Why can’t a woman be a piano tuner?

Why can’t a woman be a piano tuner?


norman lebrecht

April 08, 2016

Veteran foreign correspondent Michael Johnson has been talking to a rare entrant in an all-male occupation. Barbara Renner looks after the pianos at Tanglewood. ‘The wives don’t like it,’ she says.


Barbara Renner

Tanglewood chief piano technician Barbara Renner once won a $50 bet by proving to a male tuner that she could manipulate the nine-foot Steinway Model D as well as any man. And she has gone on to thrive in this man’s world of piano tuning, never looking back. Equipped with a refined and well-trained ear, she is now in great demand, tuning pianos all over the East Coast of the U.S. with great classical and jazz pianists.

It wasn’t the first time her physical fitness for the male-dominated job had been challenged. While in training,her instructor asked each student to remove the action from an old reproducer (player) Steinway grand that had very long keys and carry it across the room and back. “He wanted to make sure we were physically capable of the task.” She passed the test and was on her way. 

Women in the tuning world, still a small minority, have been forced to face down the men.  And the odds are long. 

Read the full, exclusive interview here.


  • Bruce says:

    Men tend to think mostly in terms of upper-body strength, while women (lacking enormous shoulders and biceps) learn to think in terms of lower-body torque and body mechanics. Watch a female nurse or physical therapist manage a male patient twice her size and you may think twice about women being “weaker” than men.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Actually, female piano tuners are better than their male peers, not for physical but for psychological reasons: as they are biologically more talented in detecting wrongly-tuned emotions in males, they more quickly find the smallest deviations from the well-tempered keyboard.

  • Una says:

    I have had a wonderful woman piano tuner come here in Yorkshire! Never had my piano tuned so well.

  • marianne bailey says:

    Not that uncommon actually these days…
    Only been doing it 35 years.

  • Doug says:

    Norman, why do you swallow wholesale the Marxist based concept that biologocal and anthropological differences between men and women is a “social construct”? If you care to consider a root cause of Western psychosis and pathology you only need to look at tiny children who are foisted into daycare with little or no emotional and physical bond for the better part of the day while the mother pursues her career. Why are we so proud of this when we see so much evidence around us how our society is in shambles and being supplanted by those from the East and Middle East?

    “In the emerging world of ethnic conflict and civilizational clash, Western belief in the universality of Western culture suffers three problems: it is false; it is immoral; and it is dangerous.”
    ― Samuel P. Huntington, in his book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order

    • John Borstlap says:

      My central African friends tell me that Western values are universal, that men and women are equal, that white western people are a social construct, and that for those reasons they want to eat.

    • AnnaT says:

      Is the father also pursuing his career while the tots are at daycare?

  • muslit says:

    Xanax works wonders for me!

  • Gary says:

    My technician is a woman, and she does a terrific job. She takes better care of my piano than nay guy I’ve ever hired has.

  • Equinox says:

    “But tell me, where do the children play?” – Cat Stevens