How many times a year should I be tuning my piano?
Recently I was asked to speak at a local Kids’ Mid-Summer Music Camp and I was pleased and surprised at the number of questions and depth of interest in how to take care of your piano.
One of the first questions that is always asked is “How many times a year should I tune my piano?” Tuning is only one part of the piano that must be maintained; What is recommended is that at least once a year at the minimum, or better yet , at every major weather change such as Winter and Summer.For example, in Santa Clara Valley CA , before the dry and wet periods of our climate, October-November and May- early June.
There are approximately 222 strings on a typical piano creating about 20 tons of tension on the frame and plate. Even if you do not play your instrument you MUST maintain this tension; otherwise after several years you will compromise the tuning stability of the instrument and after many years you will cause damage to the sounding board and the bridge hitch pins. Like a car that requires oil and gas to function properly, we also must keep this pressure at a consistent level to protect the integrity of the instrument.
Humidity is another factor the influences piano maintenance and tuning. Hygrometer setting of around 50% is suggested. Homes with aquariums, large bodies of water on the property or living near the ocean can cause rust to form on the action parts and strings. Installing a “damp-chaser system” (your technician can advise you on this) will help keep a consistent temperature along with the added benefit of stretching your time between tunings.
If you look inside your piano you will see that some hammers hit 3 steel strings, others 2 copper wound strings and the bass notes strike single wound stings. Sometimes there is a single note that does not sound quite right and I have it heard described as a “twangy” or “buzzy” sound. This is a result of one of the strings of the set of 3 or 2 sounding out of phase” with its neighbors. This does not mean your piano is totally out of tune but that it needs to be touched up. Most instruments will shift gradually out of tune. But sometimes when you strike a note or octave at triple fortissimo you will experience this situation. Some technicians will gladly pay a short visit to brush-up this tuning and charge you a lesser fee as they would not need to do a complete temperament.
In addition, one of the best arguments for maintaining a piano in tune its effect upon children who are practicing on the instrument. Up until the early teens, children are associating sound with relative pitch. Their inner ear template is affected by an instrument out of tune. Have you ever meet an adult that cannot sing in tune? Studies have shown that early in life these persons were associating music with an out of tune instrument!! Students with violins or other stringed instruments are acutely aware of tuning as they have to physically produce the notes on pitch. Pianos however do not require the performer to tune the instrument prior to playing. Parents, please keep this in mind with your children and the piano in your home!
In the next newsletter I will discuss two other important areas of the piano that need maintenance, the action and hammers and the finish of the Instrument.