David Hicken ~ Pianist & Composer

Advice For Pianists

Many people who own acoustic pianos have no idea how to look after them properly, simply because it was never explained to them.

Keeping your piano in tune may seem like an obvious task, and yet so many people are practicing on instruments that are out of tune.  Often this is because they wait until their piano sounds really out of tune before finding  a piano tuner- sometimes years.

I suggest having your piano tuned twice per year.  In the U.S. the cost of an average tuning is around $100, and your piano will thank you for this $200 per year investment.

All of the strings of your piano have a collective tension of many tons.  Over time, the strings slip and the piano will not only become flat but will also sound dull. The piano was designed to function well when the A above middle C (known as concert A) is tuned to 440 cycles per second.

If it has been a long time since the last tuning, the strings will begin to slip the moment the tuner walks out the door.  To raise the pitch back up to where it should be can often take 3 tunings.  You can avoid this if you have your piano tuned twice a year, regardless of how it sounds.

A qualified piano technician can spot potential problems before they happen, such as a loose key or a squeaky pedal.  He can also change the sound of your piano quite dramatically by working on the hammers.

Hammers become compacted over time which can cause the piano to sound harsh and piercing, but a technician can file them, as well as poke small holes in them with a needle, which improves the sound dramatically.

The opposite is true where sometimes the hammers are  too soft, and the piano may sound a little muffled.  By applying some heat or lacquer to them, the sound will become brighter.

The technician can also change the way your piano feels to a certain extent.  By regulating the action inside the piano as well as using spacers underneath the keys, he can change (to a certain degree) how and when the key stroke causes the hammer to strike the string.

Having a qualified technician come to your home twice per year is the best thing you can do to keep your piano in the best condition possible.

Placement of your piano is important.  Keep it away from direct sunlight as well as sources of heat (radiators) and air conditioning vents.  Depending on your climate, you may want to avoid placing your upright piano against an outside wall.

Pianos like to have as little fluctuation in temperature as possible.  Wood expands and contracts, and extreme changes in temperature can cause all kinds of problems that you won't even see.  Pianos also like to have a humidity of around 45%.  Excess humidity can cause the wood to absorb a lot of moisture, and once again, cause issues.

If you live in a humid climate, you should have your technician install a dehumidifier (one or two heating elements).  They are not very expensive and are easy to install.  In climates such as Hawaii and Florida, you should have a string cover for the strings of a grand piano which will prevent corrosion of the strings.  Some tuners will also install a rust blocker, which is inexpensive and very useful.

If you live in the desert or any other area with very dry conditions, it is possible to have a unit installed on your piano that will help to humidify it.

I live in a tropical climate, but I choose to regulate the temperature and humidity of my studio rather than the piano directly.  I use a dehumidifier to set the humidity to exactly 43%, and the temperature always remains between 74 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit.  This may sound a little overboard, but I have a fabulous piano and want to take care of it as best I can.  I also have it tuned four times a year, but considering how much it is played, this is necessary.  Pianos in concert halls are tuned before every performance.

Although I am a certified piano technician, I choose to have someone else look after my instrument.  However, I have enough knowledge to let him know about anything that needs tending to.  I suggest you catch up on a little reading about your piano's mechanism.

Your piano has tens of thousands of parts, and is a truly remarkable feat of engineering.  Look after your investment, and you will enjoy the hours that you spend on it even more.

Check out the Piano Technicians Guild at ptg.org for a list of great technicians near you.

Happy practicing!

David Hicken

All of the concepts that I write about here are detailed in my eBook "Secrets To Better Piano Playing" .  Click the image below to find out more.