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We haven't had our piano† tuned in a a few years (since before the pandemic began), and I have a tuning scheduled soon.

One thing I have wondered about when having the piano tuned in the past is how to check the piano technician's work relatively quickly before I pay them and send them on their way. I have hired the same company we have used before but it won't be the same technician. I don't expect they'll be "cheating" outright, but I know everyone makes mistakes and oversights.

I'm capable of tuning myself‡ so I know how to thoroughly check, but it seems unkind to spend a great deal of time exhaustively verifying the entire job.

So: I usually play a chromatic scale across the keyboard to check the unisons and just play around a little bit, in different octaves, and in distant keys with a mixture of close and wide voicing, etc.

Are there other things that could serve as a more effective "acceptance test" to catch common errors or omissions? Should I check each octave? Each fifth, to see that beat frequency gradually increases?


† The piano is an 18-year old Schimmel 120i Upright in daily casual use, bought new and generally well maintained. (Action reconditioned and regulated in 2014.) We are located near Chicago, and that means frequent, wide outdoor temperature & humidity variations occur. However, the piano is and always has been in a conditioned space with central humidification used during heating season. Since the last tuning, the piano has been moved (about 15'/5m horizontally) to a different room in the house. (It used to be against an exterior wall, but now is in the middle of a room.)

‡ Although this particular piano has always been tuned and serviced by professionals, I taught myself to tune by ear (with proper tools and a tuning fork pitch reference) as a university engineering student (late 1980s) because the ones in the student practice rooms were not well maintained. I also regularly tuned my prior piano (a P.A. Starck spinet, inherited in 1993 from my grandmother that my father and aunts had learned on in their childhood.)

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  • If the piano needed tuning, the improvement should be obvious when you play any piece you’re well familiar with. Whatever you heard that made you call the tuner in the first place should be better when the tuner is done. If you can be around when the tuning is being done, you can learn to hear when they know what they are doing or not - even if you don’t know how to tune yourself Apr 18, 2022 at 16:16
  • @ToddWilcox I know the tuning is needed, and I fully expect the obvious rough spots to be gone. I'm more interested in finding anything less obvious.
    – Theodore
    Apr 18, 2022 at 16:40
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    And you might want to be a little apologetic about "checking", since the professional piano tuners/technicians I know tend to be a little touchy about people doubting their work... which, as I gather you understand, is not as easy as some people might imagine. :) Apr 18, 2022 at 23:09

2 Answers 2

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Play a chromatic scale and a few chords. If anything is grossly wrong, you’ll both spot it.

But the real test comes in a week’s time. Has the tuning held? If not, it might be because of a poorly skilled tuner - but it might be that the piano is incapable, or because of temperature/humidity changes. Either way, a discussion with the tuner is in order.

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  • @Theodore the only thing I would add to this answer is that you might consider asking someone else whose judgment you trust better than your own -- such as a professional pianist or piano teacher -- to evaluate the piano. But if you've taught yourself to tune pianos this might not be as fruitful for you as it would be for a novice.
    – phoog
    Apr 20, 2022 at 21:54
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Run chromatic octaves, fifths, and fourths, and make sure they sound smooth and consistent. Play a bit of a piece you know as a sanity check. I wouldn't do anything much longer than that...from the tuner's perspective it can be a bit annoying to stand there awkwardly for 10 minutes wondering when the client is going to end their recital and let you go to your next appointment. (Yes, this happens to me.)

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