It’s that time of year where kids are on their best behavior (gotta be on the "Nice" list!), building gingerbread houses, and making sure to update their holiday lists: paint sets, Legos, stuffed animals, the latest from Apple, and maybe even a toy piano.
The kinderklavier (children’s piano; toy piano) was first introduced in the mid-19th century, initially as uprights and later as baby grands. Toy pianos are typically made from wood or plastic, include a range of 1-3 octaves, and are less than 20 inches in width. Even though they are made to resemble a piano, their slight, tinny sound is more akin to a glockenspiel.
In the beginning days of the toy piano, glass bars were used to create the eccentric toy piano sound. Later, German toymaker Albert Schoenhut had the idea to swap out the glass for metal bars which ultimately made a more durable product.
The toy piano has also appeared throughout pop culture including in Yann Tiersen's score for Amélie, Schroder from the Peanuts comics, and numerous popular songs like Seals and Crofts' "Summer Breeze."
But the instrument has also made its way into compositions across the classical musical spectrum, most notably in John Cage's Suite for Toy Piano from 1948. Pianists tinkering with endless possibilities of the toy piano include Phyllis Chen and Margaret Leng Tan, who the New York Times dubbed "Queen of the Toy Piano."
Toy around with these whimsical pieces for the kinderklavier!