WHY DOES MY PIANO NEED IT?
You may have been told before that your instrument is in need of a pitch correction (also commonly referred to as a “pitch raise”). This is an ailment that afflicts instruments fairly often. But what does a pitch correction actually entail and why can’t a tuning fix the piano’s pitch? After all, isn’t that what piano tuning is all about? Well.. not quite. Let’s break down these terms in order to understand the difference.
WHAT IS A PITCH CORRECTION
In its simplest form, a pitch correction is a process of bringing a piano back to a standard pitch of A440. What this means (in a nutshell) is that the note A4 will vibrate at precisely 440Hz. While the standard varies somewhat internationally (some places in Europe consider 442Hz to be standard), in the US A440 is the universally accepted standard.
Stepping away from the physics of it, a piano’s pitch (or any instrument’s pitch for that matter) is how high or low it sounds on the whole. So it is possible for a piano to be in tune but still off pitch, if all of its notes are in harmony with one another, yet on the whole sound lower or higher than the standard pitch.
This scenario may not be a problem for everyone, and that’s the reason you may not have noticed an issue with your instrument. However, if you ever want to play together with other instruments, either in an ensemble or by emulating a teacher / musical recording or video – your piano will sound horribly wrong. There is a reason that A440 is considered a standard, so that all musicians can tune their instruments to this pitch and be able to play together in harmony.
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The other reason you should consider correcting your instrument’s pitch, is that it will continue to drift further and further away from the standard. The more your piano drifts, the more noticeable the disparity will be, and the harder it will be to bring it back to standard later on. Last but not least, being off pitch puts incredible stress on the instrument’s soundboard. This may give rise to other problems and end up causing serious long-term damage to your piano.
WHY DOES PIANO PITCH DRIFT?
If you are lucky enough to have purchased a brand new instrument, you should know that a piano’s pitch drops continuously over the course of its first couple of years. This happens due to setting of new wooden parts and the stretching of brand new strings. Think of a new construction house. It’s common knowledge that a new construction will settle in the course of the first 5-7 years, where the foundation and all the building blocks will finally come to terms with each other and gravity. A new piano goes through a similar process and the result is a drop in pitch. Piano sellers and manufacturers alike recommend a minimum of 3 to 4 tunings the first year and a consistent twice a year thereafter.
However, even if you don’t have a brand new piano, its pitch will unfortunately continue to change for a second reason that affects all instruments new and old – climate fluctuations. Because pianos (and their soundboards) are made of wood, they are quite sensitive to any temperature and humidity fluctuations, especially drastic ones. Now how sensitive will depend on the climate control conditions in your space as well as the specific make of your piano, but do expect the pitch to change to some degree.
CAN’T A TUNING FIX MY PIANO’S PITCH?
Technically piano tuning can work, but only if you have been maintaining your instrument regularly and its pitch is quite close to the standard. Then yes, the pitch can sometimes be slightly adjusted during the course of a normal tuning and you won’t hear anything about it. Professional technicians will just do this for you if it is possible.
However, if you let your piano go untuned for years or if it’s been exposed to radical temperature and humidity fluctuations (such as open windows on a humid summer night followed by dry AC air blowing all day), one tuning will not be enough. If your instrument is quite off pitch, your tuner will need to make some big adjustments, which will put a lot of strain on the soundboard. As your technician moves from note to note, either tightening or loosening the strings quite a bit, the completed strings will be affected by the new adjustments. So as you get to the end, many strings will slip out of pitch and will need to be adjusted again. This is the reason why a pitch correction is sometimes called a double-tuning. Because in a nutshell that’s what needs to happen.
In some drastic cases, where the pitch is quite far from 440, say over 10 Hz away, even a double-tuning may not suffice. Good technicians will warn against making massive adjustments in one shot, because a change of these proportions can completely destabilize your instrument and reduce its ability to hold its tune. You may have heard that pianos are finicky, and this is precisely the type of procedure to anger them. A series of visits over several months would be better advised, where the pitch can be corrected little by little. The piano should be allowed periods of time (a couple of months at least) in between these adjustments to settle into the new pitch.
Only after the pitch has been corrected as closely as possible to the standard, can the final “fine” tuning take place, which will put all notes into harmony with one another and fine-tune the pitch to perfection.
Read also: How To Tune A Piano