Registered Piano Technician

Detailed Description of the RPT Exams (rev. 9/2016)

The Piano Technicians Guild (PTG) offers a set of three examinations that comprehensively and objectively define a minimum standard of acceptable knowledge and skills qualifying Associate members for reclassification to Registered Piano Technician (RPT). We call this set of tests the RPT Exams, and this fact sheet describes each in sufficient detail so that you will be better prepared and able to gauge your readiness for this challenge.

No organization has done more to upgrade the profession of the piano technician than PTG, and the work done by PTG members in developing the RPT Exams has been a major contribution to the advancement of higher standards in the field. PTG offers its testing program as well as numerous educational opportunities to the working piano technician as an incentive to inspire quality work, a gauge against which to measure progress, and a standard of competency to identify those ready to be called Registered Piano Technicians.

Many candidates aren't sure how to tell if they are ready to challenge the RPT Exams. Since the test fees are a significant expense, and the time investment is considerable for both examinee and examiners, you may want to request a "pre-screening" evaluation of your readiness before each exam. No one who meets the requirements is ever denied the chance to challenge the tests even without such an evaluation, but most members appreciate the opportunity to be pre-screened and thereby maximize their chances of success.

The RPT Exams are available exclusively to PTG members in good standing; please bring your current membership card with you to each test. The three exams -- written, technical and tuning -- each carry a passing score of 80%. You take the written exam first, usually at the chapter level. After you pass, you will receive a Reclassification Form with the written exam section dated and signed by the examiner. This form, along with your current PTG membership card, is your passport to further testing and you keep the form until you pass all exams.

After successful completion of the written exam and receipt of your Reclassification Form, you may make an appointment with a test sponsor for either or both of the remaining exams. We do not recommend that you schedule both the tuning and technical exams on the same day, since each one requires four or more hours to complete. However, you are not restricted in your choice of test sites; if testing is unavailable from your chapter or you simply wish to apply for testing elsewhere, you are free to seek out other sites. Once the exam process starts, there is a four-year time limit. If you don't pass all three tests within this period, then one or more of them may have to be repeated.

Written Exam

The RPT Written Exam consists of 100 questions, all true/false or multiple choice. The questions are grouped into four sections: Tuning, Regulation and Action Function, Repairs and Voicing / General Information. The last section contains questions about voicing/tone regulation, piano design and construction, piano history and other miscellaneous piano-related subjects. You have 90 minutes to complete the exam, but most examinees finish in one hour or less. There are two versions of this test available; if you fail to score 80% on one, you will receive the other version the next time around.  Answer the questions as they relate to normal circumstances, not drawing on any experience in unusual or experimental repairs. Most questions aim at measuring your basic knowledge of piano technology and nomenclature. It is available in English, Spanish, Japanese, Korean and Chinese.

Technical Exam

The RPT Technical Exam is divided into three parts: Grand Regulation, Vertical Regulation and Repairs. To pass, you must score 80% or higher on each part. The entire exam takes about four hours to administer; every required task has a time limit, and these limits are strictly observed.

Once you have contacted a test sponsor and submitted the appropriate fee, you will receive a letter from the Certified Technical Examiner confirming your appointment time and place, and specifying the tasks you will be asked to perform. Unless your letter specifies otherwise, you should plan to bring all needed tools and supplies with you.

In both the grand and vertical regulation portions you will be regulating action models. The single-note grand action model includes a damper assembly, and the three-note vertical action model includes a damper assembly, two pedals and trapwork. The regulation portions are designed to test your understanding of procedures as well as principles of regulation. It is not enough to read regulation dimensions in a manual and expect those specifications to fit all pianos or action models; in the field and in this test, you should be able to make an action or action model function as well as possible under the circumstances. You should be able to figure out appropriate action specifications when none or only some are provided. In scoring, your regulation specifications are compared to those determined to be optimum for that action model by the examining team.

The repair tasks are all common ones routinely performed by the average technician, such as key bushing, hammer shaping, string replacement and splicing, hammershank rebushing/repinning, and vertical shank replacement. The scoring criteria are detailed and you do receive partial credit for all properly done work even if you run out of time and don't finish. Most applicants find the time limits generous.

During the test you will be given specific instructions either verbally or in writing; always pay careful attention to these directions so you understand what is being asked of you. You will need to watch the time as you work and do each task to the best of your ability so that your best effort is demonstrated.

After your exam, the examiner-in-charge must audit all scores, so results may not be available immediately upon completion. If time permits, the examiners will gladly discuss your work or make arrangements for a private interview.

Tuning Exam

The RPT Tuning Exam tests your skills in tuning; your examiners will compare your tuning note by note to a "master tuning." In preparation for exam day, a committee of three or more RPTs, under the direction of a Certified Tuning Examiner (CTE), tunes a good quality grand piano at least 5'9" in length until all agree that the tuning is optimal. They then use an electronic tuning device to measure the tuning precisely, and make a record of each note and its pitch measurement on a specified partial. This record is the "master tuning" for this piano. Examiners will likewise measure your tuning of the same piano, and then, by means of a computer or handscoring program, pitch-correct and compare it to the master tuning. When the measurement of a given note of your tuning differs from the master tuning by more than the tolerance allowed after correction for overall pitch, the CTE will record the appropriate penalty points on the score form as indicated by the scoring program. Then, listening to intervals along with you as directed by the CTE, examiners will aurally verify some or all of these points and thus confirm the scoring. If examiners believe that a note in question cannot be improved, the CTE may cross off the penalty point for that note.

The Tuning Exam is scored in eight sections over three parts: Part 1, with pitch, temperament and midrange sections, and Part 2, with bass, treble, high treble, stability and unisons sections. You need to score at least 80% in each section to pass. In Part 1, you aurally tune the middle two octaves, using a non-visual pitch source to set A4 at A440. In Part 2, you may tune the remaining octaves by any method you choose. In Part 3 you will aurally tune the midrange unisons, followed by a stability test. You should bring your own tuning tools to the test. Examiners usually will have already muted and de-tuned the piano when you arrive. Every other note is de-tuned slightly sharp, and the remaining notes slightly flat so as not to disturb the overall tension. Except for unisons, you will tune one string per note, usually the center string.

You will have 45 minutes total for Part 1, 60 minutes for Part 2, and 30 minutes for Part 3. Also, you will have up to 5 minutes at the beginning of Part 1 to set pitch on the center string of note A4. Whether or not you pass pitch at this point, you will then have the balance of Part 1 time to finish tuning octaves 3 and 4. If you do not pass pitch at first, examiners will de-tune A4 and give you a second chance, remeasuring A4 at the end of your Part 1 time. The accuracy of your pitch source is your responsibility; you may ask examiners to check it prior to your exam and/or lend you a more accurate pitch source if you feel yours is not sufficiently accurate.

As you begin Part 2, tuning the octaves beyond the midrange, you may wish to correct notes that caused penalty points in your midrange before proceeding; this can sometimes be helpful (you be the judge), but cannot change your Part 1 scores. After Part 2 scoring and aural verification, Part 3 begins. You will tune the midrange unisons, outside strings to the middle. After examiners measure and score any questionable unison, examiners will administer the stability test on the center string of each midrange note. In this test, three firm test blows are struck and before-and-after measurements taken to ascertain any pitch changes. After the stability test, your exam is complete. Then, if time permits, your examiners will review your test and suggest or demonstrate ways to improve your tuning.

Fees

The technical and tuning exam fees are currently $180.00 each; there is no fee for the written exam. When scheduling an exam, check with the test sponsor on payment deadlines and refund policies. Reduced fees apply for re-testing the technical and tuning exams under certain conditions, as follows:

Candidates may repeat any part of the technical exam not passed, one time within one year of the original exam without having to repeat those parts passed, provided that one-third of the exam fee is paid for each part repeated. After one year from the original test date, the entire technical exam must be retaken and the full fee paid.
 
Candidates who pass all sections of Part 2 of the tuning exam, but do not pass all sections of Part 1, may repeat Part 1 once within a one-year period for one-third the full fee. If Part 2 is failed, Parts 1 and 2 must be retaken together for two-thirds of the full fee. You may take Part 3 once within a one-year period for one-third the full fee. After one year from the original test date, the entire tuning exam must be retaken and the full fee paid. 

Study Suggestions

How do you know when you're ready to take the RPT Exams? A pre-screening evaluation is a good way to gauge your readiness; you could request that a tuning examiner informally listen to your work, or ask one of the technical examiners to interview you using a set of pre-screening questions in the Technical Exam Manual.

Generalizations are difficult to make since people and circumstances vary; but an average student, working two years full-time and under supervision in a general piano service shop or business, is probably ready to be tested. You should be comfortable in your skills. Because the testing experience is usually a tense one for most, you may find that you don't perform a given task as well as usual on exam day.

Most applicants who pass the tuning exam have tuned several hundred pianos, so you will want to have accumulated this depth of experience. Also, you should have regulated several grands and uprights on your own to establish a beginning level of competence. Basic in-home type repairs are tested, so you should have had direct experience working on pianos over time. Too often an applicant studies to "pass the test" and then, once that milestone is passed, studies no more. It is wiser to approach the body of knowledge that is offered and strive to improve constantly; then, passing the RPT Exams is simply an event that happens along the way, a ratification of progress made. In short, the best way to prepare is to work on pianos and solicit the scrutiny and constructive criticism of fellow technicians.

If you are a technician of many years' experience who is new to PTG, the prospect of being tested for the first time may be daunting. It may be prudent of you to join PTG and remain an Associate for a time and give yourself the advantage of discovering what the state of piano technology is in PTG. Procedures that once were accepted may now be passé; current terminology or theoretical constructs may be unfamiliar to you. Since Associate status is readily accessible to all and the benefits plentiful, no one need feel rushed to take the RPT Exams. By allowing yourself time to get to know the organization and its ways you increase your chances of success when you do take the tests.

PTG members are surrounded by learning opportunities. PTG's PACE (Professionals Advance through Continuing Education) program sets out a clear path for Associate members to follow in upgrading their skills to challenge the RPT examinations. The heart of the program is a checklist, which allows the Associate to gauge his or her progress and readiness for the exams. If you do not already have a copy of the PACE checklist, you may obtain one free on request from the PTG Home Office.

Beginning in the September 1993 issue of the Piano Technicians Journal, monthly PACE lesson plans provided outlines for hands-on learning sessions covering technical and tuning topics. Each article features a specific skill, such as splicing a string or how to set A-440 from your fork. Chapters may use these in special Associates' meetings or as ready-made technical programs for their regular meetings. Individual members can use the PACE lesson plans as a basis for independent study and then seek evaluation of their work by a mentor. Complete collections of these lesson plan articles are also available in book form from the PTG Home Office.

Resources

In addition, PTG has prepared study guides for all three exams. There is a Written Exam Study Guide brochure available free upon request and online at www.ptg.org, and two Source Books available for purchase from the PTG Store, one each for the tuning and technical exams. The two Source Books present many of the best exam-related articles from decades of the Piano Technicians Journal in a loose-leaf format, and are a convenient resource for study and review. Here are some other suggested resources for those who wish to improve their skills:

  • Purchase or borrow back issues of the Piano Technicians Journal.
  • Purchase the searchable Piano Technicians Journal DVD.
  • In addition to chapter meetings, attend technical seminars, regional conferences and the annual PTG Convention and Technical Institute.
  • Obtain and study manufacturers' manuals and supply house catalogs.
  • Rebuild, recondition and regulate pianos of your own and ask respected technicians to criticize your work.
  • Visit other technicians and ask for specific tutoring. Be prepared to compensate your tutors for their time.
  • Obtain video and audiotapes of convention classes (if available) and other training material from manufacturers and suppliers.

When you think you are ready to challenge the RPT examinations, your regional representatives on the PTG Examinations and Test Standards Committee can advise you on regional testing opportunities. For their names and those of other exam contacts in your region and elsewhere, please contact the PTG Home Office or see a listing of test sites and contacts. For additional information concerning testing and Registered Piano Technician qualifications, contact the PTG at ptg@ptg.org or 913-432-9975.


AVAILABLE FROM PTG
(Certification Exams in the Member Area of www.ptg.org, 913-432-9975, PTG Store)

Exam Resources Brochure  Free download

PTG Written Exam Study Guide  Free download

Pre-Screening Manual  Free download

Technical and Tuning Exam Source Books  Purchase from the PTG Store

PACE Lesson Plan Books  Purchase from the PTG Store

A Guide to Field Repairs  Purchase from the PTG Store

Grand Regulation Workbook  Purchase from the PTG Store

Vertical Regulation Workbook  Purchase from the PTG Store

Piano Technicians Journal 1979-2010 DVD  Purchase from the PTG Store

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