Keyboard instrument

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The piano, a common keyboard instrument D274.jpg
The piano, a common keyboard instrument
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A keyboard instrument is a musical instrument played using a keyboard, a row of levers which are pressed by the fingers. The most common of these are the piano, organ, and various electronic keyboards, including synthesizers and digital pianos. Other keyboard instruments include celestas, which are struck idiophones operated by a keyboard, and carillons, which are usually housed in bell towers or belfries of churches or municipal buildings. [1]

Musical instrument History and classification

A musical instrument is an instrument created or adapted to make musical sounds. In principle, any object that produces sound can be considered a musical instrument—it is through purpose that the object becomes a musical instrument. The history of musical instruments dates to the beginnings of human culture. Early musical instruments may have been used for ritual, such as a trumpet to signal success on the hunt, or a drum in a religious ceremony. Cultures eventually developed composition and performance of melodies for entertainment. Musical instruments evolved in step with changing applications.

Musical keyboard musical instrument part

A musical keyboard is the set of adjacent depressible levers or keys on a musical instrument. Keyboards typically contain keys for playing the twelve notes of the Western musical scale, with a combination of larger, longer keys and smaller, shorter keys that repeats at the interval of an octave. Depressing a key on the keyboard makes the instrument produce sounds—either by mechanically striking a string or tine, plucking a string (harpsichord), causing air to flow through a pipe organ, striking a bell (carillon), or, on electric and electronic keyboards, completing a circuit. Since the most commonly encountered keyboard instrument is the piano, the keyboard layout is often referred to as the piano keyboard.

Piano musical instrument

The piano is an acoustic, stringed musical instrument invented in Italy by Bartolomeo Cristofori around the year 1700, in which the strings are struck by hammers. It is played using a keyboard, which is a row of keys that the performer presses down or strikes with the fingers and thumbs of both hands to cause the hammers to strike the strings.


Today, the term keyboard often refers to keyboard-style synthesizers. Under the fingers of a sensitive performer, the keyboard may also be used to control dynamics, phrasing, shading, articulation, and other elements of expression—depending on the design and inherent capabilities of the instrument. [1]

Synthesizer Electronic instrument capable of producing a wide range of sounds

A synthesizer or synthesiser is an electronic musical instrument that generates audio signals that may be converted to sound. Synthesizers may imitate traditional musical instruments such as piano, flute, vocals, or natural sounds such as ocean waves; or generate novel electronic timbres. They are often played with a musical keyboard, but they can be controlled via a variety of other devices, including music sequencers, instrument controllers, fingerboards, guitar synthesizers, wind controllers, and electronic drums. Synthesizers without built-in controllers are often called sound modules, and are controlled via USB, MIDI or CV/gate using a controller device, often a MIDI keyboard or other controller.

In music, the dynamics of a piece is the variation in loudness between notes or phrases. Dynamics are indicated by specific musical notation, often in some detail. However, dynamics markings still require interpretation by the performer depending on the musical context: for instance a piano (quiet) marking in one part of a piece might have quite different objective loudness in another piece, or even a different section of the same piece. The execution of dynamics also extends beyond loudness to include changes in timbre and sometimes tempo rubato.

Phrase (music) Musical unit

In music theory, a phrase is a unit of musical meter that has a complete musical sense of its own, built from figures, motifs, and cells, and combining to form melodies, periods and larger sections.

A phrase is a substantial musical thought, which ends with a musical punctuation called a cadence. Phrases are created in music through an interaction of melody, harmony, and rhythm.

Another important use of the word keyboard is in historical musicology, where it means an instrument whose identity cannot be firmly established. Particularly in the 18th century, the harpsichord, the clavichord, and the early piano were in competition, and the same piece might be played on more than one. Hence, in a phrase such as "Mozart excelled as a keyboard player," the word keyboard is typically all-inclusive.

Harpsichord musical instrument played by means of a keyboard

A harpsichord is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard. This activates a row of levers that turn a trigger mechanism that plucks one or more strings with a small plectrum.

Clavichord musical instrument

The clavichord is a European stringed rectangular keyboard instrument that was used largely in the Late Middle Ages, through the Renaissance, Baroque and Classical eras. Historically, it was mostly used as a practice instrument and as an aid to composition, not being loud enough for larger performances. The clavichord produces sound by striking brass or iron strings with small metal blades called tangents. Vibrations are transmitted through the bridge(s) to the soundboard.


Mosaic of the Female Musicians.jpg
Mosaic of the Female Musicians.jpg
Late 4th century AD "Mosaic of the Female Musicians" from a Byzantine villa in Maryamin, Syria.

The earliest known keyboard instrument was the Ancient Greek hydraulis, a type of pipe organ, invented in the third century BC. [2] The keys were likely balanced and could be played with a light touch, as is clear from the reference in a Latin poem by Claudian (late 4th century), who says magna levi detrudens murmura tactu . . . intent, that is “let him thunder forth as he presses out mighty roarings (shifa) with a light touch” (Paneg. Manlio Theodoro, 320–22). From its invention until the fourteenth century, the organ remained the only keyboard instrument. Often, the organ did not feature a keyboard at all, but rather buttons or large levers operated by a whole hand. Almost every keyboard until the fifteenth century had seven naturals to each octave.[ citation needed ]

Pipe organ wind instrument that produces sound by driving pressurized air (called wind) through pipes selected via a keyboard

The pipe organ is a musical instrument that produces sound by driving pressurized air through the organ pipes selected via a keyboard. Because each pipe produces a single pitch, the pipes are provided in sets called ranks, each of which has a common timbre and volume throughout the keyboard compass. Most organs have multiple ranks of pipes of differing timbre, pitch, and volume that the player can employ singly or in combination through the use of controls called stops.

Claudius Claudianus, usually known in English as Claudian, was a Latin poet associated with the court of the emperor Honorius at Mediolanum (Milan), and particularly with the general Stilicho. His work, written almost entirely in hexameters or elegiac couplets, falls into three main categories: poems for Honorius, poems for Stilicho, and mythological epic.

In music theory, a natural is an accidental which cancels previous accidentals and represents the unaltered pitch of a note.

The clavichord and the harpsichord appeared during the fourteenth century—the clavichord probably being earlier. The harpsichord and clavichord were both common until the widespread adoption of the piano in the eighteenth century, after which their popularity decreased. The piano was revolutionary because a pianist could vary the volume (or dynamics) of the sound by varying the vigor with which each key was struck. The piano's full name is gravicèmbalo con piano e forte meaning harpsichord with soft and loud but can be shortened to piano-forte, which means soft-loud in Italian. In its current form, the piano is a product of the late nineteenth century, and is far removed in both sound and appearance from the "pianos" known to Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven. In fact, the modern piano is significantly different from even the 19th-century pianos used by Liszt, Chopin, and Brahms. [1] See Piano history and musical performance .

Pianist musician who plays the piano

A pianist is an individual musician who plays the piano. Since most forms of Western music can make use of the piano, pianists have a wide repertoire and a wide variety of styles to choose from, among them traditional classical music, jazz, blues, and all sorts of popular music, including rock and roll. Most pianists can, to an extent, easily play other keyboard-related instruments such as the synthesizer, harpsichord, celesta, and the organ.

Italian language Romance language

Italian is a Romance language of the Indo-European language family. Italian, together with Sardinian, is by most measures the closest language to Vulgar Latin of the Romance languages. Italian is an official language in Italy, Switzerland, San Marino and Vatican City. It has an official minority status in western Istria. It formerly had official status in Albania, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro (Kotor) and Greece, and is generally understood in Corsica and Savoie. It also used to be an official language in the former Italian East Africa and Italian North Africa, where it still plays a significant role in various sectors. Italian is also spoken by large expatriate communities in the Americas and Australia. Italian is included under the languages covered by the European Charter for Regional or Minority languages in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Romania, although Italian is neither a co-official nor a regional or a traditional language in these countries, where Italians do not represent a historical minority. In the case of Romania, Italian is listed by the Government along 10 other languages which supposedly receive a "general protection", but not between those which should be granted an "advanced or enhanced" one. Many speakers of Italian are native bilinguals of both Italian and other regional languages.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Austrian composer of the Classical period

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, baptised as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart, was a prolific and influential composer of the classical era.

Keyboard instruments were further developed in the early twentieth century. Early electromechanical instruments, such as the Ondes Martenot, appeared early in the century. This was a very important contribution to the keyboard's history. [3]

Ondes Martenot Electronic musical instrument

The ondes Martenot or ondes musicales is an early electronic musical instrument. It is played with a keyboard or by moving a ring along a wire, creating wavering, theremin-like sounds. A player of the ondes martenot is called an ondist.

Modern keyboards

Much effort has gone into creating an instrument that sounds like the piano but lacks its size and weight. The electric piano and electronic piano were early efforts that, while useful instruments in their own right, did not convincingly reproduce the timbre of the piano. [4] [5] Electric and electronic organs were developed during the same period. More recent electronic keyboard designs strive to emulate the sound of specific make and model pianos using digital samples and computer models. Each acoustic keyboard contains 88 keys; however, smaller arrangements have a minimum of 61 keys. [6]

Weighted keys

Weighted keys, found on electronic keyboards, are designed to simulate the resistance of a key on an acoustic keyboard, via pressurization; this pressurization may help students transition into acoustic keyboards. [6]

There are 4 types of weighted keys. [7] Keybeds, or non-weighted keys place the weights within the base of the keyboard. The second type, Semi-weighted uses springs, and the third type is hammer keys. Most electronic keyboards use the fourth type: graded simulate keys. [7]

Often, weighted keys are made of wood, or metal/wood substitute. [7] [6]

See also

Related Research Articles

Keyboardist musician who plays keyboard instruments

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, requiring a more general term for a person who plays them. These keyboards include:

Digital piano Musical instrument which uses samples and synthesisers to replicate the sound of an acoustic piano and other instruments

A digital piano is a type of electronic keyboard designed to serve primarily as an alternative to the traditional piano, both in the way it feels to play and in the sound produced. It is intended to provide an accurate simulation of an acoustic piano. Some digital pianos are also designed to look like an ordinary piano, both the upright or grand piano. Digital pianos use either a synthesized emulation or samples of an actual piano, which are then amplified through an internal loudspeaker. Digital pianos incorporate weighted keys, which recreate the feel of an acoustic piano.

Electric piano musical instrument used by many of the great musicians such as Ray Charles

An electric piano is an electric musical instrument which produces sounds when a performer presses the keys of the piano-style musical keyboard. Pressing keys causes mechanical hammers to strike metal strings, metal reeds or wire tines, leading to vibrations which are converted into electrical signals by magnetic pickups, which are then connected to an instrument amplifier and loudspeaker to make a sound loud enough for the performer and audience to hear. Unlike a synthesizer, the electric piano is not an electronic instrument. Instead, it is an electro-mechanical instrument. Some early electric pianos used lengths of wire to produce the tone, like a traditional piano. Smaller electric pianos used short slivers of steel to produce the tone. The earliest electric pianos were invented in the late 1920s; the 1929 Neo-Bechstein electric grand piano was among the first. Probably the earliest stringless model was Lloyd Loar's Vivi-Tone Clavier. A few other noteworthy producers of electric pianos include Baldwin Piano and Organ Company and the Wurlitzer Company.

Keyboard 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.

Spinet keyboard instrument

A spinet is a smaller type of harpsichord or other keyboard instrument, such as a piano or organ.

Virginals keyboard instrument

The virginals or virginal is a keyboard instrument of the harpsichord family. It was popular in Europe during the late Renaissance and early baroque periods.

Fortepiano early piano, around 1700 up to the early 19th century

A fortepiano[ˌfɔrteˈpjaːno] is an early piano. In principle, the word "fortepiano" can designate any piano dating from the invention of the instrument by Bartolomeo Cristofori around 1700 up to the early 19th century. Most typically, however, it is used to refer to the late-18th to early-19th century instruments for which Haydn, Mozart, and the younger Beethoven wrote their piano music. Starting in Beethoven's time, the fortepiano began a period of steady evolution, culminating in the late 19th century with the modern grand. The earlier fortepiano became obsolete and was absent from the musical scene for many decades. In the 20th century the fortepiano was revived, following the rise of interest in historically informed performance. Fortepianos are built for this purpose today in specialist workshops.

Tangent piano type of keyboard instrument

The tangent piano is a very rare keyboard instrument that resembles a harpsichord and early pianos in design. It normally features five octaves of keys and the strings are acted upon by narrow wooden or metal slips when the keys are depressed.

Water organ

The water organ or hydraulic organ is a type of pipe organ blown by air, where the power source pushing the air is derived by water from a natural source or by a manual pump. Consequently, the water organ lacks a bellows, blower, or compressor.

Manual (music) keyboard played by the hands

A manual is a musical keyboard designed to be played with the hands, on an instrument such as a pipe organ, harpsichord, clavichord, electronic organ, or synthesizer. The term "manual" is used with regard to any hand keyboard on these instruments to distinguish it from the pedalboard, which is a keyboard that the organist plays with their feet. It is proper to use "manual" rather than "keyboard", then, when referring to the hand keyboards on any instrument that has a pedalboard.

Keyboard expression is the ability of a keyboard musical instrument to respond 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:

Stage piano

A stage piano is an electronic musical instrument designed for use in live performance on a stage or a studio, as well as for music recording in jazz and popular music. While stage pianos share some of the same features as digital pianos designed for home use and synthesizers, they have a number of features which set them apart. Stage pianos usually provide a smaller number of sounds, with these sounds being of higher quality, unlike regular digital pianos and home synthesizers.

Yamaha P-120

The Yamaha P-120 is a portable electronic piano, released in 2002. The 88-key so-called "GH" keyboard is action-weighted, imitating the feel of a real piano. It includes several sample keyboard sounds, such as harpsichord, clavichord, vibraphone, guitar and more. Basic sequencing and editing are built-in.


The claviorgan is a combination of a stringed instrument and an organ. Its origin is uncertain but its history can be traced back to the fifteenth century.

Music technology

Music technology is the study or the use of any device, mechanism, machine or tool by a musician or composer to make or perform music; to compose, notate, play back or record songs or pieces; or to analyze or edit music. The earliest known applications of technology to music was prehistoric peoples' use of a tool to hand-drill holes in bones to make simple flutes. Ancient Egyptians developed stringed instruments, such as harps, lyres and lutes, which required making thin strings and some type of peg system for adjusting the pitch of the strings. Ancient Egyptians also used wind instruments such as double clarinets and percussion instruments such as cymbals. In Ancient Greece, instruments included the double-reed aulos and the lyre. Numerous instruments are referred to in the Bible, including the horn, pipe, lyre, harp, and bagpipe. During Biblical times, the cornet, flute, horn, organ, pipe, and trumpet were also used. During the Middle Ages, music notation was used to create a written record of the notes of plainchant melodies.

Music technology (mechanical)

Mechanical music technology is the use of any device, mechanism, machine or tool by a musician or composer to make or perform music; to compose, notate, play back or record songs or pieces; or to analyze or edit music. The earliest known applications of technology to music was prehistoric peoples' use of a tool to hand-drill holes in bones to make simple flutes. Ancient Egyptians developed stringed instruments, such as harps, lyres and lutes, which required making thin strings and some type of peg system for adjusting the pitch of the strings. Ancient Egyptians also used wind instruments such as double clarinets and percussion instruments such as cymbals. In Ancient Greece, instruments included the double-reed aulos and the lyre. Numerous instruments are referred to in the Bible, including the horn, pipe, lyre, harp, and bagpipe. During Biblical times, the cornet, flute, horn, organ, pipe, and trumpet were also used. During the Middle Ages, hand-written music notation was developed to write down the notes of religious Plainchant melodies; this notation enabled the Catholic church to disseminate the same chant melodies across its entire empire.


  1. 1 2 3 Kelzenberg, David. "What are Historical Keyboard Instruments?". Archived from the original on 2013-02-12. Retrieved 2012-10-25.
  2. Apel, W.; Tischler, H. (1997). The History of Keyboard Music to 1700. Indiana University Press. p. 9. ISBN   978-0-253-21141-5 . Retrieved 2019-03-25. According to almost unanimous reports, Ctesibios, a Greek engineer who lived in Alexandria during the 3rd century B.C., was the inventor of the first organ, the so-called hydraulis.
  3. "Piano Notes - Notes of the Piano". Retrieved 2012-03-30.
  4. “Digital Pianos and Electronic Keyboards: What's the Difference between Pianos vs Keyboards?” acoustic February 18, 2019.
  5. Gayhardt, Don (2017) The Differences between Classical and Contemporary Piano Don Gayhardt's Blog.
  6. 1 2 3 “Best keyboards and pianos for beginners"
  7. 1 2 3 Glynn, Lee (2018) “What are weighted keyboards & why do weighted keys matter?”

Further reading