How Do Fluctuations In Humidity Make My Piano Go Out of Tune?

Relative humidity may be a bit of a dry topic, but it is a key to understanding how pianos react to their environment and how you can best maintain your piano.

Let’s define Relative Humidity. According to the Piano Technicians Guild, “Relative humidity (RH) is the amount of moisture contained in the air, compared to the maximum amount of moisture that the air is capable of holding.” That “maximum amount” of moisture that the air can hold is determined by the temperature. The warmer the air, the more moisture it can hold. Therefore, if you increase the temperature without adding any extra moisture, the relative humidity decreases. This is because the “carrying capacity” of the air has increased while the actual amount of moisture has remained the same. If you think that’s just a theory that doesn’t hold water, please read on to find out exactly how humidity can throw your piano out of tune!

Many important parts of the piano are made of wood, and wood is particularly sensitive to changes in relative humidity. At higher humidity, wood absorbs moisture from the air, causing it to swell up. This has big effects on the piano’s soundboard, often made of Sitka spruce, and the bridges, which are made of layered (laminated) beech or maple. The piano’s strings stretch over the bridge, which transmits their vibrations to the soundboard. The vibration of the soundboard transduces the strings’ vibrations into air pressure changes. In other words, the soundboard passes energy from the strings to the air so we can hear it.

Piano Bridge Less Crown

Two diagrams show a string stretching over the bridge, which is attached to the soundboard. The first shows a soundboard with less crown. The bridge does not press up into the string with as much force, which can lower the pitch of the string. This is what happens in dry environments at lower humidity levels. Image credit: Dampp-Chaser

 

Piano Bridge Increased Crown

Two diagrams show a string stretching over the bridge, which is attached to the soundboard. The second image shows a soundboard with an increased amount of crown. The bridge is pressing up into the string with more force, raising the pitch of the string. This is what happens at higher humidity levels. Image credit: Dampp-Chaser

The soundboard has a crowned or slightly arced shape, which pushes the bridge firmly against the strings. So, when humidity goes up, the soundboard swells up as the arc intensifies, and the amount of crown increases. This pushes the bridge more firmly against the strings, increasing the tension on the strings and making them go higher in pitch. In short, we expect the piano to drift sharp during the times of the year when it is more humid, and flat when it’s less humid. This effect is most pronounced in the middle of the piano’s range, where the soundboard’s crown is at its peak.

piano bridge pianos inside out

This image shows the piano’s steel strings crossing over the bridge. On the top of the bridge, the strings make their way through the bridge pins Image credit: Mario Igrec, Pianos Inside Out (In Tune Press, 2013)

At the other end of the strings, we tune the piano by turning the tuning pins, which control the tension of the strings. The strings are coiled around the tuning pins, which are driven into the pinblock, a multilayered wooden plank. Uncontrolled fluctuating humidity can also cause damage to the pinblock, which will have a negative effect on the piano’s tuning stability. This damage can include loosening of the tuning pin holes. The pinblock can crack and its layers can come apart (delaminate).

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This image shows a tuning pin held in the pinblock in its proper position, slightly angled away from the string. Image credit: Dampp-Chaser

 

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A damaged pinblock can allow the string to pull the tuning pin out of its proper position, and weaken the tight fit between the pin and the pinblock Image credit: Dampp-Chaser

Here’s what you can do to help fight the effects of fluctuating humidity and improve your piano’s tuning stability. First, get your piano tuned! It is recommended that pianos be tuned at least twice a year. Pianos need to be “trained” to stay in tune, especially when they are new– so having your piano        tuned regularly will help keep it stable. Second, position your piano away from heaters, air conditioners, windows, or any other location where it will be subject to environmental extremes.

Lastly, consider a humidity control system. The Piano Life Saver system from Dampp-Chaser can be installed in grands or uprights. It consists of a Humidistat, a Humidifier, and a Dehumidifier. The Humidistat constantly monitors the humidity level and activates the Humidifier or the Dehumidifier as necessary, in order to keep the relative humidity level inside the piano near the recommended 45%. This will make your piano’s tuning, regulation, and touch as stable as possible, allowing you to focus on making beautiful music.

Right now you can set up an appointment to install a humidity control system in your piano with one of our fine technicians. Book online today.

https://www.floatingpianofactory.com/

To find out more about humidity control, check out the piano lifesaver website: https://www.pianolifesaver.com/english/about/about_piano_life_saver

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FPF’s Jerome Ellis @ Lincoln Center Education: Meeting The Unknown With An Improvisor’s Mind

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At FPF we welcome piano technicians with a diverse set of skills and experiences. We’re scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs, as well as musicians. This diversity makes our team stronger and better able to help our clients.

Above and beyond performing the basic functions of tuning and servicing pianos, we aim to provide infinite value in each interaction, bringing our personality, kindness and creativity—essentially our best selves—to every interaction.

It’s our way to show our appreciation for the unique value we gain in meeting each new client and their piano.

On that note, we’d like to dedicate this post to highlighting what fascinating endeavors one of our technicians participates in outside of piano work. Jerome Ellis is a musician and performer steeped in the tradition of improvisation and he’s been performing at Lincoln Center recently to broaden the horizons of NYC city high school students.

With out futher ado, let us introduce you to Jerome…

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Who Wants a MusiClock from Perttu Pölönen?

Are you learning musical scales and finding it tough to keep track of them all?

Or are you really getting into understanding scales and modes for composition and love new ways of understanding them?

Maybe you are an improviser and you want a quick way to learn all the scales you need to know in a way that’s fun, not a headache.

When the next lesson rolls around and you haven’t quite mastered the scales your teacher has assigned it’s quite embarrassing. Its discouraging.

Ever get together for a jam session and feeling completely lost in all the chord changes?

When are you ever going to master those scales?!!

Maybe you are a teacher and you don’t have any issues with scales BUT YOUR STUDENTS DO!

5b85b0_f26d8d72965b4dd495c752bcb3343b20-mv2_d_3888_2592_s_4_2My good friend Perttu Pölönen, from Finland has come up with an answer!

He’s won 5 figure grants in Finland and more across the globe in support of his fresh new idea called the MusiClock.

Do you ever notice that when you find a creative new way to look at an old problem learning can actually become effortless?

Watch this video and let Perttu explain exactly how cool his new invention is and what it can do to make your or your students’ learning experience not only manageable but fun!

Email Perttu today at perttu@pertunes.com with the subject “FPF sent me” and he might just send you one to try out or share  with your students for free!

You can also go virtual and download the Musiclock app from the app store right now!

“MusiClock makes music theory more fun and approachable for children. It transforms scales and chords into a visual, easy-to-grasp form which is a great starting point for music studies.”

Esa-Pekka Salonen,

Principal Conductor of London’s Philharmonia Orchestra and the Conductor Laureate for the Los Angeles Philharmonic

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How to Thrive as a Veteran Piano Tech in the Digital Age – No Screens Required!

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Though many of us in the piano industry, both young and old, love our off screen time, we can’t help but face it — software and the internet are more and more essential to keeping our industry alive. This isn’t some idea in the future. It’s here now, as in today. And it leaves many veterans in the piano industry wondering, “How, in this new landscape, can I get the most out of the business that I’ve built?”

Even worse there’s “How can I get my business back on it’s feet?”

I’m going to give you 3 simple things to consider implementing. Once you have them up and running, the only reason you’ll look at a screen is to review the increases in your bank balance.

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How to Connect With More Customers by Registering Your Piano Tuning Business with Google Maps (Google Places, Google Business) (Video)

When I moved my piano tuning business from Chicago to New York in 2009 I was extremely surprised to find out that within a couple of months my little website was making it to the top of google searches. A humble new guy in a big city full of great world class technicians that were already established—how did that happen?

I had no idea why but I certainly was grateful. It kept me from starving (to be the benefactor of such a wonderful windfall at a tough, transitional time in my life and career). To be clear, I had to really hustle to be successful, but this was key.

Even though I really needed this advantage to survive I still felt a little guilty when other piano technicians asked me how I did it. They might have been incredulous if I didn’t share exactly how that worked, even though I really was not sure.

I still don’t know everything works but I think that by now I’ve figured out a few things that helped make that happen. This post addresses just one. All on its own (even if I had no site at all) it was doing probably 30% of the customer recruitment work for me. Its something that’s really simple too. In this post I’m sharing this basic thing that takes 5 minutes to get started and can really improve the online exposure of a small business.

As a piano tuner, getting to the top of google searches can seem like a mysterious magical trick. There are lots of daunting ideas that one might come up with. “I need a website” would be the first thought! You’d be surprised to find out you don’t absolutely NEED a website to get to the top of google searches, right? And there’s other really simple things you can do that I don’t have space and time to adress here.

You’ll also hear about other, seemingly necessary ideas involved in making this happen that are daunting to have to either learn about or pay for (ack!). You know, like SEO, key words, reciprocal links, etc.  Interestingly enough, Google (All hail our supreme leader, Google) has made the process of getting found as a service provider (especially in a unique niche like that of piano tuning) much easier than you’d think.

I feel really indebted to all the generous technicians that helped me along my path to understanding the piano better and making a career of from it.

That’s why I made this video. I’d like any other technicians out there who need a way to increase their number of bookings and get more exposure to be able to understand the things that I have learned.

If you are in a remote area where there aren’t many tuners then you are doing your customers a disservice if they can’t find you on Google. And Google places registration alone could help you go from 5 tunings per week to 7 or 10.

Your new piano tuning customers will be happy with you and with Google when you finally show up at the top of every google search for “piano tuning” in your area.

As a whole, we technicians are a super generous bunch and I’m proud to be part of a community like that!  I hope this video is helpful for you as a piano technician.

If you found this information useful and you are interested in more like it I’m happy to share. I can send you a little checklist I put together of other things you can do to boost your business if you want. When you enter your email below I’ll get a notice to remind me to send that along.

Thanks for reading.

Eathan Janney, RPT

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Piano Tuning Theory: Inharmonicity, Partials, Math, Hertz and Cents

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This in-depth lecture presentation will help you gain a significant edge as a piano tuner and technician. Do you understand what an inharmonicity curve is? How do inharmonicity curves interact across the range of the piano? What does a 6:3, 4:2, or 2:1 octave “look” like when represented graphically? How do coincident partials look when represented graphically? Can you calculate the fundamental frequencies of adjacent notes? Do you understand how to convert between Hertz and cents in different ranges of the piano? Put all this knowledge in your toolkit and you’ll begin to have a much deeper understanding of piano tuning by ear. Learn these concepts and meditate on them as your next ear tuning unfolds. Whether you’re a beginner piano technician and want to ensure you are understanding the foundational theory behind ear tuning or a more experienced technician who wants to update your understanding, this video will be invaluable.

The instructor: Eathan Janney BM, PhD, RPT has 17 years of experience in the Piano Industry, which includes work as a technician in New York, Chicago, Washington D.C., New Orleans, New Jersey, Peru and Hong Kong. He established the acclaimed Floating Piano Factory Apprenticeship Program in 2011 and has been teaching piano technology and helping the advancement of the field ever since. His PhD is in Biology with a concentration on Neuroscience, where his research focused heavily on the analysis of birdsong from a musical perspective. Thus, he has a deep understanding of signal processing and statistical analysis, a wonderful complement to his skills and experience in piano technology. He also has taught through CUNY (the City University of New York) at the City College of New York and Hunter College on topics ranging from biology to statistics. His undergraduate degree is in Jazz Piano Performance from Mason Gross School of the Arts which is the conservatory of Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.

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by | October 14, 2016 · 1:52 am

FPF World Tour, Part 8: Hong Kong 1

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For a while, I wasn’t sure if I should go to Hong Kong. There was a lot to figure out. Would the timing work with my stop in New York? Was it worth the expense? What would be the best use of my time there when I arrived?

However, I did want to meet our two new technicians: Macho and Neway. They contacted me over a year ago to get involved with FPF, and we’ve been working to get them set up in Hong Kong ever since. I figured that by going to visit, I could better determine what our approach should be for this area.

On top of that, I’ve been trying to spend more personal time with my co-workers, and to get to know people better in general. Macho’s family was kind enough to offer me a place to stay, so I decided to go for it. I booked a flight from NYC to Hong Kong.

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