How to Vary Your Sound with Prepared Piano Techniques - dummies

By Hal Leonard Corp., Adam Perlmutter

In the 20th century, many composers and pianists became bored with the normal sounds of a piano. No longer satisfied by the effects of trills, glissandi, and tremolos, these brave pioneers started tinkering around under the piano lid.

Try it yourself. Open your piano lid and pluck the strings with your fingernail. Now try a gliss across all the strings while holding down the sustain pedal. The sound is mysterious and a bit creepy.

Composers like Henry Cowell and John Cage didn’t stop there. They began writing pieces that incorporated these sounds, asking the player to pluck certain notes on the inside of the piano. And you think playing the black and white keys is hard!

Pushing the limits even further, a phenomenon called prepared piano became quite popular (and still is) with modern composers. A myriad of new sounds were created by inserting various objects between the piano strings — screws, yarn, pillows, and so on.

You shouldn’t try prepared piano at home because hardware between the strings can damage your expensive piano. If you really want to experience these sounds the right way, check out the following recordings:

  • The Banshee, Henry Cowell: Among other things, you hear strumming or plucking of the piano strings.

  • Airplane Sonata, George Antheil: A number of strange piano effects are evident in this eclectic piece.

  • Tabula rasa, Arvo Pärt: The piano part is prepared with screws between the strings.

  • The Firm Soundtrack, Dave Grusin: This piece uses all types of things on the piano, including a violin bow playing across the strings.