Meri’s Musical Musings

Four reasons to keep an acoustic piano in tune

Posted on: March 21, 2009

Many people who own acoustic pianos, especially parents of young piano students and in schools, but even in some music studios, do not tune their instruments often enough; often 2-5 years go by before some instruments are tuned. However, there are four important reasons to keep a piano in tune: it is difficult to play with other musicians, provide an accurate pitch reference for vocalists and instruments that are much more dependent on the player to produce the right pitch, there are some musicians who have what is commonly known as perfect pitch or at least a very strong sense of relative pitch, and because an instrument that is in tune not only sounds better, but is more pleasant to practice and perform on.

One reason to keep an acoustic piano in tune is because it is difficult to play in ensembles with other instruments if the piano is too far out of tune, and impossible beyond elementary literature. While it is possible to play simple classical melodies and hymn tunes on an out of tune piano by transposing the chords to match the key of the solo instrument (because the change consists of simple chord progressions, just in different keys), this is difficult to do beyond elementary solo literature for most instruments, because of the great difficulty to transpose many piano parts, even a half, or occasionally a whole step (or more!) higher than what is written in the score. I recall with one of my first clarinet students, which we were rehearsing one of his pieces for his exam (an early intermediate piece) at the student’s home (because neither my home nor the pianist’s home at the time had a piano, and the church we wanted to rehearse the music was being used that day) and discovered immediately that the piano was so far out of tune, that the accompaniment part had to be rehearsed on their keyboard. Fortunately this arrangement had very little to no pedaling required, but it was impossible with his other exam repertoire piece due to extensive pedaling in the piano part, and there was no keyboard pedal available there.

Another reason to keep acoustic pianos in tune is because all musicians need an accurate pitch reference, especially on instruments in which the pitches are controlled more by the player (brass, strings, and voice) than the instrument (woodwinds). String players often make use of the piano to tune their instruments, and considerable stress is put on such instruments if the strings are set too low or too high in pitch.

Third, some musicians have what is commonly known as perfect pitch, or at least a strong sense of relative pitch; a piano that is distinctively out of tune causes problems with pitch reference. Many pieces are designed to be sung or played in a particular key; a piece that is “supposed” to be in the key of G major, but the piano sounds a whole step too low (in F major) will, to a musician with perfect pitch or a strong sense of relative pitch, will make the pieces more difficult to play or sing for such musicians. Not only that, but the greater the number of musicians in the group, the odds will be that at least one of the performers will be able to detect inaccurate pitch.

Fourth, pianos that are in tune not only sound better, but are more pleasant to practice and perform on. If you record the same person playing the same piece on an out of tune piano, and then have them record the same piece on an instrument that’s in tune of the same make, the one on the in-tune instrument will sound better, because the distances between notes on an in-tune piano are correct, while out of tune pianos can have significant problems in distances between notes: the bass notes will likely sound clouded and muddy (because the notes sound too close together) and the high treble will sound tinny and shrill, because the notes sound too far apart from one another.

So, keep acoustic pianos in tune! Every bit that is done to enhance the quality of the musicial experience adds up to a lot—and many of those experiences are centered around pianos!

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  • None
  • V V: Wish I had read this before I fell for their scheme ! Oh well - have posted my experience on Yelp and N49 and hoping others can avoid the pain of fal
  • clariniano: Thanks for the additional information. It was actually Yelp that deleted my reviews, because of so-called bias. I too have seen the horrible technique
  • No Thanks: Former Teacher at the Ontario Conservatory of Music I took lessons at the Ontario Conservatory and when I left for private lessons from another tea
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