What does “A-440” mean?
A-440 means that the key of “A” above Middle “C” when played vibrates 440 times a second. This is also called Standard, Concert of Factory pitch. There has to be a standard pitch so that all musical instruments will play notes of like pitch. Its is the same principle that sales every foot ruler is 12″ long. A-440 makes it possible for a person with a clarinet in Germany, for example, to play music accompanied by a piano made in New York–or any other place.
How is a Piano tuned to A-440
The piano tuner begins with a tuning fork or digital instrument, calibrated to read the note beats. The tuner tunes the “A” to the fork or device and then tunes the rest of the notes to that pitch, with various interval checks. Some tuners in the past would also use a middle “C” fork to create the same results.
Why is my piano out of tune / Why isn’t it currently at A-440?
All pianos leave the factory tuned to A-440. They are built to hold the 20-ton tension which results from the combined stretch of 220-230 strings. When a piano isn’t tuned often enough, the 20-ton tension pulls on the strings and coils, lowering the pitch and tension.
If my piano is below A-440, what must the tuner do?
This depends on how low the pitch has dropped. For example, if the piano is a quarter of a tone low, the tuner in raising the pitch back to A-440 needs to put so much strain on the frame of the piano that the resulting readjustment may go out of tune within a couple days. The lower the pitch, the greater the need for a second or even third tuning to stretch the strings back to proper tension. Your tuner will be able to assess and show you how low the pitch is once they arrive and offer suggestions on how many tunes it may take.
How often should my piano be tuned?
In a perfect world, four times a year. Once with each quarter or season cycle. But it’s not a perfect world and your house is probably not a symphony hall, so the next recommendation would be twice a year; summer and winter. We realize it’s an even less perfect world though 🙂 so once a year is the minimum recommendation to keep a piano healthy and maintained.
Why does it need to be tuned once, twice or four times a year?
The piano was designed to hold the 20-ton tension we mentioned earlier. From the frame, to strings to tuning pegs; it’s a giant instrument/furniture piece made of metal and wood. Wood expands and contracts with the change of humidity. The tuning pegs are inserted into a wood pin block. As the wood swells and shrinks around the peg, it can wear down to the point where the tuning peg won’t hold tension anymore, and once that happens, the pin block costs thousands of dollars to replace or the piano is now junk–because it can’t hold it a tune. So to prevent this, it is recommended by manufactures and technicians to tune the pegs each year to keep the pin block in tact.
Secondly, when the tension drops, it affects the frame, strings, pegs and moving parts.
Wouldn’t it be better to just let the piano be tuned to a lower tension/pitch?
Picture a human spine starting to bend and arc. The muscles are designed to hold the spine in a proper vertical position. When they weaken or get damaged, the back starts to bend and other areas start to get thrown off. Tuning is for a piano what chiropractics are to the human back. Hard to believe as it is, the tighter the tension, the better for the piano, because that’s how it was designed to stand and play.
This is from the Piano Technicians Guild
- The piano frame was designed to hold the 20-tension and will be out of proper shape if it stats below that.
- If the pitch stays low, the person playing may develop the wrong kind of musical ear training. The pitch being at A-440 is important for the student so it sounds the same as their teachers piano and other instrumentalists and band members they will play with in the future. This is very important if someone in the house is learning to sing to the piano notes in the house.
- A lower pitch is less pleasing.
- The piano loses value if it cannot be certified by a tuner to hold A-440.