Robert Conrad, Registered Piano Tuner/Technician, Tucson, AZ

Tuning Templates

From the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary:

Definition of ‘template’

1 a (1) : a gauge, pattern, or mold (such as a thin plate or board) used as a guide to the form of a piece being made
(2) : a molecule (as of DNA) that serves as a pattern for the generation of another macromolecule (such as messenger RNA)
b : overlay c
2 : something that establishes or serves as a pattern
3 : a short piece or block placed horizontally in a wall under a beam to distribute its weight or pressure (as over a door)

Templates are not tunings.

First of all, templates are not ‘tunings’, they are more of a pattern or mold used for finding target notes as defined above.

Page 480 is not a tuning. Page 480 contains a bass template, a midrange template, and a treble template. When these templates are used for tuning a piano, one page is used for the bass – a bass template, a different page for the midrange – a midrange template, and a 3rd page for the treble – a treble template.

This is similar to mixing and matching shoes, pants, and shirts. With 3 pairs of shoes, 3 pairs of pants, and 3 shirts, if we can wear one pair of shoes with each of the 3 pairs of pants and then again, each of those combinations can be worn with each of the 3 shirts, we have many more combinations of outfits.

With 800 ‘tunings’ we only have 800 tunings we can use. But with 800 bass templates, each bass template be paired up with any one of 800 midrange templates, and those two templates can then be combined with any one of 800 treble templates.

This ‘template’ approach for mapping results in infinitely more options available for accurately fitting a tuning (which is made up of 3 templates) to a piano.

Maybe the easiest way to explain and understand what these tuning templates are and how they are used, is to show the header sheet containing the page numbers and the target note information contained on each page.

If you click on this link, you will be able to download and view the complete list of templates in my SAT 980:
Template Header Sheet

The templates are divided into 3 sections: bass, mid-range, and treble.
The page numbers is the column on the left.
The note of the piano is shown at the top of each column.

The vertical blue line separates the Bass template from the Midrange template.
The vertical red line separates the Midrange template from the treble template.

There is also some color coding to make it easier to read.
A4 is the red column and is underlined and in italics.
A2 and A3 are green.
A0 and A1 are in italics and are in a blue color.

The treble, A5, A6, and A7 are purple with A6 being underlined.

Again, each page is NOT a tuning. Each page contains 3 templates: bass, midrange, and treble.

The Midrange Templates

The Midrange templates are organized by the A4 numbers, going from lowest to highest. Scrolling up and down thru the header you will notice the A4 number on Pg. 141 is 4.2, the A4 number on Pg. 300 is 8.2, the A4 number on Pg. 650 is 11.0, and so on.

For each A4 number there are probably more than one template.

For instance, pages 637 – 651 all have the same A4 number of 11.0. The difference between each of those pages is the A3 number.
Page 637 has an A3 number of 1.1, and a A4 number of 11.0
Page 645 has an A3 number of 3.0, and a A4 number of 11.0
Page 650 has an A3 number of 4.1, and a A4 number of 11.0

The 2nd level of organization for the midrange templates is the A3 number.

Mapping begins by tuning A4 to A440 (A4 @ 0.0) and then measuring the location of A4’s 2nd, 4th, and 8th partials.
Since the 4th partial is used tuning A4, the 4th partial location is the tuning setting for A4.

The 2nd step in mapping is to tune A3 as a pure 4:2 octave.   A3 is tuned to the 2nd partial of A4.
Once the 4th and 2nd partial locations of A4 are known, a template can be selected using that A3 and A4 information.

For example, when A4 is tuned to A440, if it’s 4th partial is @ 8.8, and it’s 2nd partial is @ 2.1, select the midrange template on page 359 that has it’s A4 setting @ 8.8 and it’s A3 setting @ 2.1 c..    Tune A3 and A4 using page 359.  Any of the other notes contained within the prime octave (A3-A4) can be tuned as well if needed to check the pure 4:2 width to make sure it is the best width for the prime octave on that piano.

If the 4:2 octave needs to be wider, a different midrange template can be selected with a lower A3 number.
Maybe page 356 which puts A3 @ 1.4 (instead of 2.1) and keeps A4 @ 8.8.
Using page 356 instead of page 359 will expand the A3/A4 4:2 by about .7 c.
Any notes within the octave can be tuned to see if the wider 4:2 is a better fit.

There is another midrange template with an even lower A3 number (same A4 number) that can be tried. Page 353 puts A3 @ .8 while keeping A4 @ 8.8.


A2 is  -1.9 c.  on every template. But in most cases, -1.9 c. will not be where A2 eventually is tuned.   Mapping will determine the best location for A2, but the starting point for every template is -1.9 c.

Before the LC Spreadsheet, these templates were used for tuning. But now are just used for mapping.

Mapping is not tuning every note in the octave.  In fact, the desire is to tune as few notes as possible during the mapping process.   When mapping the prime octave, in addition to A3 and A4, D4 and E4 are also tuned so the 4ths and 5ths can be checked.

The same is true for the sub prime (A2-A3) octave.  The midrange template gives us a starting point for A2, D3, and E3.  Each one of those notes will be mapped and their best locations used for the creation of the tuning with the LC spreadsheet.

Once the prime is mapped, D3 is a good note to map next.   D3 is a P12th from A4.

Does one size really fit all?

There has been a lot of discussion, articles written,  and software styles created and sold, lately regarding the Pure 12th, or Pure Tone tuning style.

The suggestion seems to be that with the Perfect 12th or pure tone tuning style, a single stretch amount based on the pure 12th can be used for the whole piano.   So a year or so ago, I started checking where I end up tuning that first P12th (D3/A4).

Most technicians who use an ETD, will never really check what they are actually getting in terms of cents.   And the Sanderson AccuTuner is the only device that will easily do Direct Interval Tuning.   But even if technicians actually did start checking what they were getting, what could they really do about it?

The tuning software programs installed on phones and tablets, is not really able to do Direct Interval Tuning.   Some have said it is possible, but those systems need to be ‘tricked’ into doing any Direct Interval Tuning.  How many technicians using those products are actually going to be able to or willing to ‘trick’ their software into really finding out what their devices are really giving them.

But most technicians will just conclude that it really doesn’t matter, because their pianos sound fine, and that’s all they need to do.

The idea of a Tuning ‘Style’ is nothing more than a certain amount of stretch that is predetermined by the software.   The idea is that for this piano or that piano, this or that amount of stretch is best.   But there continue to be more and more Tuning ‘Styles’ added to the software.

The Pure Tone or Perfect 12ths Tuning Style or whatever it is called is another Tuning Style to be marketed.   It is currently being sold as the 21st Century tuning style.   They are counting on the fact, that no one is ever really going to check to see if they are really tuning P12ths throughout the scale.

Since their software can’t do Direct Interval Tuning, they can’t even check it with their own product.    Their software contains a certain stretch for this section, or that section and that’s it.   One style might be this amount of stretch here, and that amount there, and so on.   Their latest Pure Tone or P 12th style is just another prescribed stretch and therefore a new Tuning Style.   Who knows, it might sound better on some pianos than one of their other Tuning Styles.

So, does one size fit all?  Of course not.  At least not as far as I can tell, and I’ve checked it on lots of pianos as part of my regular mapping routines.   If it did, all prime octaves would sound ‘fine’ tuned to same width.    There are just too many variables.   When the prime is measured using the 4:2, some are best a wide 4:2, some are best pure, and some are even best a slightly narrow 4:2!

It only takes 4 notes to determine the best sounding width for the prime octave: A3, D4, E4 and A4.   The LC spreadsheet makes it possible to adjust the midpoint of the prime octave, in order to balance the width and therefore the beating of the prime 4ths and 5ths.

The P12th position for D3, based on my work, is rarely pure.   I’ve been checking this in my tunings for months.   Maybe their software is not necessarily a pure 12th, but maybe their software claims to find the best single P12th width and then uses that width for the whole piano??

The scaling in the tenor and mid range is too varied to make those kinds of claims.   There’s just too much compromising required.

This D3/A4 P12th’s width is very piano dependent, and more specifically, very dependent on the width of the prime octave. The D3/A4 P12th is sometimes wide, sometimes narrow, but only occasionally pure.

The Bass Templates:

Before LC, these bass templates were used for tuning. And of course they still can be. Before LC, 3 different pages were used for each tuning.

The transition going from the midrange template to the bass template was the most involved aspect of tuning a piano using templates.
First, using the midrange template often involved tweaking A2 to somewhere other than the -1.9 default. That often involved the use of some DOB in the the lower half of the subprime octave.

Once the best location for A2 was known, for a smooth transition, an offset was often needed when switching pages between the bass page and the midrange page.

It was a bit of work, but that method works really well, much better than anything else I’ve done. But LC made all that unnecessary more accurate and faster, with much less button pressing during the tuning. LC also allows us to hit every target exactly.

So, in the past the bass templates were used for both mapping and tuning. But when using LC, the bass can be mapped without using the bass templates.

The Treble templates.

The treble templates are super handy for mapping the treble. Since each treble template has specific settings for A5, A6 and A7, it is easy to test target locations, by tuning not only the A’s but also the D’s and E’s, and for great aural checks.

After mapping A3 and A4, those settings can be used to select a template that will come close to both A5 and A6.
(See mapping A5 for more details on mapping the treble).

Once the treble template is selected based on what might be a good setting for A5, tune A5 and then D5 using that treble template.
Tuning A5 allows us to hear the A4/A5 octave, the A3/A5 double octave, and the D5/A5 5th.
Tuning E5 allows for listening to the A4/E5 5th.

The 5ths are the best indicators as to whether or not A5 is sharp enough or too sharp. And they are easy to hear.
If A5 needs to go a little higher, simply select a different treble template with slightly higher A5 (and A6 setting), re-tune A5, D5 and E5 and re-listen.

Once A5 is in a good place, it is helpful to look at the settings (numbers) for A3 and A4. What they will tell you is the width of both the A3/A5 double octave. Generally speaking the A4/A6 double should be a bigger number than the A3/A5 double. If the A3/A5 double is about 1.0 wide, a good width for the A4/A6 double might be 1.7 or 1.8 c. wide.
So if the setting for A4 is 8.8, tuning A6 to 10.5 results in a 1.7 wide A4/A6 double octave.
Knowing a starting point for this A6 location will help in selecting a treble template with the known A5 location and this 10.5 A6 location.

Of course if the D6 and E6 don’t confirm the placement of A6, then another treble template with a higher or lower A6 can be selected, and D6 and E6 re-tuned and rechecked until the setting for A6 is found (mapped).

A7 is tuned to the triple octave (from A4).   The mapped setting for A7 has been known since first measuring the 2nd, 4th and 8th partials of A4. Of course LC allows for tuning A7 to a different location if desired.

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