If you own a piano, you probably know that it needs to be tuned regularly to keep it sounding its best. But have you ever wondered how hard it is to tune a piano yourself? Or what makes piano tuning such a complex and challenging task?
In this article, we will explore the difficulties and intricacies of piano tuning, and why it is not as simple as tuning a guitar or a violin. We will also answer some of the most frequently asked questions about piano tuning, and give you some tips on how to find a good piano tuner or learn to tune your own piano.
What Is Piano Tuning and Why Is It Important?
Piano tuning is the process of adjusting the tension of the strings on a piano to create a pleasing sound that matches a standard pitch. The standard pitch for most pianos is A440, which means that the A above middle C (A4) vibrates at 440 Hz (cycles per second)1
Piano tuning is important for several reasons:
- It improves the sound quality and musicality of the piano. A well-tuned piano produces clear, harmonious, and expressive sounds that enhance the performance and enjoyment of the pianist and the listeners.
- It prevents damage and deterioration of the piano. A poorly tuned piano can cause stress and strain on the strings, pins, bridges, soundboard, and other parts of the piano, leading to cracks, breaks, and wear and tear over time2
- It maintains the value and longevity of the piano. A regularly tuned piano retains its original condition and quality better than a neglected one, which can lose its tone, touch, and appearance over time. A well-tuned piano also has a higher resale value than an out-of-tune one.
What Makes Piano Tuning Hard?
Piano tuning is hard because it involves many factors and skills that are not required for tuning other instruments. Some of these factors and skills are:
- The number and complexity of the strings. A typical piano has 220 strings, each with a different length, thickness, tension, and frequency. Each string has to be tuned individually by turning a metal peg called a tuning pin with a special tool called a tuning lever.
- The inharmonicity of the strings. The strings on a piano produce not only one fundamental frequency (the note that you hear), but also many overtones (higher frequencies that add richness and color to the sound). However, these overtones are not exactly in tune with the fundamental frequency, which means that they create slight dissonance or beating sounds when played together. This phenomenon is called inharmonicity, and it varies depending on the size, shape, material, and tension of the string. To compensate for this, piano tuners have to slightly adjust some intervals (the distance between two notes) to make them sound more harmonious. This adjustment is called tempering or stretching the tuning.
- The stability and condition of the piano. The tuning of a piano can be affected by many external factors, such as temperature, humidity, sunlight, drafts, movement, use, age, wear and tear, etc. These factors can cause the strings to expand or contract, change their tension or elasticity, or slip from their pins or bridges. As a result, the piano can go out of tune quickly or unevenly across different areas of the keyboard. To prevent this, piano tuners have to use techniques such as setting the pin (applying enough torque to keep it in place), and seating the string (making sure it rests firmly on the bridge), or stabilizing the tuning (playing some test blows or chords to settle the strings).
- The ear and experience of the tuner. Piano tuning requires not only technical skills but also musical skills. A good piano tuner has to have a keen ear for pitch, harmony, and tone quality, as well as a sense of aesthetics and musical taste. A good piano tuner also has to have a lot of practice and experience in tuning different types of pianos, as each piano has its own unique characteristics and challenges.
As you can see, piano tuning is not a simple or easy task. It takes a lot of time, effort, patience, and skill to tune a piano properly and consistently. According to some estimates, it takes about 60 to 90 minutes to tune a well-maintained piano, and 2 to 3 hours to tune a neglected or damaged one. It also takes years of training and practice to become a professional piano tuner.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the most common questions that people have about piano tuning:
How often should I tune my piano?
The general recommendation is to tune your piano at least once or twice a year, depending on how much you use it and how stable it is. However, some factors may require more frequent tuning, such as changes in temperature or humidity, moving the piano to a different location, playing it very hard or frequently, or having it repaired or serviced. You should also tune your piano whenever you notice that it sounds out of tune or dull.
How much does it cost to tune a piano?
The cost of tuning a piano depends on several factors, such as the location, the condition and type of the piano, the skill and reputation of the tuner, and the amount of work involved. The average cost of tuning a piano in the US is around $100-$200 per session. However, this price may vary depending on the region, the season, the demand, and the quality of service. You may also have to pay extra for travel fees, pitch adjustments, repairs, or other services.
Can I tune my own piano?
You can try to tune your own piano if you have the right tools and some basic knowledge and skills. However, you should be aware of the risks and challenges involved in doing so. Tuning a piano yourself can be frustrating, time-consuming, and potentially damaging to your piano if you don’t know what you are doing. You may also end up with a poor or inconsistent tuning that may affect your musical enjoyment and performance. If you are not confident or experienced enough to tune your own piano, it is better to hire a professional tuner who can do it for you safely and efficiently.
Tips and Recommendations for Piano Tuning
If you want to keep your piano in tune and in good shape, here are some tips and recommendations for you:
- Hire a professional piano tuner who is qualified, experienced, and reputable. You can find one through referrals from friends, family, teachers, or music stores, or through online directories such as the Piano Technicians Guild (PTG) or the International Association of Piano Builders and Technicians (IAPBT). Make sure to check their credentials, reviews, references, and samples of their work before hiring them.
- Schedule regular tuning sessions for your piano according to its needs and usage. Ideally, you should tune your piano every 6 to 12 months, or more often if necessary. Try to avoid tuning your piano during extreme weather conditions or seasons that may affect its stability.
- Keep your piano in good condition by regular maintenance, cleaning, and servicing. You should dust and polish your piano regularly, and avoid placing any objects or liquids on or near it. You should also have your piano inspected and serviced by a professional technician every few years, or whenever you notice any problems or issues with its sound, touch, or appearance.
- Avoid exposing your piano to extreme or sudden changes in temperature or humidity, as they can affect its tuning stability and cause damage to its parts. You should keep your piano away from direct sunlight, heating or cooling vents, windows, doors, fireplaces, or any other sources of heat or moisture. You should also use a humidifier or dehumidifier to control the humidity level in the room where your piano is located.
- Be gentle and respectful with your piano. You should play your piano with care and moderation, and avoid hitting the keys too hard or too fast. You should also avoid moving your piano by yourself, as you may damage its legs, casters, pedals, or other parts. If you need to move your piano to a different location, you should hire a professional piano mover who can do it safely and properly.
Piano tuning is a hard but rewarding task that can improve the sound quality and musicality of your piano, as well as prevent damage and deterioration of your instrument. Piano tuning involves adjusting hundreds of strings to create a harmonious sound that matches a standard pitch and compensates for inharmonicity. Piano tuning depends on various factors such as the condition and quality of the piano, the environment and location of the piano, and the frequency and purpose of tuning.
If you want to tune your own piano, you need to have some tools and equipment ready, such as a tuning lever, a chromatic tuner or software, rubber wedges, and felt strips. You also need to have some knowledge and skills in tuning a piano, such as setting the temperament, tuning the rest of the piano, fine-tuning and testing. However, tuning a piano yourself can be risky and challenging if you don’t know what you are doing. If you are not confident or experienced enough to tune your own piano, it is better to hire a professional tuner who can do it for you safely and efficiently.
We hope this article has given you some insight into the difficulties and intricacies of piano tuning, and why it is not as simple as tuning a guitar or a violin. We also hope that this article has answered some of your questions about piano tuning, and given you some tips on how to find a good piano tuner or learn to tune your own piano.
We hope you have a wonderful day and a happy piano playing!