Why is My Piano Out of Tune?

You’ve been told to have your piano tuned twice and maybe once a year, but have you ever wondered WHY it goes out of tune? The answer is not that simple, but hopefully I can help you understand your piano a little better.

The first thing to know is that the standard pitch of musical performances everywhere is 440hz. This means that the strings of the A above middle C vibrate 440 cycles per second. This standardization ensures that the whole orchestra is tuned the same. 

HUMIDITY: So let’s get to when it’s out of tune. Some of the strings on a piano measure only a couple inches, and some a couple feet long. The strings cross a wooden bridge, and the bridge sits on the soundboard. The soundboard is a large panel of wood, that is made up of long narrow planks of wood. I’ll say, for instance, that the strings of F3 are 1120mm when the piano is in a room with 40% relative humidity. In the winter, when your heat is on, the humidity is reduced. When the air dries, the wood of the piano releases moisture and shrinks. When this happens, the soundboard gets smaller, and the vibrating section of F3 gets shorter, reducing the distance to 1119.87mm. This means the strings aren’t as tight, and the pitch reduces. Since not all of the strings are the same length, this happens unevenly, and there you are with your piano out of tune. Even if you aren’t using your piano, it will still go out of tune.

PLAYING: So, we’ve discussed humidity changes. The next reason your piano may be out of tune is if it is played heavily. Institutions have the highest quality pianos because they need to withstain around 12 hours of practice per day. That’s over 3,000 hours per year! A piano played this frequently and heavily will go out of tune to itself as the strings have not been settled evenly. Eventually, even pianos played this much settle in and go out of tune mostly due to changes in humidity. Most homes don’t have this problem.

TUNING TECHNIQUE: My last point is about improper technique. The technique a piano tuner uses is hugely important to the stability of the tuning. When the string is tightened, and the tuning pin is turned, the pin needs to be set in a certain way, or else it will drift back out of tune. I can’t share how to do this, but I can say that it comes with lots and lots of experience. I tuned pianos while at school and for a firm, and in the beginning, lots of my tunings didn’t last for that long. Within 3 years I had finally tuned around 1,000 pianos, but they were all different and I didn’t really learn from my own work. When I finally started working for a dealer, I got to tune the same pianos every few months and analyzed the work I did. I understood where my technique needed improvement, and worked towards a more stable tuning. Now, I tune around 1,000 instruments each year, and sometimes I get to tune 5 or more of the same model in a row. Since this brand and model (Yamaha U1) is so consistant when it is taken out of the box, I collect and analyze data that allows me to tune it quickly, accurately, and for stability. 

So, in the end, if your home is a constant temperature and humidity, you may only tune your piano once a year. If the environment is unstable, and changes drastically with each season, you should have your piano tuned twice a year or more! No matter what, make sure you use a technician with good credentials and ask him or her to explain to you why your piano is out of tune, and have them recommend a tuning schedule that fits with your needs and budget.


Play Me, I'm Yours

I'm excited to anounce that this year I am working with Celebrity Series of Boston again in their production of Play Me, I'm Yours, an active art installation.  We will place 60 decorated pianos out in public for anyone to play and enjoy!  Artists and groups from the different neighborhoods of Boston and Cambridge will be representing their city as they paint and decorate a piano. 

We started months ago with the idea, and I have been working with wholesalers across the country and individual donors around the state to collect 60 unused upright pianos and give them new life.  Months of hard work came together in just over 2 days when our blank warehouse space was suddenly filled with more than 60 vintage instruments!  There is nothing like the first day of this installation; the dust hardly has time to settle before work begins, tuning and preparing the pianos for public performances.

All of the pianos are tuned and repairs are made, and then our local artists will have one month to complete their vision.  Pianos will be transformed into butterflies, or airplanes, or puppet stages, all for the good of public art. 

Play Me, I'm Yours will take place in Boston from September 23 until October 10, 2016.  For more info visit streetpianos.com or celebrityseries.org   

I look forward to shared pictures with the hashtag #streetpianosboston and to answer your question, if it rains, the pianos are all equipt with a rain tarp.  So if it starts to rain and you see a piano out and open, just unroll that rain deflector!! 

Hiring A Technician

Hiring a professional to tune and service your piano can be a daunting task.  Let's face it, piano tuners aren't as common as mechanics or electricians, but they can command the same fee's and sometimes higher.  So where do you start?  For most people these days, it's right here, on the internet!

This doesn't mean you have to find your technician on the internet, but the web is a great source for pointers and reviews for a technician you might be considering.  Firstly, your paino tuner should be accredited in some way.  There is a national program in the U.S. called the Piano Technicians Guild.  This group offers professionals the chance to get certified, in which they'll have to pass rigorous tests that will prove their skill to you, the piano owner. 

A school in Boston called the North Bennet Street School offers a program to train piano technicians in the field of piano technology.  A student of this program has to pass tests before they receive their certificate and graduate.  

Either of these certifications are sufficient, but I would stay away from hiring someone with neither of these affiliations.  Look at www.ptg.org to learn more. 

Ask your piano teacher who they use or recommend.  I'd say about 90% of tuners hired would report they were recommended by another client.  Referrals go a long way in the piano industry, and once you find a good tech, you will probably keep them for life and recommend them to all your friends and neighbors.

Online, there is Angie's list and Yelp.  These give you a strangers reviews though, and so aren't as strong as a friend or neighbors feedback. 

Your local piano store is another great way to find a good, local technician.  If a tuner has to drive for more than 50 miles, they will likely charge you more than someone around the corner.

When you have hired a tech, don't be affraid to ask them to play a bit when they are finished.  The piano should sound beautiful, and you should be satisfied.  But if you aren't, let them know there might be a problem and see if they can get it resolved before you move on to another tuner.  They want your business, and it's not uncommon for someone to come back out and resolve some tuning problems at no extra cost to you. 

Steinway & Sons Model B, New York

Most people have heard of Steinway & Sons.  Steinway is the premium American made piano brand.  Steinway & Sons was started in 1853 by an immigrant instrument-maker named Heinrich Steinweg, who first built pianos in his kitchen in Germany, on Park Avenue, Manhattan, New York.  The Steinway family created an empire that would stand strong through two world wars, two depressions, two factories, two centuries and hold over 100 patents in piano construction.  So what makes a Steinway so great?

The first model Heinrich built under the Steinway name was the model A.  The second, a model B, the third a model C, and finally, the D.  In the media, we usually see the model D played by professional Steinway & Sons artists.  The C is no longer produced, so that leaves the B as the most obtainable instrument.  The Model B is 6' 11" or 211 cm and fits perfectly in recording studios, on small concert stages, and in some homes.  It's a mysterious and versatile instrument.

Steinway & Sons model B invites you to play with no added pressure from a larger instrument.  The first time musicians sit at a 9 foot concert grand, they report feeling intimidated by the need to perform perfectly.  This may be an accurate expectation, but leaves me with a feeling of 1984.  Everything in it's right place, someone is always watching you.  The B is like the cool younger cousin you can go to let out your feelings.  It sings with you, can stretch you to your breaking point, and will bring you back down.

Typically, when a Steinway is reviewed, people use words like "brilliant, rich, powerful," and my favorite "it sings and sings and sings."  These words are useful, and mostly accurate, but I believe they are irrelevant when you are creating music.  After all, they are just objective adjectives.  How does the piano make you feel?  The instrument should make you want to keep playing, and listening, and making more music.  A Steinway will allow you to passionately create any way you want, without limitations.  Whether you are playing for yourself, for a digital audience, or for a live concert hall, a Steinway & Sons piano will give you that confidence without compromise.

Consumers looking to buy a Steinway & Sons B or D make an appointment and are invited to the selection room at Steinway's factory in Astoria, New York, which has stood since the 1870's.  Four instruments are set out to play, one at a time, and either dismissed or accepted, as no two Steinways are alike.  Combined, both Steinway, Hamburg and Steinway, NY produce almost 3,000 instruments, and take over a year to build.  Buying just one will provide you a lifetime of happiness.

Buying A Piano

I've worked at a retail piano store for a little over a year, so I've been fortunate enough to be present while families and musicians go through the process of buying a new piano.  

First of all, pianos are very personal.  There are wood colored pianos, ebony, high polish, matte, grand pianos, verticals (also called upright pianos) hybrid pianos and digital pianos.  There are very bright sounding pianos, and very mellow pianos, hand crafted instruments from Europe, and mass-production pianos from the booming economies of Asia.  There are as many varieties of pianos as there are unique personalities that need one.

So where do you start?  First, consider why you are getting a piano, and be ready to answer this question if you are planning to visit a retail store.  Are you a performer, piano teacher, or a venue?  You will likely be concerned most with the quality of the sound or reliability of the instrument.  If the piano is for a beginner, you may look at discount upright pianos or digitals that can peak the interest of a young child.  And to those buyers, don't look for discount grand pianos.  To me, it seems that there is no such thing as a discount grand.  There are certain expectations from a baby grand piano, and in order to get anything of quality, you will likely spend as much or more on a discounted baby grand than a brand new upright piano from a reputable company.

Next, consider space.  Do you have a parlor or music room that can fit a grand piano?  Well, how big is a piano?  Most pianos, grand or upright, are roughly five feet wide.  Modern baby grands are also about five feet long from the front of the keyboard to the back of the tail.  A parlor grand is about six feet long and this is the size where a significant increase in sound quality occurs.  The longer the strings, the richer the sound..  A semi concert grand is around seven feet long and usually found in clubs, recording studios and universities.  A concert grand piano is nine feet long and found in grand halls and concert stages. They all stand on three legs along the sides or middle of a room or stage, preferably away from heat or cool air vents.

If you don't have room for a grand piano, consider an upright piano.  As a guideline, the taller the piano is, the better the sound will be.  Very short pianos have tubby sounding notes in the bass and octaves that may sound off.  This can not be designed out of a piano, it's just a fact that technicians and musicians have to live with.  If you want a better sounding instrument, you'll have to spend a little more and get one that's taller.  If you are a budget shopper or a first time buyer, a short piano may be best for you, but know that if your child really loves playing the piano, you may upgrade within 5-10 years.  With this in mind, ask your dealer about trade-ins or trade-ups.  Most dealers will offer something like a 10 year trade-up, which you're receive a full credit in the amount you paid for your first piano to use toward your next piano.  Usually the second has to be twice the value of the first.  

Quality digital pianos start at around $2000, have weighted keys and a variety of sounds to choose from.  The Yamaha Clavinova is a standard in high quality digital pianos.  As you move up the model chain, they will feature different designs like using wooden keys instead of plastic, and an increase in speaker quality.  Also, the most basic Clavinova doesn't have a display to show you what voice you're on, but as soon as you move up to the next model, it will feature that convenience.  

A hybrid piano has the key mechanism of a wooden acoustic action, but without strings and hammers.  This means that you have the real touch of a true acoustic piano, and it will never go out of tune.  The sound is modeled after grand pianos and amplified through speakers or headphones!   This type of piano is perfect for those who like to practice in privacy and those with close neighbors. 

Piano performance is a lifelong investment.  If you choose a digital, most likely you will purchase an acoustic piano in the future.  If you buy an acoustic piano, it will need regular tuning and upkeep.  And if you're ever not sure if you're getting the right instrument, just ask for the help of piano teachers or a technician.

What Makes A Piano Great?

Often I talk about piano and sound in good pianos or bad, but I often forget that most people don't have a wide frame of reference.  Most pianos I visit belong to a family that has owned that instrument for decades.  While I can't describe attributes of sound quality from when those pianos were new, I can describe that of a new piano.  I tune between 800 and 1,000 pianos each year, and most of those are brand new from the factory.   So what makes the best ones sound so great?

Describing sound is difficult, but can be achieved with practice.  Try it.  Describe the sound of the trains at Government Center in Boston.  I can hear the shrill squeal of the steel as the wheels go around a bend.  That sound is very sharp.  It pierces and hurts your ears.   Try to describe the sound of the ocean...  It's sometimes calming, often bright, and carries on continuously.  Now describe the sound that's made when you drop a large stone onto wet earth.  It makes a dull thud as the ground absorbs the weight of the rock and the sound itself.  These are pretty simple things commonly described in sound, so lets try something different.  Describe your mothers voice..  It's not so easy, is it?

If that is too abstract for you, this is what musicians and piano technicians often deal with, describing the voice of something so abstract.  We use keywords like "colorful," "bright," "warm," "dark," "dull," and so on.  There are many factors that attribute to the sound of the piano, things we can easily change like the key height, the weight of the hammers and the distance they travel, the tuning.  Then there are things that are not so easily changed; the shape of the cabinet, the length of the sounding part of the string, and even the strings themselves.  We can control and reset many of the parts attributing to sound, but what makes a piano great is the voice that is coming from the parts we can not change and the energy in an instrument.

Piano construction has become a combination of science and experience, and I won't begin to state any opinions on shape and size and so on, so let's skip right to what I think makes the best piano sound.  I'd like to use a real world example as my reference.

I tuned an asian made baby grand piano that measures 160cm.  This is a fairly small piano, and short strings often result in poor sound quality.  I like single notes that are very clear and ring like a bell.  In the bass I listen for crisp power and sustain.  In the tenor I listen to the clarity of the strings and their relationship with other notes in a chord.  In the treble, the voice should be consistent with the rest of the keys, bright, and clear.  Finally, when I play a chord, whether it's a simple power chord or a dominant seventh, when held out, they sustain for a long time.  The sustain time on this piano was very long.  Sustain over 30 seconds would be fair, but the sound in this piano rolled around forever, striking harmonics in the string scale and continued to beat between the cabinet, soundboard, harp, and whatever else it could find to energize it along.  The energy inside an instrument is what makes a piano special.  This is actually called stored mechanical energy or stored energy of position.  Share or Like this if you found it helpful, and next time you are playing a piano, practice describing the voice.  Maybe it's gentle and calm, like you're mom's when reading to you long ago.  Happy Mothers Day!

Top 5 Coolest Pianos

This is a list I have come up with of my top 5 favorite pianos available right now.  If money were no object, and I had a huge house, I would buy all of them, no hesitation.  If you even have the money for one of these, you're very lucky.  I've been fortunate enough to tune, work on, and play hundreds of different pianos, and these are at the top.

5. Yamaha CF6

Of course Yamaha makes thousands of pianos per year for the global market, but the CF6 is a far cry from their practice room pianos.  The CF series is a small group of hand made pianos produced for the finest musicians and stages.  The CF6 is bright, cool, and delivers a ton of power.  When you pair that with some of the greatest musicians in the world, it's a recipe for success.

4. Schimmel 230

The Schimmel 230 is a bone shaker!  Sitting behind the keys is like diving with great white sharks.  An artist will take you from calm and cool to a booming cannon fight between the English and a pirate ship.  Little dainty pianos, beware!  This piano is not for wimps.

3. Steinway & Sons B

It's said a great Steinway may be hard to come by, but don't worry if you can't tell the difference.  I liked the first one I sat down at.  The B is a smaller package than other pianos of this size, slightly narrower, seemingly softer, but the range of this piano is almost magical.  There are characteristics when you play that almost seem like the piano is playing back to you.  Like calling out loud on a mountain lake, the sound rolls around and eventually is called back.  If you think of sound in terms of color, you'll find the whole spectrum here.

2. Bosendorfer 200 CS

Bosendorfer makes only a handful of pianos per year (250?)  Your standard is the 225 and the 280.  Those are the classic gothic style, sharp edges, extra keys, shiny black, etc.  In the 200 you still get the dark tone and power of the others, but in a sexier package.  The 200 is matte black, has a rounded tail, and a more interesting music desk.  When you play on the keyboard, many people describe the feeling as not really having the control to play the way they want.  "It's not you, it's me."  Imagine getting behind the wheel of a brand new Dodge Viper when you usually drive a Prius V.  You're going to run into the wall.  It's just so powerful.  If you find one of these, you'd better clear your schedule.

1. Fazioli 228

In one word, "Perfection."  Fazioli Pianoforte is the youngest maker of pianos on this list, or on any list, but they use their youth to their advantage.  The design is modern, the factory is more like a laboratory than a wood shop, and they don't approve of a piano unless everything is exactly perfect.  When I hear the Fazioli 228, I think of shades of white, white clouds drifting slowly, white linens blowing in an open window, little white bunnies.  Everything is perfect and pure.  But it's not boring in any way.  Listening to the Fazioli is like talking with an old friend, it comes effortlessly, and flows naturally, not rushed.  And if you want to take it up a notch, pour the drinks straight and let your heart soar!

Yamaha U1

The ever popular Yamaha U1.  I want to talk about why this piano is sought after, and what makes it so great. 

The Yamaha U1 is 48 inches, or 121 centimeters.  It's made in Japan, has a solid spruce soundboard and ribs and has been seasoned for the North American Market.  Almost everything else about the piano is the same for most pianos.  I mention these things because many brands, including Yamaha, make pianos with plywood soundboards, and other brands use only one seasoning process.  Yamaha seasons their instruments for 3 zones, "wet," "dry," and "superdry."  The homes in North America are in both wet and dry climates, but since we use central heating and our winters are cold and dry, even the tropical regions dry out.  So Yamaha alter's the building process slightly for these pianos and calls them "superdry."  For example, the U1 has super tight tuning pins.  The idea is that when the piano goes through year after year of fluctuations in humidity, the tuning pins will remain tight.  This is pretty much the most important example to provide you with.  Others are how much they dry out the wood for the soundboard and ribs, key bed, etc.  Tuning stability reins over all.  If you can't tune the instrument, there is no point to anything else.

How about reliability?  The Yamaha U1 is a workhorse!  It's commonly purchased en-mass by universities and conservatories.  Some practice room complexes allow students to practice at any hour of the day or night, so it's common that practice room instruments are played 12 hours a day.  The technicians tune each piano every two weeks and make general repairs and scheduled maintenance.  Is a U1 unbreakable? No.  Even you may get a nail or screw in your tire every 100,000 miles.  Sometimes things unexpectedly break, but, all-in-all, the parts remain consistent, stable, and functional.  After all, if a university has over 100 practice room pianos, lots of troublesome work would create a nightmare situation for technicians, not to mention for the students and staff.  

So, the construction is insanely consistent for a piano, they function well for years on end, what about the tone and voice?  I have to say that the tone is bright, and boring.  I can articulate very well on a U1, but the voice is almost computerized.  Many would say it leaves something to be desired, and I will agree with this.  But it brings me to my main point about this instrument.  The overwhelming majority of Yamaha U1's end up in conservatories, and it's almost required that practice pianos remain consistent.  If a student practices flute, guitar, trombone, double-bass or anything else, (well, maybe not drums) they can take their instrument from one lesson to another, and take it home to practice, or play in the street.  A student of the flute becomes better when they practice and perform consistently, and for a while they need the same personal instrument to achieve this.  The piano student can not take their piano with them, so they need to be able to practice on what seems like the same instrument in every classroom or practice space.  This is why the Yamaha U1 is so good: they produce a high quality instrument that is so consistent and stable so that students won't know the difference when practicing in different rooms.


My Piano Is Untunable

Have you been told that your piano is untunable by your tuner or technician?  This is fairly common in older pianos, generally made before WW2, and usually means that the piano is dead. There is no easy way to tell someone this, so we usually say it's untunable.  So what does this actually mean?

The first reason to condemn a piano is that the tuning pins no longer hold the tension of the strings.  The tuner brings the string up to pitch, but when he or she lets go of the tuning wrench, the string goes flat again.  This is because there is not enough friction in the pinblock to hold the strings tight.  If only one note is like this, it may be repaired, but usually many notes are like this, and it's not worth repairing the whole section or even the whole piano. 

Sometimes I will be called to service a piano and it may have loose tuning pins, but it doesn't always stop me from trying to tune it.  Before I try, I'll give the piano a thorough exam, and the following are other reasons we find to put pianos to pasture.

Cracked bridges, or bridge caps that have come loose mean that the quality of the sound will be very poor, and if the bridge cap is unglued, there is no point in tuning the piano.

The bottom board is no longer screwed to the piano.  The bottom board is the part that the pedals are attached to, and when you try and use the sustain pedal, nothing works!  I have seen pianos where the pedals only stop when they reach the floor, and the whole bottom of the piano is being pushed down. 

The action is beyond repair.  There are felt pieces and wooden pieces and screws and very small pins and all of these have specific tolorences and amounts of resistance measured in grams, and many factors interfere with these things.  Humidity and wear are the two main causes, but sometimes little critters are the culprits.

Soundboard cracks and rib separations can sometimes be ignored, but when many different things are wrong with the piano, then it is time to stop ignoring this issue.  A crack large enough to slip a quarter into sideways is too large, and usually the ribs have become unglued as well.  If all of these things are wrong, and they usually are all evident at the same time, then it's time to get rid of the instrument.

So what can you do?  First, consider if you can spend the $25K starting price  to rebuild the piano.  If it has a lot of sentimental value, and you can afford it, than you may have the work done.  If it's Steinway & Sons grand piano, it's probably worth rebuilding and passing down to your family.  If you don't have either of these options, it's time to move on.  Your technician may try to stop the bleeding, but in the long run you're throwing your money away, so save it for a new one! 

Piano Appointment Etiquette

On appointment day you should expect the piano tuner to arrive on time.  If you are the first appointment of the day, your technician may arrive at the exact moment agreed upon.  I start at either 9 am or 9:30 am.  I can honestly say that I'm never off by more than 10 minutes, usually due to unexpected traffic.  The other appointments are trickier to be that accurate.  Unforeseen repairs or tuning conditions can make the previous appointment run longer.  I like to space my tunings out by 2.5 hours when the customers live in the same town.  Again, I'm rarely late, but if it's going to happen, I always call to let my customers know that it's going to happen.

When the tuner arrives, he or she should be cheerful.  This is because we love our job!  I can't think of a single time when I arrived and I didn't want to be there to help a customer with their piano.

You may ask them to remove their shoes, and I expect all tuners in the city to be ready to do so.  The occasions that I like to have my shoes on are when I'm tuning an upright piano over a new hardwood floor.  The floor is too slippery under my bare socks, and a secure posture is important to technique.  My mother lives in Vermont, and there is a sort of culture and expectation of a little dirt around the house, so I can appreciate that the "shoe rule" doesn't apply to all geographical regions.

The first thing you, as the piano owner, should prepare for is the technician to open the piano, so you should remove anything from the top before they get there.  Usually the lid of the piano is home to music books, pencils, children's toys, pictures in frames, sculptures, lamps, etc.  If you don't remove this stuff, the tuner will have to do it, and their fear is that something will get damaged.  Even when I arrive and there are things on the piano, I kindly ask that they remove everything because I won't know where to put it. 

The tech will need to take the front panel off to get access to the strings, action, and tuning pins.  This should be done with care by the technician.  If he or she doesn't seem to know how to get the parts off, give them a minute.  All pianos were created differently, and sometimes it's not obvious how to remove the parts.  But if it takes more than 5 full minutes, this might be a red flag that they are green, or just don't have the proper training.

Piano tuning takes an incredible amount of concentration.  A tuner listens to the relationship of two strings played together and adjusts one string, listening for a very small variation in frequency.  It's expected that there is near silence while they are doing their work.  Loud conversations, television, and vacuuming is not recommended.  Sometimes people like to have the plumber, HVAC tech, cleaning crews and the piano tuner all scheduled on the same day since they may have to be home from work to let everyone in.  Resist this urge!!  I can't tune properly while there is so much auditory interference.

The worst thing you can do while a technician is tuning your piano is wash the dishes.  The sounds of a faucet and sharp clanging of porcelain, glass and metal are infinitely distracting.  It's possible to tune a piano while these things are happening, but don't expect to record your hit single afterwards.

The appointment carries on though, and around 1.5 hours later they should be done.  I usually play a few chords of songs that I would like to master, and that's the cue that the tuning is finished.  The piano get's closed up and I briefly discuss when to expect to tune the piano again.  As I've said before, your ear is the best judge as to when you should make an appointment.  

Thanks are exchanged, as well as a polite handshake, and the fee for the work performed.  I expect that services are paid for at the end of the visit in the form of a check or cash.  Some tuners use a credit card service on their smart phone like square reader, although I'm not sure how well that has caught on yet.  I don't like to carry receipts, but prefer to email a copy to the customer if it is requested.  Ask for their business card, and if you're happy with their work, refer them to a friend, music teacher, or on a website!

Pitch Correction

What is a pitch correction?  In short, when a piano tuner comes over for an appointment, he or she can fine tune the piano in one tuning when the piano is close to pitch.  If it's not close, than it takes two tunings to get it right.  That first tuning is the pitch correction.  Both tunings happen at the same visit.  So why can't it be tuned accurately on the first tuning?

Your piano has over 230 strings stretching from the pin block down to a bridge and anchored onto the cast iron plate.  The tension of the strings is applied directly onto the bridge in order to create the sound you hear when you play a note.  But the bridge can be anywhere from three feet long and seven feet long. 

When the piano is very flat, and the technician turns the tuning pin to adjusts the pitch, this new tension creates a new force of bearing across the bridge.  Imagine a tight rope stretched between two trees with a little slack in the wire.  You stand on the rope close to one tree and the rest of the wire tightens because of your force bearing down.  Now imagine your friend stands on the wire close to the other tree.  Their force (in this case, applied by weight and gravity) will add more tension to the wire, and it makes your body rise up a little.

So now we can envision the tight rope is the bridge of the piano, and when there is no one on it the pitch is 435.  When the tuner tightens the bass notes to 441, that represents the first person standing on the wire.  When the second person stands on the wire at 441, your pitch drops to ~440.  So when the whole piano is tuned, its nearly impossible to accurately tune the whole instrument to 440, so they adjust the pitch to be a little sharp in one pass to get the piano roughly in tune.  Once its at pitch, they can fine tune it and make it sound like a piano again.

Lastly, you may wonder why your piano needs to be tuned to A440.  When the strings are all tightened to the right pitch, it creates around 20 tons of pressure bearing down on the soundboard.  The soundboard of a piano isn't flat, it's slightly arched, or crowned, sort of like a contact lens.  Pianos are engineered around the assumption that the pitch will be A440, and so they put more crown in the soundboard to settle at the correct shape when the strings are pulled tight.  And when the pitch starts to go down, or flat, than there isn't the right amount of pressure against the board and the sound isn't generated in a way that is desirable.  So your instrument should be brought up to the right pitch.  

Also, if the piano is a teaching instrument, when it's flat, the student learns the incorrect sound from that piano and makes it difficult to practice on other pianos because the sound is very odd.  When you want to sing with the piano, or play other instruments, it makes it very difficult to play together.  The piano will sound flat unless all the other instruments, including the voice, are tuned down to the piano. 

How Long Does It Take To Tune A Piano?

A qualified technician can tune a piano in less than 1.5 hours.  An appointment to tune your piano is expected to be around 2 hours to allow for unforseen repairs or adjustments and a little banter with you, the piano owner.

Pianos that are very flat or very sharp need what we call a pitch correction.  A tuner brings the pitch of the piano up to A440, measured at the A above middle C, in a quick pass to apply the correct bearing on the soundboard.  Next they will fine tune the piano.  This still may only take 1.5 hours, but can take as much as 2 hours.  Unlike a guitar with 6 strings, or a violin with 4, a piano has over 230 strings!  Tuning is a skilled art, and requires an extreme amount of concentration.   

Don't be surprised if your piano tuner takes less than an hour to tune your piano.  An upright piano at pitch often takes me less than an hour, but this is not the standard.  If you haven't had the piano tuned in more than a year and your tuner only takes 15-20 minutes, then I would be concerned they weren't completing the job correctly.

Cleaning your piano

I always tell families that the best way to keep their piano clean is not to let it get it dirty.  This means instructing everyone to wash their hands before piano practice.  Not only is this good hygiene, but if you couple it with putting your child in charge of cleaning the piano, they will develop a sense of responsibility that can't be found with a cheap toy or video game.

If you have a new piano with a shiny finish, it is probably polyester.  These piano finishes are the most durable and easiest to maintain, as they are treated very similar to glass.  Polyester is very hard and very thick, rounded on the edges, reflective like a mirror, and not so prone to cracking.  Cory piano polish is what we use to clean and remove dirt or fingerprints from a piano.  We use it in combination with microfiber detailing cloths found readily on amazon.com.  Just spray one or two pumps onto the cloth, not directly onto the piano, and gently rub away dirt in the area you want to clean.  Move in a circular pattern until you have cleaned the whole area or case part, then flip the cloth over to a dry spot and gently polish again.  Once the finger prints are cleaned away, then all there is to do on a weekly basis is dust.  If severe damage or cracking occurs, this finish is the most difficult to repair, and you'll want to find a technician who specializes in polyester repair.

If the piano is matte, and I'm talking about flat like the eggshell style water-based house paints, then all you need to do is a gentle cleaning with a slightly dampened microfiber detailing cloth.  These finishes are usually the thinnest but show scratches.  If damaged, they are the easiest to repair.  Many of our clients will touch-up scratches themselves, and even piano movers are skilled in repairing a matte finish.

The last basic finish is the satin hand-rubbed traditional piano finish.  This is a semi-durable finish, slightly prone to scratching, and very difficult to maintain like new.  Cory does supply a satin piano polish, but honestly, once you get finger print oils on your piano, they never really go away unless you resurface the part.  I learned in the trenches of a piano rebuilding shop how difficult it is to achieve this beautiful finish.  Lacquer is sprayed and leveled many times to build up the thickness of the finish.  Different grits of steel wool combined with lubricants and rubbed in exactly parallel lines for hours give you a very beautiful, semi-reflective, sparkling finish.  Believe me, if you have OCD, this is going to give you trouble.  The best thing is to use a piano cover and keep your hands on the keys.  If a satin hand-rubbed finish is scratched or dinged, it is easily repaired by a knowledgable technician.  

Vacuuming your piano is recommended, but it is also a specialized art.  Most people never clean behind their instrument, so if you have purchased a used piano, we recommend you have your technician do a cleaning to the whole instrument, front, back, insides and under the keys.  Cleanings take between 1 hour and 6 hours, it all depends on what environment the piano was in, and how old it is.

Lastly, you can clean the key tops with a damp cloth, but it's best to have your piano technician do it every few tunings.  He or she should remove the case parts so they can clean the back part of the white key that is hiding under the red felt, and the sides of the black keys.  That is where the dirt likes to hide.  This takes, on average, 20 minutes, but ask for an estimate for severely stained keys.