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electronic musical instruments

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What are electronic musical instruments?

Electronic musical instruments are instruments that use electronic sound generation technologies to produce and manipulate sounds. They include a variety of devices such as synthesizers, drum machines, samplers, sound modules and effect devices. These instruments offer a wide range of creative possibilities and enable a broad spectrum of sounds and forms of expression in electronic music production.

History of electronic musical instruments

The use of electricity in music was experimented with as early as the 18th century. The Denis d’Or by the Moravian preacher Vaclav Prokop Diviš from 1753 is considered the first instrument of its kind. The functioning of the prototype, which was lost soon afterwards, is still unclear today; one assumption is that the strings of the clavichord-like mechanical instrument were statically charged, presumably to frighten the player. The first well-documented and preserved electric instrument is the Clavecin électrique by Jean-Baptiste Delaborde from 1761, which used frictional energy to transmit signals. Both instruments were referred to as electrical instruments in their day, but according to today’s definition they are neither electronic nor

electromechanical instruments


Elisha Gray’s musical telegraph from 1874, which used a simple electrical oscillator to generate sound, is considered one of the first electronic musical instruments. The instruments created in the following decades initially used analog forms of synthesis, often in combination with electronic filters to create timbres. In historical order, here are the telharmonium developed by Thaddeus Cahill in 1897, the


Les Ondes Martenot by Maurice Martenot (France) in 1928 and the Trautonium by Friedrich Trautwein (Germany) in 1930. Later developments include the electronic organ, synthesizers such as the Moog Modular System and today’s digital piano.

The independent group of


was first defined by Francis W. Galpin in A Textbook of European Musical Instruments, 1937, in the

Hornbostel-Sachs classification

of 1914 does not yet include this group.

Curt Sachs

first used the term “electrophone” in 1940 in A History of Musical Instruments.

In the 1980s, the first digital synthesizers came onto the market. The first affordable and widely used instrument was the Yamaha DX7, which made completely new sounds possible with FM synthesis and, with the recently introduced MIDI interface, completely new ways of making music. This interface made it possible to record and play back musical events with the computer. This made it possible to produce pieces of music of any complexity from the computer alone. Sound settings could be saved and recalled via so-called patches. Samplers also made it possible to digitally store recorded natural sounds and play them back at any pitch via a master keyboard. Today, a wide range of sampled musical instrument sounds are available on most entry-level keyboards, but as instrument imitations they contradict the idea of electronic musical instruments with an independent sound.

Towards the end of the 20th century, personal computers became more and more powerful and software for sound processing and synthesis was increasingly used. Entire studios can be mapped on the computer in software, making it possible for musicians with a small budget to create high-quality sounds easily on their home computer with the help of sound cards.

From synthesizers to effect devices

The world of electronic musical instruments offers an impressive variety of sounds and creative possibilities for musicians and producers. Thanks to the versatile synthesis methods, unique and extraordinary soundscapes can be created. The extensive selection of

drum machines

and sequencers enables the precise creation of rhythms and beats. Effect devices open up possibilities for sound shaping and sound design. The integration of software and hardware expands the flexibility and workflow of music production. The combination of different instruments and technologies creates an infinite range of creative expression. Electronic musical instruments are a fascinating terrain for experimental sounds and individual artistic expression.

List of electronic musical instruments


electronic musical instruments