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Alternative Tuning Requests

  • 1.  Alternative Tuning Requests

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 11-30-2023 07:44

    Dear Colleagues,

    We are in the process of creating a standardized policy for requests for alternative tunings (either pitching pianos at other than A=440 or thereabouts, or a tuning system other than Equal Temperament).

    As part of this process, we would like to know what policies are in place in that regard at your music school, conservatory or concert venues.

    Thanks,

    Alan



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    Alan Eder, RPT
    Herb Alpert School of Music
    California Institute of the Arts
    Valencia, CA
    661.904.6483
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  • 2.  RE: Alternative Tuning Requests

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 11-30-2023 08:54
    I don't have a written policy but have told the chair of the piano department to let me know about any prepared piano requests do we can discuss what can and cannot be done to the piano. It's basically my decision, with the advice of the professor. So far, after 2 years, there has only been one request. 

    Wim





  • 3.  RE: Alternative Tuning Requests

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 11-30-2023 09:08

    Thanks for your comment, Wim, but I was looking for policies with regard to alternate tunings, not extended piano techniques.



    ------------------------------
    Alan Eder, RPT
    Herb Alpert School of Music
    California Institute of the Arts
    Valencia, CA
    661.904.6483
    ------------------------------



  • 4.  RE: Alternative Tuning Requests

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 11-30-2023 18:58

    Hi Alan,

    My thought is, if the piano is not going to be at that pitch / temperament permanently, the artist needs to pay for a special request tuning accordingly, then pay for it to be tuned back so others can use it normally. Practically, this means a bare minimum of two tunings to fulfill this request. Maybe as much as four - one to get it to the new pitch / temperament, one to stabilize it, one to return it to standard, and one more to stabilize it. 



    ------------------------------
    Benjamin Sanchez, RPT
    Piano Technician / Artisan
    (256) 947-9999
    www.professional-piano-services.com
    ------------------------------



  • 5.  RE: Alternative Tuning Requests

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 11-30-2023 21:06

    I agree with your take on this, Ben, and would add that a round trip there and back again would require a MINIMUM of four tunings total, often more than that. 

    Also, considerable time may be needed to realize the tuning system based on what information the composer or performer provides. In my experience, all too often this information is inadequate, a problem stemming from the fact that the party making the request does not know some basic acoustics, and/or what inharmonicity is, and/or does not realize that all pianos are not tuned the same, and/or is unfamiliar with Pythagoras.

    Back question central to the OP, do you have pianos under your care for which people have requested alternative tunings for performance and/or recordings? And if so, what is the policy in this connection?

    Best,

    Alan



    ------------------------------
    Alan Eder, RPT
    Herb Alpert School of Music
    California Institute of the Arts
    Valencia, CA
    661.904.6483
    ------------------------------



  • 6.  RE: Alternative Tuning Requests

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 12-01-2023 06:28
    Greetings,
       I think there are two separate issues here.  One is a pitch change, which I would imagine could ask for 442.  This might take four tunings to get there, stabilize, and get back, depending on where the piano was when you started. I would also reject any suggestion that 432 be used, as the piano I tuned that low sounded tubby and was well de-stabilized for several tunings afterwards.  Same for 444, but there are some people out there that would like to do that.     However, changing the temperament is easily done in one pass, (I am not talking about going all the way to Meantone, which does move strings around enough to destabilize some of them).

       Going to a Young, for instance, has some notes changing by 5 cents or so, but others lowering, so I found the effect on the overall tension  to be negligible and at Vanderbilt there was never a problem going in and out of the milder versions of WT's.  Four tunings would be unnecessary. That is the physical consideration; but in a university setting, there are political warrens to work through, and it is not uncommon that ET proponents will look for problems to justify never changing to anything else.  I can't help with that, as I tuned what was asked for by performers and didn't trouble the politically active faculty with making decisions they knew little about. 
    regards,
     





  • 7.  RE: Alternative Tuning Requests

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 12-01-2023 08:20

    Hi Ed,

    Thanks for your point about pitch. Yes, there are two issues with regard to alternate tunings: temperament and pitch.

    If someone wants to play quarter-tone music, that will involve two pianos, one of which will be tuned 50 cents flat. While that is a large tension change for the -50 instrument, the temperament is still a known, so no extra time needed to deal with that aspect.

    I should clarify that when I say A=440, our practice is to keep the pianos between 440 and 442, wherever they will be most stable at any given time of year. Anything higher or lower than that falls into the range of "alternative."

    As for historical temperaments, we regularly keep one of our harpsichords at 440 in Valotti at 440 and the other in 1/6 comma Meantone at 415 (achieved with a transposing keyboard). Haven't yet had a request to have a piano tuned to  an historic temperament, but it could happen tomorrow...

    Best,

    Alan



    ------------------------------
    Alan Eder, RPT
    Herb Alpert School of Music
    California Institute of the Arts
    Valencia, CA
    661.904.6483
    ------------------------------



  • 8.  RE: Alternative Tuning Requests

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 12-01-2023 07:42

    Hi, Alan.

    While we don't have a policy here, it is becoming more requested, as is extended piano prep and it falls within the document I am in the process of creating, a draft of which I shared with you. If you do come up with a policy, would you mind sharing it with me so I can include that as part of the new policy document? Thanks so much. 



    ------------------------------
    Dave Conte, RPT

    Piano Technician in Residence
    The University of Tennessee
    College of Music
    Knoxville TN
    (817) 307-5656
    Owner: Rocky Top Piano
    ------------------------------



  • 9.  RE: Alternative Tuning Requests

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 12-01-2023 08:34

    Hi Dave,

    I most certainly will share whatever policy we come up with. I have drafted something and will soon be meeting with our dean about it. Since changing pitch and/or temperament involves some time (and in certain instances, a LOT of time), either regular piano maintenance will be shorted, or someone has to pay for it. This extra time should, of course, not simply be an added burden for the piano tech.

    Stand by...

    Alan



    ------------------------------
    Alan Eder, RPT
    Herb Alpert School of Music
    California Institute of the Arts
    Valencia, CA
    661.904.6483
    ------------------------------



  • 10.  RE: Alternative Tuning Requests

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 12-01-2023 07:47

    Alan: I have always been open to these requests. We are a School of Music, not a Museum of Past Practices. It starts with a conversation with the performers about what they need, and then we figure out which piano to use. Depending on how exotic the temperament is, 6 tunings seems likely, but more if they need an instrument to rehearse with. Often that can be handled by a digital keyboard, but not always. Two years ago a former student came back to NIU to play a piece with piano tuned to Slendro scale for Gamelan. Pretty wild, so we used a Kawai upright for that project. There were maybe 10 tunings involved, result was quite a good performance, was not hard to do , though Verituner sometimes had issues with which note it was tuning. The instructions in cents deviation was not super precise, but that doesn't matter- neither is a gamelan tuning. Octaves were just clean- and non altered notes were muted so they wouldn't ring out of tune with the altered notes. I could have done the tuning on one of the concert grands but they were both pretty busy at that time in the calendar and performers were just thrilled to have an acoustic piano of any type for the performance. That's how we handle these requests. Start with a conversation, and have the ability to say no if it messes up things for the rest of the school. I have never had to say no, but can if need be.



    ------------------------------
    David Graham,RPT
    Graham Piano Service, Inc
    Sycamore IL 60178
    815-353-5450
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  • 11.  RE: Alternative Tuning Requests

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 12-01-2023 08:29

    Hi David,

    Any chance the piece you tuned to a Balinese slender scale was composed by Bill Alves? Decades ago, we did a concerto of his for piano and our gamelan. Cool sounding piece in the end, but it took a lot of time turning a cool concept into hard reality. From what I was able to surmise, no two gamelans are pitched exactly the same or tuned to precisely the same temperament. Add to that the fact that most gamelan instruments come in pairs that are deliberately "de-tuned. (When I was a student at CalArts, I asked our gamelan master, I Nyoman Wenten, why the paired instruments were not tuned together. I'll never forget his answer, "If they were tuned together how would you know there was more than one of them?" This aesthetic is a world away from the ideal of twenty violins trying to sound like one big violin.)

    Best,

    Alan



    ------------------------------
    Alan Eder, RPT
    Herb Alpert School of Music
    California Institute of the Arts
    Valencia, CA
    661.904.6483
    ------------------------------



  • 12.  RE: Alternative Tuning Requests

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 12-01-2023 09:52
    No, it was a piece by Lou Harrison. It turned out to be Slendro plus 2 notes in the end. Quite a different aesthetic, indeed. Cool piece though.
    David Graham
    Graham Piano Service, Inc.
    512 S. Main St.
    Sycamore IL 60178
    815-353-5450






  • 13.  RE: Alternative Tuning Requests

    Posted 12-01-2023 14:07
    Hi-

    I concur with Ed's comments, but for what it's worth we never did have a written policy. The "policy" was whatever I terms I needed to be confident with the instruments.  It's an especially tricky subject when faculty, and especially students, really don't understand exactly what they might be asking for.  We had an early music prof who liked 1/6 comma meantone so I provided that for Collegium, but otherwise it was my decision.  I remember once in my early years when I pushed the contrast a little beyond their comfort level, so they politely asked me to tame it down after rehearsal. No problem at all.  Ever after I stuck with my own Victorian style and it worked universally.  My assistant only tuned ET and we worked behind each other all the time with never any trouble at all.  Naturally, I tried to minimize that on the stage pianos but it's really not a big deal.  The only actual policy I had regarding the harpsichord was that we would not accept a request for meantone, and "normal" non-restrictive tuning for back to back events in the same week, and no one ever challenged that.  

    Hope that helps and good luck,
    Dennis. 





  • 14.  RE: Alternative Tuning Requests

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 12-01-2023 09:54
    Alan,

    A bit off topic, but since you broached the subject, we have Balinese Gamelan
    here. A guest master was here earlier in the semester. I observed how they are tuned. 
    Last spring I gave a presentation about wave propagation and how it related to music and specifically gamelans. 

    It was interesting to hear the master's explanation which closely resembled the one you were given. 

    --





  • 15.  RE: Alternative Tuning Requests

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 12-01-2023 10:37

    David--"We are a School of Music, not a Museum of Past Practices". I think I will avoid saying anything of the sort to the Musicology faculty here!!  LOL  Here at U of O they even have their own building, Collier House, and are know here as the Collierites!!  But I digress.  

    We are fortunate to have a dedicated "extended techniques" piano, a Steinway D, which takes the brunt of the service.  I have recently had a request to tune the piano to Kellner to match the organ for a piano and organ piece.  As suggested above it's not a big deal to change temperaments to most of the historically based tunings.  We also have two historically based pianos pitched lower to accommodate such needs

    As for policy we have been using the policy found on the CAUT page and generated as I recall by BYU and altered to our own needs.  It gives us some clout, as a group, to support or decline any requests.  I work with a production team that includes the stage manager, scheduler, building manager and recording staff.  Together we are able to make these decisions without making any one person the spoiler.  One of the concerns we have with so many events at once is the possibility of having a piano that doesn't match it's partner in a two piano event.  It's just a matter of coordinating the service to accommodate various events.  Some advance planning usually solves the issue.

    We also have a "fines and fees" schedule for charges to anyone wishing special services.  As we are a state school we can't charge for things not on the list.  The above has served as a reminder to update that schedule to include tuning to other temperaments/pitches.  

    Mike Reiter



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    Michael Reiter RPT
    Eugene OR
    (541) 515-6499
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  • 16.  RE: Alternative Tuning Requests

    Posted 12-01-2023 12:08

    It's good to hear that musicians are exploring and schools are perhaps more open to expanding the range of acoustic sound.

    I have wondered about the educational possibilities of the Keybird piano, a small, single strung vertical piano, capable, according to the company, of being tuned by the player.

    It looks like the cost, delivered to the US, would be about $4000.

    https://keybird-instruments.com/keybird-x1/



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    Ed Sutton
    ed440@me.com
    (980) 254-7413
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  • 17.  RE: Alternative Tuning Requests

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 12-01-2023 12:34
    Hi, Ed.

    Interesting. It looks like an updated version of the "Tom Thumb"  compact pianos of the 60's and 70's but they had two strings in most of the scale. The biggest changes appear to be the modular concept and monochord strung throughout. 

    --
    Dave Conte, RPT, CCT