I define a "Player Piano" as a piano powered by foot-pedals or a
hand-crank, and containing an added built-in mechanism which operates
the piano keys in lieu of a human pianist. Previously arranged
musical data, stored as holes in punched paper or pins in a cylinder,
is read by a data reader mechanism which ultimately operates the
"Barrel Piano" or "Roller Piano" is the name for the earliest
form of player piano. It is powered by a hand-crank and
controlled by a pinned cylinder which resembles a biscuit roller
the size of a tree trunk! The hammer velocity is constant in a
barrel piano; the only operator control is the cranking speed,
which determines the music speed.
The beloved "Pianola" or "Phonola" (both names are famous
brands) was produced in great quantity from about 1905 until the
late 1920s. The pneumatic mechanism is built-in, with a "data reader"
for a perforated paper "music roll". The data reader has a
speed governor with a "Tempo" knob for operator control of the
music speed. Operating power is from foot pedals which pump a
large vacuum bellows; the more vigorously that the pedals are
pumped, the louder is the sound.
The sound of music rolls made for playing on a foot powered piano
can be greatly enhanced by the additional nuances added by a skilled
operator, who varies the foot-pump pressure and manipulates small
hand-levers during the song in order to add accents and crescendos,
"Themodist" and "Phonolist" are brand names of player pianos
which have an additional simple mechanism to make sudden
accents. The special music rolls have tiny holes added at each
side called "theme perforations" or "snakebites". When these
special rolls are skillfully foot-pumped they can produce very
realistic musical performances.
Player Pianos, Part 2:
These pianos with motor-powered pumps generally have few controls
for the operator, and so the music roll contains extra data holes
which control special "expression" devices in the piano. An exception
is the "Nickelodeon" or "Coin Piano" which has music arranged
specifically for its characteristic (loud) sound.
Note that a pumper piano fitted with an electric vacuum pump is not in
this category. In fact, the whole thing should be in the...........
Some units, like the Jansenn, Kohler & Campbell and Kimball, employ a combination of electrically and pneumatically operated devices and must be "plugged-in" to work. All of these units have a push-button start, automatic rewind and automatic shut-off capability.
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The "Expression Piano" is derived from the foot-pumped piano with
the addition of an electric motor-powered pump and a few relatively
simple devices to vary the hammer velocity. (Typically, the unit has a
five step volume control which can be controlled manually or with
specially coded rolls. One of the most common varieties is the
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The "Reproducing Piano" is ...
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The "Solenoid Piano" is the newest system. It uses a floppy
disk for data storage, big electric solenoids to push the keys,
and a modern mini-computer to interpret the data and control the
hammer velocity. It can also record the motion of the hammers
or keys while played by a pianist, and then later reproduce the
performance. The loudness and music play-back speed may be varied
slightly by operator control. Since it's entirely automatic it's
not as much fun as pumping the foot pedals of the "Pianola".
Mechanical Music Device (definition):
"A rank or ranks of mechanical tone generators, controlled
by pre-recorded parallel binary data, which creates music."
Data Storage Media:
"book": Punched cardboard sheets, hinged and Z-folded
"roll": Punched paper roll
"disc": Punched metal disc
"cylinder": pinned cylinder of metal
"barrel": pinned cylinder of wood
"Midi": computer disc file
Categories of Mechanical Musical Devices, by type of tone
Music Box (plucked pendant metal tine)
Cylinder Music Box (cylinder)
Disk Music Box (disc)
Player Organ (organ pipe and/or reed)
Reed Organ (roll, barrel)
Roller Organ (roll)
Drehorgel Hurdy-gurdy (barrel, roll, chip)
Fair-, Street-, Dance Hall- Organ (book, roll)
Theater Organ (roll)
Reed Organ (roll)
Player Accordion (incl. "Tanzbar")
Leierkasten Hurdy-gurdy - hand-cranked antique
Common Types of Player Piano
The system name is given, followed by the owning company.
Below the system name is the "brand name" using the system.
Thus PianoCorder is listed under Duo-Art, even though it
is a solenoid device, because its split-stack system is
the same as the pneumatic Duo-Art.
This preceding information was compiled by Robbie Rhodes, who has given us
permission to present it to you on this webpage.
This MIDI file is called "
Saved by Gabriel
" and it was created on May 17, 1998 after hearing the song on an old cassette tape. Gabriel Della Fave converted the audio cassette to Real Audio and I wrote the midi file the next day. Like many of my tunes, this one never had a title until now.