A Testament to Tuning (Part 1)


Insides of an Upright Piano

Last month my husband and I inherited a Yamaha M216 console. Fortunately, it was made in 1982 and was barely used, which meant that the hammers were in good condition and that the action was still very solid. Sometimes when you find an older piano that’s been well-used the hammers will have deep grooves in them that must be fixed, otherwise they can stick to the strings, and that can make a key difficult or impossible to use.

Unfortunately, since it wasn’t used… it also wasn’t tuned. To make things a bit worse, this piano sat in a place without air conditioning, which meant that it was subjected to very dry winter air AND very wet summer air. Just the lack of humidity regulation alone can wreak havoc on a piano’s tuning. When a piano sits for years and years without being tuned/regulated/repaired… well…

Lack of Regular Tuning


Lack of Humidity Regulation


= One Super Awful Sounding Piano

Since this piano also came with a bench full of old music, I decided to do an experiment: I decided to make recordings of this piece on the piano before/during/after the tunings. The piece I chose is called “Memories” by Egbert Van Alstyne — it was dog-eared by the previous owner. (I’ll include pictures of the book cover in a future post!)

Here’s the piano before being tuned for the first time:

As you can hear, the octaves are badly out of tune. Don’t even get me started on the 3rds! It’s like listening to an old saloon piano from the 1800s. Playing the piano at this point set my teeth on edge. I could stand it for a short time, but eventually it just made my ears hurt!

Since the piano sat for so long without being maintained, it was almost an entire 1/2 step flat. (That’s a lot!) In order for this piano to be properly tuned, it will definitely take several tunings. We also found that one string was dead and had to be replaced. The tuner removed the string and sent it off to have it remade so that it matches the surrounding strings. Once that particular string is replaced, it will need to be tuned twice before it “settles.”

Here’s a video of the same clip after Tuning #1:

Things are still a bit wonky, but it’s definitely a vast improvement over the first video! The most noticeable difference is that it sounds like I transposed the piece into a higher key. I assure you, I did not. This is the exact same music.  There are still problems with the octaves, but that’s to be expected since the entire piano was so incredibly out of tune. We’re lucky we didn’t get any broken strings!

Teachers: I hope you all found this useful! Please feel free to share this experiment with your studios as a testament to WHY we should regularly tune our instruments. Hopefully  this will give your students and parents an accurate idea about WHY pianos need to be regularly tuned! I’ll be adding more posts in the future as repairs and tunings continue.

Students: I hope you’re listening 🙂 Don’t let that piano sit around untuned! It should be tuned at least once a year. This will help you avoid all sorts of issues in the long-run.

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