Can you tune your piano with your phone? The simple answer to this question is yes, you can! What do I mean by “tuning your piano with your phone”? We’ve come to such an age where we carry super computers in our pockets, and there is remarkable software that can aid you in tuning your piano.
When I was a child, if a tuner would come to tune my father’s piano with a strobe tuner (which was the technology of the time) it was an indication of an incompetent tuner since virtually no tuner could get a piano in tune utilizing just a strobe tuner. Was it because the strobe tuner wasn’t accurate enough? It’s true that the digital technology of today is far more accurate. The technology that is offered today is even more accurate than human hearing!
But there is more to it. To get a piano to sound right, it is not a simple matter of having the piano perfectly in tune. There is a certain amount of artistry that goes into tuning a piano. There are two reasons for this. The first has to do with the deficiencies inherent with pianos. The smaller a piano is, the less fundamental tone you have and the more overtones are present. Those are higher pitches contained within each note of the piano. The overtones must blend with the fundamental tones of higher notes on the piano. There are different formulas for getting a sweet tone out of a piano This is dependent on a piano’s size and its scale design. A trained technician with experience can achieve a sweet sound throughout all registers. The other limitation is that human hearing is not perfect. When you get higher up in pitch, you actually start to hear pitches flat. So, a piano’s tuning must be stretched so that octaves are not exactly 2 to 1 mathematical relationships which is what octaves are. They are ever so slightly bigger!
Strobe tuners and technologies from year’s past did not account for any of these things. The technology today is designed to compensate for these factors. There are several free programs you can use that can assist you in tuning your piano or checking the tuning on your piano. A popular one I like to use is an app called Panotuner.
I use it to set the temperament (all the notes in one octave in the middle of the keyboard) when tuning my harpsichord as well as my fortepiano. However, it doesn’t have the sophisticated features that you really need to tune a piano without utilizing your ears.
There are two programs that are used by professional piano tuners and technicians. One is called Tune Lab and the other one is Cyber Tuner. These are available for your phone or computer. You may ask yourself, how do these technologies account for deficiencies in pianos and human hearing? Think of it this way. In the medical community, we are coming to a point where there will be super intelligent robotic doctors. This is a technology in its infancy. The combined knowledge of tens of thousands of doctor are rolled into a machine that can make diagnosis’ much better than any one doctor could. While this AI technology is evolving in the medical profession, it is already highly evolved in the piano tuning realm. The software programs include the input from thousands of piano tuners as well as many different pianos and the correct mathematics in order to get pianos to sound right. For example, if you have a piano that is low in pitch, it is really important to stretch the tuning so that it can accommodate the added stress and tension on the bridge and soundboard which changes the tuning of previously tuned sections of the piano as you are tuning!
On these software programs, typically, you play all the A’s on the piano first, and it will calibrate how much to stretch the tuning so that by the time you are done tuning, the piano will be in tune. Otherwise, you may have to tune the piano twice – once to raise the pitch and a second time for a fine tuning. There are basic tools you need in order to tune a piano besides software. You need a tuning hammer and wedges as well as felt strips that are relatively inexpensive. Here is something vitally important to understand. Any competent piano tuner will get a piano in tune. Only a great tuner can get a piano to hold its tuning for any reasonable amount of time. If I were to play massive works of Prokofiev and Liszt for example just after a piano has been tuned, if it had been tuned by a novice, it may sound good initially, but the tuning would go out very quickly. A concert level tuner knows how to set the pins and strings so that it can sustain hard blows and still maintain pitch.
So yes, you can tune a piano using your phone. However, it takes years of experience tuning hundreds of pianos in order to be able to tune a piano to hold well over a reasonable amount of time. I hope this article has been helpful for you. You are welcome to send your questions which may appear in future articles and videos to Robert@LivingPianos.com.