TESTING THE TUNING TESTS


Some of the most useful information to come out of the last years use of the proposed testing procedure is an objective analysis of the skill levels of the testees, a concept of what a good tuning is and some of the most effective tuning evaluation procedures I know of.
If you are in a testing situation, or just wish to be able to perform an analysis of your own work these procedures can be helpful. If you do not have testing equipment and wish to objectively look at your own tuning you will have to do the tuning and then walk away from it for an hour or two to let your mind rest and acquire a new perspective on tuning.
It is of no consequence which fork you use or which “temperament octave” you prefer. The analysis of tempering will require a minimum of twenty-five notes for potential error elimination. The only strictures on this two-octave placement are those imposed by the piano and your ears. The two octaves should not cross over wound strings if at all possible and the range should not be such that the beats of sixths and thirds become too fast for accurate assessment.
For this purpose the biggest or the best is better, but biggest does not necessarily mean the best, so choose an instrument that is easy to tune and fine for listening and all that might imply for you.
Pick almost any notes, high, middle or low and using that note as a pivot point, check the two fourths, the two fifths and especially the two thirds that revolve around that one note and compare them all but in pairs, not mixed. If all appears well with that note and its intervals, then go to the next note above or below and continue this form of analysis until the entire two octaves have been validated and possible changes noted but not necessarily made yet.
As an example, C4 is the pivot note. Listen very carefully to the C4-F4 and G3-C4 fourths several times. What is being sought is a variation of the beat rate that is less than acceptable. Within practical limits, they should be identical. If no change is desired, then switch to the related fifths, C4-G4 and F3-C4, again played several times, seeking improper tempering. It is well to make good use of the third/sixth test of fourths and the sixth/tenth test of fifths to help define beat rates. The more difficult but highly informative conjunctive thirds G#3-C4 and C4-E4 must have the 4 to 5 beat rate ratio. This is one of the more helpful tests in that it has a balance that remains constant and once the ear is attuned to the relationship, a minor error assumes major proportions.
Each octave must be tested three ways. First the third/tenth test will verify the degree of expansion, second the conjunctive thirds will validate the stretch and the proper placement of the two inner notes, and finally a very careful aural evaluation is made. Careful running of adjacent thirds, sixths and tenths will also help in finding errors, especially minor ones. One must not rely on tenths, thirds, sixths, fourths or fifths to the exclusion of the others. They must all be used but if minor sacrifices must be made, favouring the thirds and sixths seems to be more tolerable.
What must be done when an error is found is to determine which note or interval to change. If, for example, the C4-E4 third is a little too slow, the related thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths and tenths (where possible) of BOTH C4 and E4 need to be assessed. It is not at all impossible for both notes to need changing. What is not uncommon is that by changing one, other changes need to be made in a chain that may take an hour to rectify. If this does happen, just continue on until you have arrived at THE perfect temperament – for that one piano. It does happen that three intervals will seem to be improved by a minor change and three others will not be improved, but made worse. If this does happen, make a choice to change or not to change and continue on with the process. It may happen that some of the other notes will need improvement, but you will not know this until you have finished the analysis. It will out in the end. This is why I suggest checking the entire two octaves first; to get an overview, then begin from the start and make your changes. 
This is fatiguing work, so do not allow yourself to get to the point where you cannot hear anything at all. Stop earlier, rest, and then return. This is one reason a committee can do a super tuning easier than one person.
The purpose of all this is to improve your tuning, improve your perception of your tuning, and increase your error spotting and correction speed.
After the temperament has been verified, the next set of values is for the bass. Evenly digressing thirds, tenths and seventeenths, smooth octaves and double octaves, smooth twelfths and balanced conjunctive thirds, although the thirds will be somewhat wilder than can be permitted in the middle register. Check for smooth fifths and slightly faster fourths than in the middle.
Intervals should not be played hard. Generally, hard played intervals are harder to hear accurately. Hard playing increases ear fatigue. Play gently and listen carefully.
Going into the treble, the fourths, fifths, octaves, third/tenth/seventeenth, progressive thirds, tenths, and seventeenths (all the way up); single, double and triple octaves all need to be played in a rarely varied pattern that you establish for yourself. The conjunctive thirds are useful surprisingly high, into octave six on some pianos. The fourth and fifth drop out about C6 but the twelfth can take over until the end. What is wanted is clarity of tone (no beats in single, double and triple octaves, and in twelfths). What is wanted is an even progression of the third and its relatives, and finally, definition of tone in the high treble. Playing octaves softly up and down will often show an out-of-tune octave faster than some of the other tests, especially on a piano with a faulty treble.
I have taken the Sanderson – Koleman test, and although it is time consuming for both the tester and the testee, I feel that the merits of the test far outweigh its liabilities. In terms of its merits as compared to the present test, I think the testees learn so much about their abilities, their handicaps, about themselves and their tuning, that using any of the older testing procedures leaves the testee and the tester in considerable doubt, in some cases, of the tuners ability. Objectivity is worth striving for.
There has been some anxiety concerning the use of electronic tuning aids (ETA) and a computer. The more accurately two or more tuners can tune a piano, the wider the margin for error the testee will have; the ETA is used only to accurately record the master tuning done by the aural testers, and the calculator is used only in the scoring. The scoring can be done with pencil and paper, but what would be required is six columns of figures: the master tuning measurement, pitch compensation factor (in the event the testee tuned the piano flat or sharp the total point loss could be staggering without making allowance for that fact), the adjusted figure, the testee’s tuning record, the allowed margin for error (as much as 6 cents in the bass and 6 in the treble) and finally the score. I would not care to have to do all that addition and subtraction by hand, it would take hours!
Finally, every point taken off the score must be verified and agreed to aurally by examiners and examinee or it is declared an invalid point loss and restored – also the test is just plain fun.

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