Different situations, different pianists, and different pianos require different maintenance schedules.
Yearly maintenance is minimal and may be a good place to start. But for one reason or another that might not be enough. One size does not fit all. I always try to get a feel for how my customers feel about how their piano sounds and how their tuning held up since it’s last tuning, and that gives me an idea as to whether or not our maintenance schedule is about right for them.
Once I have the customer’s comments, I also have a ‘number’ I use for deciding if we’re tuning the piano enough. That number is +/- 10 – 12 c., about 1/8th of a half step. (A ‘cent’ here is 1% of a half step. 100 c. up from C is C#, and so on. 12 c. is the equivalent of about 3 beats per second ‘off’ form A440.) If the piano is more than 10 or 12 c. sharp or flat, we may not be tuning enough.
This is especially true for commercial accounts, i.e. churches, or other situations, where the piano is used on a regular basis by professional or semi professional musicians and often with other instruments. If the piano is more than 12 c. off, it will be too ‘off’ for the other instruments. They will probably object to tuning to it and if their instruments are ‘fixed’ pitch, the difference in tune will be awful. If the piano isn’t staying within 10 – 12 c., we’re not tuning enough.
When trying to find an appropriate tuning schedule for my customers, I use this 10 – 12 c. ‘rule’ to tweak our schedule.
I start out my churches at 3 tunings a year. Once before Christmas, once before Easter, and another one in the late summer or early Fall, around August or September.
If, on any of those tuning appointments, the piano is more than 10 – 12 c. off, I add another tuning to the piano’s tuning schedule.
For my churches here in Tucson, three times a year seems to be a good place to start. But in other parts of the country, where the humidity is much different than here, 3 times a year may not be nearly enough. Back in Kansas City, churches’ pianos needed tuning more often. I had many on a quarterly schedule, some on an every other month schedule, and one on a monthly schedule. My biggest church wanted me there every Friday. Many times my weekly visit didn’t require a complete tuning, and was more of a touch up, and mostly in the tenor area of the piano. The music program of that church was really important and a big part of their weekly services. The piano was used with an orchestra and organ. During the Christmas season, for their large Christmas Pageant, I tuned for practically every performance.
How often depends on you, the piano, the climate, the pianos environment, how it’s used, and any number of other considerations.
Humidity fluctuations are the cause of most of the pianos ‘fluctuation’. If the humidity is relatively constant around the piano, the swelling and contracting will be less, and the effects of humidity on the tuning will be less.
Most homes here in Tucson can be relatively stable compared to other parts of the country. We don’t have cold winters that cause us to turn on a lot of heat, which really dries out the air. In the summertime, air conditioning removes humidity.
Maintenance is just a part of owning and playing the piano. Tuning is the first level of maintenance.
Once you find a technician with whom you are comfortable, talk to him about a maintenance schedule for your piano. Pianos that are regularly maintained will always provide better service over the life of the instrument. They will be more enjoyable for both player and listener.
We wouldn’t think of sending our kids to school with blurred vision. So we shouldn’t force our kids to try to learn piano on a terribly out of tune piano. It’s hard enough when everything is perfect. They need to hear how things are supposed to sound. Regular piano maintenance will make their whole musical education experience more correct and meaningful. At least the piano will sound good!
Here’s what some of the manufacturers say:
Steinway & Sons
… Unfortunately, no matter how expertly a piano is tuned, atmospheric variations, particularly humidity, and the nature of the piano’s construction constantly conspire to bring it off pitch.
Your Steinway piano has been designed and built so that in normal use and under normal conditions it should need only periodic tuning. We recommend that your tuner be called at least 3
or 4 times a year. You, however, are the final judge and should have the piano tuned as often as you think necessary. To put the matter of tuning into perspective, remember that a concert
piano is tuned before every performance and a piano in a professional recording studio, where it is in constant use, is tuned 3 or 4 times each week as a matter of course.
Tuning is an art practiced by skilled professionals and under no circumstances should anyone other than a professional be allowed to try to tune your Steinway piano.
In the first year, … have your piano tuned four times. This is a period of environmental adjustment for a new instrument and proper attention is important.
After the first year, the piano should be tuned at least twice each year depending upon the frequency of use and atmospheric conditions. … arrange for a reputable technician to service
your piano regularly.
Why schedule regular service? Having your piano serviced regularly is a lot like taking vitamins. As you regularly take vitamins, you generally feel better and you are able to perform at your
peak level. Also, taking vitamins helps you avoid serious illnesses and other health-related problems. The same is true regarding regular service for your piano. Regular service will keep your
piano’s performance (and your enjoyment) at its peak level. It will also correct “progressive” problems early, before they turn into costly repairs. For these reasons Yamaha strongly
recommends that you adopt a schedule of regular service for your piano.
… The strings need to be tuned a minimum of twice a year to restore them to their proper tension.
Climatic factors such as temperature or humidity changes may cause the precise tuning of your piano to vary. Also naturally over time the tuning will alter due to the tensions the strings are
If your piano receives normal use, we advise you to have your instrument tuned 2 or 3 times a year. Instruments which are being used more frequently, such as concert halls and recording studios,
are being tuned before each concert or recording session.