The word “electronic keyboard” refers to any instrument which produces sound by the pressing or striking of keys, and uses electricity, somehow, to facilitate the development of that sound. The use of an electronic keyboard to create music follows an inevitable evolutionary line from the very first musical keyboard instruments, the pipe organ, clavichord, and harpsichord. The pipe organ is the oldest of these, initially designed by the Romans in the 3rd century B.C., and known as the hydraulis. The hydraulis produced sound by forcing air through reed pipes, and was powered through a manual water pump or a natural water source such as a waterfall.
From it’s first manifestation in ancient Rome until the 14th century, the organ remained the sole keyboard instrument. Many times, it did not come with a keyboard at all, instead utilizing large levers or buttons that have been operated by using the whole hand.
The subsequent appearance of the clavichord and harpsichord in the 1300’s was accelerated from the standardization from the 12-tone keyboard of white natural keys and black sharp/flat keys found in all keyboard instruments of today. The recognition from the clavichord and harpsichord was eventually eclipsed from the development and widespread adoption of the piano in the 18th century. The portable keyboard piano was actually a revolutionary advancement in acoustic musical keyboards because a pianist could vary the amount (or dynamics) of the sound the instrument created by varying the force in which each key was struck.
The emergence of electronic sound technology inside the 18th century was the next essential step in the development of the present day electronic keyboard. The first electrified musical instrument was considered to be the Denis d’or (built by Vaclav Prokop Dovis), dating from about 1753. This is shortly followed by the “clavecin electrique” introduced by Jean Baptiste Thillaie de Laborde around 1760. The previous instrument consisted of over 700 strings temporarily electrified to improve their sonic qualities. The later was actually a keyboard instrument featuring plectra, or picks, which were activated electrically.
While being electrified, neither the Denis d’or or even the clavecin used electricity as a sound source. In 1876, Elisha Gray invented such an instrument referred to as “musical telegraph.,” that was, essentially, the first analog electronic synthesizer. Gray found that he could control sound coming from a self-vibrating electromagnetic circuit, therefore invented a fundamental single note oscillator. His musical telegraph created sounds through the electromagnetic oscillation of steel reeds and transmitted them over a telephone line. Grey went on to incorporate an easy loudspeaker into his later models which consisted of a diaphragm vibrating in a magnetic field, making the tone oscillator audible.
Lee De Forrest, the self-styled “Father Of Radio,” was another major reason for the development of the electronic keyboard. In 1906 he invented the triode electronic valve or “audion valve.” The audion valve was the first thermionic valve or “vacuum tube,” and De Forrest built the very first vacuum tube instrument, the cheap piano keyboards in 1915. The vacuum tube became an important element of electronic instruments for the following half a century until the emergence and widespread adoption of transistor technology.
The decade of the 1920’s brought a great deal of new electronic instruments to the scene including the Theremin, the Ondes Martenot, and the Trautonium.
Another major breakthrough within the background of electronic keyboards started in 1935 with the creation of the Hammond Organ. The Hammond was the initial electronic instrument capable of producing polyphonic sounds, and remained so till the invention from the Chamberlin Music Maker, and also the Mellotron within the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. The Chamberlin and also the Mellotron were the first ever sample-playback keyboards designed for making music.
The electronic piano made it’s first appearance in the 1940’s with the “Pre-Piano” by Rhodes (later Fender Rhodes). It was a 3 along with a half octave instrument produced from 1946 until 1948 that came built with self-amplification. In 1955 the Wurlitzer Company debuted their first electric piano, “The 100.”
An upswing of music synthesizers in the 1960’s gave a powerful push to the evolution of the electronic musical keyboards we now have today. The first synthesizers were extremely large, unwieldy machines used only in recording studios. The technological advancements and proliferation of miniaturized solid state components soon allowed the creation of synthesizers which were self-contained, portable instruments capable of used in live performances.
This began in 1964 when Bob Moog produced his “Moog Synthesizer.” Lacking a keyboard, the Moog Synthesizer had not been truly a digital keyboard. Then, in 1970, Moog debuted his “Minimoog,” a non-modular synthesizer having a built in keyboard, which instrument further standardized the style of electronic musical keyboards.
Most early analog synthesizers, like the Minimoog and the Roland SH-100, were monophonic, capable of producing only one tone at a time. A couple of, such as the EML 101, ARP Odyssey, and the Moog Sonic Six, could produce two different tones simultaneously when two keys were pressed. True polyphony (the creation of multiple simultaneous tones which allow for the playing of chords) qhscvn only obtainable, at first, using electronic organ designs. There was a number of electronic keyboards produced which combined organ circuits with synthesizer processing. These included Moog’s Polymoog, Opus 3, and the ARP Omni.
By 1976, additional design advancements had allowed the appearance of polyphonic synthesizers like the Oberheim Four-Voice, as well as the Yamaha series CS-50, CS-60, and CS-80. The very first truly practical polyphonic synth, introduced in 1977, was the Sequential Circuits Prophet-5. This instrument was the first one to use a microprocessor as being a controller, and in addition allowed all knob settings to become saved in computer memory and recalled simply by pushing a control button. The Prophet-5’s design soon took over as the new standard within the electronic keyboards industry.
The adoption of Musical Instrumental Digital Interface (MIDI) as the standard for digital code transmission (allowing electronic keyboards to become connected into computers and other devices for input and programming), as well as the ongoing digital technological revolution have produced tremendous advancements in most elements of top digital pianos, construction, function, audio quality, and cost. Today’s manufactures, like Casio, Yamaha, Korg, Rolland, and Kurzweil, are producing a good amount of well-built, lightweight, versatile, great sounding, and affordable electronic keyboard musical instruments and definately will continue to do so well into the foreseeable future.