Why it’s impossible to tune a piano

4 minutes

The mathematics of music means piano strings can never be in perfect harmony

Unlike with guitars and violins, pianos’ strings can never be perfectly tuned to one another. The solution? As this short animation from MinutePhysics explains, the instrument’s 88 strings across more than seven octaves means tuning a piano using harmonic intervals will inevitably lead to notes being fractionally off-pitch, with the issue compounding across octaves. So instead of using harmonics, piano-tuners generally keep octaves perfect, while leaving every other interval out of tune by just a tiny fraction. This workaround forsakes the appealing mathematical patterns of harmonics, but makes it possible to keep the kind of uniformity that is so valued in an era of mass production and reproduction of music.

Video by MinutePhysics

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