Monday, March 30, 2009

Piano Tuning

The piano tuner came today. It's been a while. This was the first time the piano was tuned since we moved, so the tuner was new to us. I liked this man quite a bit. He explained what he was doing, and why, and asked questions about how the piano has been cared for in the past (without being judgmental for the not-as-frequent-as-should-be tunings). I learned two important things.

I didn't used to think it was tremendously important for the piano to be tuned annually. I figured that it was enough to call the tuner when the instrument was sounding bad. Or every now and then, even before it sounded bad. I thought annual piano tuning was for people who really really care about precision in music, or for people who have perfect pitch. Today I learned why regular piano tuning is necessary for all pianos.

1) We learn to sing based on our piano at home. If the instrument isn't kept in tune, our ear attunes to a slightly off-key note. No wonder I've been singing just a little flat for most of my life. And no wonder I've been able to stay on pitch better in the last year: I've been doing more of my singing at church with the choir or the schoolkids (tuned to a pitch pipe).

2) Annual tuning preserves the life of the piano. The tuner today explained the massive amount of forces that the strings put on the piano. He also explained how the higher notes will go out of tune quicker than the low notes, and how this changes the pull on the wood and iron in the piano. If the piano is not tuned regularly, there is slight twisting in the inner workings of the piano. This twisting is what was causing my sustain pedal to be ineffective for the lower octaves of the piano. It has also resulted in some not-too-major cracks in the soundboard in back. The twisting has resulted in some hammers being crooked; the tuner will fix those next time. Eventually, this unevenness and twisting would result in the pegs being too loose to adjust; happily ours hasn't deteriorated that far.

So spending money for frequent tunings isn't a hoity-toity thing for fine musicians. It's also for us frugal folks who want our investment in a piano to last many a year.

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