April 2018

Key Decisions

Learning the ropes of electronic keyboards.

National Standards: 9-11

Prepare: Have the class read Key Decisions (page 32 of the student edition). The article illustrates the wide variety of electronic keyboards that you can choose from, and their features.

Key points in the article:

  • There are six different main categories of keyboards: digital pianos, synthesizers, keyboard workstations, controllers, arrangers, and beatmakers.
  • Digital pianos mimic acoustic pianos, while the rest specialize in various aspects of synthesized digital sounds and production.
  • Factors that go into each model include number of keys, key weight, controls, and onboard sounds.
  • Key weight is more important in digital pianos, whereas controls and onboard sounds are more important to synthesizers and keyboard workstations. Controllers have no onboard sounds, instead controlling sound generated by another device.

Begin: Discuss with students the advantages and disadvantages of the many different types of keyboards. Topics may include:

  • Which types are best for various settings, including live performances of popular v. symphonic or classical music, home studios, classrooms, etc.
  • How different features correlate with personal goals, jobs, or purposes on the instrument
  • What students individually would choose for themselves and why

Develop: Play the following demo video for the Korg Kross keyboard workstation:

What are some of this keyboard’s features? How could they be used in real-world applications?
What are some of the model’s drawbacks, if any?

Expand: Now play the following demo video for the Casio CTK-3200 arranger keyboard:

What are some of this keyboard’s features? How could they be used in real-world applications?
What are some of the model’s drawbacks, if any?
How does it compare to the previous keyboard?

Apply: Have students take a short quiz here to test their knowledge on electronic keyboards.

Answer Key
Note: Answers appear in random order for students. Correct answers in bold below.

Question 1: Match the category of electronic keyboard below with its correct description.
Digital pianos: Electronic versions of acoustic pianos
Synthesizers: Made to imitate a range of acoustic instruments and create other electronic sounds
Keyboard workstations: Combine digital synthesizers with tools for recording and production
Arrangers: Have built-in processors that can create backing tracks as you play
Beatmakers: Devices that don’t resemble keyboards and typically have pads instead of plastic keys
Controllers: Control other sound generators and have knobs for adjusting tone and volume

Question 2: What are the standard numbers of keys on keyboards? Check all that apply.
-88
-49
-25

-77

Question 3: Which of the following options was not a type of key action listed in the article?
-conventional
-semi-weighted
-rubberized
-unweighted

Question 4: Match the following controls to their correct description.
Sustain: How long you hear a pitch after it’s played
Aftertouch: Triggered when you press harder on a key after it’s been played
Pitch bend: Used to bend notes and chords up and down by a specified range
Modulation: Used to create vibrato or tremolo, change timbre, and create volume swells

Question 5: What is a patch?
-A raw sample or combination of samples
-Touch sensitivity
-Changes in timbre
-The number of notes a synth can play at the same time

Question 6: What is polyphony?
-The number of notes a synth can play at the same time
-A recorded clip of an acoustic instrument
-A raw sample or combination of raw samples
-The number of keys on a keyboard