For a musician, nothing is worse than an instrument that is not in tune. Sour notes can be as nauseating as sour milk. Musicians heavily rely on their ear to determine accuracy of notes, intervals, tone, shading, balance and touch. You can imagine how difficult it would be to gauge all of these things if your instrument was less than true.
Early in my teaching career I was working with a student who had tremendous difficulty with her pieces and ear training. Her parents assured me that she was practicing diligently. Her scales and chords were always well prepared. I struggled to determine the reasons for this student’s difficulty and one day offered to visit her at her home. Upon playing her piano I immediately realized why this poor girl was having trouble. I don’t think the instrument had been tuned in a very long time. This student was playing fourths and hearing fifths. When playing a major chord it sometimes sounded augmented. All of her hard work at home had given this student a skewed “ear”. When playing on my piano at her lesson, she became completely disoriented as the sounds and intervals were different. Why she never questioned the discrepancy I will never know, but I do know that it took a great deal of work….and a good piano tuning… to get her back on track.
More recently I was working with a young student who was identifying major and minor chords by ear. He went one step further and attempted to name the chord I was playing (c minor, G major). This student has been undoubtedly gifted with perfect pitch, however all of his answers were out a semitone. I would play D flat major and he would guess C major etc. Upon arriving at home, the student’s mom repeated the exercise and lo and behold, he guessed correctly every time. The piano at home is tuned lower than my piano at the studio.
The importance of the above example lies in the development of the musician’s ear. Students who repeatedly hear pitches that are not true will develop an incorrect sense of interval and tonality. Be sure to have your piano tuned frequently, at least once a year, to ensure your budding musician hears and can create sounds which are pleasing to the ear. You may find they even practice more frequently!
Watch the following video to learn how pianos are tuned by ear. A great video for children who play digital instruments as it shows the inside of an accoustic piano and explains how it works.
Watch the following video to learn how a piano works