Monday, May 11, 2009

Pedaling the Piano

So, you guys know how much I loved singing… but one thing I never learned to do, but always meant to, was read music. While I’m able to use my ear for singing, that’s as far as my ear has been able to take me.

My Grandpa Gerald has this great knack for being able to play piano by ear. He would pluck out the polka Red Wing whenever he was visiting and my siblings and I would dance like it was a Friday night with Lawrence Welk. Last summer when he and my Grandma came to visit he walked by my piano and hit a few keys with his fingers… same song from all those years ago. “Guess I still know a little of it.” he said.

I smiled.


I had the best of intentions when this old piano came to my home. I was finally going to learn how to read music and have the ability to hear the piano played whenever I wanted. The piano was a hand-me-down, and I knew that it was built around 1900 and used to function as a player piano. It has all of it’s original parts and had only been tuned once… and I really need to have it tuned again. But truly, the sound isn’t all that bad.


My brother-in-law Jeff and nephew Thomas were playing around with it a few years ago, just out of curiosity to see how it worked. They opened the sliding doors and fiddled with little levers here and there, trying to see what they were attached to and how it was put together.


Wouldn’t you know it? They found this little lever that said “play.” Thomas started pedaling and suddenly the keys were moving up and down and little notes of music trickled out. After I hugged them each fifty thousand times, I clapped like a little school girl at the prospect of it working.


I didn’t need to learn to read music after all… I just needed to be able to pedal! [I tried very hard to get you a close up shot of the pedals, but a certain poser wouldn’t get out of the way.]


All this time, I had thought the roll in the piano was just a place  holder, but it turns out it holds an actual song. And a lovely one at that.


And when it finishes, you can see the patent information for the scroll.

IMG_6722 crop

As you can see on the top line, that date reads December 29, 1896. The oldest date on the sheet is 1909. Isn’t that amazing? From the little research I’ve done, this type of player piano was only made for a few years and has a 65-note format. Any players made after 1908 have an 88-note format and almost any rolls of music you can find are now made this way.

I had to tape a few tears in the paper of my roll, but it still worked beautifully. Or at least it did a few years ago. Now when I try to play it the roll moves slowly and I can hear air escaping from one of the tubes. Someday when I get it tuned I’m hoping that an air hose just got loose and when it’s reattached it will play like this again:

jonboy player piano from gitzengirl on Vimeo.

Didn’t my Jonboy do a great job?!?! It’s a whole lot of pedaling, but I’m thinking that’s one form of physical therapy I could talk myself into doing. :)


  1. that's a serious workout right there.

    Recent blog post: sometimes it’s more a crawl than a walk

  2. Robin~All Things Heart and HomeMay 11, 2009 at 6:14 AM

    That is just a beautiful antique. THe finish on it is soft and it looks like a lush gold color shows a little.
    I can't believe it still works but I agree with alece it looked like he was working hard to get that music!!!
    Hugs~Robin :* (not sure, but I'm sayin that smiley is blowing a smooch!)

    Recent blog post: Welcome to my new Home!

  3. I've seen a picture of it before, but it never occurred to me that it was a player piano. I took lessons for years, but sadly, I was never a good sheet music reader. What a fun piece of Americana to own! And I see why Auntie Sara's house would be such a fun place to go and visit.

    You realize no picture from you is complete without Riley in it, right?

    Recent blog post: Happy 9th Birthday Nolan James!

  4. How fun is that! I love old things and new discoveries with them. That is great!

    Recent blog post: Happy Birthday Big Girl!

  5. That is absolutely fantastic!!!!!

    And it may be worth some money, you know! I wonder if you can get other rolls for it...

    Wish I could come over & play.

    Recent blog post: Because I knew their stories…

  6. That is AWESOME, Sara. Both my dad's mom and my mom's dad LOVE the piano. My mom's dad is 85 and plays over 200 "gigs" a year at nursing homes, weddings and parties. :)

  7. Looks like a good workout. What a great piano.


  8. What fun!

    My son can play that song...for reals!

    I still think you should learn to play. There's nothing like sitting at the piano and having music flow from your fingertips. It's a great pasttime, when the fingers work, I must add.

    Hope you're well.

    Recent blog post: Dust in the Wind

  9. I remember my aunt and uncle having a player piano. It was so much fun!

    Recent blog post: How Appropriate!

  10. We had almost that same piano! That tube that you hear air coming out of???? I tried to get ours fixed and when I finally found someone who even knew about it, he said it would cost about 5,000 to fix it! We also had probably a hundred rolls of music in their original boxes. I gave the piano away and kept only one roll for sentimental reasons.

    I felt bad for 5 minutes after it was gone (we just didn't have the space for such a big piece of furniture), then I got over it and put my church pew in it's place!

    I wish I had kept more music, I would have sent it to you!

    Recent blog post: Mother's Day 2009

  11. He loved trying to see how fast he could make the song go :)

  12. Danielle HodgsonMay 11, 2009 at 5:07 PM

    how fun is that!

  13. It really is a lovely finish... I may not be able to play it, but it sure does look pretty :* [smooch back at ya!]

  14. You realize Riley would never LET me not have a photo of him, right?!!? :)

  15. It is fun; I've not totally given up on the idea of playing it yet...

  16. Having you come play would be way more fun than pedaling it myself! ;)

  17. I love that your dad plays at nursing homes! I'm sure the residents absolutely love it.

  18. Wonder if we could hook it up to a calorie counter? :)

  19. Seriously?!?! That's so impressive. I admire people who can play a musical instrument.

  20. It was a huge disappointment to the little ones when it broke :( :'(

  21. OH MY GOSH! I hope my air leak is different than your air leak!!!

  22. more fun when it works :)

    Recent blog post: Pedaling the Piano

  23. I do too!

  24. Oh my gosh! It is gorgeous! What a beautiful piano. But how cute is the little man?! My kids would KILL that thing!

    Recent blog post: WW: Hellllllllooooo Third Trimester!

  25. He is the cutest little stinker. :) And obviously we did kill that thing!!!

    Recent blog post: Pedaling the Piano

  26. What a beautiful antique piano. Playing it would be a great workout, plus you get to re-live some memories from the past. Maybe you can teach Riley how to pedal it.

    Lawrence Welk was the only TV show my step-mother would watch. I remember Welk dancing the polka on the show. That is a great workout, and probably one reason he stayed in such good physical condition for so long.

    Recent blog post: Music Videos –

  27. How COOL!! I just LOVE piano music! I can read music but can't play piano, learning to play is one of my major life goals! I am so jealous that your dog poses so nicely for pictures. My cats cannot seem to figure it out.