Creating a Prepared Piano

(This lesson plan was previously printed on the website for MENC.  It has been adapted for ease of classroom management.)


Objectives:                          Students will describe the sounds created through John Cage's prepared piano

                                            method, and prepare a piano using the techniques developed by John Cage.


Standards:                           Performing on instruments, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music.

                                                Listening to, analyzing, and describing music.

                                                Evaluating music and music performances.


Materials:                            Excerpt from John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes

                                                Several wood screws, erasers, pencils, spoons, pieces of paper, and pieces of plastic

                                                Access to a piano (note:  the older the piano, the better for this assignment.  It is

                                            possible to un-tune/damage the piano, so monitor students when it is time to


                                                Journal or notebook




And Experiences:             Students should have some understanding of how a piano works.

                                                Students must know how to play simple pieces on the piano (may be RH only)


1.                   Play an excerpt of Sonatas and Interludes for students.


2.                   Ask students about what they heard.  How many instruments were being used?


3.                   Introduce John Cage and explain how he altered the piano by inserting different items between the strings, calling it a prepared piano.


4.                   Discuss how the instrument’s pitch, timbre, and volume change when items are placed between the strings.  Going back to step 2, what sounds are possible to create on a prepared piano?


5.                    Inform students that they will be preparing a piano.  Instruct them that while placing items between the strings, they must take great care not to drop or pull at anything. 


6.                   With the students gathered around the piano for observation, have one student carefully screw a wood screw between a pair of strings in the piano’s tenor register, and then play the corresponding note on the keyboard.  If careful, the student may move the screw up and down the string for different sounds.


7.                   Have the next student put a different item between a pair of strings wherever he/she wishes on the piano, and then play that corresponding note.  Again, if careful, the student may move the item up and down the string to change the sound. 


8.                   Have each person select different items to place between the strings.  When using paper, weave the sheet of paper under and over the strings, making sure it is about 5” in front of the hammers. 


9.                   Once the piano is prepared, let each student play a selection of his/her own choice on the prepared piano.  Students may change one item in the piano, but no more.  As the student performs, the rest of the class should write down in a journal or notebook the sounds that they hear.  What parts of the tune sound “normal?”  What types of sounds are they hearing within the song?  What effect do the different timbres have on the song? 


Assessment:                       Students successfully change the pitches/timbres of a piano through preparation.

                                                Students actively listen to how the preparation changes a regular song and describe

                                            the effects.