Posts tagged note

Should Piano Tuners be Piano Players?

Is it necessary that a piano tuner know how to get around on the piano? No.  Piano tuners can competantly tune an instrument one note at a time.  HOWEVER, that said, it is an INCREDIBLE asset to know how to play to CHECK the tuning.  My background is in performance and teaching.  I started tuning only about 10 years ago.  When i first started tuning i would then play a favourite song and say to myself “BLECH… this is TERRIBLE!” hahaaa.  Then off i would go fixing what sounded ‘out’.  For a brief period in college i studied ancient Greek language.  The first 3 rules of interpretation are… context, context, context.  Similarly when tuning, the context of a note within a chord reveal pitch.  I’ve spoken about how some notes on certain pianos don’t sound ‘right’ and you can alter them to sound more…mmmm soothing instead of jarring or clashing.  And the way in which you tell if a piano sounds in tune is from playing a song, an arpeggio, a chord or melody.  So is it necessary to play if you’re a tuner? Absolutely not.  Anyone can play 2 notes at a time.  But is imperative to check the tuning?  Absolutely.

Making Rhythm… Rhythmical

Over the years in teaching, you learn that every student has at least one weakness – for some it’s sight reading, others it’s ear or finger dexterity, still others have a problem with rhythm.  Rhythm is one of the more challenging aspects to correct in teaching because it involves an inate sense of pulse.  Does not the concept of ‘beat’ come from that of our own hearts? We’ve somehow ‘mechanized’ this basic concept into numbers and counting, beats per minute (BPM) and metronomes with Maelzel’s markings.  Teaching rhythm IMHO needs to be an extension of movement… of the sensation that we are actually part of time.  Many years ago, i decided (especially with young students) to throw out the concept of counting for 2 reasons: one is that it requires math (2 beats plus 1 beat plus a half of a beat = 3 and half beats plus a…) I found that kids simply got bogged down with the math!!! How crazy is that?  Calm down… for all the Classical formal teachers… don’t panic… i still teach counting but not at early levels.  The second reason i don’t teach counting is due to the fact that i found students were getting confused with finger numbers.  Music doesn’t need to have two sets of numbers going on… one for fingering, the other for counting.  So i abandoned counting… with GREAT success.

What do i do instead? I simply teach rhythmic words… words that remind us of motion. I just want to mention that this is in no way a NEW concept.  Rhythmic words or phrases have been done for decades.  This is just something that i used consistently to teach with.   Here’s the setup:

A quarter note looks like a leg with a big cartoon shoe… let’s call that WALK

Four quarters then (say it) are WALK WALK WALK WALK

Eighth notes usually come in pairs and are faster… well faster than walking would be RUN-NING.  So when you say “running” that represents double the speed and two notes instead of one. Quarter, 2 Eighths, Quarter Quarter would be WALK RUN-NING WALK WALK.  See where i’m going with this?

OK now it goes from the sublime to the ridiculous but hey ALL of my students have learned rhythm in half an hour so… it WORKS.

A Half note is hollow right? It’s not filled in.  This is…. wait for it… Cinderella’s slipper. TA DA! Hahaaaa… and so if you’re walking in glass slippers you need to walk SLOW-LY – this is two syllables but twice as long as a walk.

Half note, Quarter, 2 Eighths would then be SLOW-LY WALK RUNNING… oh and BTW when you say these, they need to be robotic-like… feeling the pulse.

Anyway… if you want more of the musical phrases… i have a raft of them – everything from Swing Batta… to the Sneeze to Beautiful Bicycle… lol… i may never have taught counting but i sure instilled rhythm into each of my students and had a good laugh at the same time.


Penta comes from the word Pentatonic while Etude is the French word for “study”. Together they form Pentatude – an all black note book written for the piano. 


  1. Big Bad John – this song is simply an easy black note blues tune
  2. Coming Home – represents that place we hold dear to us… and when we return home, the peace it provides
  3. The Harpist – Let’s face it, every kid loves to do glissandos.  Fill yer boots.  This is the right song for those gliss-lovers.
  4. Hey Jimmy – Pure unadulterated funk.  Groove at its best.
  5. Inspiration of Ghana – Was written to sound like mallets playing
  6. On My Morning Run – If you ever come to Victoria, BC Canada… take a walk along the inner harbour and you’ll understand the scene.
  7. Never Supposed to End This Way – A melancholy end to a relationship.
  8. Nothing But Blue Skies – And when there are blue skies… you just want to get up and dance.  This is the music for the blue skies.
  9. Raindrops and Lilypads – 5/8 time, it depicts a very gentle scene of water droplets on lilypads.
  10. Saltair – Live near the ocean and this smell is unmistakeable.
  11. Slowpoke – Yeeee hawwww. Giddyup.  A wee tune for them thar country folk.
  12. The Deep South – This is 6/8 time old gospel.  Give it a listen.

Click here to visit the Pentatude book and listen to recordings.

Drive the Car

f1I was 22 years of age when i was hired by the local Baldwin piano store.  The owner was a technician and the first words out of his mouth were “Glen, you may be educated in performance but i just want to tell you that because you know how to DRIVE the car, don’t presume that you know how the car works”.  He then proceeded to tell me that the mechanic is not the driver in the Formula1.  And so i took his advice to heart.  I began to learn about the insides of the piano.  I will say however, that being a driver and a mechanic both have distinct advantages.  I remember this boss calling me to his workshop to try out a newly rebuilt piano. He’s all smiles and with big outstretched arms he points to the piano… “VOILA!”  He asks me to play.  I remember not being impressed by the piano and how put off he was because i couldn’t properly articulate what it was i didn’t like about the piano.  And then it occurred to me that regardless of what your thoughts are re: the makeup of the instrument, it’s the driver still that counts – they’re the ones who are going to play this instrument.

grandSo how do you properly test drive an instrument?  It’s funny because i get lots of students through my doors looking for pianos and who do they get to preview the piano? Why, the teacher no less.  But again, teachers are drivers and usually have very little understanding of what is going on in the piano.  They walk around the instrument and give the ol’ inspection “mmm hmmm’s”  but don’t really know what to say.  LOL…ok this is funny – so you know the grand lid on a piano? It’s the 45 degree angled part held up by what is called a prop stick.  After previewing a Steinway grand for her client… she finally said.  “SOooooo, this is one of those ‘one-stick’ pianos”.  (most pianos have 2 or 3) OK ok ok… i thot it was funny… kinda like judging the car by the antennae.  Anyway… here are some tricks and tips on testing pianos:

  1. Test the piano at different volume levels.  My trumpet teacher used to say “any 2 year old can blat a horn – it takes a master to play it quietly”.  Much is the same at the piano.  If a piano is ever going to misfire, it will be at soft volumes
  2. Play each key – find out if there are any sticking or problem notes – listen especially for buzzes and rattles
  3. Find the crossover.  The crossover is the spot where the bass copper coloured strings change to steel strings.  This is usually a problematic place on most pianos for consistency.  Great pianos will have a very gradual change in tone.
  4. Sustain.  Sustain is your friend.  Take one note – moderate volume – play it and listen to how long it takes to die away.  If it’s short lived, quite often the soundboard (the amplifier) is dead.
  5. Excessively loose or heavy action.  Take one key – depress the notes on either side then grab hold of the sides of the key and wiggle it back and forth – left to right.  Does it ‘knock’?  Worn out pianos usually will have a notable ‘click’ here.  As well, lift the very front of the key by the overhang – ever so slightly (you don’t want to rip off the keytop!)  It should rise only about 1/16″ but it should also fall on it’s own weight.  Newer pianos quite often are tight and if there’s too much friction here, they won’t fall back to rest position.
  6. Finally, test the workings of the pedals.  Make sure the damper blocks lift simultaneously and in a comfortable manner.

Oh there are many many other tests you can do… but these will cover the basics. Enjoy!

When You’re Smiling the Whole World Smiles With You

Piano strings

Piano strings

I don’t know why i was chosen, but i was the ‘lucky’ canditate to have been called to tune a piano recently.  I have to say though that this was no ordinary piano;  this one was better part of a 100 years old.  I touched my hands to the keys.  What came out sounded like a steamship!  I politely asked the elderly lady “Sooooo….when did you have it tuned last?”  “Well” she replied “my husband passed away 3 years ago and we had been married for 53 years and never had it tuned”  OH MY! i’m thinking to myself (thus i’m the ‘lucky’ one who gets to deal with  She was a sweet older lady but the piano sounded simply bad – it sounded DULL.  Many people do not know that piano wire comes in about 24 different sizes for the treble.  Each size is about a paper thickness different.  What’s interesting to note – quite often if a piano is not ‘up to pitch’ – meaning that the instrument is not tuned for the frequency it was designed for, it sounds lackluster.  Each note on the piano was designed for a certain gauge of wire.  If the pitch doesn’t match the guage,  it sounds simply dull.  There’s no sparkle.  In my mind i hear the vowel sound “oh”, but in tune it quite quickly turns it into an “ee” – just like a smile.  You see… pianos can smile!  Take that out of tune instrument and with a bit of work it is transformed into a singing, resonating piano.  So before you pass judgement on a piano always remember:  it won’t shine until it’s in tune.  Oh and BTW, that old piano, after tuning the lady remarked “I’ve never heard that piano sound so good!”  “Yep… that’s because it’s smiling” :)

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