Piano Tuning & Why it Matters

So let's talk about piano tuning. A couple years ago I set a personal goal to get a suitable practice instrument in every one of my students' homes. . . and it's been easier said than done. Since then, I have drafted soo many email tuning reminders or instrument upgrade recommendations, and had conversations with several studio parents about how important it is to get your current instrument tuned every year. 

So, why is piano tuning such a big deal? Well, three big reasons:

First, aural and listening training are a huge part of musical education. Every time we play a melody, harmony or series of notes, our brains take stock of how those notes relate to each other and then creates and reinforces the neural pathways that help us recall the notes when we need them. If a musician practices these aural skills enough, they can eventually play entire pieces by ear, and not just the melodies. They can also create music in their head away from their instrument, and write it down. It's an almost subconscious level of learning music theory that is so vitally important. This skill is what allowed Beethoven to continue composing amazing music after going deaf. He knew how the notes related to each other, and in spite of not actually being able to hear them outside of his head, he still wrote some of his greatest music later in his life, like his 9th Symphony. This is also what allows live musicians at restaurants to take requests, and spontaneously play songs as if by magic. If your instrument is not in tune, your piano kid will not be creating the right pathways to be able develop these skills. 
Second, what commonly happens with students who practice on out-of-tune instruments is difficulty at performances. They've basically been learning the quirks of their own instrument, so the pathways and relationships between notes don't translate to music anywhere else. Instead of the universal quality of music, they're almost in a vacuum. The result is that a number of times I have seen students with out of tune instruments at home prepare for a recital just to struggle through their piece because it "sounds different." And for the students who have experienced this, it's finally clicked that my reminders about tuning really do carry some weight. Messing up on-stage and playing through it is definitely something every musician experiences, but in this case it's probably preventable. I want to set my students up to succeed. I don't want parents to have to learn the lesson about tuning at the expense of their piano kid's confidence. 

The library's Steinway being serviced after one of our recitals.
The third reason is that it lengthens the life of the instrument. A piano can be a pretty expensive investment, and the interior is a very complex mechanism with over 10,000 parts. And that can require some occasional maintenance. Taking care of the one you have will help it last longer. I like to compare tuning to getting the oil changed on a car. Leave it off too long, and it ends up with much bigger problems to fix. So yeah, tuning can be a small inconvenience, and yes, it's not free, but it's worth it.

If you don't have a tuner, please ask for a recommendation! You can also check with your local music store, Google and the yellow pages (do they even still have those? 😄) to find a piano technician near you.