Career Overview: Tunes and/or repairs pianos.
Career Salary Range: $100-$185 per tuning
Become a Piano Tuner-Technician
As the name suggests, the Piano Tuner-Technician’s main job is to tune pianos. He or she must be able to recognize the up to 10,000 individual parts of each piano. They must know each part, where it belongs in the instrument, and what its function is. The Piano Tuner-Technician’s goal is to achieve proper pitch that is musically correct by adjusting the strings.
There are approximately 220 strings in a standard piano with 88 keys, and the Tuner-Technician uses a tuning hammer to tighten or loosen the string being tested until its frequency matches that of a standard tuning fork. A good musical ear is essential in order to attain a perfect pitch, tone, and sound, as the Tuner-Technician tunes the other strings in relation to the starting string they initially tuned.
Electronic tuning devices are used more today than in years past, but a successful Piano Turner needs to be able to evaluate the pitch by ear and not just by using a machine. Electronic tuners get you there faster, but your ears will always be the final judge.
The Tuner-Technician’s responsibilities range from minor to major repairs, with minor repairs including replacing worn or broken piano hammers or detecting touch/regulation/action concerns. Major repairs include replacing some or all of the wire to a full regulation of the action. A full dismantling of the piano is necessary when the instrument undergoes a rebuild or re-manufacturing of the instrument.
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A Piano Tuner-Technician can typically expect to earn between $100 to $185 per tuning session. Salaries vary, as many Tuner-Technicians are self-employed. A self-employed Tuner may also obtain contracts with music conservatories, universities, studios, and/or music groups. However, there are also employment opportunities with music stores, colleges and universities, performance venues, manufacturers, recording studios, and with other instrument technicians. Additional income is available from piano rebuilding and piano sales.
Piano Tuner-Technicians can work for themselves or for a number of others. Potential employers include factories, dealers, schools, conservatories, universities, music colleges, music shops, music groups, concert halls, or recording studios. Tuners obtain their clients by placing advertisements or via word of mouth when satisfied clients recommend them to other clients.
A Piano Tuner-Technician employed by another organization often earns less than a full-time, self-employed Piano Tuner-Technician.
Piano Technicians Guild members can be certified as a Registered Piano Technician (RPT) by passing a series of exams covering technical knowledge, tuning, and repair skills. Tuner-Technicians who enjoy teaching or writing have a variety of opportunities to share their skills and knowledge. Some use their training and experience to operate a piano or music store where they sell new and used pianos. Others go into the specialty business of reconditioning and rebuilding used pianos. Some also design and build pianos, tools, or parts for resale to other Technicians.
Education and Training
To learn their skills, the Piano Tuner-Technician may attend a residential training program, complete a correspondence course, apprentice with an experienced technician, or learn through a combination of several educational methods. The Piano Technicians Guild (PTG) posts a list of training programs on their website under Career Information. The Piano Technicians Guild also offers continuing education for Piano Tuner-Technicians at beginning, intermediate and advanced stages of their career.
A core curriculum in piano technology typically includes the following subjects:
- Tuning Theory and Terminology
- Tuning Procedures
- Piano Parts and How They Function
- Common Field Repairs
- Action Regulation
- Tone Regulation
- Business Practices
- Piano History and Design
Advanced training may include the skills and knowledge needed for concert tuning, specialty repairs, reconditioning, and rebuilding. Those who choose to be self-employed will want to seek training in the operation of a small business, financial management, taxation, marketing, and customer service. Technicians usually own their own tools, so plan on making an initial investment in supplies and materials when you start out.
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Piano Tuner-Technicians that belong to the Piano Technicians Guild will have the opportunity to obtain the Registered Piano Technician (RPT) credential. The PTG is the only organization that offers the RPT credential to those who successfully pass the Guild’s administered exams.
Experience, Skills, and Personality
Good hearing, patience, finger dexterity, and a willingness to learn are needed in this field. A musical background is helpful. Skills and knowledge in cabinetmaking and piano design are important for those who are interested in piano rebuilding. Piano technology involves physical work, so general physical fitness is important. An individual of any age, sex, or background can find success in this field. The job satisfaction rate among Piano Tuner-Technicians is very high.
Skills in operating a small business are necessary for self-employed Technicians. Successful Technicians have good organizational and communication skills and enjoy working with the public. Some Piano Technicians also use computers and other electronic devices to assist them in their work, so the ability to use a computer is beneficial.
Unions and Associations
Associations for Piano Tuner-Technicians include the Piano Technicians’ Guild (PTG). PTG members receive the monthly Piano Technicians Journal (technical publication), access to a variety of training opportunities, participation in professional online discussion forums, discounts on merchandise and business services, along with the many other member benefits.
Suggestions for Getting Started
- Obtain good training by going to a school that provides references and is accredited.
- Apprentice with the most talented individual possible.
- Check out websites of piano factories and music dealers for any available job openings.