Piano tuning is both a science and an art. All stringed instruments are affected by changes in temperature and humidity. Whereas a guitar’s six strings need to be tuned nearly every time it is played, a piano “holds” its tuning longer because of the cast iron harp that supports the extreme tension of over 200 strings. Nevertheless, before a concert or recording, players often have the piano tuned again to ensure it has the exact international standard pitch of A440. (The note “A” above “middle C” is set to 440 hertz). This enables a group of musicians to play or record in tune with each other.
Manufacturers recommend that tuning be done throughout the change of seasons because the piano’s pitch will fluctuate, sometimes drastically, from shifting weather patterns. Even wintertime heating of your home, humidifiers, direct sunlight, fireplaces, and so on will affect the tuning and life of a piano. If neglected for more than a year or two, pianos will usually need a double or triple tuning, also known as a “pitch raise” or “pitch correction”, because of drifting so far from standard pitch. This is necessary if the pitch drops or rises more than 7-10 cents* from A440. There is usually an extra charge when this needs to be done.
An average piano has a string tension of approximately 20 tonnes or 40,000 pounds – enough to lift a modest house from its foundation. This means your instrument develops a “stress memory”, just like muscle memory in people who are practicing a skill. Maintaining the stress levels of a piano by regular tuning keeps the piano stable, ensuring longer lasting tunings as it is “trained” with a fixed level of stress. This is also better for the overall structure and life of the piano helping to maintain the integrity of the frame, rim, pinblock and other vital components. Strings can break from buildup of corrosion if left below pitch for some time and then an effort is made to tune them. Yes, regularly tuning and playing your piano protects your investment.
*Footnote: A “cent” is 1/100th of the distance between the pitch of 2 adjacent notes on an instrument.
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Cressman Piano Service
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada