Piano Tuning and Care
“Why does my piano need tuning?”
Pianos are something of a contradiction. They are large, heavy, solidly built instruments that are at the same time delicate and extremely sensitive to everything in their environment. They are in fact, in a constant state of change.
Listed below are some of the factors at work in your piano that create a need for regular service and determine how well your piano will stay in tune. Also included are some helpful hints to keep your piano sounding better, longer.
1) Changes in Humidity This is by far the number one reason pianos go out of tune. The soundboard of the piano is constantly expanding and contracting, causing the strings to rise and fall in pitch with seasonal climate changes. This effect can be minimized by keeping the room humidity as constant as is practical year round.
2) Age or Condition of the Piano You should expect new pianos to go out of tune sooner for the first year or two due to the elastic quality of new piano wire, and for this reason should be tuned more often the first year. Older pianos will often develop loose tuning pins that can cause the piano to slip quickly out of tune. This problem is usually repairable.
3) Playing the Piano Regular use of the piano will necessitate more frequent tunings, especially if it is played vigorously.
4) Temperature Changes This is usually a small factor unless the temperature of a room changes frequently, or by more than a few degrees.
5) Moving the Piano Most piano owners recognize the need to have a piano tuned after it is moved. It is not, however, the physical act of moving that generally affects the tuning, but rather how it reacts to it's new environment. For this reason you should wait three or four weeks before having it tuned.
Where you choose to place the piano in your home can have a great effect on longevity and tuning stability. If at all possible, you should avoid placing the piano:
a) Over heating or cooling ducts This is one rule that must be followed in order to prevent serious damage.
b) In direct sunlight Sunlight can damage the finish and heat the piano causing it to go quickly out of tune.
c) In a damp basement Contrary to popular belief, however, a dry, finished basement can often be the best place for keeping a piano in tune, since it is isolated from the climate changes that affect the rest of the house.
d) In any room where the temperature changes greatly
“How often should my piano be tuned?”
Most major piano manufacturers recommend having your piano tuned twice a year. But even if your ear for pitch is not well developed, for the good of the piano, (and your listening audience!) once a year tunings should be considered the minimum.
“It’s been a year since my piano was last tuned but it still sounds fine to me. I think I’ll wait another year and see what it sounds like then.”
The way to keep your piano sounding musical year round is to have it tuned before it sounds sour. The tension of all the strings together exert as much as 40,000 pounds of pull on the structure of the piano. The tuning lies in a delicate balance within the context of this enormous tension. If the piano is allowed to fall too far out of tune, the large changes in tension necessary to bring the piano back to pitch disturbs this balance and the result is a piano that will go out of tune quickly. Regular tunings that make small adjustments without disturbing the balance results in a piano that stays in tune much longer.
Another important reason for regular service is to catch small repair problems that may not even be noticeable to the pianist, yet are problems that if not corrected early can cause extensive damage over time. Once again, timely service is the most economical over the long run.
And finally, how well a piano student develops an ear for pitch and appreciation for music in general is largely influenced by how well the piano sounds and performs.