Hello, and welcome to the Nebraska Tuning Company, LLC blog. This space will be dedicated to all things piano and our first post is about things you can do right now to help your piano sound good. If you have any suggestions for topics please don’t hesitate to drop us a line at tuner@nebraskatuningco.com and let us know what it is. Also, don’t forget to sign up for our mailing list where you will be notified of new blog posts and other news.

Today’s post is concerned with giving you information on how to get your piano to sound as good as possible. Pianos serve many in many capacities for owners—they are large and beautiful pieces of furniture, they are investments in cash and personal value, they provide entertainment and educational value, and others. It is important to remember that the primary purpose of a piano is to make music! Many piano owners do not realize that simply purchasing a piano and placing it in the most convenient spot in the home often is not enough to help the instrument provide the value and sound quality it was designed to give. Below are five steps you can take right now to help improve the sound quality of your piano and that will allow it to provide value to you and your home for many years.

1. Control the Environment

Pianos are constructed of wood and metal. In a well crafted instrument, such as a piano, they materials interact almost magically to produce beautiful sounds at incredible volume. The problem is that these materials do not do well with change. In the spring when temperatures and humidity begin to rise the wood and metal expand causing the strings to go sharp. In the fall when temperatures and humidity drop the wood and metal contract causing the strings to go flat. If a piano is allowed to expand and contract too much the wood can begin to suffer. Common problems include a cracked soundboard, cracked or damaged pin block, and sticking keys.

The first thing to do to combat environmental changes is to pace the piano in a room that changes as little as possible. Keep the piano in a room that will experience the least amount of temperature change throughout the course of a year. Most people will keep their living areas between 65º–75º F.  Don’t keep the piano in an unheated/cooled room or on an uncovered concrete surface.

Controlling humidity in the piano will the topic of a future post.

2. Don’t Let Your Kids Stuff It

A common problem piano technicians encounter when servicing pianos in homes that have children is finding the piano stuffed with toys and other objects. Just recently I opened a piano that had several sticking keys and found an entire deck of playing cards, two DVDs, pencils, pens, crayons, stickers, and toys inside it. It is easy to accidentally lose a small object between the keys or down an open lid (Lord knows I’ve lost several dozen guitar picks this way), but children LOVE to put items in secret and mysterious places.

If you have children in the house keep the lid closed as much as possible and discourage them from making things disappear. If you have a vertical piano and can open the front board, or can lift the lid of your grand, take the time to remove any foreign objects. If the objects are under the keys or inside the action call a piano technician to help clean the piano out. You wouldn’t want to cause damage to the action of the piano that could cost much to repair.

3. Play It!

Pianos, like most wooden acoustic instruments, have the capacity to change over time. There is a reason vintage guitars and two-hundred year old violins are so highly valued. It is hotly debated over what, exactly, causes these older instruments to sound better over time, but one thing is for sure—instruments were made to vibrate. What you perceive as sound is the culmination of many processes originating from the time the hammer strikes the strings of piano and causes them to vibrate. The iron frame, or plate, transfers the vibrations to the wooden soundboard, which amplifies the vibrations, which in turn vibrate all the air molecules between it and your ear drums. It is my experience that a piano that is played often more readily produces sound than one that is not. Have you ever sat down to play a piano that hasn’t been played in a long while and the entire experience felt stiff even when there’s no problem with the action?

One further benefit to playing the piano regularly is that you become familiar with it and can recognize when something is amiss. Besides, pianos are designed first and foremost to make music. So make music!

4. Keep it Covered

This is closely related to the second point, “Don’t Let Your Kids Stuff It.” As dust and debris settle inside the piano overtime it causes the strings to sound dull. This is because they’re covered in dust! Vertical pianos rarely need to have the lid open so this occurs most frequently with grand pianos. The best practice is to open the lid only while playing and to shut it when done. For many, this can be impractical and an inconvenience. Many companies sell piano string covers, which are fabric overlays, that keep the dust off the strings but don’t hinder the sound. Ideally, the fallboard (the lid that covers the keys) should be kept shut as well. All new pianos come with a felt cloth that is to be laid over the keys, which also helps in keeping dust and debris out. Admittedly, keeping the fallboard shut can be a huge inconvenience.

Besides keeping the fallboard shut and the lid closed it you can call a technician to clean the piano inside and out. The technician will remove all the keys and will vacuum out the dust, hair, debris, spider webs, and rodent nests (yes, this really does happen), and objects that mysteriously come to live in the keybed and inside the body of the piano.

5. Keep it in Tune

The easiest and best thing you can do to help your piano sound the best it can is to keep it in tune. It sounds simple, but providing basic maintenance on your instrument will help it provide value to you in sound quality and investment. While tuning a piano a good piano technician will be able to alert you to any problems with the instrument or alert you to issues that may arise in the future. Furthermore, keeping the instrument in tune helps it produce the best sound it can. When an instrument sounds good and is a pleasure to play, it will get played! If you or your children are taking piano lessons this becomes extra important.

How often should you tune your piano? As described in the first point above, due to the changing of seasons that the expansion/contraction of the piano a home piano should be tuned at least twice a year. Once in the spring and once in the fall. For churches and places of worship where the piano is used every week for services and mid-week for rehearsals, weddings, funerals, and other occasions, pianos should be tuned three or four times a year. For performance venues pianos should be tuned quarterly and possibly before every major performance. The great venues of the world, and even all major universities, tune their concert pianos once a week or more.

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I hope you find this information helpful! If you have any suggestions for topics let us know at tuner@nebraskatuningco.com. Feel free to forward this on to your friends, family, and colleagues so they can benefit from the information as well. Use the social media buttons to share on Facebook or Google Plus. Don’t forget to sign up for the Nebraska Tuning Company, LLC newsletter!

Thanks,
Garrett

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