How Droga5 built a one-note piano for its Grammys Android spot

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Behind-the-scenes video reveals there's more math than music in 'Monotune's' expertly broken instrument.

Sometimes, stunning results require technical feats, in addition to a great idea. For its Android ad that debuted during the Grammy awards, Droga5 needed a grand piano that could play only a single note, so they had to build one.

In the 60-second spot "Monotune," professional pianist Ji plays a bit of the third movement of Beethoven’s "Moonlight Sonata" on both a properly tuned piano and Droga5’s custom build, contrasting the sameness of the second tune with the vibrance of the first. The ad culminates with the tagline "Be Together. Not the Same" — a nod to Android’s open-source software.

A typical piano has 88 strings made of tempered, high-carbon steel that vary in length, thickness and tension. Longer, thicker strings to the right of the instrument produce lower frequencies, while thinner, shorter strings on the right make higher notes.

Piano tuners adjust the tension of individual strings to correct any drift from the right notes. But they operate within limits: tuning the second white key from the left (normally a B three octaves below middle C) to middle C would require increasing the tension of its string far higher than the metal or the wooden frame of the piano could handle without breaking. Likewise, tuning a key on the far right to middle C would mean reducing the tension to the equivalent of a jump rope, or lengthening the string far beyond the bounds of the instrument.

(T is the tension in Newtons, \mu is the mass per unit length and L is the length of the vibrating part of the string.)

(T is the tension in Newtons, μ is the mass per unit length and L is the length of the vibrating part of the string.)

So Droga5 commissioned a custom job with specially made strings. In the "Making of Monotune," a behind-the-scenes video that Droga5 released this week, a professional piano tuner known only as Guy explains the surprisingly complicated process. (The truncated strings can be seen at 1:10.)