The Importance of Regular Tuning

A piano is not a musical instrument until it has been tuned. How often should a piano be tuned? Piano manufacturers recommend at least one to two times each year. A very serious and particular musician may even tune his piano four or more times in a single year. An out of tune piano is not inspiring to play, and may be so bad as to be discouraging to the player.

Why Do Pianos Go Out of Tune?

The reason a piano goes out of tune is quite simply, humidity. As little as a ten percent change in room humidity will begin to affect the tuning. While the average person may not notice the first subtle changes, by the time it sounds out of tune it may already be too late. Pianos from different manufacturers vary in how long they will hold their tuning, and people's perceptions vary as to how in tune their piano actually is. Many times, children taking lessons may be keenly aware of an out of tune piano, and the parent, who has not studied piano, may not be able to tell until things are a real mess.

What happens if tuning is neglected? - The Pitch Raise

A piano that is left untuned will begin sinking in pitch. In order to be properly tuned such a piano must be brought up to pitch first, then fine tuned. After this "double tuning," the piano owner should follow up with a second tuning at 3 to 6 months in order to avoid ending up back at square one.

Remember to tune regularly - to get the most out of your piano!


The Importance of a Competent Tuner

I have had numerous customers (including piano teachers) who, at our first contact, remark that they are having their pianos tuned regularly but that they seem to go significantly out of tune within a few weeks. Perhaps something is wrong with my piano, or my piano tuner?!

Inevitably, after I tune for them and their pianos don't go quickly out of tune, they come to the conclusion that the fault was indeed with that other tuner.

Not only does a tuner need to know how to tune the piano, he or she has to know how to encourage it to stay in tune. This is where proper technique comes in. Humidity should be the only factor to cause the piano to go out of tune. Some tunings can be wrecked by aggressive or heavy playing, and some tunings wreck themselves because the tuner did not set the strings or the tuning pins. After a few weeks, the strings begin to slip, and there goes the tuning...

Proper tuning technique is no secret, but you might think it was.


Choosing A Piano Tuner - What (or Who) to Avoid

Technician #1 tunes pianos, but has no idea how to make spot repairs. If a hammer breaks, for example, while he is tuning your piano, he has no idea how to make a relatively simple repair and your piano will be out of commission until someone can be found who actually knows how to fix the problem.

 Technician #2 tunes pianos, but has no understanding of tuning theory or music theory. He charges a rate similar to others, but really has no idea how to fine tune a piano. Sometimes he may use a fancy electronic gadget to compensate for his lack of understanding.

 Technician #3 understands how to tune a piano, but often will just "touch up" the piano rather than fully tune it (while still charging for a full tuning). If you hire a tuner who is done in 45 minutes, you have hired #3. Often times, people don't know any better. A month later, when the piano sounds terrible, they usually figure it out.

 Technician #4 understands tuning theory, but does not use proper tuning technique. This too results in a tuning that disappears rapidly, often within a few weeks.

Technician #5 tunes and regulates pianos, but does not play the piano at all, or only at a very rudimentary level. He can tune or regulate a piano according to a textbook, but reality often varies from the textbook, in which case, he lacks the corresponding musical skills to compensate, and to understand the problem from the pianist's perspective. 

Technician #6 is highly competent, but he won't lower himself to touch your piano unless it is of an appropriately high pedigree. Want him to tune your Wurlitzer? Sorry, this guy only tunes pianos he judges to be good enough for him. However, in order to not lose a potential sale, he will send over his subordinate with a year and a half of experience who he pays $8 an hour.

While these descriptions are not meant to refer to any specific individual, they are fictional composites of actual characteristics I have observed in the piano service industry.

© Mark Roth 2020