Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Caring For Your Piano: A Guide for Parents

We have lived in our new house for a year now, and my piano had its second tuning today. It's so nice to have it sounding tip-top again! Before we moved, I interviewed my former piano technician and wrote an article on basic piano care to share with my piano parents. You're welcome to print it out to share with your parents as well. Click here to access a pdf file for easy printing.

Recently, I interviewed piano technician David Rountree of Savannah, GA about basic piano maintenance. Mr. Rountree spent many years as the chief technician for Hendricks Pianos in Chicago and has had 32 years of experience as a technician, tuning for concerts, piano stores, and private clients. Here follows some great information on caring for your piano!

Laura: Thanks for allowing me to interview you today!

David: You’re welcome. It’s my pleasure.

L: So, I’ll ask the most obvious question first. How often should a piano be tuned?

D: Most piano manufacturers say twice a year, but if you have an older piano (at least 8-10 years old) in a stable environment that holds tune well, maybe once a year.

L: Why would an older piano hold tune better?

D: A new piano’s strings will continue to stretch for several years until they stabilize, and this stretching of the strings will affect the tuning. So, an older piano that has had regular tunings will be more stable.

L: I think that many piano owners delay calling the tuner because they are waiting to hear that the piano sounds out of tune to them. But, in many cases, their ears aren’t sensitive enough to hear that it really is out of tune, and they delay longer than they should. Can you talk about why the piano should be tuned on a regular schedule even if it doesn’t sound bad to the owner’s ears?

D: Sure. A piano needs regular maintenance just like your car! A piano is also a bit like humans in that it likes to stay in its “comfort zone.” When the piano has been sitting for a long time in an out-of-tune state, it may not hold tune as well after a tuning. Regular, frequent tunings will help to establish that the piano’s “comfort zone” is in tune rather than out of tune.

L: So, it really is important to tune the piano on that 6-12 month schedule regardless of whether you think the piano needs it?

D: Absolutely. You don’t wait until your car has a problem before you have the oil changed. Regular tunings and adjustments should be thought of as preventative maintenance. A piano is an expensive investment, and if you maintain it regularly, it will stay in good condition for many more years than your car!

L: When considering where to place the piano in the house, are there some spots that are better or worse than others?

D: Preferably, you should keep your piano out of direct sunlight. As the sun shines in through the windows and passes over the piano, the heat can affect the tuning. Also, if the piano has a wood finish, the sunlight can fade it, sometimes very quickly.

L: Besides tuning, what other types of maintenance might a piano need?

D: Piano parts often have felt or leather cushions that can compress over time or change with humidity, and these sometimes may need some maintenance. The pedals may also sometimes need to be adjusted. A qualified technician can advise you when these adjustments need to be done.

L: How should I care for the piano’s case and keyboard?

D: If you have a wood case, care for it the way you would any other fine wood furniture. Normal dusting is fine. If the keys are grungy, you can wipe them with a very slightly damp cotton cloth. You don’t want to use anything that’s too wet. Be sure to keep food and drinks away from the piano, and it’s also a good idea to avoid putting vases of flowers with water on the piano, too!

L: What should a parent know when they are considering buying a piano for a beginner?

D: As tempting as it might be to buy an older, cheaper piano, this is not a good choice for a beginner. The older and more worn out the piano is, the more discouraging it is to play and less likely it is that the child will practice. Buy the best piano you can afford!

So, parents, be sure to have your piano technician come by every 6-12 months, keep the piano clean and out of direct sunlight, keep food and drink away from the keys, keep your flower vases on the mantel instead of the piano, and it should be in great condition for your great-grandchildren one day!

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