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#1174328 - 04/04/09 12:11 PM tuning without test blows?
sotto voce Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/15/06
Posts: 6163
Loc: Briarcliff Manor, NY, USA
The tech who tuned my piano most recently didn't strike the keys with the kind of sharp test blows I'm accustomed to hearing during past tunings with other technicians. I asked him about it, and he said he considers it unnecessary and a potential source of injury.

I had always figured strong test blows are required to be certain the tension of the strings is secure and stable. Does anyone have any comment or explanation?

Steven
_________________________

"There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats."
—Albert Schweitzer

Chopin: Allegro de Concert Op. 46
Schumann: Toccata Op. 7
Fauré: Ballade Op. 19

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#1174351 - 04/04/09 12:35 PM Re: tuning without test blows? [Re: sotto voce]
Ron Alexander Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/17/03
Posts: 1292
Loc: North Carolina
Mmmm...I would never make a judgement about anyone's tunings without hearing the piano. But I dont know of any truly experienced tech that doesnt tune using test blows to set the string.
The test blow is necessary to equal the tension of the string. A good test blow is not so forceful that you knock the string out of tune, but it is a little heavier than normal playing blows.

If the your tuner's work is not stable, you should be able to tell if the piano is not in a good state of tuning almost immediately.
_________________________
-----------------
Ron Alexander
Piano Tuner-Technician

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#1174362 - 04/04/09 12:43 PM Re: tuning without test blows? [Re: Ron Alexander]
sotto voce Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/15/06
Posts: 6163
Loc: Briarcliff Manor, NY, USA
Thanks for your input, Ron.

Just for clarification, my inquiry wasn't a complaint or meant to be disparaging. It was just such a departure from past experience that I was curious what the common practice is for other professionals (and why).

Steven
_________________________

"There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats."
—Albert Schweitzer

Chopin: Allegro de Concert Op. 46
Schumann: Toccata Op. 7
Fauré: Ballade Op. 19

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#1174371 - 04/04/09 12:56 PM Re: tuning without test blows? [Re: sotto voce]
Gene Nelson Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/10/04
Posts: 1484
Loc: Old Hangtown California
I frequently tune without using test blows. It is not always necessary and can destabilize a tuning.
It is all in the technique.
If the pin is set and it or the pitch will not give when exposed to demanding playing this is the holy grail, not how you got there.
Not to say that test blows are not needed at times.
I suppose that it can be said that if the pin is set at correct pitch and a test blow is delivered and the pitch does not change - the test blow was not necessary.
This happens more on pianos that I frequently tune and maintain as opposed to the typical out of tune piano that is 5 to 20 cents flat.
_________________________
RPT
PTG Member

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#1174416 - 04/04/09 02:29 PM Re: tuning without test blows? [Re: Gene Nelson]
Bob Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/01/01
Posts: 3866
To avoid injury on a test blow, use a key banger. I vary the strength of my test blows, depending on the piano. It's always best to hit the key harder than the piano player is likely to, or the player may bang the piano out of tune. I'd never do a concert tuning without heavy test blows on each string.
_________________________
www.PianoTunerOrlando.com






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#1174436 - 04/04/09 03:05 PM Re: tuning without test blows? [Re: Bob]
Gene Nelson Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/10/04
Posts: 1484
Loc: Old Hangtown California
I'd never do a concert tuning without heavy test blows on each string.
______________________________________________________________
A totally acceptable technique if it gets you good results.
I have learned by experience that it is not always necessary. How much of a test blow is required to render the string at the bearing points is a valid question.
Does the string need rendering?
Is one blow enough for all three strings? Is three or four better?
Again, it is more in the tuning hammer technique in my opinion. A rock solid tuning as an end product is what counts.
Steve Brady touches on the subject in his great book "Under the Lid."
_________________________
RPT
PTG Member

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#1175364 - 04/06/09 07:45 AM Re: tuning without test blows? [Re: Gene Nelson]
UnrightTooner Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/13/08
Posts: 4940
Loc: Bradford County, PA
Steven:

I see a Test Blow as a different thing than a Tuning Blow, and use both.

A Tuning Blow is where I am trying to change the pitch while playing the note loudly while at the same time flexing the pin so that some of the tension in the speaking segment of the string is transferred to the non-speaking segment of the string.

A Test Blow is playing the note perhaps loudly but more likely moderately and usually flexing the pin at the same time but perhaps not. The purpose is to simulate loud playing by temporarily having more tension on the speaking part than the non-speaking part to see if the string will stay on pitch. A Tuning Blow can become a Test Blow after the pitch has changed a little.

Depending on how the string renders on the upper bearings, the torque that is required to move the foot of the pin, the elasticity of the string, the spring in the pin, and the general “feel” of the pin, I may use either or both types of Blows. I don’t use Tuning Blows on strings that render very easily nor on strings that render very poorly. I think hammer manipulation alone is best in those situations.
_________________________
Jeff Deutschle
Part-Time Tuner
Who taught the first chicken how to peck?

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#1175566 - 04/06/09 02:14 PM Re: tuning without test blows? [Re: UnrightTooner]
Rickster Online   content


Registered: 03/25/06
Posts: 8534
Loc: Georgia, USA
I’ve learned that a fairly good test blow will help in setting the tuning pin and stabilizing the unison. I like to bring the string up just a tad sharp and use a test blow while applying a slight CCW pressure on the tuning hammer. Maybe I’m doing it all wrong but it works for me.

I’ve also learned that the harder I play my piano the more stable the tuning becomes in time. I find that I need to tune my piano less often the harder I play it (with the exception of cleaning up a few unisons occasionally).

Take care,

Rick
_________________________
Piano enthusiast and amateur musician: "Treat others the way you would like to be treated". Yamaha C7. YouTube Channel

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#1175586 - 04/06/09 02:56 PM Re: tuning without test blows? [Re: Rickster]
Ed Foote Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/03/03
Posts: 1162
Loc: Tennessee
Greetings,
Osteoarthritis in the left hand knuckles is a common problem with older tuners, and I can only guess where it comes from.
One of the best tuners I ever saw was Bill Garlick. He was also my teacher at North Bennett. He tuned quite softly, and when he was satisfied that the string was at the right place, would hit it once with a FFF blow. If it didn't move, he moved on to the next string.
I also tune this way, though over the years have found myself pounding pianos when I was less than mindful. My most stable tunings are done softly, with a test note after the string is set to assure me. On some instruments, a really hard note will cause the string to go temporarily flat, but a slight creep upwards will occur before the tuning is finished.

There are numerous benefits to learning to tune softly. The joint health, the ear fatique, wear and tear on the actions, broken strings, etc. If a tech can leave the topstring tighter than the speaking length, and the back string is stable, the note will remain where it is put. I usually tune from about 10 cents sharp, using a slow descent to where I need to go to let the string be stable. On blocks with less than 100 in/lbs of torque, I can usually stop at pitch, on higher torque blocks(like the Baldwins)I lower the pitch a certain amount below my target and then allow the pin flex to pull it back up to pitch. If tested, most of my strings will go sharp with the slightest upwards pressue on the pin, but will remain at pitch with considerable downward pressure. I really believe pounding is evidence of poor hammer technique.
Regards,

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#1175625 - 04/06/09 04:26 PM Re: tuning without test blows? [Re: Ed Foote]
David Jenson Online   content
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/22/06
Posts: 2100
Loc: Maine
Since this topic came up, I've been paying attention to my tuning and test blows. It's kinda' quiet, but things stay put. I use a series of short staccato blows on most notes. For me it's easier to hear an unstable string that way.

It's all in what you get used to I guess. I really appreciated Ed Foote's input.
_________________________
David L. Jenson
Tuning - Repairs - Refurbishing
Jenson's Piano Service
-----

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#1175857 - 04/06/09 11:40 PM Re: tuning without test blows? [Re: sotto voce]
rysowers Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/16/07
Posts: 2402
Loc: Olympia, WA
Well... if you REALLY want to test his tuning, step on the damper pedal and give each note 3 fff blows. If his unisons go haywire you can chalk his explanation up to hot air. If it still sounds great than he knows what he's doing!

I tend to be a pounder, myself. Because I also wear ear plugs the sound doesn't bother me at all. However, I like Ed Foote's description. Sounds like a more humane way to tune.
_________________________
Ryan Sowers,
Pianova Piano Service
Olympia, WA
www.pianova.net

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#1176295 - 04/07/09 07:04 PM Re: tuning without test blows? [Re: David Jenson]
w.iedema Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 04/25/07
Posts: 1
Loc: Eindhoven Holland
I must agree with Ed Foote,
been a tech for 17 years now and tested a lot of styles and i keep learning.
When i look back i must say that in my first days i realy couldn't tune stable. my expirience tells me now to tune softly!
You can hear better, save your ears and slightly twist the pin to feel its torque needed rather than 'jerking it around'to hammer the string and pin in it's position.
Make sure you feel the whole pin move and turn it as little as possible sharp to leave it in tune and stable when jou leave it that way. Ok, a test blow wil asure you but shouldn't be nescessary if you practice wel. I must say that sometimes i use FFF blows innitial to tuning when i see a piano for the first time and when i think that previous tunings didn't stabalise speaking lenght and non speaking lenght.
I also twist the hammerhandle clockwise when turning the pin clockwise and counterclockwise when turning the pin counterclockwise to keep the pin in an as perfect as possible straight line with the pinhole.
of course there are different conditions on each piano but i think that hammerhandling is the most important aspect in this.
And then we didn't even talk about the aspect of the soundboard racting on changing tension.
Greets,
W.Iedema

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#1176341 - 04/07/09 08:40 PM Re: tuning without test blows? [Re: w.iedema]
RPD Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/07/05
Posts: 961
Loc: Kalamazoo Michigan
This is an excellent thread...thanks all. Over the past 25 years I've grown gradually to tune more softly, although recently I've also been using Steven Brady's "forearm smash" to stabalize and it really does work wonders...takes another 10-15 minutes to go through the checks (or less) after the technique, but it improves stability (as long as the venue doesn't think you're brutalizing the piano lol!)

My technique is thus; softer tuning with sensitivity to the pin's motion, and the forearm smash with the loud pedal engaged, and a final pass to listen to intervals and clean up anything that moved...

I know at least two tuners who met unfortunate career ends (59 years old and 60 years old) from osteo-arthritis over repetitive stress issues, so this thread is a needed breath of fresh air! I use ear plugs but still appreciate not tearing up my arms and shoulders all day! I can tune 4-6 pianos every day without pain (except at Christmas where it just gets insane!)

My guess is that in 10-20 years, soft tuning will be taught as THE way to approach the art. FWIW

RPD
_________________________
MPT(Master Piano Technicians of America)
Member AMICA (Automated Musical Instruments Collector's Association)
(Subscriber PTG Journal)
Piano-Tuner-Rebuilder/Musician www.actionpianoservice.com

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#1176403 - 04/07/09 10:00 PM Re: tuning without test blows? [Re: RPD]
Marty Flinn Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/25/06
Posts: 2604
I have worked with dozens and dozens of tuners in my career of 35+ years. All of the top tuners I know tune hard. Their tunings are more stable and lasting. The soft route is ok if the piano will only be played by a six year old little girl practicing scales and book one. One thing is true that some scales offer less resistance to the string segments as it is tuned. These require less force to equalize.
_________________________
Co-Author of The Complete Idiot's Guide To Buying A Piano. A "must read" before you shop.
Work for west coast dealer for Yamaha, Schimmel, Bosendorfer, Wm. Knabe.

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#1176437 - 04/07/09 11:04 PM Re: tuning without test blows? [Re: Marty Flinn]
Bob Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/01/01
Posts: 3866
Consider the last concert tuning I did - The piano is heavily used, so I had to lay down a hard tuning Friday afternoon for a concert Saturday night. The piano played a concert Friday night, and the artist playing on Saturday arrived at 10pm and played it till 3am Saturday morning. Then the piano was played from 8am till 5pm on Saturday. I arrived to do a bang though at 6pm for the 8pm concert. Because I banged the tuning in on Friday afternoon (14 hours of playing earlier) the bang though was quick and easy. Not much had slipped.

I bang the 18 hour/day pianos in practice rooms as well. I tune those once a month, and they need to hold a tune though the month.

No, I don't bang hard on normal tunings, unless I can feel the strings slipping, but I owe it to the artist to bang hard on a concert tuning. I don't want anything getting loose during the concert.

Don't use your fingers for a test blow, use a key banger. You don't have to bottom the key hard - doing that causes injury. It's a quick blow for hammer speed, not a hard blow to the punching.
_________________________
www.PianoTunerOrlando.com






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#1176545 - 04/08/09 06:58 AM Re: tuning without test blows? [Re: Bob]
David Jenson Online   content
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/22/06
Posts: 2100
Loc: Maine
Originally Posted By: Bob
It's a quick blow for hammer speed, not a hard blow to the punching.

We're probably all doing about the same thing and describing it differently. I'd have to admit that some of my pin-setting and test blows are pretty energetic.

Also, I noticed that I'm using an uneven tempo on the tests. 'Never even noticed that bit until I paid attention. For me, it seems to even the tension better.
_________________________
David L. Jenson
Tuning - Repairs - Refurbishing
Jenson's Piano Service
-----

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#1176575 - 04/08/09 08:51 AM Re: tuning without test blows? [Re: David Jenson]
RPD Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/07/05
Posts: 961
Loc: Kalamazoo Michigan
The forearm smash technique IS a very substantial energization of the board and also quickly will find unstable notes...but for concerts I admit I too am more agressive on test blows...then, a "touch up" tuning as described above before the show is often farily easy, the piano being essentially where it was left earlier.

Its a matter of feel, really. I'm not suggesting the superiority of any approach over another.

Its interesting how much new information even seasoned tuners can absorb and learn...that's what makes this career choice so much fun and so interesting.

RPD
_________________________
MPT(Master Piano Technicians of America)
Member AMICA (Automated Musical Instruments Collector's Association)
(Subscriber PTG Journal)
Piano-Tuner-Rebuilder/Musician www.actionpianoservice.com

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#1176587 - 04/08/09 09:24 AM Re: tuning without test blows? [Re: David Jenson]
UnrightTooner Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/13/08
Posts: 4940
Loc: Bradford County, PA
Originally Posted By: David Jenson

.....

Also, I noticed that I'm using an uneven tempo on the tests. 'Never even noticed that bit until I paid attention. For me, it seems to even the tension better.


I notice myself doing that too, once in a while. I may be trying to like catch it off guard or something, to see if I can make it slip with a hard blow when it isn't expecting it. I will also try different grimmaces. I have one that looks a lot like a donkey...
_________________________
Jeff Deutschle
Part-Time Tuner
Who taught the first chicken how to peck?

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#1176622 - 04/08/09 11:01 AM Re: tuning without test blows? [Re: UnrightTooner]
Peter Sumner- Piano Technician Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/07
Posts: 852
Loc: San Francisco
The use of hard test blows is a good learning tool.
If you listen to the way each string flattens after each blow you can adjust your hammer technique and become more efficient at 'setting the pin'.
This comes with a lot of practice and will take time if you are dealing with a wide range of pianos and pin block 'feels'.
By all means tune softly if that is your comfort level....but a hard blow and first class technique is the only way that the pin will stay where you leave it...
Unisons, unisons, unisons......get strong in that dept and you are on your way.
_________________________
Peter Sumner
Concert Piano Technician



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#1177764 - 04/10/09 09:49 AM Re: tuning without test blows? [Re: Peter Sumner- Piano Technician]
Emmery Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/02/08
Posts: 2374
Loc: Niagara Region, On. Canada
I've heard good solid tunings that were done without really hard test blows so certain hammer/tuning techniques can get similar results in many cases. Concert tunings require them more for added safety. Less experienced tuners would benefit from the feedback it provides on their technique for stability. I often tune pianos without pounding on them myself and come back later and they are where you expect them to be pitch/tune wise. I use a ff like blow when I've pulled sharp of target by 5-10 cents and then tuning blows to lower down to slightly sharp of target, set the pin and final pitch, give the note a med hard punch, check, and move on. I'll run through every note at the end of the tuning with 3 med hard blows and check overall for any drifted unisons.
There is much contention among doctors about the causes of osteoarthritis and many believe its a degenerative disease unrelated to occupational physical stress. 80% of people over 75 y/o age have it to some degree regardless of their profession. I choose not to use a "banger" for this reason and the fact that a piano's parts were built to be played with the fingers, not your fist or a tool that could put enough force into it to break things. On occasion parts break on older pianos even from med hard blows during tunings and it would seem awkward to explain to a customer that it wasn't because you were pounding on it with a tool that can deliver more force than it was intended to handle. If I played my piano for years without broken parts and a tuner came along with their key banger and broke something, I would be p*ssed, demand they fix it on their own dime, and not call them back. The human finger(s) have a built in force limiting structure that for the most part would prevent this from happening on a reasonable piano. I'm sure there are tuners that can use them judiciously enough not to do this, but its not worth the risk for me, and my fingers still do the job fine.
_________________________
Piano Technician
George Brown College /85
Niagara Region

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#1177831 - 04/10/09 12:06 PM Re: tuning without test blows? [Re: Marty Flinn]
RPD Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/07/05
Posts: 961
Loc: Kalamazoo Michigan
Originally Posted By: Marty Flinn
The soft route is ok if the piano will only be played by a six year old little girl practicing scales and book one.


Marty, I think the above testimony of some of these other gifted, life-long tuners seems to respectfully suggest that there are other credible ways to achieve a good solid tuning. But I agree that the majority of tuners still hit the keys very hard, so there's little doubt that the majority of good tuners you've encountered also do.

BTW, I have found that, a little bit contrary to your analogy, small children playing single note pieces (usually quite hard) very quickly reveals a weak tuning or weak unisons! FWIW

RPD
_________________________
MPT(Master Piano Technicians of America)
Member AMICA (Automated Musical Instruments Collector's Association)
(Subscriber PTG Journal)
Piano-Tuner-Rebuilder/Musician www.actionpianoservice.com

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#1179336 - 04/13/09 12:29 AM Re: tuning without test blows? [Re: RPD]
sotto voce Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/15/06
Posts: 6163
Loc: Briarcliff Manor, NY, USA
I'm delighted to get feedback from so many professionals. I had no idea there was such diversity of opinion or controversy surrounding this issue, and it's been very educational. Many thanks to all who've contributed.

FWIW, my tuning was about six weeks ago and it's been as stable as any in the past. My new tech—a very experienced PTG member with impressive credentials—is a keeper.

Steven
_________________________

"There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats."
—Albert Schweitzer

Chopin: Allegro de Concert Op. 46
Schumann: Toccata Op. 7
Fauré: Ballade Op. 19

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