Have you ever wondered why a piano needs to be tuned? When you start to play notes on the piano and they sound a little flat, chances are the instrument needs to be tuned. Pianos are typically tuned twice per year so that they can maintain their tone and playing condition.
So, why does a piano need to be tuned? Tuning is important for maintaining the tone, value, and function of the piano. The process involves correcting the string tension so that each string vibrates in harmony with one another at a frequency of A440. Strings that are not regularly tuned risk breakage.
Whether this is a personal instrument or in a concert hall, tunings are an essential part of maintaining the quality of a piano. There are several benefits to keeping a piano in tune that you should definitely know about. First, let’s talk about what factors cause a piano to go out of tune.
What Causes Pianos To Go Out Of Tune
Pianos go out of tune for a variety of reasons. The biggest culprit is humidity having an effect on the soundboard. Soundboards are relatively thin at just 3/8″, so when there’s a big change in temperature, that wood can change in many ways.
When the humidity is high the wood typically swells. In drier air the wood will flatten out. Both scenarios produce either a higher pitched piano or a lower pitched piano.
The strings start to loosen and the even tone of the instrument begins to sound poor. Generally, pianos will start to go flat in pitch.
Outside of temperature changes, moving the piano around, and time, pianos will go out of tune if they are not properly tuned in the first place. This is why it’s important to find a good piano tuner that you can trust.
You’ll want to make sure the tuner doesn’t overtighten the strings unnecessarily just to achieve the desired pitch.
Benefits Of Tuning A Piano
Owning a piano is just like owning a vehicle. Every now and then it’s going to need regular checkups, and need a professional to take a look under the hood.
Piano technicians who tune instruments are highly skilled in this arena and tuning is actually a pretty complex process that takes thousands of hours to master.
There are many benefits to tuning an instrument whether it’s an upright or grand piano. Even if you cannot hear that the piano has lost its pitch, there can be other issues going on with it that you would not know until after a tuning has been performed on it.
Let’s talk first about how tuning affects the sound of the instrument.
Corrects The Overall Tone Of The Piano
The main benefit of piano tuning is to get it sounding pleasant to the ear. Most pianos drop in pitch over time, leading to a flat sound that wobbles when a key is played.
Tuners are skilled in the practice of tightening the strings and using their ears and other electronics to raise the pitch of the piano to its rightful setting.
Most piano tuners don’t just tune each individual key, but they tune by intervals as well. An example of this is tuning middle C, and G separately. After that, the tuner will come back and tune those two keys to each other and play the chord to make sure that they work in harmony with one another.
This is is a crucial step because some pitches should be tuned slightly sharper than others so that the harmonies align nicely together.
If a piano has not been tuned for quite some time, then it may need a full pitch raise. This is when tuners go about purposely tuning the entire instrument sharper than A440.
Since the piano has a hard time maintaining it’s pitch anyway, chances are it will soon come down much lower than where the tuner regulated it at.
Another tuning will then take place and a similar method will be used. After two to three tunings like this, the piano should settle nicely again and maintain it’s pitch at A440.
Tuning Allows The Piano To Be Used In Ensembles
If you’ve ever been to a classical piano concert, chances are you’ve heard the gorgeous sound of a 9″ Steinway and a full orchestra. Or maybe you’ve been to a rock concert where the grand piano takes center stage, holding it’s own with legendary guitar playing.
From the brilliance of the high range of the instrument to the rumbling bass notes, everything seems to work in total harmony within the ensemble.
The biggest reason behind that is not that the piano is 9″, or that it’s expensive, but mostly because it’s been properly tuned to perfection and then well maintained after that. Any live performance requires a properly tuned piano.
Even the average audience member would hear the subtle intonation issues if a piano was not well prepped before a performance. Often times tuners will come on stage minutes before a performance to make some final tweaks.
For someone who plans to do a lot of collaborative playing whether it’s duo piano, chamber winds, or electronic music, an acoustic piano needs to be well tuned to succeed in that arena.
Helps Prevent Irreversible Damage To The Piano
Piano tuners are certified, technicians. This means they have the knowledge to work on other aspects of your instrument as well. This includes regulation, voicing, adjusting the action and more.
The biggest benefit of getting regular tuning is that if you’ve got an issue, it can be discovered during this process. For example, if you’ve got an old piano and the hammers are starting to go bad, chances are you’ll need a replacement.
If you haven’t taken the time to pull out the action on your piano to discover that, then you might not know that was the case.
For a small fee, tuners will do a quick assessment of your instrument, checking out the functioning parts like the pedals, hammers, dampers, and also testing the tension of the strings and tightness of the pins.
Preserves The Life Of The Instrument
The life of a piano can be greatly extended with regular tuning. Not only does this give tuners a chance to regularly maintain the condition of the piano, but they’ll be able to spot problems early on.
Tuning regularly also helps prevent strings from getting too loose and potentially breaking over time. The smaller parts also won’t fall out of place because the piano is being played too often out of shape.
Tuning your instrument every six months can end up saving you a lot of money on rebuilds, replacement parts, or ultimately having to purchase a new piano if yours fails. While pianos are built to last for several generations, a poorly maintained piano won’t survive past a few years.
Let’s talk a little bit about the tuning process, how often you should get the instrument tuned, and some ways to keep your piano in tune once you have the procedure done on your instrument.
How The Tuning The Piano Works
Tuning your piano is something you should get done no matter the age of the instrument. Most piano tuners take one to two hours to complete the tuning. The tuning can be done in several ways.
One method is for the tuner to simply use their ear along with a tuning pin. They will play a pitch while listening to the vibration of the pin to see if the note is properly balanced.
If not, they will continue to tighten or loosen the strings and repeat the process again.
The other method of tuning basically the same, but involves using an electronic tuner. This can help speed the process up as it’s a way for piano technicians to quickly check their work.
How Often Should A Piano Be Tuned
A piano that is used regularly should be tuned at least two times per year. Newer pianos may need to be tuned more frequently until they completely settle. When you purchase a new piano from the store, it’s a good idea to wait at least a month before doing an initial tuning for it.
Older pianos tend to maintain their tune a bit longer. Antique pianos with older strings, pins, and other parts may need to be tuned even more frequently. If at some point the piano cannot be tuned, it will only be because the piano needs new parts or a rebuild.
The climate in which a piano resides can have a huge effect on tuning. Climates with higher humidity levels and sudden changes in temperature will cause pianos to lose their tune fairly quickly.
If you have a piano in a location where it comes into direct contact with sunlight or air vents, then this is almost always going to be the case. To combat that, you need to place your piano on an inside wall.
Otherwise, you can expect to pay for multiple tunings over a short period of time if you want the piano to stay in working order.
Sudden changes in temperature can also cause swelling in the wood, loosening of the pins and affect other intricate parts inside the instrument.
It’s a good idea to keep the piano below 69 degrees Fahrenheit to help preserve its tune and regulation. Next, we’ll talk about a few ways you can help keep your piano in tune to help save on the overall costs.
How To Keep Your Piano In Tune
There are a couple of simple steps you can take to help a piano stay in tune much longer. Below is a list of things I recommend doing.
Try Not To Move The Instrument
Moving a piano even a small distance can cause it to lose some of it’s tuning. It’s best to commit to a single location before having any work done to it. The more frequent moves you make with the instrument the sooner it’ll need to be tuned.
Refrain From Cleaning The Inside Of The Piano
Cleaning your piano is really important. It’s essential for removing fingerprints, grime, marks, and dust especially. The inside of the piano can attract quite a bit of dust if you constantly leave the lid open; mostly on the strings.
Keep in mind that when you clean the strings the piano will also lose some of its tune.
If the strings are rusty and need a significant scrubbing, then you should make plans to have the piano tuned soon after. If you can avoid cleaning the inside of your piano until the next tuning appointment, that is ideal.
Use A Dehumidifier
Regulating the temperature in the home is difficult if you don’t have a smart thermostat. This is where a dehumidifier comes in handy. Some can be installed on the bottom of pianos, but those can get expensive.
Instead get a simple dehumidifier that you can place in the room. What these devices will do is measure the moisture in the air and pull that into the unit through the vacuum.
You can set most dehumidifiers on a schedule. Most of them have large water reservoirs that are easy to dump when they get full.
Keep Your Piano Away From Outside Walls
Keeping your piano on an inside wall helps with regulating temperature. Outside walls tend to warm up during the hottest parts of the day. That heat can transfer directly to the instrument, causing the wood to swell and the strings to loosen.
Avoid Aggressive Piano Playing
Overplaying the piano can cause it to go out of tune, especially if it’s unnecessary aggressive playing. Younger pianists will be more likely to slam on the keys, so it’s best to train them to not do this.
At times the kind of repertoire we play on the piano can cause it to go out of tune sooner. If you’re an advanced player, try to do a balanced mix of music when you play instead of playing the same intense passages relentlessly.