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The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Piano Tuning

September 4, 2017

What is the importance of piano tuning? When should I tune my piano? Is piano tuning really necessary? If you’re a pianist or intending to purchase a piano, you’ve most likely asked yourself these questions before.

 

Many seasoned pianists don’t give much thought to these questions and simply have their pianos tuned twice a year, as advised by most experts.

 

Few bother to inquire further about its importance. After all, the thought of adjusting the tension of each string in the piano can be quite boringly technical and inconvenient to actually do yourself. While having a professional piano tuner come twice a year does work for most piano owners, it isn’t always that simple.

 

After all, the piano is a complex music-making machine with numerous moving parts; there are exceptions when you may have to tune your piano more often. Let’s go through all there is to know about piano tuning, so that you will understand everything you need to know about why and when your piano should be tuned.

 

 

Why Would a Piano Go Out of Tune?

Before learning more about piano tuning, it is essential to understand how pianos work. When you press the keys of a piano, a hammer corresponding to each key strikes its specific string(s). Sounds are produced when these strings vibrate. The tensions of these strings will affect the frequency of the sound waves produced by them, which determine the pitches of the sounds played.

 

The tighter the string, the higher the frequency and pitch of the note; the looser the string the lower the frequency and pitch of the note. A piano which is perfectly in tune has every string at tensions that produce sounds that correspond to a set standard of frequencies. The most common standard is A-440, in which the A above middle C vibrates at a rate of 440 Hz (or 440 times per second).

 

When the strings of a piano have different tensions and do not vibrate at correct frequencies, the piano goes out of tune. The strings usually become out of tune to different extents, such that the intervals between the tones become uneven. There are many reasons why the tensions of the strings could change, including temperature changes, humidity adjustments, as well as wear and tear.

 

Why Should I Tune My Piano?

Most of us know that tuning is healthy for our pianos, but aren’t exactly sure how significant the benefits are. We introduce three compelling reasons why you should tune your piano:

 

It keeps your playing in tune (obviously…).

It’s a no brainer that pianos that are out of tune sound unpleasant. And pianos go out of tune easier than we think. Minor daily fluctuations in temperature and humidity can affect the tension of the strings. Even if we don’t play the piano and leave the strings in perfect state, environmental changes are enough to cause the strings to tighten or loosen. 

 

Apart from rectifying strings gone out of whack, regular tunings also build the strength of the strings. Stronger strings are less susceptible to tension changes. Hence, with regular tunings, pianos can stay in tune for a longer period of time.

 

In addition, players usually discover that the touch and sound of the piano changes with every tuning session.

 

 

This is how the piano should actually feel and sound. With regular tunings, players will get accustomed to the “right” feel and sound of the piano.

 

It keeps you (the player) in tune.

If a player gets accustomed to the “wrong” feel and sound of the piano, he will develop an erroneous sense of harmony, much like how your sense of what 1cm is would be inaccurate if you relied on poorly calibrated rulers. For players who want to develop perfect pitch, practicing with a perfectly tuned piano would go a long way to help in learning that.

It saves you money and might even leave you richer.

 

With regular tuning sessions, potentially serious problems with pianos can be diagnosed and nipped in the bud early, before they deteriorate further and become expensive to fix. A well-maintained piano has superior resale value and can even become an appreciating asset if kept for a long time.

 

How Do I Know When My Piano Needs to be Tuned?

For most beginners, it’s hard to tell if your piano is out of tune by ear. If you can clearly hear problems such as persistent scratchy and twangy noises, your piano most likely needs some serious attention.

 

There are, however, some simple methods to check if your piano is in tune. Now that we live in the 21st century, there are numerous mobile apps, such as ClearTune  TonalEnergy, and Tunable, that can check the pitch of the piano tones.

 

 

Some digital metronomes have similar functions as well. Another easy way to detect tuning problems is to play several octave chords. If the piano is out of tune, it’ll be obvious that the notes sound off key.

 

How Often Should I Tune My Piano?
Generally, once a year is the absolute bare minimum. There are three factors to be considered when you determine how often a piano should be tuned.

 

Age of piano

New pianos usually need to be tuned four times for the first year. As a new piano gets broken in, its strings are very prone to stretching, while its wooden parts settle in place. Regular tunings will help the piano reach a stable equilibrium that is also in tune. This equilibrium typically takes around a year to stabilize.

 

Once this equilibrium is reached, pianos still need to be tuned regularly to correct for environmental changes as well as wear and tear. Most manufacturers recommend that pianos be tuned at least every six months.

 

Purpose of Piano

Pianos that are played often and with great intensity (think great virtuosos aggressively striking the piano keys) need to be tuned more often.

 

Like how a sprinter’s shoes get worn out faster than your Average Joe, the forceful and frequent striking actions on the strings will cause their tensions to change much faster. Hence, if the piano is used for frequent concerts, it should be tuned once a week. If the piano is meant for personal use, it should be tuned every three to six months. As for a piano that’s hardly used, tuning once a year may be sufficient.

 

Weather conditions

If your piano is placed in a location with frequent fluctuations in temperature and humidity, it will need to be tuned more often. Changes in temperature cause strings and wooden parts to expand and contract. On the other hand, changes in humidity mean that the concentration of moisture in the air changes. When the concentration changes, the sound board inside the piano moves, causing the strings to be either tighter or looser. With the tensions of the strings altered, the piano will go out of tune. So if you live in a place with volatile climatic conditions, consider tuning your piano every three months (at the start of each new season).

 

How Much Does it Usually Cost to Tune a Piano?

The market rate of a piano tuning session depends on where you live. In the US, it’s about $100 per hour. In Singapore, it could be as low as $50 per hour.

 

On average, a tuning session lasts one and a half hours. Tuners typically charge more for grand pianos than upright pianos as well. If your piano is afflicted with serious issues, you may need to hire a full-fledged piano technician who is capable of more advanced repair techniques to restore the sound of your piano. These complicated procedures usually come with extra costs.

 

For example, if your piano becomes exceedingly flat, it will be impossible to perform a standard tuning. Each string must have its tension increased greatly, which places a great amount of strain on the piano’s structure. As each string is corrected, the immense load placed on the piano body alters the pitch of the other strings once again, rendering previous corrections ineffective.

 

Piano Tuning Seems a Little Expensive, Can I Tune My Piano Myself?

You may consider tuning your piano yourself, but only if you are willing to invest a good deal of time and effort to learning the art of tuning. Professional piano tuners take a long time to develop their craft. They attend courses and sit for exams to get certified by the Piano Technicians’ Guild. Furthermore, attempting to tune your own piano without prior experience puts your piano at considerable risk of having its strings snapped and components broken. If that happens, the repair work will probably cost a lot more than a simple tuning.

 

If you’re really interested in learning how to tune your own piano because you think it’s a cool skill to have, there are free guides available on the Internet. You’ll also need to purchase some tools, including a tuning fork, a tuning wrench, and a wedge to isolate strings. However, if you’re only trying to save money, it’d still be wiser for you to hire a professional.

 

How Should I Take Care of My Piano to Minimize the Need for Tunings and Repairs?

Apart from regular tuning sessions, you can consider the following:

 

Regulate humidity and temperature

Be sure to use a piano heater and leave it on all the time. This keeps the internal temperature of the piano constant and prevents condensation on the surfaces of the piano. If condensation collects inside the piano for extended periods of time, the strings could get rusty while the wood may even start to decompose.

 

Your piano should be placed away from windows and direct sunlight. Preferably, the straight side of the piano should be placed against an inner wall, a location which has the added bonus of making the piano sound better.

Your piano should also be kept away from heating and air vents, the kitchen as well as bathrooms.

Avoid moving the piano if possible

 

Each time you move the piano, the position of the soundboard will change. This causes the pins holding the strings in place to turn and alter the strings tension. If you must move the piano, have one person stand at each leg and lift the piano together, and then move it slowly and very carefully with as little movement as possible. It is recommended that you get a professional tuner to assess the piano after each move.

 

 

Can you Recommend a Piano Tuner

Here's the name and number of the tuner who tunes my piano. When you call to set up your appointment. Let him know that Sara from Chatalbash Lessons sent you. His name is Don and his number is (516) 410-0484

 

Ending note

If taken care of well, pianos can enjoy a very long life compared to other instruments. Most pianos can last up to fifty years, with some even reaching up to a hundred! Ensure that your piano gets regular tuning and you might have yourself a family heirloom lasting for generations.
 

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