How to take care of a piano

I have always wanted to learn to play the piano. My papa was a wonderful pianist; he played for the silent movie theaters in New York City. At his apartment, when I was a little girl, he most often played ragtime, which I still love. I begged him to teach me to play, but he played by ear and seemed more than a little surprised that I couldn’t do the same. Not even close. My patient nana listened to hours of me trying. 

When our kids were little, they all took piano lessons, and I purchased our family’s first piano. I loved every minute of listening to them practice and taking them to lessons. I still have that piano, which they play when visiting. I’ve painted it blue, but it sounds much the same. 

Here’s what I’ve learned about how to take care of a piano:

a black grand piano in a room with stained glass windows and a chandelier

Put it in the best location.

Pianos don’t like temperature or humidity changes. So, when you can, don’t put your piano right next to a window, door, fireplace, heater, air conditioner, or kitchen. The reason people tell you to put a piano on an internal wall rather than an external one is that the temperature is more stable on an internal wall. West- and south-facing walls, especially, get hot in the summer. This was more important when homes were not well insulated, though. If you live in a home with good insulation, an exterior wall might be just fine. As with any fine furniture, it’s a good idea to avoid placing it in direct sunlight to protect the finish. 

Control the humidity.

The best humidity for a piano is between 30 and 50 percent (42% is ideal). The perfect temp for a piano is much the same as for most of us, around 68-70 degrees.

Humidity is vitally  important because it can cause wood to swell and stick, steel to rust, pins to loosen, and felts to harden. As the wood swells, it can press against the metal parts of the piano. Over time, this affects the alignment of parts and structural integrity of the piano, meaning more frequent tune ups and perhaps repairs. 

Keep in mind that humidity changes with the seasons. If your home is very dry in the winter, for example, consider using a humidifier. If too damp in the summer, consider turning on a dehumidifier. Whatever it takes. 

Some experts recommend placing a small open container of water in the bottom of a piano — especially an older piano that may be drying out — to help hydrate it. I’d talk with your piano technician before doing this, though. 

Protect it.

Don’t perch food or drink on the piano. Not only can spilt food or beverages ruin the finish, it can also damage the soundboard, strings, and (if food gets stuck between them) your keys. 

Put the key cover (fallboard or back-fall) down when you’re not playing the piano. This will prevent dust and contaminants from getting between the keys. If your piano doesn’t have one, cover the keys with a cloth (a drop cloth or other lint-free fabric). 

A person in black plays a blue piano with flowerpots on top

Of course, sitting outside does irreparable damage to a piano. Still, I love seeing pianos outdoors where passersby just pull up the seat and play for the community! Worth the tradeoff, I think!

Clean your piano.

Clean the piano keys with a soft cloth dampened with water and mild soap. Make sure the cloth is just damp, not wet; you just want to wash away any fingerprints or grime. Wipe from front to back, towards and away from you, not side to side across the board. Then wipe with a dry cloth. Never use a spray cleaner on your piano. 

Some manufacturers suggest you take care of a piano by vacuuming dust from the inside, but I like to leave this to the pros. 

Wipe the outside with a soft, clean, damp cloth. (I dampen mine with Murphy’s Oil Soap; any mild soap will do.) Dry it well with another clean cloth. Don’t use any abrasive cleaners. And again, don’t use any sprays on your piano. 

Get your piano serviced.

Pianos need to be tuned a minimum of annually. Depending on where your live (how stable the climate is) and whether your piano has been moved, you might want to have it tuned more often. If your piano gets vigorous use (it’s in a school or church, for example), it will need tuning four times a year or so. 

Experts recommend tuning pianos twice a year, ideally, to correspond to changes in temperature and humidity. And they suggest having your new piano tuned four times in its first year. That’s because tuning it often initially will keep it in tune better down the road. 

Did you know that concert pianists have the performance piano tuned before every show? I think I can manage an annual tune up!

To take care of a piano, you might occasionally need to go beyond a traditional tuning. Besides tuning, there are services called regulation and voicing. These are more extensive. To tune a piano, the technician adjusts the tension of every string so that every note plays correctly. It’s about the pitch of the piano.

closeup of piano keys on a wooden piano

Regulation, on the other hand, is more in-depth. It’s a mechanical adjustment to thousands of parts of the piano that affect the weight and feel of the keyboard. The technician will adjust the wool, felt, cloth, and wood elements that affect how your piano feels when you play it as well as how it sounds. If the keys stick or look uneven, regulation is likely needed. Regulation can prolong the life of your piano.

Voicing adjusts the tone quality of the piano. After regulation and tuning, the technician adjusts the tension of the hammer felt, using needles or chemicals.

Play!

Apparently, pianos like to be played; it keeps the parts working well. So I was actually helping my nana and papa take care of their piano with my incessant efforts!

BTW, I haven’t given up on learning to play! I’m teaching myself on the same piano our kids learned on, and, after a couple of years, I play about as well as they did in kindergarten (and not nearly as well as my third-grade grandson). No matter, I love it. And now my hubby listens with the patience (and, I suspect, amusement) of my nana. 

Is your family lucky enough to own a piano? Who plays? Do you have other tips to share for those who want to learn to take care of a piano?

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Caring for quilts — TLC for old and new quilts

Area rugs — How to take care of rugs so they look good and last

2 thoughts on “How to take care of a piano”

  1. I grew up teaching myself to play keys on our very small family organ. My sister took lessons from a nun at a nearby college and I learned what I could from her lesson books. It was enough for me to play at our church and I have given my limited talents to that end for a number of years. I was hopeful that my children would truly learn to play and my husband and I were determined to purchase the best piano our limited budget would allow. We overstretched to buy the beautiful Baldwin studio piano we own and it was completely worth the extra sacrifice to pay for it. Our piano is the most treasured instrument among the many instruments we have brought into our home. All three of our kids learned to play (and play well) on it and I still enjoy plunking away as best I can. Most recently, I delight in the time I spend with grands on my lap, working our way through The Reader’s Digest Children’s Songbook!

    Reply
    • Oh, good for you for picking it up on your own as a child, Mary! And your church and kids and grandkids have all reaped the rewards! There’s something so special about a well loved musical instrument, I think. We’re so lucky to have them in our lives. Thanks for sharing!

      Reply

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