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#1125605 - 06/08/04 08:46 PM Tuning by Ear or Machine
Jeffrey Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/18/04
Posts: 2948
Loc: New York
Do piano players on this forum notice any difference between a piano that has been tuned by ear or one tuned by a machine? I am not posting this in the technitian's forum, because I want to know the opinions and experiences of piano players who have had their piano tuned different ways. Of course, technitians are also welcome to post their opinions as well. I have read the back postings in the Tech Forum, but there seem to be no threads by players on this topic.

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#1125606 - 06/08/04 10:02 PM Re: Tuning by Ear or Machine
me_dup1 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/19/02
Posts: 261
Loc: north of 53
The fellow sent by the dealer tuned with a machine. The one I currently use tunes with only one single A tuning fork. The latter does a better job. But then he also tunes for Anton Kuerti when Anton plays in town. My conclusion is that it doesn't matter whether the tuner uses an electronic gadget or not. A good tuner is a good tuner is a good tuner. By the way, the better tuner doesn't even play the piano.

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#1125607 - 06/09/04 12:13 AM Re: Tuning by Ear or Machine
SF Don Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/24/03
Posts: 91
Loc: SF Bay Area
My new piano has already been tuned 4 times in just under a year by three different techs. I'm pretty picky and would probably want my piano fine tuned every month if my budget permitted. One tuner (in fact, the most expensive $135-175/visit) used an electronic tuning device. Although the results were satisfactory, the other times my piano was tuned by ear and produced much more pleasing results to my ears! Goes to show the most expensive isn't necessarily always the best.

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#1125608 - 06/09/04 12:30 AM Re: Tuning by Ear or Machine
Rick Clark Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/04/03
Posts: 1810
Loc: North County San Diego CA
I'm with "me" 100%. It's the tuner who does the tuning, not the tool. There are great and poor tuners using either method. And some are perfectly able to tune excellently both ways- they simply find it a little less stressful or faster to use a machine.

To achieve PTG RPT status one must prove one can tune aurally- but it's recognised by the PTG to be perfectly fine to use machines in fieldwork.

What I *would* avoid is people incapable of tuning well by ear, which is quite different from someone capable who simply chooses the machine. Also avoid anyone who tells you that machines are superior. The results of good ear tuning should be virtually indistinquishable from the results of good machine tuning and tuning contests conducted by the PTG have shown this to be true.

(BTW, I don't use a machine. But that doesn't mean I wouldn't.)

Regards,

Rick Clark
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#1125609 - 06/09/04 03:46 AM Re: Tuning by Ear or Machine
velopresto Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/05/04
Posts: 605
Loc: Santa Clara, CA
I agree with Rick and "me." It is the tuner, not the method of tuning, that makes it or breaks it.

Like many other people I know, I tune by ear or machine. Which method I use depends on two things: time, and quality of piano.

With a small amount of time to tune a funky little spinet, I'll use my machine, for the temperament section at least(middle F through A for me). This is because it is often difficult to hear what one needs to hear in pianos with shorter strings that are likely to have all kinds of strange sounds going on besides the fundamental tone. I always check by ear when I'm done to make sure it sounds good(if that's possible with a Kincaid spinet).

Octaves and unisons I do almost exclusively by ear, though I admit I occasionally seek the approval of my device in the bass of smaller pianos that never sound in tune no matter what one does...:-(

I tune nicer pianos by ear(unless someone asks me specifically to tune it by machine). Good quality uprights and grands practically tune themselves.

The bottom line is that it doesn't matter what a tuning looks like on a screen, it's the sound that matters. If a tuner is unable to differentiate between what sounds good and what doesn't, you should probably look for somebody else.

Just my two cents

Dave Stahl
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Dave Stahl Piano Service
Santa Clara, CA
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#1125610 - 06/09/04 07:35 AM Re: Tuning by Ear or Machine
pete Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/28/03
Posts: 796
Loc: port washington, ny, us
ON this topic, can somebody explain why it is necessary to add drift to a tuning?

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#1125611 - 06/09/04 11:07 AM Re: Tuning by Ear or Machine
Rick Clark Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/04/03
Posts: 1810
Loc: North County San Diego CA
Pete I assume you mean 'stretch'. When we say 'drift' we usually mean 'going out of tune'.

The natural harmonic series of piano strings exhibits inharmonicity, which means that the harmonics are ever so slightly sharp in relation to the fundamental. In example, the 2nd harmonic of a string is just slightly more than 2X the frequency of the fundamental. The exact frequencies that occur in the harmonics will vary from model to model.

It is for this reason there is no "one size fits all" tuning for pianos, and you can't use things like guitar tuners or attempt to match tune to an electronic keyboard. Each piano must be tuned based on its own inharmonicity.

When you take the inharmonicity into account, you will be tuning octaves just slightly sharp or 'stretched'. This actually means it is more in tune than if you tuned the top note of the octave to 2X the frequency of the bottom note of the octave. In a proper ear tuning this happens naturally because it sounds right to the ear.

However, when using a machine, the inharmonicity must be calculated by computer individually for each individual piano so the right degree of stretch is achieved. That's what proper piano tuning devices really are- computers. OTOH there are poorly skilled tuners using electronic devices who do not even understand or use the machine capabilities to individually calculate a tuning- instead they simply recall a "one-size-fits-all" from the machine's memory. Not good.

But there is another application of 'stretch' also. In the highest octave there is a psychoacoustic tendancy to perceive in-tune notes as slighly flat, so some tuners might stretch that top octave even more in an attempt to compensate. It's perfectly acceptable, but I find that while it is true that psychoacoustic tendancy exists when playing arpeggios or runs up to the top, it does not exist when paralleling octaves or double octaves. So whether or not to add additional stretch to the top octave more is a judgement call with no right or wrong answer.

Regards,

Rick Clark
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Rick Clark

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#1125612 - 06/09/04 11:26 AM Re: Tuning by Ear or Machine
kenny Offline
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Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 7051
Rick, do longer pianos have less interharmonicity, and stretch, than shorter ones?

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#1125613 - 06/09/04 01:00 PM Re: Tuning by Ear or Machine
BDB Online   content
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Theoretically, that's the case. However, poor design can make a long piano sound worse. I find that can be especially true in the bass.
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#1125614 - 06/09/04 02:00 PM Re: Tuning by Ear or Machine
byebye Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/18/03
Posts: 1426
My technician uses the machine (Verituner) but also listens. He told me that there is a certain note in the bass where the two strings exhibit considerably different inharmonicity. (He insisted that he also found this on the other two Estonia 190 pianos he has serviced!) He demonstrated what the electronic tuner produced (terrible beat) and then tuned it so it sounded right.

He is one of the technicians who tests for the PTG here, so I'm sure that he can tune very well by ear. They use a Steinway B at our school, not my Estonia. ;\)

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#1125615 - 06/09/04 04:46 PM Re: Tuning by Ear or Machine
Rick Clark Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/04/03
Posts: 1810
Loc: North County San Diego CA
Kenny,

Large and small pianos differ mostly in the bass. All things being equal, the longer piano would have less inharmonicity in the bass than the smaller one. Depending on which models you are comparing, the difference can be quite large or rather small.

Rick
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#1125616 - 06/09/04 05:28 PM Re: Tuning by Ear or Machine
Keith D Kerman Offline
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Registered: 03/12/03
Posts: 3304
Loc: Gaithersburg, MD (Washington D...
MarkS makes a good point. The tuners who rely on the machines for the bass get some really bad results. Rick's point about it being the tuner doing the tuning rather than the machine is worth repeating.
The best possible tunings can be achieved with or without a machine, but less talented tuners, can do a much better tuning with a machine ( if they tune the bass by ear)
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#1125617 - 06/09/04 06:37 PM Re: Tuning by Ear or Machine
pete Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/28/03
Posts: 796
Loc: port washington, ny, us
Rick thanks for the explanation about stretch. I have detected the psychoacoustic phenomenon of upper octaves sounding flat. In the seventies, I had a friend that had Moog synthesizer. On a pure sine wave this effect was very noticeable.
Query does the stretch utilized on acoustic piano tunings mean they will not be in tune with an electronic keyboard, or do most digital pianos also have stretch?

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#1125618 - 06/09/04 09:01 PM Re: Tuning by Ear or Machine
Rick Clark Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/04/03
Posts: 1810
Loc: North County San Diego CA
Pete,

Don't be quick to assume that an old analog Moog wasn't pretty out-of-tune itself. Tuning was always drifting on those.

A piano is not likely to be *perfectly* in tune with another kind of instrument, moreso at the extremes of it's ranges. Even if a digital has stretch built in (some do some don't some are programmable), it's unlikely to be exactly the same as another acoustic piano. But that is not neccessarily a problem and slight differences in tuning exist almost everywhere in the world of real, acoustical instruments. In fact, too perfect a match in tuning can create a noticeably thin sound. Synthesists who try to emulate different instruments of the orchestra utilize slight mistunings to create a more natural and lush acoustical interaction. Those who don't create a noticeably cheesy fake ensemble.

Neverthless on occasion I have "goosed" a piano's tuning because I knew it would be used in a certain way. For instance if I know it's going to be playing in a combo with a well tuned electric bass guitar, and both instruments are going to be playing in the same range at the same time, I might tune the piano with less stretch in the bass to better match the bass guitar. However, if the piano is playing solo or without competition in the bass region, it sounds better stretched.

Regards,

Rick Clark
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Piano tuner-technician

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#1125619 - 06/09/04 09:11 PM Re: Tuning by Ear or Machine
KlavierBauer Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/06/02
Posts: 3773
Loc: Boulder, Colorado
For efficiency and to avoid ear fatigue, I tune primarily with my PDA.

That being said, I can also tune aurally, and the tuners I consider to be the finest tune by ear (Virgil Smith, etc.).

It is important (I think) for a tuner to understand the fundamentals of tuning, and to be able to do it by ear. Even when tuning by machine, I frequently check my work aurally, and always tune unisons by ear (doesn't everyone?!)
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#1125620 - 06/09/04 09:54 PM Re: Tuning by Ear or Machine
Rick Clark Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/04/03
Posts: 1810
Loc: North County San Diego CA
KB,

I remember when ETDs first became popular and there was a Greek chorus chanting "no one could possibly tune a unison by ear as well as by machine".

My ear told me different and I also started pointing out Gabriel Weinreich's paper in the old Scientific American verifying the superiority of the ear and it's natural ability to slighty mistune unisons in order to overcome wave reflection and phase problems. Over time the Greek chorus started to mumble and cough. But then it started a new chant- "use the machine for the temperament but always tune unisons by ear".

However I've talked to some techs who use the machines to purposely mistune the unisons by some fraction of a cent to achieve "ear-like" sound quality.

So I figure there are no rules, it just goes to the cleverness of the tool-user.

Regards,

Rick Clark
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Rick Clark

Piano tuner-technician

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#1125621 - 06/09/04 10:18 PM Re: Tuning by Ear or Machine
pete Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/28/03
Posts: 796
Loc: port washington, ny, us
thanks, guys, for the informative discussion.

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#1125622 - 06/09/04 11:04 PM Re: Tuning by Ear or Machine
KlavierBauer Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/06/02
Posts: 3773
Loc: Boulder, Colorado
Rick, that's been my experience as well.

I remember several years ago Virgil Smith teaching a class on unison tuning, and was saying much the same thing you just stated.

To me it's a no-brainer:
If the purpose of tuning is to get it to sound it's best, and by "sound" we mean what our ears pick up, then clearly our ears have to be a part of achieving that.
What's the use of having the tuning that's the most mathematically pure if it just doesn't sound good?
Certainly as you said there are some amazing things our ears can pick up, that I know the machine cannot.

And for people who argue that the "ear can't hear a difference of 1c", I know that it can. Given the proper checks the ear can here even smaller differences
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#1125623 - 06/10/04 12:37 AM Re: Tuning by Ear or Machine
BDB Online   content
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I'm not certain I understand the concept of "ear fatigue." I never get tired of listening to a piano. Especially for tuning, where the sounds never fail to fascinate me. I get physically tired from turning the pins, but never from listening. I've always thought hammer technique was much more difficult than listening.
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#1125624 - 06/10/04 03:29 AM Re: Tuning by Ear or Machine
KlavierBauer Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/06/02
Posts: 3773
Loc: Boulder, Colorado
I definitely think there's something to be said for hammer technique BDB.
The amplitude of sound coming from a piano though is pretty significant. Especially when tuning an upright, you ear is very close to the origin or sound, and hearing damage is a risk for tuners tuning without ear protection (I know it sounds funny... ear plugs to tune a piano).

But when I say ear fatigue, I'm talking about the fact that we can only listen to certain frequency ranges for so long before our ears get tired and begin to give us false positives.
It's very easy (at least for me) to strain while tuning the temperament, then have a hard time hearing other parts of the tuning, almost because I've "worn myself out".
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#1125625 - 06/10/04 10:08 AM Re: Tuning by Ear or Machine
Chris W1 Offline
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Registered: 09/26/01
Posts: 915
Loc: Boston
I add only that, IMO, you don't have to be good at anything more that aurally tuning unisons to tune well by machine. There is huge amount of skill level in making the jump from clean unisons and computed stretch, or drift, and coming up with an appropriate amount of stretch on your own. Actually, its this belief that I think has put quality tunings in reach of non-professionals. I find the limiting factor, in my case, is tuning stability.

As an aside, I find my tuner who tunes for the BSO and some of the local colleges, uses zero, or no stretch, in the bass and only adds it on the right side of the keyboard. He tunes aurally, FWIW. I have gone back twice with my ETD to sample.

My beef with machines is they don't seem to deal well with those bass notes whose upper partials ring loudly vs those they can hear, that I can not. Sometimes the fundamental is beatless, but the partials take on an annoying ring. I forget whether this is falsing, but find ears help where the machine does not, even to the point of leaving the fundamental imperfect to fix the beat in the upper partial.

Chris
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#1125626 - 06/10/04 01:59 PM Re: Tuning by Ear or Machine
BDB Online   content
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Registered: 06/07/03
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I've never had problems like that with my hearing. I don't do a lot of tunings in a single day, almost never more than three, and I am never affected by the unamplified sound of a piano, except maybe if I stick my head under the lid of a concert grand when someone else is playing.
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#1125627 - 06/10/04 06:15 PM Re: Tuning by Ear or Machine
Del Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/03
Posts: 5184
Loc: Olympia, Washington
 Quote:
Originally posted by Chris W1:

[1] I add only that, IMO, you don't have to be good at anything more that aurally tuning unisons to tune well by machine. There is huge amount of skill level in making the jump from clean unisons and computed stretch, or drift, and coming up with an appropriate amount of stretch on your own. Actually, its this belief that I think has put quality tunings in reach of non-professionals. I find the limiting factor, in my case, is tuning stability.

[2] As an aside, I find my tuner who tunes for the BSO and some of the local colleges, uses zero, or no stretch, in the bass and only adds it on the right side of the keyboard. He tunes aurally, FWIW. I have gone back twice with my ETD to sample.

[3] My beef with machines is they don't seem to deal well with those bass notes whose upper partials ring loudly vs those they can hear, that I can not. Sometimes the fundamental is beatless, but the partials take on an annoying ring. I forget whether this is falsing, but find ears help where the machine does not, even to the point of leaving the fundamental imperfect to fix the beat in the upper partial.

Chris [/b]
[1] This is, of course, the assertion of many who wish to bypass the work and practice time involved in learning to tune aurally. Just buy a machine, spend a bit of time on unisons and hammer control and I are a tuner. I’ll not say it can’t be done, but it is rare. So rare that I’ve not found a piano tuner yet that I would hire who has not learned to tune a piano acceptably by ear without the aid of an ETD.

Now, once those fundamentals have been learned and become second nature, I’d agree that many, if not most, tuners can enhance their work, make it more consistent and certainly less stressful by incorporating the wonders of modern technology. But I’ve evaluated too many tunings that have gone astray simply because the tuner could not identify the problems by ear and could rely only on what the machine told him (or her).

Working out an appropriate amount of octave stretch is not really the problem. As the skills and fundamental knowledge of basic piano tuning are acquired things like applying an appropriate stretch to a given scale become second nature. The problem with depending on an ETD to be the last word in things like octave stretch is that inharmonicity is not a constant throughout the scale. Indeed, in most pianos it is quite erratic. Which note, or set of notes, is the ETD going to use as a basis? The ear, once trained, handles these irregularities easily. It constantly adjusts and adapts the stretch to compensate for even the poorest example of string scale design. Only the Verituner claims to accommodate these irregularities — the jury is still out on this.

{2} You might well find the stretch going in the opposite direction down in the low tenor and bass. That is, the fundamental pitch should be going a little flat of the theoretical ideal.

The problem is that the inharmonicity curve should not really be a curve at all but, when plotted on a log scale, a straight line. In the real world, however, it is not. Nor can it be. It will be highest at C-88 and will decrease to some minimum down somewhere towards the lower end of the tenor bridge. (This minimum would occur at the lowest unison on the tenor bridge were it not for the ‘foreshortening’ of the last unisons typically found on most traditional scale designs.) From this minimum it typically goes up some with the last few unisons. Then into the bass where anything can happen. Usually it goes back down because, for some inexplicable reason, most traditional piano makers insist on using quite small core wires on the upper bi-chord wrapped strings. Finally, it goes back up — usually rather dramatically — because those same manufacturers like to use rather larger than optimal core wires down in the mono-chord section. In between there is little uniformity since no effort at all was made to smooth out the inharmonicity curve through the bass section. Probably because inharmonicity itself was not at all understood until well into the twentieth century and few really new scales have come along since that time.

While all of this becomes second nature to the ear of the experienced tuner it becomes a veritable minefield for the ETD which plods straight through the whole mess oblivious to how the end result actually sounds.

[3] The closer the scaling gets to ideal the better the machines work. Unfortunately most string scales are far from ideal. In the end the tuning and the piano must sound good to the ear. While I have great respect for the progress that has been made in developing the modern ETD I’ve not yet seen one that can really replace the human ear in this regard.

As a disclaimer I should mention that I learned to tune by ear and worked that way for approximately the first twenty years or so of my tuning career. I then began to incorporate various ETDs into my work, came to like them and have worked with one ever since. Having said that I would much rather trust my piano to the average ear tuner than to a more experienced technician who could not be bothered to learn the most basic fundamentals of his or her craft — the simple technology of piano tuning.

Del
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#1125628 - 06/10/04 07:27 PM Re: Tuning by Ear or Machine
John Ruggero Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/04/02
Posts: 161
Loc: Raleigh
I think a lot has been said about the finer points of tuning and how an ETD effects these points but not a lot has been said about other reasons why one tuning sounds better than another. It could have nothing to so with the method used. It could be the level of skill the tuner has with the physical aspects of tuning. It doesn't matter if you can put the piano in tune, if you can't set the strings so that they stay in tune even through fairly hard playing. If your hammer control is no good, then your stability probably isn't any good. You can bend those pins until the note sounds in tune, but if you don't know how to set the string, as soon as someone gives the note a good shot, or even as you tune the unisons, the note will go right out. I think that the hardest thing about being a great stable tuner is fine hammer control. Being able to move the pins in very exact increments in the block to achieve the highest level of stability.
The honest truth is that I could probably go to someones home and tune a sub par temperament, but if the octaves and unisons are good then they probably won't even notice if the stability of the tuning was good. (I really don't do this.) However, if I went and tuned someone's piano and did a lousy job of pin and string setting, they will be calling me two days later because they have unisons wining all over the place. My point is basically the same as all of the other technicians here. I have heard fine tunings done with both methods, but neither is any good without a mastery of hammer control and good stability.
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#1125629 - 06/10/04 07:29 PM Re: Tuning by Ear or Machine
Jeffrey Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/18/04
Posts: 2948
Loc: New York
Thanks for all the replies. I just had my first piano tuning, and was impressed/surprised that the tuner did it all by ear. I had assumed that "tuning" a piano was just a matter of setting each key to the right Hz frequency (like the A above middle C is 440 Hz) and that was it. Thanks for all the information!

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#1125630 - 06/12/04 01:33 AM Re: Tuning by Ear or Machine
Chris W1 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/26/01
Posts: 915
Loc: Boston
I wrote:
[1] I add only that, IMO, you don't have to be good at anything more that aurally tuning unisons to tune well by machine. There is huge amount of skill level in making the jump from clean unisons and computed stretch, or drift, and coming up with an appropriate amount of stretch on your own. Actually, its this belief that I think has put quality tunings in reach of non-professionals. I find the limiting factor, in my case, is tuning stability.

DF writes:
[1] This is, of course, the assertion of many who wish to bypass the work and practice time involved in learning to tune aurally. Just buy a machine, spend a bit of time on unisons and hammer control and I are a tuner. I'll not say it can't be done, but it is rare. So rare that I've not found a piano tuner yet that I would hire who has not learned to tune a piano acceptably by ear without the aid of an ETD.

Or, Del, it is the opinion of a consumer, who is the only one who has to be satisfied with his work. I guess I won't win a popularity contest with the aural tuners for the above comment. Take heart, I am an "amature at large", anyway, so most probably just moved on to the next post.

My needs are a basic tuning with some stretch and that is my idea of quality. I have found what I previously described to work quite well and volunteer it here. YMMV.

[2][3] Thanks for the feedback. You know your way around this stuff and it makes for some interesting reading. It doesn't, however, change my view that, as you so sophisticatedly described, the subtleties of inharmonicity and scale go *beyond* what the "average ear tuner" can hear, as well as what ETD's can currently be used for. These are truly subtleties. I, for one, am keeping my imperfect scale. Thank you.

Chris
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#1125631 - 06/12/04 02:28 AM Re: Tuning by Ear or Machine
BDB Online   content
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Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 21302
Loc: Oakland
If you tune aurally and check on a variety of intervals, the accuracy with which you tune is remarkably good, at least as good as claimed by ETDs. It's probably at least as good as the best tuner's hammer technique. And the fact that you are tuning with a number of intervals guarantees that all those intervals sound good, which means that you have the proper stretch.

The advantage is that there is nothing to calculate. It's just the way that it is.
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#1125632 - 06/12/04 02:41 AM Re: Tuning by Ear or Machine
Paulo Offline
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Registered: 05/25/04
Posts: 134
Loc: québec
Stretch is not something you do, it's something that happens.
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#1125633 - 06/12/04 01:07 PM Re: Tuning by Ear or Machine
Chris W1 Offline
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Registered: 09/26/01
Posts: 915
Loc: Boston
Setting temperment and stretch have nothing to do with one another. If you are achieving your intervals in the center of the keyboard aurally, you haven't even begun to accomodate inharmonicities in the bass, for instance. You will simply have a nearly even 440 - 880 octave and a clean temperment, assuming you got that far. If you guys honestly end up with a frequency that is slightly wider, and yet in proportion with the inharmonicities on down the keyboard, then my hat is off to you. A simple description of your technique would reveal how you are accomodating stretch. If you call yourself done after the temperment is set and you haven't played a good number of bass notes, then you can't possibly have got it right. If you go deliberately wide by smidgen, then you just took a shot in the dark as to what that particular piano might need. Maybe you go back to your temperment to add stretch latter, I don't know and am not saying it isn't possible. I am, however, much less in a position to fight technology as someone who doesn't have the time to be a diciple of beat rates. FWIW, I don't even have the time to tune with the computer and am using the person I mentioned. Kids do that to you ;\)
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#1125634 - 06/12/04 04:06 PM Re: Tuning by Ear or Machine
Norbert Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/03/01
Posts: 14120
Loc: Surrey, B.C.
Franz Mohr,for many years before,has challenged
techs to visit him at Steinway in New York and give him a "perfect" machine tuning.

That *stays* in tune - once the concert pianist starts hammering.

Don't know if anybody ever did the trick.

But curiously - there still ain't no concert tuners on any of the world's major stages using a machine - I know!

Well, Timbucktwo....perhaps: your home or mine! :rolleyes:

...er..... YOURS!![/b] \:D

norbert
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Greater Vancouver B.C. piano dealers for : C.Sauter, Estonia, Brodmann, Ritmuller
604-951-8642

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