What is the future of player piano technology?

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This is Robert Estrin from LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Store with the question: What is the future of player piano technology? If you’ve been paying attention in the last couple of decades to what has been going on in this field, it is pretty fantastic. Player pianos have a long, rich history going back to the 19th Century. This was a contraption that went in front of your piano to play it. Soon after was an explosion of the player piano. Every home had to have one, much like how we have big-screen televisions today in just about every home. They were incredibly popular. Three times more pianos were purchased back then than today, with a population less than a third of what it is now. It was really the glory days of the player piano at the turn of the century until the 1920’s when the phonograph and radio came in and wiped out the player piano. However, they made a resurgence in the 1980s with the cassette-based player, floppy disks, CDs, and today we have wireless player pianos.

Wireless Piano Player Technology

Wireless player pianos can both record and play back performances. Yamaha’s Disklavier has been doing that for years on a very high level. Steinway with their Spirio system can now record and playback impeccably. There are other amazing things they can do. For example, the libraries that were created on the piano rolls of the expressive players, which they had at the turn of the century, offers performances of composers and pianists who may have recorded on 78 RPM awful sounding recordings. They recorded on piano rolls which recorded every nuance of their playing and have since been digitized. You can listen to Rachmaninoff or Gershwin play ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ on your modern player piano.

On the Spirio system and the Disklavier, they have their artists come in and make titles. They have other instruments that play through audio in perfect synchronization. You can even have videos of your performers and your piano plays live with the video. These are all things that are happening now. There are other features you may not be aware of. Disklavier can have concerts in multiple cities simultaneously by having their systems set up in concert halls. Auditions are also done this way so that people don’t have to travel so far. They may have a West Coast center and a New York center where people can play at and the judges can be wherever they want to be. The piano will play the same part for them, live.

What is on the horizon with player piano technology?

Are we done? Not by a long shot. One thing that Steinway is doing is taking old audio recordings of Horowitz, Rubinstein, and others and are digitizing them so that your piano plays their actual piano performance, even if they never made piano rolls. That technology may get good enough so that you could do that on your own someday. It isn’t there yet, but it is something to look forward to.

Another thing to look for is the emergence of hybrid pianos. Hybrid pianos use the front end of an acoustic piano, the action, with a digital sound generation. Combine that with player technology and the possibilities are endless. What is in store with player piano technologies? We can only guess. It has been very exciting in the last few years. I look forward myself and have been working on a prototype of a new category of modular concert grand systems that you’ll be hearing more about.

So glad to have you join me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Store.