Campus: CSU Fullerton -- November 20, 2002

New Piano Lab Is Music to This Professor's Ears

To the uninitiated observer, it may seem like a dream sequence from some kind of art-house film: 20 diligent music majors sitting at pianos wearing headphones, focusing on monitors featuring a bouncing ball that guides them through the notes of a melody. In unison, they play the music on their keyboards … but not a sound can be heard.

From a raised platform at the front of the room, Martha Baker-Jordan, Cal State Fullerton emeritus professor of music, can hear, through headphones, any or all of her students — music majors whose instruments of choice are not piano — with the touch of a button. And through their own headphones, students can hear themselves play, in addition to Baker-Jordan or a duet partner — depending on the configuration the professor selects. Within her reach is a computer where, with a click of the mouse she can slow down or speed up the tempo of the music being projected on the monitors and make key changes to the score, among many other features.

All of this can be accomplished in a new piano lab that was installed just before fall classes began. Manufactured and installed by the Roland Corp., the instruments and equipment represent “phenomenal technology and learning tools,” says Baker-Jordan. “At this point in education, when there’s technology like this, we should have it.”

If the thought of not hearing the ivories being tickled seems odd, imagine Baker-Jordan’s audio experience when she started teaching at Cal State Fullerton in 1975, as her students filled the air with the sounds of 20 pianos playing simultaneously. A few years later, the first piano lab was installed, featuring Wurlitzer electronic keyboards that could be listened to with headphones and thus, not interfere with other players in the room. The next upgrade followed in 1986 with a Yamaha Clavinova lab. By then, according to Baker-Jordan, the technology had advanced, and she could single her students out to hear them individually and pair them with their classmates so that they could work with each other.

By the time the current lab came to fruition, the 16-year-old Yamaha system was clearly past ts prime. Says Baker-Jordan, “It was worn out, getting static. Our technicians couldn’t upgrade it any more.” So she proposed and pushed for a new lab — and credits College of the Arts Dean Jerry Samuelson and Gordon Paine, former music chair, with bringing it to fruition.

And, how do students benefit from this technology?

“The main thing that this does for the students are the visuals, in my opinion, the bouncing ball, the music tutor, being able to project anything in any key. This is really important for these kids, because they’re not going to be pianists. They’re going to be trumpet teachers and vocal teachers, and they have to be able to get around the keyboard and function in something besides C-major.

“These pianos have disk drives, so students can have their own disks and make up their own exercises. They record themselves as they’re practicing and can listen back, which trains the ear to be so much more perceptive.”

Another advantage of the pianos, which are digital, continues Baker-Jordan, “is that they’re superior instruments. They’re as close to pianos as you can get. They have what’s called weighted key action, so that as you press on the keys harder, you get more sound. With the previous ones, you could only play loud or soft — you couldn’t crescendo.”

With a myriad of features, including a built-in synthesizer that can be programmed to create organ, guitar, bass, strings and other instrumental sounds, Baker-Jordan hopes that composition and theory classes will utilize the lab as well.

Media Contacts: Martha Baker-Jordan, emeritus professor of music, (714) 278-3537 or

Gail Matsunaga, Public Affairs, (714) 278-4851 or

Photos: Images of Baker-Jordan teaching in the new lab can be downloaded from the university’s Web site at

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