ASME-Landmark:Q-R-S Marking Piano


The Q-R-S marking piano, invented by Melville Clark (1850-1918) in 1912, was one of the first machines to produce master rolls for player pianos by recording actual performances. The marking piano made it possible to capture live performances—including those of Igor Stravinsky, George Gershwin, and Duke Ellington—and thus preserve keyboard artistry of many artists, incidentally documenting the history of pre-radio 20th century American popular music.

Player pianos provided home entertainment to millions of Americans from 1900 to 1930 and were the first widely successful consumer device to use binary encodement of data in its software, configured as piano rolls. Prior to the development of recording devices, sheet music was transcribed to master rolls by hand.

The Q-R-S recording machine is a modified piano, with each of its 88 keys pneumatically connected to a stylus in the recorder. These styli are suspended horizontally above a roll paper at a point where it passes over a carbon cylinder. When a key is depressed, the corresponding pneumatic collapses, pressing the stylus on the moving roll paper as it passes over the carbon cylinder, which leaves a mark on the underside. As an artist plays, each stylus marks its note on a roll of paper being pulled over a cylinder covered with carbon paper, faithfully recording the performance. Upon completion of the recording, the carbon marks are cut out and a production master is made from this roll by pneumato-electrical means. See ASME website for more information