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Aural pitch-raise advice
#1916032 06/19/12 11:19 PM
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Hi everyone,
Hope you are having a great summer. This being national pitch-raise week and all (according to Loren's post who I didn't want to hijack), prompted me to ask about some advice on aural pitch-raises.

I recently encountered a spinet that was around 200 cents flat. It was bought for a $100 at a yard sale. All the keys, dampers and pedals work, so it was actually a good deal for a family piano to be used by one kid taking beginning piano lessons. It just had not been tuned in many years.

Having this information, I didn't quite know how to leave the piano on the first visit. When I started, you would play and A and hear a G. So, after 2 hours (which is all the time I had to work with before having to leave for the day) I was able to get the piano in tune with itself, but it was still 100 cents flat (so now you play an A and you get an Ab).

Obviously this piano will not be used in concert performance or playing accompaniment to a public violin recital, so I left it in tune, but flat, and said that I would have to make another visit.

My questions are:
1. What is the limit of your pitch raise procedure (Half-Step, Whole-Step, a minor third (God forbid).
2. I think I care too much about the first pass. Do you make the first pass with beating unisons and obvious beating octaves, just so you can get to the next pin quickly (like within a second or 2)?
3. How many passes does one need, or how many visits does one need to get a piano like this up a whole step and remain stable?
4. Doing all this by ear, I pulled the treble steel wire sharp so that the octaves were beating a couple of times per second. Then when I came back around on a later pass, they had fallen pretty close to where they needed to be. Is there a more scientific way to do this by ear, using beat timing or beat comparison?
5. Do you feel ok leaving a house piano (that will not be publicly performed on) flat on the first visit? I always tell my customers if I do so, but should I just try to stay there and wrestle with it until it is at 440?

Please feel free to walk me through your procedure on a really flat piano - don't spare any details - that's what I need at this point.

I've learned so much from you guys on this forum. Any advice will be appreciated, and most likely put to use immediately! This is just one more piece of the tuning puzzle for me.

Thanks,
-Erich

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Re: Aural pitch-raise advice
erichlof #1916045 06/20/12 01:46 AM
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That sounds like a good accomplishment in 2 hours!

Here's my contribution..

1. I look for string movement around bearing points, which is a function of string length (for a given frequency). I gauge my pitch raise limit by what I'm seeing: just as the string begins to visually move is my first mark. Usually a spinet can move a semitone without much string movement. A grand will take more. I would move a spinet a whole tone in one pass IF the string pairs were being pulled carefully together and you worked back and forth to help equalize tension - temperament tuned twice, lower octaves pulled as movement traveled upwards.

2. Yes, the first pass doesn't mean anything. So much tension shifts. What is important in my experience is general net tension - just getting it close, and on the piano. Sometimes when I realize I've left a string pair flat, I'll pull up an adjacent pair sharper to make the net tension at target. This settles out beautifully in the fine tuning.

3. I would say two to three passes (incl. fine tuning) and all can be done in a single visit. Sometimes I notice structural settling in the piano which can make the tuning fall out again after a couple of weeks, but usually I can tell immediately what's going on and if this is going to happen. I find that not being aggressive enough with adding initial tension is the main reason for instability (pitch loss) afterwards.

4. I am one for science, but I wouldn't be too scientific here. How much tension is lost is largely idiosyncratic to the asymmetries of the instrument.. however Dean Reyburn's overpull table (used in the programming of the RCT) contains extremely accurate average statistics taken from lots of pianos. You could calculate BPS overpull from his percentage overpull. I would just listen to how the piano is responding as you go, and add enough tension, plus 1/3 overpull as a general rule. Plain wire in the midrange adheres to this, while more supported areas of the soundboard require less because there is less deflection.

5. I don't do this because I don't view it as that big a deal to put a lot of work on a piano. Pianos are machines meant to be tuned to international pitch (excluding special historical instruments or older pianos). If strings are near breaking, it becomes clear when they go to the plastic phase. Then I'll back off. Most times, I don't see this though. I feel that technicians are much too cautious with this. It will be OK if a few strings break. Growing pains for an old piano coming back to life! Usually, if you raise string pairs and pay attention to bearing points, this will never happen. Most string breakage occurs from careless technique, not working a piano properly.

Hope some of this is useful!


www.tunewerk.com

Unity of tone through applied research.
Re: Aural pitch-raise advice
erichlof #1916106 06/20/12 06:47 AM
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Like Tunewerk said, first I check the condition of the strings, looking especially for rust on them or the bearing points. Then I check the bridges, taking note if there is rust at the bridge pins and whether or not there are cracks or splits in the bridge.

If the piano passes those structural and functional tests, on a 200 cent pitch raise, I would go through it as follows:

1. A quick pass with NO overpull (I use Tunelab), starting from A0 through C88. I just want the strings to stretch up to where they would be if the piano were at 440 without going past it. I do let the customer know that there's a higher risk of string breakage since it's been so long since the piano's been tuned.

2. Another quick pass with overpull (I limit overpull to 10 cents in the bass, 30 cents treble)

3. At this point, if it is within 10 cents, I aurally tune to 440. If it's further than 10 cents out, I'll do another quick pass first to get it within that.

I then let the customer know that I should be back to retune in 3 months, and usually get it scheduled. I also tell them that the piano won't fully stabilize until that second tuning.

About #3. On a regular tuning of a stable, at pitch piano, I go through twice if it's more than 5 cents off either way. With a pitch raise though, the tuning is going to drift pretty quickly, so I will give it ten and then schedule the return trip 3 months down the line. Seems to be a good compromise financially for the customer, time for me, and reasonably good results for the first time through on a piano that's going to drift anyway.


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Re: Aural pitch-raise advice
erichlof #1916148 06/20/12 08:46 AM
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On a major pitch raise, I use a method similar to that I'd use on a newly strung piano...a version of "chipping" the piano to pitch I read about somewhere a long time ago.

I set a sharp, rough temperament. Then, starting with the lowest note of my temperament (for me, an F), I raise the middle string of the F an octave higher slightly sharp of the temperament F. Then the middle string F an octave higher than that slightly sharp, continuing to the top. Then, I do the same procedure down into the bass, not going excessively sharp with the bass strings, and only raising one string of the double unisions. Next I do the F#'s, then the G's, etc.

Once I've done all the center strings, I do the process again with the right strings, tuning the right to equal the center. Then I finish with the bass strings...so that now all the bass strings are raised in pitch. Finally, I do the process again with the left strings, tuning the left to equal the center.

This may sound like a lot of jumping around from pin to pin, and it is...but I really fly and can do this in 15 or 20 minutes. The whole idea is to get the pitch up there, and get it there as quickly as possible. Don't waste time trying to make sure you've pulled a string sharp by "just so many beats", and don't set the pins. This isn't a fine tuning, it's raising the pitch.

With this method, the pitch ends up very close to A-440, and from there I just tune normally. If the pitch is excessively flat, I may do this process twice.


Eric Gloo
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Re: Aural pitch-raise advice
erichlof #1916213 06/20/12 10:59 AM
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Here's what I do (I'm an aural tuner)
I check the strings for rust, and check the bridges for cracks. Then I strip mute the whole piano. I tune A4 to 440, then tune all the As down to A0, then all the As up to A7. Then I tune D4 to fit between the two As on either side, then all the Ds down to the bass all the Ds up to the top. Then I tune G4 to fit between the two Ds on either side, etc, and repeat the whole procedure until one string of every note is tuned, each time going up a fourth. I pull the T strip and tune the others.

That gets the piano up near 440. If it's close, I'll fine tune, otherwise I repeat the procedure.

I don't like to pitch raise a piano by going up from A0 to C8 because I feel that there's too much stress all at once in one part of the piano, and I like to have the increasing stress spread out equally all across the piano.

Last edited by Greg the Piano Tuner; 06/20/12 11:01 AM.
Re: Aural pitch-raise advice
erichlof #1916500 06/20/12 11:54 PM
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Hey everyone,
Thank you so much for your advice and insight into this matter. At first glance, Eric and Greg's similar approaches of tuning one pitch (all the A's, all the D's, and so forth) make sense to me and is something that I would be comfortable attempting on my next pitch-raise. I might try a sort of hybrid of both techniques, using Eric's middle, right, then left string format, and Greg's way of getting a rough temperament by tuning in a circle of 4ths (A's,D's,G's,and so forth), so that I don't waste time on the temperament on the first pass.
Thanks to Loren for the detailed amount of overpull to attempt (of course after not overpulling on the first pass). See I would have assumed overpull on the first try, but then that probably would break more strings than I want to (which is none - ha). Also thanks for your advice on second visits - will definitely put that to use.
And thanks to Tunewerk for the advice on seeing how the piano is initially reacting to the pitch-raise as well as trying to equalize string pairs. And your tips on stability are much appreciated.

To all, would it matter if I chose a procedure that nurtures the string pairs as Tunewerk prescribes (and to some extent Loren's method of going chromatically note-by-note from A0 on up), or the one that Eric and Greg proposed that does not really take into account string pairs, but instead goes up and down the piano in octaves? These seem to be conflicting ways to go about this, but have you had success with one over the other (if you have indeed tried both)?

I don't mean to pit one technique against another, but what would be the easiest on the piano, and my time-frame doing all this without the aid of an ETD, in your opinion?

Thanks again for all the great tips and insight. Can't wait to try these techniques during my next encounter with a flat piano.
-Erich

Re: Aural pitch-raise advice
erichlof #1916588 06/21/12 05:36 AM
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Well, there's a perception that going from A0 to C8 puts stress one part of the piano. However, consider that when you pull A0 up, you're stretching a string that extends from the edge of the piano on one end to about the middle of the plate on the other. Remember how a piano is strung and you see that you're not stressing one area of the piano only.

Second, I've found that going from A0-C8, tuning unisions as I go, requires less overpull all in all. When I used to do it the "rough temperament and tuning" way aurally, I had to pull A4 considerably sharper than this method to end up at the target pitch when I was done. So while I don't have any empirical data to back it up, I do think that going from bass to treble puts less stress on the piano overall.


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Re: Aural pitch-raise advice
erichlof #1916607 06/21/12 07:00 AM
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If the piano is 1/2 step flat, and in tune with itself, then I would think an A0-C8 pitch raise would be fine...just tune the lower note to the next higher note. But, as is generally the case with a neglected piano NOT in tune with itself, the bass strings are fairly even, and the plain wire gets flatter and flatter in pitch as you go further up the scale. Without the use of an ETD, how would one even begin to raise the pitch using the A0-C8 method?


Eric Gloo
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Richfield Springs, New York
Re: Aural pitch-raise advice
erichlof #1916615 06/21/12 07:37 AM
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Good point, Eric. Without an ETD for pitch raising, that would be difficult.


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Re: Aural pitch-raise advice
Eric Gloo #1916623 06/21/12 07:54 AM
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Originally Posted by Eric Gloo
Without the use of an ETD, how would one even begin to raise the pitch using the A0-C8 method?

Having perfect pitch helps (though the stretch may be off somewhat)

Re: Aural pitch-raise advice
erichlof #1916630 06/21/12 08:10 AM
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"national pitch-raise week " huh?

There is a week for everyone apparently.


accompanist/organist.. a non-MTNA teacher to a few

love and peace, Õun (apple in Estonian)
Re: Aural pitch-raise advice
erichlof #1916654 06/21/12 09:17 AM
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I have perfect pitch but it's not really a help because the overpull gets messed up. Nice to be able to instantly tell when it's sharp or flat though.


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Re: Aural pitch-raise advice
erichlof #1916655 06/21/12 09:21 AM
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That's why I like an ETD for pitch raises. The less I listen, the better!


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Re: Aural pitch-raise advice
Eric Gloo #1916660 06/21/12 09:36 AM
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Originally Posted by Eric Gloo
On a major pitch raise, I use a method similar to that I'd use on a newly strung piano...a version of "chipping" the piano to pitch I read about somewhere a long time ago.

Are you initially working with a plectrum?

Re: Aural pitch-raise advice
Maximillyan #1916704 06/21/12 11:28 AM
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Originally Posted by Maximillyan
Originally Posted by Eric Gloo
On a major pitch raise, I use a method similar to that I'd use on a newly strung piano...a version of "chipping" the piano to pitch I read about somewhere a long time ago.

Are you initially working with a plectrum?


On a piano I have just re-strung, yes. On a piano where I am simply raising the pitch, no.


Eric Gloo
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Re: Aural pitch-raise advice
erichlof #1916982 06/21/12 09:43 PM
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Last edited by Dave B; 06/21/12 09:47 PM.

"Imagine it in all its primatic colorings, its counterpart in our souls - our souls that are great pianos whose strings, of honey and of steel, the divisions of the rainbow set twanging, loosing on the air great novels of adventure!" - William Carlos Williams
Re: Aural pitch-raise advice
erichlof #1916984 06/21/12 09:46 PM
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I find the faster the tuning the more successful the pitch correction. ETDs are a distraction that slows the process.


"Imagine it in all its primatic colorings, its counterpart in our souls - our souls that are great pianos whose strings, of honey and of steel, the divisions of the rainbow set twanging, loosing on the air great novels of adventure!" - William Carlos Williams
Re: Aural pitch-raise advice
Dave B #1917091 06/22/12 05:39 AM
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Originally Posted by Dave B
I find the faster the tuning the more successful the pitch correction. ETDs are a distraction that slows the process.


A muteless pitch raise in roughly 10 minutes is slow?


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Re: Aural pitch-raise advice
erichlof #1917093 06/22/12 05:42 AM
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As to concentrating the tension in one place or spreading it out, I think it's an illusion. If you set a temperament octave in the F3-F4 octave of the piano while during a pitch raise, are you not concentrating the tension in one spot? If you then move down from there, you're just increasing the load to the next part(s) of the piano.

Point being, a pitch raise adds an enormous amount of tension on the instrument, period. I think the best way is the way that allows you to add the tension as quickly as possible.

In the factory, pianos go from 0 to full tension in minutes.


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Re: Aural pitch-raise advice
erichlof #1917165 06/22/12 09:32 AM
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I did a semitone pitch raise today. I haven't been tuning for a couple of weeks so I'm a bit slower than usual, but the tuning took 2 hours, plus some repairs.

My procedure for this is pretty simple. Assess the strings and condition, looking for rust etc. If there's no obvious corrosion then I'll go right ahead and yank the pitch up with one movement per string, if there's some rust I'll knock the pitch down before yanking it up to try and break any rust seals around the coil.

Then I assess the tuning. Is it close to a semitone or a tone flat? It's usually in between, a bit less than a semitone or whatever. If it's more like half a semitone then I'll tune a temperament first, but this is a different procedure. I'm talking about major pitch raises here.

Is the top much flatter than the rest? If it is then you can quite easily, and very unscientifically, increase the overpull as you go upwards.

Then I decide on a reference point for the pitch raise. If it's close to, but under, a semitone, I'll be pulling it up a whole semitone, maybe a bit more. If it's over a semitone then I'll be pulling up around 150 cents. Nothing is accurate at this point, this is just so I know what to play and what to do. I'll either be pulling to or overshooting the note above, or pulling to two notes above. If it's a full tone flat, I'll overshoot a little bit but I'll need three passes anyway so may as well not take too much of a risk with the first pass.

So I start at A0. I play it with A#0, or B0, depending on the reference I've chosen. Yank it up (or push it down then yank it) to the reference note, undershoot or overshoot. Then the same with all the bass strings. One after the other. Unisons as I go; no need for mutes (sometimes the first few bichords are a bit muddy so I'll use a rubber mute if necessary). On up to the trichords. I'll mute the right string using a papps wedge resting on the hammers if the unisons are way off, if they aren't then I won't bother with the mute. Yank up those strings. Unisons as you go. Overshoot a bit more towards the treble break, and continue increasing it towards the top if that was significantly flatter.

I've found I've tended to be a bit overzealous with this in the past, and have ended up having to drop the pitch back on numerous occasions, which isn't ideal. But that's just refinement, you soon get an idea of how far to go.

If strings break, they break.

I'm not saying anything others haven't already said here. The key is speed - the quicker you can do it, the more even the result at the end, and so the easier the second pass. And as its a major pitch raise, I'm not too worried about accuracy on the second pass either, especially if there are many notes that end up way off. Pulling a note up, then dropping the next one down, you can't get huge amounts of accuracy there, so just put them where they need to be and move on. Refinement comes at the end.

Hopefully by the end of the second pass, all of the octaves sound good, the temperament is even, and there are just some notes that stick out. Touch up the unisons, check the octaves, double octaves. Refine what needs to be refined. Spend half an hour refining, rather than 45 minutes wasting time on accuracy during the second pass.

My own technique for spotting cumulative errors is to play big expansive chord progressions. Then a too-wide 3rd or tenth really sticks out to me, and I can home in on them quickly. Works better for me than chromatic intervals (I use them during tuning).

Being tentative is the time killer smile

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