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My acoustic upright piano is 110 years old, made in 1910. Last time I had it tuned, the tuner used a 440 Hz tuning fork and tuned it by ear, but he broke my B♭7 string. If a piano is not used in an orchestra, but only home use, wouldn't it be better to tune middle A to 432 Hz (Verdi's A) which better resonates with the fundamental 8 Hz Schumann resonance? This lower tuning might sound better and extend string life.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Dom Mar 11 at 19:54
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    Thomas, could you please clarify what Schumann Resonances have to do with the question? These are planetary electromagnetic effects, predicted by Winfried Schumann, the 20th century physicist - nothing to do with sound or pianos (and, nothing at all to do with Robert Schumann, the 19th century composer). (Note to @Dom: this came up in the chain moved to chat, but I'm posing this as a legit request for clarification on the question; hope that's ok) – SusanW Mar 11 at 21:09
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It might extend string life, and it might make the piano sound rather dull since the strings may be designed for the tension at which A is 440 Hz or even higher. Whether it's better is a matter of opinion.

The fact that Verdi used 432 Hz (if that is in fact true; this is the first I've heard of it) has very little bearing on the tuning of a piano unless it is a piano of Verdi's time. It might also be of interest for singers of Verdi's music.

The fact that 432 is differently resonant with 8 Hz than is 440 Hz is not relevant in the least. The number is just an arbitrary standard based on an arbitrary unit of time. The second is hardly a fundamental constant of nature.

As Tim points out in his answer, if an old piano's pitch is low, it might be a good idea to leave it low. Whether 432 is a good frequency for A would really depend on the piano, not on any fanciful numerological ideas.

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    The standard pitch of A=440 Hz was chosen in 1936by the American Standards Association that the A above middle C be tuned to 440 Hz. My acoustic piano is 110 years old, made in 1910. My piano's strings predate the 440 Hz for A era. Giuseppe F.F. Verdi (1813-1901) Italian composer chose the Pythagorean Tuning (Scientific Pitch) of A4 =432Hz which is based on middle C4 = 256 Hz with all octaves of C having a whole number value. I believe if the world standard for concert pitch was changed from A4=440Hz to A4=432 Hz then we would have a lot less tension in the world and maybe richer Harmonies. – Thomas Mar 8 at 5:48
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    @Thomas the standard of 440 Hz for A4 was first chosen 76 years before your piano was built, in 1834 by the Gesellschaft Deutscher Naturforscher und Ärzte. So whether your piano was designed for a different pitch depends rather on who made it. The idea that Verdi used Pythagorean tuning is ludicrous: European composers haven't written music that works reasonably in Pythagorean tuning since roughly 500 years before Verdi. – phoog Mar 8 at 12:17
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    @Tim the frequency is proportional to the square root of the tension, so to reduce the frequency by 2%, you have to reduce the tension by 4%. I don't know what effect this would have on the tone, especially in light of the stiffness and consequent inharmonicity of piano strings (the reason for stretched tuning). But I do know that brightness of tone is the usual reason given for ensembles tuning to pitches such as 441 or 442 Hz. If a change of one or two Hz has a noticeable effect on the tone, surely 8 Hz will, too. – phoog Mar 8 at 12:35
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    @Tim restringing a piano is a huge job. – phoog Mar 8 at 20:11
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    @awelotta yes, it is, but the square of 98% is 96.04%. To be more precise, 432 is 98.182% of 440 (a reduction of 1.8182%), so to reduce the frequency of an ideal string from 440 Hz to 432 Hz, the tension would have to be reduced to 96.397% of the original, which is a reduction of 3.6033% – phoog Mar 9 at 16:29
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When playing period music, on period instruments, they are tuned to the standard of that time, if at all possible. Partly to be authentic, mostly to be kind to the instruments. Understandably.

Given that your piano is old, thus the strings probably are too, any Hz lower than 440 will be kinder. There's no good reason to use 432Hz, though. If it was mine, I'd probably go for making B♭ 440Hz. Then at least I could play along with the majority of stuff that's recorded or on the radio - or even along with others that were concert pitch tuned - albeit a semitone out. But that's me.

From your position, any lower tuning would suffice, although there would come a point where the strings were too loose, and sound quality would suffer. I guess that's where tuning experience comes in. An awful lot of older pianos never get back to their original concert pitch, tuners are happier to leave then slightly under, for many good reasons.

Thus - if it's dropped slightly, just get it tuned to itself at that pitch. 440Hz, 432Hz, 428Hz, whatever, it'll still work. Back in the '60s, guitar bands would tune to whoever was best in tune already - that didn't stop things sounding good, even if it was 'in the cracks'!

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    "mostly to be kind to the instruments": most of the instruments are modern copies. It's mostly for authenticity. – phoog Mar 8 at 12:36
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    +1 I completely agree. If you're going to tune down, tune down by a whole number of half steps. Jazz and Big Band guitarists tuned down a half step in the early 20th century to play in flat keys with horn sections. Metal guitarists tune down 1 or 2 half steps nowadays - but for different reasons, they just want a lower-than-standard tuning. – Level River St Mar 9 at 1:14
  • @LevelRiverSt - strange that orchestras think things sound better higher, whereas guitar bands think exactly the opposite... – Tim Mar 9 at 7:36
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    B♭ at 440 Hz would mean A to be 415 Hz. That’s a much bigger move than OP suggested. – Melebius Mar 9 at 12:32
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    My piano was a semitone flat for many years as my tuner was nervous about raising it. I don't have perfect pitch so I lived with it. However, I switched tuner and the new tuner was braver and restored it to concert pitch with no issues. This makes playing with others easier. – badjohn Mar 9 at 13:56
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If an acoustic piano is required to play with other instruments tuned to concert pitch then it will be better to tune the piano to 440 Hz. If the piano is not going to play with other musical instruments ( other than voice ) then it can be acceptable to tune it to 432 Hz assuming the piano tuner has a 432Hz tuning fork. Next time I get my piano tuned I may ask for the 432 Hz = middle A just to check out any difference in the harmonies and resonance.

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