When was the last time your piano was tuned? You might not be getting a true pitch if it's been more than six months. Has it been more than a year? You might be shocked to find that what you thought was middle "C" really isn't. Piano tuning is an important part of maintaining quality sound.
Most major piano manufacturers recommend that piano tuning take place twice per year. The reason for this recommendation is that it doesn't take much for a piano to slip out of tune. It's a member of the stringed instrument family. It functions on a similar principle. It should be tuned regularly just like a guitar, harp, violin or other stringed instrument.
A piano consists of strings of varying lengths. The strings are stretched between pegs, like stretching a rubber band between two fingers. The tone that is produced depends on how long and how taut the strings. Again, if you stretch a rubber band between your fingers, you can see this principle in action. A higher sound is produced if you stretch the band taut. A lower sound is produced if you release the tension.
Notes are produced on a piano when you strike the various piano keys. Each key causes a corresponding "hammer" to strike the corresponding string or strings inside the piano.
The problem is that with time the strings slip out of position. It's usually a gradual slippage. The strings also wear and stretch. These two factors cause a piano to go out of tune. This may go unnoticed during day to day practice. However, you'll begin to notice it if the piano goes untuned for long periods of time. You'll really notice if you try to play along with another instrument and your piano "C" sounds different from another instrument's "C."
This is where piano tuning comes in. Piano tuning involves making tiny adjustments to the various strings in the instrument. You can accomplish this is several ways . The old fashioned way required a very talented ear. A tuning device was usually used to locate a reference frequency. This frequency was most often A440 and corresponded to the "A" above middle "C."
The piano tuner, using his device, would tweak the "A" strings until they vibrated at 440 Hz. This note would then become the reference or "fixed" pitch. All of the other notes would be determined by the piano tuner himself, with just his ear to guide him.
Today most piano tuners use some type of electronic tuner. "A" above middle "C" may still be used as a fixed pitch and is still tuned to 440 Hz. However, modern electronic tuners can be used to tune more strings than just the "A" string. Some tune just a few of the notes. These can then be used as reference pitches to tune all of the others. More sophisticated electronic tuners can tune all 12 notes on the piano.
Electronic tuners work by comparing the sound of a note played on the piano to its proper frequency. The tuner analyzes the note played. It then displays the difference between the frequency of the note played and the proper frequency. It indicates whether the pitch should be adjusted higher or lower. The technician then adjusts the strings until the sound from the piano matches the sound from the electronic tuner.
Regular piano tuning will keep your instrument in top shape. Pianos that are mainly used at home for practice may need tuning only once per year. Any piano that is used for performance or teaching should be tuned twice per year. To make sure you are having your piano tuned by someone who really knows what they are doing, contact the Piano Technicians Guild for recommendations.