Okay, quick quiz: How often should I have my piano tuned?
a. Twice a day
b. Once every ten years whether it needs it or not
c. When the tuner has a car payment due
d. When the neighbors start complaining
e. Twice a year
Congratulations, if you picked letter … wait not so fast. Thought it was going to be that easy did you? Actually the last one is the advice most commonly quoted and it is, in fact, fairly reliable.
However, and that is a significant “however”, there are a number of variables which you should consider if you want to properly care for your instrument and enjoy its sound to the fullest.
Here are a few criteria that relate to your decision:
• The needs of the pianist
• The condition of the instrument
• The piano’s environment
• The owner’s budget
A number of websites quote a few major piano manufacturers on the subject. We won’t do that here except to note the “at least” in “a piano should be tuned at least twice a year.” The average piano owner will do well to heed this advice. If you are a professional playing in a concert setting you may have selected letter “a” above and rightfully so. On the other hand anyone who chose letter “b”, shame on you. You know who you are. 🙂
Before we get to how often a piano should be tuned we need to consider why one would tune a piano. The first, and most obvious, is what it sounds like. Even the untrained ear can generally detect an out of tune piano fairly easily – and the worse it is the easier it is to tell. So naturally if you want it to sound good the piano needs to be tuned as often as necessary to accomplish that.
But another reason, one which may not be so obvious, is for the health of the instrument. A piano is designed to be tuned to a particular pitch – standard pitch is A440. When it goes out of tune, it generally does so as a natural result of stress relief (the average stress on a piano from the strings is eighteen to twenty tons). So gradually it will go flat as the strings loosen. There are occasions when the reverse may be true due to changes in the environment, humidity, temperature, etc. but most often a piano will go flat.
So when the tuner goes to work on those tuning pins, he pulls the strings back up to pitch. In other words he reintroduces stress to the instrument just when it had gotten nice and comfortable at that lower level. That can be traumatic for the piano structurally as well as for the stability of the tuning. The more drastic a change is required, the more it can negatively impact the instrument.
So for the good of the piano it is better to tune it more often, before the tuning is so far from its proper level. Minor, rather than major, adjustments to the tuning cause fewer potential problems for the instrument physically and ensure a longer lasting and more stable tuning.