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Tips for the Efficient Tuner

  • 1.  Tips for the Efficient Tuner

    Posted 11-28-2017 20:45
    Hello All,

    Ive been collecting quite a few tips for tuning more efficiently, and have put them together in a blog, here.

    Enjoy! Hopefully they will be as much use to you as they were to me.

    Benjamin Sanchez
    Professional Piano Services

  • 2.  RE: Tips for the Efficient Tuner

    Posted 11-29-2017 17:58
    Here are a few other tips for picking up speed (besides learning to listen and start moving the lever quickly after the initial attack of the note, which I think I first heard about from Ron Nossaman). Everyone has different methods, and some will disagree with mine, and to that I say, "Try it all, keep what works for you, and ignore what doesn't."

    1. If using an ETD with auto note switching (which is most ETDs most of the time): When you finish one unison and it's time to move to the next one, play the note with the left hand while you place the mute with your right hand. The time it takes to move the mute into proper position is usually about how long it takes for the ETD to "listen" and auto-switch to the next note. This seems like a no-brainer, but some tuners will not instinctively do this, and will only start to play the note being tuned once the mute has been inserted and ready to start tuning the note with hand on lever. In doing so, they are wasting time by waiting for the ETD's auto-switching function to change to the new note when they could be tuning.

    2. Use a Papp's treble mute for uprights. They are especially fast when "tuning unisons as you go," but also great for checking unisons after a tuning. Once you get the hang of it, you can very quickly mute any one or two strings of any unison with a quick motion that takes less than a second. A lot of tuners have never used one, or when they try one for the first time, they give up on it too quickly before getting comfortable with it. Usually, about an octave below the tenor/treble break, the string angle and spacing will allow switching from a split rubber mute to the Papp's mute. It's simply the most efficient way to mute treble strings on uprights, and will reduce your upright tuning time.

    3. For newer tuners, I believe that a heavier, metal-shafted tuning lever is an unnecessary handicap that will lengthen the amount of time it takes to learn how to tune with proper technique. A lighter, stiffer (carbon fiber) tool will make it easier to sense tuning pin friction and string frictions. The lower inertia and stiffness of a carbon fiber shafted tool will allow for more controlled, finer rotations of the tuning pin. This allows faster development of the skills needed to achieve solid and stable unisons efficiently. To the beginner I always suggest to buy, borrow or steal a carbon fiber shafted lever, because you will improve at a much faster rate.

    4. Don't spend too long on that one string that refuses to be tuned. We sometimes go into auto-pilot and a few minutes later, realize that we've been fighting with the same stupid wire for 3 minutes, because it's not responding to our "normal" tuning techniques. Learning to recognize these "problem" wires quickly instead of fighting with them for too long will help cut down your tuning time. It could be just poor seating at the bridge, which can sometimes be improved with a quick effort. But often it is frictions on the pin/block, or on the string (often under string felt), that make it impossible to get the wire in tune - it's like trying to balance something on a knife edge and it keeps falling to one side or the other no matter what you do. A more radical technique is needed to disrupt the friction causing the stubbornness. Usually, raising and/or lowering the string tension by an exaggerated amount (beyond what you would normally do when tuning) can break the wire or pin free from what is binding it, and the problem goes away completely, and you can now finish tuning the unison perfectly in seconds instead of minutes. A drop of CLP massaged into the wire at the under-string felt can also provide an instant cure when the string is binding on the felt, but the use of lubricants on strings is a controversial subject, and the mere mention of it is likely to cause fits of rage and an increase in blood pressure. Therefore, I'm not actually suggesting doing it, nor am I admitting to ever having done it. But "I've heard that" it can sometimes make an impossibly stubborn wire tune like butter.

    Beyond that, the most effective way to improve in both speed and quality is to concentrate on your technique and actively focus on everything you are doing, analyzing every movement and how the piano responds to each. We all go into the "auto-pilot" mode from time to time, where we let the subconscious take over the tuning while we think about something other than tuning. There is nothing wrong with that, because it's not possible to remain ultra-focused all day long without burning out. But we do not improve when we are coasting along in that unfocused state, not challenging our brains. Just like practicing the piano, we can go through the motions and practice for hours and achieve very little, or even make negative progress. Sometimes we just end up reinforcing bad habits and techniques, like continuing to practice the same wrong note instead of digging in and correcting the problem with proper discipline. The brain can do absolutely amazing things if we get out of the way and let it do it's thing, but we must remove those barriers that limit achievement. The fastest learning methods sometimes are counter-intuitive and often uncomfortable. Also, the very instant you start believing in limitations, you are destined to be held back by them. When you say, "I don't think I could ever do that," you're right - you just sealed that fate and prevented yourself from ever doing it because you've just made the decision that it's not possible. When some more experienced technician tells you that you won't be any good until you've tuned X hundreds (or thousands) of pianos, or spent Y number of years in training, you have a choice: You can believe that garbage, or you can ignore it and discover your own true learning pace, which could very well be lightning-fast. We all learn at different rates, but more often than not, we are learning far more slowly than we ought to be, because the part of our brain that doubts our abilities gets in the way of the part of the brain that is capable of epic achievement - the part that allows autistic savants to paint an entire city from memory after seeing just a photo, or doing incredible math that the rest of us would need a calculator to do (much more slowly), etc.

    Mark Purney

  • 3.  RE: Tips for the Efficient Tuner

    Posted 11-29-2017 18:23
    Edited by Benjamin Sanchez 11-29-2017 18:25
    Hi Mark,

    LOL! I think you just took out about half my list of tips! Nuts, I'll have to come up with a few more...

    On a more serious note, thanks for pointing out the different learning speeds. I was told I wasn't going to be any good until I'd tuned 500 pianos for pay. garbage. I know quite a few techs who are very good, yet have tuned less than a hundred pianos for pay. It all depends on the individual's ability and desire to learn, as well as their desire to be the best technician possible.

    Benjamin Sanchez
    Professional Piano Services

  • 4.  RE: Tips for the Efficient Tuner

    Posted 11-30-2017 01:06

    I absolutely love your last paragraph there, Mark! 

    A similar analogy to playing the piano is the fact you're touching upon; if, say, you're working on a virtuoso piano piece and insist on playing it fast all the time, you're actually getting better at making the mistakes that occur. 

    When I taught piano at the local conservatory for the last decade or so, I developed a kind of pyramid-shaped study pattern for my students. A wide base of slow practicing, a middle part of "not too slow / not to fast", and then a small amount of top speed (often exceeding the metronome markings) at the top of the pyramid. 

    It worked amazingly well. If you only practice slow, you'll never get the economy of motion that's needed for fast playing. So to me, the best way is to do it all at once, but in the proportions i mentioned. Fact is, if you do the really fast practicing a good amount faster that required for the piece, the students just laugh at first, but because it's so ridiculously fast, they actually often execute it sooner than they would if they practiced at the standard tempo for the piece! All this because they drop their anxiety of playing perfectly, and this has been a real eyeopener for them.

    I think much of this pyramid scheme (pun intended) could be carried over to tuning technique as well.

    Patrick Wingren, RPT
    Jakobstad, Finland

  • 5.  RE: Tips for the Efficient Tuner

    Posted 11-30-2017 18:12

    Here is another very practical efficiency tip (I have mentioned it here before):

    Align the star tip perfectly with the handle on the tuning hammer (this is actually an old factory trick). By doing this you can tell precisely how to place the tuning hammer on the pin simply by looking at it. No searching around to get it to fit on there. While working on one pin, fix your eyes on the next pin you are going to, mentally noting it's configuration. Boom...you're right on it. (Especially good for pitch raising).

    The amount of time and effort saved on each pin is not much, but multiplied by the number of pins in several pianos...5-10 minutes saved per piano...not too bad. It can cut a pitch raise to almost half the time.

    Pretty simple, just grind it till it tightens up perfectly in line with the hammer.


    Peter Grey
    Stratham NH

  • 6.  RE: Tips for the Efficient Tuner

    Posted 11-30-2017 21:42
    Oh dear....

    This isn't good....

    You guys are blowing through my entire list! I've still got a few more though....

    Benjamin Sanchez
    Professional Piano Services

  • 7.  RE: Tips for the Efficient Tuner

    Posted 12-01-2017 11:08
    I do use a papp's mute, but only in the high treble. I've found that in the longer strings (below about the 5th octave) a hard blow will just knock it off. For the middle, I've found a split rubber mute to work pretty fast.

    For the middle of the piano, I used to tune middle/left/right, then discovered I could save some time tuning all middles, all lefts, then all rights. I've also found I went faster in the bass if, instead of tuning right string then left (I tune highest bass to lowest), I tuned all right, then all lefts.

    One thing I'll add is that the simple act of timing myself has helped to increase my speed. Once I established a baseline time for doing each section, then I tried to beat it. When I got down to what seems like my lowest times, watching the clock helped me stay on task. It's easy to get hung up on a note or recalcitrant pin. This method works the best on the first round through--I don't go for speed when fine-tuning.

    The dilemma for pitch raises for me has been which to go for first: overall accuracy, or general placement? Each would seem to have its benefits. If you spend extra time on the initial raise, you may be faster fine tuning. If you just go for a rough placement, you may save time at first but you may have to spend more time later. I'm still figuring that out.

    I think the real question is how you tune the high treble fast and, for big pitch raises, how you overpull and compensate. For me, 40% works well on some pianos. Until it doesn't...

    Scott Cole
    Talent OR

  • 8.  RE: Tips for the Efficient Tuner

    Posted 12-02-2017 07:09
    Scott wrote:
    "I think the real question is how you tune the high treble fast and, for big pitch raises, how you overpull and compensate. For me, 40% works well on some pianos. Until it doesn't…"

    Don't know how you are calculating it, but in my experience, 40% overpull is too much, for anywhere in the scale. Accutuner has two 
    default over pulls for pitch correction. One is 25% an the other is 33(?)%. In the years that I used Accutuner primarily, I adapted my technique to make the 25% (on my SAT II) work pretty well. Reyburn CyberTuner, on the other hand, formulates overshoots based on scaling information and takes in to account how far off pitch the previous notes were, on-the-fly. Almost always leaves things "close enough to pass the RPT test," as we like to say.


    Alan Eder, RPT
    Herb Alpert School of Music
    California Institute of the Arts
    Valencia, CA