Frequently Asked Questions About Piano Tuning

What makes a piano go out of tune?
 A: Changes in temperature and/or humidity. A piano doesn’t know if it is played or not, so playing it (or not playing it) does not affect the tuning. The strings and sound board contract and expand with temperature change; however, not all uniformly. Over several months, the strings do not get back up to where they started when the piano was in tune. So, the various differences of string tension, other than what it should be, will cause the notes to be out of tune.

How often should my piano be tuned?
A: All piano manufacturers and dealers recommend that pianos, whether they be spinets, consoles, tall uprights, or grand pianos should, ideally, be tuned 2 times per year to stabilize string tension and maintain pitch at A-440.

What is A-440? What is standard pitch?
A: All modern pianos and western musical instruments, from about 1930 to the present day, were designed and manufactured with the note “A” (above middle C) to vibrate at the rate of 440 vibrations per second. This is known as A-440, or standard pitch. The rest of the piano is tuned to very precise mathematical relationships to this note, A-440. When a piano is perfectly tuned, these mathematical relationships synchronize to form the beauty and harmonies that we call music.

My piano is brand new! Does it still need tuning?
A: New pianos need to be tuned at least 3 times during the first year. Because the piano is new, the strings and frame are still “settling” and therefore will go out of tune very quickly. Between the manufacture and sale, new pianos are tuned approximately 10 times or more to stabilize the string tension. When the piano is moved, it may also need tuning. It is a mistake to neglect a new piano by not tuning it at least 3 times in the first year that you own it. This is the time it is most likely to go severely out of tune. Even if you, and others, think it sounds good, ask yourself, “Do I really have a trained musical ear and can I hear the A note playing at 440 vibrations per second?” It is not unusual for brand new pianos to go 10% to 25% flat, or more, within 1 1/2 years after purchase by not being tuned. The cost of raising pitch (back to standard pitch of A-440) can increase the cost of a good tuning.

What happens when a piano is not tuned for many years?
A: Over the years, the strings in the piano gradually loosen and cause the strings to sound differently, and not to have the tone it had when new. As the string tension loosens in the piano, it will gradually go flat, lowering as much as 1 or 2 notes or more. This happens so slowly, you may not notice the change in tone even when the tone is flat. It can take consecutive tunings, or a pitch raise, to get it back to A-440, where the piano was designed to play.

I have my piano tuned every 3 or 4 years. Is this bad?
A: The piano tuner who tunes your piano every 3 or 4 years is probably tuning it at a lower string tension, not at A-440. This is the only way to make your piano sound okay with just a single tuning. A piano tuned at a lower tension will not sound as good as it would if it were raised up-to-pitch (A-440). At a lower tension, the bass strings will lack volume, will not sound true, clear, and deep. Additionally, the high notes will not sound as bright and clear as they would if they were also tuned up-to-pitch. In general, a piano tuned at a lower pitch will lack the fullness of tone, volume, and clarity it was designed to have when new.

Why should my piano be tuned to A-440?
A: When you are taking lessons, it’s important that your piano sounds like the teacher’s piano. When you are practicing, you are training your ear so that when you play with others and their instruments, the piano will sound right to you. When you practice playing or singing with your piano, whether you are an amateur or professional, sing in church or a choir, or just like to sing for your own enjoyment, it is very important that your piano be tuned to A-440, standard pitch. When you sing while playing your piano, you are training your voice by matching the note you are singing to the note on the piano.
If your piano is out of tune or tuned to a lower pitch, you will be practicing incorrectly and will never develop a good musical ear. Female vocalists particularly need their pianos tuned to A-440, as they need to train their voice to sing high notes, right on pitch. For example, if you practice singing with a piano that is at a lower pitch, and then sing in your church choir, you may have big trouble singing those high notes.

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