Electronic piano

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Electronic piano: Rhodes, Mark II

An electronic piano , or e-piano for short , is a piano in which the sound initiated by a keyboard via a mechanism is generated or amplified with the help of electricity . It does this in an electrical , electronic or digital way.

In the narrower sense, electronic piano only refers to those instruments in which the sound is generated electronically without amplifying vibrating media (strings, metal plates, leaves, etc.).


Sound generation:

  • Acoustic (also mechanical) pianos generate the sound by a hammer set in motion via the keyboard and mechanics, causing a medium (string, metal plate, reed) to vibrate, which is mechanically amplified via a resonance body ( soundboard ).
  • Electric (also electro-mechanical or electro-acoustic) pianos produce the sound in the same way as an acoustic piano, but the vibrating medium is not amplified by a soundboard. Instead, an electromagnetic pickup converts the vibration into an electrical signal that is amplified by an amplifier .
  • Electronic pianos have no vibrating medium that would be amplified mechanically or electrically. Instead, pressing a button creates an electronic process that directly generates an oscillating signal.
  • Digital pianos also do not use a vibrating medium to produce sound. Instead, the press of a button calls up a previously edited or recorded file, a sample that contains all the information about the sound to be produced. Digital technology is the most widespread today and is now also used to reproduce the sounds of electro-mechanical instruments.

Types of electronic pianos: In today's parlance, a distinction is usually made between electric pianos, digital pianos and synthesizers :

  • E-pianos include the electronic and especially the electrical (electro-mechanical) pianos. They stand for the typical e-piano sound , such as that produced by Fender Rhodes , Wurlitzer , Hohner Clavinet and other vintage pianos and used in corresponding musical styles.
  • With digital pianos those instruments are called, are trying to imitate regarding the acoustic piano sound and feel as precise as possible. Digital pianos serve as piano substitutes. The term is a bit confusing in that most of the instruments (synthesizers, keyboards, etc.) today use digital technology.
  • Synthesizers emerged from electronic instruments. Their primary goal is to generate and change sounds, although today you can just “play the piano” on them. There are analog and digital synthesizers.

Electronic pianos are historically derived from the piano and not to be confused with the electronic organs (home organs) and keyboards , which are derived from the organ .


Electro-mechanical keyboard instruments

Neo-Bechstein grand piano

As early as the end of the 19th century, people began to experiment with making electricity usable for keyboard instruments. At that time, however, the aim was not to create an electronic piano replacement, but to lengthen or enlarge the natural sound of the strings. In 1886 Richard Eisenmann from Berlin invented the electrophonic piano , in which currents and electromagnets were applied in such a way that a tone continued to sound as long as the key was held down. Eugen Singer from Paris followed a similar path with his Electromagnetic Sostente Piano in 1891.

The invention of the diode (1904), triode (1906) and amplifier (1907) formed the basis for the further development towards the “real” electric piano . In 1928 Joseph Béthenod invented a piano électrique based on tone wheels in Paris . In the years 1928–1930 Walther Nernst developed together with the companies Bechstein (mechanics) and Siemens (electronics) an electro-acoustic piano known under the name Neo-Bechstein or Bechstein-Siemens-Nernst grand piano, where the strings were struck with microhammers and the vibrations were inductively recorded with pickups , amplified with a tube amplifier (and influenced in terms of timbre ) and reproduced via loudspeakers . Numerous similar instruments were to follow in the following years.

From 1954 the Wurlitzer Electric Piano was available, with which small vibrating steel tongues generate the sound, which are also struck by a hammer mechanism. The oscillation is capacitively picked up here - as a technical feature . 1964 was Hohner - Clavinet presented a kind clavichord with built-in pickups. As in the example of the piano, the sound is produced here by steel strings that are struck by hammers. In 1965 the Fender Rhodes piano came on the market, in which the thinner side (tuning spring) of an asymmetrical tuning fork is struck by a hammer mechanism. Each tuning spring has a pick-up coil (inductive pick-up). The Fender Rhodes, the Wurlitzer Electric Piano and the Hohner Clavinet can be heard on countless rock, pop and jazz productions from the 1960s to the 1980s. In current pop productions, the sound of the Fender Rhodes can be heard amplified again, even though it mostly comes from samplers etc. The sound of these devices ranges from "bell-like" (Fender Rhodes) to "wiry percussive" (Hohner Clavinet) and can also be alienated by effects devices such as Leslie , Chorus, Tremolo, Phaser or Wah-Wah .

Electronic keyboard instruments

Yamaha CP30

Lee De Forest , the inventor of the amplifier, developed the concept for an electronic instrument called an audion piano in 1915 , although it is not known whether it was ever produced. Various electronic pianos were then experimented with. The decisive breakthrough in this technology, however, was the invention of the transistor in 1947. It would be a few years before the first fully electronic pianos came onto the market in the mid-1970s. In the CP-30 from Yamaha , the frequencies of the individual tones were determined by digital counter modules; The resulting square waves were given a piano-like sound by using complex, analog filters. The synthesizer was born.

In the 1980s, became increasingly Yamaha DX7 - Synthesizer Thanks to its novel, but piano-like sound of the stage piano dominant replacement. The sound of the DX7 is an integral part of the pop music of the 1980s in particular.

Digital keyboard instruments

At the beginning of the 1990s , sampling technology found its way into music technology. This made it possible for the first time to faithfully reproduce the complex piano sound. Inexpensive sample players such as the Roland U-20 made portable and finally authentic-sounding piano sounds affordable for almost every musician. It is the hour of birth of the modern digital pianos. The PCM process is mostly used to generate sound . Today, modern digital pianos also use so-called physical modeling , in which the sound is generated by digitally calculating physical parameters (vibrations of the side, behavior of the pickups, etc.). The advantage here is that large samples do not first have to be loaded into the RAM, but high-quality uncompressed sounds can be generated quickly. The results are particularly impressive when simulating electric pianos. Furthermore, all modern digital pianos have MIDI and / or other PC interfaces (e.g. USB ).

Digital pianos

Digital pianos try to reproduce the sound and feel of acoustic pianos as authentically as possible. Most of them are equipped with an 88-key keyboard that gives the pianist the feel of a real piano. Special compact mechanisms simulate the touch feeling ( playing difficulty ) of a traditional piano mechanism . However, this means that the devices become larger and, above all, heavier again. For the piano player, the following advantages of digital pianos are worth mentioning: The possibility of playing with headphones , the low weight of the instruments, the always perfect tuning, the low price and, with most models, the possibility of making recordings, using an integrated metronome or to play various other sounds (church organ, harpsichord).

A distinction is made between the following types of digital pianos, depending on their primary purpose:

Home pianos
Typical, modern home piano, Yamaha Clavinova CLP-480PE

The devices for domestic use usually have built-in loudspeakers and are known as home pianos (English: home = home, apartment ). Here you can usually find housings made of fiberboard covered with black laminate or wood veneer (imitation). They should blend in with the home ambience and be easy to use. They usually have to be dismantled for transport, the box-shaped upper part contains the keyboard and all the electronics. The three pedals and the loudspeakers are often integrated in the separately constructed stand. The total weight of these devices is between 25 and 80 kilograms.

Stage pianos

For instruments for stage performances (English: stage = Stage ), the so-called Stage Pianos , missing speakers, or have only the function of a control monitor for the musician and are not intended to sound the audience. Stage Pianos are on portability and robustness optimized. The main target group are live musicians. The case is mostly black or silver and mostly made of metal. The devices weigh between 7.8 and 38.2 kilograms, depending on the type of keyboard and the weight of any integrated speakers. A keyboard amplifier ( combo ) or a PA system is required for sound reinforcement . A hi-fi system or active loudspeakers can be used instead in the home. Stage pianos are increasingly being set up in living rooms because of their simple “neutral” or “technical” design and are marketed by the manufacturers as compact pianos or style pianos for this purpose .

Chromatic scales played downwards on a digital piano
Ensemble digital pianos (piano workstations)

These multifunction pianos are available in both stage and home piano designs and, in addition to the conventional digital piano features, often offer hundreds of additional sounds, accompanying rhythms, automatic accompaniment, multi-track sequencers , synthesizer functions, etc. Target groups are solo entertainers , composers , technology lovers and sound designers.

Hybrid pianos

Yamaha CP-70M
Opened Yamaha CP-70M

Hybrid pianos are a combination between acoustic and electronic pianos. There are two variants: Either you build electronic components into an acoustic piano ( e.g. Yamaha Silentpiano or Kawai Anytime ), or you use elements (mostly the mechanics) of acoustic pianos in an electronic instrument ( e.g. Yamaha AvantGrand ). The aim is to utilize the advantages of the other category. Both variants are extremely popular today.

The first representatives of this genre were the Yamaha CP series and the Kawai EP 308 and EP 608, which came on the market in 1977. These devices, which are based on grand pianos or upright pianos, have strings like an acoustic piano , but they are shorter than the original, and they have no or a smaller resonance body . The sound, which is quite quiet without amplification, is picked up by a piezo pickup system, enriched in sound and tone by analog filters and finally amplified by a loudspeaker system. The use of lighter materials, for example plastic instead of wood, and the lighter and cheaper construction due to the smaller sound generating mechanism led to the first easily transportable and inexpensive piano replacement, which was used by many artists of popular music in the 1980s.

In principle, every acoustic piano can be retrofitted to a hybrid piano by installing a stop rail and electronics, so that you can practice with headphones without disturbing the neighbors. In contrast to the classic digital pianos, the hammer heads of the silent pianos are stopped in front of the strings and a MIDI signal is generated or a sampled sound output is generated by means of optical or piezoelectric sensors by a built-in digital piano . Such devices were marketed, for example, as Kawai Anytime, Seiler DuoVox, Schimmel Silent Pianos, Yamaha Silent Pianos (for example V 118 N-TS E / P) or Disklavier.

Portable pianos / keyboards

Portable pianos are stage pianos with at least 61, mostly 76 keys, which are combined with the qualities of a keyboard . Since plastic is usually used as the material, they are light and therefore easy to transport. In addition to connections for stage use, value is now also placed on additional features in this instrument category, such as a metronome with a drum pattern or player capabilities. There are also rudimentary master keyboard functions. Portable pianos also occasionally have an automatic accompaniment and a relatively large number of different timbres ( sounds ). Since the aim is to keep the weight low, some models do not have a hammer mechanism. Special keyboards that are supposed to imitate certain instruments (Hammond organ, Fender Rhodes) deliberately do without hammer mechanics.

Modular systems

Modularization is also suitable for the ambitious musician. You procure a (high quality) master keyboard , a sound module that specializes in piano sounds and, if necessary, an amplifier system. The disadvantage, however, is that an exact adaptation of the keyboard to the sound generator by means of a suitable touch dynamics curve is usually not perfectly possible and thus the ability to express yourself suffers.


Manufacturers of electronic pianos include Blüthner , Casio , Clavia (Nord), Dexibell, Generalmusic, Hemingway Pianos , Kawai , Ketron, Korg , Kurzweil , M-Audio, Medeli, Orla, Roland and Yamaha .

Well-known pieces of music with e-piano use

Acoustic pianos versus electronic pianos

Due to continually improving sample technology, the sound quality of the "lower class" of digital pianos has been improved since around 2000; Further technologically decisive advances are made every year. The “oldtimers” from the 1980s / 90s are divided into immature (“bad sounding”) instruments and special “ cult objects ”, each of which one would like to have a specific sound.

A good piano speaks for the original sound and the authentic feel, a lower loss in value compared to the digital piano, possibly even an increase in value in the case of collectibles and that the mechanics do not wear out as quickly. Only newer digital pianos can convey the resonance effect when the holding pedal is pressed, which lets the listener experience the free vibration of around 230 strings. With an older digital piano, only the notes you just played continue to sound, but not the resonating notes as well, as is the case with an acoustic instrument.

For a good digital piano speaks the cost of acquisition and maintenance, no maintenance costs (especially for the piano tuning ), no air conditioning costs ( humidification , room temperature ), the relative mobility and portability, space savings, the volume control and headphone jack (usually for two headphones ), precise intonation and high quality sound, flexibility due to several built-in sounds, easy connection and recording options via analog and digital interfaces , and additional features such as built-in metronome , additional sounds and effects such as reverberation or delay , sequencer , scalable touch dynamics , transposability , different moods (such as equal , pure , Pythagorean , medium-tone or well-tempered as according to Johann Philipp Kirnberger or Andreas Werckmeister ) up to “illuminated button pedagogy”.

Important quality criteria are:

  • the number of keys (at least 76, usually 88 keys with hammer mechanics simulation ) and above all
  • the polyphony , which should be at least 64, better 96 voices (i.e. 48 stereo voices). Modern digital pianos offer up to 256-part polyphony, which can be an important basis for realistic sound spaces in advanced works.

Disadvantages are those of electronic devices in general:

  • Dependence on a power supply .
  • In the case of simple instruments without wooden keys, the plastics used can become brittle due to volatile plasticizers .
  • Electrical components can fail, and with the complexity of modern equipment, troubleshooting and repair is often not economical. Residual chemicals can have a destructive effect, especially with cheap products .
  • In the case of simple instruments without non-contact light barriers , contacts made from cheap materials can get dirty and cause interference.

But "real" pianos also have numerous disadvantages:

  • The instruments get out of tune due to the mechanical stress while playing.
  • Wood can shrink from dry air, which can loosen the vertebrae, so that the piano has to be tuned more and more often.
  • Wood can swell due to moist air, so that the key mechanism can jam.
  • Mechanical springs can tire or break.
  • The felt pads on the hammers wear out and have to be renewed and tuned .
  • Pianos can only be transported with great logistical effort .
  • Muting acoustic pianos is expensive and complex.


Digital pianos are controversial among pianists. The argument is often made that the feel and liveliness of a digital piano cannot match that of a piano. Many pianists consider the interpretation of piano music on an electronic instrument to be impossible to play or not sufficiently sonorous, since the musical ability of expression reaches its technical limits, especially with somewhat older digital pianos. Sometimes an individual aesthetic opinion, a technological feasibility and an economic possibility are discussed in an unlimited manner side by side. Most of the time, however, these assessments come from previous experiences with older digital pianos.

Modern and higher quality instruments are now finding more and more fans for practicing with concert pianists. Up to now, they have hardly been used in classical concerts, but stage pianos are often used in concerts with stage technology and loudspeaker playback.

See also


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ David Crombie: Piano. Evolution, design and performance. 1995, pp. 76-78.
  2. ^ David Crombie: Piano. Evolution, design and performance. 1995, p. 76.
  3. a b David Crombie: Piano. Evolution, design and performance. 1995, p. 76 f.
  4. ^ David Crombie: Piano. Evolution, design and performance. 1995, p. 78.
  5. a b David Crombie: Piano. Evolution, design and performance. 1995, p. 74 f.
  6. ^ David Crombie: Piano. Evolution, design and performance. 1995, p. 77.
  7. Wurlitzer E-Piano: Use of the keyboard in today's world elektronisches-piano.de
  8. ^ Stiftung Warentest: Digital pianos - an alternative for amateur pianists.
  9. Homepiano digitalpianos24.de
  10. stage-piano.de
  11. YAMAHA SILENT Piano System ( Memento from August 18, 2012 in the Internet Archive )
  12. GT-O System TFT ( Memento from February 11, 2013 in the web archive archive.today )
  13. tastenwelt.de: Digital piano types in comparison ( Memento from March 26, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  14. Yamaha AvantGrand with statements by pianists Alexander Kobrin and Cyprien Katsaris , YouTube (February 11, 2010)