Job as a piano tuner

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Gary White works as a self employed piano tuner and repairer having trained at the Royal National College for the Blind.

What do you do?

I fine-tune grand and upright pianos in people's homes, schools, music colleges, hotels, concert halls and BBC studios. Making repairs to acoustic pianos is also part of my job, as well as real piano mechanisms found in some electronic instruments.

I repair broken hammers or strings, and damaged or missing key covers. For this I use tools such as screwdrivers, pliers, cutters and other specialist equipment.

How do you know a piano needs tuning?

Each note in the high (treble) section of a piano has three strings. All these must be tuned perfectly, so that they sound as one note. I then ensure that all the notes of the piano are at the correct pitch. When the piano makes a 'jangly' sound, you know that it needs tuning. This should take place every six months.

Concert pianos for professional orchestras and performances on the TV and radio need to be tuned on the day of the performance. I use a traditional tuning fork which, when struck, sends out the same note wherever you are.

Describe a typical day?

I usually repair or tune about four pianos a day, which involves travelling some distance by public transport or using a taxi under the Government's Access to Work scheme, as I have a visual impairment.

Sometimes, I am asked to inspect pianos for prospective buyers and arrange sales. One day a week I work for a music college in Birmingham, maintaining and tuning all their pianos.

What skills are needed for this work?

You do need a good ear. The ability to play the piano is a great advantage, and the customers benefit from this. The ability to deal with different people in a helpful and courteous manner is essential, including the occasional difficult customer.

Why did you choose this career?

I have played the piano since I was 12. Whilst studying music at school I was fascinated by the inside workings of the piano, and I knew that I would enjoy this job.

What do you like about the job?

I love meeting people and no two days are ever the same. There is great job satisfaction when a piano has been properly tuned. Customers then gain confidence in your work and make recommendations to other people.

Where do you see your future?

I want to stay within the domestic market of piano tuning and repair. However, I would also like to develop my work with concert halls. Organising piano hire is another area I might branch into.

Gary's route

  • GCSEs.
  • Three-year piano technology course.
  • Certificate in Stringed Keyboard Instrument Manufacture and Design.
  • National Diploma for visually impaired piano tuners.
  • Self-employed piano tuner/repairer.

Gary's tips

  • Get experience using tools such as screwdrivers under supervision. Metal construction sets or model making can be a fun way of achieving this safely.
  • An interest in music and the ability to play the piano are a great advantage.

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Salary information

  • Most piano tuners are self-employed. It can take between two and seven years to establish a customer base and a fulltime income. The fee for fine-tuning a piano ranges from £35 to £50.
  • On average, a tuner would do between four and six jobs a day.
  • After two years in the business you could expect to earn £15,000, rising to around £25,000 after another five years.
  • Salaries for those employed in piano shops could range from £10,000 to £20,000.

Getting in

  • Full training is essential. The work is equally open to visually impaired and sighted people.
  • There are no formal academic entry requirements for the VIEW (Association for the Education and Welfare of the Visually Impaired) National Diploma for Piano Tuners. Practical skills and a musical interest are an advantage. Good communication skills are important.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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