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McCullough FREE Tuning Tutorial

Welcome to the McCullough Piano Tuning Tutorial. This is the first tutorial on the internet to include a full audio demonstration of tuning, as well as the temperament I created, and techniques and opinions about tuning not found in most books or other tutorials. Whether you are new to piano tuning or a seasoned veteran, I hope you find this tutorial useful and/or thought provoking. Colin McCullough

The following is an index of the chapters found in this tutorial:



Temperament I’ve found trying to explain temperament to someone who knows nothing about piano tuning to be difficult. I’ll give it another try! Piano tuners need to start somewhere, so we use a tuning fork (usually A440 or C523) as a reference note. All we need is one note that we know is right, then we go from there.

Tuning the Bass

Tuning the Bass Bass bridges are by design, closer to the edge of the soundboard. Because it is on a less flexible area of the soundboard than the treble bridge, the bass section often reacts differently to changes in humidity than the rest of the piano. I often find that the bass section is less prone to the seasonal shifts of pitch than the treble.

Tuning the Treble

Tuning the TrebleTuning the top octave can be the most difficult to hear for many people. Whatever the size of the piano, the string length in the top octave is so short, the tone is always at its thinnest here. Less tone also makes the noise of the action mechanism more noticeable. This section is a reminder that a piano is technically a percussion instrument when you hear those tiny hammers pounding away at whatever tone they may produce.

Tuning Techniques & Tools

Tuning Techniques and Tools The idea of setting the tuning pins to be at rest and completely stable seemed an almost mythical task when I first started learning how to tune. I was told that explanations could take it only so far, that learning the feel and control necessary to set the pins was something that only could be learned from tuning over and over again. My teachers were not exaggerating. I wish there was a profound suggestion I could make that would instantly make it more attainable. Until then, I have a few suggestions using my own techniques for setting the pins.

Advice and Opinions

Advice and Opinions Having a lot of patience is essential for anyone interested in becoming a piano tuner. My father unknowingly gave me the virtue of patience by making me sit through all those organ concerts when I was younger. The ability to entertain yourself is very useful in tuning and life in general. Good tuners need the patience to keep tuning no matter how bored they get and not hurry to “just get it over with”. When the tuning is done and some of the checks are off, tuners need to have the patience to go back and fix the problems, no matter how close they thought they were to being finished.

References and Acknowledgements

References and Acknowledgements The PTG is one of the largest resources available for anyone interested in piano tuning and technology. They publish a monthly newsletter, hold monthly chapter meetings all over the country, and organize seminars and conventions. Online resources include a list of training programs, PTG members across the country, and many other piano industry links.

Why I Created This Tutorial

There are many books about piano tuning available, not to mention home study courses, independent and school training programs. I wanted to create a resource that was free and available for everyone to use. Since piano tuning is so centered on what you hear, I couldn’t imagine trying to learn to tune from a book or written explanation without the audio examples of what you’re listening for! I’ve been very fortunate to have had such talented teachers and colleagues. I hope by sharing some of my experience it will be a benefit for others.

When I put this tutorial together, I had three kinds of people in mind:

  • People who are curious about piano tuning, including musicians who would like to try tuning their own piano. Note to musicians who may think tuning will come easily and naturally – I DARE you to give it a shot!
  • People who are interested in piano tuning as a profession, but would like to try it out first before investing a lot of money in professional study
  • Piano tuners who are open to and interested in learning other tuning methods

What you need to hear

People often assume I must have excellent hearing to be a piano tuner. I don’t think my hearing is any better than most, actually (ask my wife). On the other hand, I’ve seen a few claims that anyone can learn to tune a piano. I don’t believe this is true, either. As a piano tuner, you need to be able to recognize relationships between notes, and have a good sense of relative pitch. Learning to recognize the relationships of notes is something that can come with learning and practice. Not everyone has a good sense of relative pitch, so I don’t believe that anyone can tune a piano, at least by ear. Besides, what you can hear is only part of the skill needed to tune a piano (see my 50/50 rule of piano tuning).

People also assume that you need perfect pitch to tune pianos. This is not true either. All tuning is done relative to something already in tune, whether it is a tuning fork or another tuned note. Again, relative pitch is a must, but perfect pitch has nothing to do with it.

Bach Prelude

Why not provide a musical example of what my tuning sounds like, before you delve into my tuning method? I’ve included a recording of J.S. Bach’s Prelude #1 from The Well-Tempered Clavier recorded after I finished tuning the piano for this tutorial. I don’t claim to be much of a pianist; I only recorded this so people could hear an example of my tuning, not to be critiqued on my playing ability (so go easy on me). Mr. Bach wrote the most elaborate and beautiful tuning test ever created. It is a brutally honest reflection of the accuracy and consistency of the tuning, as well as a check on the evenness of the piano’s action regulation and voicing.

This is only a beginning

This tutorial is not intended to be a substitute for professional training. If you found this tutorial helpful and want to learn more about piano tuning, please go to the References and Advice & Opinions chapters. There you will find a number of suggestions and resources to help you continue learning.

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