Piano FAQ's

Read on to find answers to some commonly asked questions about pianos.  Kim Marie Papa will also answer your specific questions. Text 845-612-1422 or call 845-279-7738 .

Why tune my piano?

The tuning of a piano is a systematic method of adjusting, tightening and loosening of the tension of each of the several hundred strings of a piano. This is done in order to properly pitch each wire or string to sound in a harmonious and beautifully musical way. Some of the strings need to be tightened or increased in their tension and other strings may need to be loosened or lowered in their tension.

Every string in your piano is connected to a small steel tuning pin which is embedded into a wood block called the pinblock. A piano tuner uses a special tuning hammer to raise and lower the tension of all of the pins and strings.

There are approximately 230 strings in most pianos and all of them must be properly tuned to certain pitches and frequencies in order to sound musical.

Why does a piano go out of tune?

The reason a piano goes out of tune is because of the changes in the humidity or the degree of moisture in the air. Just as in any piece of wood or in any tree, the moisture in the air causes expansion and contraction depending on the amount of humidity. Even in large or small pieces of cut wood, as in a piano, the humidity changes can greatly affect the wooden parts including the tiny moving action parts of a piano. If you've ever noticed a sticky door on a humid or damp day, you get the idea.

In addition, during the cold winter months, the heat can dry the wood and cause the soundboard, bridge and other parts of the piano to shrink and the result is usually that the pitch will drop slightly and the piano goes out of tune. When the pitch drops, it must be brought back up to proper pitch or it will continually drop until it is corrected properly.

Too little humidity and not enough regular tuning can cause a piano to become essentially untunable, cause irreparable cracks in the soundboard and loose or rattling keys. Newer pianos tend to go out of tune more quickly than older pianos due to the fact that the steel strings are still relatively new and are still stretching. It's the same principal as putting on a new guitar string. It needs tuning many times until it settles and starts to blend in with the rest of the older, seasoned strings. This is why most piano manufacturers recommend at least four tunings within the first year.

Playing the piano also has some effect on the tuning stability. If a piano is played frequently or played with a heavy or hard touch, it will go out of tune more, but the overall humidity and climate changes from day to day will play a greater factor.

Pianos should not be placed in the home directly next to a heater or an air vent and should preferably be placed next to an inside wall rather than an outside wall. In addition, one should avoid having direct sunlight on the piano as this can also affect the moisture content in the wood and cause tuning instability.

What about moving a piano?

Moving a piano can flex the soundboard and cause a piano to go out of tune. Moving it to a different room, house or environment where there is a different humidity level can sometimes cause changes. That's why a piano that has held its tune very well for many years, when moved to a less stable environment, may suddenly not hold a tune as well.

Every time a piano is moved from one place to another, tuning is required. Typically a piano should "rest" for a few days to adjust to its new environment before it's tuned.

How often should a piano be tuned?

Most piano manufacturers recommend at least four tunings in the first year and two tunings per year thereafter for a typical home piano. This is because of the changes in humidity and hence tuning due to the changes in season. Every six months is the general rule for maintenance after a "break-in" period of a year or so.

Some people like to go as long as a year between tunings. This should be considered minimal and certainly should not go any longer than that. On the other hand, people who have more sensitive ears and consider themselves artists, get their piano tuned four times or more in a year. Concert halls and recording studios usually tune pianos after every performance.

Should a piano that's not played very much be tuned as often?

Yes. This is one of the most common misconceptions. Playing has less to do with knocking the piano out of tune as does the humidity. The humidity keeps changing whether anyone is playing the piano or not. So the piano should be tuned whether anyone is playing it or not.

Can a piano be damaged by not having it tuned?

Leaving a piano untuned for several years could do serious and permanent damage to the piano. The strings are under a great deal of tension and tend to lose their tension over time. If the piano is kept untuned for too long, you run the risk of the dropping of the total pitch of the piano. 

To bring the piano back to standard pitch may cause, at best, necessity for several tunings over several weeks (at a higher cost) or, at worst, string breakage and split bridges. Not only that, playing on a poorly tuned piano can cause a potential musician to subconsciously not enjoy playing and hence, not wish to play.

Many piano owners don't realize that not having a piano tuned regularly may also invalidate the warranty. That's why it's a good idea to keep the tuning receipts your technician gives you after each tuning, to prove that you've kept the piano maintained in case of a warranty claim.

What is a pitch raise?

If a piano is kept untuned for too long or undergoes dramatic humidity extremes, the pitch of all the notes of the piano may drop significantly below A-440 (the physical measurement of a perfectly tuned A natural). The entire piano may be one, two or more notes low. When the piano is under pitch like this, other instruments or singers may have difficulty tuning with the piano.

To rectify the problem, the technician must roughly tune the piano once to "get it in the ball park". By the time he is done with the first tuning, the strings will have stretched out of tune again and the piano will then need one or more finer tunings. A pitch raise is a fairly radical procedure and the piano will tend to wander out of tune again faster than normal at first until another tuning some months later. After that, the piano will become more stable with consistent tunings.

Some older pianos cannot be brought up to proper pitch because the strings are rusty or old. It may break if too much tension is put suddenly on them or the wooden bridge may split causing buzzing notes.

The bad news is that since this requires more time and effort, the technician is likely to charge extra. The good news is that, if regularly tuned thereafter, the piano will not be likely to need a pitch raise again.

What is the best location for a piano?

1. Away from direct heat such as radiators, heat ducts and fireplaces. Leaving a piano next to one of these over several years will do irreparable damage.

2. Away from direct sunlight. The light will discolor or crack the finish and the heat will make the tuning less stable. However, diffused sunlight is usually alright.

3. Away from outside walls, outside doorways and drafts. Outside walls tend to be colder and wetter and cause tuning instability. However, if you have to make a choice between an outside wall and a heating duct, the outside wall is preferable.

4. Out of the basement, if possible. Basements tend to be too wet and may, over time, warp and rust the parts. Also, many basements flood. If you must have the piano in the basement, proper humidity control is essential.

Text Kim Marie Papa at 845-612-1422 or call 845-279-7738 and get an answer quickly and efficiently.