About the Program

The Player Piano Program 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 Program 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.

Digitization, preservation, and access

Stanford commissioned the design and construction of a custom piano roll scanner in 2017, building upon current experience and success with digital scanning technologies to help specify a device with optimal multi-format capabilities for all roll systems. Specifications for archival standards in digital image and audio files from rolls are being developed and refined. Preservation of the rolls, ease of access, playback, and research are all goals of digitization. Digitization of piano rolls commenced in 2018. A growing database of rolls with metadata, image and audio files is now 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. 

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. 

As rolls are scanned and cataloged, and derivative files created for playback, all digital content will be preserved in the Stanford Digital Repository, making them accessible to researchers world-wide.

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 program welcomes the collaboration of interested individuals and institutions in furthering research on player pianos and organs including establishing best practices for digitization, preservation, and cataloging of rolls.