Piano Tuning 101: How and When to Tune Your Piano

Posted by Gordon Bolton

While professional musicians understand the importance of piano tuning, not even expert pianists always understand when and how a piano should be tuned. At the same time, countless owners have pianos in their homes that are rarely, if ever, tuned. Since pianos represent a significant investment, it’s important to understand when proper care is needed.

Why Is Tuning a Piano Important?

A properly tuned piano provides pleasant tones listeners enjoy. Once a piano is out of tune, those tones become discordant and unpleasant. Chords don’t sound right, and single notes frequently sound as if they’re too sharp or flat.

Proper tuning ensures the pitch of every key is correct. Remember that every piano key moves corresponding parts that, in turn, strike a string. The tension of those strings must be precisely set if the piano is to create the desired sounds. So, when should owners consider having a piano tuned? The answer to that question is somewhat complex, as where the piano is, the quality of the instrument, and how it’s used all play important roles in deciding when to call a professional piano tuner.

The Environment Matters

One of the most important factors to consider when discussing tuning is the humidity level where a piano is kept. Both high and low humidity levels impact tuning, as the soundboard and other wood elements, will expand and contract as those levels change. In other words, the tones produced by the piano will change as the moisture levels change.

Tuners note that, when humidity levels are low, the pinblock will shrink as a response. That means the pins will loosen, which reduces the string tension. Notes will sound flat. The reverse also holds true. When there is excessive moisture present, the pins tighten, which increases the string tension and results in a sharp pitch.

Experts recommend moisture levels where a piano is located remain as constant as possible, but that can prove to be difficult. When temperature and humidity levels are relatively constant, a piano’s tuning will remain stable. In buildings where central AC is used, owners will need fewer visits by the piano tuner.

Consider How the Piano Is Used

How often and intensely a piano is used also affects tuning schedules. Owners who rarely use their pianos are less likely to need frequent tuning. Remember that components like strings, felts, and other components are prone to wear when they’re used constantly. A professional piano tuner will inspect all components and recommend replacing worn parts to avoid problems and ensure the instrument sounds its best.
Users who subject their pianos to rough use also need to schedule tuning sessions more frequently. Those who play only smooth jazz, on the other hand, may be able to stretch the intervals between tunings. If you’re unsure how your playing style ranks on the easy-to-rough-use scale, don’t be afraid to ask your piano tuner how often to schedule tunings.

High-End Pianos May Require Less-Frequent Tuning

When deciding when to schedule a piano tuning, the quality level of the instrument may impact how frequently tuning is required. More expensive pianos generally include higher-quality components that may need attention less often. Most piano manufacturers will recommend tuning at specific intervals to prevent owners from becoming dissatisfied with their instruments.

There is a caveat here, as some owners may be more demanding. In other words, those owners will be more aware of sound quality and schedule frequent tunings to make sure a piano always produces perfect tones.

Moving Pianos Impacts Their Tuning

Owners who choose to move a piano will find they’ll need to schedule tuning after the move is completed. Even moving a piano within a home or other building will generally mean it’s time to call a piano tuner. The act of moving stresses components allows flexing of the instrument, which means the sound produced by the piano is almost certain to suffer.

However, a piano tuner may recommend waiting for a while before tuning a piano following a move. The instrument will need to become acclimated to its new environment. The humidity levels and temperatures may be different, which means the various components will need to expand or contract as needed before tuning.

How carefully a piano is moved will also impact how much attention a tuner may need to pay to the instrument after a move. It’s always a good idea to work with expert piano movers in Texas when moving any piano. Professional piano movers work with owners to ensure their instruments are cared for properly before, during, and after the move.

Remember that the strategy for moving a spinet will differ from the method used when moving a grand piano, and expert piano movers take the time to ensure the proper steps are taken throughout any disassembly, moving, and reassembly at the new location.

How Often Should Pianos Be Tuned?

As noted, different situations require different schedules, but a good rule of thumb is that most pianos should be tuned twice a year. Taking appropriate care of a piano generally results in a longer useful life of the instrument, but tuning also allows owners and listeners to enjoy the music without discordant notes.
Professionals may want the pianos they use tuned before every performance, but most owners won’t require such strict measures. As noted earlier, how often a piano should be tuned depends on the environmental conditions, the piano’s use, and the quality of the instrument. However, even an occasional player may feel it’s better to be over-attentive and have their piano tuned more often than normal.

Taking the First Step

If you’re unsure how or when to have a piano tuned, the first step should be to locate an experienced and well-respected piano tuner in the area. Once you’ve done that, ask that professional for advice. In some cases, the tuner may wish to examine the piano and its environment prior to making recommendations. Take that as a good sign and schedule a visit as soon as possible.

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