Why Does Your Piano Goes Out of Tune?

One of the things that makes piano tuning such an enigma and an intangible for piano owners is in their understanding the cause and effect mechanism of pianos going in and out of tune. Many think of wood as an inert material that was once alive when it was part of a tree.

That is not the case. All wood is porous and a living material. In this video, I demonstrate (with the help of my daughter Yael) how moisture or lack of moisture causes the expansion and contraction of wood and I show how and why your piano goes in and out of tune.

In “Tuning and Caring for Your   Instrument“, I also show how I safeguard my piano against the destructive alternating forces and effects of dryness and humidity.

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Eighteen Century Esthetics

How eighteenth century aesthetics play into piano tuning.

This is the second installment of my 2000 presentation at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. See The Lost Sounds of Music and Musical Demonstrations of Historical Keyboard Tunings and if you missed Piano Tuning Past & Present.

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Piano Tune History | Piano Tuning Past & Present

All piano tunings are historical. This Temperament Recital shows how that is the case. See next video.

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Why Keep Your Piano Out of Sunlight?

tuning your piano is just one of several things you should consider if you want your piano to last a lifetime

Before I discuss with you why you should for the most part keep your instrument away from sustained sunlight, I will try to help you gain some insight on how your piano is not simply a piece of furniture and why regular tuning and service is essential.

All pianos are designed by piano engineers to be beautiful furniture and as musical instruments to bear roughly 20 tons or 40,000 pounds of tension from the day they are born to the day they die.  They are jointed and glued together as are chairs, tables and cabinets. Unlike chairs and tables, they are built from thousands of parts and components; 80% wood, 20% metal.

Irregardless of the make or model, your piano was designed to fulfill a purpose of beauty through its appearance and outward design and its function and inner design.

The 3 worst things for your piano – What does your piano hate?

  1. Fire or extreme heat or fluctuations from extreme dryness to
  2. High humidity or extreme moisture
  3. Neglect in the form of infrequent tuning and service

I will focus on the effect of ongoing or intermittent exposure to sunlight on your piano. Sunlight or radiant heat from the sun can slowly cook and kiln dry your piano over time.  This radiant heating effect can vary depending on the intensity of the sunlight in your area. If you live in a place like Philadelphia, New York, Paris or London where you get plenty of clouds, rain and moisture, the effect of that kind ongoing exposure to sunlight might not be as severe as if you live in Colorado, Arizona or a semi arid, desert environment. You should be very concerned in either case. Sunlight in areas that are moist and humid can be a destructive component and a factor in “humidity swings” that can literally shred your piano over time.

If your piano has a lacquer finish, the sun will heat and ‘alligator’ it. A lacquer piano finish that is referred to as such has a finish that resembles the skin of an alligator. But that is the least of your potential troubles if your piano is exposed to intense sunlight over an extended period of time. In some instances glue joints can become compromised and then other nasty symptoms of overexposure can become apparent.

The soundboard can crack, and ribs can loosen. Cabinet and action screws can loosen and lead to poor functioning and creaking, groaning mechanical dysfunction. Pianos have thousands of moving parts if you include the action mechanism so there is a lot that can go wrong.

At the very least, excess exposure to sunlight can cause tuning instability. If your piano does not hold a tune properly, then the value of it as a musical instrument is diminished.

How can exposure to sunlight affect the tune of your piano?

As most pianos are located in a living room or other room in your home, the sun will pass by and shine on your instrument for an hour or up several hours or more every day.  Heating and cooling wreaks havoc on the piano tuning because of the consequent expansion and contraction of the cast plate, strings and the wood and air in and around your instrument.

What does your piano love?

Pianos are like people. They need attention and love. My predecessor once told me that “pianos are big babies!” I will write further on how to prevent your piano from becoming a “PSO” or a “Piano Shaped Object.”

Keeping Your Piano In Tune – 3 Tips

This is the KISS version – The Three Basics of Keeping Your Piano In Tune

  1. Minimize humidity changes and fluctuations.
  2. Keep your piano out of direct sunlight, period.
  3. Have your piano tuned on a regular basis, 2 times a year by an experienced professional.

I will elaborate on these in coming posts.

Piano Tuning Past & Present – Historical Keyboard Tunings

Check out this presentation that I gave in 2000 on Piano Tuning – Past and Present at the Philadelphia Art Museum. This is where Sylvester Stallone starred in the hit fill series – Rocky.

Piano Tuning Itself

I’ve read your comments and questions about Gilmore’s self tuning piano. For those of you who believe that it is somehow a kind of Holy Grail..well,  you are entitled to your opinion. There is just so much out there about piano tuning that I think adding a “self tuning piano” to the mix just adds to that confusion.

I write this blog to educate about the relationship between tuning and music. Some time ago in an attempt to bring some light on the subject, I did a presentation on a variety of tunings used historically prior to the our modern “Equal Temperament.”I.e. “Well Temperament, Meantone, Just and Pythagorean tunings.” I suggest you “self tuning piano folks” watch it so you can gain a deeper appreciation for piano tuning in general. Then the question might become “self tuning piano” to what?

Technology is always trying to outdo great achievements. The modern piano is one of the greatest inventions of all time. Pianos requires input from human beings tuning or playing them. Why does that have to be improved upon? If you are looking for a real improvement, consider getting your piano re-tuned to a Well Temperament or perhaps a Modified Meantone Temperament and then play Beethoven, Chopin or Bach so you can hear what that music should and did sound like when it was composed. You can even play Jazz in these intonations.

Do you want a self tuning piano? There are tons of them already out there. They are called “electric keyboards.” If you want an acoustic self tuning piano you might have to wait a bit longer for that. As far as what happened to Gilmore’s piano? I believe it didn’t pass the muster.