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Electronic Keyboards – Their History and Development

The term “electronic keyboard” refers to any musical instrument that produces sound by pressing or striking keys and uses electricity in some way to help create the sound. The use of electronic keyboards to produce music follows an inevitable line of evolution from the very first keyboard instruments, the pipe organ, the clavichord and the harpsichord. The organ is the oldest of these, originally developed by the Romans in the 3rd century BC and called the hydraus. Hydraulics produced sound by forcing air through reed pipes and were powered by a hand-held water pump or a natural water source such as a waterfall.

From its first appearance in ancient Rome until the 14th century, the organ remained the only keyboard instrument. It often contained no keyboard at all, instead using large levers or buttons that could be operated with the whole hand.

The later appearance of the clavichord and harpsichord was accelerated in the 1300s by the standardization of 12-tone white natural keys and black sharp/flat keys found in all keyboard instruments today. The popularity of the clavichord and the harpsichord was eventually overshadowed by the development and wide spread of the piano in the 18th century. The piano was a revolutionary advance in acoustic musical keyboard instruments, as the pianist could vary the volume (or dynamics) of the instrument by varying the force of the individual keys.

The appearance of electronic sound technology in the 18th century was the next important step in the development of the modern electronic keyboard. The first electric instrument was the Denis d’or (built by Václav Prokop Dovis) from about 1753. This was soon followed by the “clavecin electrique” invented by Jean Baptiste Thillaie de Laborde around 1760. it consisted of over 700 strings that were temporarily electrified to improve their sound quality. The latter was a keyboard instrument containing electrically activated plectra or picks.

During electrification, neither the Denis d’or nor the harpsichord used electricity as a sound source. In 1876, Elisha Gray invented such an instrument called the “musical telegraph,” which was essentially the very first analog electronic synthesizer. Gray discovered that he could control sound from a self-oscillating electromagnetic circuit and thus invented a basic monotone oscillator. His musical telegraph produced sounds from the electromagnetic oscillation of steel reeds and transmitted them over a telephone line. Gray then incorporated a simple speaker into his later models, consisting of a diaphragm vibrating in a magnetic field, which made the sound oscillator audible.

Lee De Forrest, the self-proclaimed “Father Of Radio”, was the next major contributor to the development of the electronic keyboard. In 1906 he invented the triode electronic valve or “audion valve”. The audion valve was the first thermal valve or “vacuum tube” and De Forrest built the first vacuum tube instrument, the “Audion Piano” in 1915. The vacuum tube became an indispensable part of electronic instruments for the next 50 years, until the appearance and widespread use of transistor technology.

The decade of the 1920s brought many new electronic instruments to the scene, including the Theremin, the Ondes Martenot, and the Trautonium.

The next major breakthrough in the history of electronic keyboards was achieved in 1935 with the introduction of the Hammond organ. The Hammond was the first electronic instrument capable of producing polyphonic sounds, and remained so until the invention of the Chamberlin Music Maker and the Mellotron in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The Chamberlin and the Mellotron were the first sampler keyboards designed for music.

The electronic piano first appeared in the 1940s with the Rhodes (later Fender Rhodes) “Pre-Piano”. It was a three and a half octave instrument made from 1946 to 1948 and fitted with a self-amplifier. In 1955, the Wurlitzer Company introduced its first electric piano, “The 100”.

The rise of musical synthesizers in the 1960s gave a powerful impetus to the development of today’s electronic musical keyboard instruments. The first synthesizers were extremely large, cumbersome machines that were only used in recording studios. Advances in technology and the proliferation of miniaturized solid-state components soon made it possible to manufacture synthesizers that were self-contained, portable instruments that could be used in live performances.

It started in 1964 when Bob Moog created the “Moog Synthesizer”. Lacking a keyboard, the Moog Synthesizer wasn’t really an electronic keyboard. Then in 1970, Moog debuted its “Minimoog,” a non-modular synthesizer with a built-in keyboard, and this instrument further standardized electronic music keyboard design.

Most early analog synthesizers, such as the Minimoog and the Roland SH-100, were monophonic and could only produce one note at a time. Some, such as the EML 101, ARP Odyssey, and Moog Sonic Six, could produce two different sounds at the same time when two keys were pressed. True polyphony (the production of multiple notes at the same time, allowing chords to be played) was at first only available with electronic organ designs. They made a number of electronic keyboards that combined organ circuits with synthesizer processing. These included Moog’s Polymoog, Opus 3 and ARP Omni.

By 1976, further design improvements allowed for polyphonic synthesizers such as the Oberheim Four-Voice and the Yamaha series CS-50, CS-60 and CS-80. The first truly practical polyphonic synthesizer, introduced in 1977, was the Sequential Circuits Prophet-5. This instrument was the first to use a microprocessor as a controller and allowed all button settings to be stored in computer memory and recalled with the push of a button. The design of the Prophet-5 soon became the new standard in the electronic keyboard industry.

The adoption of the Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) as a standard for digital code transmission (allowing electronic keyboards to be connected to computers and other devices for input and programming purposes) and the ongoing digital technology revolution have brought tremendous progress in all aspects of electronics. keyboard design, construction, function, sound quality and cost. Today’s manufacturers, such as Casio, Yamaha, Korg, Rolland, and Kurzweil, make a lot of well-built, lightweight, versatile, great-sounding, and affordable electronic keyboards, and will continue to do well for the foreseeable future. .

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