Player Piano Rolls

Collection Overview

  • 63 piano rolls

List of piano rolls

Piano rolls

The concept of the player piano—a piano which uses a stream of perforated paper to play music automatically—dates from the late nineteenth century. Early versions provided only for notes, and relied upon a human operator using foot-pumping motion for power and to set an even tempo. In the first decade of the twentieth century, a system was developed which allowed for tempo and dynamics to be included. These so-called "Reproducing Piano Rolls," which captured many of the nuances of the pianist, were among the first opportunities for pianists to leave a record of their performances. From roughly 1915 to 1930, the piano roll enjoyed it's greatest popularity.

In the first decade of the twentieth century, a system was developed which allowed for tempo and dynamics to be included. These so-called "Reproducing Piano Rolls," which captured many of the nuances of the pianist, were among the first opportunities for pianists to leave a record of their performances. From roughly 1915 to 1930, the piano roll enjoyed it's greatest popularity. The library houses a small collection of piano rolls from this era, including performances by Paderewski, Grainger and Artur Rubenstein.

There were several companies which manufactured Reproducing Piano Rolls. Of the library's collection, five rolls use the Ampico system; the rest are manufactured by Duo-Art (Aeolian Company). The condition of the rolls varies from item to item. The paper is at least seventy years old, and is showing signs of aging. Several of the rolls will need repair before they can be played.

The library does not own equipment for playback of these rolls. Arrangements may be made for patrons who wish to use the rolls on outside equipment. Patrons seeking equipment to use the rolls should be aware that the Duo-Art and Ampico systems are incompatible with one another.

The collection is available for research by appointment in the music library. For information, please contact our Collection Development Librarian, Sara Nodine.