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What Is an Electronic Keyboard?

With some software programs, a regular keyboard can be used as an musical keyword.
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  • Written By: Jacob Queen
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 12 August 2014
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On a fundamental level, an electronic keyboard is a device with piano keys that produces music using electricity for power. Some work using fairly primitive techniques involving sound wave modulation, while others use sound samples. These instruments are used in popular music for many different purposes, including their ability to mimic traditional instrument sounds and for their own unique sound possibilities.

Electronic keyboard instruments have been around for much longer than many people may realize. The first device known was created in the late 1700s, which is before electricity was widely used for many applications. It worked by producing static electricity that generated vibrations in tuned metallic bells. After that, many devices were developed, and they gradually became more sophisticated. During the late 1800s and 1900s, several advancements were made, and the electronic keyboard eventually became affordable enough for the average person to buy.

Many electronic keyboard instruments use the modulation of analog electronic sounds to generate a variety of tones. These sounds were often designed to mimic real instruments. They aren't necessarily realistic in their mimicry, but many musicians find the sounds they produce interesting or useful in their own way. Another approach is to electronically capture samples of real instruments and then reproduce those sounds when the keys are pressed. This approach often produces more realistic sounds, and it may be preferred in some situations.

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Electronic keyboards can use the musical instrument digital interface (MIDI) to extend their functionality. This basically provides a way to format musical information digitally. In simple terms, this means that musical instruments can universally communicate with each other using a digital language that represents notes, dynamics, and bends. An electronic keyboard may use MIDI to connect to a computer and control sound samples added by the user, or it could also be used to create musical compositions in digital form.

To some extent, there has been a stigma against the use of electronic keyboard instruments in popular music, but over time, this has lessened. Some musicians don't like the synthesized quality of the sounds created by some keyboards. Others feel that music produced using electronic or digital techniques sounds fake or lacks "soul." On the other hand, certain types of musicians have embraced the electronic sounds and the flexibility these instruments provide, and entire genres of music have grown out of their use or been influenced by the sound possibilities they provide.

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