JF Ptak Science Books Post 2416
Unlike the history of the vast majority of musical instruments, the piano could sort of play itself about 160 years after its invention. The idea of making a device that would record notes from a piano, and then punch them out onto long strips of paper, and have them play through a music box or other automatic instrument (and later on, by Centennial time, on a player piano) was a truly inspired thing, I guess. That's all fine and good, but none of these inventions really allowed for you to understand how a piano was actually played by a performer, and how that performer touched the keys--that would be interesting on many levels beyond the mechanistic reproduction of note-playing. It seems though that it wasn't until the close of the century that an invention was capable of recording the subtleties of key touch. And that was the work of A. Binet and J. Courtier who published their results of their experimentation with new instrumentation in "Recherches graphiques sur la musique" (Graphic research on music) in Revue Scientifique. The invention has been called "the start of the study of technical empirical musicology".1
The machine was described by C.H. Judd in Psychological Review2 in 1896: "When a key is struck the style is deflected in such a way that the height of the deflection is proportional to the force of the pressure; the length of the deflection records the time; and finally the form of the curve gives a detailed account of the manner in which the movement was carried out."
“When a certain point of perfection has been attained in piano playing it becomes very hard to distinguish inequality of touch yet owing to the varying strength of the fingers it is only with much practice that perfect equality is possible. As will be seen further on involuntary movements and irregularities scarcely perceptible to the shown by the graphical method...”
“The apparatus...is quite simple in construction and consists chiefly of an india rubber tube placed under the key board united at its two extremities by a registering drum also of india rubber When the notes of the piano are played the pressure on the tube causes a wave of air to be sent through it into the drum upon which is attached a pen that in the ordinary way is made to record its movement on a moving roll of paper The wave makes the drum vibrate which in its turn jerks the pen thus causing irregular marks to be left on the paper The board on which the tube rests is regulated by means of w edges adjusted by a screw the board being either lowered or raised When raised it almost reaches the notes of the piano and in this case the registering action takes place but if it is lowered the whole apparatus is disconnected from the key board...”
The summation at the end of the Nature article:
"1. Dealing with its advantage from the psychological point of view it is found that the voluntary movements of the pianist can be observed without putting him to any restraint or embarrassment for the small tube does not affect the resistance of the notes nor is the exterior of the piano altered."
"2. For teaching purposes the device has been of great use. The record on the roll of paper shows the faults so precisely that although they are scarcely perceptible to the ear there is no denying their existence."
"3. We are well aware that written music cannot show every slight change in the time the composer might desire. By applying the graphical method this difficulty is eliminated and the time will be reproduced with the smallest details."
1. Empirical Musicology : Aims, Methods, Prospects: Aims, Methods, Prospects edited by Eric Clarke Professor of Music University of Sheffield, Nicholas Cook Professor of Music Royal Holloway, p. 77
2. Psychological Review in 1896, Vol 3(1), Jan 1896, 112-113.
3. Journal of Educational Psychology, vol 5, 1914, "The Psychology of piano Instruction."