This low-bandwidth version is provided as a courtesy to our Wikipedia visitors.
Click here for the illustrated version of How to Tune Your Piano Yourself

Piano tuning is mechanically simple but difficult to master

Clear explanations of piano tuning for the beginner are hard to find. When I wanted to learn how to tune my piano, most sources insisted that I should not try, or hid the basics in a mountain of detail, or insisted I buy a book. So I taught myself instead. After research and trying it, I developed the simplified method on this site which uses three tools: mutes, electronic tuner and a tuning wrench.

Reality Check: Why tuners tell you not to try piano tuning

While you can learn the basic mechanics of tuning piano strings quickly, good results involves more than turning pins. Good piano tuning technique is learned over time. Professional piano tuners develop subtle skills through years of practice. A poorly handled tuning can damage a piano.

This page does not replace the professional piano tuner. The simplified approach here is for the curious piano owner, or those who want to touch up between professional tunings, or perhaps performers who need an emergency adjustment. I have even heard from people who had a piano so neglected that a professional piano tuner refused to tune it. This method might at least make it playable once more. But if you have something precious, a pro will do a better job. Even if you are serious about tuning and intend to learn more, the basic approach given here will be a good start, and make more in depth sources manke more sense.

The piano is a large and complex instrument. It can be quite a task to get all the keys in tune, and this gets worse the longer the piano has not been tuned. A piano that has been left untuned for a long time may not hold tune with a standard tuning and may need a "pitch-raise" (an extended tuning regimen requiring several passes tuning the entire piano until everything will finally stay in tune.) Beyond that, voicing and regulating the action may be required to restore the best tone. Some pianos will require repairs, like misaligned hammers or loose pins, which are beyond the scope of this page (though we do have some resources we can recommend.)

Know the risks. Carelessness or inexperience can break strings, loosen or bend pins or cause other damage. Too many loose pins, for example, may render the piano practically un-tunable and too expensive to repair.

Read this entire tutorial! I occasionally receive remarks from professional tuners critical of this web site. Those remarks are welcome; I use them to improve the website, though sometimes it is clear that they have dismissed the site without reading it completely. I also receive positive comments from professionals who understand my goals. (Check our Comments section). Please read the entire website carefully to be certain you understand the details, risks and limitations of this simplified procedure.

This author is not a professional piano tuner; I was just willing to try piano tuning myself. I have an older student-quality piano, not a priceless Steinway. I don't think I'd risk anything expensive or precious. Still, I did it myself, and I am happy with the results. I think other piano owners can do the same. With disclaimers out of the way, let's begin.

This low-bandwidth, no-picture text version is provided as a courtesy to our Wikipedia visitors.
Click here for the illustrated version of How to Tune Your Piano Yourself

Tuning Tools

You will need some special piano tuning tools.

I used the following piano tuning tools, purchased from piano tool suppliers on the internet. I do not recommend homemade workarounds like socket wrenches or foam chunks. Get the right tools for the job. You will have better results, less frustration, and be less likely to damage the piano. A basic set of good quality tools will cost less than a single professional tuning.

Tuning Mutes

These rubber wedges are only a dollar or two each. Assorted sizes come in handy. I use the ones with a wire handle most often. You'll need at least two rubber wedge mutes to get started. Several other kinds of mutes are available for muting whole ranges of strings and muting just the middle of three strings. You may find these useful as you gain skill. (A reader offers this tip about wedges for those tempted to save money here: "You cannot mute the strings with your fingers, even if you have three hands. The heat from your fingertips will make the string expand, it will sound flat, so you'll tighten it, and it'll go sharp as soon as it cools!")

Also refered to as a tuning hammer or wrench. The tuning lever is specially designed for piano pins. This is the most expensive and the most important tool you'll need. It has a special "star" socket shape that is designed to fit piano pins at multiple angles for the best control. The standard pin size in America requires a #2 tuning lever socket.

There many levers to choose from at In order to feel the subtle motions and maintain absolute control, you need a solid tool with no wiggle in the handle and a secure fit to the pin. Inferior tools may fit the pin poorly, slip, bind, mar the pin or break it outright. In piano tools, the more expensive, the higher the quality. $20 bargain hammers are, in a word, useless. Medium-quality models like that pictured have interchangeable head for even interchangeable tips in case you run into an odd pin size or encounter a cabinet configuration where a shorter or longer head is better. NOTE: If you purchase a lever with interchangeable tips, be certain to purchase a tip wrench as well to properly tighten the tip. If you do not use a tip wrench, the tip is likely to unscrew while attempting to turn a pin. The wrench pictured in this tutorial has an interchangeable head with a fixed tip. The highest quality professional levers have an extendable neck for the most flexible positioning, for example this Schaff rosewood-handled model.

Do not even think about a crescent or socket wrench. I tried it; it was a disaster. It slipped off the pin, tended to damage the squared corners of the pins, had too much wiggle for a good feel and was too short to control the turn. Do not risk damaging, bending or loosening pins. Buy a proper tuning lever!

Electronic Chromatic Tuner

I use a Korg CA-40 Large Display Auto Chromatic Tuner >. This little fellow is KEY (no pun intended) to making this process as painless as possible. I tried using a tuning fork at first, but it was too difficult. The electronic tuner makes it much easier and faster. It is around $25 shipped from It "hears" the tone you are close too, and automatically adjusts the display to match without having to press more buttons. It will also play all the tones in the middle octave. >

There are many brands and styles of chromatic tuners. The very best electronic piano tuners, referred to as "Electronic Tuning Devices" or ETDs by pros, are like the Peterson AutoStrobe 490ST Piano Stretch Tuner These are $500 to $1800 or more. Software piano tuning programs for Windows or Mac provide everything from basic guitar tuners through full professional piano ETDs; prices range from freeware to $1900 for the gold standard Reyburn CyberTuner. If you have an iPod touch or iPhone, there are several tuning apps. Some free, but some of the paid ones are very sophisticated versions of the big packages and cost hundreds of dollars. Personally, I prefer a simple dedicated tuning device to fussing with a software program, at least at my level. For the do-it-yourself method in this tutorial, any chromatic tuner in the Korg line will work. NOTE: Most guitar-only tuners will not work because they recognize fewer notes than a full chromatic tuner.

The best value all-around handheld tuner short of a professional piano tuning device is the Korg OT-120 Wide 8 Octave Chromatic Orchestral Tuner. It's primary advantage for piano tuning is that it has a physical needle, rather than an LCD digital emulated needle. An actual needle is more responsive, less "jumpy." (It also "hears" a wider range of octaves, but that's not as important with the way we'll be tuning.) It has many other features that make it an excellent tuner for about any instrument.

A useful add-on for Korg tuners is the Korg CM-100L Clip On Contact Microphone For Tuners. This is a microphone on a wired clip with which you can get very close to the string you are tuning. Electronic tuners can be a bit fussy about "hearing" the note you are working on, and can pick up other sounds in the room. The closer you can get the unit to the string thing better, and the tuning clip makes this a lot easier. Clip it onto the metal framework near the octave you'll be tuning (not to the strings.) I got by without it at first, but it is worth the few extra dollars. The single model will work on any Korg chromatic tuner.

Additional tools

You may need a screwdriver to remove some of the cabinetry for the best access. You will also want a light source; you must see clearly what pin goes to what string.

Where to Buy Piano Tuning Tools

I recommend for most of the piano tuning equipment described in this tutorial. They are professionals who can assist you with questions about the proper tools for your particular piano. They sell kits as well as the individual items. I got the hammer and wedges in an "apprentice piano tuning kit." You could skip the "kit" and just buy the mutes and the hammer separately. I didn't end up using some of the items in the kit, especially the tuning forks.

Korg tuners are available inexpensively from . Vendors on Amazon also sell piano tuning tools; look for items from NewOctave. Remember to shop for quality over price.

This low-bandwidth, no-picture text version is provided as a courtesy to our Wikipedia visitors.
Click here for the illustrated version of How to Tune Your Piano Yourself

Tuning Procedure

Before you begin, clear the area of other humans. Turn off all other sources of sound, especially things that "hum." Lock the doors. Prop the piano wide open. You may need to remove some of the cabinet members; they are designed to be easily removed with no more than a screwdriver. Position your light source.

Tuning Step 1: Tune a single string from a single note in the middle octave.

(Middle C on up to C'). Each piano key strikes one to three strings. Pick one string to tune at a time; if there are three strings, start with the middle. Carefully find the pin that turns the string you want to tune. Stick the rubber wedges in to stop the vibration of the other one or two strings in the set. While repeatedly striking the piano key FIRMLY, turn the pin with the tuning lever VERY SLIGHTLY until the electronic tuner shows that it's in tune. The Korg CA-40 automatically detects the note you are trying to reach. If you are really off, it may show the wrong note, so make sure you know what you are looking for. Alternatively, the CA-40 can also play the tone for you to match by ear. More about matching by ear in Step 2.

Tips about this process:

Tuning Step 2: Match the remaining strings in the note to the one first tuned.

After the first string is tuned, it's time to match the other string or two in the set to the first; this is called "tuning the unisions." Move the wedges so that the first, tuned string and a second string are free, but the third, if present, is still dampened by a wedge. Ignore the tuner; tune the unisons by ear. Put your wrench on the second string's pin. While repeatedly striking the key hard, turn the second pin until you can hear no more "beats"--that is, it sounds like one note, not two in disharmony. Repeat for the third string if necessary, with all wedges removed.

Alternatively, you could tune all the strings in a key's set with the electronic tuner, but that's not as easy as you might think. Getting that little indicator to line up just right for every string becomes tedious fast. Using your ear to tune the strings to each other is faster and will sound better.

Repeat steps 1 and 2 for each key in the middle octave. When you have completed this first octave, you have "set the temperament." In Step 3, you will use this first octave as your reference for the rest of the piano.

Tuning Step 3: Use the first octave to tune the others by ear.

Do not use the electronic tuner. Tune the octaves above and below the middle by ear, matching them to the middle octave, e.g, A to A', B to B', etc. Tune one string in the note at a time (muting the others)--this time comparing it to the corresponding note in the middle octave rather than the electronic tuner. Then tune the other string(s) within the note to the first as described above. Repeat for all octaves, always using the nearest tuned octave to tune the next octave above or below. There you are--a tuned piano!

Why not use the Korg tuner to tune everything?

Finer Points of Tuning

Common Questions

How long will this take? That's extremely variable. Make of the piano, how badly out of tune it is, how good your ear is, etc. The first time you do it, it may take an hour to get through that first octave. Once you get the hang of it, I estimate that a careful tuning takes about 20 minutes an octave. As for a not-so-careful tune up, I have found that now I know my way around my particular piano, I can whip out the old hammer for a touch-up quite quickly--just a minute or two a note.

How do you keep a piano from getting out of tune? The primary strategy is to keep the environmental conditions as consistent as possible. Minimize changes in temperature and humidity; avoid placement near sunlight, windows, heating ducts, etc. After that, the best way to keep your piano in tune is to (surprise!) tune it. Once the piano is in tune, it is easier to keep it in tune with touch-ups and regularly-scheduled tunings. Don't wait until you can't stand the sound anymore. The more strings left untuned, the more the tension changes on the soundboard, causing a cascade effect where more and more strings to go out of tune.

What is missing in this piano tuning technique that a professional tuner would do? The main part of the piano tuning procedure this method short-cuts is tuning note-to-note within an octave, that is, using A to tune C, for example. This requires counting "beats," that is the loud points in the vibrations that two dissonant strings make. (Remember that when tuning the two strings of a single note, for example, you match them so the beats disappear entirely.) In addition, a professional will know how to stretch the octaves for the best sound. A professional will also bring experience, and will be less likely cause damage such as loosening pins or breaking strings. They may also make repairs. And, of course, they will be faster and better.

This low-bandwidth, no-picture text version is provided as a courtesy to our Wikipedia visitors.
Click here for the illustrated version of How to Tune Your Piano Yourself

What To Do Next

More Tuning Tools

A variety of mutes is probably the next thing to buy after the hammer, tuner, and a few wedge mutes. The temperament strip is a long strip of felt with which you can mute many strings at once by weaving it among the strings. Push it between the strings in several places with a screwdriver. It keeps other strings from sympathetically vibrating; the vibrations can make it difficult for your ear to isolate strings you are trying to tune. Professional piano tuners consider it essential; it often comes in basic kits. The long mute pictured in the kit is a "treble mute," which is used to mute the middle string of a triad. If you would like to try repairs, you'll need additional tools, such as this basic regulation tool kit. also sells piano repair parts and accessories. They have great forums, too!

Piano Tuning Books & Links

This page presents an effective but very simplified approach to piano tuning. There is much more to learn. As I say in my introduction, it's hard to find good explanations for the beginner; if you understand what I have presented first, you'll find these other sources easier to follow. Here are several books that are among the most highly regarded resources in the field.

Piano Servicing, Tuning, and Rebuilding, Second Edition : for the Professional, the Student, and the Hobbyist by Arthur A. Reblitz. The "bible" of introductory tuning texts. "All the information essential to the art of restoring and maintaining a piano; from minor repairs and cleaning to major tuning and complete restoration techniques." It has excellent reviews. Browse inside the book and read the reviews at Amazon.

Piano Tuning: A Simple and Accurate Method for Amateurs by J. Cree Fischer. Here's a classic piano tuning text, recommended to me by a reader of this page. Written in 1907, so some of the information is outmoded (particularly the square piano and math sections), but otherwise piano tuning has not changed. His technique of aural tuning involves tuning the fifths as a way to avoid counting beats. Browse inside the book and read the reviews at Amazon. It's out of copyright, and as such is also available free online if you want to print it yourself.

The Piano Book: Buying & Owning a New or Used Piano by Larry Fine. Not really a tuning book, but rather an excellent reference for the instrument in general. If you care enough about your piano to tune it, you really should learn as much as you can about owning it first.

There are plenty of other choices. Here's a list of more Piano Tuning books.

Piano Tuning Links

For more questions and answers about piano tuning, see our own Piano Tuning FAQ.

Chuan C. Chang's book.
Chapter 1 teaches a method for learning to play the piano, but Chapter 2 is about tuning.

McCullough Tuning Tutorial
More details on tuning by ear.

David Anderson's web site
Dave is a professional piano tuner who has posted some good background info on tuning.

Precison Strobe's Tuning Page
All the technical details behind piano tuning. Not for the faint of heart!

More Select Piano Links
More links to content-rich websites with piano information for the do-it-yourself piano owner and player, gathered and reviewed by me.

Tuning Your Piano Pictorial
An alternative version of this site, with more pictures of the process.

The Chromatic Tuner Guide
While an electronic tuner seems like a straightforward device, you'd be amazed at what they can do. A comprehensive guide to electronic tuners.

Do you find this tutorial useful, have a comment or a suggestion? Contact us!

This low-bandwidth, no-picture text version is provided as a courtesy to our Wikipedia visitors.
Click here for the illustrated version of How to Tune Your Piano Yourself