Last week I attended the annual convention of the Piano Technicians Guild (PTG), the world's premier group of piano techs. This year the convention was in Arlington, Virginia. It was great to reconnect with colleagues from around the United States and the world, to share information about all things piano, get a few new tools from the many exhibitors at the convention, and to learn a lot from the educational sessions that technicians presented each day.
I focused mainly on educational sessions related to voicing - taking steps to improve the tone that the piano produces. I attended a fascinating presentation by Jason Cassel, who used technical tools to graph the effects of different hammer voicing techniques on the prominence of different overtones produced by the piano's strings. Long story short, when a piano hammer strikes a string, the hammer sets the string in motion in a certain way. By voicing the hammer - shaping it with sandpaper and then poking the hammer with needles in very specific parts of the hammer and in very specific ways - we change the way the hammer interacts with the string when the hammer strikes it. The hammer voicing techniques have profound effects on the way the string vibrates and produces sound. I learned a lot about how to use this knowledge to my advantage to voice piano hammers to get specific tonal effects.
I also attended a number of sessions that centered on tuning techniques that help with stability - the goal of tuning a piano in a way that will best preserve the tuning. Of course, with time and humidity changes, all pianos go out of tune. But the goal of tuning stability is to try to extend the amount of time that the piano stays in tune. Tuning stability usually involves a discussion of tuning hammer techniques, the use (or not!) of loud striking of the piano keys during tuning, the massaging of strings when they sound strange to try to get them to come into tune the way we want, and a comparison of the relative levels of tension on the several different parts of a piano string.
Finally, I attended a number of sessions about regulation - the myriad steps that we take to adjust some of the many moving parts of the piano to make it operate well and to provide a great touch and feel for the pianist. Regulation involves many different things: Making sure that the keyframe - the wooden frame that holds the keys - is properly making even and appropriate contact with the keybed - the part of the piano into which the keyframe slides. Setting all keys at the proper height. Adjusting key dip - how far down the key can be depressed. Adjusting hammer head distance to the strings when at rest and when they move very close to the strings before striking the strings. Measuring aftertouch - the small amount of key travel at the end of the stroke that's important for a pianist's fingers to stay healthy, and also for the pianist to get a great feeling of control at the keyboard. And on and on.
The PTG also offers examinations at the convention for members who are seeking certification as Registered Piano Technicians (RPTs). Each tuning exam is conducted by a certified tuning examiner and two RPTs. As an RPT myself, I was in on an exam during the convention. Although I passed the exams last year and became an RPT, I had not been involved in the administration of an exam. It was a great learning experience for me to be in on the examination process.
Last year, I was not able to attend the PTG annual convention because I was working as a piano technician at the Boston University Tanglewood Institute in Lenox, Massachusetts. So this year was my first convention. After reflecting on all of the great experiences at the convention, I think I'll try to make it a yearly ritual of reconnecting with colleagues and keeping up to date with piano technology techniques.