George Stokes doesn't believe in wasted motion.
With one hand he moves quickly but efficiently down the keyboard of a piano, playing chords. His other hand moves simultaneously over the corresponding strings in the belly of the piano, tightening and loosening them with a tuning hammer.Stokes is a speed tuner, a person who can tune a piano in less than an hour, or even 45 minutes when he has to, compared to the three or four hours some tuners require.
He is also blind.
Stokes, 43, Owensboro, Ky., learned his skill as a student at the Kentucky School for the Blind in Louisville. Now he supplements his income as a snack bar manager by tuning pianos for the Owensboro Symphony Orchestra, among others.
"An instructor I had said once I got proficient at tuning, the only way to increase my speed was to decrease lost movement," Stokes says.
Some piano tuners use a device that shows whether a note is sharp or flat with electrical impulses on a screen. But Stokes thinks his way is more efficient.
"To me," he says, "it would be a lot of trouble. It's whatever you get used to."
He keeps tapping out the note on the keyboard while raising or lowering the pitch with his tuning hammer. Getting the sound just right takes only a moment or two.
"Tuning is sort of like putting a puzzle together," Stokes says.
Not being able to see doesn't mean his hearing is any keener than another's, Stokes says. He does have an advantage, though, because he isn't as distracted by his surroundings as a sighted person would be.
Stokes learned his craft as part of an industrial arts program in junior high. He was born with only partial vision because his optic nerves were not fully developed. He lost the remainder of his eyesight at 16.
By the time he was a sophomore in high school, he was tuning pianos professionally for a music company. He represented the company full time for several years.
Stokes doesn't play the piano, but he does play the drums for a country-western dance band and can play some guitar.
Though a sharp ear is important on the job, it can be a bother when he's listening to music for fun.
"Even when an instrument is out of tune, you have to learn not to listen for that sort of thing," he says. "You have to learn to listen to the music for what it is."