This might sound crazy and even a little depressing but it’s true and a topic worth discussing. You would think having a tuner come in and tune your piano would be enough, it should be in tune right? But is it really?
The short answer is no, your piano will never be perfectly in tune. If you look back in history and at other instruments this concept is easier to understand. When it comes to singing, pitches come completely from your head, just like when a violinist plays there are no frets for them to make the exact notes and the pitches are constantly changing; this is even true of guitars where a string can bend to affect the pitch of note.
There was a period in time in when keyboards were tuned to specific keys. So, if the keyboard was tuned to D major, it was perfectly in tune in D major. It would sound O.K. in A major and possibly G major, but would sound atrocious in A-flat major or D-flat major. Eventually tuners created a system in which all the half steps are equal so that all keys are equally out of tune!
When a piano tuner tunes your piano the first thing they do is set the temperament. The temperament is taking an octave and making all the half steps equal. This means that when you play any interval other than an octave on the piano, they are all equally out of tune. So if you play a perfect 4th, 3rd, or any other pair of notes, they will all be perfectly out of tune with each other. We have gotten so used to tempered tuning that we don’t even notice it’s out of tune. However, if a string player tries to match pitch with a piano they will have to make adjustments to play in tune.
Believe it or not this gets even more complex. Stretch octaves are something that goes beyond the idea of tempered tuning. Our ears actually hear flat in the high register so to compensate for this a tuner will stretch the tuning a bit higher in the high register so it sounds right to our ears even though it is not mathematically perfect.
To keep it simple, always remember that when your piano is tuned, the tuner is striving for the perfect compromise. It’s a crazy concept but it’s true. Thanks again for joining me Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729