The expectations placed on pianos used for musical instruction are much more demanding than on home pianos – they see many students and record numerous hours of play each day. With this heavy amount of usage it’s important to regularly maintain these instruments and to understand the impact this level of play can have on the instrument. This article will examine the basics of standard care and maintenance, and the impact of extended use on pianos used for musical instruction.
Protecting the Piano
As with virtually all mechanical devices, preventive measures will help to ensure the piano has limited exposure to elements that can cause damage. Let’s explore some of the basics:
Piano technicians are constantly finding lost items inside pianos. From paper clips and pencils to coins, it’s important to keep smaller items from getting into the internal workings. Once inside, they can lodge under a key or part of the action which can lead to misfiring keys and possibly premature wear on it’s moving parts.
When the keyboard is not in use, it’s a good idea to keep the fall board closed. This will protect the keys from sunlight which can discolour the keys, and from falling objects that can chip or mark the key tops.
Grand pianos are often left with their lids propped open for extended periods of time. Even though this is the typical way we all picture a grand piano, leaving the lid open when not in use can leave it exposed to small items being lost inside, and over extended periods of time dust gathering that can lead to accelerated oxidation of the strings, and other metals parts, and overall decrease in the quality of sound. When you know your grand piano is not going to be played for a while, it’s best to close up the lid with the music stand folded down and the lid flap extended over top.
As with any device made of wood and metal its a good idea not to allow drinks or fluids near them. Placing glasses, drink ware, or flower vases on top of your piano increases the risk of a spill getting inside. If you have a spill, absorb any visible fluids you can with a clean cloth. Contact a piano technician immediately for them to access the inside. Fluids left inside will corrode metals and cause wood to swell which will impact the piano’s performance and could cause permanent damage.
Piano Placement Basics
You may already be aware of the suggested restrictions when it comes to where to locate a piano in a home or studio, but it’s good to have a refresher. All acoustic pianos are sensitive to changes in humidity and temperature – be aware of this when you determine a location for it. Your home or studio is a combination of many smaller micro climates that are produced by various sources. These include heat and cooling registers, radiators, open windows and doors or draft sources, and direct sunlight pathways. The swings in temperature that comes from these sources will have a direct impact on the humidity levels – we will explore the effects of humidity below in more detail.
Having regular maintenance done on your piano will go a long way. A piano being used for musical instruction should be tuned at least 1 to 2 times per year – some prefer more based on seasonal changes and overall use. These regular visits also allow your piano technician to discover and adjust for any slight deviations in it’s normal operation. Any adjustments made during a visit will help your technician in understanding the rate of deviation and they should discuss these with you.
Just like any other mechanical device, pianos have parts that will wear with extended use. Regular adjustment and lubrication covers most of the wear, but as a piano experiences heavy use over many years, there are some more involved repairs that may need to be done. These repairs and refurbishments may include regulation of the keys, regulation of the action, resurfacing (carding) of the hammers, re-bushing of the keys, replacement of the hammers, and rebuilding of the trap work (pedals and levers). All of the issues leading up to these major repairs can be monitored – your piano technician will ensure you are provided with regular updates.
Cleaning of your piano cabinet should approached with caution. Never use furniture polish – only a slightly damp microfibre cloth is needed for a general cleaning. For stubborn marks use a very mild soap. There are special piano finish cleansers that are also available, but not essential. If you need to clean the keys, the damp cloth with work well. For ivory keys with heavy stains, you can mix a small amount of baking soda with water and apply gently in a circular motion. Any cleaning done to the inside should only be done by a piano technician. There are many small and sensitive parts that can be disrupted.
Impact of humidity
The care of a piano in an area with large changes in both temperature and humidity can be very challenging. Changes in humidity can have a major impact on tuning stability, the keys and action parts, and the steel and copper wound piano strings.
In order to keep your piano working optimally it is ideal to keep the humidity at a stable level around 40-45% relative humidity. This can prove difficult if you have an environment that’s constantly changing. Here are some basic guidelines for minimizing the impact of humidity on your piano:
- Keep the piano away from heating/cooling sources – As with the basics I’ve outlined in the ‘Piano Placement’ section, it’s important to limit the impact of these. Hot air from vents and cold air from drafts will create their own little micro climate near buy. Try and keep the piano at least 4 to 6 feet away for these sources. If you cannot avoid this, then block or redirect air flow to help diminish the effect.
- Aquire a mobile digital hygrometer – A small investment of around $20-$30 will allow you to monitor how much the humidity changes around your piano. Most units will have a MIN/MAX recall on them so you can see how much it fluctuates. If you experience more than a 30% change from season to season, you may need to introduce a way to control your humidity.
- Move your piano to a more stable location – You may find that another room, or another location in the same room, has better stability. Often it’s not feasible to relocate the piano , but it still remains an option.
- Add humidity controls – There are a couple of ways to achieve this. 1. Introduce humidifiers and/or dehumidifiers to the room your piano is in. Remember that each of these will have a greater impact in the direct area around them – you don’t want to have moisture from a humidifier blowing directly onto your piano. It’s important to keep these at a distance from the piano and monitor closely with your hygrometer to maintain control. 2. Have a Piano Life-Saver system installed in your piano that will maintain the humidity inside the piano within a controlled range. These systems are a little more expensive, but they are a great investment for newer/more expensive pianos.
The information presented above should help you understand how to work closely with your piano technician in order to keep your piano at it’s best. The subjects and details presented here are only a beginning – if you wish to gain more knowledge on the operation of your instrument, please contact us and we will be more than glad to assist you.
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