A PIANO GO OUT OF TUNE?
statement was prepared by William Braid White, Mus. D. for his book,
Tuning and Allied Arts, a number of years ago. It was later adopted by
Steinway and Sons, of New York, at Steinway Hall, and for the use of
dealers. It is reproduced with the permission of Steinway &
because the facts presented are likely to be very useful to
tuners, who so often have to make clear to owners of pianos the ins and
outs of a question easily understood by technical men, but very
to the laity.
a piano goes out of tune, it is first necessary to remember that the
instrument is always under a varying stress. The two-hundred-and-thirty
odd strings are stretched at average tensions of from one hundred and
to two hundred pounds apiece; so that the iron plate, together with the
heavy wooden framing carries a strain totaling from eighteen to twenty
stress is not
constant, for the reason that the steel wire is highly elastic. The
is merely a thin sheet of spruce wood averaging three-eighths of an
in thickness. If it be properly constructed, the whole board becomes
like a highly elastic spring. The more elastic it is, the freer and
agreeable will be the tone emanating from the piano.
construction is extremely sensitive to all changes of temperature and
pressure. Thus, in summer time, through out the greater of the country
there is much moisture in the air most of the time, and rain is
Wood, under these conditions, swells up, nor will any kind of coating
a wooden soundboard from these influences. On the contrary, when the
is on during the colder months, the air in the rooms becomes much
owing to the evaporation of moisture, and failure to keep on hand open
vessels of water, flowering plants or other moisture retainers or
in the soundboard rapidly passes off, the board shrinks, the strings
down, and the pitch drops.
that even where conditions are not extreme, and even in climates which
have only a comparatively short range, this process is continually
of a degree
in temperature, or of one-tenth of an inch in a barometer, has its
The soundboard of the piano, then, is always slowly rising and falling
through short distances, and constantly, therefore, suffering
in its ability to hold the strings up to proper pitch.
hand, if the
piano be neglected, and unless it be tuned at least once every change
season, say four times a year, during Spring, Summer Autumn and Winter,
it will not stand in tune.
four tunings a year should be sufficient. The tuner knows however, that
if he had time to tune his own piano as often as his ears tell him, he
would tune it once a month at least.
point of view, it is probably true to say that no piano ever made has
in tune, without a drop or a rise for more than twenty-four hours,
it were maintained at constant temperature, and under constant
and hygroscopic conditions in a laboratory.
then for the frequency
and need of tuning. If a piano is neglected, if it be allowed to go
from one season to another, say, from Spring to Winter, without tuning,
it will probably at the end of that time be considerably lower in pitch
that it was originally. It will have gone through a rise, followed by a
fall, and the fall will be greater than the first rise.
what any salesman
may say, no matter how finely the piano may be made, no matter, in
what the physical circumstances or the price, or the domestic
may be, there is no such thing as a piano standing month after month in
tune. The better the piano, the more frequent and careful tuning it
is a work of
art. Therefore, to treat it roughly, carelessly or negligently is to
a crime against a beautiful piece of expensive craftsmanship. To pay a
lot of money for a fine piano and then allow it to go to ruin for lack
of expert care is not merely aesthetically wrong-it is bad business.
is made primarily
of wood, a versatile and beautiful material ideal for piano
However, being made of wood, your piano is greatly affected by
Seasonal and even daily changes in humidity cause wood parts to swell
shrink, affecting tuning stability and touch. Extreme swings in
can eventually cause wood to crack and glue joints to fail.
materials in your
piano also are affected by changes in moisture content in the air. The
many felt and leather parts in your piano’s action can change
affecting regulation and friction, or stiffness of the touch. Very high
humidity can even create condensation on metal parts such as strings,
pins and hardware, eventually causing them to rust.
affect my piano’s tuning?
the piano’s soundboard is the most immediate and noticeable effect of
change. The soundboard, a sheet of wood approximately 3/8 of an inch
is made with a slightly crowned shape. The strings pass over the
and are connected to it by a wooden piece called a bridge. The upward
of the soundboard presses the bridge tightly against the strings.
moisture level in
the soundboard increases during periods of high relative humidity, the
crown expands and pushes the bridge harder against the strings. The
are stretched tighter and the piano’s pitch rises. Because this
in crown is greater in the center of the soundboard than at the edges,
the pitch rises more in the middle octaves than in the bass or treble
periods of low relative
humidity the soundboard shrinks, reducing the crown and decreasing
against the strings. The pitch drops, again with the greatest effect
in the center of the keyboard. When relative humidity returns to its
level, the average pitch of all the strings will return to normal,
the exact pitch of individual strings will be slightly changed from
original settings. Thus, a piano only will stay in tune as the
remains constant. Extreme humidity changes require making greater
in string tension to bring the piano into tune. This upsets the
between the string tension and the piano frame, and the piano never
swells and shrinks
in response to changes in the relative humidity of the air around it.
humidity (RH) is the amount of moisture contained in the air, compared
to the maximum amount of moisture that it is capable of holding. The
content of air is affected by weather as well as conditions and
within the home, while the moisture-holding capacity of air varies with
temperature. One way of thinking about RH is that it is a measure of
tendency to absorb or release moisture to its surroundings. Thus when
RH of air in a room increases, moisture will tend to transfer from the
air to wood and other absorbent materials in the room. When the RH of
decreases, moisture will transfer from other materials back into the
The RH of the atmosphere is always changing by the hour and, more
with the seasons. Consequently, the wood and felt parts in your piano
constantly changing dimension as they absorb and release moisture.
depends upon the
temperature and moisture content of the air, it is not possible to
a constant RH by controlling room temperature alone. In fact,
an even temperature while moisture content varies will cause RH to
done to minimize
around your piano as constant as possible will help it stay in tune
as well as slow such damage as soundboard cracks, loose tuning pins,
glue joint failures. The first and simplest precaution you can take is
to position your piano away from areas where it would be exposed to
of temperature and humidity such as heating and cooling vents, stoves,
doors and windows. Direct sunlight is especially damaging. If your home
is not well insulated, an interior wall is preferable to an outside
within the home is another step you can take to preserve your
In most areas of the country the relative humidity is very low during
cold winter season, and very high during the spring and summer. In
areas these humidity cycles are reversed. Wherever you live, you have
noticed the symptoms of low RH (shocks from static electricity when
out of a car or after walking across carpet), and the signs of high RH
(limp, soggy-feeling newspapers and sticking doors). To monitor RH
in your home, you may wish to purchase a moderately priced wall
available from most instrument supply companies or electronics stores.
during dry seasons will help somewhat. However, too much moisture added
to a room during winter months can cause condensation to form on cold
such as windows, eventually causing mildew, rot, and, in extreme cases,
damage to the building structure. During the humid season
is needed. If your humid season is winter, keeping the home evenly
will help. However, humid summer situations require much more elaborate
de-humidification systems. Unfortunately, it is seldom possible to
control the relative humidity of a piano by controlling the room
practical and effective
answer to humidity problems is to have a humidity control system
in the piano itself. These systems consist of three parts: a humidifier
for adding moisture to the air, a dehumidifier for eliminating excess
and a humidistat or control unit which senses the RH of the air within
the piano and activates the system to add or remove moisture as needed.
These systems are designed to maintain the RH of the air within the
at the ideal level of 42%. The components are installed out of sight,
the case of a vertical piano or under the soundboard of a grand. They
easy to maintain, and can be installed by your piano technician.
benefit my piano?
the need for regular piano maintenance, humidity control will allow
stable tunings by reducing the radical pitch changes your piano may
through the seasons. When your piano stays closer to its correct pitch
level of A-440 (A=440 cycles per second), your technician does not have
to perform a large pitch raising or lowering procedure prior to fine
Thus, a balance of forces is maintained between the strings and the
of the piano, allowing more accurate and stable tunings to be done.
a stable environment
will help to preserve your piano through the years. Wood parts, glue
metal parts and your piano’s finish will all last longer if not
to excessive humidity swings. Maintaining the correct environment will
preserve your piano investment for a lifetime of enjoyment.
Piano, just like
every piano, is designed to sound its best when tuned to A-440 (the A
middle C vibrates at 440 cycles per second), the international pitch
It has been designed to perform at a specific tension, and when strings
stretch beyond, or drop below this tension, pitch adjustments are
to bring it back to A-440. It’s important to remember that maintaining
your piano at standard pitch allows you to play along with other
which are all designed to this same standard. Through neglect, pianos
deviate from this standard, making them unsuitable to play with other
and causing them to lose market value. In addition, lower pitched
can compromise the pianist’s ear training.
important to note that
pianos do not go flat or sharp uniformly. Some strings will invariably
change more than others.
had my piano
tuned regularly, how can I get it back in good playing condition?
of regular use,
your piano may have fallen silent when the family member who studied
moved away from home. Though your home is no longer filled with music,
it’s important to remember your piano is still a living, breathing
Its wood continues to expand and contract with seasonal changes in
and humidity, and the string tension also fluctuates accordingly. If
piano has gone without tuning for an extended period, its pitch may
dropped far below the pitch at which it was designed to perform. It may
require procedure technicians call a "pitch raise."
out of tune?
take place because
your piano’s overall pitch is dependent upon changes in the relative
In some temperate regions of the country, the relative humidity
in the summer resulting in a higher moisture content in the soundboard
and a higher string tension (pitch). In the winter, when heating
dry the air, the soundboard loses moisture and contracts, causing the
to drop. The drop in the winter tends to exceed the rise in the summer,
so the net result is a drop in pitch each year that the piano isn’t
In some parts of the country where the cold season is exceptionally
the annual drop can be considerable. In other parts, mild winters
with dry summers cause the cycle to be reversed. You can, however,
increase the stability of your piano’s pitch by maintaining a
consistent humidity level in the room.
pitch raise necessary?
tension of each
string on a piano is raised back up to pitch, the additional load on
piano’s structure causes the pitch of previously adjusted strings to
The only way to achieve a fine, accurate tuning on a piano is to have
tension of all the strings so close to their proper place that altering
the tension of one string would not affect the others. Therefore, a
must already be fairly close to standard pitch in order to be finely
be easier to
just tune the piano to the lower pitch?
than the international standard of A-440 is seldom appropriate. If a
old piano has been allowed to remain appreciably below pitch for a long
time, some strings may break if the piano is restored to A-440. Your
will advise you as to whether repeated tunings will correct the
or if the piano should be completely restrung or rebuilt.
has dropped in
pitch, the drop will not be even. The middle (tenor) section of the
usually drops most along with the high treble section. The bass section
tends to drop least. Consequently, a piano that is tuned to a pitch
is below the international pitch standard would have to have
adjustments made to the tension of every string, resulting in an
tuning. It’s much more reliable to bring the piano up to standard pitch
and then to proceed with fine tuning.
pitch must a piano be before a pitch raise is necessary?
have been subjected
to severe changes in humidity routinely need pitch raises before a fine
-tuning can be achieved. For example, if A-440 has drifted only two
per second to A-438, a separate pitch raise is advisable. Most
musicians would want to have their pianos tuned before the pitch drops
that far. Even if you aren’t bothered by a slightly out-of-tune piano,
it’s best to tune the piano on a regular basis to avoid tuning
and the extra cost of a pitch raising procedure.
car, your piano
is a major investment which deserves to be protected by regular
which can head off preventable problems in the future. But most
your piano will sound its best and give you and your family the most
when it is tuned regularly and kept in proper playing condition.
Piano Tuning | Regulation
along the Wasatch Front