HAMMER TECHNIQUE

When thought is given to hammer technique, consideration must also be given to the various elements that taken separately, may not appear to be so very important; but a chain is made of many links and we all know the weakest one.
The tuning hammer, at first glance seems to be just a tuning hammer – but there are a variety available. The first consideration is its length. The average hammer is 10 to 11 inches long without a head. I have seen hammers as short as 6 inches and as long as 15 inches. The short hammer feeds back information more directly from the pin and has less length for flexing, but requires considerable strength and endurance to operate. The longer hammers provide more leverage but tend to flex, causing poor hand-to-pin communication, and the increased weight bends the tuning pin a little more than desired.
There have been several variations on the standard “professional” tuning hammer – the very heavy hammer turned from a piece of drive shafting which gives considerable weight to the matter, and the impact tuning hammer which has gained favour with some for pitch-raising. (These are experimental or special application tools and do not, on the average, apply for fine tuning.)
Having an extension hammer is not entirely necessary for extending t introduces so much flex that all mechanical advantage is voided through lost communication. Extension hammers tend to flex at the tightening ferrule and the shaft turns in the handle. The only advantage they have is that the handle can be removed for stringing or other special applications. The ideal hammer, then, is one that is about 10 inches long, lightweight, rigid, one-piece construction, and made of nice wood if possible.
I should be talking – the disreputable hammer I use is only 7-l/2inches long, but is extended to 11inches overall for tuning. The balance is not right, it flexes like a rubber truncheon, and the shaft turns about 2 degrees in the handle. I am planning to get myself a better hammer when I can get around to it, or can find room for it in my case.
Head and tip lengths vary from l-7/8 inches to over 7-l /2 inches; head angles are 5, 10, and 15 degrees. The ideal condition (extra short 5-degree head with a short tip) is not the most practical in terms of being able to adequately cope with the largest number of pianos. I have found that a 2- to 3-inch head of 10 degrees with a standard No. 1 tip is the most functional combination for European pianos. If you have the space and strength to carry more combinations, and have the time to change them around to find the best blend, great! The object is to get as low and as straight as possible without scraping the finish off the plate, piano, or fingers. Also, the force applied to the pin should be as inline with the axis of rotation as possible. Long tips tend to bend the pins and large’ angle heads apply turning force at that angle.
The tuning pin must never be intentionally bent, only turned. It should not be left in a twisted state and, of course, the tension of the string must be equalized throughout its length.
There are basically two hammer techniques when using a “standard” tuning hammer – the continuous smooth hammer motion and the discontinuous impact approach. There have been long-standing arguments between proponents of each of these techniques as to which is the best. I have not come to any definite conclusion myself because I have found that I use both. The piano will dictate which approach I feel more comfortable using.
The smooth technique is just that -smooth. The tuning pin is turned with a smooth even-pressured motion until the string reaches the desired pitch. The pin is then stressed both in an upward and downward manner to test for any undesired twist, and in an effort to determine the equality of the full string length tension.
The impact or click technique is used when a very small change is desired, but when the smooth technique cannot be used or when it will impart too much change. By applying less pressure than required to turn the pin, and then imparting a sharp loose jointed arm and wrist increase of pressure, the pin can often be moved minutely. The advantage of this technique is that when the pin is turning in the block it is virtually free-floating; therefore, it is very likely to come to rest in an untwisted configuration.
The type of pinblock quite often determines which technique will be most useful. With a multiple laminate block it is easier to control the finer motions by impact, except when the pins are very tight. The high-density blocks, and those blocks with only three or four laminations, seem to be more stable with the smooth approach. Generally speaking, if the tuning pin moves as smooth as glass, then the smooth technique works best. If the pin tends to washboard, even just a little, then the impact is the method.
Tuning pins that are supported close to the coil, either by a bushing or by the pinblock, are generally easier to tune smooth; but those pins that are too high or have no plate bushings tend to be easier to tune by the impact approach. Overly tight or oversized pins are tuned anyway possible, taking care not to ruin the pins or leave them twisted.
If one is an impact tuner, then most likely the arm is not supported except when being lazy or tired. The supported arm is most often coupled with the smooth technique of tuning. The difficulty with the supported arm is that many times the posture of the tuner is not the most comfortable; the trouble with the unsupported arm is that it gets tired quicker.
Hand position and grip vary widely and are dictated by what the individual finds most comfortable. The only real problem I have seen is the person who is so tense that his whole body is affected. The hand should be loose and flexible, tensing only when a particular motion is initiated; the remainder of the time the hand should be loose and easy, thereby conserving energy and reducing fatigue.
Because our bodies are often in unnatural postures for great lengths of time, we tend to develop back problems and tense shoulders and necks. Proper posture, good exercise programs, and the use of stretching exercises during the day can all help eliminate pains and aches and are important in preventing more severe problems later, as the demands of the work and age increase. Consult with your doctor or the people at your health club, or get out and run around the block two or three times a week. Endurance and strength come from using muscles until your heart beat and breathing rate increase and your body is tired. Our work is not the most stressful, nor the least, but we generally do not get enough of the right kinds of exercise.
Whether you stand or sit at the piano depends upon your height, the type of piano, and how you feel at the time. I will tune standing or sitting at a grand, but will only sit at a spinet and can only stand at the really tall old uprights.
One thing to avoid is bending over for hours at a time until your back becomes rigid. (This is called muscle spasm.) If this does happen, sit down and gradually relax. Do not force your back to straighten. Doing so can cause great pain and very expensive rehabilitation. Become aware of your body and how your work habits stress it. Develop good working postures.
All this is to say that good hammer technique (as distinct from pin-setting technique) is of the tools, the piano, the body, and the mind as well as the body of experience. Become perceptive and adaptive, allowing different approaches to help you to get better, more accurate, and more stable results.

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