This website http://piano.detwiler.us/ says to tune one string using the chromatic tuner, then tune the remaining one or two strings by ear, and tune octaves by ear.

Why should this be done? If my pitch recognition is quite poor, wouldn't it be more accurate to use the chromatic tuner?

3 Answers 3


Tuning a piano has nothing to do with "pitch recognition". The thing you have to learn is how to count the "beats" between notes that are not quite in tune.

The OP's web page explains why it should be done "by ear" in Section 3 (the same reason as user44437 gave).

The web page doesn't seem to have a date, but it is behind the times. Modern electronic tuners intended for piano tuning can measure the amount of inharmonicity for the particular piano you are tuning, and give you the correct tuning for every one of the 88 notes. Top-of-the range models can store the measured inharmonicity for a many different pianos, to save a professional tuner the time it would take to re-measure it each time the pianos are tuned. A "general purpose" tuner, like the ones mentioned on the web site, doesn't do this.


Look up "disharmonicity". The tuner's concept of octaves is more accurate than your hearing, but the manner in which it is more accurate does not correspond to how people actually hear octaves from the not-quite harmonic action of piano strings, in particular thicker ones.

So pianos (like grand pianos) with longer and consequently thinner strings (given the same pitch) need less of a correction than upright ones.

  • 1
    Also the asker should look up "stretch tuning". Or this answer should be expanded to include more details about both topics. Sep 29, 2017 at 13:41
  • @ToddWilcox Stretch tuning is explained on the web page the OP linked! A complete description of how to tune a piano "by ear" is much too long for a SE answer - and it also needs some supervised practical training, unless you want to risk wrecking the piano but not knowing what you did wrong to wreck it. I once saw a good series of YouTube videos on the practical details that played for more than an hour in total - but I don't have the enthusiasm to search for them again, and IIRC they didn't explain the "theory" in much depth.
    – user19146
    Sep 29, 2017 at 14:16

The recommendation from the website referenced by the orignal post is generally good on unisons, for at least a couple of reasons:

  • When a unison is "close" it becomes a matter of discerning the quality of the sound rather than counting beats. This is difficult to do by simply comparing frequencies on a device because a string is not an electronic oscillator, it typically has an "envelope" of sound which can be best compared by ear.

  • Sometimes a string will have a "false beat" wherein two (or more!) notes in close frequency proximity are produced by one string. When this happens, it is difficult to know "where" to tune it electronically. The best compromise with the other strings is best determined by ear.

Some professional tuners have reported success with various software packages in tuning each string to a reference and ending up with good unisons. I have tried this with mixed results. I find that focusing on a number and its accuracy diverts attention from the quality of the sound. I will never be perfectly accurate, so how close reaches my goal? I've found I can't tell unless I'm listening, so I always go back to that.

For octaves the above comments apply, and then inharmonicity comes into the equation as others have answered here. Until relatvely recently, "by ear" was the only way to deal with this as well as with the constraints imposed by equal temperament. A chromatic tuner will not be able to accomplish this alone, and that is where the more sophisticated devices and programs come in.

I believe the answer to your second question is "perhaps," depending on how much skill you develop in the aforementioned tasks, and what level of tuning quality you are going for. It may be the case that following those instructions will result in a tuning that is "good enough," and you won't know until you try.

If you're just learning tuning, instead of a chromatic tuner try TuneLab. It's still available in free trial-mode in its older versions and on some devices and operating systems.

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