Robert Estrin - piano expert

How often should you tune a piano?

Great answer to a very common question

In this video, Robert helps you understand how often you need to tune your piano.

Released on August 21, 2013

  
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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, I'm Robert Estrin here, at livingpianos.com and virtualsheetmusic.com. The question is, how often do you have to tune a piano? Boy, that's a great question. You know, the short answer is constantly, no kidding. I carry this around with me wherever I go. You could ask my wife, my concert grand, I pretty much touch up every day. You know, my father, on his recording sessions, the piano tuner would be there at the session every time he took a break. He would touch up the piano.

Pianos start going out of tune the moment you play them. I work around here, you know, this is actually in my home, at our live-work loft, so I come down here and I touch up all these pianos, even though I have tuners here every day. Just before we do our video shoots, I'm always checking the tuning on all, and checking unisons, and put the wedges in, and it's a constant job. Now, there is no substitute for a professional tuner, but you can get a good quality piano hammer, tuning hammer, a wrench and some wedges, and you can learn how to touch up to keep your piano fresh because, boy, when the unisons are pure, it sounds so beautiful.

Now, what about in a normal situation? You might wonder, of course, you're not going to tune your piano constantly. Well, there's a saying among piano tuners that you can't tune an out-of-tune piano. That sounds nuts, doesn't it? But, believe it or not, there's some truth to it. Here's the deal. As the piano gets too far out of tune...let's say you've neglected your piano, or you're buying a piano that hasn't been tuned in a number of years. Well, as soon as the tuner starts to tune one section, when he gets to the next section, the first section goes out because the bridges are on the sound board and, if the whole pitch is lower, as a section's tuned up it stresses the sound board, which puts out of tune the other section, which is why a piano that hasn't been tuned in a great amount of time needs to be tuned at least twice in a row, what's usually called the pitch raise in the tuning. And even that tuning won't hold very long.

Now, if you get ahead of the curve and you tune your piano on a very regular basis, let's say three, four times a year, in a home that is very stable, and the piano is barely played, you might get that piano where it just stays in tune after a while. For example, when I went to Music Conservatory, one of the schools I went to - Indiana University - the concert grands on stage were tuned every single day. And it got to a point where they almost didn't go out of tune at all, so stable. I work at my concert grand trying to get to that point but, unfortunately, the practicing that I do on it, I knock it out constantly. So, I can't quite get it to that point, but I keep striving.

So, the bare minimum you really want to tune a piano is at least twice a year. Now, why twice a year? Where did I come up with that number? Well, you see, the thing is, seasonal changes are going to affect the piano. So, when you go from heat to air conditioning, and back from air conditioning to heat, your piano's going to go out of tune. Now, it might not even sound bad, the whole piano could possibly shift down, or sometimes even up slightly. It might sound okay, but if the pitch of the piano isn't a concert pitch, the next time it's tuned and you want to get it back to concert pitch, once again, that tuning won't hold as long. So, the bare minimum is twice a year; ideally, three or four times a year if you play your piano on a regular basis. And, if you're like me, you're going to tune your piano all the time to try to get the purity of the tone. It's a thankless task, and I have a deep respect for piano tuners.

Thanks for joining me. Robert Estrin here, at livingpianos.com and virtualsheetmusic.com.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

SS * VSM MEMBER * on August 25, 2013 @5:38 pm PST
wow - I did not know this - thanks! I will call my piano tuner ASAP!!
Fulvia Bowerman * VSM MEMBER * on August 23, 2013 @10:20 am PST
I think that climate has a great influence on how well a piano stays tuned. I lived in Calgary for 7 years where I bought an upright Yamaha. Calgary's climate is extremely dry year around and it was almost worthless to have it tuned once a year! My way of checking if it needed to be tuned was by playing along with a CD the second movement of Beethoven's Piano Concert No. 5. (I cannot handle the first the third movements ... :(
What really amazed me of this piano was the trip on the moving van from Calgary to Virginia, by way of Montreal, that took 2 weeks. As soon as I unpacked my stereo system and the CDs, I rechecked the piano and it was still perfectly in tune ! But, after a few months in very humid Virginia, it needed tuning, and also a couple of keys were "sticking". Now I have it tuned twice a year.
reply
Robert - host, on August 23, 2013 @12:51 pm PST
There are many factors in the stability of tuning of a piano including not only the brand and style of piano, but its age, environment, how much it's played and how often it's tuned. It is surprising how a piano can be moved across the country and often show up pretty much how it left! But the change of environment usually takes its toll after the move.
suspenseful * VSM MEMBER * on August 23, 2013 @1:35 pm PST
It is very hot here in summer except when there is a thunderstorm. But sometimes in Fall and Spring, it sort of gets mild. But here we seem to have only two seasons, winter and summer, and it is a dry cold. The last time I had it tuned was a year after my husband died (he bought it just before he passed) and now it is just starting to sound funny.
suspenseful * VSM MEMBER * on August 21, 2013 @8:44 pm PST
I havent tuned the piano for over a year (finances) and am getting it done this fall. How often should I get it tuned after that to catch up until I can get to getting it done twice a year.
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Robert - host, on August 23, 2013 @12:53 pm PST
Your mileage may vary, but 2-4 times a year is usually ideal for most pianos. Here is a video on the subject:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lt590bnd7UE
suspenseful * VSM MEMBER * on August 23, 2013 @3:29 pm PST
I have trying to get my piano tuned since last year, but was also wondering whether it is now too far gone. It was new in 2010, so you can see I am sort of worried and cannot afford to buy a new one and I do play it a lot.
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