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The Impact of the Player Piano in American Society

The letters below need no explanation. I did as requested.
My responses were not sent to the Mechanical Music Digest (MMD).

From: I_luv_chicos@hotmail.com (Abigail Cervantes)(fwd)
To: (Adam Ramet)
Date: Thu, 23 Nov 2000 23:29:10 -0000

Subject: Social Impact of Player Piano

-- forwarded message, please reply to sender and MMD --

[ I have received the following inquiry and thought that the MMDers
[ could best respond to this young lady with their thoughts to make
[ her class assignment really the best. Please reply to her direct.
[ Yours
[ Adam Ramet

I am Abigail Ceravntes, a seventh grader at Madison Meadows Middle school. I was assigned to do a twentieth century invention for my seventh grade English class. I choose the player piano for my assignment. I would be grateful if you send me some history, manufacturing, distribute, advertising, and What impact does the player piano have upon our society.

My e-mail address is: I_luv_chicos@hotmail.com

Abigail Cervantes


Hi Abigail,

I'm John A. Tuttle from Player-Care.com, I run a large website that is devoted to player pianos.

If I were to sum up the impact that the player piano has had on the world (and especially America, England and Germany - in that order), I would say that they were the first truly 'interactive' musical entertainment device that required no knowledge or understanding of music. Unlike the music box or the record player, which were around before the player piano, the player piano had to be pumped by foot in order for the music to play. This forced the 'pianolist' (the person who pumps the player piano) to sit at the instrument and 'work' to enjoy the music. With the music box and the record player, the user simply wound it up, started it, and walked away.

Some people might say that the player piano was really not that much different from the record player or the music box because with all three devices, someone had to do some 'work' to make them play. However, the really big difference with the player piano was that if you pedalled it softly, the music played softly. If you pedalled it hard, the music would play LOUD! This is what I mean when I say it was interactive. As time went by, people discovered that they could make the music sound very life-like by changing the way they pumped the pedals as the music played. Today there are contests to find out who can pump the pedals and make the music sound like a real human being is playing the piano. It's lots of fun.....

Another thing that was unique about the player piano was that the words of the song were actually printed on the paper music roll. This made it possible to sing along with the music even if the listener had never heard the song before. What started happening was that people would gather around the player piano and sing along. This became very popular at parties and family gatherings. It was, and still is lots of fun.

So, besides being an interactive musical instrument, the player piano also brought people together in a way that has not been matched by any other device since its invention around 1895. And you can see that the player piano was much more than just an entertainment center or a musical instrument.

During the 1920's, the player piano became so popular that over 450 different piano makers started installing player mechanisms into their instruments. Few inventions in history have attracted so many different companies. Almost overnight, new companies sprang up to help fill the demand for player pianos, and it's said that one in every five families owned a player piano by 1930. Millions of player piano have been made over the past 100 years, and they are still being made today. (Try to find a new wind-up record player today.)

Many believe that the player piano would have continued to develop if the stock market hadn't crashed in 1929. When the market crashed, people had very little money and shortly afterwards came the great depression of the 1930's. Since music rolls only cost about $0.50, many people could still afford to buy a new music roll every now and then. So even though the people of the United States were very poor, they could spend many hours entertaining themselves by "pumpin' that ole player piano".

In many conversations I've had with people in their 70's and 80's, the one bright spot that stands out in their minds about the depression was the many hours they spent with their friends and loved ones in front of a player piano, singing their hearts out. It made a very rough time in American history seem a little more pleasant.

As a man who has spent the last 30 years of his life working on player pianos, I can tell you that I've never seen any device make more people instantly happy. My greatest joy in life is seeing the smiles on people's faces when I finish rebuilding a player piano and the family hears the music play for the first time in many years. Children and adults alike love player pianos. And you don't have to be a rocket scientist to make the unit play. When my daughter was only three years old, she would sit on the floor in front of the pedals and push them by hand to make the music play. It's a priceless memory.

Another interesting fact about the player piano is it's similarity to the early computers. As you may know, the early computers used punch cards to store information and programs. (They didn't have floppy disks or hard drives.) The principles that are used in the player piano are identical to those used to make the first computers operate. Most simply put, the little holes in a music roll turn little switches 'on' and 'off', just like the punch cards in the first computers. And while it's never been proven that the player piano was the forerunner of the modern day computer, many historians have noted the similarities between the two devices. The only real difference between the two was that the computer did math problems while the player piano made music!

In closing, the player piano has had a profound impact on American society. The only entertainment devices that have been more popular are the radio, the record player, the television and now the computer. And the main reason that those devices have been more popular is that they can entertain AND educate people. The only real purpose of the player piano was to entertain people.

Hope this helps your report.


John A. Tuttle
Brick, NJ

Hi John A. Tuttle,

Thank you so much for your help. The information that you send me really helped my report and was very interesting. I never knew that the player pinao could be so fascinating to learn about.This instrument has impacted our world in so many ways that its incredible to see the look on peoples faces when they learn about its history. Thank you so much again for helping me.

Abigail Cervantes


Hi Abigail,

How about that!!....... I was just this moment thinking about you, and ..boom... there's your letter.... incredible!!!

I am very happy that you found my letter so useful. There aren't very many player piano repair technicians left in America. Very few young people are entering the trade. It's my hope that by providing information about every aspect of the instrument, more and more people will slow down a little and enjoy the more simple pleasures that life has to offer, like player pianos.

People who don't know much about player pianos often wonder if the paper music rolls are still available. Fact is there are thousands of songs available, and new music is being recorded onto paper rolls every year. (The paper rolls last for decades.) Also, there are new music roll arrangers and composers who are constantly making original material and recording it onto paper music rolls. Some recent releases include songs from Titanic, Elton John (his song for Princess Diane), Riverdance and many more. So there's lots of music for every age group.

If lots of younger people start seeing that they can have a really great time singing some of their favorite modern songs (as well as timeless classics like Happy Birthday and Here Comes Santa Claus), they, like many of their parents before them, will grow to love gathering together on a week night or weekend. I've watched it happen at the homes of my customers. There is an infectious nature about the player piano that almost defies explanation. Personally, I think everybody loves to hear the sounds of a piano that's being played beautifully, whether it's by a 'pianist' or by a good 'pianolist'.


John A. Tuttle

This page was last revised on March 10, 2019 by John A. Tuttle ( John A Tuttle).

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