Archive for the 'Piano Tuning' Category

“If I move my piano to another room, does it need to be re-tuned? My grandmother had a fine old upright that she never got tuned. Why does my piano need regular tuning? Back home we always kept a jar of water in the bottom of the piano. Does this help keep the piano in tune? How often does my piano need tuning? Piano technicians hear these questions every day. Tuning is the most frequent and important type of piano maintenance, but it’s often the least understood. Here we’ll look at why pianos go out of tune and how you can help yours stay in better tune between visits from your technician.

First, new pianos are a special case; their pitch drops quickly for the first few years as the new strings stretch and wood parts settle. It’s very important that a new piano be maintained at proper pitch (A-440) during this period, so the string tension and piano structure can reach stable equilibrium. Most manufacturers recommend three to four tunings the first year, and at least two annually after that.

Aside from this initial settling, seasonal change is the primary reason pianos go out of tune. To understand why, you must realize that the piano’s main acoustical structure, the soundboard, is made of wood (typically 3/8-inch thick Sitka spruce). And while the wooden soundboards produce a wonderful sound, they also react constantly to weather. As humidity goes up, a soundboard swells, increasing its crowned shape and stretching the piano’s strings to a higher pitch. During dry times, the soundboard flattens out, lowering tension on he strings and causing the pitch to drop.

Unfortunately, the strings don’t change pitch equally. Those near the soundboard’s edge move the least, and those near the center move the most. So, unless it’s in a hermetically sealed chamber, every piano is constantly going out of tune!

The good news is there are some simple things you can do to keep your piano sounding sweet and harmonious between regular service appointments. Although it’s impossible to prevent every minor variation in indoor climate, you can often improve conditions for your piano.

  • Start by locating the piano away from direct sunlight, drafts, and heat sources. Excess heating causes extreme dryness, so try to keep the temperature moderate (below 70 degrees) during the winter heating season.
  • Get a portable room humidifier, or install a central humidification system to combat winter dryness in climates with very cold, dry winters. A portable dehumidifier or a dehumidifier added to your air-conditioning system can remove excess moisture during hot, muggy summers.
  • If controlling your home’s environment is impractical, or if you want the best protection possible, have a humidity control system installed inside your piano. These are very effective in controlling the climate within the instrument itself. Besides improving tuning stability, they help minimize the constant swelling and shrinking of your piano’s wooden parts. The critical part of such a system is the humidistat, a device that monitors the relative humidity within the piano and adds or removes moisture as needed. Jars of water, light bulbs, or other “home remedies” have no such control and can actually do more harm than good.

Usually every six months to a year is sufficient for normal use. If your piano gets played a lot, you might need more frequent tunings, like every two or three months.

Ideally your ear should be your guide. If some of the notes on your piano are sounding “sour,” it’s probably time to call the tuner. New or recently restrung pianos may need more frequent tunings for the first couple of years, because the new strings are stretching. Pianos with loose tuning pins also may need more frequent tunings.

Have your piano tuned as often as you feel necessary, but a minimum of twice a year is the rule of thumb.

Just remember: when you turn on the heat in the winter, and when you turn it off in spring, you’re about 2 weeks away from needing a tuning. These are the times of year when the humidity change starts to shrink or swell the wooden structure of the piano, and it starts to drift out of tune. So wait until the room your piano is in gets used to the climate change, then tune your piano!

The standard answer for pianos in home use is between two and four times a year. A specific recommendation for your piano would have to be based on three items:

  • humidity variation in you home
  • condition of your piano
  • and the use your piano receives

If the humidity varies widely in your home between summer and winter, your piano will go out of tune more frequently and more radically than if the humidity is fairly stable. If your piano’s tuning pins are loose, naturally they won’t hold the strings in tune as long as tight pins will. Lastly, if you play your piano heavily, as a rock pianist might, or for long hours, as a student might, it will require more frequent tuning. Ask your technician to evaluate these factors for your piano, and then follow the tuning schedule he or she outlines for maximum pleasure and life from your instrument.

Your piano is an investment in your future. It can bring you and your family a lifetime of music, adding immeasurable joy and beauty to your home. Because it also is such a large investment, it should be maintained with the utmost care. Regular servicing by a qualified tuner-technicians will preserve your instrument and help; you avoid costly repair in the future.

Because your piano contains materials such as wood and felt, it is subject to change with climatic conditions. Extreme swings from hot to cold or dry to wet cause its materials to swell and contract, affecting tone, pitch and action response of touch. You can reduce the severity of these effects by placing your piano near a wall away from windows or doors which are opened frequently. Avoid heating and air conditioning vents, fireplaces and areas which receive direct sunlight. Your piano will perform best under consistent conditions neither too wet or dry, optimally at a temperature of 68 degrees F and 42 percent relative humidity.

While pianos generally fall into vertical and grand model categories, each manufacturer selects its own materials and utilizes its own unique scale and furniture designs. Every piano requires a different level of maintenance, depending upon the quality of materials used, the design and level of craftsmanship. Manufacturers can provide general advice on tuning frequency but your technician can give specific recommendations based upon your usage and locale. Here’s what some of the major piano manufacturers recommended.

Your piano, like those in homes and on stages throughout the world, is an instrument of extraordinary promise which can bring you and your family a lifetime of enjoyment. To ensure its performance over that lifetime, it is important to have your piano serviced regularly by a qualified professional. Complete piano service should include periodic regulation and voicing in addition to tuning. Our technician can consult with you to recommend a maintenance schedule customized for your instrument.

A piano string presses tightly against several friction points along its length. When it is tightened or loosened during tuning, this friction prevents the new tension from being evenly distributed throughout the string.

The tuner pounds the note to bounce the string up off the friction points slightly to allow the tension to equalize. If this didn’t happen, the tension would equalize on its own when you sat down and played loudly, and the piano would slip out of tune.

Sound occurs when air is set into motion rapidly. Humans can hear sound if those cycles of compression and uncompression occur anywhere from twenty times each second to about twenty thousand times each second.

When a piano string is set into motion, it vibrates up and down repeatedly. If the note A above middle C (C4) is properly tuned, that string will vibrate up and down 440 times in one second. That’s what A-440 means also know as “Concert Pitch“.

Every note on a piano is tuned using A-440 as the starting point. A-440 has been accepted as the universal standard for most of the century. Before that, it varied as much as a semi-tone higher or lower.

And even further back in time, there was no standard at all. Every village used a prominent local instrument, such as a church organ, as the standard for tuning its musical instruments. Pity the wandering minstrel!

Prior to the standardization on 440 Hz, many countries and organizations followed the 435 Hz recommendation the Austrian government made in 1885. The American music industry reached their own informal compromise of 440 Hz in 1926, and used it in instrument manufacturing. In 1936, the American Standards Association recommended that the A above middle C be tuned to 440 Hz.[1] This standard was taken up by the International Organization for Standardization in 1955 (and was reaffirmed by them in 1975) as ISO 16. Although still not completely universally accepted, since then it has served as the audio frequency reference for the calibration of pianos, violins, and other musical instruments.

The rule of thumb is: the quieter your house the better your tuning will be.

You wouldn’t stand in the light of a jeweler repairing your watch. So should you plan to keep the noise to an absolute minimum when your tuner is working. If you want to do some housework and you’re unsure if it might bother your tuner, just ask. Many tuners can work perfectly well despite minor background noise while they’re tuning in the bass and tenor areas, but might request that you temporarily turn off the clothes dryer while he or she is tuning the high treble.

Most experienced professional piano tuners have tuned pianos during carpentry, vacuuming, TV, orchestral sound checks and even while other tuners were working in the same room. But no tuner can do his or her best work under those conditions

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