The music rolls

The music rolls were made of thin paper, with the music notes in the form of holes in the paper. Instructions for the player were printed on the paper. Pianorolls had many different formats and sizes. There was no standardisation until 1910: then the 88-note player was introduced and this standard was accepted all over the world. The majority of the rolls that have been produced were of the 88-note type. On a reproducing piano one can only play the rolls recorded for the instrument itself. In all there are dozens of different roll sizes.

The repertoire was very varied. A great deal of the music composed for the piano was available on music rolls. Furthermore there was a wide variety of orchestral music in two- or four-hand piano-transcriptions, classical music (symphonies, overtures), popular music, opera, operetta, dance music, songs. Whatever could be played on a piano, could be punched on a music roll. Contemporary composers like Strawinsky, Hindemith and Antheil were even tempted to make special compositions which could only be performed by a player piano. These compositions are often too complex to be played by the ten fingers of one pianist or even the twenty fingers of two.