Well, Mr. Maus, it’s finally arrived!
-What’s dat? *hiccup*
That package we’ve been waiting for…
No…remember that package from Montreal I was telling you about?
-Fwench cheeeeeese? *le squeak*
No silly, it’s our new tuning hammer!
-OOOoooooh. Yay. So no cheese den?
No. No cheese. However, it does come with two wedges.
-Stop tormenting me! *squeek*
I’m sorry. Indeed the wedges are not made out of cheese but they’re part of my piano tuning package that will help me keep the piano sounding tip-top.
You see, most instrumentalists are experts about how their instruments work. Think of an oboist making his own custom reeds just so he can play. Or a guitarist restringing, intonating and tuning his guitar. Pianists on the other hand: we are very good at dealing with what the keys and pedals do, but crack open the instrument and it’s like a foreign land.
We turn to piano technicians and tuners when our instruments are out of tune or are having mechanical issues. One piano tuner told me recently that he wasn’t a musician at all, rather more of a physicist. “Piano tuning has nothing to do with music. It’s all about physics,” he said. So there isn’t much overlap between playing piano and maintaining it.
Think of it this way, Mr. Maus. With computers, you have people who build the hardware, people who program the software, and people who use the computers. With pianos you have piano builders and then piano tuners and technicians, all who specialize in the piano’s hardware. You could say composers write software for it. And finally pianists are the masters of the interface.
But sometimes you will have a pianist who can do more than just play. Anton Kuerti, the great Beethoven pianist, has been known to lighten the action on the pianos he performs on (much to the chagrin of the owners). With some tweaking he makes the keys feel lighter so that he can get the touch he wants. Lighter keys are easier to play faster on. In his younger days, he was so particular about how he wanted his piano to feel, that he schlepped his own piano around Ontario with him in a specially made van.
But unfortunately, for many pianists, when a note goes out of tune it’s a panicked call to the tuner. I’m sure the number one thing their customers ask is, “When’s the earliest you can fit me in???”
So, Mr. Maus, now you can understand my elation about our new package!
-Your ewation, is exactwy pwoportionate to my disappointment dat da package. Is not. FIWWED. WIF. CHEESE! *angry squeak*
Just bear with me and I promise that when we’re done here I will buy you some of that fancy Russian vodka cheese you so enjoy.
Now, where were we? Oh yes, so here is the new tuning hammer. It is our step towards pianistic independence because now, when a note is out of tune, we can use it to tweak it back into place! Are you listening, Mr. Maus?
The hammer fits over the tuning pins like so. Then we put the wedge between two of the strings, so that we only hear one string at a time. Remember, all the notes except the bass notes have three strings each. That way we can determine which string is the one out of tune. We then tighten or loosen the string so that it vibrates at the same frequency as its neighbour. Listen for the beats, just like when tuning a guitar.
I recently had three notes restringed. New strings tend not to hold their tune for long in the beginning. So now I no longer have to grin and bear it until the tuner comes.
Isn’t that exciting?
Well, Mr. Maus, you’re hard to please. But I know you love our audience so why don’t you say good-bye to them.
-Hokey-Dokey! Tiw next time! Bu-bye! *Nibble, squeak*