Interesting article about a high school senior who didn't like the sound of the pianos he was playing, so he decided to learn to tune pianos. Apparently he is/was a forums member. © HNGnews.com April 8 2015
As Milton High School senior Lucas Brookins sits at the grand piano playing “All of Me” by The Piano Guys, it’s easy to see he has talent. Not only can he play the song, which requires using hands and forearms, beautifully, he can tune the piano to what the Piano Technicians Guild considers optimal tuning.
The day in February after he turned 18, Lucas became an associate member of the Registered Piano Technicians Guild and completed the first of three exams needed to become a registered piano technician.
Lucas scored 88 on the multiple-choice exam relating to piano design, tuning theory and repair techniques.
His mentor and examiner Bill Bremmer of Madison said the written exam score was not exceptional, but good for someone who was primarily self-taught. A score of 80 out of 100 is required to pass the exam.
The second exam, which is focused on tuning, is a more formidable task, described Bremmer, a member of the guild since 1983 and a certified tuning examiner since 1991.
On the tuning exam, a candidate must match as closely as possible a “master tuning” created by a panel of examiners who have agreed on an optimal tuning for the test piano. The exam is scored using extremely sensitive electronic equipment to measure the deviation of the candidate’s tuning from the standard established.
A score of 80 is required in eight categories.
The first part is done entirely by ear. When Lucas tuned piano strings to a pitch fork at The French House in Madison and the results were measured electronically, the result was 0.0.
“He got it absolutely perfect,” Bremmer said.
That’s something Bremmer, as an examiner for 24 years, had never seen before.
“Yes, I gave Lucas good instruction, but it was he who had the initiative and persistence,” he said. “I know he practiced long and hard for it. I saw him go from hit or miss, never poor but sometimes faltering to hitting the mark every time.”
Lucas managed to hit the pitch at 0.0 over and over in practice.
A score of 90 or above is considered superior, 95 is outstanding, 100 is unexpected, he said.
The results of Lucas’ tuning exam in February were five 100s, one 99, one 97 and one 96.
“He’s 18 and just beginning,” said Bremmer, still in amazement.
The general advice for people looking to become piano repair technicians might be to tune a thousand pianos to learn the trade, he said.
“I don’t think Lucas has even done 50,” he said. “He’s already exhibiting the kind of skills and attitude that you would expect of a university technician at the school of music. It’s just incredible.”
The son of Doug and Deb Brookins of Janesville and Carmen and the Rev. Jeff Hanson of Janesville started playing drums at the age of 4, took drum lessons at age 8 for two years and piano lessons at age 10 for two or three years.
He kept playing drums and piano but stopped taking lessons, he said because he didn’t like to practice.
“He likes to play what he likes to play,” his father said.
“You want to play what’s on the page, but you don’t want to play what’s on the page,” he said. “You want to play what the song is. You don’t want to change the song too much but you can improvise a little bit in certain spots, do more dynamics, make music out of it.”
He can play by ear and read music.
He started playing drums in school when he was at Northside Intermediate School and continued through middle school and in high school. A percussionist in the Milton High School band, he just got back from Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.IN TUNE WITH TUNING
Piano tuning became an interest of his because he wasn’t happy with how the pianos he heard sounded.
To solve that problem, he turned to the Internet and began learning how to tune pianos by watching YouTube videos.
As a sophomore, he started getting tools and working on a piano at his stepdad’s church, then he started tuning friends’ pianos. As he fine-tuned his skills, he started charging a relatively small fee.
Participating in a Piano World forum online opened new doors for him. That’s how he met Bremmer, who’s given him on-the-job experience cleaning out pianos and working on the inner workings of the piano.
“When I met Lucas, he was very motivated and he already had a substantial amount of skill,” Bremmer said.
In the summer, they spent a couple of days taking apart a piano and reconditioning it.
“He worked like a professional,” Bremmer said of Lucas. “There was a goal to be met and there was no time to waste.”
Before Lucas had his senior photo taken with an MHS piano, the two of them worked on the piano for nine hours getting it to glean like a brand new instrument.
Cleaning a piano often involves removing dust, pencils and various objects. Proving that, Lucas finds a pen as he shows the inner workings of the grand piano.
How much tuning a piano needs depends on the piano. While electric keyboards need no tuning and are getting more advanced and have improved sound quality, Lucas said they’re never going to sound as good as a real piano.
“I like making a piano work and sound better,” Lucas said. “You play it afterward and it feels better, looks better, and sounds so much better.”
The Piano Technicians Guild recommends tuning piano four times a year, once for each season. Lucas said it should be done at least two times a year.
Lucas plans to continue working on pianos into the future.
After graduating from MHS this spring, Lucas in July will take his third exam at the Piano Technicians Guild Convention in Denver. The technical exam requires demonstrating professional-level skills in assembling a grand and a vertical piano action (the mechanical component of the piano) and in making the adjustments so they can function properly.