Tuning and piano care FAQ's

How long does a piano stay in tune?

Not long really. Pianos are very sensitive to changes in the environment; particularly fluctuations in humidity. When the humidity rises so will a piano’s pitch (it goes sharp). Likewise, the pitch drops (goes flat) when the humidity decreases. 

The key to tuning stability is stable humidity. An acceptable humidity level can range from 35% to 55%, but the important thing is to keep humidity at a constant level at all times. If you can maintain the humidity in your home at, say, 45% year round, you will experience very little tuning instability.

See humidity control for more information on how to help you accomplish this.

How often should I tune my piano?

Most piano manufacturers recommend tuning a piano twice per year. Tuning frequency depends on the piano’s usage, environmental conditions (see above) and how sensitive your ear is. 

Before a concert, the piano may be tuned two or three times. In a recording studio a piano may be tuned daily. Some universities have their performance pianos tuned weekly. Piano teachers may have their teaching piano tuned either monthly or every three months. 

A good rule is to have your piano tuned at least once each year or more if you (or your ears!) think it requires it.

Is there anything I should do before I have my piano tuned?

Yes…three things:

1) Ensure a quiet tuning environment

2) Ensure a quiet tuning environment

3) Ensure a quiet tuning environment

Tongue-in-cheek to be sure, but you’d be surprised how many people run vacuum cleaners and food processors while their piano is being tuned. Bottom line: the quieter the environment…the better the tuning.

What if I haven’t had my piano tuned in a long time?

Not to worry. The vast majority of pianos that have gone 15, 20, 30 or more years without being tuned can easily be tuned to the correct pitch. In almost all cases, however, the piano will require a pitch raise. (See “What is a pitch raise” below.)

 What is a pitch raise? And why do I need one?

If a piano has not been tuned on a regular basis, the strings (which are under a tremendous amount of tension) will slowly lose tension. When the piano finally gets tuned, the strings have to be tightened (pulled up to pitch) much more than a normal tuning would require. The increased tension makes the strings unstable and they will immediately start going flat again. And the piano cannot be fine-tuned until all the strings are close to the correct pitch. 

So, in order to fine tune the piano, it has to be tuned twice: one pitch raise (i.e., a rough or approximate tuning) and then the fine tuning. If it has been a really long time since it was tuned, it may take two rough tunings before it can be fine tuned.

Confused? That’s okay…just have your piano tuned a minimum of once per year and you won’t have to worry about pitch raises.

What does tuning to “A440” mean?

You will often hear the term “tuned to A440” and you may wonder what that means. The A refers to the note A above middle C and the 440 is how many times per second it vibrates. The vast majority of pianos are tuned to this pitch. It’s not a magical number…just one that most in the musical world have agreed upon.

What is regulation?

There are thousands of parts in a piano action that eventually start to wear and compact. (The action is a single unit that can be removed from the piano and contains all the moving parts). Most of them are made of wood, cloth and felt (wool) and over time they get out of adjustment. Regulating the piano is simply readjusting these parts so they work smoothly again.

For most pianos, this is only necessary every few years.

What is voicing?

Voicing refers to the “voice” of the piano hammer. Often, after years of play, the hammers can get hard and compacted and the “voice” of the hammers get bright, harsh and sometimes metallic sounding. Voicing simply softens the tone of the hammer. Conversely, if a hammer is not bright enough for an individuals taste, it can be “voiced up” to make it more bright.

Also, the hammers can wear and develop grooves that affect the tone of the piano. Voicing also includes filing the hammers so they are closer to the shape of the hammer when it was new.

Why are my keys sticking?

Could be any number of things. The good news is that sticking keys are generally easy to repair. In most cases, they can be repaired during the tuning appointment at no charge. 

(You might be surprised at some of the reasons keys stick or won’t play well. I once received a call from a customer who complained that none of the keys in the top octave would play correctly. When I opened the lid of her upright piano I found….a large, very long socket wrench!)

How should I clean my piano?

The preferred way to clean the finish on your piano is very simple. Use a slightly moist, clean, lintless cotton cloth and wipe in long straight strokes. Immediately wipe with a dry cloth of the same type. DO NOT use furniture polish on any part of the piano.

To clean the keys repeat the above procedure. If the keys have a great deal of dirt or grime on them, you can add a drop or two of liquid dish detergent to the cloth. Make sure the cloth is only slightly damp; you don’t want water running down the sides of the keys.

© Gregory Griggs 2021