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Yamaha PSR-290 electronic keyboard
A MIDI song played on a Casio electronic keyboard

An electronic keyboard, portable keyboard, or digital keyboard is an electronic musical instrument based on keyboard instruments.[1] Electronic keyboards include synthesizers, digital pianos, stage pianos, electronic organs and digital audio workstations. In technical terms, an electronic keyboard is a rompler-based synthesizer with a low-wattage power amplifier and small loudspeakers.

Electronic keyboards offer a diverse selection of instrument sounds (piano, organ, violin, etc.) along with synthesizer tones. Designed primarily for beginners and home users, they generally feature unweighted keys. While budget models lack velocity sensitivity, mid-range options and above often include it.  These keyboards have limited sound editing options, focusing on preset sounds. Casio and Yamaha are major manufacturers in this market, known for popularizing the concept since the 1980s.


Casio CTK-530, an early-1990s electronic keyboard with PCM sound technology.

An electronic keyboard may also be called a digital keyboard, or home keyboard, the latter often refers to less advanced or inexpensive models intended for beginners. The obscure term "portable organ" was widely used in Asian countries to refer to electronic keyboards in the 1990s, due to the similar features between electronic keyboards and electronic home organs, the latter of which were popular in the late 20th century.

In Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, most types of electronic keyboards (including digital pianos and stage pianos) were simply often referred to as a "synthesizer" (Russian: синтезатор, sintezator), usually with no other term to distinguish them from actual digital synthesizers.

The term electronic keyboard may also be used to refer to a synthesizer or digital piano in colloquial usage


The major components of a typical modern electronic keyboard are:


Main article: History of home keyboards

Keyboard instruments trace back to the ancient hydraulis in the 3rd century BCE,[2] later evolving into the pipe organ and smaller portative and positive organs. The clavichord and harpsichord emerged in the 14th century CE,[3][4] Technological strides brought more advanced keyboards, including the modern 12-tone version. Initially, instruments like the pipe organ and harpsichord could only produce single-volume sounds. The 18th-century innovation of the pianoforte, with hammers striking metal strings via key pressure, enabled dynamic sound variation.

Electric keyboards began with applying electric sound technology. The first was the Denis d'or stringed instrument,[5] made by Václav Prokop Diviš in 1748,[6] with 700 electrified strings. In 1760, Jean Baptiste Thillaie de Laborde introduced the clavecin électrique, an electrically activated keyboard without sound creation. Elisha Gray invented the musical telegraph in 1874, producing sound through electromagnetic vibrations.[7] Gray later added a single-note oscillator and a diaphragm-based loudspeaker for audibility.

In 1973, the Yamaha GX-1 introduced an early polyphonic synthesizer with eight voices.[8] The EP-30 by Roland Corporation in 1974 became the first touch-sensitive keyboard.[9] Roland also released early polyphonic string synthesizers, the RS-101 in 1975 and RS-202 in 1976.[10][11]

In 1975, Moog's Polymoog merged a synthesizer with an organ, offering full polyphony through individual circuit boards. Crumar's "Multiman" organ with synthesizer arrived, and ARP Omni combined a synthesizer with a string machine and bass in 1976. Korg's PE-1000 that year featured a dedicated saw oscillator for each note.[12][13]

In 1977, Yamaha CS-60 and CS-80 polyphonic synthesizers introduced 'memory'.[14] In 1978, Oberheim's OB-1 brought electronic storage of sound settings.[15] That year, Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 offered the feature in a five-voice polyphonic synthesizer. Fender's Rhodes Chroma, the first computer-controlled keyboard, resulted from ARP's engineers being acquired by Fender in 1979. Its successor, the Chroma Polaris, released in 1984, featured the 'Chroma' port.[16][17]


Conventional home keyboards differ from other electronic keyboards due to the design, features and target market:

Compared to digital pianos or stage pianos, digital home keyboards are usually much lower in cost, as they have unweighted keys. Like digital pianos, they usually feature on-board amplifiers and loudspeakers. Stage pianos, however, typically do not have integrated amplifiers and speakers, as these instruments are normally plugged into a keyboard amplifier in a professional concert setting. Unlike synthesizers, the primary focus of home electronic keyboards is not on detailed control or creation of sound synthesis parameters. Most home electronic keyboards offer little or no control or editing of the sounds (although a selection of 128 or more preset sounds is typically provided).

Concepts and definitions

Playing an electronic keyboard.
A child playing a Casio keyboard with small-size minikeys.

MIDI controls

MIDI, Musical Instrument Digital Interface, is a serial data connection which operates with any make or model of instrument which provides for it. Electronic keyboards use MIDI, a universal language for digital instruments. MIDI transmits which notes are played, their duration, and often velocity (how hard a key is pressed). Keyboards translate key pressure into MIDI velocity data, which controls the loudness of the generated sound.

MIDI data can also be used to add digital effects to the sounds played, such as reverb, chorus, delay and tremolo. These effects are usually mapped to three of the 127 MIDI controls within the keyboard's infrastructure – one for reverb, one for chorus and one for other effects – and are generally configurable through the keyboard's graphical interface. Additionally, many keyboards have "auto-harmony" effects which will complement each note played with one or more notes of higher or lower pitch, to create an interval or chord.

DSP effects can also be controlled on the fly by physical controllers. Electronic keyboards often have two wheels on the left hand side, generally known as a pitch bend and a modulation wheel. The difference between these is that the pitch bend wheel always flicks back to its default position – the center – while the modulation wheel can be placed freely. By default, the pitch bend wheel controls the pitch of the note in small values, allowing the simulation of slides and other techniques which control the pitch more subtly. The modulation wheel is usually set to control a tremolo effect by default. However, on most electronic keyboards, the user will be able to map any MIDI control to these wheels. Professional MIDI controller keyboards often also have an array of knobs and sliders to modulate various MIDI controls, which are often used to control DSP effects.

Most electronic keyboards also have a socket at the back, into which a foot switch can be plugged. The most common function is to simulate the sustain on a piano by turning on and off the MIDI control which adds sustain to a note. However, since they are also simple MIDI devices, foot switches can usually be configured to turn on and off any MIDI controlled function, such as switching one of the DSP effects, or the auto-harmony.[citation needed]

Keyboard ensemble

In live performances, multiple electronic keyboards could be played together at one time, each by one musician, forming a keyboard ensemble. Keyboard ensembles are mostly performed within a band on an elaborate stage, while some can even serve as a simpler substitute to the more conventional orchestra, replacing stringed and wind instruments.

See also


  1. ^ British Patent no. 1,509,530 by Nicholas K. Kirk filed 19th. Nov. 1974. - Apparatus for recording and replaying music.
  2. ^ "Water Organ Invented by Ancient Greeks". Classic FM. November 9, 2017. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  3. ^ Howard, Graham (December 21, 2017). "History of Clavichord". UK Pianos. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  4. ^ Kraemer, Brandy (May 24, 2019). "Harpsichord History". LiveAbout. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  5. ^ Davies, Hugh (2001). Denis d'or. doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.47638. ISBN 978-1-56159-263-0. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  6. ^ "The Denis D'Or "Golden Dionysis", Václav Prokop Diviš. Czech republic, 1748". 120 Years. September 23, 2013. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  7. ^ "Musical Telegraph". Sweetwater. June 14, 2005. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  8. ^ Yamaha GX-1, Vintage Synth Explorer
  9. ^ FutureMusic, issues 131-134, 2003, page 55
  10. ^ Jenkins, Mark (2009). Analog Synthesizers: Understanding, Performing, Buying--From the Legacy of Moog to Software Synthesis. CRC Press. p. 89. ISBN 978-1-136-12278-1.
  11. ^ A TALE OF TWO STRING SYNTHS, Sound on Sound, July 2002
  12. ^ "Multiman S". Synth DB. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  13. ^ "Korg PE-1000". Encyclotronic. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  14. ^ "Yamaha CS-60". Vintage Synth Explorer. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  15. ^ "Oberheim OB-1". Vintage Synth Explorer. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  16. ^ "Best Keyboard Piano". 2023-06-26. Retrieved 2023-08-30.
  17. ^ "Fender Rhodes Chroma Polaris". Encyclotronic. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  18. ^ Tania. "What Is A Semi Weighted Keyboard?". Sound Unsound. Archived from the original on 2020-10-26. Retrieved 2020-10-02.
  19. ^ Glynn, Lee (2018) "What are weighted keyboards & why do weighted keys matter?"