This piano tuning blog is a companion to our How to Tune a Piano Yourself tutorial. In this blog we expand on the tutorial with new information and perspectives on do-it-yourself piano tuning. If it is your first time here, visit the tutorial first.
Fischer Method of Piano Tuning
The book, Piano Tuning - A Simple and Accurate Method for Amateurs is available in paper or Kindle from Amazon as well as many places free online. Many people first exploring tuning stumble across it and are attracted by the price. Having been written a hundred years ago, it can be difficult to follow. And, like most tuning explanations, the amateur easily finds himself lost in detail. This post outlines his basic approach to setting the temperament, the fundamental first stage of piano tuning. See Fischer's book for the full explanation of his method--but also see our own Piano Tuning Tutorial for a simple explanation of the other mechanics of the process.
Before we begin, understand that Fischer's method is not often used by professionals these days. Fischer relies on tuning fifths to set the temperament. In equal temperament a fifth is tuned to be "slightly flat" from a pure beatless match. There is a beat count, but it is very hard to perceive for an inexperienced tuner; it becomes a judgment call an inexperienced tuner is unlikely to get correct consistently. Furthermore, by only tuning fifths, you do not have the corrections that come with checking thirds and other intervals--and these errors magnify as you tune the rest of the piano. In Fischer's defense, he does discuss other intervals as a check, but they are not emphasized in the main procedure. Even so, Fischer is among the simplest aural methods, which makes it one place to start for an amateur.
Something else that has changed over the years is that A=440 Hz is today the customary reference note for aural tuning, whereas Fischer uses middle C=261.626 Hz. If you want to use A, center the two temperament octaves around A above middle C instead of middle C, and tune fifths and octaves with respect to that. However, you will need to adjust the pattern given in the table below to the new notes.
Note the a fifth is always determined by counting the fifth key up the scale from the starting key.
- Place the temperament strip to mute the outside strings of the two octaves above and below middle C
- Tune middle C to a tuning fork to be beatless.
- Tune the C above middle C and the C below middle C to middle C to be beatless.
- Tune lower G to middle C beatless, then flatten slightly (0.7 beats per second, or 3 beats per 5 seconds)
- This is a "fifth," which can be naturally beatless, but in equal temperament needs to be flattened a bit.
- Tune the upper G to the lower G, beatless.
- Tune the high D to the upper G slightly flat, about 2 cents.
- Tune high D to low D (octave), beatless.
- Tune low A to low D (fifth), slightly flat.
- Tune low A to high A octave, beatless.
- Tune the rest in the same pattern: fifth-->octave-->fifth-->octave. See the table below.
- The fifth should always be counting up from the reference note.
- The higher you are in the temperament, the more the fifths should be flattened (as in the more vibrations per second). To judge the appropriate amount of flatness is the critical element of aural tuning.
- The final test is the last fifth, low F to middle C. If you have everything right, this interval will already be tuned to the proper fifth (with some beating, but still pleasant.) If not go back to find the error.
- Remove the temperament strip and tune the unisons of the temperament.
- Tune the remaining notes by octaves to the corresponding temperament.
|Fischer Tuning Method: Setting Temperament|
After tuning middle C to a fork (C261.626 Hz), and the high and low Cs to middle C, then proceed as follows. "1" refers to the lower octave, "2" to the higher.
Great post, You should try elegantune from http://elegantune.com, which is the best chromatic tuner I found.
Tunelab is great. Robert Scott has just released a version for Android.
Is it just me, or are points 7 and 9 confusing or incorrect?
Scott replies: I am not certain what you find confusing about this. Could you elaborate?
7. Tune high D to low D (octave), beatless.
8. Tune low A to low D (fifth), slightly flat.
9. Tune low A to high A (octave), beatless.
Your appraisal of the Fischer book and method is very good. However, I feel compelled to point out an error that might cause confusion. You mention tuning frequencies in MHz (megaHerz) whereas they are actually in the Hz (Herz)range. For instance, the common tuning standard is A=440 Hz. Frequencies in the megaHerz range are, of course, well beyond the range of human hearing.
Registered Piano Technician
Member, Piano Technicians Guild
Vermont Piano Restorations
Scott replies: Thanks for the feedback. I have fixed the typo.
Your site has been very helpful. I've studied tuning off and on for a few years and have experienced great difficulty in "counting" interval beats as required by modern aural tuning temperaments. I recently tried a Korg tuner you recommended but wasn't entirely happy with the more or less "chromatic" result. I tried this Fischer method the other day and was pleasantly surprised at the improvement in overall tone and playability. With a little more practice I think it will work out well enough for general tuning. Of course, an $1800 Veritune device is still on my wish list, which calculates the inharmonicity of all 88 notes and incorporates the necessary stretch - no guesswork required!
Your site is well-designed and easy to use. Thanks again for providing this and other helpful info!
Scott replies: Thanks for the comment. Tuning with the Korg is simple, but there is a trade-off as you have discovered. For a less expensive professional tuning solution, consider TuneLab piano tuning software. The link goes to the iTunes version, but they have versions for several platforms. It's the least expensive option good enough for professionals.