Why Won’t My Piano Hold a Tune? Part 1

We’re covering a two-part series on tuning instability. What do I mean when I say a piano’s tune isn’t “stable?” Well, this is referring to how well a piano holds a tune.

A piano that in tune is a wonderful thing and as a piano technician, most of the calls I receive are either because:

 

  • A note or key isn’t playing or working as it should, or
  • The piano is out of tune

 

In most cases, the piano can be tuned. But what are the major components that affect the tune-ability? Two fairly simple ones are the climate environment for the piano and the location of the piano in the home.

 

What Kind of Changing Temperatures is Your Piano Exposed to?

Pianos experience tuning instability when exposed to changing temperature and humidity. These instruments are built with a soundboard and bridge. What are these parts you ask?

The Soundboard:

Essentially, this is the microphone of the piano. It allows for the music, produced by the strings, to be amplified.

The Bridge:

This is a long, narrow piece of wood attached directly to the soundboard and it transfers the vibrations of the piano strings to the soundboard.

With the strings stretched across the bridge bearing down with tremendous tension, changes in humidity can greatly affect the tuning. How does this happen? Well, during the summer months when humidity is higher (especially in the south!) the piano’s wood takes on some of the moisture in the air. This causes the soundboard to swell, thus putting more tension on the strings, which makes them go sharp. However, the opposite is true during colder months. The soundboard will actually dry out, causing the strings to go flat. Talk about touchy! Because of changes like this, keeping a consistent setting on the thermostat is very helpful in regards to tuning stability. Simple changes in the seasons is also one reason why it’s so important to have your piano tuned every six months, and at the very least, once a year!

 


Where is Your Piano Kept?

Did you know that the location of your piano in the home really does matter? Placement has an effect on the tuning stability of the instrument. For instance, if you keep the piano in a sunroom or basement, it may be more difficult to maintain a good sound. Let’s take a closer look:

The Sunroom Piano

There is no doubt about the fact that a piano looks beautiful in a sunroom. What a perfectly pleasant place to practice and have gatherings! But let’s review some piano facts. A porch or sunroom that has mostly exterior walls is going to fluctuate with the outside temperature more than say, your living room or dining room. Keeping the piano on a porch with little insulation makes the instrument much more susceptible to outdoor conditions.    

The Basement Piano

A damp or cool basement may also prevent the piano from sounding like it should, even after a good tuning. I’ve been to homes before where the piano was actually kept out in the garage! Yikes! This is a terrible choice for storing the instrument as there is usually no way to regulate the temperature in that situation.

A few other important location guidelines are making sure to keep the piano from:

  • Sitting directly in front  of a window
  • Sitting in front (or on top) of a supply air vent

Speaking from personal experience, I once had a piano inspection job in which the instrument was said to be “untunable.” After a closer look, there were no structural issues causing instability or damage to be found. However, it was sitting right over an air vent! Once the piano was moved, it held it’s tune beautifully!

Of course, I know it isn’t possible to be able to follow all the guidelines for temperature and location. Each situation is different and partly depends on how your house or establishment is laid out. So what are your takeaways?

 

  • Keep the climate in your home as consistent as possible. You can keep your piano in tune longer by making sure it’s not in a room where the temperature is going to fluctuate much.

 

  • Make sure the instrument isn’t in front of a window or an air vent.

 

  • The seasons are going to change, and those changes affect the piano, even if you keep it in the perfect spot in your home! It’s a good idea to have your piano tuned every six months (and at least once a year) to make sure it sounds great and keep minor and major repairs down!

 

Stay “tuned” for part two of this Piano Instability series where I’ll be covering piano wear and tear, quality, and age.  If you’re looking for a piano tuner, contact me! I’ll be happy to take a look at your instrument.

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