Managing the Workload

A Series For the Institutional Technician

By Kate Redding, RPT

Piano technicians working in an institutional setting are responsible for providing all manner of services, from triage and emergency repairs to concert tuning and prep. In addition to direct piano work, the technician typically oversees a piano budget, keeps inventory records, and interacts with the community.

Providing the best possible standard of tuning and regulation across the fleet of pianos is one of the most challenging aspects of working in higher education. Here are two strategies for tackling the abundance of work. 

1. Divide the workload into three broad categories:

  • Direct work at the piano or bench

  • Administrative work

  • Record keeping

Spend time every day covering your bases in each of these areas following an 80/10/10 rule.

80% direct work with the piano inventory, including:

  • Keeping pianos at pitch

  • Performance prep

  • Maintenance regulation and voicing

  • Comprehensive repairs

  • Miscellaneous service

10% administrative duties, including:

  • Calendars and scheduling

  • Budgets and purchasing

  • Meetings and communications

  • Planning

10% record keeping, including:

  • Creating and updating an inventory index spreadsheet

  • Documenting work on service records

  • Recording and measuring data

2. Establish repair priorities.

  • Triage - anything deemed unsafe or with a high potential to result in failure. Examples include tottering casters, broken glue joints, missing or loose hinges, a broken pedal lyre, broken strings, missing and broken parts. Address these problems as soon as possible to prevent further deterioration of the piano.

  • Preventative maintenance - a combination of work that can be accomplished in half a day to a full day of service. This includes correcting pitch, working on string termination and stability, regulating, maintaining quiet pedals and action, keyframe bedding, cleaning, and checking the integrity of the case parts. Take a few moments to assess the effectiveness of past repairs you have done.

  • Reconditioning - this work usually means the piano will have to be out of service for more than a day. Tell faculty and students about the repairs you’re making and what date you expect to have the piano back in service. 

  • Time-consuming, resource-heavy jobs - to avoid becoming mired in quicksand, be honest about what projects and work can and cannot be handled in-house. Don’t try to tackle large projects without first consulting with your supervisor/s, preferably with a plan outlined and ready to share. Consider how immediate tuning and maintenance needs will be affected. Using your time wisely means looking for opportunities where your time and resources will net the biggest payoff. 

A few things to keep in mind:

Carve out time for careful, unhurried work. It’s important to remember that repairs made on the fly usually require repeat service down the road. Concentrate on one manageable task at a time. 

Avoid whiplash and stay flexible. From time to time, things go haywire. Always make an effort to execute your work to the best of your ability and keep in mind that changes are inevitable and managing those changes requires a team effort.

Check in with your biases often and take time to consider the bias of others. You have opinions about your work priorities. Be assured, others have opinions about your work, too. Ask the faculty for guidance in determining which pianos are most in need of your attention. Think ahead about how best to limit the disruption that piano tuning and maintenance causes to the faculty’s lessons and instruction. Your attention to the needs of others will make a difference.

Working as a technician in an educational setting shouldn’t require prolonged periods of being stretched thin or being overextended. Incorporating a sustained “progress-not-perfection” approach to your daily, weekly, and monthly schedule will help you manage the workload without feeling burned out. Try to organize your time so that all of the parts of the workload are covered on a regular, reliable basis, and you’ll find no part of the inventory is ignored for a long period of time.

Kate’s love of the piano grew from years of piano lessons, and from the sustained encouragement of her teachers and family. She is interested in sharing information and ideas about institutional work and culture. Kate is the Lead Piano Technician at Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Virginia.

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