes is starting to gnaw at my concentration. ‘Non-essential businesses’ are due to open here on April 26, so perhaps it’s simply that I’m allowing myself to notice the tuning more, now that there is a chance of remedy on the horizon.

I’ve always thought it’s silly that pianists are not able to tune their own instruments, and have to pay professional tuners to do it for them. Of course, piano tuning is an art and a skill learned through extensive training. Tuning a piano properly can take several hours. All the same, it seems crazy that pianists don’t have basic tuning in their skillset.

Most musicians can tune their instruments themselves. On many instruments you can also alter the tuning by adjusting where you put your fingers on the strings, by changing the tension of your lips on a wind instrument, and so on. But a pianist is stuck with whatever state the piano is in.

A year of lockdown has focused my mind on our helplessness in this regard. This lockdown has already gone on much longer than any of us imagined. What if there are more lockdowns? If I were responsible for the piano curriculum at a music college, I would probably start to think about adding some basic tuning skills, so that pianists could do first aid on their pianos while waiting for the experts to be allowed in.

1 Comment

  1. Michael Coe

    Good evening

    I recall that Alfred Brendel, in one of his books,bewailed the scarcity of really good tuners. He wondered whether some piano students in a crowded field, should profitably be steered towards a career as a piano tuner/technician.

    For myself I am fortunate ib having a first-rate tuner for my Model B Steinway, and felt relaxed enough to let him come when the toughest lockdown passed.

    I actually am fortunate in possessing harpsichords, which I tune myself. It is not difficult as long as you can hear/sense the beats ( the absence thereof!)

    I also have a Walter and Sohn fortepiano copy by Paul McNulty. Perforce I need to tune that, as, being all wood, it is not as stable as a modern piano.
    Now that is something to be reckoned with. It has brought home to me the skill required to sense how much to ‘overtighten’ the string, so it settles back exactly to pitch. I haven’t mastered it yet, after several years.

    Sorry if I went on too long, but your piece set me thinking.


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