Piano Technology

Piano Technology

Piano Technology

Artist Diploma Program

Piano technology has become a collaborative art with performing pianists. Oberlin's two-year program takes the skills of experienced technicians to the next level, creating an artist who understands how to make the instrument a real extension of what the pianist is doing.

Department Overview

The Conservatory of Music’s Artist Diploma in Piano Technology is a two-year program of study designed in association with Steinway & Sons. It capitalizes on the conservatory’s long relationship with the piano maker, its access to incredible performers, and more than 230 Steinway grand pianos of all vintages. The conservatory is an all-Steinway school and has been since 1877. It also is the only offsite factory training facility for the C.F. Theodore Steinway Technical Academy.

The program emphasizes the collaborative relationship between the concert artist and piano technician and features mentorship by concert technicians and rebuilders John Cavanaugh, Robert Murphy, and Ken Sloane. Study includes advanced techniques on both New York and Hamburg built models in the shop and on stage, as well as harpsichord and fortepiano maintenance and tuning.


Curriculum Overview

The Artist Diploma in Piano Technology program will consist of four semesters of study with John Cavanaugh, director of the Artist Diploma in Technology program and executive director of keyboard technology; Ken Sloane, emeritus director of piano technology and former head of piano technology; and Robert Murphy, assistant director of piano technology and curator of fortepianos.

The teaching staff will provide daily mentoring, work alongside the student, test the student’s work, and provide feedback. They also will facilitate conversations between students and artists, and participate in one-on-one conversations, demonstrations, and explanations of topics pertinent to their assigned projects. Students will work independently on assigned projects each day.

Although concert prep skills are an important part of the program, its scope is much broader. In addition to training students in concert tuning and preparation, instructors and staff will help students develop rebuilding and shop skills. During the first year, students can expect to replace a fully fitted Steinway pinblock, perform soundboard repairs, and receive training in tool sharpening and maintenance for hand tools and machines. Basic fortepiano and harpsichord tuning and maintenance round out the curriculum for the first-year student.

Second-year students will tune and prepare pianos for junior and senior recitals, recordings, and master classes. They also will learn such advanced woodworking and shop skills as recapping bridges, action forefinishing in rebuilt Steinways, and installation of new damper actions.

Students also will receive instruction from visiting teachers from the New York Steinway factory and independent master piano technicians who specialize in action and tonal work. Each student will be required to give one presentation each semester and complete one yearlong project. The spring semester presentation will be juried.

First- and Second-Year Projects

The first-year project will require the student to restore a grand action using existing key and action geometry (e.g., will not install a new keyboard), regulating the action and voicing the hammers, while meeting with an artist in order to prepare the action to that pianist’s taste. 

For the second-year project, the student will restore a grand action using new keysticks on a new keyframe and forefinishing the leverage and geometry of the new keys. This includes setting up levers and parts to make sense inside the piano in three dimensions—depth, width, and height—from scratch, so that the keys feel correct to the pianist, and the hammers strike the strings at the correct point. As in the first-year project, the student will regulate the action and voice the hammers while meeting with an artist to prepare the action to the pianists taste.