About the Project

The Player Piano Project promotes study and research into all aspects relating to the player piano and organ, especially as they relate to performance practices of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Project seeks to bring together researchers, musicians, and enthusiasts to advance knowledge of the player piano and organ.

Interest in the player piano at Stanford grew out of a series of symposia, Reactions to the Record, which explored the connection between sound recordings and the study of historical performance practice. A number of participants in the symposia made important discoveries with piano rolls, many of which remain in private collections or are difficult to access in museums and libraries. This served to highlight that piano rolls are a largely untapped primary resource for the study of performance practice, and that a program to collect and study piano rolls, and make them more easily accessible was needed.

Collecting and describing 

The Project will develop an extensive collection of piano and organ rolls with a corresponding set of instruments capable of playing each of the major types of rolls. The rolls will be cataloged and included in the Stanford University Libraries catalog. A database documenting the full extent of historic piano and organ roll production throughout the world is also envisioned.

Preservation and digitization

To preserve the piano rolls, many of which are over one hundred years old, optimal storage and usage protocols will be established. Following cataloging, the rolls will be housed in the state-of-the-art archival library facilities at Stanford, under ideal conditions for the long-term preservation of paper. 

Planning is now underway for digitizing the piano rolls. Preservation of the rolls, ease of access, playback, and research are all goals of digitization. The Project will seek to build upon current experience and success with digital scanning technologies to develop optimal multi-format capabilities with all roll systems.  Specifications for archival standards in digital image and audio files from rolls will be developed.  To this end, Stanford will design and build a dedicated scanner capable of achieving these standards. A growing database of rolls with metadata, image and audio files will then become available for online research. With archival scans rolls, can be duplicated (thus preserving originals) and played back via MIDI files or “e-roll” capable players.  Research into new technologies for reproduction and playback will be ongoing as well. Once the digital program is underway, the project will encourage collaboration with individuals and institutions with important rolls in need of preservation. For information on participating in this program, please contact the project staff.

Instrument restoration

The Project will work with instrument restoration specialists, pneumatic technicians, and engineers to keep a collection of historic instruments in optimal working condition. Among the goals will be to maintain players from all of the important proprietary roll systems, including rare ones which have remained inaccessible to most researchers and enthusiasts.  This collection will be available for musical performances, recordings, and research on the technology of pneumatic player instruments. The project affirms the importance of original instruments and players in accurately assessing the sound of historic rolls. 

Research library

A constantly expanding library will be developed documenting current research, historic studies, and all aspects of rolls and player technology. The library will include books, periodicals, dissertations, technical manuals, catalogs and bibliographies, archival materials, and recordings of roll performances.


The project welcomes the collaboration of interested individuals and institutions in furthering research on player pianos and organs including the cooperative digitization, preservation, and cataloging of rolls.