The School of Piano Technology for the Blind was founded as the Piano Hospital and Training Center in 1949 by Emil B. Fries, who learned to tune pianos as a student of Walter R. Dry at the Washington State School for the Blind (WSSB). After graduating from WSSB, Mr. Fries studied pre-law at the University of Washington and supported himself by tuning pianos. In 1931, after earning a Bachelor’s degree and completing some graduate coursework, Mr. Fries returned to Vancouver to succeed Walter Dry as head of the WSSB piano technology department. He taught at WSSB until 1949, when the decision was made to phase out vocational training courses, including piano technology. Determined that piano technology was an important career opportunity for blind people, Emil Fries mortgaged his home and invested his life savings in the establishment of the Piano Hospital.
In 1992 the school became licensed by the State of Washington as a technical school and in 1993 earned accreditation from the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges.
Students travel from all over the United States and around the world to study the practical curriculum and uniquely adapted techniques provided by the School of Piano Technology for the Blind.
Graduates of the school serve as role models to other blind and visually impaired individuals as they overcome challenges, defy expectations, and embark on a career path leading to independent living, and personal growth and achievement.
The training program, accredited since 1993 by the ACCSC, consists of 2,500 clock hours over a two-year period broken into two eight-month terms with a two-month summer break. The first term is focused on learning tuning and general piano maintenance both in homes and stores. The second term is focused on grand piano repair and piano technology servicing and business operations. The tuning portion of the program in the second term is designed to provide practical tuning experience and build productivity and confidence.
Understanding the unique challenge of the visually impaired when learning a trade is critical. The nature of vocational training in piano technology for blind students requires high levels of individualized instruction to properly orient the student to new tasks and to the use of new tools. Adjusting, regulating, voicing, and repairing complicated instruments with 88 keys, hundreds of parts and infinite modifications using only hearing and a sense of touch to make delicate, precise adjustments is difficult to learn and even more difficult to teach. Our teaching staff fully appreciates these challenges as they too are blind and are graduates of the School.
Each school day opens with a short class and question-answer session. Assignments are made, and students then focus on their individual tuning or repair project. Instructors are on-hand and available to offer guidance, instruction, and assistance. The maximum student enrollment at this time is six students, which ensures each student receives individual and focused attention. Students maintain records describing each day’s activities and projects, with special attention to problems, insights, and new skills learned. Students also attend lectures on technical skills, music appreciation, the science of sound, and business skills. Our school’s long experience in working with blind tuner-technicians has developed highly successful methods of teaching repair skills by touch-methods that are unique to the School, and which enable blind students to compete, on terms of equality, with experienced sighted tuner-technicians. These methods give our graduates a lifelong competitive edge.
Is the training effective for blind and visually impaired people?
Yes! Emil Fries, founder of the School of Piano Technology for the Blind, developed effective methods for training blind people to tune and repair pianos. In addition, the school teaches management and communication skills needed to operate a piano service business. Over 300 graduates from 40 states and 16 foreign countries have successfully completed the training and gone on to earn a good living in the piano technology field.
Does the piano technology industry offer excellent careers?
Yes! There are over 17 million pianos in the United States in need of regular service, and there are approximately 4,100 Piano Technician Guild (PTG) members providing that service. The closest job classification used by the U.S. Department of Labor uses for piano technicians is “musical instrument repairers and tuners.” This includes repairers of percussion, stringed, and reed instruments and places the number as 6,000 workers. The U.S. Departments of Labor, Occupational Information Network, indicates an expectation of 1,800 job openings during the decade of 2008-2018. “Job prospects should be excellent. As the baby boomer generation retires and many skilled workers leave the workplace, new workers will be needed to replace them.”
Is piano technology a good career for the blind and visually impaired?
Yes! Of the 4,100 PTG members less than 10% are blind or visually impaired. This career is not restricted or even predominantly held by blind or visually impaired people. It is an excellent profession for either blind or sighted people.
What skills or attributes are needed for a career in piano technology?
Normal hearing, average finger dexterity, good physical fitness, ability to work independently with minimum direction, time management skills, ability to solve problems, good organizational skills, ability to effectively communicate, self-confidence, and a willingness to learn.
What benefits do piano technicians report from their profession?
Specific salaries are determined by many factors including training, experience, economic conditions, location, etc. Average annual incomes ranging from $35,000 – $75,000 or more (www.ptg.org). The website www.simplyhired.com calculates salaries using the average salary for all jobs with the term “musical instrument repairer.” Their data resulted in an annual salary average of $46,000.
What are the rates for graduation and placement?
Over 80% of enrolled students complete the program within the two year schedule. Approximately 69.23% of our graduates find work in the piano service industry (based on 2007-2011 statistics). Many graduates start their own business.
Is there a placement office to assist in finding jobs for graduates?
There is no placement office, but faculty and staff use their extensive network of piano industry contacts to help students find work upon graduation.
Is training and support available after graduation?
Yes! The alumni of the school have formed an association that meets online every week to discuss technical and business issues and to help each other stay current with new tools, technology and business strategy. Each summer, an alumni clinic is held at the school to provide a refresher and update on topics of interest to the group.
Students planning to enter must submit their high school transcripts or GED certificates. Students should have good health and stamina, along with some degree of mechanical aptitude. ‘Perfect pitch’ is not necessary, but musical aptitude and interest is highly desirable. Normal hearing is essential. Becoming a successful tuner-technician involves a complex set of personal qualities including, but not limited to, tonal recognition and comparison, good judgment, adequate physical strength and dexterity, stamina and self-discipline. Also, a successful clientele tuner will be well-organized, have a pleasing personality, and a sense of responsibility both to the customer and to the profession as a whole.
It is important to remember that a goal of the School of Piano Technology for the Blind is vocational training and rehabilitation; therefore, qualified applicants are rarely refused. Conditional acceptance into a trial period of one to three months is offered at times based on faculty evaluation and assessments.
Are you ready to enroll?
The first step is filling out the Application for Admission (PDF or WORD format). Applicants will be considered in the order that they are received. Once an application is received, the applicant will receive a call to set up a two day career workshop at the school. 2016-17 Career Exploration Workshop Schedule
If accepted, the student will be sent an Enrollment Agreement to review and sign. The Enrollment Agreement spells out the rights and responsibilities of both the student and the School, as outlined in the school’s catalog.
Cost of Attendance 2016-2018