Keyboard bass

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ARP Odyssey and Rhodes Piano Bass Odyssey2 & PianoBass @ O-SETSU-Y 2010-30.jpg
ARP Odyssey and Rhodes Piano Bass

Keyboard bass (shortened to keybass and sometimes referred as a synth-bass) is the use of a smaller, low-pitched keyboard with fewer notes than a regular keyboard or pedal keyboard to substitute for the deep notes of a bass guitar or double bass in music.



Early keyboard bass

The pipe organ is the first, and the forefather of keyboard bass instruments. The bass pedal keyboard was developed in the 13th century. The keys for the hands are also capable of playing very low pipe tones.


Rhodes Piano Bass (1960) Rhodes Piano Bass.jpg
Rhodes Piano Bass (1960)

The earliest keyboard bass instrument was the 1960 Fender Rhodes piano bass, pictured to the right. The piano bass was essentially an electric piano containing the same pitch range as the most widely-used notes on an electric bass (or the double bass), which could be used to perform bass lines. It could be placed on top of a piano or organ, or mounted on a stand. Keyboard players such as The Doors' Ray Manzarek placed his Fender Rhodes piano bass on top of his Vox Continental or Gibson G-101 organ to play bass lines. About the same time, Hohner of Germany introduced a purely electronic bass keyboard, the Basset, which had a two-octave keyboard and rudimentary controls allowing a choice of tuba or string bass sounds. The Basset was in due course replaced by the Bass 2 and, in the mid-1970s, the Bass 3. All three were transistorized; the Basset was among the earliest solid-state electronic instruments. Similar instruments were produced in Japan under the "Raven" and "Rheem Kee Bass" (sic) names.

1970s and 1980s

Moog Taurus (small).jpg
Moog Taurus (19761981)

In the 1970s, a variant form of keyboard bass, bass pedals, became popular. Bass pedals are pedal keyboards operated by musicians using their feet. The guitar players or bass players of bands such as Genesis' Mike Rutherford, Yes' Chris Squire, John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin during acoustic sets, The Police (bassist Sting), or Atomic Rooster (organist Vincent Crane) use the bass pedals to play bass lines. Stevie Wonder pioneered the use of synthesizer keyboard bass, notably on "Boogie on Reggae Woman". Funk, R&B, G Rap and hiphop musicians such as George Clinton & Parliament, Funkadelic, Roger & Zapp, Dr. Dre, E-40, EPMD, and Kashif used synth bass. [1] During these decades the keyboard bass in its original form was still in use by some bands such as the B-52's, who used a Korg SB-100 "Synth-Bass".

1990s and 2000s

Novation BassStation (1993) Novation BassStation.jpg
Novation BassStation (1993)

In the 1990s and 2000s, MIDI keyboard controllers, often the smaller 25-note models, or virtual analog synths are used to play the bass lines in some pop groups. Keyboard bass instruments are a common alternative to bass guitars in rap, modern R&B, and in electronic dance music such as house music. As well, bassists from bands such as No Doubt sometimes perform bass lines on 25-note MIDI keyboards. Jack White of The White Stripes uses a vintage Rhodes Piano Bass live, particularly on performances of "My Doorbell". During Lady Gaga's The Monster Ball Tour, keyboardist and bassist Lanar "Kern" Brantley played synth bass on the Roland GAIA and Roland V-Synth. [2]

Related Research Articles

Rhodes piano Electric piano

The Rhodes piano is an electric piano invented by Harold Rhodes, which became popular in the 1970s. Like a conventional piano, the Rhodes generates sound with keys and hammers, but instead of strings, the hammers strike thin metal tines, which vibrate between an electromagnetic pickup. The signal is then sent through a cable to an external keyboard amplifier and speaker.


A keyboardist or keyboard player is a musician who plays keyboard instruments. Until the early 1960s musicians who played keyboards were generally classified as either pianists or organists. Since the mid-1960s, a plethora of new musical instruments with keyboards have come into common usage, such as synthesizers and digital piano, requiring a more general term for a person who plays them. In the 2010s, professional keyboardists in popular music often play a variety of different keyboard instruments, including piano, tonewheel organ, synthesizer, and clavinet. Some keyboardists may also play related instruments such as piano accordion, melodica, pedal keyboard, or keyboard-layout bass pedals.

General MIDI is a standardized specification for electronic musical instruments that respond to MIDI messages. GM was developed by the American MIDI Manufacturers Association (MMA) and the Japan MIDI Standards Committee (JMSC) and first published in 1991. The official specification is available in English from the MMA, bound together with the MIDI 1.0 specification, and in Japanese from the Association of Musical Electronic Industry (AMEI).

Electronic keyboard

An electronic keyboard, portable keyboard, or digital keyboard is an electronic musical instrument, an electronic or digital derivative of keyboard instruments. Broadly speaking, the term electronic keyboard or just a keyboard can refer to any type of digital or electronic keyboard instrument. These include synthesizers, digital pianos, stage pianos, electronic organs and digital audio workstations. However, an electronic keyboard is more specifically a synthesizer with a built-in low-wattage power amplifier and small loudspeakers.

A bass musical instrument produces tones in the low-pitched range C4- C2. Basses belong to different families of instruments and can cover a wide range of musical roles. Since producing low pitches usually requires a long air column or string, the string and wind bass instruments are usually the largest instruments in their families or instrument classes.

Bassline Low-pitched instrumental part

A bassline is the term used in many styles of music, such as jazz, blues, funk, dub and electronic, traditional music, or classical music for the low-pitched instrumental part or line played by a rhythm section instrument such as the electric bass, double bass, cello, tuba or keyboard.

GarageBand Digital audio workstations for macOS and iOS

GarageBand is a line of digital audio workstations for macOS, iPadOS, and iOS devices that allows users to create music or podcasts. GarageBand is developed by Apple for macOS, and was once part of the iLife software suite, along with iMovie and iDVD. Its music and podcast creation system enables users to create multiple tracks with pre-made MIDI keyboards, pre-made loops, an array of various instrumental effects, and voice recordings.

Rhythm section

A rhythm section is a group of musicians within a music ensemble or band that provides the underlying rhythm, harmony and pulse of the accompaniment, providing a rhythmic and harmonic reference and "beat" for the rest of the band. The rhythm section is often contrasted with the roles of other musicians in the band, such as the lead guitarist or lead vocals whose primary job is to carry the melody.

Keytar Electronic keyboard supported by a strap around shoulders like a guitar

The keytar is a lightweight synthesizer that is supported by a strap around the neck and shoulders, similar to the way a guitar is supported by a strap. Keytars allow players a greater range of movement onstage, compared to conventional keyboards, which are placed on stationary stands or which are part of heavy, floor-mounted structures. The instrument has a musical keyboard for triggering musical notes and sounds. Various controls are placed on the instrument's "neck", including those for pitch bends, vibrato, portamento, and sustain.

Pedal keyboard Musical keyboard played with the feet, usually used for low-pitched notes

A pedalboard is a keyboard played with the feet that is usually used to produce the low-pitched bass line of a piece of music. A pedalboard has long, narrow lever-style keys laid out in the same semitone scalar pattern as a manual keyboard, with longer keys for C, D, E, F, G, A and B, and shorter, raised keys for C, D, F, G and A. Training in pedal technique is part of standard organ pedagogy in church music and art music.

MIDI controller

A MIDI controller is any hardware or software that generates and transmits Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) data to MIDI-enabled devices, typically to trigger sounds and control parameters of an electronic music performance.

Bass pedals

Bass pedals are an electronic musical instrument with a foot-operated pedal keyboard with a range of one or more octaves. The earliest bass pedals from the 1970s consisted of a pedalboard and analog synthesizer tone generation circuitry packaged together as a unit. The bass pedals are plugged into a bass amplifier or PA system so that their sound can be heard. Since the 1990s, bass pedals are usually MIDI controllers, which have to be connected to a MIDI-compatible computer, electronic synthesizer keyboard, or synth module to produce musical tones. Some 2010s-era bass pedals have both an onboard synth module and a MIDI output.

Monotimbral is usually used in reference to electronic synthesizers which can produce a single timbre at a given pitch when pressing one key or multiple keys.

Keyboard expression is the ability of a keyboard musical instrument to change tone or other qualities of the sound in response to velocity, pressure or other variations in how the performer depresses the keys of the musical keyboard. Expression types include:

MIDI keyboard Piano-style keyboard that sends MIDI inputs to a computer or device

A MIDI keyboard or controller keyboard is typically a piano-style electronic musical keyboard, often with other buttons, wheels and sliders, used for sending MIDI signals or commands over a USB or MIDI 5-pin cable to other musical devices or computers. MIDI keyboards lacking an onboard sound module cannot produce sounds themselves, however some models of MIDI keyboards contain both a MIDI controller and sound module, allowing them to operate independently. When used as a MIDI controller, MIDI information on keys or buttons the performer has pressed is sent to a receiving device capable of creating sound through modeling synthesis, sample playback, or an analog hardware instrument. The receiving device could be:

Guitar synthesizer

A guitar synthesizer is any one of a number of musical instrument systems that allow a guitarist to access synthesizer capabilities.

Glossary of jazz and popular music List of definitions of terms and jargon used in jazz and popular music

This is a list of jazz and popular music terms that are likely to be encountered in printed popular music songbooks, fake books and vocal scores, big band scores, jazz, and rock concert reviews, and album liner notes. This glossary includes terms for musical instruments, playing or singing techniques, amplifiers, effects units, sound reinforcement equipment, and recording gear and techniques which are widely used in jazz and popular music. Most of the terms are in English, but in some cases, terms from other languages are encountered.

Keyboard amplifier

A keyboard amplifier is a powered electronic amplifier and loudspeaker in a wooden speaker cabinet used for amplification of electronic keyboard instruments. Keyboard amplifiers are distinct from other types of amplification systems such as guitar amplifiers due to the particular challenges associated with making keyboards sound louder on stage; namely, to provide solid low-frequency sound reproduction for the deep basslines which keyboards can play and crisp high-frequency sound for the high-register notes. Another difference between keyboard amplifiers and guitar/bass amplifiers is that keyboard amps are usually designed with a relatively flat frequency response and low distortion. In contrast, many guitar and bass amp designers purposely make their amplifiers modify the frequency response, typically to "roll off" very high frequencies, and most rock and blues guitar amps, and since the 1980s and 1990s, even many bass amps are designed to add distortion or overdrive to the instrument tone.

The history of home keyboards lies in mechanical musical instrument keyboards, electrified keyboards and 1960s and 1970s synthesizer technologies.

Digital accordion

A digital accordion is an electronic musical instrument that uses the control features of a traditional accordion to trigger a digital sound module that produces a synthesized or digitally sampled accordion sounds or, in most instruments, a range of non-accordion sounds, such as orchestral instruments, pipe organ, piano, guitar, and so on. Digital accordions typically encode and transmit key presses and other input as Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) messages. Most digital accordions need to be plugged into a keyboard amplifier or PA system to hear their sounds.


  1. SynthMania: Famous Sounds
  2. "Roland Onstage with Lady Gaga and The Monster Ball Tour". Roland Users Group. Retrieved 7 February 2015.