The future of music

How to Tune a Piano: 8 Easy Steps for Piano Tuning

August 4, 2023
How to tune a piano

Tuning a piano is not an easy job, especially for beginners who are just starting their journey to learning to play piano.

It requires a lot of time and patience, and that’s why many people reach out to professional piano technicians.

But if you’re interested in learning how to tune a piano anyway, we’re here to help you out.

We will introduce you to the necessary tools and take you through all the steps of tuning a piano by yourself.

How to Tune a Piano – Piano Tuning Steps 

As a piano player, you have the responsibility to take care of your instrument. And one of the ways to do that is to keep your piano in tune.

Pianos require tuning at least once a year. If you want to keep your piano in its best shape, it would be wise to tune it twice a year. 

However, some people decide to tune a piano by themselves. And although that’s less expensive and for some people more interesting, tuning a piano on your own comes with several disadvantages. 

Can You Tune Your Own Piano?

The piano is a delicate instrument, and tuning it properly requires a lot of time, focus, and patience. 

You’ll also need a strong ear for this, especially if you don’t plan to use a tuner. 

Either way, tuning a piano is a tricky job. But if you’re up for a challenge, we’re sure you can do it. You just need to get the right tools and follow the necessary steps. 

wooden piano

Piano Tuning Tools 

If you want to tune a piano by yourself, you need to have a few basic piano tuning tools.

Fortunately, piano tuning requires simple tools. If you don’t find them at the local music equipment retailer, you can order them online.

Just make sure you’re using a reliable website – if you want to do it right, you need to get a quality product.  

Let’s take a look at the tools required for tuning.

Tuning lever 

The first thing you need to get is a piano tuning lever, also referred to as a hammer.

A piano tuning lever is a small tapered wrench you’re going to use to tighten or loosen tuning pins. Therefore, using a high-quality lever is essential. 

You can look for a model labeled “apprentice,” “student,” or “craftsman”, as these models are suited for beginners. 

You should also make sure you choose the right tip size. There are smaller and larger tip sizes, as well as an industry-standard size.

Electronic chromatic tuner 

Another tool you should invest in is a quality chromatic tuner.

An electronic tuning device (ETD) is a small instrument that will help you get a reference tone.  Tuning forks are a common choice for more traditional tuners, but electronic tuners are more modern and accurate. 

If you’re a piano beginner, we definitely suggest using a good electronic chromatic tuner.

Alternatively, you can download a piano tuning app that you can use for the same purpose as an electronic tuner. Using piano tuning software is a budget-friendly and convenient option.

electric piano tuner

Mutes 

The next thing on your shopping list should be a variety of mutes.

Mutes are rubber wedges that you place on piano strings to dampen the sound of specific strings. They allow you to isolate a single string to tune it.

Mutes are inexpensive, and you don’t have to get any special kind. Standard rubber mutes will do the job.

Other tools 

Once you get all the necessary piano tuning tools, you should also make sure you have a couple of other tools at your disposal.

Screwdrivers are very useful for tuning a grand piano as they sometimes have a cabinet or door that protects the strings and soundboard. But that can also be the case with upright pianos, so having a screwdriver by your side when tuning a piano is always a good idea.

Another thing that might come in handy is a flashlight. Don’t rely on your phone’s light because you’ll need strong, hands-free illumination, especially if you plan to work in the evening.

Finally, we recommend having a dust cloth in case you spot a lot of dust or grime. 

How to Tune a Piano 

When you get everything you need, you’re ready to tune your piano.

So, let us take you through all the important steps of tuning a piano at home.

1. Before tuning

Before starting to work on the piano, make sure you have a good working environment. Your workspace should be as quiet as possible.

When you’re ready to start working, remove any cabinet doors to the piano strings (if there are any.) 

We also suggest playing the piano a little with the panels off. This way, you’ll be able to see which strings go with which keys, and that might be very helpful in the next steps. 

2. Start with middle C

First, you need to identify the strings that play for middle C. Most pianos have three strings for middle C, so use your rubber mutes to mute the outer strings.

By the way, the standard tuning for a piano is A440, meaning that the A4 is tuned so that sound waves vibrate at 440 Hz. In other words, the A note above middle C vibrates at 440 cycles per second.

3. Tune the string

Next, you need to tune one string of middle C. To do this, simply turn on the electric tuner and play the middle C key (loudly) to see what note your tuner picks up. 

Now, identify which pin the single string is wound around, place your tuning lever on the top of the pin, and gently turn the lever counterclockwise to loosen the pin. Then turn the lever clockwise to tighten it up to a true middle C.

Be very gentle and slow while you’re doing this because piano strings can easily break. 

person tuning the piano

If you turn the pin right (clockwise), you raise the pitch. Turning it left (counterclockwise) will lower the pitch.

Also, try to twist the pin as little as possible. You should avoid over-tightening and over-loosening.  

While you’re making these slight turns, keep playing the note – until the sound of the string matches the tone on your chromatic tuner. 

4. Set the pin

When you find the right tone, set the pin so it doesn’t slip out of tune.

You can make a tiny tightening movement to make it slightly above the pitch, then turn it slightly counterclockwise to achieve the final, correct pitch.

5. Tune the rest of the notes in the octave

Once you have your middle C in tune, you can proceed with the rest of the strings. Simply repeat the process for center strings in the notes from C4 to C5.

6. Tune the first unison string

The outer strings that play for each of the notes (C4-C5) are called unisons. 

First, you need to unmute the tuned center string and an untuned left string of middle C. That’s how you can tune the first unison.

7. Tune the rest of the unisons in the octave

To tune the rest of the unisons in the octave, just repeat the process for each remaining left string in the notes from C4 to C5.

Then you’ll need to repeat the process for each right string in the octave.

And there you have it – the whole middle octave on your piano should now be in tune.

8. Tune each octave to the temperament 

In music, a tuning system (or temperament) is a way to define individual pitches from the set of all possible high and low tones. And most modern Western musical instruments are tuned in the equal temperament system. 

In this stage, you’ll compare each note with the tuned note you have in your temperament. So, you’ll use the temperament notes as your guide to tuning a new octave (like C5 to C6). Continue tuning one string at a time while muting other strings. 

You don’t have to use a chromatic tuner at this stage. Tuning the piano “to itself” will allow you to get a more accurate and harmonious sound. Simply listen to the notes when you play and pay attention to any disharmonies or warbles. 

9. Play the piano 

We suggest playing the piano after you’ve done it to make sure everything sounds right. 

And everything sounds good, you’ve just successfully tuned your first piano!

person playing the piano

Piano Tuning Tips 

As you can see, piano tuning is a demanding job. But with enough patience and focus, you’ll be able to do it by yourself. 

For the best results, we suggest using good-quality piano tuning tools. For instance, it’s important to have a good tuning lever.

Once you start working on your piano, you should have steady hands. Try to use firm and controlled movements to tune the pin, and avoid wiggling it. 

The piano is generally a delicate instrument, and its strings can snap if you’re not careful. 

Once you’re done with the job (which might take a while), you should make sure everything sounds okay. Each note should be very clear; it shouldn’t be twangy.

You can test the tuning by playing a simple scale. Start at middle C and move right playing all the white notes until you hit the next C – you should be able to hear if something’s wrong.

Finally, make sure your piano is tuned regularly. Whether you reach out to a technician or do it yourself, your piano will require tuning at least once a year. 

Final Thoughts 

We hope our piano tuning guide helped you master the basics of piano tuning.

If you follow each step and approach the work carefully, you will probably do a good job.

And after a little practice, it will get much easier! 

Will Fenton

Will, the founder of MIDDER, is a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for music and personal finance. As a self-proclaimed music and personal finance geek, he has a keen eye for futuristic technologies, especially those that empower creators and the public.

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