Setting A440 with a Tuning Fork

Setting A440 with a Tuning Fork

Sep 22, 2023

Setting A440 to a Tuning Fork (Piano Tuning)

Welcome to our Series on Piano Tuning and Repair.

The first step in tuning a piano by ear is to set your first note to a pitch source such as a tuning fork. In the demonstration video above we show how to set A4 to a tuning fork. We show both the traditional tuning fork and an electronic tuning fork as used on an iPad.

If you want to see more of our Piano Tuning and Repair Series, click here to access the entire playlist.

Video Transcript:


Welcome to this next video from Howard Piano Industries. I'm Steve Howard and we're going to be showing you today, in this video, how to set A440 with a tuning fork. The first step when you're tuning piano by ear is to set your initial note. Now, some people use a different tuning fork rather than A440. Some will use the F or the C fork, but A440 is generally what I use. Some people say, what's more common? I'm not sure what's more common, but I just know that A440 is what I generally use if I'm tuning by ear to use a tuning fork. So we're going to show you a couple different options.

Tuning Process Explanation

Here we've got a traditional, steel tuning fork. This is a Wittner. We sell these on our website. Then we'll also show you an electronic tuning fork, which you can get on your iPad or your smartphone or that type of thing. So, a couple different ways, but setting your first note to start with is the first step that you're going to be doing when you're tuning by ear.

Now, some say, well why do you have to tune to any standard at all? Why not just start wherever A4 is and tune the rest of the piano to that? You could do that, but if it's below pitch or above pitch, or whatever, it's good to usually bring it back to where it should be. I've talked in other videos about reasons why you may want to tune below a standard pitch, or above standard pitch, depending on the season, or for different reasons, but that's another topic.

Anyways, today we're going to be showing you how to do it. So we'll get started. Here, we've got to show you first, with the standard traditional tuning fork. Now, there's some different ways, so what you do it you strike the tuning fork on a hard surface. I usually use my knee. You could, you don't want to necessarily do it on the case of the piano, because it can dent the wood, because it's pretty hard. So I just use my knee and then, because it's usually pretty quiet you have to put the ball end there on a hard surface. What I like to do is, I put this end of the fork between my teeth. Don't do that if you're borrowing a friend's tuning fork, because they might not appreciate that you stuck it in your mouth and also, maybe use a clean tuning fork if you're going to put it in your mouth.

But that seems to work because what that does is, that vibrates the sound so you can hear it better in your head at least from my experience. The other thing is that it frees up your hands so that one hand can be playing the note and the other hand can be turning the tuning lever at the same time. If you put it, stick it on here and you only have one hand available, so that's the reasoning that I used between sticking in between my teeth and it usually works pretty good. Here we've got an A440. It's kind of the international standard. Sometimes they'll do A435 or A442 or whatever, but A440 is, in most cases, the standard. So that's what we're working with today.

Tuning Fork Demonstration

So, I'm going to just, to kind of, as an example, I'm going to hit it and I'll play, can hear that. So that shows you the sound. It's not super loud but it's, once you stick it on the hard surface you can hear the tone. What we're going to do is, and I've already tuned this to A440, but what you're going to want to do, and I'll show you, to some, the way to check it, for accuracy, well, once you've tuned it.

But okay, that's probably a little bit sharp because I tuned it to my electronic tuning fork and I found that this tuning fork is just a little bit flat. It's about 0.9 cents flat almost a full cent flat, and that's another thing with steel tuning forks or the traditional tuning forks. They can vary in pitch a little bit depending on the temperature, and so forth, so you can adjust that if it's too cold, you can warm it up in your hand. So, like in the wintertime, and you've had your bag out in the car when it, where it's cold, the tuning fork will vary in pitch depending on temperature and so forth. So, that's why I like prefer to use the digital or electronic tuning fork, which I'll show you in a minute.

But anyways, to check your results, what you can do is you can check with the digital tuning fork, since that's what it's tuned to. Well, basically, what you're going to do is, you're going to, once you've got it tuned, or at least, where you think to the tuning fork, you can double check it by playing the octave below it. You can hear it, that's not completely in tune, but it doesn't really matter as long as it's close and you can hear an audible beat that's not too terribly fast or too terribly slow. So, you want it to be a little bit off.

So there's, okay, so you can hear, there's a beat there. Hopefully you can hear it. You might not be able to hear it on the recording, but what you want to do is, then you can play the note with your tuning fork whether it be digital or a traditional tuning fork, and see if that beat rate is the same, okay, so this beat rate should be the same as this beep rate.

So, I've got my iPad here with my digital tuning fork, and it's actually a little louder and the other thing is, it doesn't fade away as time goes, it just keeps going. So, that should be pretty good, and I'm going to double-check it with this note down here. You can hear that beat, and it should be the same speed as the beat of these two notes. That's how you double-check it to see if you're close, and of course if you've got TuneLab on your iPad or whatever.

Let me see where we're at with this. So, that's just about right on there. So, that's the way you can double check yourself if you've got tuning software or tuning with electronic tuning device, as you're practicing to get better at improving your accuracy on setting that first A440. Now, part of the tuning test to become a registered piano technician for the piano technicians guild is setting that A440. You have to be able to get it within one cent, plus or minus of where it should be. I don't know, I always think the electronic tuning fork is easier to use, and so forth. So, that's what I tend to use, but you might find the traditional tuning fork, that works better for you as well if you don't have an electronic tuning fork. So, that's a little lesson here today on how to set A440. Again, the first step in tuning a piano by ear.