Aural (ear) Tuning

Standard aural tuning is often based on two, or at most three, specific tone intervals, viz., the dominant 5ths, sub-dominant 4ths and, occasionally, the sub-mediant 6ths in a single octave subset of twelve notes called the “temperament octave.”  Then, this basic octave is expanded in octave intervals over the remaining scope of notes until all the notes are “in tune.”  The limitation of this system is the very small group of intervals used in the tempering and expansion process.  The result is that the chord structures in the music have very little of the integrity essential to the literature being played.

The majority of practicing tuners in today’s music community rely heavily on electronic tuning devices known as “ETD’s.”  These units measure only three to five notes to produce a mathematically rendered “tuning” for the instrument in question.  As a result, there is almost no consideration given to the interval relationships of the different notes as required in the music to be played.  Also, these units do not “hear” the acoustic reactions of the room to the notes and intervals being tuned.  Conversely, the traditional aural–or ear–tuning procedure is to compare the notes to one another and test them by using the basic intervals previously described.  This produces a far more acceptable result than the electronic device.

In contrast to the traditional aural method described above, a far wider range of “interval accuracy” is required in order to establish the tonal qualities in demand by most all serious piano players.  Musicians do not limit themselves to a certain number of interval relationships, but express their music in a wider range of tone combinations as required by the literature they play.  These artistic concerns are rarely reflected in traditional tuning methods.

The technicians at Piano Tuners of Texas have developed a more complex system in which a far wider variety of intervals is used.  Based on their prevalence in the music literature, major 3rds and 6ths, and minor 3rds and 6ths, in addition to 4ths, 5ths, 7ths, 9ths, 10ths and 12ths are used to establish a reference “temperament.”  The remaining notes are then tuned by expanding this temperament by octaves.  Finally, the entire scope of notes is tested and adjusted using the intervals described.  An exceptionally accurate tuning in both the temperament and its expansion over the remaining notes is the result.