Why does my piano go out of tune?

Well, not just yours, but every piano, in fact. It is just natural. Piano strings hold a significant amount of tension, and they tend to release some of it due to a number of reasons. Change in climate is one major cause: seasonal changes in temperature, and probably more importantly, in humidity cause the piano to drift from its tuning. This one of the reasons why technicians suggest clients to get their pianos tuned every six months. One other major reason is the piano being moved. But other than those, by time all strings release tension, by just being played on, or by just standing stationary. So usually nothing to worry about. If you think your particular piano is going out of tune very quickly, there might be some other underlying cause. Just drop me a line, and we can discuss what can be done.

What is a pitch raise? Do I need it?

Pianos can get substantially flat compared to the international standard pitch of A=440Hz. The most common reasons for being flat are lack of regular tuning, and the piano having been moved. If the instrument is flat by a certain margin, the piano technician will not be able to tune it at once, because doing so would put uneven tension on the soundboard. Even if such a tuning is attempted in one go, by the time the technician gets to the end of the tuning process, the notes tuned first will have drifted flat again. This is because the the harp and wooden soundboard will deform under the uneven tension caused by the tightened strings. Therefore, a conscious tuner will pitch-raise the piano carefully in small increment(s), and when close enough to the right pitch, will her or she perform the final fine tuning.

If a piano is flat or sharp by more than 25 cents (100 cent being a half step, or a minor second), it will need pitch adjustment. If the difference is 100 cents or more, it will need at least two increments of pitch raising before a stable tuning can be achieved.

Whether you need this or not; well, it depends. If you are to play with other instruments, than it is almost a must. Everyone else will expect the piano to be at A440 to be able to tune their instruments to it. However, if you only play for your own pleasure, it is not necessarily essential to be right at A440, although most pianos will sound best at that pitch. When we come across old pianos with rusty strings, etc, we may advice against a pitch raise to avoid possible damages, as old strings can break when pulled up, and even soundboards can crack under the raised tension.

What is aural tuning?

In brief, it is the process of tuning an instrument by ear. In the age of technology we have endless electronic aids at our disposal that can help or guide us tuning the piano. By my experience – and shared by many – the best tunings are still done by ear. While electronic devices are usually very accurate in determining the ideal frequency of a note, they never listen to the whole picture. Since pianos are tuned by the Equal Temperament, in essence almost all notes are tuned either somewhat flat or sharp, to come to a good compromise in which the piano sounds the best in all keys. This needs a delicate fine tuning where the tuner listens to each note to tell whether it is off by the appropriate amount, but this varies a little by piano to piano. This is something that electronics are just aren’t up to.