Scott Joplin and the Square Piano

Have you ever had piano lessons? Maybe you are taking piano lessons now. What kind of piano keyboard do you have? A few people have a lovely grand piano. These wonderful instruments are also found in concert halls, churches and schools…that have the SPACE for them. An upright, or vertical, piano is more common in homes. Some are shorter, some are taller, but they all take up much less floor space than a grand piano. There are a lot of pianos that look a lot like a vertical piano, but are electronic or digital. They weigh a lot less than an acoustic piano, but take up the same amount of floor space.

The smallest of all is the portable keyboard. Most of the time, they have 61, 76 or 88 keys, and may have a variety of features, from simple to elaborate, but they are portable, designed to be moved around. Whatever kind of piano you have, it is important to have one in order to practice.

In the 1870s, about the time Scott Joplin was taking piano lessons, portable keyboards hadn’t been invented yet, and upright pianos were just beginning to catch on and weren’t as refined as the ones we have today.

The space-saving instrument of choice for a fine home of the time was the square grand. It is really not an accurate name because the piano is clearly not truly square. It is a rectangle! But still, we call it the square piano. These were expensive instruments – often cositing as much as small house!

When Scott Joplin was a child, his family lived in Texarkana, Arkansas. [Related: The Strenuous Life of Scott Joplin] Scott was part of a very musical family. Even as a youngster, his talent was well-known and he took piano lessons — but his family did not own a piano. How could he practice?

Scott’s mother, Florence, was a housekeeper for other families in the neighborhood. One of the families that employed her had a piano, a square piano. It was arranged for Scott to practice on that piano while Florence was working. Scott remembered playing a square grand and talked about it years later. A family named Wilder lived in the same neighborhood as the Joplins and they told those stories, too. The piano from the Wilder home was donated to the Texarkana Museum System and it is on display there. It is believed to be the very piano Scott Joplin played as a child.

Its not easy to learn to play the piano when you don’t have one of your own for practice, but Scott Joplin did it. [Related: Printable Activities for Scott Joplin] He kept at it and eventually got a piano of his own. He kept at it and became a professional musician and composer. He kept at it and became the King of Ragtime.