Probably the most frequent question I get from folks is “how often should I tune my piano?” My answer is always “it depends!”. I suppose that this is not the answer most folks want to hear, but there are so many variables that affect tuning that it really does depend on your situation. As a general rule, I recommend tuning twice a year. The major factor affecting tuning is the weather, or more specifically, humidity. The Texas climate is one of extremes. During the summer, it is always very hot……duh! This year, our hot weather was extremely dry which was unusual, and our lakes and foundations attest to the fact that hot, dry weather tends to suck all the moisture out of everything (pianos too!). Normally, our summer weather is hot and humid and pianos take on a lot of moisture. During winter, it may or may not be generally cold, but it is cold enough to warrant running the heater in our homes, which dries out the air inside the house, which dries out the piano. So, basically the weather swings, or more technically humidity swings, that we have affect the tuning on the piano. Why is that? I’m glad you asked!
The heart of every piano is the soundboard. It is the “amplifier” in the piano. When a note is played, depressing the key causes a felt hammer to strike the strings of that note. The strings vibrate at a frequency specific to that note. Those vibrations are transferred to the soundboard via the “bridge” and the vibrations are “amplified” by the soundboard to enable us to hear that note. The soundboard itself is a large sheet of resonant wood that is firmly glued in place around the edges to the rigid frame of the piano. The soundboard is not flat, but has a slight crown. As we all know, wood expands and contracts, and since the soundboard is rigidly attached to the frame of the piano, it has no choice but to increase crown when the wood expands, and decrease crown when the wood contracts. Excess humidity makes the wood expand, therefore increasing crown, therefore increasing the tension of the strings that are bearing down on the bridge which is glued to the soundboard. That is why pianos go sharp during times of more humidity than normal. The reverse is also true. When the air is dry, humidity is drawn out of the soundboard, therefore relaxing the crown, therefore lessening the tension of the strings, causing the pitch of the strings to go flat.
I know this has not been a terribly technical explanation, but hopefully you get the idea of why humidity swings affect the tuning of your piano. The reason I generally recommend tuning twice a year is that in our area, there are usually two major humidity swings during the year. We use the climate control in our homes to adjust for these swings of temperature and humidity to maintain our comfort level, but still, the swings do affect the tuning of the piano. By tuning the piano soon after one of these climate swings, the piano will have a better chance of staying in tune longer,…….. or until the next humidity swing!
Having explained all that, I must add that different pianos react differently to the climate swings. Older pianos tend to be more stable, and you might be able to get by with tuning only once a year. Newer pianos have more active soundboards and are more susceptible to the climate swings, and must be tuned more often. In fact, most piano manufacturers recommend tuning at least 4 times during the first year………..but that’s a whole ‘nuther article.
Of course you want to have your piano tuned when it sounds bad, but the timing of that tuning might result in a tuning that lasts longer. For example, you might not want to have your piano tuned on the one day that it rains during the long, hot, dry summer. Sometimes it can’t be helped because of getting ready for a special event, but it is something to keep in mind.
I hope this article has helped explain why weather changes affect piano tuning. Stay tuned (pun definitely intended) for future articles about other interesting piano subjects! Or maybe I’ll just tell jokes………. nah, I’d better stick to pianos. If you have questions or want more information, give me a call, or send me an email and I’ll do my best to answer your specific question.
Thanks for tuning in!