Keyboard instrument

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]

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]

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 like "Mozart excelled as a keyboard player" the word keyboard is usefully noncommittal.

The piano, a common keyboard instrument


Late 4th century AD "Mosaic of the Female Musicians" from a Byzantine villa in Maryamin, Syria.[2]
Mosaic of the Female Musicians
Late 4th century AD "Mosaic of the Female Musicians" from a Byzantine villa in Maryamin, Syria.[2]
Mosaic of the Female Musicians

The earliest known keyboard instrument was the Ancient Greek hydraulis, a type of pipe organ, invented in the third century BC. 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.

The clavichord and the harpsichord appeared during the 14th century—the clavichord probably being earlier. The harpsichord and clavichord were both common until widespread adoption of the piano in the 18th 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 19th 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.

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]

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. 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.

List of instruments





See also


  1. ^ a b c Kelzenberg, David. "What are Historical Keyboard Instruments?". Archived from the original on 2013-02-12. Retrieved 2012-10-25.
  2. ^ Ring, Trudy (1994), International Dictionary of Historic Places: Middle East and Africa, 4, Taylor & Francis, ISBN 1884964036
  3. ^ "Piano Notes - Notes of the Piano". Retrieved 2012-03-30.

Further reading

  • Young, Percy M. Keyboard Musicians of the World. London: Abelard-Schuman, 1967. N.B.: Concerns celebrated keyboard players and the various such instruments used over the centuries. ISBN 0-200-71497-X

External links

And Close As This

And Close As This is the 15th studio album by Peter Hammill, released on Virgin Records in 1986. Each track is a song played and sung by Hammill solo at a keyboard, with the keyboard parts played in a single take. Two of the songs use a grand piano as the keyboard instrument; for the others, Hammill plays a MIDI master keyboard, using it to trigger a variety of MIDI sound modules, mainly electric piano and organ sounds.

Blue Angel (band)

Blue Angel were a retro-rockabilly band that featured Cyndi Lauper before her rise to fame as a solo singer. The lineup also included John Turi on keyboard instrument and saxophone, Arthur "Rockin' A" Neilson (guitar), Lee Brovitz (bass guitar) and Johnny Morelli (drums). Lauper and Turi wrote the bulk of their material, and the group also covered pop standards, such as Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil's "I'm Gonna Be Strong" (which Lauper covered again on a 1994 album). Blue Angel were briefly popular on the New York club scene.

The band reformed without Lauper in 1987, under the name Boppin' the Blues. Lauper joined them on stage for a one-time performance at New York's Lone Star Cafe, singing a Big Mama Thornton song and "That's Alright Mama". They have since disbanded.

Bowed clavier

The bowed clavier (Bogenclavier, Streichklavier or Geigenwerk in German) is a keyboard instrument strung with gut strings, the tone of which is produced by a steadily revolving, well rosined cylinder powered by a foot pedal, a mechanism similar to that found in the hurdy-gurdy.The Geigenwerck was illustrated and described by Michael Praetorius in his treatise on musical instruments Syntagma Musicum II, in the section De Organograhia, published 1614-20 in Germany.

It was re-invented by Joh. Hohlfeld of Berlin in 1751. This instrument and another one of his inventions, a device that recorded keyboard improvisations in real time, were mentioned in the "Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments" by C. P. E. Bach.


The chekker (or archiquier, eschequier, scaquer, scacarum, Schachtbret) is the name of a European early musical instrument of the Middle Ages, first documented in 1360, whose exact details are a matter of academic debate. Some have suggested that the name is simply an alternate term for the clavichord, virginal, or similar early keyboard instrument, while others suggest that it refers to a distinctly different stringed keyboard instrument not otherwise well-attested.


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.


The clavioline is an electronic keyboard instrument, a forerunner to the analog synthesizer. It was invented by French engineer Constant Martin in 1947 in Versailles.The instrument consists of a keyboard and a separate amplifier and speaker unit. The keyboard usually covered three octaves, and had a number of switches to alter the tone of the sound produced, add vibrato (a defining feature of the instrument), and provide other effects. The Clavioline used a vacuum tube oscillator to produce a buzzy waveform, almost a square wave, which could then be altered using high-pass and low-pass filtering, as well as the vibrato. The amplifier also aided in creating the instrument's signature tones, by deliberately providing a large amount of distortion.Several models of the Clavioline were produced by different companies. Among the more important were the Standard, Reverb, and Concert models by Selmer in France and Gibson in the United States in the 1950s. The six-octave model employing octave transposition was developed by Harald Bode, and under licensed by Jörgensen Electronic in Germany. In England, the Jennings Organ Company's first successful product was the Univox, an early self-powered electronic keyboard inspired by the Selmer Clavioline.

In Japan, Ace Tone's first prototype, the Canary S-2 (1962), was based on the Clavioline.

Everyday (Buddy Holly song)

"Everyday" is a song written by Buddy Holly and Norman Petty, recorded by Buddy Holly and the Crickets on May 29, 1957, and released on September 20, 1957, as the B-side of "Peggy Sue". On the original single the Crickets are not mentioned, but it is known that Holly plays acoustic guitar; drummer Jerry Allison slaps his knees for percussion and typewriter; Joe B. Mauldin plays a standup acoustic bass; and producer Norman Petty's wife Vi Petty plays the celesta aka celeste (a keyboard instrument with a glockenspiel-like tone, used in such classical pieces as "Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy" from The Nutcracker). The song is an economical 2 minutes and 5 seconds long. It is ranked number 238 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time".

Jazz piano

Jazz piano is a collective term for the techniques pianists use when playing jazz. The piano has been an integral part of the jazz idiom since its inception, in both solo and ensemble settings. Its role is multifaceted due largely to the instrument's combined melodic and harmonic capabilities. For this reason it is an important tool of jazz musicians and composers for teaching and learning jazz theory and set arrangement, regardless of their main instrument. (By extension the phrase 'jazz piano' can refer to similar techniques on any keyboard instrument.)

Along with the guitar, vibraphone, and other keyboard instruments, the piano is one of the instruments in a jazz combo that can play both single notes and chords rather than only single notes as does the saxophone or trumpet.

List of chamber music works by Johann Sebastian Bach

Chamber music by Johann Sebastian Bach refers to the compositions in the tenth chapter of the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (BWV, catalogue of Bach's compositions), or, in the New Bach Edition, the compositions in Series VI. Chamber music is understood as containing:

Works for solo violin, cello or flute (not including works for solo keyboard instruments or lute which are contained elsewhere in the BWV catalogue and the New Bach Edition);

Chamber music works for two or more players (where concertos for multiple players, and orchestral suites also fall outside the chamber music designation)

List of keyboard and lute compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach

Keyboard and Lute Works is the topic of the fifth series of the New Bach Edition.Keyboard Works (Klavierwerke) by Johann Sebastian Bach traditionally refers to the Nos. 772 to 994, Chapter 8 in the BWV catalogue, listing compositions for a solo keyboard instrument like the harpsichord or the clavichord. Despite the fact that organ is also a keyboard instrument, and that in Bach's time the distinction wasn't always made whether a keyboard composition was for organ or another keyboard instrument, Wolfgang Schmieder ranged organ compositions in a separate section of the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (Nos. 525-771). Also other compositions for keyboard, like compositions for lute-harpsichord and fortepiano were listed outside the "Klavierwerke" range by Schmieder. Lute works are in the range 995–1000, Chapter 9 in the BWV catalogue.Bach was a prodigious talent at the keyboard, well known during his lifetime for both his technical and improvisational abilities. Many of Bach's keyboard works started out as improvisations. Bach wrote widely for the harpsichord, producing numerous inventions, suites, fugues, partitas, overtures, as well as keyboard arrangements of concerto music by his contemporaries. The fortepiano is an instrument Bach would have encountered once, by the end of his life when it was recently invented, while visiting his son in Potsdam. The visit resulted in Das Musikalische Opfer, parts of which may have been intended for the new instrument.

Several of Bach's works for keyboard were published in print in his own lifetime. Four such publications were given the name Clavier-Übung (Keyboard Practice) by the composer. Bach was not the first to use that name, for example Bach's Leipzig predecessor Johann Kuhnau had used it for two volumes published in the late 17th century. The first volume, Bach's Opus 1, was published in 1731, while the last was published a decade later. The first, second and last volume contain music written for harpsichord, while the third was written for the organ, only four duets contained in that volume ending up in the BWV 772–994 range.

The Well-Tempered Clavier, a collection of forty-eight Preludes and Fugues, was not printed until half a century after Bach's death, although it had circulated in manuscript form before that. Before the extensive rediscovery of his works in the nineteenth century, Bach was known almost exclusively through his music for the keyboard, in particular his highly influential Well-Tempered Clavier, which were regularly assigned as part of musicians' training. Composers and performers such as Ludwig van Beethoven and Camille Saint-Saëns first showed off their skills as child prodigies playing the entire cycle of Bach's forty-eight Preludes and Fugues.

Modern composers have continued to draw inspiration from Bach's keyboard output. Dmitri Shostakovich, for example, wrote his own set of Preludes and Fugues after the Bach model. Jazz musicians and composers, in particular, have been drawn to the contrapuntal style, harmonic expansion and rhythmic expression of Bach's compositions, especially the works for keyboard.

The first section below lists all compositions in the BWV 772–994 range, then follows a section listing other compositions for keyboard instruments, excluding the organ.

After the composer's death most of his keyboard compositions, and many others, are, or were, often performed on the piano, played either directly from a score for the instruments as the composer knew them, or from a score that was a transcription for piano. The latter is sometimes needed even for harpsichord scores while for instance a composition intended for a two-manual harpsichord (like the Goldberg Variations) can present difficulties for the crossing of hands when performed on a single-keyboard instrument like the piano. Some of the transposers/arrangers of Bach's work added their own inspiration, like Busoni in his arrangement and expansion of Bach's Chromatische Fantasie und Fuge, BWV 903. The fourth section of this list refers to such transcriptions and arrangements for the piano.

Musical keyboard

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 (acoustic and electric piano, clavichord), 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 (Hammond organ, digital piano, synthesizer). Since the most commonly encountered keyboard instrument is the piano, the keyboard layout is often referred to as the piano keyboard.


The physharmonica is a keyboard instrument fitted with free reeds, a kind of harmonium much used in Germany in the early 20th century.

Power trio

A power trio is a rock and roll band format having a lineup of electric guitar, bass guitar and drum kit (drums and cymbals), leaving out the second rhythm guitar or keyboard instrument (e.g., Hammond organ) that are used in other rock music bands that are quartets and quintets. Larger rock bands use one or more additional rhythm section to fill out the sound with chords and harmony parts.

Most power trios in hard rock and heavy metal music use the electric guitar player in two roles; during much of the song, they play rhythm guitar, playing the chord progression for the song and performing the song's important riffs, and then switching to a lead guitar role during the guitar solo. While one or more band members typically sing while they play their instruments, power trios in hard rock and heavy metal music generally emphasize instrumental performance and overall sonic impact over vocals and lyrics. An example of a power trio is Motörhead, which consisted of a bassist, guitarist and drummer, with Lemmy, the bass guitarist, singing lead vocals simultaneously while he played bass.

Rocky Mount Instruments

Rocky Mount Instruments or RMI was a subsidiary of the Allen Organ Company, established in about 1966. It was based in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. It is most famous for the RMI Electra Piano, a keyboard instrument that created piano and harpsichord-like sounds without the use of strings, tines, or reeds, instead using transistors, much like the combo organs of the day.

Violin sonata

A violin sonata is a musical composition for violin accompanied by a keyboard instrument and in earlier periods with a bass instrument doubling the keyboard bass line. The violin sonata developed from a simple baroque form with no fixed format to a standardised and complex classical form. Since the romantic age some composers have pushed the boundaries of both the classical format as well as the use of the instruments.


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.

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