A Key Comparison

Photo by Markus Gjengaar on Unsplash

One of the things I have observed over the last few months is the odd similarities between writing and piano tuning. If you know anything about either, you might be laughing. But it’s no joke.

As some of you know, back in August I took up a piano tuning apprenticeship. It’s been challenging, there’s so much to learn, and I’ve been in really cool situations where a lot of rare repair work has been needed. But that’s not the point.

The point is, actually, about the similarities between piano tuning and writing. I would have never of thought of it myself had I not had first-hand experience with both. Truth is, they are very similar, and I am going to explain why.

When tuning a piano, you start first with the temperament. Piano strings, except for the bass which goes to two and then just one string, are three strings per note. After muting the outer two, you tune the middle one to the correct pitch. The temperament section is the middle section of the piano, to put it simply. I was taught to tune by fifths and then to double-check the work before moving down into the bass by octaves and then going up and tuning the unisons. Yes, you guessed it, the unisons are all three strings.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

It also sounds simple to write a first draft of the story and then edit it several times.

If you are a writer or a piano tuner (or both, who knows!), you know that it’s not simple.

With piano tuning, the pins can be stiff and therefore hard to tune. Or they can be too loose and easily slip out of tune. Or, it’s been a long while since the piano was tuned and even once you’re finished, something’s fallen out. Likewise, all stories are different and some stories are easier to write than others; each have their own difficulties and each writer has their own strengths and weaknesses to meet it.

Each part of tuning a piano is neither harder or easier than the others; likewise with writing. On the one hand, a piano temperament is hard because it’s the first part you have to delve into and you have to make sure that it’s in perfect pitch before moving on to anything else. Same with the first drafts. Writing out the first draft may seem easy compared with all the editing that comes later, but the first draft comes with its own set of difficulties. It’s not as easy as it seems to write it all out on paper–or a computer document. It comes with its struggles of writer’s block, frustration when the story doesn’t seem to be turning out the way you want it to, struggling with inspiration to keep going, etc. And that is only the beginning.

After temperaments and first drafts, the fun begins.

Unisons, in a sense, are easier than temperaments because it’s easier to hear when they come in tune. In the same way, it’s fairly easy to see when your editing is making your work nice and polished and shiny. But it’s extremely difficult to get all the strings or all the sections of your work to be equally good, equally on pitch, equally smooth and flowing throughout so that it’s a beautiful piano to play on and a beautiful book to read. And sometimes, a section has fallen out of tune, so you have to go back and tune it over again; sometimes you realize that that scene just isn’t going to work and you have to completely cut it and then make sure that it all flows smoothly without it, or maybe add in a different scene.

It’s painful; it causes a lot of frustration, sweat, and tears at times. But the end result is why we do it. It’s why piano tuners and writers exist. It’s why pianos and books exist.

And hey, who doesn’t love a good story or a well-tuned piano?

I hope you understand now the keys to success.


(Yes, that’s a terrible pun, especially since most of us write on laptops with *cough* keyboards…)

*awkwardly slinks off*


At any rate, I hope you enjoyed. 🙂

~ Cheyenne

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