Archive for category So That’s Why!

Why be Quiet? After All, the Tuner is Making Quite a Racket!

So, today’s question….”is it really necessary to be completely quiet while the tuner is tuning my piano?”

After all, the tuner is making quite a racket.  With all the pounding of notes and all the noise they’re making, surely it doesn’t matter, right?  I don’t have to be quiet when the A/C guy comes to fix my furnace, or when the plumber comes to fix my sink.  Why do I have to be quiet when the tuner comes to tune the piano.  He makes much more noise than those other guys do!


Tuners play loudly to equalize string tension and stabilize the piano.

Well, actually, it matters a great deal!  If you’ve read my other posts, you might recall me explaining the reason tuners play so loudly when tuning. Rest assured it’s not that they are deaf and can’t hear what they’re doing. The purpose of their loud blows is to equalize the tension along the entire length of the strings. If that is not done, the piano will not stay in tune when you go to play it moments after the tuner leaves.  So, if your tuner doesn’t play somewhat loudly, and if they try to convince you that they can tune very softly so as not to bother you… might want to begin looking for a new tuner.


The tuner is actually listening to beats and relationships between different notes.

With that said, through all the seemingly thoughtless “banging” of the same notes…over and over… is important to realize that the piano tuner is actually listening very intently to the beats, or “wah-wahs” that are produced when two strings are played together.  The tuner is either counting beats between two different notes (intervals) to make them “wah-wah” at the correct speed for that interval, OR, the tuner is listening in order to eliminate any beats, as is the case when tuning one string to another of the same note (unisons).  It may appear as though the tuner is not paying much attention, and sometimes tuners can even carry on basic conversations while tuning or look around the room at pictures, etc, but the fact is that he/she is still listening and making judgements based on those little beats.  Most customers don’t even know the beats exist unless the tuner makes mention of them and/or demonstrates it to them.  Then they become very obvious.


What about tuners that use an Electronic Tuning Device (ETD)?

Good question.  After all, it appears that all they’re doing is stopping the lights, and not really listening, right? Wrong, wrong, wrong!  At least they’re not supposed to just tune by what they see.  ETD’s when used correctly can be a tremendously accurate instrument intended to verify what the tuner is already hearing.  It helps the tuner get very close, very quickly, but where the string finally stays should be determined by what is heard……always!  So, even though your tuner may use an ETD, they should also be listening, and what they hear should “trump” what they see.


Silence is golden!

So, noise that seems like no big deal to the customer is a HUGE deal to the tuner.  He/she must have a certain level of quiet in order to concentrate and hear those beats.  For me, some conversation (even conversation with me) is sometimes acceptable while tuning, so long as it’s at a very low level and not all the time.  An occasional comment, question, etc. is no big deal. I will occasionally speak with clients while tuning, so long as it’s not a lengthy, deep conversation.  One or two people in a room asking a question of the other is also usually not a problem as long as they are being considerate.  However, if it becomes a lengthy conversation, volume level raises, the topic becomes heated or argumentative, if there are several people in the room, or there are kids hollering and playing noisily, then it becomes very distracting.  I don’t do it often, but I’ve had to stop tuning at times and ask for quiet when it started to interfere with my concentration.


Other things that are very disruptive to a tuner’s concentration are:

Running dish water, blenders, washing machines, some dish washers, and things like that.  The occasional coffee grinder, especially if a cup is intended for me, is not as bad as the continual running of water and clanging of cups and plates for 25 min. while washing dishes.   TV’s must be kept at a very low volume, even if in the other room or another floor, and OFF if in the same room as the piano.  TV’s, CD, Radios, etc. are VERY hard to concentrate with if they can be heard at all.


Another thing, almost off topic, that  most don’t think of is ceiling fans. While they don’t make much noise, in and of themselves, they do beat the air like a helicopter and it really messes with the sound waves that are emitted from the piano. It beats those soundwaves all over the place, and creates new beats that mix with the beats of the piano that the tuner is listening for.   So, on a hot day, even though it doesn’t seem to make good sense, don’t be surprised if your tuner asks for the ceiling fans in the room to be turned off.  I’ve learned that I’d rather sweat to death than be frustrated with all those weird beats are produced by the ceiling fan.  If you don’t believe me, try humming into a regular box fan sometime and see what you hear! ; )  Same type of thing!


How can you help your tuner…and get a better tuning?

In short, do your tuner (and yourself) a favor, and give them an hour or two of silence so he/she can do their best job. Sure, your tuner will benefit by not being so stressed, but you will benefit the most since the tuner will be able to do the very best tuning possible for your piano, which you will be enjoying for weeks after monotonous pounding ceases!  We know the tuning process is usually not much fun for you, but last I checked, that’s the only way to tune a piano!


Until next time, make a joyful noise….(but think quiet during the next tuning)!




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What causes my piano strings to break, or keep breaking?

Why do my piano strings break, or keep breaking?  Here’s a question that I don’t hear that often, but one that may have an answer you may not have thought of.  Until I studied piano technology, I wouldn’t have thought of it either.  There are the obvious reasons, that we’ll discuss, but there are a couple that I would have not thought of had it not been brought to my attention.

So, what are some of the things that can cause a string to break? 


If you think of anything that’s under tension, like a taught rope, a stretched rubber band, and things like that, we know that if the material is compromised in any way, that is the most likely reason for failure.  For instance, we see in the movies the hero, (I’m thinking of Wesley from The Princess’ Bride), climbing the rope up the Cliffs of Insanity, and the villain is at the top feverishly cutting the rope to send the hero to their certain death.  He’s not using an ax, but with a knife…strand at a time…weakening the rope until it finally cannot take the tension any longer.

While a single plain piano string doesn’t have strands, it can weaken to the point of breakage when things such as rust (from excessive moisture in the air) or mouse/cat urine that corrodes the metal on the string.  Each of these are common reasons for string failure.  Unless the damage is very localized, rust throughout the piano can cause many strings to begin breaking, either during tunings, during normal or excessive playing, or even during the day/night when no one is even playing it.   That’s always a joy to hear when you’re not expecting it.


Rusty Strings and Tuning Pins

Another way strings fail is excessive tension.  Just like a rope or rubber band, each can only take so much tension before it gives way.  Have you ever pulled a rubber band back…just a little further to get the best flight distance…..just a little further……….snap!  Yes, we’ve all done it, and it always surprises us when it happens.


A piano string can fail if excessive tension is placed on it, just like that rubber band.  It can happen by playing excessively hard, or maybe by someone that tries to tune the piano but doesn’t know whether he is above or below pitch, gets disorientated, and before you know it, has raised the string too far leading to a broken string.  Also, a common thing to happen to less experienced tuners, and sometimes to even experienced tuners, is for the tuning lever to be inadvertently placed on the wrong tuning pin, and thus raising the tension of a string that is muted off.  Pitch doesn’t change, so they keep turning the pin and snap!  Oops, only to find that they were turning the wrong pin.  Sometime a loose tuning pin will cause a tuner to accidently apply too much pressure too quickly, raising the pitch too far and breaking a string.  This happens usually when most of the piano has normal or tight tuning pins and the tuner’s muscle memory is used to applying a  certain tension in order to get the tuning pin to move.  Then when the tuner gets to a loose pin, that same tension will be way too much for that pin, causing it to raise quickly.  Here’s a funny and practical example to illustrate that.  My mother used to have a plastic bowl that we used for serving popcorn, however, it looked like cut glass.  We had company over and everyone is passing the bowl around the table.  When it came to our guest, they were expecting a heavy leaded crystal bowl, so they prepared their muscles to counter act the weight.  Needless to say, their upward force was MUCH more than necessary for the light, plastic bowl, and popcorn went everywhere!  Same thing happens sometimes to tuners.


Less common, maybe, are causes dues to defects in the string, or a defect in how the piano was built.  Maybe the pressure or capo bar has too much “V” to it where the string passes over/under and when the string is hit hard with the hammer, that “V” acts like cutters on a pair of pliers, weakening the string at that spot over time until it finally gives way.  Again, this is not very common, but on some models of pianos, I’ve heard that this was a problem.


Now to the reasons that I think piano owners should be aware of that maybe aren’t as obvious as those mentioned already.


There are two things that can contribute to string breakage beyond what was mentioned already, and that is worn or hard hammers, and a piano out of regulation (adjustment).


Hammers that are worn can get very flat on the crown where the string contacts the string.  A properly shaped hammer has a sort of tear drop shape that is very symmetrical and the point that contacts the string is relatively small.  The hammer hardness should allow for a good rebound off the string, kind of like a super ball…but definitely not hard like a marble or a soft like a cotton ball (forgive the extremes).  When the hammer is flat and worn on the crown, there is more surface area, and more force applied to the string which can cause breakage.


It is VERY important to keep the hammers properly shaped and voiced, not only for the better tone it provides, but for the very health of the strings and other action parts that may be affected.

Another contributing factor is a piano out of regulation.  When a piano is badly out of regulation, it throws many things out of whack, including how much force it takes to throw the hammer to the strings.  You should not have to pound the keys to get a medium loud sound.  If you do have to, this is a good sign that there is (what we technicians call) lost-motion.  In plain english, this means that your key is moving downward a bit before the jack ever contacts the hammer to start the hammer’s movement toward the string.  The more lost motion (slop as some call it), the less power you have, and the more you feel you need to bang the keys to get it to play.


Worn hammer vs Properly Shapped Hammer

Let-off is a VERY important adjustment that if not correct can lead to broken hammer shanks and sometimes broken strings.  Let-off adjusts exactly how close the hammer can get to the string while being forced there by the key (pressing up on the jack, which presses on the hammer). As soon as let-off occurs, the jack trips out from under the hammer butt, or knuckle and the hammer finished it’s travel (about 1/16″ or so)  to the string by inertia alone.  If this setting is incorrect, the hammer will either let-off too soon, losing power, or it will not let-off soon enough…or not at all and the key then is slamming the hammer all the way to the string, full force and the hammer is not allowed to rebound by itself.  This is called blocking, and usually will sound more like a “thud” than allowing the string to ring freely.  This is because the hammer is being slammed, and held against the string for as long as the key is held down.  This needs to be corrected immediately.   


So, any one of these factors can cause string breakage, but in reality, it us usually a combination of several of these factors that cause strings to break.  I am continually amazed at the number of 100+ year old pianos out there that still have their original strings and are tuned up making very acceptable music for their owners!  I guess that I am amazed that more strings don’t break than do.


As long as we have strings, we will have strings that break…so go easy on your tuner if a string breaks while they are tuning.  It does happen, and it’s usually not their fault.  However, if you are having an issue of broken strings, you may need to talk with your technician to see if there are any repairs or regulation that needs to be taken care of.


Until next time…..make a joyful noise!

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What do the Left and Center pedals do on my piano?

Here’s another good question and the answer will vary slightly depending on what type piano you have and who the manufacturer was.



Typically, on a grand piano, the left pedal is a soft pedal, the center pedal is usually a sostenuto pedal, and the right pedal is always the sustain pedal.


Soft Pedal.  The left pedal is typically a soft pedal.  On grands, it most always works by shifting the entire action to the right just a fraction of an inch to the right.  This allows the hammers to hit only 2 of the 3 strings in the treble, and one of the two strings in the tenor.  The bass, having only one string, will still sound since they are wider strings and the shift isn’t enough to move the hammer off the string.  It will hit the hammer striking surface a little off center, but that allows the string to contact the hammer at the part of the hammer head that should have softer, less compacted felt, resulting in a softer sound.

Note: some lesser expensive grand pianos may not have this feature.

Interestingly enough, I’ve been asked by customers to remove that extra space at the far right end of the keyboard between the last key and the cheek block, (not knowing of course what it’s purpose was) but this space is there on purpose in grands so that your shift pedal (soft pedal) will work.


Sostenuto pedal. The center pedal is usually the sostenuto pedal, and found mainly on good quality grands as well as professional grade uprights.  It is a pedal that is not often used except maybe in certain types of classical music.  It sustains ONLY the notes you just played, but not the ones after.  So, for instance, if you played a C E G major chord and held the keys down, then press the sostenuto (left) pedal and hold it, the chord you just played will still be sounding while all the other dampers are down on all the other notes of the piano.  Now, while that chord is sounding, you can go on and play the piano as usual, even using the sustain pedal, and even playing the notes of that same chord.  What it amounts to is that it holds up only the dampers of keys that were played, and will keep only those up as long as the pedal is depressed.  The regular sustain pedal will still operate all the other dampers as usual.

Note: some lesser expensive grand pianos may not have this feature, even though they have a center pedal.  In that case, it will likely just raise the bass dampers which mimics a sostenuto, but really it’s not a true sostenuto (like you find on most uprights, as will be explained later).


Sustain Pedal. The right pedal is the sustain pedal and is the most used pedal on the piano.  Simply, this pedal raises all the dampers off the strings to allow them to resonate freely, even after the key has returned to it’s rest position.  Any number of notes can be sustained at the same time since all the dampers in the piano (using this pedal) all lift at once.




Typically, the left pedal is usually a soft pedal, the center pedal is either a “faux” sostenuto pedal (will explain later) or a practice pedal (extra soft lock-on), and the right pedal is always the sustain pedal.


Soft Pedal.  The left pedal is typically a soft pedal.  On uprights, it works by either lifting the hammer rest rail closer to the strings to shorten the distance the hammer must travel, thus softening the blow, or it will lower a felt rail between the hammers and the strings to muffle the sound.

You may notice that when the hammer rail is moved forward, lost motion is introduced in the action making it more difficult to play and control.  This doesn’t happen with the felt rail mufflers, although, they will certainly wear over time.


“Faux” Sostenuto Pedal. The center pedal is usually a “faux” sostenuto, or fake sostenuto.   That’s what I call them, anyway.  True sostenutos, like you would see on most grand pianos and some more professional model uprights, are too expensive to include in most uprights.  Therefore, they opted to make a split damper system that would mimic a real sostenuto (although it doesn’t do well at it at all, in my opinion).


Most upright center pedals will lift only the bass dampers off the strings, allowing you to play the rest of the piano (mid to upper section) as normal. This causes the chord tones you play while pressing the pedal to ring sympathetically in the bass.  Again, this is not a true sostenuto.  Refer to the grand sostenuto function above.


Some of your more expensive uprights DO have a true sostenuto systems.  To check, lift the lid and watch your dampers as you press the left pedal.  If the bass dampers lift off the strings but the other half of the dampers in the piano don’t, then you do not have a true sostenuto.


On other uprights, the middle pedal is a practice pedal (with a locking option) which makes the sound extremely quiet beyond the standard soft pedal. This is often achieved by dropping a felt cloth between the hammers and the strings when the practice pedal is depressed.  So on these pianos, you would have two soft pedals, the left pedal (probably which moves hammers closer to strings) and the center locking pedal (which lowers a felt rail between hammers and strings).


Sustain Pedal. The right pedal is the sustain pedal and is the most used pedal on the piano.
Simply, this pedal raises the dampers off the strings to allow them to resonate freely, even after the key has returned to it’s rest position.  Any number of notes can be sustained at the same time since all the dampers in the piano (using this pedal) all lift at once.



My Pedal doesn’t seem to do anything!


You may be absolutely right!  Sometimes you will have a pedal that actually is for looks and has no function.  Really.  Less expensive pianos sometimes put “dummy” pedals on for looks and selling appeal.

If one or more of your pedals doesn’t seem to work, it could a “dummy” pedal, as mentioned, or it may have been accidentally disconnected, or maybe it was forgotten to be reconnected when the piano was serviced or moved. You may be able to remove the lower board on your upright and visibly see if any of the pedal dowel rods are disconnected.  They aren’t hard to reconnect.  Or, mention it to your piano technician and they’d be happy to fix it for you, probably for no charge if done at the time of a regular tuning.


If you still have questions about the function of your pedals, have your technician explain to you how your pedals function on your particular piano.


Until next time….make a joyful noise!

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Why do I need to tune my piano even if I never play it?

Another great question that I mostly addressed in my second post in the section titled:

Shouldn’t a good “master tuning” last for several years?

That article gives a good explanation of what is happening inside the wood when it is subjected to moisture changes.  However, in addition to the information there, I want to focus in this post on some practical evidence of humidity change, as well as give some “real world” examples why the idea of a “forever tuning” doesn’t exist, except in our dreams! 


I’m pretty sure that everybody that owns a piano secretly wishes for “the tuning” that would last forever.  (For the record, we piano tuners don’t, by the way!)  Ok, let’s turn the tables for a minute….whenever I leave the doctor’s office, I always secretly wish that it would be the last time….though I know it won’t.  I guess we’re all wired that way.


Anyway,  back to pianos….IF pianos went out of tune just due to use, then it would make sense that if the piano were never (or rarely used) that it would maintain it’s tune until it had been played enough to “bang” it out of tune again.  Unfortunately, that is not the case with pianos.  In fact, I don’t think that’s the case with most things in life.  Our world is in a constant state of change.  Consider the weather, the water cycle, the rock cycle, the human body, the seasons, and the list goes on.  With all this change going on all around us, both in things we see, as well as within the microscopic world that we cannot see, it only makes sense that the objects around us are also in a constant state of change.


If you stop and think about all the things in life that change, move, or shift because of aging, vibration, humidity, dryness, sun’s radiation, etc, we could fill several books listing the many things that don’t stay constant in life….yes, most everything!  Some simple examples: A bolt, unless rusted on, will usually loosen over time if subjected to heat, cold, vibration, and such.  Doors once oiled will begin creaking when the oil seeps out of the hinge and/or dries up (even if the door was never used).  A child’s swing-set sitting out in the yard will begin to fade and the metal will rust over time, even if it was never used…ask me how I know?  I have a package of assorted rubber-bands in my desk drawer right now that I’ve had there for many years.  Many of them are still good, but some of them have dried out to the point of breaking with one use.  So, you can see that natural forces are constantly at work on the objects around us, and our pianos are no different.


Practical Effects of Humidity (moisture) on Wood:


The piano, being primarily made of wood, is susceptible to the effects of humidity.  The wood will move, swell or shrink, even before our very eyes if given enough moisture or dried quickly enough. 


Try this: soak a large wooden tongue depressor in water for a few minutes, lay it out on the table for a few minutes and see what happens, then dry it with a blow dryer.  I haven’t done this, but I can only imagine the warping, curling and such that would likely be evident.


What about a piece of cardboard?  We all know what a nice, new piece of cardboard looks and feels like.  We also all know what a wet, warped piece of cardboard looks and feels like.  Furthermore, after that wet cardboard dries out, it will never be the exact shape it originally was before it got wet.  I like to paint sets at our church for church plays, etc.  I’ve learned that if you paint only one side of the cardboard, when it dries it will curl considerably toward the painted side.  My nice straight cardboard walls become bowed looking walls that don’t stand up straight anymore.  All from the effects of humidity.


If you’ve never done this, it’s kind of fun.  First we need to agree that paper is wood, correct….very, very thin, but made from wood no less.


Now, next time you tap your restaurant drinking straw on the table to take the wrapper off, be sure you’ve scrunched the paper up pretty tightly like an accordion before taking it off the straw. Now, lay the scrunched paper down on the table, take only a drop of water and place it on the wrapper.  It will begin growing and stretching out like it is alive.  While this is a fun little experiment that shows the effect of moisture on paper, it may seem a little overly exaggerated as it relates to the actual parts of a piano, but here again, maybe not so much.  The little drop of water had a huge effect on the wood fibers in that little piece of paper, yes. Now what would happen if you had a whole ream of paper and the same drop of water?  On the flat surface of the ream, probably not a huge effect, but on the end of the ream where it could penetrate in a little, I think there would be a noticeable change. This same drop of water, in reality, could have a significant effect on a wooden piano part much the same way.


Again, for a detailed explanation on humidity, refer to post #2.


Just because we don’t see water in the air, doesn’t mean it’s not there.  Case in point.  Our church runs a dehumidifier in the fellowship hall.  On most days when the humidity is above 50% or so, that dehumidifier can pull more than a gallon of water out of the air in a single day.  Note, that that’s just one dehumidifier running, almost non-stop, and still not bringing the humidity down to proper levels sometimes when the room humidity is high.  Therefore, a couple dehumidifiers would probably pull out twice that much or more.  That’s a lot of water in the air.  Remember, now that the wood cells are tubular like a bundle of drinking straws, just waiting to absorb that moisture.  When it does, the wood moves, and when the wood moves, things go out of adjustment…including tunings.


I read about a funny story (true story by the way) about a technician who was called to repair a string on a piano, but according to the customer, he “had to replace the string without turning the tuning pins”.  When the technician asked why, the owner said that the piano kept going out of tune so often that they hired a “master tuner” to do his best “master tuning” on the piano.  Then when he left, they poured superglue around all the tuning pins, thinking that they were “cementing” that tuning in place once and for all.  The customer was wrong on two accounts…1) the super glue will not cement the pin in place permanently, and 2) even if it would, the soundboard and bridge are both made of wood, and they swell and shrink more than the pin block, and are the main reason pianos go out of tune due to humidity changes anyway.  The tuner, I’m told, waited until the customer was gone and proceeded to replace the string as normal (by the way, there is no way to replace a string without moving the tuning pin!)


So, just because you don’t play your piano much doesn’t mean it won’t need a tuning now and then.  As sure as the seasons change, your tuning is changing too.


You ask, what do you do to combat the humidity changes in the piano?  While there is no perfect, low-cost solution, here are a few things that can be done help control humidity.


Dampp-Chaser Humidity Control System (system installed in piano)

– Room humidity controlled (not just by house system, although those can sometimes help)

– A humidity controlled storage unit (like some schools or other performing arts buildings  have back stage)

– Use a cover over the piano when not in use, and an undercover (especially when used with a Dampp-Chaser Humidity Control System.


In summary, there are no “forever tunings”, so might as well make friends with your local piano technician, you’re gonna need him!


Until next time…Make a Joyful Noise!





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Does my piano tuner have to play so loudly when tuning?

“Does my piano tuner have to play so loudly when tuning?  Is he deaf?  Can he not hear what he’s playing, for crying out loud?  Is he going to hurt my piano by playing so hard? Maybe I ought to call someone else who can hear better and tune more softly.”


These are great questions that I’ve never actually been asked before, but I have see the quizzical looks on the customer’s faces at times and have gone ahead and answered those questions for them to put them at ease.


The answers are…

“Yes” the piano keys needs to be played really firmly while tuning.

“No” your tuner is likely not deaf.  He can hear what he’s doing, but there is a real purpose to why he is playing so firmly.

And “no” it doesn’t hurt your piano.


Each string of a piano passes over, under, and around several friction points as it makes its way from one end of the piano to the other, from the tuning pin to the hitch pin.  This creates a situation where you now have the “speaking length” of the string, and the “non-speaking lengths” of the string (see pictures below).

Speaking Length of string (green line)

The “speaking length” is the longer vibrating part of the string that makes the sound when you play.  If you tightly stretched a rubber band between two fingers, then plucked it…the entire rubber band would be vibrating and sounding (except the parts touching your fingers). The vibrating, sounding part of the rubber band is the “speaking length”.  The part touching your fingers does not vibrate and sound and therefore is “non-speaking”. Notice the green line in the picture shows the “speaking length” of that string.


The “non-speaking lengths” are at each end of the string and are the little sections between friction points that are not usually part of the sound when played. In the picture above, it is all the parts of the string to the left and right of the green line. The part of the strings that go from the tuning pin to the pressure bar/capo or “v” bar/ or agraffes, as well as at the end (or bottom of the piano) between the stagger pins on the bridge, and from the bridge pin to the hitch pin.  All these sections are considered “non-speaking lengths” of the string since they aren’t the part of the string responsible for making the music.

stagger pins

The picture you see here is a close up of the hitch pins (far right) and the bridge pins (or stagger pins at left).  The section of string to the left of the bridge is the “speaking length” and is the main part of the string.  So, again, all of the string from the time it enters the stagger pins at the left, and goes around the hitch pin at the right and comes back through the stagger pins is all considered the “non-speaking” length of the string.


So, what happens when a note is played loudly during tuning?

What happens during tuning is that the string is being stretched and pulled through all of the friction points.  Because of friction, it may pull all the way through some of the friction points, and not so much on others, leaving the tension at different amounts along the length of the string.  A practical example of that would be when you tie your shoes.  If your laces are really loose to begin with, as you pull on the laces, it will sometimes tighten some sections tighter than others. You have to get in there with your hands, usually, to kind of pull each section to about the same tightness before going ahead and tying them.  The tuner has to do that also in the piano.  He does that by playing a firm blow.  All the energy from that firm blow rushes up and down the string, through the friction points, and allows all the sections of the string to equalize their tension, thus making the tuning more stable.


If your tuner didn’t do this, the tuning would be very unstable.  It might sound good for a little while, especially if played very softly, however, soon after the tuner leaves and you began playing a loud piece of music, the strings would equalize their tension, causing everything to go wildly out of tune.  So, we are equalizing the tension along the full length of the string when we play loudly during tuning.


Does it hurt the piano when the tuner plays loudly?

While it may make you feel uncomfortable during the tuning process, under normal circumstances, the tuner’s loud playing will definitely not hurt your piano.  The piano is built to withstand quite a firm blow for pieces of music marked ffff.  However, it is not beyond the scope of possible for something to break, especially if the piano is extremely old and the parts are pretty dry and glue joints are brittle.  Even at that, it is extremely rare for the tuning process to ever damage the piano by playing firm tuning blow.


So, next time you call your tuner, get your earplugs if you need, but be rest assured that your tuner is doing what is necessary to ensure you have a piano that stays in tune as long as possible.


Until next time…..make a joyful noise!



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My piano sounds louder since you tuned it…what did you do?

Today’s post has to do with sound waves, and can look complicated at first, but I promise, it’s pretty simple to understand.  I love explaining this one to the customers who ask.  I keep it short and simple for them, so I’ll keep it short and simple here, fair enough?


“My piano sounds louder since you’ve tuned it…what did you do?”

I’ve heard this one so many times, and there is a simple answer.  I tuned it!  “Ok, I know that already….so really, what’s going on here,” you ask?

The simple answer is that before tuning, the 3 strings of each note (or two strings per note in the tenor section) don’t match each other. The sound waves bump into each other, and when they do, they cancel each other out from making any sound…this creates a “whah – whah” or dead sounds when the strings are out of tune with each other.  However, after tuning, the 3 strings (or two in the tenor) do match, and the waves are now working together to produce more sound, not against each other.


That’s basically it.


Now, for those of you that just wanted the simple answer….you’re done…you can go back to your Sudoku puzzle now! However, if you want a little better explanation, read on.


Sound waves : Working together…or not? That is the question!

I think we all remember back to science class when we learned about sound waves, right?  A single string that is played will produce a certain soundwave having a particular frequency (wavelength) and amplitude. Furthermore, any sound wave will have peaks (high points) and troughs (valley low points) like you see below.

Parts of a wave

Cycles: While understanding cycles is not really important to understanding what I’m trying to explain today, I’ll throw it in just as a refresher to how waves work. Each wave starts at the line, goes up above the horizontal line, then down below the line, then back to the line.  That is one cycle. (The picture to the left shows about 2 wave cycles. This happens many times a second for any given note.

Your piano is tuned at A=440, that means the A above middle C has a wave that cycles (or reoccurs) 440 times each second.


Single note wave

Now, back to the explanation…what you see in this picture is a single wave. This is what a single string of any note would make. (Side-note: a single string almost always sounds good and pure because it doesn’t have another string’s wave to potentially “fight” with).


2 waves at different speeds - waves cancel sometimes

OK, now imagine you take another note’s wave and lay it right over this one.  If they are exactly the same frequency, the peaks and troughs would line up, an exact match.   However, if the second note created a pitch with a frequency a little faster or slower than the the first note, (the peaks and troughs would happen sooner or later  and will not line up) this note would be either sharp or flat from the first note.  Every so often the the faster wave would overtake, or “lap” the other, just like a runner that runs so much faster than another, that he eventually “laps” the slower guy (this always happened to me- I was the slow guy on the track in High School).

Every time this happens you will hear a beat, which sounds like a “whah” sound. When the waves of each note played wind up at the peak at the same time, they get together and you hear sound.  When they are at the trough at the same time, you hear sound.  When the waves wind up on opposite sides of the center line, they cancel out. (Much like + and – cancel in math).

Notice in this picture, the greyed areas the sound is cancelled.  The first, 3rd, and 4th areas you see in the picture are clear, meaning that the waves are together and are producing sound.


So, let’s put it together and see what it means for the piano.

3 strings per note


On a piano there are usually 3 strings per note.  So, for one note on the piano to be in tune with itself, the waves of all three strings need to be traveling exactly the same speed.  When they do, guess what….the peaks and troughs now match up creating more….you guessed it…sound!



All 3 notes (waves) traveling together AMPLIFY sound!

The bold yellow line represents all 3 waves (the 3 strings of a single note on the piano) traveling exactly together…in tune with each other.  No fighting, no bickering for who’s first to the finish line, none of that.  They work together to help each other out, thus creating a more unified tone with greater volume.


Here’s a real life example that may help. 


Imagine a soloist singing in an auditorium.  Suppose he/she is singing at a medium to loud volume.  At the back of the auditorium, they sound good, clear, but maybe not too loud.  (that would be like a single string sounding in a piano).

Now, imagine a trio (three singers) in the same auditorium. They are singing in unison, the same melody of a song.  They are also each singing the same volume that the soloist did.  The difference will be that they will have more volume as a group, even if each is only singing a normal volume.  (this would be like the three strings in tune with each other).

Lastly, imagine what it would sound like if each of the three each sang a different song, different melody, different words, different rhythm, etc. but at the same volume as they were before.  What might you hear?  Discord for sure, but you would catch bits and pieces of each and none would be as well heard as if they were singing the same thing, together.

It’s much easier to hear the group singing the same thing at the same time, right?


One last example: Here’s another way I like to think about how waves behave when they are in tune or not.  It’s kind of like riding a horse.  If you’re not careful, you’ll wind up saddle sore if when the horse goes up, you go down, and vice-versa.  Every time you bump the saddle, would be like a beat (or “whah) like I was talking about.  Not exactly, as all analogies don’t work perfectly, but that’s the idea. You get saddle sore when horse and rider are working against each other.  The better way is to be in “tune” with the horse….riding “with” the horse.  When he goes up, you go up.  When he goes down, you go down.  Much better to  work together, than against each other.  That’s really all there is to it!  When we tune, we are trying to get all the waves of a certain note to work together, and when they do, they produce not only a better tone, but more sound!  Pretty neat, huh!

Kind of like life, isn’t it.  We work together, we get more done!


Well that’s all for today.  Until next time…make a joyful noise!







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