Tuesday, 24 July 2012

How Often a Piano Needs to be Tuned

Music demands that a piano should be in tune. Regular tuning is the most reliable way to keep a piano in stable tune. However frequently the piano is tuned, the tuning is never static - the weather, temperature and humidity all affect the tuning. This is the same for fine quality pianos and the not so very good ones. In different sections of the piano - the middle, treble and bass - the tuning can move about unevenly

Piano tuning is an ongoing battle with the conditions in which a piano is kept. The pianist who has a keen ear and the concert pianist who demands perfection, both expect the piano tuner to have the piano in tune whatever the weather. Achieving this golden goal can be done only by a period of over-tuning the piano. Only when a degree of tuning stability is established, can the time between tunings can be lengthened.

One thing is certain: if while tuning a piano, the pitch has been raised, say, half a semitone, it will take a while for the piano to settle nicely in tune at that higher pitch. So it is quite possible to have a piano tuned, only to find that all too quickly, it loses that recently-tuned sound. This is not the fault of the tuner! 

From the tuner's point of view, a change in pitch is always countered by the stretch of the strings. Altering the pitch of a piano is like pushing something heavy up a slope. Even when the tuner thinks the pitch of the strings are going to stay where he put it, a force - like the downward pull of gravity, fights back as if it would prefer the tuning to go back where it was! 

It is a mistake to think that because the piano was tuned last week, last month, last year or 2 years ago, it will not need tuning again. As a general rule, a piano should be tuned about twice a year and definitely not left longer than a year. If you have a keen ear, you may find the piano needs to be tuned 3 times a year! 

© Steve Burden

Thursday, 5 July 2012

State of Pianos in Schools

It is too easy for school administrators who are asked to make budget savings, to focus their attention on the fund of money used for the tuning and maintenance of the pianos. There is obviously, no visible difference to the pianos if they are tuned or not. There will be an audible difference, but if the administrators are tone deaf, an out-of-tune piano is not going to bother them anyway. 

Financial management, for any institution is extremely important, but what makes good sense on a spreadsheet on the finance office computer can be nonsense in the practice rooms. Pianos were once bought by schools as assets, but somehow their value to the budget-makers has fallen to the point where they are now considered a liability. So much for good asset management!

There can be very few people who do not understand the need for institutions to make savings wherever possible. The conflicts of interest that remain after waste has been addressed, will always create problems. 

During separate conversations with a couple of piano teachers recently, the state of pianos in schools was mentioned. At one, high-end, fee-paying school they feel so poor they can no longer afford to have the pianos tuned each term, and so have them tuned once a year. Another school does not usually bother to tune the piano used for the Associated Board Piano Exams. If they do, they seem to look for and accept the cheapest quote they could find!

There could well be a generation of piano-playing students who may never know what a properly tuned piano sounds like. A look at some of the piano recitals and demos that are uploaded to Youtube is enough to demonstrate that there are many who seem oblivious to the howling sound of an out-of-tune piano! 

In term time, many school pianos are played constantly. Tuning stability is impossible if such a piano is tuned only once a year. The tuner can only play a game of catch-up! Because the piano was in such a poor state of tune before tuning, it is not going to stay in good tune for very long after the tuning. This is frustrating for the teacher, the students and the tuner.

Giving children cheap food is no way to plan for a strong future generation. If piano playing is to survive for the next generation, the budget-makers should give the tuning and maintenance of school pianos a much higher priority than has become normal over the last two decades.

© Steve Burden