A Musical Connection Between Generations
Outselling regular pianos in the early 20th century, player pianos will certainly go down as one of the most influential musical instruments in history. The foot pumped player is still common in homes to this day and serves as a link to the past, playing music exactly as it did decades ago. Reproducing pianos are able to almost perfectly replicate the sound of a live pianist, be the music classical, popular, or a complex jazz piece! Commercial coin operated pianos drew customers to speakeasies, restaurants, hotels, and made money while doing it. Even now, self-playing pianos continue to marvel and amaze, bringing music of yesterday to the 21st century.
Player Pianos and their music
The home player piano was, and to some extent continues to be one of the most popular musical instruments in all American households. Originally, the standard player piano was strictly foot-pumped. The player piano 'player' would speed up and slow down pumping to add expression, but it didn't take long for electric players to become popular and by the player piano revival of the 1950's and 60's, having an electric 'suction unit' was standard.
There's no expression coded into a normal 88 note piano roll, so having a constant amount of suction will result in music that does not express. Regardless, the sheer amount of piano rolls produced results in an almost limitless amount of music to listen to. One of the most popular piano roll arrangers: J Lawrence Cook output around 10,000 piano rolls. There are likely nearly one million total piano roll arrangements!
Reproducing Pianos have a level of versatility far surpassing the ability of a singular pianist. Not only are all 88 keys fully accessible by roll but vastly contrasting expression can be added, such playing technique only known by the most esteemed 'actual' pianists! With a reproducing piano, you can have George Gershwin in your home playing "Rhapsody In Blue" just as he did originally.
This music roll is for a Steinway Duo-Art, expression perforations on the sides of the actual playing notes.
Upright coin-operated player pianos were made by various manufacturers across the United States and were immensely popular up until the Prohibition. Nickelodeon music is truly one of the most peppy forms of music out there! Hot hits of the 10's, 20's, and 30's were transcribed from normal 88 note player piano rolls and extended for additional percussion, pipes, and expression.
The following photos show a Wurlitzer CX nickelodeon and its unique 'roll changer' mechanism. Below are other fine examples of upright coin operated pianos.
Cabinet nickelodeons or coin-operated player pianos became extremely popular after the Prohibition was enacted. These small pianos were able to fit in just about any corner of a speakeasy or 'joint'! Still able to have a fairly large amount of instrumentation and percussion, these truly excelled at being some of the most innovative music machines.
On Left: Nelson Wiggens Style 8,
On Right: Seeburg KT Special
Below: Wurlitzer Pianino
The market of these unfortunately took a huge plummet at The Great Depression and almost ironically, when the Prohibition came to an end, these became almost obsolete. Luckily, their size is what has undoubtedly saved many of these instruments.
Being able to be stored in homes and back rooms has allowed for instruments to still be discovered to this day!