Yamaha Playcard (1982 – mid 1980s)

The Yamaha Playcard was a system used by several Yamaha electronic keyboards to playback music. The cards consisted of a large card (a bit smaller than A4 size) with musical notation, and a magnetic stripe on the lower edge. The stripe was read by swiping the card through a slot on the back of the keyboard (which could also act as a holder for the piece of music). The keyboard could then either playback the music, or play an accompaniment and the user could play the tune by following the music or pressing the keys that were lit by an LED.

Playcards were introduced around 1982 and were used by the PC-100 as well as some other models of Yamaha keyboards. The system was not used by any other keyboard manufacturers.

A number of different themed sets of Playcard were available, covering genres such as popular songs, classics, standards and show tunes. Judging by the songs included, Playcards don’t seem to have lasted beyond the mid-1980s.

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Soundmirror (1948 – 1954)

Soundmirror tape (also known as ‘magic ribbon tape’) was a magnetic tape format for use on the Soundmirror tape recorder made by Thermionic Products in the United Kingdom. What was unusual about it was that was made of paper with an oxide coating rather than the standard plastic tape.

Thermionic introduced the Soundmirror tape recorder in late-1948 under licence from the Brush Development Company in the US, after introducing the Recordon dictation disc (also made of paper) earlier in the year. The Soundmirror machine became the first domestic tape recorder on the UK market.

While the Recordon disc was aimed at the dictation market, the Soundmirror format was aimed at longer duration recording such as concerts, meetings and lectures. The tape ran at 7.5 inches per second on a maximum reel size of 7-inches, so allowing up to around 30 minutes of recording.

Production of the Soundmirror continued until 1954 by which time acetate (and later polyester) had become the standard magnetic tape base material.

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Punched tape (1846 – 1980s)

Punched tape or perforated tape was an early form of data storage, developed from interlinked cards such as those used on the Jacquard loom.

In 1846, punched tape was used for sending telegrams. Operators could type a message to the paper tape, and then sent the message at the maximum line speed from the tape.

Various encoding schemes were used over time, beginning with Baudot with 5 holes, and culminating in ASCII. A row of narrower holes served to feed the tape.

When the first minicomputers were being released, manufacturers turned to the existing mass-produced ASCII teleprinters and punched tape became a popular medium for low cost minicomputer data and program storage. Punched tape and punched cards became the primary means of mass storage for computers in the 1960s.

In the 1970s, computer-aided manufacturing equipment often used paper tape, as paper tape readers were smaller and much less expensive than punched card or magnetic tape readers. Premium black waxed and lubricated long-fibre papers, and Mylar film tape were invented so that production tapes for these machines would last longer.

Punched tape had a low information density and took a long time to load, and more than a few dozen kilobytes are impractical to handle in punched tape format. Unlike magnetic tape though, punched tape can be read decades later if acid-free paper or Mylar film was used, and can even be decoded visually if necessary.

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Piano roll (1883 – 2008)

A piano roll is a music storage medium used to operate a player piano, piano player or reproducing piano consisting of a continuous roll of paper with perforations punched into it. The roll moves over a reading system known as a ‘tracker bar’ and the playing cycle for each musical note is triggered when a perforation crosses the bar and is read. Rolls play at a specific, marked speed, where for example, 70 signifies 7 feet of paper travel in one minute.

The first paper rolls were used commercially by Welte & Sons in their Orchestrions beginning in 1883. The popularity of piano rolls peaked between 1900 and 1927.

The majority of piano rolls play on three distinct musical scales. The 65-note (with a playing range of A-1 to C#7) format was introduced in 1896 in the USA specifically for piano music. In 1900 a USA format playing all 88-notes of the standard piano scale was introduced. In 1902 a German 72-note scale (F-1, G-1 to E7) was introduced. All of these scales were subject to being operated by piano rolls of varying dimensions. The 1909 Buffalo Convention of US manufacturers standardized the US industry to the 88-note scale and fixed the physical dimensions for that scale.

Piano rolls were in continuous mass production up to 2008, being replaced by MIDI files that accomplish digitally what piano rolls do mechanically.

Metronomic or arranged rolls are rolls produced by positioning the music slots without real-time input, whereas hand played rolls are created by capturing in real-time the hand-played performance of one or more pianists upon a piano connected to a recording machine. Reproducing rolls are the same as hand-played rolls but have additional control codes to operate the dynamic modifying systems of the specific brand of piano it is designed to be played back on.