How often should my piano be tuned?
What is A=440?
Where should I place the piano in my home?
What is a climate control system?
How is a piano tuned?
How long does it take to tune a piano?
Why does my piano go out of tune?
What are the pedals for?
How much does my piano weigh?
What’s a Cabinet Grand? What’s an Upright Grand?
What can be done to restore an older piano?
If the soundboard is cracked, is my piano no good?
Who invented the piano?
Aren’t electronic keyboards basically the same?
How often should my piano be tuned?
Most technicians and manufacturers alike recommend semi-annual tunings. Regular servicing of your piano is the best way to ensure its continuing long life, and top potential performance quality. That said, a common compromise, many pianos and their owners have proven, in my experience, to do quite well with only tuning once per year. What’s most important for a piano to have a stable tune, is the consistency from not neglecting for years at a time. At the performance level, concert pianos are typically tuned, and serviced as needed, for every performance.
A440 is the frequency of pitch assigned to A4 (the note A on the higher-sounding side of middle C). The standard was formally adopted by the International Organization for Standardization in 1955, which had been loosely adopted and recommended by the American Standards Association prior to that, in 1936. The old standard was more variable, but typically followed the European standard of A435. The numbers 435 and 440 both represent the frequency (in hertz, or Hz) of cycles per second at which a sound wave vibrates. Tuning pianos with strings that were designed to hold A435 to A440 should not typically be a significant enough difference to warrant concern over breaking. Regardless of this, it is also not uncommon for a piano of significant age, having been neglected for any decent amount of time, to fail at holding either A440 or even A435. Old strings can and will break when they’re good and ready.
The best place for your piano is where you can best enjoy it. If we are to consider only the piano’s needs, and none of yours, the most stable environment is the best one. The more temperature and humidity fluctuate, the more rapidly your piano will age, and the more quickly will it become unbearably out of tune. Common recommendations to help achieve this in your average New England home are against an inside wall, and away from heat sources. As I said initially, however, and to reiterate, not having the perfect spot for your piano isn’t a sign that you shouldn’t own one, any more than not owning a garage or carport is grounds for abandoning the idea of vehicle ownership.
Put simply, a piano is tuned by adjusting the tension of approximately 230 strings so that all the notes will play harmoniously, at their assigned frequencies.
With greater detail, there are two common methods, “ear” tuning, and computer aided tuning. Tuning by ear is done by carefully listening to and adjusting the interference vibrations between the coincident partials of intervals within the musical scale. Tuning with a computer aid is accomplished by carefully adjusting string tension so that the vibrational frequencies match an ideal configuration indicated by an external electronic aid.
The sustain pedal
On virtually all pianos, the right pedal pushes the dampers away from the strings. This allows a note to sustain its tone even if the key is released. Its use adds a particular form of expression and sympathetic resonance to color the music.
The soft pedal
The left pedal, on most all pianos is used to soften the tone and volume of the music. In the upright piano (and a few grands) this is achieved by shortening the blow distance of the hammer; its “at rest” position is moved closer to the strings. In nearly all grand pianos, the “una corda” pedal achieves quietness as the result of shifting the whole piano action sideways just enough so that each hammer strikes only two of its three strings. (One of two in the bass section.)
The middle pedal
Traditionally in grand pianos (as well as some of the best uprights), this is the sostenuto pedal. It allows for selective sustain. If you depress a key, and step on this pedal, that key alone will sustain while the other notes played are stopped by the damper action.
On many pianos the middle pedal activates a bass only sustain, allowing notes to ring long in the lower register, even as the higher notes are dampers. I refer to it, respectfully, as the “sostenuto cheat”.
In some upright pianos the middle pedal controls a muting strip of felt that, when engaged, substantially reduces the music volume by dropping into place between the hammers and strings. Or, in place of the felt strip a series of metal tabs drop down to create a “honky tonk” affect. In others, this pedal is completely redundant, and is connected to the same linkage as the soft pedal. In some pianos this middle pedal is entirely for show and only connects to a spring designed to make it look useful!
In most cases, the older upright or grand piano can be economically restored to good usable condition. Some pianos are worth the extensive rebuilding needed to return them to “like new” condition. I would be more than happy to advise you regarding what the best route may be for your piano or piano purchase.
In general, worn or broken action parts can be replaced or repaired, the keytops can be replaced with new ones or carefully matched with genuine ivory salvaged from other pianos. The case can be stripped and refinished. The hammers may need to be reshaped and voiced. Worn, buzzing, or “leaky” damper felts can be replaced. If necessary, the piano can be restrung. Most every piano will be improved greatly by thorough regulation. Rebuilding of a piano usually means that all of these steps will be taken, and more, such as installation of a new sound board, bridges, and complete piano action.
Bartolommeo Cristofori, (1655-1731) an Italian instrument maker, is generally credited with inventing the first keyboard stringed instrument in which metal wires were struck with hammers to produce musical tones. The distinguishing feature was the hammer. By percussively striking the music wire, the pianist can vary the force or volume of tone produced, allowing an infinite range of expression in the music. The full name of the piano is Pianoforte, and refers to the instrument’s ability to play both loud and soft tones. In the almost 300 years since Cristofori’s innovation, thousands of others have made significant contributions to the development of the piano as we know it today. The basic design of the modern piano has changed relatively little in the last 120 years.