The explanation of the terms listed below refer to their usage in the field of Mechanical Music. Many of the descriptions are from the book The Golden Age of Automatic Musical Instruments by MBSI member Arthur A. Reblitz, published by the Mechanical Music Press, Woodsville, New Hampshire; copyright 2001. They are used here with permission of the author and publisher. Permission is granted for writers to use a limited number of brief excerpts provided credit is given to the MBSI web site, the title of the original work and the author. Written permission is required for all other uses. German nouns and words that are also names of places are capitalized.
pallet valve: Small piece of wood, hinged at one end and faced with soft leather, used to cover an opening in a pipe chest, reservoir, or other pneumatic apparatus. Turns the flow of air (to an organ pipe, pneumatic, or other device) on and off when actuated.
parachute check: See safety check.
Pauke: German term for tympani.
pawl: A metal finger with a pointed end that engages with a ratchet gear and holds the power in check. Sometimes called a "click".
pedal: 1. A foot-actuated lever. (The term foot pedal is redundant; pedal is sufficient.) See soft pedal, sustaining2. The division of a pipe organ containing large bass pipe ranks (together with auxiliary smaller ranks) and controlled by the pedal board (a series of levers in the shape of a large keyboard played by the feet).
percussion, percussion effects: Tonal effects produced by striking a device, usually of fixed pitch or tonal character (as opposed to tunable piano strings, etc.). Two types: 1. Tuned percussion with a series of units, each tuned to a corresponding note in a piano or organ scale. Examples: xylophone, orchestra bells, chimes. 2. Non-tuned percussion such as a cymbal, bass drum, snare drum, tambourine, tenor drum, triangle, wood block, etc., which have no specific pitch. In automatic musical instrument terminology, tuned percussion are usually listed individually. Non-tuned types are often grouped together as "percussion" or "drum and trap effects."
perforation: A hole in a music roll, music book, disc, etc. Perforations are arranged in a manner to produce a musical performance when used on an automatic musical instrument. Perforator: a machine which produces perforations, especially in a music roll.
perroquette: See bird organ.
photoplayer: Automatic musical instrument, usually consisting of a keyboard piano with one or two attached side chests containing pipes, percussion instruments, and novelty sound effects. Usually with a single or duplex roll mechanism built into the piano case above the keyboard. Used to provide music and sound effects to accompany silent motion pictures. American and Wurlitzer photoplayers, for example, are illustrated in the present volume.
Pianino: German term for small upright piano.
pianissimo: Italian term for very soft.
piano 1: Italian term for soft. 2. The stringed keyboard instrument. The related German word klavier variously means piano (the musical instrument) or keyboard.
piano action: The devices or connecting links, hammers, and related hardware between the keyboard and the strings of a piano; the piano hammers and their actuating devices.
piano player: See push-up piano player.
piano roll: Perforated paper roll used to operate a piano player, player piano, expression piano, or reproducing piano.
piano-forte box: A type of cylinder music box usually with two combs, a louder comb and a softer comb, providing expression to the music. * Synonym: forte-piano box.
piano-pipe organ: Name sometimes given to a piano with ranks of pipes, usually one full rank and one partial rank, built into the same case (e.g., Reproduco, Nelson-Wiggen Selector Duplex Organ, Seeburg Style MO ). Used in theatres and mortuaries in the 1915-1930 years. Theatre instruments were voiced loudly; those made for mortuaries were usually voiced very softly.
Pianola: 1. Aeolian Company brand name for push-up piano players and player pianos. 2. Generic name for any player piano, also listed in this Glossary.
piccolo 1: An adjective (from Italian) meaning small. A piccolo flute is a little flute, a piccolo wood block is a little wood block, etc. (Terminology rarely used by collectors today.) 2. A coin piano or orchestrion (slang; 1920s rural southern United States usage).
piccolo pipe: 1. Pipe rank in orchestrions and band organs; similar in appearance to a wooden flute pipe and used in the top one or two treble octaves of the musical scale. 2. In orchestrions the name sometimes given to the upper range of a rank of flute pipes. (A rank of flutes is sometimes elaborately described as being a rank of "bourdon, flute, and piccolo" pipes, bourdon and piccolo referring to the lower and upper ranges.) 3. In band organs, a metal pipe, usually of polished brass, which is blown transversely (across the bottom of the pipe, rather than into the pipe) at high pressure. Usually with a wooden acorn-shaped plug at the top of the pipe. 4. In theatre pipe organs, a 2' stop of brightly-voiced wood or metal flute pipes.
piccolo wood block: A small, high-pitched wood block used in certain orchestrions such as late Style Coinola X and SO. Tonally similar to clavés also listed in this Glossary.
pièce à oiseau (French): A large cylinder musical box with one or more mechanical birds on display. The birds are made to move and to "sing" in harmony with the pinned cylinder.
pierement: Dutch street organ. (Term originally used only in Holland; now used by some collectors in other parts of the world.)
piffaro (piffero) pipe: In dance organs a term occasionally used to describe a piccolo-like rank. (From a generic Italian term for instruments such as the fife, bagpipe, and others used by shepherds.)
pin: In a music box cylinder or piano, organ, or orchestrion barrel, a protruding piece of metal that actuates a tooth, key, or lever, causing the note to sound. Staple-shaped pins are used for sustained notes.
pin-straightener: See courbette.
pinion: The small gear which drives a larger brass gear or other device that will be the receptor of the power transmitted through the pinion.
pipe: A tubular instrument which produces sound by the action of air against a reed or against the pipe mouth, in combination with the resonance of the air within the tube itself. Pipes are generally referred to as having a pitch or tonal length expressed in feet, such as 2', 4', 8', etc. Pipes are usually either open or closed (stopped) at the top. Generally, the tonal length of a stopped pipe is twice that of a comparable open pipe (the same pitch sounded by a 2'-long stopped pipe would take a 4' long open pipe to produce). Pipes used in automatic musical instruments are of two main types: flue pipes which produce their sound by the action of air against the edge of the pipe mouth in combination with a column of air; and reed pipes which produce sound by the action of a vibrating reed. There are two types of reeds: free and beating. The reed sound is amplified by the upper part of the pipe which, on a reed pipe, is called a resonator or horn. A third type of pipe, the diaphone, produces sound by intermittent bursts of air which are rapidly introduced into the base of the pipe under high pressure. Used in theatre organs. (Also refer to flue pipe, and reed, definition 2.) Pipes are mounted on a pipe chest or wind chest and are blown by air under pressure. Pipe pressure is measured by the number of inches that a given pressure will force a column of water up an open glass tube. (Pressure for calliopes is sometimes measured in pounds per square inch-the amount of pressure that the air will exert against a one-inch square area.) Pipes are tuned by adjusting the vibrating length of the reed by moving a tuning wire, or by changing the tonal length of the pipe by moving a tuning slide or stopper. Pipes are voiced to a specific wind pressure and cannot be interchanged with an instrument having significantly different pressure. Pipes are arranged in ranks and are controlled by registers or stops. Definitions of specific ranks are given elsewhere in this section. Refer to flute, piccolo, etc. for additional information. Often fanciful names ("fanfare trumpet," for example) were used to describe basic ranks. Certain ranks in large orchestrions are called foundation or fundamental pipes. These provide a rich bass sound which makes the treble pipes and solo pipes sound richer and fuller. Foundation pipes are never played alone but are always used in combination with other ranks. Solo ranks are those pipes with distinctive voicing which are used to play solo parts (or to carry the basic musical theme) while other ranks play accompaniment.
pipe chest: Wooden box on which organ pipes are mounted, filled with air under pressure. The pipe chest contains valves (usually pallet valves) which open and close channels, directing the flow of air to each pipe as required by the music. * Synonym: wind chest.
pipe organ: Musical instrument containing ranks of pipes (and sometimes other instruments) played by pressurized air and controlled by one or more keyboards (manuals) and (usually) a pedalboard. A player pipe organ is one fitted with a music roll attachment. A reproducing pipe organ plays special rolls which reproduce the playing of a human artist.
piquage: See pricking.
piston: 1a. Pipe rank found in the melody division of many Mortier and Decap dance organs, with tapered wooden resonators and beating reeds. Some examples have an opening in the front and a wooden cap over the top. The term is an abbreviation of “Cornet à piston,” another name for the cornet used in modern bands. Therank has a less brilliant tone than that of the curved brass trumpet rank found in many Wurlitzer band organs, just as the hand-played cornet is mellower than the trumpet used in bands and orchestras. 1b. Large reed pipes with brass resonators found in the countermelody division of 98-key Gavioli organs. 2. One of several buttons in rows between the manuals of a pipe organ console, or toe studs near the pedals, which actuate combinations of ranks that may be preset by the organist. These facilitate rapid changing of several or many stops at once, saving the organist from flipping numerous stop tabs when a change of registration is desired.
piston: 1a. Pipe rank found in the melody division of many Mortier and Decap dance organs, with tapered wooden resonators and beating reeds. Some examples have an opening in the front and a wooden cap over the top. The term is an abbreviation of “Cornet à piston,” another name for the cornet used in modern bands. The piston rank has a less brilliant tone than that of the curved brass trumpet rank found in many Wurlitzer band organs, just as the hand-played cornet is mellower than the trumpet used in bands and orchestras. 1b. Large reed pipes with brass resonators found in the countermelody division of 98-key Gavioli organs. 2. One of several buttons in rows between the manuals of a pipe organ console, or toe studs near the pedals, which actuate combinations of ranks that may be preset by the organist. These facilitate rapid changing of several or many stops at once, saving the organist from flipping numerous stop tabs when a change of registration is desired.
pit organ: See photoplayer. So-called due to its placement in the orchestra pit of a theatre.
pitch: 1. The musical note played by a piano string, organ pipe, xylophone bar or other tuned instrument or voice; e.g., C, C#, D, etc. 2. The tuning standard or reference used for tuning an instrument; e.g., if an instrument is tuned to A=435 hz, the note A above middle C plays at 435 vibrations per second. 3. The octave at which a rank of pipes is connected to a manual in a pipe organ. Middle C on the keyboard plays middle C on a rank of pipes at 8' pitch; the same key plays C one octave below on a rank at 16' pitch, or one octave above at 4'4. The octave at which a rank of pipes is tuned in an organ or orchestrion. In an orchestrion, pipes tuned to 8' pitch speak the same notes as the piano notes to which they are connected. Pipes at 4' pitch speak an octave higher, at 16' pitch, an octave lower, etc. In a fairground organ, for example, the melody division violin pipes play at 8' pitch, and the melody unda maris pipes at 16' pitch (an octave lower). The countermelody cello, baritone, or saxophone speak at 8' pitch, and the vox celeste pipes at 4' pitch (an octave higher). Most Weber Otero and Seeburg G orchestrions include a rank of 4' harmonic flutes or piccolos, adding a bright, cheerful sound to the music.
pitman: A push rod, made of thin metal wire or wood, used to connect a key with a pallet in a pneumatic instrument.
planchette: Wood strip pinned with a music arrangement, used to play the DeBain mechanical piano.
platform movement: A small musical movement used in some 18th and 19th century watches and other small items. The pins are arranged in sequence on the surface of a disc or platform. Separate steel teeth are arranged around the periphery and are plucked by the projections on the disc. Synonym: Sur plateau.
play: To operate; to commence producing music. Sometimes seen in notations as replay, marche avant, or the confusing term reverse. In a rewind music roll system the term play refers to the function which returns the roll to the playing direction when rewind is completed.
player organ: Player pipe or reed organ. An organ which is played automatically by a paper roll or other system.
player piano: 1. Foot-pumped (usually) upright or grand piano with the pneumatic mechanisms built into the case (in contrast to the push-up piano player, a device which contains the player mechanisms in a separate cabinet which is placed in front of the keyboard). Made for home use. Uses 65-note (early models) rolls or 73-note (early European models) or 88-note (universally used after 1908) rolls. Hundreds of different makes were produced during the early 20th century. * Synonym: inner-player (early usage). 2. Any type piano which uses a paper roll. Collectors designate roll-operated instruments by specific terms, including player piano (foot-pumped type), coin piano, orchestrion, etc.
player stack: See pneumatic stack.
plerodiénique box: Cylinder music box with the cylinder made in two parts, each of which shifts laterally outward from the center at a different time to provide continuous music during the normal tune-changing process.
plinth: See comb base.
pneumatic: 1. Adjective describing a musical instrument which is operated automatically by the action of wind pressure or suction (as opposed to mechanical). 2. Small bellows, especially one used in a pneumatic stack.
pneumatic action: The suction- or air-operated series of pouches, valves, and other devices used to sense the paper roll (or music book, paper strip, etc.) and cause an instrument to play automatically. Definition sometimes used to include auxiliary systems as well: pump, blower, reservoir, etc.
pneumatic stack: A series of air-actuated pouches, valves, and bellows, especially in a piano or orchestrion, built as a coordinated unit and used to play a piano action automatically.
pneumatic system: Complete system, including tracker bar (or key frame or other sensing mechanism), pump, reservoir, pneumatic stack, wind chest, etc. of an automatic musical instrument which utilizes wind pressure or suction (or a combination of both) to operate the player mechanisms.
polytype box: A cylinder musical box with multiple arrangements pinned onto the cylinder. One type was a revolver movement that had a separate comb and bedplate for each cylinder and was like several complete music boxes in a single case. The other was a more conventional box with the airs arranged in different styles, e.g., sublime harmony, tremolo zither, etc.
portative: The classical term used to describe a portable, hand-cranked barrel organ or similar instruments.
poseur: A person who sets the comb to the cylinder. Also known as a setter.
potence: The lower adjustable bearing for the endless screw in the governor. The potence holds the lower pivot of the endless screw and, by means of the regulating screw, allows the proper depthing of the endless screw to the second wheel.
pouce: A unit of length approximately 1.066 inches used to measure the length of cylinders on a music box.
pouch: In a pneumatic action, a flexible diaphragm (made of thin leather or other material) which, when one face is acted upon by air pressure or suction, causes a valve or key to operate. * Synonym: puff (mainly European usage).
pressure bar: In a disc music box, the bar which by means of hold-down wheels holds the disc against the star wheels when in the playing position. See hold-down arm.
prestant pipe: Short diapason-like pipe in band organs and pipe organs, sometimes mounted on the front of the facade. Plays with a bright string-like tone.
pricking: The scoring of the cylinder for a musical box which precedes the drilling of the cylinder for the pinning of the musical program. Synonym: piquage.
production master roll: Finished master roll, ready to use on a roll-duplicating perforator, as opposed to an incomplete master roll which is used in the preparation of a production master. An incomplete master sometimes has only the introduction, one verse, one chorus, and the ending. From this, a production master having repeated choruses is made.
program card: Card with list of tunes giving the program of a music box, coin piano, orchestrion, etc. * Synonym: tune card.
projection: Term used to describe the protruding studs on the underside of a music box disc. Made by forming metal displaced by partially perforating the disc surface.
proscenium: (mainly European usage.) Facade or front, esp. of a fairground organ or dance organ.
pump: 1. Bellows-operated device used to provide suction or wind pressure to operate an automatic musical instrument. 2. Tracker barUsually a hand-held device which produces suction by means of a piston in a cylinder. Used to clean lint and dirt from the tracker bar, tubing, and bleeds.
push-up piano player: A cabinet-style device which contains pneumatic mechanisms and which is pushed up to the piano keyboard in order to play the piano automatically via paper rolls. Usually foot-pumped. * Synonym: cabinet player. * German: Vorsetzer.