What is Prepared Piano? A Comprehensive Guide

Explore the fascinating world of prepared piano. Learn how it works, its history, and its role in modern music production. Dive into the unexpected with us.

Image of a woman playing a grand piano.

Ever been to a rock concert and thought to yourself, “this is insane! But could it get even crazier?” Picture this – a grand piano on stage, unlike any piano you’ve ever seen or heard. Suddenly, it’s not just tickling the ivories; there are unusual, mind-boggling sounds resonating. Welcome to the wild world of prepared piano, where the familiar meets the unexpected. I bet you’re wondering just how does this magic happen?

What is a prepared piano? Well, it’s a grand piano doctored with various objects to alter its sounds for a more dynamic and intriguing musical experience. Imagine adding screws, mutes, or erasers to the strings – it’s like pimping your ride but for your piano!

What’s in a prepared piano?

Here’s a little fact-based table that shows you some common objects used in the prepared piano and the sounds they help produce. Prepared pianos can be quite an addition to your home studio, allowing you to experiment with sounds and audio engineering in a completely new way.

Image of a woman playing a grand piano.
Image of a woman playing a grand piano.
Object UsedSound Produced
ScrewsHigh-pitched, metallic tones
Rubber ErasersMuted, thudding sounds
CoinsRattling, shimmering sounds
Plastic BitsTwangy, resonant notes
BoltsDeep, metallic clangs
A brief list of objects commonly used in the prepared piano and the sounds they produce.
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Image of a woman playing a grand piano.
My favorite MIDI keyboard (at the moment):

AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3

What is prepared piano? A comprehensive guide | 717qmgla7zl. Ac sl1500 | audio apartment
My favorite MIDI keyboard (at the moment):

AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3

I’m loving the AKAI MPK Mini MK3 for its compact design and the range of controls. It’s one of my essential tools. The velocity-sensitive keys and MPC-style pads are great for making beats, while the thumbstick and knobs give me precise control.

How does a prepared piano work?

So here’s where it gets interesting. The first step to finding out how a prepared piano works is understanding that a prepared piano is no ordinary piano. It’s whimsical, it’s experimental, and it’s all about crafting unique, wacky sounds. You take that beautiful classic grand piano and add bits and bobs like erasers, screws, coins, or plastic. 

Each object alters the piano strings to create a new, unique sound. That’s why a prepared piano can sound like nothing you’ve ever heard before. It’s like that mashup version of Linkin Park and Jay Z’s “Numb/Encore.” A total curveball!

Here’s a table outlining the dos and don’ts of using a prepared piano:

Do’sDon’ts
Experiment with various objects for unique sounds.Don’t use objects that can damage the piano strings or mechanisms.
Secure the objects properly to prevent accidents.Don’t use excessive force when placing objects on the strings.
Explore different techniques for sound manipulation.Don’t neglect proper maintenance and care for the piano.
Document your preparations for future reference.Don’t leave objects on the strings for extended periods.
Embrace creativity and push the boundaries.Don’t force the piano beyond its physical limitations.

Who invented the prepared piano?

Los Angeles-based composer John Cage is hailed as the genius who invented the prepared piano. The man changed the game, simple as that. He wanted a more percussion-like sound for his dance piece Bacchanale but only had a grand piano to work with.

So, Cage decided to think outside the box (or inside the piano, to be exact) and began inserting objects into the instrument to transform its sound. Fun fact: his music teacher influenced him by plucking and strumming piano strings to create unique sounds.

Why use a prepared piano?

Now you might ask, “why on earth would I want to stuff random objects into my grand piano?” Well, because you can change the game. The main purpose of a prepared piano is to manipulate the sound of the instrument. Do you want to create a more percussive sound? No problem. You’re looking for an eerie, suspenseful effect? Easy. With a prepared piano, the possibilities are endless, and you’re not bound to the piano’s usual range of sounds.

Image of a grand piano.
Image of a grand piano.

Is playing a prepared piano different from a regular piano?

Yes, it is! With a prepared piano, the changes to the strings mean that each key can have a unique sound and timbre. So, playing a prepared piano can be a surprise, with each key strike unleashing something unexpected. It’s a bit like having a magic box, y’know? No, it’s nothing like Harry Potter, but honestly, it’s akin to discovering Narnia in your cupboard. It’s like, “Yo, where did THAT sound come from?”

What are some notable pieces done on a prepared piano?

Ready to give your ears a crazy musical journey? Check out these famous pieces:

  • Bacchanale by John Cage: It’s the OG of prepared piano pieces and takes you on a wild ride.
  • Sonatas and Interludes, also by John Cage: This collection was a deliberate effort to use the prepared piano in a more controlled, experimental setting.
  • “Little Fishes” by Brian Eno: Bet you didn’t expect the guy from Roxy Music to be on this list, did you? Prepare to be blown away.
  • Drukqs by Aphex Twin: He’s more known for his electronic beats, but this album also features some killer prepared piano tracks.
  • The Prepared Piano by Hauschka: This entire album is a tour de force of the possibilities of a prepared piano.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using a prepared piano?

Using a prepared piano can offer unique artistic opportunities, but it also comes with certain drawbacks. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of using a prepared piano:

Advantages

  • Expanded sound palette: Prepared piano techniques can produce a wide range of unconventional sounds and textures, allowing composers and performers to explore new sonic possibilities that are not achievable with a traditional piano.
  • Enhanced expressiveness: The added objects on the strings alter the piano’s timbre and resonance, offering greater expressive potential. This can evoke specific moods, atmospheres, or certain emotions that may not be achievable with a regular piano.
  • Increased creativity: Prepared piano encourages experimentation and pushes the boundaries of traditional composition. It challenges composers and performers to think outside the box and explore unique ways to create music.
  • Customizability: Different objects and preparations can be used on the piano, providing the opportunity to customize the instrument’s sound to suit specific musical compositions or concepts.

Disadvantages

  • Risk of damage: Placing objects on the strings or inside the piano carries the risk of damaging the instrument if not done properly. Objects that are too heavy or sharp can cause scratches, dents, or even break the strings.
  • Limited repertoire: Prepared piano techniques may not be suitable for all types of music. The unique sound qualities produced by the preparations may limit the range of musical styles and genres in which the instrument can be effectively used.
  • Maintenance challenges: Maintaining a prepared piano requires additional effort. The objects used in preparations must be regularly checked for any wear or damage, and the piano may require specialized cleaning or adjustments.
  • Accessibility and availability: Prepared pianos may not be available in all settings or performance venues. This can limit the opportunities for musicians to perform on a prepared piano, especially outside of specialized contemporary music contexts.

It’s important to weigh these advantages and disadvantages when deciding to use a prepared piano, considering the specific artistic vision, musical context, and the availability of resources and expertise for preparation and maintenance.

If you want even more great tips and information, check out the video.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Below are some of the commonly asked questions about prepared piano.

Can I use a prepared piano in MIDI form?

Absolutely, you can! Various software instruments and sample packs offer a range of prepared piano sounds. These MIDI versions can add the same distinct flavors to your music production without the need to physically tamper with a real piano.

Do I need any special training to play a prepared piano?

The beauty of a prepared piano is its unpredictability. While understanding the basics of piano playing can be beneficial, you don’t need to be a virtuoso or have formal training to experiment with the instrument.

Is a prepared piano considered a new instrument?

While there are significant changes made to a traditional piano, a prepared piano still operates on the same basic principles as a standard piano. It’s still played using a keyboard and still produces sound through strings. So, it’s more like a pimped-up version of a piano rather than a totally new instrument.

Conclusion

In all seriousness, prepared piano might seem like an unorthodox method, but it’s an exciting avenue to unleash your creativity and make your music stand out. Hopefully, this article answered your questions about prepared piano. Did I cover everything you wanted to know? I read and reply to every comment, so don’t be a stranger – leave me a note below! If you found this article insightful, share it with a friend, fellow music lover, or aspiring audio engineer.

Key takeaways

This article covered the fun and fascinating world of the prepared piano. Here are some key takeaways:

  • A prepared piano alters sounds by adding objects to the strings of a piano.
  • John Cage invented the prepared piano for a more percussion-like sound.
  • Playing a prepared piano is different but doesn’t require special training.
  • Prepared Piano MIDI versions are available for music production.
  • Although fun, using a prepared piano has challenges and advantages.
  • Various famous pieces and albums showcase prepared piano music.

Helpful resources

Image Andrew Ash
Written by Andrew Ash, Staff Writer

Hey there! My name is Andrew, and I'm relatively new to music production, but I've been learning a ton, and documenting my journey along the way. That's why I started this blog. If you want to improve your home studio setup and learn more along with me, this is the place for you!

Nick eggert.
Edited by Nick Eggert, Staff Editor

Nick is our staff editor and co-founder. He has a passion for writing, editing, and website development. His expertise lies in shaping content with precision and managing digital spaces with a keen eye for detail.

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