|Why Do Pianos
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
need regular tuning? Back home we always kept a jar of water in the
the piano. Does this help keep the piano in tune? How often does my
tuning?” Piano technicians hear these questions every day. Tuning is
frequent and important type of piano maintenance, but it’s often the
understood. Here we’ll look at why pianos go out of tune and how you
yours stay in better tune between visits from your technician.
First, new pianos are a special case; their pitch drops quickly for the
few years as the new strings stretch and wood parts settle. It’s very
that a new piano be maintained at proper pitch (A-440) during this
the string tension and piano structure can reach stable equilibrium.
manufacturers recommend three to four tunings the first year, and at
annually after that.
Aside from this initial settling, seasonal change is the primary reason
go out of tune. To understand why, you must realize that the piano’s
acoustical structure, the soundboard, is made of wood (typically
Sitka spruce). And while the wooden soundboards produce a wonderful
also react constantly to weather. As humidity goes up, a soundboard
increasing its crowned shape and stretching the piano’s strings to a
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
unless it’s in a hermetically sealed chamber, every piano is constantly
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.
it’s impossible to prevent every minor variation in indoor climate, you
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
the temperature moderate (below 70 degrees) during the winter heating
Get a portable room humidifier, or install a central
humidification system to combat winter dryness in climates with very
winters. A portable dehumidifier or a dehumidifier added to
air-conditioning system can remove excess moisture during hot, muggy
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
in controlling the climate within the instrument itself. Besides
tuning stability, they help minimize the constant swelling and
your piano’s wooden parts. The critical part of such a system is the
humidistat, a device that monitors the relative humidity within the
adds or removes moisture as needed. Jars of water, light bulbs, or
remedies” have no such control and can actually do more harm than good.
Piano Need Tuning After It’s Moved?
depends. The piano is a
complex instrument, with over too individual strings and thousands of
parts. Each string must be painstakingly adjusted to put the piano in
Even the tiniest change in a string’s tension can be heard by a
You might think, then, that trucking a piano down the highway or even
down a hall could “knock it out of tune.” However, pianos are actually
tough. They’re built to withstand up to 20 tons of string tension and
of heavy usage, so the physical movement of a piano usually has very
effect on its tuning or other adjustments.
It’s the climate change associated with the move, rather than the
itself, that makes pianos go out of tune. A substantial difference in
between its previous location and its new home will change the shape of
piano’s soundboard, changing tension on the strings.
For instance, a well-tuned piano moved fifty miles from a heated, dry
to a cool, humid home will sound fine immediately after the move. But a
later, after adjusting to the higher humidity, the piano will sound out
tune. Even moving a piano from one room to another in the same building
affect it if heating or air-conditioning patterns are different.
An exception is the vertical piano. Because they have four casters (grands have three), they
occasionally flex enough to
distort there tuning pattern immediately if moved to an uneven floor.
the piano back to a flat surface will return the tuning to normal. This
noticeable with light built spinets and consoles, and can occur simply
moving the piano a few inches if one caster rolls off the carpeting or
low spot on the floor.
So, do you have to tune your piano after moving it? Pianos need
anyway, whether they are moved or not, so it’s likely that a piano that
just been moved was already due for tuning before the move. If so, it’s
let the piano adjust to its new environment for a week or two, then
tuned. On the other hand, if the piano had been recently tuned before
you might just hold off and see how the piano sounds after a few weeks.
climate of the new location is similar to the old, your piano will
sound fine until its next regular service date.
It Hurt My Piano When Kids
Pound On It?
it’s so annoying, the racket
of keys struck at random may rattle your nerves, but it won’t damage
Most pianos are built to withstand very heavy use. Next time you see a serious pianist perform a
flamboyant classical piece,
notice how forcefully he or she attacks the keyboard. Or listen to how
your tuner pounds each key when tuning your piano. In comparison, a
small hands couldn’t possibly play that hard.
The real danger of children playing with, as opposed to playing, a
that they often can’t resist dropping small toys inside, slipping coins
the slots between the keys, or running toys across the finish.
But remember that music exists to give pleasure. Encourage your child
fun with the piano, not to be afraid of it. Don’t worry if young
haphazardly and loudly. If you teach respect for the instrument and
discover how enjoyable playing can be, they’ll treat it properly. And
children learn that playing the piano is fun, you won’t have to plead
to practice when they’re older.
How Long Will A
are among the most durable of personal possessions. Admired for their
fine cabinetry and treasured for their beautiful sound, pianos usually
lead a pampered
life in the best room of the house. They’re often thought of as
family fixtures, passed down to children and grandchildren. Their large
and weight give them the illusion of being able to last forever.
While pianos do last a long time, remember they’re really just large
made of wood, felt and metal. Over the years, seasonal changes take
stressing the wooden parts and straining glue joints. Felt hammers are
flat after thousands of collisions with the piano’s strings, and metal
corrode and weaken. Years of friction wear out the one thousand felt
in the action. How long a piano will last varies greatly, depending
maintenance and repair, usage, climate, and quality of manufacture.
a sketch of the life cycle of a typical home piano:
pitch of a new piano drops considerably, as the new strings stretch and
structure settles. If the piano receives the manufacturer’s recommended
four tunings during this time, it will stay at the correct pitch,
strings and structure to reach a stable equilibrium. Without these
first tunings, any later tuning will involve a large pitch raise,
to Ten Years
pitch stabilizes, assuming regular tunings (and additional climate
devices if needed). The mechanical parts of the piano’s action wear and
too. This causes two changes: first, the touch of the piano becomes
as the parts go out of adjustment. Secondly, the tone changes as the
flatten and grooves develop from repeated collisions with the strings.
regulation and voicing, important parts of a complete maintenance
correct these changes.
to Thirty Years
of action parts continues, the extent depending upon how hard and how
often the piano is played. Normal regulation and voicing will maintain
tone and touch if usage is moderate.
If the piano suffers wide temperature and humidity swings, it will being to show permanent
deterioration during this time:
loose tuning pins, rusty strings, soundboard cracks, and aging of the
to Fifty Years
years of playing, the hammers and other action parts will be quite
Years of seasonal changes cause bass strings to sound dull and treble
lost clarity. Eventually, adjustment alone will not correct these
some parts will need replacing to restore the original tone and touch.
few geographic areas with mild climates have older pianos still in good
condition. Well-built, well-designed pianos can still be playable at
advanced age if they’ve had good care and moderate use.
However, at some point in a piano’s life, an important decision must be
the piano be replace? Is its life over?
it be reconditioned or rebuilt (made functionally new
it continue to limp along with an ever worsening tone
of the pianist are the real variable in judging a piano’s useful life.
performance requires a piano in good condition.
Older, high-quality instruments can often be rebuilt to like-new
less than the cost of a new piano. Even economy grade instruments can
dramatically improved by judicious reconditioning. Your piano
help you make this decision.
Eventually, it becomes less and less practical to continue maintaining
old piano. The undeniable end of a piano’s life comes when the repair
exceeds the value of the repaired instrument. Medium-quality old
this point sooner than do high-quality large grands.
Rare and historically important instruments may never reach this point
totally damaged in a fire or other disaster.
Happily, almost any piano that has received reasonable care will have
the art of music for decades by the time its days are over.
a Piano in Your Home
it wrong to place against an outside wall? How far from the fireplace
it be? Can I keep my piano in an unheated room?”
These are all common questions posed by piano owners. The answers lie
in two important
criteria: temperature and humidity.
Pianos are mostly wood and are greatly affected by seasonal change.
in the air’s relative humidity, and to a lesser extent temperature,
piano to go out of tune. In the long run, repeated swings in relative
can cause damage to the finish, cracking of the wooden soundboard, and
structural failure. So, when locating your piano, try to choose a spot
fewest drafts, no direct sunlight and stable temperature and humidity.
Safely Move A Piano Around A Room
piano casters are only meant for occasional small movements, such as
rolling the piano a few feet on a smooth floor. Pianos moved often,
those on stages, in school buildings or in churches, must be mounted on
dollies to prevent damage to the original casters and legs. To safely
home piano to a new spot in the room, here are some tips:
the piano is sitting on carpeting, or if the floor has any obstacles
thresholds, furnace grates, etc., you need to be very careful to avoid
straining the legs. First, lower the lid. Them
position three people around the piano, one near each leg. (Remove belt
buckles, rings, etc. that could scratch the piano’s finish.) It’s not
to lift the piano off the floor, but just to take some weight off the
so they will roll more easily. Move the piano slowly, a few inches at a
Caution: Never roll a caster over any bump in the floor; always lift it
one leg at a time, using extra help.
same cautions for grands apply here. Use two
people, one at each end of the
piano (two at each end for large uprights), and always lift the casters
the bumps in the floor. Caution; Beware that most of
the weight is located toward the back of an upright piano, making it
tipping over if leaned too far back. When moving an upright out from a
never allow anyone, especially children, to stand behind the piano.
Most spinet and console pianos have this, unsupported front legs. These
extra care, since they can easily break off if caught in a crack or
across soft carpeting. To avoid damage, carefully tip the piano back
as you roll it to reduce weight on the front legs.
Down the Definition of a
are hammers and then there are hammers. We all know about the kind that
pound nails, but many people don’t know that the piano wouldn't make a
unless a felt-covered hammer struck the string.
Piano hammers are made from a piece of dense felt, glued under
pressure onto t wooden molding. After the glue dries, the long strip is
into 88 individual hammers.
Good hammers felt must have a combination of density and resilience so
piano will have a beautiful, singing tone. The hammer’s tone can be
a process called voicing.
Left Feet, Left Pedals
wonder how that soft pedal on the left really works?
a grand piano, when you depress the una corda pedal (also called the
shift pedal), the keyboard
moves slightly to the right. This causes the hammers to strike fewer
each note. (Most notes have more than one string.) The result is a
softer tone, and a different tone
color as well.
On vertical pianos, the left pedal doesn’t change the number of strings
the hammer strikes. Instead, the pedal pushes
hammers half way to the strings. Since the hammers have a shorter
travel, they hit the strings with less force and therefore less volume.
So on a vertical piano, the left pedal is like an off-and-on switch –
pedal and the volume drops. But on a well-regulated grand piano, you
techniques such as half pedaling to get not only a difference in volume
also subtle variations in tone color.
Trivia: Who built the first
piano in the United States?
probably John Behrent, who lived in
Early in 1775, he advertised for sale an “extraordinary instrument by
of pianoforte, in mahogany in the manner of the harpsichord.” This
currently preserved in the Smithsonian, is rectangular, has only 54
resembles a German clavichord. It appears to have had a long and useful
What Does “A-440” Mean?
occurs when air is set into motion rapidly. Humans can hear sound if
those cycles of compression and uncompression
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
the note A above middle
C is properly tuned, that
string will vibrate 440 times in one second. That’s what A-440 means.
Ever note on a piano is tuned using A-440 as the starting point. A-440
accepted as the universal standard for most of the century. Before
varied as much as a semi-tone higher or lower.
And even farther back in time, there was no standard at all. Every
a prominent local instrument, such as a church organ, as the standard
tuning its musical instruments. Pit the wandering
camera sweeps the concert hall, where the piano is positioned center
The raised piano lid reveals a large, shining gold-colored surface.
this mass of metal?
It’s the plate of the piano, and its purpose is to allow the strings to
stretched to 18-30 tons of tension without buckling the wooden frame. A
has to be strong to do its job, so it’s made of cast iron.
The strings need to be under high tension to produce a powerful piano
The plate may be bulky and heavy, and no friend of a piano movers. But
the plate there would be no concert!