Bowled over by the Bowed piano

Everyone who has ever had a piano in their house has surely at some point tried getting sound out of the instrument without pressing the keys. As a schoolboy, I’d find ways to reach underneath and play the keys in reverse, pushing upwards on the usually unseen and untouched wooden undersides of the levers. I’d sometimes attempt to pluck the strings, but I always worried I’d de-tune it. When I saw Ben Folds play the strings of a grand piano by scraping them with the grille of his microphone, I shivered in recognition of a secret and guilty pleasure.

BoingBoing recently linked to an amazing piece on NPR about an extended technique for playing the piano, but bowing it. But the bowed piano is not bowed with traditional bows…

“The primary sound is produced by a bow of nylon fish-line, which is rosined, and that’s just threaded under the piano string and across it. There’s another kind of bow, which is a stick of wood which has horse hair affixed to it, and that’s rubbed against the strings to produce a short, percussive sound.”

The bowed-piano ensemble also uses guitar picks, Popsicle sticks, tongue depressors, and even rubber plumbing tape to expand the palette of sound colors for Scott’s compositions.

The piece also includes a video but there’s an even longer, better video on YouTube of Entrada by Stephen Scott performed by The Bowed Piano Ensemble which wonderfully demonstrates this technique.


That’s something I want to see live in concert.

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