Why Do Pianos Need Tuning?
Piano tuning is the most important type of piano maintenance, but it’s often the least understood. Here you will see why pianos go out of tune and how you can help your piano stay in better tune between visits from your piano tuning technician. Aside from this initial settling, seasonal change is the primary reason pianos go out of tune. To understand why, you must realize that the piano’s main acoustical structure, the soundboard, is made of wood and while wooden soundboards produce a wonderful sound, they also react constantly to the weather. As humidity goes up, a soundboard swells, increasing its crowned shape and stretching the piano’s strings to a higher pitch.
During dry times, the soundboard flattens out, lowering tension on the 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 most. So, unless it’s in a sealed chamber, every piano is constantly going out of tune! The good news is there are some simple things you can do to keep your piano sounding harmonious between regular service appointments. Although it’s impossible to prevent every minor variation in indoor climate, you can often improve conditions for your piano.
Start by placing the piano away from direct sunlight, drafts, and heat sources. Excess heating causes extreme dryness, so try to keep the temperature moderate (below 70 degrees) during the winter heating season. Get a portable room humidifier, or install a central humidification system to combat winter dryness in climates with very cold, dry winters. A portable dehumidifier or a dehumidifier added to your air-conditioning system can remove excess moisture during hot, muggy summers. 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 effective in controlling the climate within the instrument itself. Besides improving tuning stability, they help minimize the constant swelling and shrinking of your piano’s wooden parts. The critical part of such a system is the humidistat, a device that monitors the humidity within the piano and adds or removes moisture as needed. Jars of water, light bulbs, or other home remedies have no such control and can actually do more harm than good.
If you have to put your piano in storage…Don’t, if at all possible.
Pianos are like people! Your piano prefers a safe and cozy home, away from drafts, dampness and rodents.
If you must store your piano, try to find a friend to keep it for you.
Unheated personal storage units are not suitable places to store pianos for any length of time.
A well-built garage can be an acceptable option for short term storage (up to one year), if you take some precautions:
Check the building’s drainage. Make sure the floor under the piano will never be damp.
Is the building weather-tight? There should be no dew on the inside of the windows on a cool rainy day.
Ask your technician to install a climate control system in the piano. Make sure it stays plugged in to an electrical outlet.
Cover the piano with heavy blankets.
Arrange to have it regularly inspected for rodent infestation
How to Safely Move Your Piano Around A Room:
Standard piano casters are only meant for occasional small movements, such as rolling the piano a few feet on a smooth floor. Pianos moved often, such as those on stages, in school buildings or in churches, must be mounted on special dollies to prevent damage to the original casters and legs.
To safely move your home piano to a new spot in the room, here are some tips:
If your piano is sitting on carpeting, or if the floor has any obstacles like thresholds, furnace grates, etc., you need to be very careful to avoid straining the legs. First lower the lid. Then 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 necessary to lift the piano off the floor, but just to take some weight off the casters so they will roll more easily. Move the piano slowly, a few inches at a time. Caution: Never roll a caster over any bump in the floor; always lift it over, one leg at a time, using extra help.
The 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 over bumps in the floor. Caution: Beware that most of the weight is located toward the back of an upright piano, making it prone to tipping over if leaned too far back. When moving an upright out from a wall, never allow anyone, especially children, to stand behind the piano. Most spinet and console pianos have thin, unsupported front legs. These take extra care, since they can easily break off if caught in a crack or dragged across soft carpeting. To avoid damage, carefully tip the piano back slightly as you roll it to reduce weight on the front legs.
Positioning a Piano In Your Home:
“Is it wrong to place a piano against an outside wall? How far from the fireplace must 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. Variations in the airs relative humidity, and to a lesser extent temperature, cause a piano to go out of tune. In the long run, repeated swings in relative humidity can cause damage to the finish, cracking of the wooden soundboard, and even structural failure. So, when locating your piano, try to choose a spot with the fewest drafts, no direct sunlight and stable temperature and humidity.
Common lore says that a piano should always be on an inside wall. This is not necessarily true. If your home is well insulated, an outside wall will usually be fine, as long as the piano is not directly in front of a window or close to a furnace vent or other source of warm (or cold) air. Evenness of humidity and temperature is what you should strive for. Thus, a piano in an unheated room is better off than one in a family room that’s alternately heated, cooled and ventilated with open windows.
Remember: If the piano is facing a fireplace or heater and its surface feels warm, it’s too close.
Avoid direct sunlight; it will wreak havoc on your piano’s tuning and eventually fade and crack the finish.
Consistency is more important than the actual levels of temperature or relative humidity. If you can’t find a suitable location, have a climate control system installed in the instrument itself. These units can greatly improve tuning stability and other climate related problems where it’s not practical to control the environment of the entire house.
When Is The Best Time To Get My Piano Tuned?
Pianos go out of tune primarily because of changes in humidity. When the seasons change, the humidity in your home also changes. This means the best time to tune your piano is immediately after a seasonal change. That way, your piano will sound its best until the next seasonal change, when it will go out of tune again. Many people get their pianos tuned twice a year. The best times to do this are usually in the Fall and Spring.
Does It Hurt My Piano When Kids Pound On It?
Because it’s so annoying, the racket of keys struck at random may rattle your nerves, but it won’t damage the piano. Most pianos are built to withstand very heavy use. The 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 hard your tuner pounds each key when tuning your piano. In comparison, a child’s small hands couldn’t possibly play that hard. The real danger of children playing with, as opposed to playing a piano is that they often can’t resist dropping small toys inside, slipping coins into the slots between the keys, or running toys across the finish. But remember that music exists to give pleasure.
Encourage your child to have fun with the piano, not to be afraid of it. Don’t worry if young children play haphazardly and loudly. If you teach respect for the instrument and they discover how enjoyable playing can be, they’ll treat it properly. And if your children learn that playing the piano is fun, you won’t have to plead with them to practice when they’re older.
Left Feet, Left Pedals
Ever wonder how that soft pedal on the left really works?
On 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 strings on 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 that the hammer strikes. Instead, the pedal pushes all the hammers half way to the strings. Since the hammers have a shorter distance to 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–press the pedal and the volume drops. But on a well-regulated grand piano, you can use techniques such as half-pedaling to get not only a difference in volume but also subtle variations in tone color.
What Does “A -440” Mean?
Sound occurs when air is set into motion rapidly. Humans can hear sound if those cycles of compression and uncompression occur 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 repeatedly. If the note A above middle C is properly tuned, that string will vibrate up and down 440 times in one second. That’s what A-440 means.
Every note on a piano is tuned using A-440 as the starting point. A-440 has been accepted as the universal standard for most of the century. Before that, it varied as much as a semi-tone higher or lower.
And even further back in time, there was no standard at all. Every village used a prominent local instrument, such as a church organ, as the standard for tuning its musical instruments.
How Should I Shop For A Used Piano?
A first step would be to decide on a price range and appearance you’re comfortable with. Remember, you’ll see it everyday even when you don’t play it. Go to piano stores, look in the newspaper, and ask your local music teachers and tuners to let you know if anything turns up. When you find one that’s interesting, play it. Try every note, listening for buzzes or notes that don’t work at all. Play some music that’s loud and fast, and some that’s soft and slow. If you don’t play yourself, bring a friend who does. And finally, when you find a piano you think you want to buy, have it inspected by a professional piano technician. Would you buy a used car without a mechanic’s advice? Save yourself the possibility of disappointment or disaster, and have a piano technician check it out for you before you write the check.
Why Do Some Pianos Have Keys That Feel Heavy And Some That Feel Light?
The weight required to make a key go down is referred to as the “touch.” On different pianos it might vary from 40 grams to 70 grams. Differences in leverage, mass of various parts, and frictional resistance yield piano actions that play very differently. But don’t think that a lighter touch is always better. In fact, most advanced musicians like to feel a touch that is anywhere from 52 to 58 grams. If a piano is too light, there’s no feedback from the piano back to the player. And if the touch is too heavy, arms and fingers tire easily and sensitive control is gone. Some adjustments can be made to change a piano’s touch-weight. If you’re interested, ask your piano technician.
How Often Should A Piano Be Tuned?
For a piano in a home, the answer is once every three to six months. For pianos in concert halls, the answer is every single time it’s played, which sometimes means twice in one day.
We hope this page has provided some valuable information. If you have any questions or would like to schedule your piano to be moved, please contact McMurry Moving Company in our Dallas office at 972-242-1990 or in our Fort Worth office at 817-690-1978.
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McMurry Moving Company is Dallas, Fort Worth’s premier piano and organ moving company. Thanks to our professional crews and over 20 years of experience, we can take the worry and stress out of your piano moving project. Our company is family owned and operated and ready to assist you with your move.
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