How To Properly Care For Your Piano

DuBrul May 10, 2008 Arts & Crafts
Pianos are like cars in that they too need regular maintenance. But unlike cars, if properly "cared for and fed", a quality instrument can last for generations!

Congratulations! You've made the decision to provide your home with music and have brought an acoustic piano into the house. It's for piano lessons for yourself or the children. You may be a professional or amateur musician, a teacher of music, or you just want to have an instrument in the house for when your piano playing friends drop in. Whatever it's purpose, there are some very important things that every piano owner should be aware of if they wish to keep their new (or used) piano in playing condition.

Let's start with some basic piano facts.

There are more than seven thousand moving parts in a modern piano! Most of these parts are made of wood. The piano's most important non-moving parts, the pin-block (where the tuning pins are inserted), the soundboard and the bridge work, are also made of wood. Wood swells and contacts with temperature and humidity change

 

Other parts are made of felt or wool. These are also affected by temperature and humidity. Therefore, pianos should NEVER be installed near heat sources such as radiators, fireplaces and floor registers. They should always be protected from prolonged exposure to direct sunlight.

With most pianos, the upper 3/4 of the notes consist of three strings each which are tuned in unison. The lower notes are wound strings, with either two per note (also tuned in unison), or one each for the very lowest bass notes

Now for the care......

Find a REPUTABLE piano tuner/technician. Ask your friends to recommend one. Ask the local piano teachers. Check with the music department at the nearest university. Look on the internet for the nearest chapter of the the Piano Technicians Guild. 
Do NOT just pick one at random from the phone book. Then after giving the new arrival a few days to acclimate itself to its new surroundings, schedule a first visit.

Besides tuning your instrument, have your technician go over the piano thoroughly. He or she will look for problems, minor (sticky keys, inconsistency of action), or potentially major (like cracks in the soundboard or pin-block), and discuss with you the costs of any necessary repairs.

Your should have your piano tuned at LEAST two times a year. Most professionals have their instruments tuned at least four times a year. Why?.......Because the triads of strings for each note in the upper register (and the two per note in the lower) 
are tuned in unison, if even one of those strings is out of tune with the others, when the key is struck, a wavering sound is produced that causes the note to sound "off". This wavering also clashes harmonically with the other notes being played and when other notes are not tuned properly, the whole instrument can sound very unpleasant.

Regular tuning is important, especially if there is a young piano student in the house. Unfortunately, the beginner often thinks that the unpleasant sounds coming from the instrument is caused by his or her playing. This leads to frustration and discouragement. A well tuned instrument generates beautiful sounds. It is a joy to play, even for the beginner!

New and well-kept used instruments are easy for your technician to maintain at standard pitch. This means that the three strings that make up the "A" note above "middle C" are tuned to 440 cycles per second. But even a new piano, if completely neglected, will drop in pitch. After a year or two, it may sound in tune, but all of the strings may have uniformly dropped in pitch. The instrument is no longer at standard or "concert" pitch. This may require a series of tunings to gradually bring the piano back to A-440. With older pianos, this can be a long process that often results in broken strings. Sometimes it is more practical to tune the older instrument "to itself." Though it may not be at standard pitch and therefore not compatible with "set pitch" instruments like trumpets and clarinets, even a very old piano can sound beautiful.

Between visits from your technician, there are some things that you can and should do: Keep the keys clean and dust-free. Wash your hands before playing. NEVER set drinks down on your piano. A nasty spill could cause expensive to repair damage to the strings and felts. If you have a grand piano, gently wipe down the strings with a clean soft cloth. This removes moisture, helps to prevent rust, and prolongs the life of the strings.

Keep the piano's cabinet dust free. Occasionally, a light rubbing with a quality furniture oil is recommended This will protect the finish from cracking. Be CAREFUL. With a grand, stick to the outside of the case. Avoid getting polish on the strings or keys.

And now for the feeding.........

Remember. The piano is mostly made of wood, which expands or contracts when the temperature and humidity changes. 
Always keep a constant temperature in the room where the piano is kept! You can keep a dehumidifier running in the room, or you can have your technician install one of the many different devices that are on the market that monitors the moisture level in your piano, and prompts you to add water when necessary.

Some have a set of pads that are attached to the bottom (or behind) of the piano's soundboard. These pads are designed to keep the moisture level at an optimum constant. The pads are attached to a feeding tube through which water is added when the pads dry out. A sensor is connected to a small indicator light panel that is attached just below the keyboard where it is easy to see. A green light means all is well. A blinking yellow means add water.

The piano is a magnificent instrument. Its full name is, "Piano Forte" meaning that it is capable of producing both loud and soft sounds, from the most delicate to the most powerful. Playing the piano can be a joyful physical experience. The energy exchange between the hands and the instrument is palpable. The good player becomes one with his or her instrument, and as Frederyk Chopin explained it, "sings with the fingers."

A well tuned and cared for piano will provide many years of musical enjoyment. In many cases, a well kept piano has been in a family for generations.

Feed and take good care of yours!

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billy beethoven on May 23, 2008
 
How true. A great technician breathes life into a lost instrument. It is a thing of beauty to see the work of master craftsmen from days of yore receive the respect and honor that is their due.
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  • Last Updated : May 10, 2008