The piano is a unique instrument, with the largest range of pitches of any musical acoustic device. But this is no simple relationship, like that of a vibrating tuning fork touched to your dining room table.
The Musician's Guide to Acoustics, by Murray Campbell and Clive Greated, Dent and Sons l987 (ISBN 0-460- 04664-6), pp. I mention this technical study here, because there are so many factors which affect tuning of the instrument, more in fact that a proper tuning can deal with.
Now I want to talk about the dilemma which confronts every piano student or professional pianist.
To repeat: The pianists faces the dilemma of operating a very complicated instrument with a complex musical program, and often must divert attention to the score and away from the final sound output. Most of us have our piano tuned twice a year, roughly when the house heating system goes on, and when it goes off. In the early l9 th century the use of the cast-iron frame for stringing was introduced in the US, which stabilized much of the force of the steel strings, as compared to previous pianos which were plagued by the expansion and contraction of wood members under compression. The instrument itself involves an action with several thousand moving parts, a wood soundboard supported by ribs connecting to a rigid case, and the soundboard itself which under pressure from strings resting on two separate bridges, resounds and transmits the sound to the elastic air medium.


Some of the factors affecting the final sound are inherent in the strings, case and soundboard, others are related to the human hearing apparatus, and many of the characteristics of piano sound are inexorably tied to the qualities of the individual instrument.
It seems hardly necessary to mention this, but the wrest plank changes its hold on the pins so slowly over the years, that the gradual loosening may not be immediately apparent.
If you are a light user the action may outlast you, actions are generally well built and very strong, and the occasional sticking key can be dealt with without much trouble. If you ask your tuner how long his tuning will stay correct, he may tell you till next spring or fall, and in a general sense that is right. If you practice long hours daily on a mis-tuned piano, even one slightly off from a fine tuned instrument, you are accustoming your hearing to hearing mis-tuned sounds and intervals as normal. In this situation he or she (and she actually hears more acutely) ignores the tuning, and fails to rejoice in the lovely sound of a properly tuned instrument. Iron made tuning much more stable, but the case and soundboard have all the propensities of wood to change in response to changes in heating and the seasonal humidities.
Tuning can only do so much, even when resorting to intentional mis-tuning of certain tones to avoid annoying overtones in the harmonic series.
But in sheer honestly, he should tell you that a week later there will be changes, and in a month it would not be suitable for a concert or a recording.


No violinist faces this problem, in an unfretted instrument or with the human voice the mind makes things sound right even as they are made, intervals automatically true themselves, even beyond the compromises of Equal Temperament.
Most of us have had to play the piano just as it stands, ignoring ringing sounds until they cross the threshold of tolerance, or until the tuner comes on his schedule. So it is usual for pianists who are concerned with keeping their instrument in relative tune to have the piano tuned twice a year, first when in spring the air becomes more humid, and again in the fall when the effect of a heating system starts to shrink wood parts.
Compared with this necessary attention to detail of sound, the pianist tends to become a rough and crude listener. That will be a very different piano from the piano he has been practicing on while preparing for the concert, it will sound clearer and cleaner, the harmonies will be the best that Equal Temperament can offer, and the sound will be better to his ears.
Raising the level of acoustic attention and pleasure should be the aim of any musical endeavor. Hence the remark of a professional pianist that the only piano he play on which is properly tuned is the one at his concert.



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