Effect of inharmonicity on pitch perception and subjective tuning of piano tones

Jussi Jaatinen*, Jukka Pätynen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
86 Downloads (Pure)


The consensus in piano tuning philosophy explains the stretched tuning scale by the inharmonicity of piano strings. This study aimed to examine how variable inharmonicity influences the result of the piano tuning process, compare the tuning curves of aurally tuned pianos with the curves derived from subjective octave enlargement experiments, and evaluate whether the pitches of inharmonic or harmonic versions of the same tone are perceived differently. In addition, the influence of strings of other piano keys on the measured inharmonicity of a single piano string was investigated. The inharmonicity of all individual strings was measured on a Steinway D grand piano. Variable inharmonicity was implemented by additive synthesis with frequency-adjusted sinusoidal partials. Fifteen piano tuners and 18 orchestra musicians participated in the experiments. The results indicate that the inharmonic piano tones produced a keyboard tuning curve similar to the Railsback curve and differed significantly from the harmonic counterpart. The inharmonic tuning curve was reminiscent of the subjective octave enlargement curve. Inharmonic tone pitches were perceived to be higher than harmonic tones up to C » 7. The covibrating strings of the other keys did not exhibit any meaningful effect on the measured inharmonicity of a single string of the played key.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1146-1157
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of the Acoustical Society of America
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2022
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


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