What is a Prepared Piano Technique?

Today I want to talk about one of the most interesting types of pianos. Although there are many different types of pianos, including upright pianos, digital pianos, baby grand, and grand pianos, have you ever heard of a prepared piano? To put it simply, a prepared piano is a piano that has numerous things inserted into it to produce various sounds and effects.

What is a Prepared Piano Technique?

What is a Prepared Piano Technique?

Prepared pianos have been modified in such a way as to increase the adaptability of the pianist’s performance and allow him to change the tone and pitch of his own sound of the instrument for a wider range of sounds. So let’s talk in detail about what is this type of piano, and how does it work?

What Is A Prepared Piano in Music?

A prepared piano is one that has various things added to it to provide percussion sounds and interesting tones. For his 1940 dance composition Bacchanale, avant-garde music composer John Cage devised the prepared piano approach. He set out to compose percussion-only music entirely on a single grand piano.

Other composers have modified piano strings as a result of John Cage’s prepared piano method. Many post-Cage performers have exploited his methods to alter the sound of the piano, from German pianist Hauschka to avant-garde rocker John Cale of the Velvet Underground.

How Does a Prepared Piano Work?

In a prepared piano, a player or composer inserts physical objects into the piano that partially muffle or change specific piano strings. Erasers, coins, metal screws, household objects, and pieces of plastic are a few examples of such items. These interact with the piano’s existing mallets and dampers.

The impact of a prepared piano is unlike anything else in Western music, and even the player or the composer may be surprised by the sounds that come from the instrument. A pianist can perform piano music by the notated sheet music or improvise. Both methods can highlight the instrument’s range.

How is a prepared piano created?

The term “prepared piano” refers to a piano whose sounds have been temporarily changed by the placement of bolts, screws, mutes, rubber erasers, and/or other various objects on or between the individual piano strings. It was first used in John Cage’s dance music for Bacchanale (about 1938), which was composed without the use of a percussion orchestra.

Does prepared piano damage the piano?

Yes, it’s possible that you may harm the piano. The specifics of the preparation will determine the risk that you may damage the piano. You must take into account the piano owner’s impression of the probability of damage even if the actual likelihood of harm is low.

Always get permission from the piano’s owner if it isn’t yours before practicing. Speak to someone in the department if you are at an academic institution as they may have a piano set aside for this use.

But if you prepare the piano correctly and carefully, it will not harm your musical instrument in any way.

Who Invented the Prepared Piano?

The ancestor of the prepared piano technique is the American underground classical music composer John Cage. He was born in Los Angeles and eventually moved to New York. Henry Cowell, Cage’s piano teacher, served as an inspiration since he composed music for the piano using techniques like plucking and strumming but without using different objects attached to the piano strings for more percussive sound.

American composer John Cage was the pianist-accompanist to dancer Syvilla Fort and spent a long time honing his prepared piano technique. Cage attempted to place small various objects in the piano to give it a more percussion-like sound (percussive effects) when asked to write music for Syvilla Fort’s dance with percussion instruments.

He gave the finished work the name “Bacchanalia”. Years later, in 1973, Richard Bunger published The Well Prepared Piano, which described the development of the prepared piano and its use in John Cage’s prepared piano music compositions.

How Is The Prepared Piano Scored?

It is understandable that you would question how on earth this instrument is scored for the purpose of sheet music, given that the prepared piano is an example of a composer or player’s ingenuity to produce personalized and more in-depth sound.

The appropriate response is that various composers may construct or develop their own systems of notating and scoring piano preparations for performing their works on a prepared piano. As an illustration of how the piano should be set up and performed, some composers may include piano preparations such as text-based scores and visual notation.

This may be seen in some of John Cage’s own compositions, where each piece begins with a key indicating the pitch, the ideal item or substance to utilize, and the strings on where to lay the other objects to prepare the piano. Additionally, there are detailed directions on how to prepare the piano.

Best Notable Prepared Piano Pieces

I think it will be very interesting for you to listen to how pieces for the prepared piano sound, and to see how pianists perform such piano music on the prepared grand piano. I invite you to listen to the 5 most wonderful pieces for well-prepared piano.

“Bacchanale” by John Cage 

Bacchanale by John Cage, which is regarded as the first prepared piano work, was written in 1940 with the intention of transforming the piano into a percussion instrument that could accompany dancer Syvilla Fort.

“Sonatas and Interludes” by John Cage 

Sonatas and Interludes by John Cage (1946–1988) The piece’s notes from Cage provide detailed directions for setting up the piano as well as the need that it be “unprepared” at the end without being altered permanently.

“Little Fishes” by Brian Eno

On the song “Little Fishes” from the album Another Green World, producer, writer, and performer Brian Eno used studio piano manipulation to unleash new timbres from the instrument.

“Drukqs” by Aphex Twin

Richard D. James, who performs as Aphex Twin, is primarily known for his electronic music, although in the 2001 album Drukqs, he makes extensive use of the prepared piano.

“The Prepared Piano” by Hauschka 

Hauschka’s The Prepared Piano (2005): The Complete Record of Prepared Piano Works by German musician and composer Hauschka is titled The Prepared Piano.

I hope you enjoyed this unusual and beautiful classical music!


Here we come to the end of our article. Let’s repeat once again what are prepared pianos. This is a grand piano that was specially prepared – special screws, erasers, coins, different objects, and pieces of plastic were inserted into the strings to give the piano a more percussive sound.

Thus, just one musician with one grand piano can practically replace the entire percussion orchestra. Playing the prepared piano brings its overall timbre closer to the percussion group and greatly changes the sound characteristics.

A prepared piano works exactly like a normal instrument but offers the player more variety in sound and technique. Prepared piano is an evolution of the genre of piano playing, allowing the single pianist to play as an entire percussion ensemble.

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