How do professionals tune a wing

mustsician's Perjects

Voice spreading with and without software

In the age of software instruments, digital pianos, tuners and corresponding software, background knowledge of the fine art of piano tuning is not only relevant for piano tuners themselves. Every keyboard player who also uses the acoustic piano in digital form should know a little bit about it. This is especially true for pianists with a “real” grand piano or piano who do not always want / cannot hire an appropriately well paid and at the same time increasingly rare expert to tune the piano. "Normal" piano tuners often work with a conventional tuner and thus do not come as close to the much better-sounding tuning by ear as you could even yourself with the background knowledge below and the corresponding aids.

Tuner or hearing - what makes the difference?

With the conventional tuner, in which we assume a uniform, well-tempered tuning, the tones are precisely tuned in octaves, i.e. according to the exact mathematical division of the oscillation. This must also be the case, unless it is a special device intended for piano tuning. Because the pure tuning of the octaves corresponds to the correct tuning z. B. an organ, a synthesizer or any instrument whose sound generation is not based on strings of different lengths.
In the case of a piano or grand piano, however, tuning by ear results in what is known as the voice spreading, in which the next higher octave is not tuned as precisely as possible to the basic note of the original note, but to one of its partial tones (2 or 4, i.e. 1st or 2nd octave) becomes. Due to the so-called inharmonicity, the partial tones of a steel string do not vibrate exactly twice or four times as fast as their fundamental vibration, but always a few cents (hundredths of a semitone) higher. The reason for this is the material properties and the relationship between thickness (stiffness) and length of the string. The shorter a string, the greater the deviation from the basic principle of harmonic waves - hence the term inharmonicity.

Why does a grand piano tuned by ear sound better?

Traditional piano tuning by ear does not require a precise analysis of the deviations, but the piano tuner's ears appropriately respond to the inharmonicity by intuitively tuning the respective octave so that they also sound best with the partial tones of the octaves below. While a layman without many years of experience has hardly any chance of even getting a grip on this without aids, the experienced piano tuner will also bring his subjective feelings into play.

In addition, there are refinements and subtleties in the high art of piano tuning, which in turn are difficult to reconcile with the voice spreading and their use requires a lot of experience and taste. So there are z. B. the method of tuning the octave spacing (extremely slightly!) Too small ("floating below") in the middle register. The beats aimed for are in the order of magnitude of 0.02 to 0.05 Hz, i.e. 1 to 2 beat cycles per minute. The untrained ear will still perceive this octave as completely pure, and at the same time this method helps to accommodate the slightly too low tuning of the fifths, which in turn is the prerequisite for a well-tempered tuning.

Without technical aids, piano tuning by ear is an art that not only requires a high level of craftsmanship and many years of experience, but with which a piano tuner can also develop his own “handwriting” to a certain extent.

Digital pianos and software instruments

Most (if not all) current digital pianos are provided with a vocal spread in their piano tones, while their organ or Rhodes presets, in contrast, are purely tuned. This corresponds to reality and should actually be equally differentiated with software instruments. Unfortunately, this cannot be taken for granted. For example, with the otherwise very good sounding and in some details very lovingly programmed AKOUSTIK PIANO from Native Instruments, this aspect has unfortunately (so far) fallen under the table, although various "exotic" tunings can be set here. Maybe this will be corrected in an update ...

Piano parts for everyone

Since the inharmonicity of an instrument (and thus the vocal spread) is individually different, depending on the strings used and their length as well as depending on e.g. B. on the size of a grand piano and other structural differences, it is hardly practical to program a general voice spreading feature into a tuner that is “cast in hardware”. What is needed is a system with which the inharmonicity of the individual instrument can first be measured and with which one then receives a special profile, on the basis of which the whole works as an individually adapted tuner.
A software solution that has integrated all the criteria of traditional piano tuning by ear into its range of functions can be found here:

There is also a fully functional trial version (see fig.) And a manual (in English) for download.
The (Windows) software is - measured by its functions - extremely undemanding in terms of the system performance requirements and there is also a version for Pocket PC - so it can be handled like a small tuner.

An important aspect of such a software solution is also the possibility to set deviations for all measured data according to your own taste and then to save any number of tuning profiles. The tuning itself, provided you have the right tools (tuning key, felt or rubber wedges for muting strings, etc.), is then only a question of the nervous condition and should be perfectly possible even by a completely deaf person. But the tool should also be a great relief for the experienced piano tuner, as basic and recurring work processes require significantly less concentration.

More detailed or further information on the subject can be found in the manual for the above. TuneLab software.

Further links on the topic:

  • (Piano tuning / maintenance / purchase advice)

  • (further hardware and software solutions for professional piano tuning)

  • ....

  • References to other interesting websites on the subject are always welcome!

© 2008 by Wolfgang Fiedler

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