Prepared Pianos and Musical Composition

Shirley Thomas

A prepared piano means a piano that has been tampered or manipulated in order to have its sound altered. The term prepared derives from the fact that various objects or preparations are used to effect the change in sound. These objects or preparations are either placed between the strings of the instrument or on said strings.

The technique of using foreign object to effect a difference in the timbre of a piano has been developing itself since 18th century. The term itself, however, was made popular by a John Cage who did a preparation to a piano in 1938, for the music he wrote for Bacchanale.

Bacchanale is a dance by Syvilla Fort and in 1938 it was to be performed in a stage that could not accommodate a percussion group. This became somewhat of a quandary for Cage, whose specialty was to write percussion music. In fact, he had only been writing percussion music prior to this commission.

Cage skirted around the problem by tackling the only instrument available to him, the grand piano. He soon found out that the piano could produce the sound of a whole percussion orchestra, provided the instrument was modified to have what he called ‘an exploded keyboard’.

old piano

One of the more popular preparations to a piano is what is known to the layman as the honky tonk. In the world of piano preparation the instrument that produces the honky tonk sound is also called Tack Piano.

The preparation calls for small nails or thumbtacks to be placed at the end parts of the hammering mechanism of the piano keys, resulting in a brighter timbre and giving off a more percussive feel to the overall sound.

As stated before, the manipulation of the piano to produce a different sound has been seen since as early as 18th century. It seems as if exposure to different kind of music from other countries is one of the biggest forces behind the need to prepare a piano.

By the end of 18th century, Turkish music was all the rage and pianos were made to accommodate it. Pianos would feature padded hammer and pedals so as to be able to effect the bass drum and bells that were the identifying sounds of the Turkish music.

Most preparations are not as elaborate; in fact a large number of piano preparations call only for papers to the placed on the strings, between the strings or at the end of the hammering mechanism of the piano.

Different scores and music call for different, sometimes tiny preparations. It is not unheard of for certain composition to require sheets of paper on every other piano strings; sheets of paper, a single paper, paper clips or even cutlery. It all depends of the music and the kinds of sound the composer wants the piano to produce.

Other compositions may call for the preparation to be done to the strings themselves. Said strings may be subject to some strumming, plucking, bowing or sliding, done using various everyday objects made of plastic, aluminum, or copper.

piano strumming

The smallest changes, however, produce wonderfully various effects. A piece of cardboard under a specific key gave a close semblance to the unique sound of an Indian drum, one that was very much needed by the composer Maurice Delage for his Ragamalika. Delage’s Ragamalika is a composition that is based on classical Indian music, one that is a part of Carnatic music.

Another instance, Erik Satie’s Piège de Méduse, saw the placing of several pieces of paper on the strings of the piano to produce the tinny sound of one of the character in the play, a monkey puppet.

Piano preparation opens up a wide horizon for composers and musicians to explore, try new things and have fun with their writing. It can be argued that with the advance of technology one does not have to resort to skirting around a problem the way John Cage did but perhaps in the eye of the creative crowd, prepared piano can be yet another branch of technology.


Alternative Career Path for Actors

Shirley Thomas

Throughout the course of his or her career, an actor may go on to win significant roles, getting recognitions and winning awards. Or he may develop a solid career with interesting parts, respected by his peers but forever missing out on getting an award. Or an actor may have all the talent and yet never catch a break, getting several decent roles but that is it.

Soon age is catching up and even though roles are available for older people, competition is just as fierce, if not more. Some actors leave the industry and become politicians, some others invest and start their own businesses, some stay in the industry and work behind the scene.

Some can not easily get over their love of acting and performing, and they wonder if there are other paths to take for well trained actors who would love to continue practicing their craft.

Step Behind the Camera: Direct, Produce or Write

One of the seemingly natural paths to take for actors is directing. Some actors develop keen understanding on movie directing over the years, some others become interested enough to seek formal training. Either way, becoming a director is not that much of a stretch for an actor. You know what it is like to be on the receiving end and being able to empathize with actors you will be giving directions in the future is certainly an advantage.

Some actors, especially the more observant ones, pick up more than just directional tidbits and understanding. They manage to see the bigger picture and acquire first hand knowledge of how to run an efficient production when it comes to movie making.

They come to know the go to guys, the best locations, the best behind the scene talents to recruit, probably even how much to budget the catering. As these actors transition into the role of producers they continue making movies, still telling stories, but doing it by oiling the nuts and bolts of the mechanism, so to speak.

Most actors do what they do because they love acting, they want to be a part of a story. Over time, some find they have their own stories to tell and that they have clear ideas on how to present said stories in movie form. They either get right to it or take classes on how to write movie scripts.

Actors who turn into scriptwriters have the same advantages as those who turn into directors or producers. They have the insider knowledge of the industry and most importantly, contacts. If you were an actor first, you would likely know which agent or producer to whom you should pitch your story. If you have a number of stories or scripts written and you are perceptive enough about the market, you will know which one to prioritize and focus on.

Share the Knowledge and Skills Set

You may have run the course of your acting career or, unfortunately, never even hit prime time at all. That is not to say you are not a talented actor. There are thousands of capable and decent actors who are unknown and, by Hollywood standards, unsuccessful. Movie stars and good actors are not necessarily the same thing after all.

Having experienced the limelight or not, a good actor is likely to have a thing or two to teach. It could be how to deal with directors, how to manage different projects and still go to auditions, how to prepare yourself for an audition or even the basic skills of speech, movement and expression.

Acting classes and schools may sound like the opposite of what passionate actors wannabe would want to do but aspiring, hard working ones will look for guidance and will likely sign up for some lessons. Savvy, experienced actors are certain to be welcome by acting schools to help train the next generation.

Lend a Voice

Growing old, by the silver screen standards, sees a number of actor taking voice acting jobs. While some are still paid the staggering amount they used to get, it is nevertheless not the same. Not to mention voice acting jobs are not exactly the same pool as regular acting jobs when it comes to size.

One thing you may want to consider is audio book reading. Basic acting skills are highly desirable for professional audio book readers. You need to be able to narrate with the right rhythm and inflections, to speak in different voices and accents, to inject emotions into the dialogs, to generally make listening to the book a pleasant experience.

audio book reading

A lot of people still prefer reading from a physical book, a lot of others prefer reading from an ereader. A lot of yet other group of people prefer listening to audio books, either because they like doing something else while enjoying a book or because it is a necessity due to lack of time or disability.

Audio books enjoy a large part of the market when it comes to publishing industry and jobs as audio book readers are certainly not drying up anytime soon. Naturally there will be competition but a background in acting is definitely a leg up.


Actors are trained in the art of conveying stories and messages through their eyes, facial expressions and body language. This skill is valuable when it comes to campaigns, specifically the visual aspects of such. Well trained actors consistently win roles in advertisements and public service campaigns, regardless of age, gender or physical feature. They appear in brochure, posters, catalogs and even landing pages of websites with high traffic.

Stockphotos and product catalogs need effective modelling as well and trained actors have an advantage when it comes to delivering visual narration that is required.

In the same vein, modelling and acting for corporate training call for decent actors. Case studies and role playing are a large part of corporate training these days. Live enactments are used to maximize trainees’ engagements (as well as minimizing boredom during the training). Actors may find themselves becoming an irate customer dealing with a sales staff at a department store or an employee with distinct lack of discipline dealing with undecisive manager.

With the right agency, good time management, professionalism and consistent performance, there is no saying this could not be a good career path.

Branches in the Industry

Becoming an agent is yet another thing an actor might consider. As it is, however, skills set of an agent come after considerable years in the industry and not from training originally received as an actor. When it comes to branching out in the industry, an actor can practically consider a number of things. Talent management or agency, casting agency, costume design, catering business and many more; the only catch is training as an actor has very little to do with potential success in a given choice.

Skills set acquired during formal training as an actor or picked up working as a professional actor certainly open up a number of different areas from which one can build a career.

If you are an observant and hard working person, it is not difficult to map out alternative career path as an actor.