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Piano Facts

  • Tuning Your Piano

    Question: How often should I tune my piano?

    Once a year, minimum. More often under some conditions.

    And you should know the reason why. Pianos, like automobiles, need periodic maintenance. What happens if you drive your car for 100,000 miles without giving it an oil change? Chances are you’re in for big engine problems.

    The same goes for your piano. Even if your piano sounds perfectly in tune, it will generally drop in pitch over the years. If all the strings drop the same amount, your piano still sounds like it’s in tune, but it’s gradually slipping away. So what’s the problem?

    The problem comes up several years down the road when you want to have the piano tuned, and the technician tells you it can’t be done. This is a common problem with the tens of thousands of beautiful old uprights that have been slowly deteriorating in people’s homes over the years.

    They’re junk. Might as well throw away the parts and turn them into entertainment centers, or planters. They’re history.

    Pianos must be maintained regularly to keep their pitch and to keep the string tension constant. There are also many other little things a technician does when he tunes your piano to keep it new.

    With regular care, there’s no reason a quality piano shouldn’t last several lifetimes. Plus, when your piano is freshly tuned it gives you more incentive to play the darn thing. And you know what happens when you practice.

    Should you have it tuned more often than once a year? Possibly. Consider more frequent tunings if, 1) the instrument is brand new, 2) you live in a very humid climate, 3) you live in an unusually dry climate, 4) you live in a teepee, 5) you move the instrument frequently.

    However, if a piano is moved correctly (please don’t roll it on its casters) it shouldn’t lose too much of its tuning. Unless you’re moving it from the Mohave Desert to the Peruvian Rain Forest or vice versa.

  • Do I Need to Know Chord Inversions?

    Q. How important is it for me to know the chords in root position? Some I know in root position. Others I learned in a different, but correct position.

    A. There are two answers to your question.

    1. not important at all, and
    2. very important indeed

    Let me explain.

    Chords are often taught to beginners in root position. This way a beginner can easily see the root of the chord on the keyboard and make an association between that note and the chord itself. It reinforces the concept and accelerates the learning process.

    At a beginning level, one needn’t learn chords in more than one inversion, as any inversion of any given chord will work in a song. Beginners can now focus on learning new chords and new songs without cluttering the mind with memorizing three or four inversions of each chord.

    Our teaching method is based in part on getting students up and running with piano proficiency as quickly as possible. The sooner it becomes fun for the student, the more likely the student is to stay with it. So keep with what you know for the time being.

    Having said that, I now must say there are many good reasons to learn chords in all inversions — eventually. For one thing, some inversions are less awkward to play with the left hand. The C7 chord, for instance, is awkward to play in root position; first inversion makes more sense.

    Another reason is that varying inversions from chord to chord helps keep the hand in the same vicinity of the piano. With less distance to travel your chord changes are less choppy, faster, and more accurate.

    Yet another reason is that chords sometimes sound too high or too low on the keyboard when played in root position. And for another reason, using inversions helps us voice chords so that we can keep the melody note on top — useful in certain styles of playing.

    So beginners can skip the inversions for the time being. But learning inversions definitely helps the intermediate and advanced players find the sound and technical goals they seek. Getting students to master the inversions and ESPECIALLY KNOW THE REASON WHY they are mastering them is another part of our philosophy.

    Learning the different chord inversions on the guitar is far less important for most people. Many weekend guitar strummers know their chords only one way, and are content to play them that way. The exceptions are the serious students of jazz and classical guitar.

  • What are the best Chord Inversions to learn first?

    First, a definition of ROOT.

    A root is a note within a chord that has the same name as the chord it’s in. When the notes of a chord are arranged in such a way that the root is the lowest note of the chord, we say the chord is in root position.

    In our courseware we present all our piano chords in root position at first. If you know the root is on the bottom, you can easily identify the chord you are playing by recognizing the root. So our advice is to learn all the piano chords (majors, minors, and sevenths) in root position at first.

    When it’s time to move on, go ahead and relearn these same chords in second inversion. Second inversion is when the fifth of the chord is on the bottom. That’s a little technical. Let me explain.

    The C chord consists of the notes C E G.

    The C major scale is C D E F G A B C.

    Thus the notes of the C major chord are comprised of the first (C), third (E), and fifth (G) notes of the C scale.

    We said the second inversion has the fifth of the chord (G) on the bottom. Therefore, instead of spelling the chord out in root position, C E G (lowest note to highest) we’ll spell it out in second inversion G C E (lowest to highest).

    Here’s why you should learn your basic chords in root position, and then relearn them in second inversion. In a typical chord progression in a typical song chord roots jump around a lot. A typical chord progression may be Em A7 Dm G7 C. If you played all these chords in root position, your left hand would jump all over the keyboard. Alternatively, if you played the same chord progression but alternated each chord between root position and second inversion, your left hand would remain in the same area of the keyboard (relatively) all the time. Try it.

    By alternating inversions you can play chord changes faster, more accurately, and even without looking. This alternating inversions trick works especially well when playing chords in the Circle of Fourths pattern. Refer to our cassette “Circle of Fourths Practice” found in the How to Play Piano by Ear album for more information on the Circle of Fourths.

    Although alternating between root position and second inversion is commonly used in basic pop music styles — not so in jazz. Jazz pianists have very special voicings for their chords and tend to favor alternating between first inversion and third inversion. See Lesson 34.

See Also:

Piano Keys
Piano History
Piano Tuning
Piano Strings

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