Whether you own a grand, an upright, or a spinet piano, there are quite a few ways you can ensure that your piano stays in prime condition for years to come. It's so much easier and more fun to play on a well-maintained instrument! We'll be discussing some important ways you should take care of your piano to keep it sounding amazing and working at its best.
The optimal temperature for storing a piano is a year-round temperature of 68°F (20°C). Pianos are made principally from wood, and that means that all the wooden parts will shrink or swell depending upon the temperature of its environment. This seasonal shrinking and swelling can cause many issues, so making sure your piano is consistently stored at a safe temperature will reduce your repair costs in the long run.
Humidity is a factor that can significantly impact your piano's health, as too much humidity can cause the wood to swell and loosen the glue on delicate parts. Prevent issues by maintaining the humidity of your piano room between 45-70% year-round.
While you can use a humidifier or dehumidifier for the entire room, you can also purchase piano humidity systems that automatically control the environment inside of your piano. Make sure your system is installed by a professional technician to prevent damage to your piano.
Avoiding Direct Sunlight
While indirect sunlight prevents yellowed keys and mold formation inside a piano, direct sunlight can fade a piano's finish and cause significant cosmetic damage. Harsh sunlight can also increase the temperature inside of the piano much higher than room temperature.
If your piano is situated in a room with lots of direct sunlight, make sure you have blinds and curtains that can be closed to prevent the sun from hitting the piano directly. Piano dust covers can also be used to prevent sun damage on the piano's finish. Also, keep small children and pets from playing on or near the piano to avoid scratches, dents, and other damage from occurring.
Avoiding Spills & Contaminants
Never place food, drinks, potted plants, or other potential contaminants on top of a piano. If something spills inside of your piano, the repairs could be very costly, so do your best to avoid this.
At a minimum, have your piano tuned twice a year, preferably when the seasons change (i.e. fall to winter and spring to summer). This ensures that your piano is always close to the correct pitch, no matter the time of year.
Never attempt to tune a piano yourself; always hire a qualified professional to tune your piano. Pianos are delicate instruments filled with thousands of moving parts. Qualified technicians have professional designations and have many years of experience tuning and repairing pianos, so they'll know how to care for your instrument properly.
Regulating a piano is the process of examining the piano's action to make sure it's working properly and doing any necessary repairs. Think of it as checking the fluids and changing the oil in your car. Many piano owners overlook this important step in maintaining their instrument.
How often should a piano be regulated? It varies widely depending upon the brand of the piano, how often it is played, and in what condition the instrument is. A good ball park figure is having your piano regulated every 5-10 years.
What are some indicators that your piano needs a professional regulation? First, look at the keys. If they aren't perfectly level all the way across the keyboard, that's one sign. If your piano isn't making a sound when you play very softly (pianissimo), that's another indication that your piano's action needs a tune-up. More obvious indicators include keys that aren't working, dampers that have fallen off, sluggish or choppy action on trills and tremolos, etc.
This is a delicate process during which the density of the hammer felt is altered to produce a richer (more mellow) or brighter (harsher) tone. Hear the difference proper voicing can make. Unlike tuning, which is mathematically exact, voicing is quite subjective, and can completely change the tone of your instrument.
How do you know if your piano needs to be voiced? If you like the sound of your piano, there's no need for it to be voiced. However, if you think your piano sounds tinny, harsh, or too soft, a voicing is needed.
As with any maintenance and repairs, make sure to hire a professional piano technician to voice your piano. It's important to make sure that your piano's action is working at its best before voicing is done, and only an expert can accurately perform these delicate procedures.
Cleaning the Keys
It is so much more pleasant and sanitary to play the piano with a clean keyboard! Whether you're a teacher with dozens of students or the only one who plays your instrument, it's important to keep the keys free from dust, dirt, and oils from your skin. Make sure to never use harsh chemicals, disinfectants, or abrasive cleaners on your keys, regardless of their material.
Most newer pianos and digital keyboards will have plastic keys, while older pianos (usually pre-1930s) have ivory keys. The cleaning procedures for these two types of keys can differ, so make sure you know what kind of keys your piano has before cleaning them.
My piano tuner uses a microfiber cloth and Windex to clean ivory and plastic keys, and I've found that it does a fantastic job. For ivory keys, he also recommends using a microfiber cloth to apply a very thin coating of guitar wax after cleaning with Windex. (Do not use paper towel to clean your piano, as it is too abrasive and can scratch your keys, regardless of their material.)
Dust holds excess moisture, which can cause issues with the action or even rust the strings. You can mitigate dust accumulation inside of your piano by keeping the lid closed when you're not playing, covering the strings of a grand with a felt cloth, and by gently vacuuming the interior once a year. Learn how to disassemble and vacuum an upright grand.
Moving a Piano
Save yourself a lot of pain and trouble by hiring professional piano movers to move your piano. If your piano is equipped with casters, you can make small adjustments to the piano's position yourself, but if you're moving the instrument to a different room or to another location entirely, hire professionals. Not only is this the best way to prevent damage to the piano, but it also will prevent you from injuring yourself.
Ask friends for recommendations of professional piano movers, or check your piano store to see if they do this service. Make sure you choose a mover that is recommended by friends, or that is well rated online.
BONUS TIP: Play your piano!
One of the best things you can do for your instrument is to simply play it on a consistent basis. Believe it or not, your piano will sound better with age if you play it frequently and keep it properly maintained. Make sure your piano is being played for a few hours (preferably 5-10 hours) per week.
My piano tuner told me that the notes on a well-played piano should be consistently sharp across the entire keyboard. The force of the hammers hitting the strings actually cause the strings to vibrate, and with a lot of playing over time, it will actually cause the pitches of all the notes to be raised slightly. Be sure to ask your piano technician if he notices this when tuning your piano.
Do you have other tips for maintaining your piano? Let me know in the comments! I'd love to hear your advice for keeping an acoustic piano in top condition, especially in hot and humid climates.
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