Should I keep my upright piano up against a wall?

If you go into most homes with a piano, you’ll find that generally, upright pianos are kept up against a wall. It seems to be the accepted standard, and it also seems that upright pianos were designed that way. The consensus seems to be that they’re mainly practice instruments, to be pushed out of the way so they don’t take up much space. They don’t need the presence of a grand piano.

But what if you had your upright piano not against a wall? How does it affect your playing and practice? We’re going to go through a few reasons why this may or may not be a good idea.

For the record, you can put your piano wherever you want to - this is just a guide as to what might be best for you. I’m not trying to tell you what to do!

Why shouldn’t I position my piano against a wall?

Firstly, let’s look at why you might not want to put your piano against a wall. 

Pianos suffer when temperature changes occur. If your home is not well-insulated, you may find that pushing a piano up against the wall can result in the piano experiencing temperature changes. When you put the piano up against an exterior wall, this can be much worse, especially in winter as the cold and the moisture can cause quite a lot of problems with your piano.

If the piano is subjected to extreme cold, for example overnight, and then you find that you’re cold in the morning and you turn the heaters on, and the piano warms up, you may find that over time this encourages cracks in the soundboard. This is because the wood will expand and contract due to temperature changes. This is a risk of owning a piano anyway, but will be made much worse if the insulation in your house is poor and the piano is pushed right up against a wall.

Coupled with that, if your walls are cold and then the interior of the house is warmed up, you will find that condensation can appear on the walls. If the piano is pushed up against a wall, this can cause moisture to transfer to the piano. If there is not enough airflow around the back of the piano, you may experience warping of the wood, or even mould. And nobody wants that. This is even a concern if you have a digital piano, seeing as they are also made of wood and susceptible to similar damage.

Despite all this, your piano is perfectly safe against a wall, providing it’s:

  • Not an exterior wall. If it is, make sure your house is well insulated if you experience extremes in temperature. I keep my piano up against a chimney breast, which experiences no significant temperature fluctuations throughout the seasons.
  • Not against a radiator. If you put your piano against a radiator, the wood will warp.
  • At least 10 - 15 cm away from the wall, to encourage good airflow.
  • Away from any air vents, open doorways or fireplaces.


Aesthetic concerns

We’ve covered a few reasons as to why you might not want to keep your piano against a wall. However, keeping it against a wall is what an upright piano was designed for, and it’s when they look their best. An upright piano not against a wall will make your home much less aesthetically pleasing.

At the back of the piano is the soundboard. This is not designed to be looked at, and as a result is often unfinished and ugly-looking. If this is what you want to look at, then go ahead, but your piano will look much better and will fit much better into the decor of your home if you keep it against a wall. 

This is in contrast to a grand piano, which is designed to be admired on stage as a world-renowned pianist plays a concert. Uprights were primarily designed as practice instruments, and as a result, were built to be kept against a wall. As a result, they look quite ungainly when moved away from a wall.

Acoustics

There’s no denying this - an upright piano sounds better when moved away from a wall. This is because the sound is generated at the back of the piano. When moved away from the wall, the piano sound is given more space to resonate - it doesn’t bounce back off the wall straight away. You can try this yourself, Move your piano away from the wall a little. You’ll be shocked at how much more live and resonant the sound is.

Think of it like this - an upright piano against a wall is like a grand piano with the lid closed. You still get the sound of the piano, but it isn’t at it’s full potential. An upright piano not against a wall is like a grand piano with its lid open. The sound is infinitely better.


Safety

There is a small safety concern when keeping a piano away from a wall. If the piano is taller than a standard upright piano (around 48”) you may find that there’s an increased risk of it tipping over. This could be a potential safety concern if you are using the piano in a school, or in a high traffic area where there are lots of people walking past.

It’s important to be sensible here. Upright pianos will tip over given enough force, and because they’re so heavy they will cause serious damage to anything (or anyone) that they fall on top of. Moving the piano ever so slightly away from the wall to give the sound more space is probably not going to end in disaster. If you keep the piano right in the middle of the room, you’re potentially risking it falling on someone. This is especially true if you try to move it.

Another concern is moving the piano. If the piano needs to be moved often, put it on castors and make sure you have a hardwood floor. Trying to move a piano around on carpet is going to result in the piano tipping over as the wheels dig into the carpet. If you're moving it into another room, or to a different floor in your house, you might want to get the pros in to help you. A warning; this may get a bit expensive.

It’s important to note that you should do whatever you feel is right for your musical development. If you need the increased sound and resonance from moving the piano away from the wall, then do so. Just be aware of the potential safety concerns that comes with it. You may actually be better off buying a grand piano.

Of course, if you need a piano to be moved around a lot, why not buy a digital piano? They’re much lighter, and are easier and safer to move around. If you want to know how to transport a digital piano, check out my recent article.

I’m really interested in your thoughts on this. How do you keep your piano - away from the wall? Against the wall? Let me know in the comments below.

July 24, 2020

July 10, 2020

June 3, 2020

May 24, 2020

May 10, 2020

May 8, 2020


2 thoughts on “Should I keep my upright piano up against a wall?”

  1. We have a Steinway upright, converted player piano. In other words, player mechanism has been removed. Sticking keys is the reason I found your sight, and hopefully your advice will help. We keep it away from the wall, actually 90 degrees to it to help with the feng shui, as all interior walls have been removed over the years. My wife loves the sound this way. Our piano tuner, I think, has given up on it, and wants to take it and refurbish it. We live in Louisiana, so humidity is a possibility, though we’ve been in this house for 25 years, and the sticking keys is a recent problem. I’ll try a dehumidifier, next.

    Reply
    • Hi Eddie; thanks for your comment. It’s difficult to say what’s causing this problem without having a look at the piano. Do you find the keys stick more in summer than they do in winter? If so, humidity is likely the answer. However given that you’ve said you’ve had the piano a long time and this is a recent problem leads me to believe this is probably a mechanical issue. You could try a dehumidifier (a company used to make dehumidifiers for pianos, I’m not sure if they’re still around but they were called Dampp-Chaser) or alternatively it may be worth having your tune refurbish and restore it. I’m guessing a Steinway converted player piano is probably nearly 100 years old, and it’s likely that some of the parts will be worn and will need replacing. I hope you get it fixed, and sorry I can’t be of more help!

      Reply

Leave a Comment