If a piano is tuned to A 440, this means that key A4, the next A key above middle C, is tuned to the frequency of 440 Hertz, or 440 cycles per second.
Most modern pianos are designed to be tuned to A 440. The other notes on the piano are put into harmony using A4 as the original reference. This is done aurally, electronically, or by employing a hybrid approach that uses both aural and electronic methods.
Some tuners are “C-fork tuners.” Rather than use A 440 as their reference, they use the the the C5 key, the next C key above middle C as a reference. C5 tuning forks are at 523.3 Hz.
Instruments built in the early 20th Century and before were designed to be tuned to a lower frequency: A=435. C-fork tuners will use C=517.23 Hz.
Sometimes, A=442 is used for symphonic performance.
Although there are a few instruments that are designed to be tuned to 442 Hz or even 443 Hz, the majority of instruments in the United States are designed to be tuned to 440.
Tuning to A 442 is unlikely to harm a structurally sound piano. But, it is probably best to tune the piano to A 440 if at all possible. A 440 is recognized as “Concert Pitch.” This is the standard musicians use. Tuning to A 440 Hz insures that the A on your piano will be the same A that is heard on the radio, on the television, in church, school, and on the piano teacher’s piano.
A 440 is recommended by most manufacturers for their newer pianos that are still under warranty. Even though it will not harm the piano to tune to A 442,, this could violate the terms of the piano’s warranty.
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