Even though the toy piano is seen as an instrument for kids and appreciated for its cuteness, there’s actually more to the instrument. Its capable of displaying a range of emotional expressions, as demonstrated by musicians below, and is used in music across genres.
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Inside a Toy Piano
The toy piano is typically around a foot wide, spans around one and a half octaves (a full length piano has 7 and a half octaves), yet there are many musicians who consider the toy piano to be an instrument in its own right.
However, the sound producing mechanism is a bit different in a toy piano and a real piano. On regular pianos, the sound is produced when hammers inside the instrument strike strings, but in a toy piano, the hammers strike metal rods, resulting in a different kind of sound (sounds higher pitched, more percussive, chime like).
Toy Pianos Used by Music Composers
Modern composers, who are always on the lookout for unique instruments, have taken the toy piano seriously enough.
Did you know that in 2001, the Library of Congress accorded music written for toy piano its own subject heading and call number?
There are several composers who have composed pieces specifically for the toy piano, and many have used the unique sound of the toy piano in various music compositions.
Here are some videos that will provide a a sense of what the little piano is capable of, and its importance.
Composer Julian Grant’s Etudes transcendentales pour le toy piano (2013) imagines Liszt at the toy piano:
Watch Face the Music perform composer Tristan Perich’s “Qsqsqsqsqsqsqsqqqqqqqqqqqq,” for three toy pianos and electronics at Ecstatic Music Festival in Merkin Hall. Reminds of video games music?
Here is another video on the Toy Piano Festival, which encourages new works for toy piano and other unusual musical instruments. This initially began as a music composition competition and is now a fully-fledged festival.
Watch: Suite for Toy Piano by John Cage
Musicians & Festivals Devoted to the Instrument
There are some musicians who have focused solely on the toy piano. For them, its not just an instrument of their ensemble, the toy piano is their specialty.
Pianist and composer Phyllis Chen has released several albums dedicated to the toy piano (with few accompanying instruments). A toy piano player, Chen says now she forgets about the novelty of the instrument and focuses more on its possibilities.
Watch Phyllis Chen performs her composition “Three Lullabies” with the Boston-based chamber orchestra A Far Cry.
- UnCaged Toy Piano Festival is Chen’s annual festival and composition competition for toy piano music.
- The Florida International Toy Piano Festival is an annual musical excursion into the capabilities of the toy piano. Watch Phyllis Chen perform her composition “Three Lullabies” with the Boston-based chamber orchestra A Far Cry.
Electronic Toy Piano Circuit using 555 timer IC chip
You can make your own electronic Piano by using a 555 timer IC chip. In this piano, you can make the timer generate 5-15 different kind of sounds. Read more…
Toy Piano in Popular Music
Examples of Toy piano in popular music:
Seals and Croft used the toy piano in their 1972 hit “Summer Breeze”.
Stephin Merritt (Magnetic Fields) Plays Beck, With A Toy Piano
Alt-J uses the toy piano (at about 50 seconds) into the single “Breezeblocks.”
Vampire Weekend, Evanescence, and Sigur Rós are just a few musicians who commonly use the toy piano in their music.
TOY PIANO for MUSICIANS: What to Buy?
Schoenhut Toy Piano
Probably the most popular brand, when it comes to toy pianos, is ‘Schoenhut’. If you buy a toy piano today, its most likely that it will be from the Schoenhut Company, founded by Alfred Schoenhut in 1812.
Checkout more Schoenhut toy pianos here.
Kawai TOY PIANO
In the US, Schoenhut is the only choice for musicians when it comes to toy pianos. But most musicians find the Schoenhut pianos loud and plinky. If you are a musician looking for a quality toy piano to record and perform with, the Kawai toy piano is a nice option that can be used in a professional setting. This piano’s delicate design lets you play music rather than just bash on the keys.
This piano is more refined so it may not be suitable for kids (not sure if it can handle the wear and tear). However, for older kids who take care of their things, this can be a nice toy piano to get started.
Toy Piano Plugins / Samples
- Here’s a little mp3 file of me playing around with one of them
- EXS24 Toy Piano instrument for Logic
- Kontakt Toy Piano instrument
More Toy Piano Samples