How to assess a tuning?

Posted by: pianonewb

How to assess a tuning? - 10/22/12 06:48 PM

Hi! I am new to the piano(about three years), but have been a musician for 30 years. I have no problem realizing that a guitar or bass is out of tune, but with a piano? Fuggetaboutit!
Unless it's really bad, I'm probably clueless. This is a problem because I am my church's pianist. It's my responsibility to make sure the piano is kept in decent tune.
If it were my personal instrument, I'd have it tuned twice a year and not worry about it. But being it is the church's I have to justify more than one tuning per year. I would like to be able to sit down at the piano and demonstate why the piano needs tuning more often. I would also like to be able to catch the tuning before it gets really bad, making the tuner's job much more difficult and time consuming.
I play by ear, and have no formal training, so assume that I may not understand some of the musical vernacular used. Can anyone help me to understand how to assess the tuning?
I have done a search, but can't find the info I need. Thanks in advance for any help.
Posted by: Dave B

Re: How to assess a tuning? - 10/22/12 08:01 PM

Measure the pitch fluctuations and relative humidity fluctuations and present the readings with some literature about piano service and tuning.
Posted by: Jerry Groot RPT

Re: How to assess a tuning? - 10/22/12 08:48 PM

You're not expected by tuners anyway, to know the difference because your training is in your field not ours. Just like our training is in our field, not yours. Without properly training as many tuners have done, you won't be able to hear it. But, if you had an ETD, you could check notes on the piano against it just to give you a "general idea" as to where the pitch is now verses where it was when the piano was tuned. Bear in mind however, that what your particular ETD tells you, may not be where the tuner intentionally tuned that note on the piano.
Posted by: Zeno Wood

Re: How to assess a tuning? - 10/22/12 09:00 PM

This is a tricky endeavor. You would like to sit down at the piano and demonstrate that it needs tuning - to whom are you demonstrating? If it's to the people who will authorize the payment for more tunings, this wil be very difficult, as they are probably not musicians, and thus would not be very sensitive to what musicians and tuners would consider out of tune.

A multi-prong approach might work, incorporating what other commenters have already stated, but all together.

- Literature regarding pianos, humidity, manufacturer's recommendations. (the Dampp-Chaser/Piano LifeSaver website has some good material, although it presents one of its units as the answer, not more tunings)
- You could make humidity and temperature recordings over a period of time and present that.
- Combine this with recordings of variation of pitch, using an ETD (you can download Tunelab's trial version, or perhaps even use Audacity)
- When it comes to playing the piano and hoping they have anything less than tin ears, one area that often sounds nice and bad is the bass-tenor break: play octaves that span the break and hopefully they'll howl real loud. Often playing something and making a sour face will help their imaginations.

Good luck!
Posted by: Bob

Re: How to assess a tuning? - 10/22/12 10:44 PM

The area of the piano that will change pitch first is from C3 to E4. If checking pitch, this is the area to check. Most churches in your area of the country are going to need two to four tunings a year. You can help the stability of the piano by keeping the church cold in winter (about 50F) unless occupied, and running A/C in summer (much harder to do because of the cost). Get a piano cover and a full DC system, and maintain it. Those things will help keep the piano stable. For longer lasting tunings, tune the piano about 2 weeks after the change of seasons. Changes in season are the big reason pianos go out of tune.

The rest depends on your ear. Some churches wait way too long between tunings, and all I can do is shake my head each time I arrive. On the other hand, one church tunes about every 2 months - The piano has a full DC and piano cover and I move the piano about 2 cents at each tuning. That music director is very picky.
Posted by: SweetMusicLover

Re: How to assess a tuning? - 10/23/12 12:55 AM

I'm dreadfully new to the forum (in fact this is my first post.) However, I am not new to piano tuning having tuned and rebuilt pianos for over 24 years now. I have a very simple way to help people understand the importance of regular piano tuning. It is as simple as this: when a tuner tunes a piano, he/she must adjust the positions of the strings and the tuning pins. If the piano has been permitted to drift so far off its proper tuning that the tuner will have to move the strings and pins a great distance, this will sabotage the piano's ability to stand nicely in tune.

The more you have to move the strings and pins, the less stable the tuning. It is OK if you cannot hear that the piano is out of tune. The real bottom line is that, if you should let the piano go too long between tunings, you will hear a difference.

When an amatuer can hear that the piano has had a remarkable change during its last tuning, that is definite proof that the lovely new tuning is not going to stay in place well.

Maybe that can help you.

David Rodgers
Posted by: Emmery

Re: How to assess a tuning? - 10/23/12 01:52 AM

Mike, you are correct about how a piano is quite different from a guitar or other instruments in regards to it being in and out of tune and the severity of it. There is the additional issue of unisons being out also. I find it much easier to demonstrate an out of tune unison than subtle shifts on the temperament or the clarity of octaves. Tuners often take for granted all the things we learn to hear in the tuning.

An ETD can sometimes help show things being askew. A visual spinner is far more easily recognized to an untrained person than a slow roll on an interval that shouldn't have one.
Posted by: Olek

Re: How to assess a tuning? - 10/23/12 02:08 AM

I am far from sure that the tuning quality and little drifts can be perceived easily in churches, (anyway the kind of churches we have here with a lot of reverberation)
By an experimented tuner, and some musicians certainly, but for the layman, the piano need to be severly out of tune to be noticed, in those environments.. Or may be when it plays with other instruments ( drums wink ?)
Posted by: Supply

Re: How to assess a tuning? - 10/23/12 03:09 AM

Originally Posted By: pianonewb
.... I have no problem realizing that a guitar or bass is out of tune, but with a piano? .... Can anyone help me to understand how to assess the tuning?

It is a specific type of ear training that piano tuners use, which is different from that of musicians.
I suggest the following: the next time the piano tuner comes, ask him/her to demonstrate notes that are badly out of tune and compare those to notes that are in tune. Listen carefully as the tuner sets intervals such as octaves or fifths, and then creates pure unisons. Let them explain what they are doing.

WARNING: Once you can begin to hear the beats in unisons and intervals, you can't go back. You may begin to hear the out-of-tuneness everywhere. This can be very frustrating for some people. Cross that threshold at you peril.....
tiki
Posted by: daniokeeper

Re: How to assess a tuning? - 10/23/12 03:46 AM

Though this won't help you to assess the instrument any better, I do have a suggestion that might help persuade the church to keep the piano tuned more regularly.

You could just ask your current tuner to send the church a reminder card through the mail twice a year. Or, a reminder email.
Posted by: UnrightTooner

Re: How to assess a tuning? - 10/23/12 07:09 AM

Mark:

Jurgen makes a very good point:

Originally Posted By: Supply
.....

WARNING: Once you can begin to hear the beats in unisons and intervals, you can't go back. You may begin to hear the out-of-tuneness everywhere. This can be very frustrating for some people. Cross that threshold at you peril.....
tiki



Unlike other responders, I think there are some things an ordinary player can listen for, and not be too distracted.

First is unisons. Like a 12 string guitar, the notes are produced by more than one string. Listen to the Beatles "Day Tripper." That 12 string guitar was deliberatly mis-tuned to have a wowowowow in the unisons. If a piano has unisons that sound like that, it needs tuned.

Second is the octaves. The place where they change the most is across the "break." The break is where the bass strings cross over the treble strings. Lift the lid of the piano and look. Find the lowest note above the break and the highest note below the break. Now listen to the octaves, chromatically, above the break and then as they straddle the break. When the humidity changes, the octaves that straddle the break will sound foul compared to the ones above the break. Again, time to get it tuned.

But regardless, get it tuned at least once a year so that the tuning has a chance to be a stable one. David Rodgers explained it well.
Posted by: jim ialeggio

Re: How to assess a tuning? - 10/23/12 09:05 AM

Originally Posted By: Supply
WARNING: Once you can begin to hear the beats in unisons and intervals, you can't go back. You may begin to hear the out-of-tuneness everywhere. This can be very frustrating for some people. Cross that threshold at you peril.....
tiki


I hear this a lot, and worried about it seriously before I decided to take piano work as my way to earn a living...but Jurgen, my experience was completely opposite to this.

I played piano for many years before becoming a tech/rebuilder, and I have to say that finally hearing a piano that is really in tune, I mean a piano with a live board, well prepped and dead nuts in tune with all 7 octaves coupled, completely changed how I hear and what I expected to hear when I sit down to play. I really shouldn't say "changed" how I hear, because I had been wanting to hear that sound since I was 15, but the instruments I encountered, with very very few exceptions led be to think that the sound, the sound my 15 yr old ears wanted to hear, was a fiction. As a tech, I'm happy to report that this sound is not a fiction. Not only that, but being a tech, learning to hear way deeper and deeper into the sound has vastly improved the experience of playing for me, and gotten me off of a musical plateau I was stuck on for a number of years.

What happens when pianos sound bad, ie when one lacks the positive feedback provided by a decently tuned/prepped piano, is one replaces the experience of listening to the piano's present actual nasty sound with a psychologically constructed sound.

The fact is that many people, even accomplished pianists who should be, in theory, listening, don't know what a tuned piano sounds like. This because, in many cases they've learned, as I learned previous to my piano work, how to stop listening. This aural dead zone, or forgetting what in tune feels like is inspired by many years of frustrating piano induced discomfort.

To the OP:

The first step to convince your elders to put up for a decently tuned piano, is to get a piano, any piano...it doesn't have to be the church's piano...any piano...dead nuts tuned and voiced, so you can personally can experience the way a beautiful piano FEELS...sound is a feeling...go with that feeling and skip the nitty gritty particulars.

Once you get the sense of how it feels to be in tune...of how you no longer flinch when you play all or certain notes, but rather relish in the tonal sensuality, then, armed with the vision of how you want your church piano to sound, and how you would like your fellow parishioners to experience it, you have the personal authority and emotional ability to insist the elder provide this basic requirement for your services.

I really think you need to convince yourself before you try to convince them, and the way to convince yourself is to reacquaint yourself with the way a piano could sound.

Jim Ialeggio
Posted by: wcctuner

Re: How to assess a tuning? - 10/23/12 09:16 AM

Another way to present this-looking at this as a tuner and a church organist and music director. Tune three times a year. First, in September as choir rehearsals start, assuming you use the piano for rehearsals and for performance during the service. Second, between Thanksgiving and Christmas-Christmas is a busy season for church musicians, and most churches present a lot of music during Advent and Christmas. Third time, close to Easter. Again, a time when music programs in the church are busy. Your major events and seasons are covered, and the piano should be close enough for the rest of the year. Your financial chairman might balk at this, but if you want an effective music ministry in your church, the instruments have to be maintained.
Posted by: pianonewb

Re: How to assess a tuning? - 10/23/12 11:05 AM

Thanks so much for all of your replies. They are really appreciated.
I have a lot to think of, but you've given me enough information to choose how to go about it.
Jeff Deutschle, your advice on unisons, octaves, and the area of the piano where the "break" is located, is what I was looking for in my original post. There are several musicians in our church. One is a deacon. I'm quite sure I can use this to help him ( and myself)hear what we are talking about.
But there is so much good information in this thread that I feel like I'm about as equipped for this as I can get.
Thank you.
Posted by: Olek

Re: How to assess a tuning? - 10/24/12 04:01 AM

"the only thing needed for pianos to be sounding bad is to the tuners to do nothing about "

I Hope this sentence will satisfy your Manichaeism wink
Posted by: Weiyan

Re: How to assess a tuning? - 10/24/12 07:18 AM

Controlling number of tunings per year doesn't guarantee the piano is in tune, since not all tuners have same tuning quality.

If you can tune guitar aurally, you can hear piano tuning.

First play chromatic scale slowly, if the note have wave or sounds like tremolo, the unison is out of tune.

Play major chords in 3th and 4th octaves, if the colors are not same, the temperament have problem.

Then play a base note with chord at middle range, you can hear consonant. If the base is too hard, octave stress may have problem.

Hold down paddle, play d-d'-s'-d''-m''(root, 8th, 13th, 15th and 17th), you can hear consonant.

Finally, play your favorite song. Play at different piano, you can hear the difference.
Posted by: Chuck Behm

Re: How to assess a tuning? - 11/01/12 09:05 AM

Quote:
Unless it's really bad, I'm probably clueless. This is a problem because I am my church's pianist. It's my responsibility to make sure the piano is kept in decent tune.
If it were my personal instrument, I'd have it tuned twice a year and not worry about it. But being it is the church's I have to justify more than one tuning per year. I would like to be able to sit down at the piano and demonstate why the piano needs tuning more often. - Mike


This is a problem, even for an experienced tuner. I got tired of having customers tell me over the phone that their piano was "doing okay," so I put together a little article that I could email to them if they wanted to make sure. Amazing how many call backs I would get after sending this information out with the owner saying that they had changed their mind. Anyway, here's the article: "How to Tell if Your Piano is Out of Tune."

Good luck with your responsibilities as church pianist. A lot of work! Best wishes, Chuck Behm
Posted by: Emmery

Re: How to assess a tuning? - 11/06/12 10:13 PM

Be wary of anybody using using a number accompanied by the word "percent" for how well in tune it is...lol

Here is a piano that is 95% in tune according to the owner...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fdy3cuxkk0