I recently discovered that my piano tuner is not the pianist I thought he was. After the last tuning he was playing some nice sounding chords so I asked him to play a piece and he admitted that he couldn’t. Surely he should be able to?
Actually, although it is a commonly held belief that piano tuners must be able to play, it really isn’t necessary at all. Tuning is a very different art to playing the piano and the tuner and pianist are listening to very different sounds when they are concentrating on their separate skills. The pianist is listening to the pitch and tone of musical notes while creating melodies and harmonies. The art of the tuner is to enable that to happen by ensuring that the individual notes flow evenly through the scale and octaves, from deep bass to high treble, with the smoothest graduations of tone and touch that the quality of the instrument will allow. The tuner is not necessarily listening to the pitch of the note he is tuning but the interference or ‘beats’ which occur when two strings of different intervals are struck together, or in the case of a unison, the absence of beats. This is a skill which takes years to develop and has nothing to do with pianistic skills which actually wouldn’t help him much. Those chords that your tuner plays after his work is done are to test how the piano might sound to a pianist’s ears and also for you. It is far more sensible to employ a properly trained tuner who cannot or chooses not to play than a competent pianist who thinks he can tune as well as play.