Take a hypothetical example. If I only use the middle two octaves in the piano for some piece, would the piano sound badly if some of the keys in the other octaves are out of tune. Or would the piano sound better if all keys are in tune because of sympathetic vibration? Thanks

  • Really, how long would a piano sit with only one person playing on it only playing one piece? Since pianos don't go out of tune that quickly, might as well get the whole thing tuned so all the notes are there if you need them for the next three to twelve months. Oct 27, 2016 at 3:36
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    @ToddWilcox - The OP does mention 'hypothetically'. In real life, absolutely, it most likely would never happen (I hope...)
    – Tim
    Oct 27, 2016 at 7:26
  • Absolutely yes. Oct 27, 2016 at 12:34

3 Answers 3


The sympathetic vibration is the thing. When a key is pressed, and the damper pedal depressed, all the dampers move away from all the strings. Not only do the octaves of that note ring out sympathetically, but also, to a lesser extent, the other notes which are octave copies of the original's harmonics. So, yes, it would sound weird as in nowhere as rich.

  • True. However, if you don't use the damper pedal at all (I don't), there will be no difference in sound (barring minor, probably inaudible, differences because of the different amount of loading on the soundboard). Oct 27, 2016 at 10:15
  • @ScottWallace - the damper (sustain) pedal is an integral part of a piano, and generally speaking, its use is an integral part of nearly all players. There are many things which cannot be played successfully without using that pedal. However, you're right, it'd make no difference whether the other strings are in tune or not. Provided they weren't loose and floppy...
    – Tim
    Oct 27, 2016 at 10:23
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    @ScottWallace Not all the strings are damped, so you would have to tune the undamped strings too.
    – dtldarek
    Oct 27, 2016 at 12:13
  • @Tim- of course you're right. But there are quite a few people, especially old music freaks, who prefer the piano without sustain. If you play Bach with sustain, he will roll in his grave. Oct 27, 2016 at 12:13
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    @dtldarek- thanks, I'll try it out myself, next time I get to a piano. Cheers from another sound freak. Oct 27, 2016 at 12:23

To my best knowledge, the harp and soundboard would become misshapen and it would cause unnecessary stress on the instrument to leave it "half tuned" like you're describing. This would make it harder to get it tuned later on as it would require extra tunings to get the harp back into shape.

But hey, if you don't care about the instrument too much, do what's practical. It might even have a unique quality to the sound.

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    Of course, how much you would stress the harp depends on how much out of tune the strings are to begin with, and also on the particular piano. Oct 27, 2016 at 10:13
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    You'd be hard-pressed to detune enough to cause that sort of stress Oct 27, 2016 at 12:35
  • I know if the piano is even a quarter step flat the harp is way out of shape and will require 2 or 3 passes to get it back. They talk about the tension of all the piano strings together storing the same amount of energy as a car going 60 miles per hour! Oct 27, 2016 at 14:39
  • I understand from the OP that the piano has been fully tuned at one point, but has over time been out of tune. Then re-tune only the register in the middle that he use. In this case, the difference in strain on the instrument would not be considerable enough to misshapen the frame.
    – awe
    Oct 28, 2016 at 12:36
  • Don't worry about distorting the harp.
    – Laurence
    Apr 10, 2018 at 13:06

It wouldn't sound quite the same as a well-tuned piano. But probably not a whole lot different. Assuming the untuned strings are still at SOME pitch in the right ballpark, they'll still resonate when the pedal lifts their dampers. It doesn't matter if the one labelled 'C' is actually resonating at some other pitch!

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