As a piano technician, I’m often asked how often a piano should be tuned, but the question usually never asked is “Why should I tune my piano?” If I was to give the simplest answer possible, it would be “Because the instrument will go out of tune if you don’t,” and of course that’s true. While regularly scheduled tunings do keep it sounding great, there are many reasons why this normal maintenance procedure is a crucial investment. Tuning the piano at regular intervals allows for:
- Greater stability of piano pitch
- Catching minor problems before they become big and expensive repairs
- Proper ear training and pitch recognition
It’s also important to note that on tuning visits your technician will be able to assess the overall condition of your instrument and catch other problems before they get worse. A regular maintenance and tuning schedule is essential for protecting your investment as well as properly developing musical skills!
So, why are regular tunings important for the stability of your piano? What does that even mean? Well, for starters, the strings in a piano are stretched across a cast iron plate and a wooden bridge. Simply put, this helps transfer the sound of the strings to the sounding board. There’s an average of 230 strings inside a typical piano, with each of those strings exerting 160 pounds of tension. All together, there’s about 18 tons of pressure on your typical piano and it’s almost double that on concert grands. You probably thought musicians were under a lot of pressure during performances, right? Well, I’d hate to be the piano!
These instruments are designed to be tuned to the pitch standard of A 440 in order to sound their best. When it goes for an extended period of time without tuning, the tension in the strings begins to slack. Each string has an elastic limit that it can’t go past. When that happens, the string breaks. After a string is tuned though, it falls an average of 25% which requires it to be tuned several times until the desired result is achieved. If it’s been awhile since the piano was was tuned, the strings will have to be pulled up (and possibly past) where they’re supposed to be in order to have the string fall close to the right pitch. The strings must then be roughed in a few times before a final “Fine Tuning” can be done. This not only gets expensive, but causes the kinks in the string, where they have been resting for years, to create false beats. As the piano receives regular tunings, the kinks can begin to work their way out.
Ear Training and Pitch
Since the piano is designed to be at a certain pitch, it’s crucial for this to be correct when a child is learning to play the instrument. It’s also necessary for training in pitch recognition. If a student’s piano sounds differently or operates poorly in comparison to the teacher’s instrument, a child can get discouraged in their music practice. Regular maintenance is important for musical skills and the performer will be encouraged to succeed and seek excellence rather than get discouraged due to a poorly maintained instrument.
Regular tunings also reduce the wear on the piano from repeatedly performing pitch corrections to compensate for a lack of maintenance. When your tuner is performing routine tunings on a set schedule, he can inspect the piano for possible problems. Some of these include:
- Broken keys
- Worn out action parts
- Cracks and splits in important components
- Rust or corrosion on strings
All of these can be problems in and of themselves, but can also be symptoms of a more extensive malfunction that could end up being very costly in repairs if not addressed soon enough.
As you can see, regular tunings are not only a simple way to keep your piano sounding amazing, but serve to reduce the overall wear and tear on your instrument! Scheduled maintenance also helps to support young musicians in their musical endeavors and stabilizes the piano for better performance and sound.