About the project

What is 88 Pianists?

To mark 500 years since Leonardo da Vinci’s death, we decided to break a world record. Da Vinci was a renowned inventor, engineer and artist. He even invented his own musical instrument, the Viola Organista. 


In an ever-more digital world, can we still invent and make something physical and unexpected? Can we fuse engineering and art? The world record for number of people playing the same piano at the same time stood at 21 people.


We decided to break it.


How many people do you think we could fit around a piano? 22? 30, maybe?


How many keys are there on a piano?


88! If we could get 88 people to play the same piano, one for each key, then our record could never be broken!


And so 88 Pianists was born.


But could we get 88 people to fit around 1 piano? Only if they all stand several metres away from it. How would they reach?


We need an engineering solution. If we could invent mechanical finger-extenders to allow the pianists to touch the piano from several metres away, we could have one person on each note. 


But we couldn't do it alone. We needed the help of primary school children from across the UK.


So we invited primary school children aged between 7 and 10 from across the whole country to design these mechanical fingers. Hearing about about da Vinci and other inventors, and learning how a piano works, the children created a total of 2500 designs from which our final 88 were chosen. They worked together with our Engineering Teams to build them into real life mechanical extendable fingers. They brought the fingers to Birmingham and watched as 88 children performed a newly commissioned piece to break the world record on 19th August 2019.


And we did it! We broke the world record; not once, but TWICE. Take a look at the video of our performance on our homepage.


We wanted to inspire the next generation of engineers.


But it turned out... they inspired us.


Who are we?


88 Pianists was created by Professor Julian Allwood at the University of Cambridge Department of Engineering, in collaboration with engineers and musicians from universities across the UK. We are proud to be supported by EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council).


Creator - Professor Julian Allwood

Composer - Martin Riley


Lead Engineer - Chris Cleaver (University of Cambridge)

Project Managers - Kirsten Saward and Pippa Horton (University of Cambridge)

Head of Graphic Design and Multimedia - Fran O'Neill Sergent (University of Cambridge)


Composer - Martin Riley

Musical leads - Richard Shrewsbury, Jeremy Clay, George Kirkham (Royal Birmingham Conservatoire)


Engineering Organising Committee - Professor Adam Clare (University of Nottingham), Dr Aydin Nassehi (University of Bristol), Dr Candice Majewski (University of Sheffield), Catherine Richards (University of Cambridge), Dr Erdem Ozturk (ARMC Sheffield), Dr Evros Loukaides (University of Bath), Dr Kate Black (University of Liverpool), Dr Lindsey Smith (University of Nottingham), Dr Rick Lupton (University of Bath), Sarah Shackleton (University of Nottingham), Dr Vimal Dhokia (University of Bath)


We are grateful to an incredible team of engineers and musicians from across UK universities and to thousands of Key Stage 2 children who took part. Please see our homepage for further details.