I have a piano that is out of tune, and I know tuning pianos properly is complicated enough to have its own profession. But I think it would be interesting to have a go myself, for fun.

But is this even meaningful? Could I spend a day with some instructions and get a half-decent job done? Or would I just damage the piano or make it worse?

Good instructions (books or online) for learning how to tune a piano would also be appreciated.

  • 8
    This is something I've often wondered about. Is a mechanical/electronic tuner necessary or can it be done without one for people with perfect pitch? (Or perhaps with just a pitch fork, going off of intervals from there.) Apr 26, 2011 at 19:08
  • I think it would require perfect pitch; it would be too inefficient to refer to tools.
    – user28
    Apr 26, 2011 at 19:16
  • 4
    @Matthew Read I don't have perfect pitch, but what I find is people who don't have it seem to give it an overly-exaulted status. According to David Burge recognizing pitches should be like "recognizing colors in a rainbow". Now what you say is "red" (F#) might not be EXACTLY the frequency for F#, you may be of 1 Hz or 1.5 Hz.. Point is even if you had PP, its still a continuum of sound you're dealing with.. I would think even if you have PP you'd best use a tool, perhaps, if for nothing else but to make the job go easier/faster
    – bobobobo
    Jun 1, 2011 at 3:51
  • The $10 Dover book on Piano Tuning describes (among many other things) a very simple method of Tempered Fourths. I've applied it to guitar tuning with great success. You go through the circle of fourths (modulo an octave) tempering each one off the previous from a single reference note. Then you check if all the interval seems balanced, then take the rest of the notes off the good octave. I haven't actually done it, but the book is so well written that, 5 years later, I still think I could do a decent job of it. Nov 3, 2011 at 5:29
  • 1
    You don't need prefect pitch at all, as shown in the answers, just use the harmonics and listen to the overtones (term?) triggered by your current note. However, a professional tuner can create a certain timbre (warm, jazzy etc) for you by tuning just below or above the 400 cents. That said, trying it yourself is quite fun, albeit very time consuming)))
    – Abel
    Dec 27, 2016 at 2:58

11 Answers 11


I would encourage anyone who is interested to tune their own piano. My personal experience is... (I am an amateur in the true sense (Latin: "To Love"), have played piano for 8 years and probably tuned my own piano for 5 years (when I have time))

It probably took me about a week (off and on, I suppose about 6 hours) to completely retune my old piano from the ground up after having watched several hours of (slow, boring) instructional video. My tools were

  • An upright piano
  • A small tuner that performed poorly on the top and bottom octaves
  • An A fork (tap it to a hard surface and hold to your ear to hear a perfect pitch of the A note
  • The tuning wrench and the silencers
  • A good ear (I play piano by ear very well)

I actually never learned the cost to have a piano tuned, but I hear it is expensive, so I would say it is worth it. It is not that hard, although it takes a long time at first.

Here are some tips. (personal experience, upright piano)

  • You can avoid breaking a string by moving it down in pitch first, to check that you have the right string. Then move it up in pitch. If the note is very low, you may want to move it most the way one day and the rest a different day (likely a total waste, but my nerve would not let me do it all at once)
  • Make sure you are rotating and not pushing up and down. It is possible (depending on the piano I guess) to pull the bolt (lack of a better name) down instead of unwinding it. This is not good because it loosens it from its hole. (I have a brass backplate so it probably did not matter for me)
  • Most of the notes have 3 strings. It is simple to tune the first of the three notes with the tuner (after silencing the other two). But for me, the most effective way to tune the other two notes is by comparing them to the original. Either both at once or take turns, whatever you think, but if you follow the tuner (at least my tuner) you are bound to be slighly off. The most important thing is that the 3 strings all match perfectly to each other. (That perfectly to each other rule applies across the whole piano, but it is less important I suppose, still the better you tune the better)
  • If you do not want to use the tuner (perhaps you are outside its accurate range or there is noise or the string gives a difficult tone), you can compare notes using Thirds, Fifths or Octaves.
    • Third would be C,E together or E,G#, tune one until they both seem match tones and sound good.
    • Fifth is C,G (or B flat, F)
    • Octave is of course C and another C.
  • Consider using a Tuning App on your Android or iPhone if you have one. For Android I downloaded DaTuner free version. It is cheaper than purchasing a tuner, and much cheaper than getting a tuner that is as powerful as your phone. Generally, using an app on a general purpose device allows you to take advantage of more capable hardware that cannot be justified on single-purpose devices such as tuners, car navigators, music players, etc.

When tuning by ear, (this is hard to describe), when two notes are close, but not just right, there is like a small wild ring. Also, normally the tones of two notes seem to fluctuate like long waves with sub waves. The long waves are the easiest to measure I think. The long waves of the two notes should match up.

Let me know if you have any questions. This is all personal experience.

  • 19
    The phenomenon you describe in your last paragraph is called a beat. The speed of the wavering between the two close notes is the beat frequency.
    – user28
    Apr 26, 2011 at 23:27
  • 3
    I don't think tuning by a third is a good idea if you are aiming for an equal tempered tuning since I guess you're likely/risking to tune a just third (of frequency ratio 5/4) of 386 cents which is quite far off from an equal tempered third of 400 cents! Pure fifths (3/2 or 702 cents vs 700 cents of ET) might not be optimal either, especially if you stack them and add the error (ending up with the Pythagorean comma). (Further I believe the octaves are generally stretched a bit in the high and low registers of modernly well tuned pianos. But that might be beyond OP's needs or intents.) Sep 3, 2012 at 9:20
  • If someone decides not to use a tuner, then either (A), they need a tuning fork for all 12 notes, or (B) they need to tune in increments. I can understand someone wanting to only tune in 5ths, and not 3rds, and I expect there are other good options. Jan 3, 2014 at 13:31
  • 1
    Tuning in 5ths and octaves only does have an unfortunate side-effect, which is that if you make a mistake, it is perpetuated across the entire circle of 5ths. Tuning in 3rds gives you a chance to tune some notes anchored more closely to your A (or C if you use a C-fork) Jan 3, 2014 at 13:32
  • 3
    You can get a loud sound from a tuning fork by touching the ball end to the wood of the piano (while the fork is singing). Sep 20, 2014 at 16:54

As you already suggested, it takes time. I would say that to begin to be a good piano tuner takes at least 3 years and you still have plenty of room to improve.

It helps to have a good and discerning ear, but you do not need what people imprecisely call perfect pitch. You will need a good reference tuning fork or pro electronic tuning reference. I prefer using a C tuning fork but most people use a A.

One of the most difficult part for amateurs is that they usually have only one piano to tune, their own and that

  • they usually have been very influenced by this piano and its probable incorrect tuning evolving in time.

  • they do not know what they want in term of temperament

  • they are not aware of the numerous pitfalls of our human sense of sound.

  • they believe that all pianos are more or less the same as regard tuning

A thing you must do and that you must do often is to go in as many places as you can (piano sellers, friends, etc.) and hear different pianos to help develop a feeling of the very diverse compromise that a tuning is.

You need some basic tools :

  • a tuning wrench matching the model of your piano. Most upright pianos have the same kind. Choose one with a solid and long handle, it is more comfortable.

  • tools to mute or isolate strings (when tuning notes having 2 or 3 strings, also initially to have a whole central octave with only 1 active string by semitone)

and a lot of patience. The best would be to have two different pianos in the same room. One more correctly in tune than the other. Practice on one trying to match the tuning quality of the other.

EDIT: Further basic advices as several suggested I extend my answer.

There is a lot of easy things you can do as a beginner. Do not rush.

  • On a piano which is not too out of tune, concentrate on a few notes in the medium part of the piano (extreme low and the upper register can be tricky at first) that are the most out of tune or the most disagreeable sound. This is usually because the two or three strings of this note have been drifting from each other. First mute the (two) lateral strings on the target note and do the same to a note one octave apart. First tune the central string using the octaved note as a reference. Then unmute one of the lateral ones and match it with the central string, listening for beats, try to always finish your tuning by a smooth move pulling the string while playing (it is usually more stable). re-mute then match the other lateral one with the central one. Unmute all and check first as an isolated note and with the octave.

  • Most amateur pianos are not tuned sufficiently frequently, especially in their early years, that's a pity because it degrades their further tunability. If yours has drifted a lot from the reference tuning you want (usually A=442Hz or A=440Hz), do not try to re-tune it at once or in one move. First learn to improve its harmonization : improve individual notes, try to determine how the drift is spread other the piano (it is quite common that the medium has drifted more than the bass or the treble parts because of a more frequent usage). Look closely at the strings and tuning systems: are all strings and systems in good shape (no rust, regular winding, no excessive pinching, even outside length of tuning axes, etc.) ?

  • Good tuning is associated with good key subsystems : learn more about the mechanics, look at the hammers (are they moving silently, are they aligned with the strings angle, are they moving back in place quickly ?), at the felt (is it even from a key to another ? is it too marked by the strings ?).


As promised. One good (but not as complete as it claims) reference in English, now in paperback is :

Piano Servicing, Tuning, and Rebuilding: For the Professional, the Student, and the Hobbyist. Arthur Reblitz, 1997, 1-8795-1103-7

Beware, the same author made several books on piano construction, mechanical piano, history of piano-making.

There are tuning exercises and beat charts for a common tuning system.

  • 1
    I'm not interested in becoming a good piano tuner. I'm interested in tuning my piano. As such much of your answer shoots to the side of the goal. :) Apr 27, 2011 at 13:24
  • @Lennart Regebro : Agreed, sorry, I am not giving you a straight answer. As I have said, I am not sure you can learn to tune your piano without practicing with other pianos or having a correctly tuned piano as a reference. I think you can correct individual notes if you are careful, but retuning large parts of an instrument is something else altogether. I first learned myself by tuning several times over several months an old piano that I had inherited but I had already a piano that was recently tuned by a professional in the same location and I had a prior experience of tuning violins by ear.
    – ogerard
    May 3, 2011 at 6:13
  • In the video lessons I took, a C fork was suggested, and the old man gave the reason he uses an A. When someone is reviewing your work, they will say "How's your A" and it is less common to say "How's your C". Of course if you are on your own it does not matter, and it is personal preference. Dec 19, 2011 at 13:35

Well, this is kind of late, but, no, you can not learn to tune a piano in a day.

Why do I say this? Well, I am a Registered Piano Tuner with the Piano Technicians Guild and I've been teaching piano tuning for eight years.

You can however learn a lot in a 20 hour basic crash course. But how well your tuning will sound after depends on your ear and aptitude.

My student's success rates, after 20 hours of instruction and supervised practice, are roughly:

  • Have a very poor understanding: 30%

  • Can finish the tuning but the piano sounds horrible: 30%.

  • The final tuning is not great, but playable. Sounds like a piano that hasn't been tuned in a year: 30%

  • These students have an exceptional understanding of the concepts presented, and their final tunings are impressive: 10%

Potential of Students:

  • Percentage of students who can achieve professional results with practice: 25%

  • Percentage of students who could probably learn to tune their piano to their own standards: 50% (includes the previous 25%)

These statistics are subjective, from my experience teaching over 200 people to tune their own pianos.

You can break strings and round off the edges of the tuning pins with poor technique and poor tools.

You can drop the tuning hammer and chip the keys.

There is other damage that could be done just by being careless.

The Reblitz book is not great for tuning, IMHO.

Hope that answers your question.

  • 2
    You left out the percentage of attemptees who, like me, ended up bewildered, enervated, mumbling and scarred for life after trying to tune a piano. A half-tuned piano is a useless, dangerous thing like a half-felled tree or a semi appendectomy. You may have a golden ear, the patience of an eiderdown stuffer and the manual skills of a byzantine mosaic master, but if you don't have the aptitude you, like me, will suck to the greatest extent that things that suck do and the world will know of the botchery and butchery you have laid on an innocent piano. (Shudders) Aug 16, 2017 at 14:36
  • I would put you in the first 30%. You had a poor understanding. Anyway, these are percentages of my students. Your name doesn’t look familiar. I don’t think I’ve taught you. Jul 29, 2020 at 12:34
  • You are correct in every respect, and probably a few more. Jul 29, 2020 at 21:55

If you have good fine motor skills, can read and understand the section on tuning in the Reblitz book referred to by @ogerard, and learn to use a professional grade Electronic Tuning Device (ETD), I think your goal is entirely achievable.

But probably not in one day, maybe closer to a week, that's how long it took me to get to the first tuning I thought was "listenable," starting from scratch with an old upright I bought to learn on. I used the Tunelab software (in free trial mode).

Yes, you will make your piano's tuning worse, to start with, until you get good enough at it to satisfy yourself (or decide to call in a professional). Yes, you can cause serious damage to the pinblock of your piano if you are not careful, so I wouldn't recommend learning on your main piano, because the pinblock is a major component and can be expensive to repair.

Getting "good" at it takes some serious investment in time, energy, and practice. But for some people, it's worth it. After that first acceptable tuning, it took me a few months before I felt up to tuning my main piano, a small Chickering grand. A year after that, I passed the Piano Technicians Guild tuning exam, and now tune professionally. And my piano is always in better tune that it used to be before I headed down this path.

For decades, there has existed a raging debate in the piano technician community about aural vs. electronic tuning. I have learned and used both methods. My feeling is that it is easier and faster to learn to do an acceptable tuning electronically, than it is aurally. But that alone will not give you the understanding required to be able to tune professionally.


I had 2 pianos that needed tuning. I bought a tuner for my ipad and a cheap tuning wrench and read a lot of details on the internet. The YouTube videos showed me what a decent piano tuner does to learn the craft. It's an ear training exercise and can take hours to get a piano sounding optimal.

BUT, I didn't want to spend the money so I used the tuner and tuned from middle C up and octave using the tuner (a guitar tuner would work for this step). Then I tuned all the C's, C#'s, D's etc until the whole keyboard was intune with that original octave.

One of the pianos was a 100 year old upright and I was afraid to break strings so I just made it sound good with itself and did NOT try to pull it up to A=440. So, it made a terrible upright useable for my daughter to have a piano when she moved out.

I think the pianos we vastly improved by the effort since I can hear a piano that's out of tune. When I was done I didn't hear any notes that sounded like clinkers any more. I'm sure it would have not met the standards of a professional tuner but you get what you pay for in life and cheap is often good enough if you don't have a lot of savings like most of us.


I've been tuning pianos since I was 25. Since age 42 professionally. I'm almost 62 now and still getting better. You might think I'm just a slow learner...maybe so but piano tuning is something most will always be able to improve their skill no matter how long they tune. If you're serious in perfecting your skills, contact your local PTG chapter...most welcome visitors to their meetings...that's what I did 20 years ago and it is what jump started my professional piano technician career.


I've been tuning for over 20 years and I can still find room for improvement. When I had been tuning for about 3 or 5 years, one guild member told me that it takes about 10 years to get really good. Later, when I had reached that ten year mark, I thought back to what he had told me and I thought," yep, that's about right!" BTW, I'm much better than I was 10 years ago and I'll be better in 10 more years too. I've been keeping records since I've started tuning and I've got over 11,000 service records some with two or three pianos so I've probably tuned 15,000 pianos so far. After a while, you catch on but if you stick with it and learn from your PTG colleagues, you'll get there.

  • Are you the same person as "Rock" who posted a similar answer two years ago? Your identicon suggests you used the same e-mail address, so you could revive that account and edit the old answer if you wanted to. Sep 12, 2019 at 4:49
  • Does improvement mean that you can achieve an acceptable tuning faster, or that the tuning itself is closer to perfect, or both? Feb 10, 2020 at 15:13

It depends on how you choose to learn. If you choose an inefficient method, you will never learn how to tune a piano well.

Current methods to learn piano tuning vary drastically in their effectiveness. Some people still recommend books that are over 100 years old to teach tuning.

I am very concerned with creating the best methods that reduce the piano tuning learning curve.

Mark Cerisano, RPT, B.Sc.(Mech.Eng.), Dip.Ed.(Music) howtotunepianos.com


I would suggest a different approach, than the most guys here.

If your piano sounds horrible, go for it, you won't make it worse.

There is plenty of software tuner that will guide you. It uses mobile phone microphone that can listen to the whole piano, key by key, and than compute how it should be tuned.

At that point a monkey could tune a piano.

It might not be perfect, but for a person who let this piano to be detuned like that I will most likely not be noticeable. For those who will hear the difference, you just need to dig deeper and fine-tune your work.

Guys seriously, piano is a simple machine, its not a car or rocket science. If you don't have both hands left (hope this idiom translates well), than you absolutely CAN do it. And you absolutely should.

  • You can very easily make a very expensive break in your piano
    – Neil Meyer
    Feb 11, 2020 at 15:51
  • @NeilMeyer says someone who basically posted (few answers up) that only blind persons could tune a piano. Like saying that only Gay people will dress you good. I do understand the craftmanship. But this whole thread is overhyping the procedure so guys like you could keep their work. People will still search for your service even if you admit, that a handy person doesn't need you. Why? Because people are lazy and don't want to learn a thing. But those who do, absolutely should! If you don't understand me, then you are part of the problem.
    – Marakoss
    Feb 12, 2020 at 13:42
  • It's entirely possible to learn, but you're really trivializing lever technique. It's just not that easy to get the tuning pin and string to go where you want it to. You gotta develop muscle memory for it -- getting through all 200+ strings the first several times is a pretty exhausting experience. Apr 25, 2020 at 14:21
  • Re: "seriously, piano is a simple machine, its not a car" Actually a piano has more parts than a car. Anybody who has ever done major work on their own car knows that it takes a significant investment of time and effort, and that it's worth it to use the right tools. Fixing a car isn't rocket science...it's mostly just turning nuts and bolts; yet most people go to mechanics. It's similar for piano work.
    – Adjwilley
    May 22, 2023 at 2:57

Software can NOT tune clean unisons and have pitches stay. 150 lbs of tension on a steel pin in a flexible wood hole means the pin does not want to stay put friction at the v-bar means the string doesn’t behave nicely (force on the hammer does NOT equal a consistent change in pitch).

Pianos are not computers. They are organic and behave as such. Would you like to be raised by a computer? I think not. That is how the piano behaves when someone with no experience tries to tune a piano with software and no sense. Unisons all out of whack and sounding like salon piano after the first Firte five played.


Piano tuning is usually done by people with a visual impairment, often the blind. There is actually a tradeschool in Worcester that specifically teaches piano tuning to the blind. Having a good ear is but one part of it, you also need to be a first class woodsmith, have a good general music and piano knowledge and have the capabilities to run a workshop.

It is not something you do on a whim. It takes years of very specialist training to do it well and I'm not all that convinced a visually abled person is going to be able to excel at it. If you have perfect pitch, are excellent with your hands then you could try and contact a school in your area, but you may find this trade is specifically geared towards educating people who would be otherwise unemployable

  • This is simply untrue. The vast majority of piano technicians today do not have vision impairment. It is true that piano tuning was historically one of the better career options if you were blind, but then that has changed. Thanks to modern technology a lot more options have opened up. See for ex. this article about one of the most famous schools for the blind closing: spokesman.com/stories/2017/mar/10/… Apr 25, 2020 at 14:33
  • This is what happens when people answer these questions by guessing, with absolutely zero experience whatsoever in the field. 1) Piano tuning is NOT usually done by people with a visual impairment. I am a registered piano technician and I routinely go to the PTG convention for piano technicians. I have only met one blind piano technician there although i Jul 30, 2020 at 15:08
  • 2) "If you have perfect pitch.." You do not need perfect pitch. In fact, we occasionally have to tune pianos "under" pitch. Jul 30, 2020 at 15:21
  • 3) "contact a school in your area" There are virtually no schools left. Many have gone out of business. The chance that anyone could find a school in their area is virtually zero. Jul 30, 2020 at 15:22
  • 4) "you may find this trade is specifically geared towards educating people who would be otherwise unemployable". I am offended. Jul 30, 2020 at 15:22

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