If you have a natural curiosity for how things work, then you’ve probably spent more than a few moments’ thought on not just the general maintenance of your piano, but also piano tuning. Unlike a string instrument, where a few pegs allow you to tune your instrument, piano tuning requires a professional.
What Does a Piano Technician Do?
A piano technician doesn’t just tune your piano; he or she will carry out repairs and maintenance to allow you to get the best out of your instrument, and even extend its life. Like anything with a working mechanism, parts of your piano will wear out over time and need replacing. Your piano technician will replace worn out and broken strings, and also carry out a process called “regulating,” which means making sure that all the moving parts work properly. This helps keep your piano in good shape, and also ensures you can use your piano with proper technique! Regulation should be done around every five years or so to make sure that your piano is operating properly.
What Skills Does a Piano Technician Need?
Although an electronic tuner will tell you in the most clinical way whether the strings are in tune or not, the most essential skill for a piano technician is a good ear, and the ability to tune correctly by listening. Perfect pitch isn’t an advantage for this job, as the adjustments required for equal temperament in piano tuning can be off-putting and make the string sound “out of tune” to you. You will also need to be reasonably dexterous, as some repairs and replacements — such as gluing new felt onto hammers or replacing strings — can be quite difficult. Another skill you need is a good memory; it’s likely you’ll build up a relationship with individual instruments over a number of years, and if you can remember their individual characteristics in between piano tuning and repair appointments, you will not only find your job easier, but the end result for the instrument and your client will be much better.
The other often-overlooked skill you’ll need as a piano technician is to have a good head for business. Many piano technicians are self-employed, and although most of your work will be through word of mouth and personal recommendations, knowing how to carry out even basic self-marketing and networking will help you build a client base. It may be worthwhile taking an evening class in basic business skills alongside your technical training.
It takes a long time to train as a piano technician, and although there are courses and even guilds you can join, a great way to learn is to find an existing experienced technician who is happy to take on an apprentice. You may even wish to — as car-mad apprentice mechanics do — find a “beyond repair” piano and bring it back to life while trying out your new skills!
How Does a Piano Technician Find Work?
We discussed marketing a little above, and also that most of your work will come through word of mouth. An apprenticeship will ensure that you get to learn on the job, but what happens when you want to branch out on your own?
Your major sources of employment will be schools, music shops, and individuals who need their pianos maintained and tuned on a regular basis. In terms of home piano tuning, it’s worth considering some kind of loyalty scheme to encourage regular business, or a “refer-a-friend” discount for both existing and new customers.
As you become more established and experienced, concert halls and recording studios are worth approaching. You can also join the Piano Technicians Guild, which will help you keep your skills up to date and give you further employment leads.
If you are currently taking piano lessons, let your teacher know that this is one of your interests. He or she may be able to provide valuable advice, and put you in touch with people who can advise you further. Good luck!
Photo by eamills