How do you use the keyboard in your music?

In contrast to all the discussion around novel, experimental interfaces (which I’m also fascinated by), I’m interested in hearing about how everyone uses keyboards (those black and white things🎹) in their setups and processes.
I am a “conventionally” trained musician (although not a keyboardist) and have realised over many years that the immediacy and expressivity of music making as is usually achieved with “conventional instruments” is the thing which I get the most joy out of. I have since taken a lot of interest in exploring the keyboard. Especially using midi to control multiple synths, splitting the keyboard, routing midi in interesting ways.
I’m interested in hearing peoples thoughts about new frontiers in keyboard playing. Be it relating to sound, setup, instruments, composition, playing techniques, routing, ergonomics, philosophy, phenomenology etc. I feel like there’s still a lot to be explored in this centuries old interface.


Good question, it is always wonderful when people attend to basics/foundations/the “obvious” :herb:

I don’t know much about music and came to all of this sonicing very late, so the way I see it is that my the step sequencer buttons of my drum synthesizer (OP-Z), in addition to working as other functions such as settings, also serves as a keyboard. So in a way, being a keyboard is a kind of tertiary feature of these buttons. That’s my relationship with the “keyboard” :musical_keyboard:


At times, keyboard is the absolute tactile focus, to which the sonic component is melded and molded. Gestalt thereof joyous.

Broadly, keyboards have been a gateway and inspiration to electronic music making. Saluting those that stood me well: Yamaha V50, Korg 01/w, Moog Memorymoog, Korg MS-20, Korg Mono/Poly, Roland SH-101, Roland JP8000, Korg Z1, Korg Prophecy, Korg Kronos, Arp Odyssey, Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, Roland Juno-106.

Then came modular. Imaginary keys suffice.

The keyboard, however, will never be eschewed.

Here, the Kronos keys play the Mysteron. (All sounds are modular)


One thing I’ve found very fun is to use a keyboard with an arpeggiator built in controlling a polyphonic sound source, and use the same keyboard via MIDI to control a monophonic instrument with last note priority. As you play a melody you can choose which notes you want to keep in the arpeggio by keeping that finger held down, even as the monophonic instrument moves on to a new note. Various arpeggio settings make this worthy of deep exploration.

Also any synthesizers with a mod matrix that let’s one use the keyboard as a modulation source with different degrees of scaling in different inverted/noninverted combinations is surely a way to explore many patch specific uses of a keybed.

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In the last couple years I’ve tried to expand beyond my single note right hand only synth pop tendencies and incorporate more risks. With synthesizer playing this means being more thoughtful about the sound and playing less (I often miss this goal).

I do feel good about the direction my piano playing is going, I try to have fun, be dynamic and not stress too much if I’m playing the ‘right’ notes. With more control over the volume of each note, I enjoy this more than synth playing.

I recorded this as a voice memo while waiting for my student to arrive for a piano lesson:

I meant to use it as a starting point for a more formal arrangement but couldn’t ever do better than the first try.

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I use a keyboard for literally everything I do in electronic music! I’ve also felt a fascination with alternative control methods but keep coming back to keyboards - I think it’s just so ingrained into how my brain thinks about music it’s harder for me to spend enough time to where an isomorphic keyboard becomes of value.

I mostly use Ableton Live with a MIDI keyboard in live performances, and what’s been great about that is that DAW’s built-in abilities to split a keyboard between multiple instruments, or say, limiting an effect send to only a certain range of the keyboard. Since in live performance, it’s pretty difficult to change a ton of parameters at once or turn effects on and off constantly, I think it’s great to be able to create systems that have what I want built into how I use the keyboard. These performance practices have kind of been how I produce music at home as well - I much prefer creating dynamic keyboard setups and recording MIDI live than putting everything in by mouse and keyboard after the fact.

I feel like a lot of the “cutting edge” of the keyboard interface is something a lot of people have been exploring recently what with MPE getting popularized. The only MPE controller I’ve tried was at a demo of the ROLI Seaboard, and my impression of it was that although it had a lot of multidimensionality, it ultimately fails at being a traditional keyboard as well which kind of defeats the purpose of the traditional keyboard layout to me. I have been following the development of the Expressive E Osmose however, which seems to be a better expressive keyboard concept!

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