So you think your piano is in tune? But when it comes to playing along with a video or teacher, does something sound slightly off to you? Today we're talking about 'standard' pitch piano tuning. What it means for your piano lessons and we'll be showing you why your piano might not be as in tune as you think!
Over the centuries, what you could think of as ‘true’ concert standard pitch has actually shifted dramatically. Without the technology we have at our disposal today, there was no fixed reference available to pianists, so for many pianists across the world, tuning by ear was the most reliable method. Of course, as we all hear things in our own way and our ears are not as precise as the sensitive tools that machines can produce, this meant that there was never a definitive ‘standard’ tuning that all pianos were tuned to.
As we enter a more modern world however, this is no longer a problem and now we can all agree on set concert pitches so that we are all able to tune to the same standard to great accuracy. In the UK and USA for example, the standard concert pitch is set as ‘A440’, so the fourth ‘A’ key up (A above middle C) on a piano is tuned to 440hz, or 440 vibrations per second.
Our expert technicians see it all too frequently when reviewing older pianos, or pianos that have not been tuned for several years, that they may be tuned significantly below this pitch, and need a ‘pitch-raise tuning’ to be in their optimal condition. This is another reason why we recommend tuning your piano every 6 months, especially if you are a recording artist, or regular player!
A pitch-raise tuning is a specialist procedure whereby all of the strings are re-tuned to increase the tension across the entire piano. Each string is then re-tuned again by going through making fine adjustments. As every string needs to be checked at least twice, it takes twice as long as a regular tuning.
Whilst many pianos are able to be delicately moved into this new pitch, pianos in particularly poor conditions of course can unfortunately break under this new tuned strain, that may result in a snapped string or even the frame of the piano.
To put it into context, each piano string is tuned to a tension between 75-90kgs. Repeat this for all 230 strings and each piano is put under 15 to 20 tonnes of tension! That’s the weight of almost 3 adult African elephants trapped inside your piano!
Moving the pitches from a tuning such as A415 to A440 (a semitone) adds around 2-3 tonnes of tension in total, which in older pianos and those in poor condition, is just too much for them to handle.
As technology continues to adapt and applications such as SimplyPiano or Skoove that listen to the notes you’re playing become increasingly popular, more and more people are finding that their pianos are actually not in tune and do not align with the notes being played on their apps.
If your piano is not in tune to standard pitch (A440), the app won’t know which notes you’re playing. This has also become an increasing problem for many teachers who are using video lessons to communicate with their pupils. If the pupil’s and teacher’s pianos are not tuned correctly, or tuned to the same pitch, they can’t play along together without sounding jarring.
This is why often bargain facebook marketplace or eBay pianos are not the best purchase (of course there are exceptions) as most are not tuned to the correct pitch, so need a lot of work to make them suitable to learn on. It is also common for some sellers to say that the piano is ‘in tune’ or ‘in tune with itself’, which usually means it’s not at the correct pitch, this can of course lead to a lot of upset when trying to learn or play with others!
At Millers, all the pianos we sell are tuned to A440, regulated, and adjusted so they are ready for that first lesson or to accompany any other properly tuned instruments. If you think your piano is in need of a standardised tuning, our expert technicians would love to help!