Wikipedia doesn't mention any. But since Jacquard cards developed from Bouchon tapes in the eighteenth century; and then Hollerith cards evolved back into tapes and then into magnetic tapes (merging with the "wire" recording thread) and magnetic disks and finally into static electric arrays in the twentieth century, ...

did player pianos just stick with one format?

Did anybody try a cardbox?

  • 2
    I spared this part because I felt I'd subjected everyone to enough of my imaginings for one night: The motivation for this question was imagining using such a card-controlled player piano to play "collage" music constructed of "samples" from other pieces. Like an "acoustic" DJ.... (maybe that melody from Moonlight Sonata really does lead straight into the shipwreck from Scheherazade!) Oct 21, 2012 at 6:03
  • some nice footage of old reproducing instruments here: youtu.be/6MsyOe7xCqg Dec 30, 2012 at 8:52

5 Answers 5


Actually, "book" style players predate Mr Jaquards loom.

They progression really got started with music boxes & pins stuck in drums or disks.

Next came the "book style" where holes were punched in panels and the panels were hinged together in various ways, and later on the paper rolls that are well known now.

But the real question is related to Hollerith style punch cards and the answer is "kinda yes". It was never a standard, but several one of a kind instruments were built.

There was an LP in limited release "2 Loves Have I, Jean & Genie" back in the 60s. Jean Lautzenheizer & her husband equipped the pipe organ in their home near Washington DC with a reader. Some selections were played by hand by Jean, and some were sequenced at work and brought home to be read on the reader by her husband.

  • Do you know if any pianos that used decks? Organs have rather different mechanical requirements, since the energy for their sound is not expected to come from the key mechanisms.
    – supercat
    Jan 29, 2013 at 14:31

Band organs played from a "book" of punched cards joined together to make a continuous strip. Here's a picture: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Book_music_playing.jpg


HISTORY AND ORIGINS OF PLAYER PIANOS Automatic musical instruments have been around for over two millennia. It all really started in 1800, France, when Jacquard Mills develops a loom controlled by punched cards. The cards programmed looms that created elaborately designed fabrics. They "instructed" the pathway for threads to follow to create the designs and patterns in the cloth.

Here's a link to the full article, in case you haven't seen it:



There are two general styles of punched-media-operated organs. In one style, the moving holes in the media mechanically actuate the mechanisms to play the notes; in the other style, holes in the media allow air to flow into bellows, which in turns operate valves that play the notes. The former "key-operated" style requires that the media be strong enough to physically operate the mechanisms; the latter "keyless" style requires that the media be pulled flat against the vacuum holes without leaking. Consequently, media for the former style are generally in the form of semi-rigid folded cards, while media for the latter are on flexible rolled media which are free of folds.

The only advantage I'm aware of the key-style mechanism is its simplicity. A major disadvantage is that the media have to bear the stress of operating the mechanism. The keys of a full-sized piano have to do a fair amount of work; for them to operate directly off punched media without pneumatic relays or other such mechanism; an instrument that requires a relay mechanism will not benefit much from the simplicity of a keyed mechanism. While I cannot say with certainty that no full-sized player pianos used decks, I find it doubtful.


The question above asked if there was more than one format. Yes. There were many different punching formats used over the years.

The "88 note" is the most famous for pianos, but orchestrions got far more complex.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.