To help you better understand the technical language used to describe electronic instruments like digital pianos and keyboards, we have compiled a glossary
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To help you better understand the technical language used to describe electronic instruments like digital pianos and keyboards, we have compiled a glossary

To help you better understand the technical language used to describe electronic instruments like digital pianos and keyboards, we have compiled a glossary of some important terms you will see throughout the2004 Digital Home Keyboard Guideas well as in manufacturers' product brochures. Please note that terms appearing in SMALL CAPS are defined elsewhere in this glossary.

action The mechanism used to trigger a sound when you play a key on a keyboard. An instrument's action greatly affects how it feels to play. The action in a weighted electronic keyboard feels more like an acoustic piano's; the action in an unweighted keyboard feels more like an organ's.

Aftertouch 1: Continued pressure on an instrument's keys after the initial strike, which may affect the TIMBRE or volume of sustained notes. 2: MIDI MESSAGES that communicate the amount of aftertouch exerted on the keys.

algorithm A set of instructions used to solve a particular problem in a finite number of steps. For example, in electronic music, an algorithm can provide the instructions for altering a signal in an EFFECTS processor or changing parameters in a synthesizer PATCH. In algorithmic composition, algorithms determine specific permutations (variations of order) of music data (usually MIDI) performed by music-composition software.

analog In recording, a signal stored as a continuously varying electrical representation of the input signal.

analog-to-digital converter (ADC) A circuit or hardware peripheral that converts audio from an ANALOG signal of constantly fluctuating voltages to a digital string of ones and zeros.

CD-ROM Compact disc read-only memory. It looks like a standard 5 ¼-inch CD but is formatted for storing and delivering computer applications, digitized audio, video, graphics, and text.

channel See MIDI CHANNEL.

chorus A common audio effect that adds fullness to a sound in much the same way that a choir of voices sounds fuller than a single voice.

controller 1: A device, such as a keyboard, that can generate MIDI MESSAGES. 2: A type of MIDI MESSAGE that can alter a sound — for example, making it louder or softer or making other types of continuous changes.

digital-to-analog converter (DAC) A device that converts audio from a digital, numeric representation to an ANALOG signal of constantly fluctuating voltages.

DSP Digital Signal Processing. DSP can add EFFECTS or otherwise alter a sound by applying an ALGORITHM to the signal.

editing 1: The process of changing, adjusting, or correcting one's performance in a SEQUENCER. 2: Making alterations to a sound.

editor/librarian A computer program designed for creating, modifying, manipulating, and storing settings for MIDI-based devices such as SYNTHESIZERS and signal processors.

effects An umbrella term for a variety of treatments that alter sounds. Common effects are REVERB and CHORUS.

equalization (EQ) A type of sonic effect that adjusts the TIMBRE of a sound. Common forms of equalization are treble and bass.

event list A component of many SEQUENCERS that contains an index of all the recorded MIDI MESSAGES or events. Event lists are one of three ways to view or edit these messages; the others are GRAPHIC EDITING and NOTATION EDITING. Event lists suit precise editing of individual events.

Flash ROM A type of updatable ROM.

frequency The number of times a periodic WAVEFORM cycles or repeats.

frequency modulation (FM) A method of altering a WAVEFORM by changing (or modulating) the signal's FREQUENCY. The best-known musical example is vibrato, which involves slight changes in frequency and level over time.

General MIDI (GM) An extension of the MIDI specification that assigns an additional set of 128 sounds. General MIDI establishes a definite set of program number assignments for a wide variety of common SYNTHESIZER sounds and also standardizes the instrument sounds for MIDI song disks and SEQUENCERS.

graphic editing An EDITING method found in software SEQUENCERS that displays recorded notes in an easy-to-read format similar to a player-piano roll. Graphic editing is best suited to working with individual notes or groups of notes.

GS A GENERAL MIDI extension defined by the Roland Corporation and now also used by several other manufacturers. GS obeys all General midi instructions and adds several new sounds and CONTROLLERS.

jack Another word for female connector. Most keyboards have MIDI jacks for connecting MIDI CABLES, audio jacks for connecting the keyboard to a stereo or other external sound system, and control jacks for connecting footswitches and footpedals.

keyboard split A common keyboard feature that allows you to play different sounds on different areas of the keyboard simultaneously. For example, your left hand could play a bass sound while your right hand plays a trumpet sound.

layer 1: To set two or more sounds to play together when you press a key on a keyboard. 2: An individual sound used in a such a setup.

MIDI Musical Instrument Digital Interface. MIDI is a standardized protocol for communication between electronic music devices as well as between those devices and computers. For example, SOUND MODULES and computers can use MIDI to communicate.

MIDI cable A type of cable with a 5-pin male plug at each end, used for connecting MIDI devices.

MIDI channel A discrete portion of the complete MIDI signal that can include as many as 16 channels. Each channel carries independent messages; individual instruments tune in to these, just as a television tunes in to one of many channels. Instruments that can respond to multiple channels at once are called MULTITIMBRAL.

MIDI In One of three common connectors found on MIDI equipment. The In jack receives MIDI MESSAGES from outside equipment.

MIDI interface A device that translates MIDI signals from a digital piano or other electronic instrument into a form that a computer can accept, and vice versa.

MIDI messages The method of communication between MIDI-equipped instruments and other devices. MIDI converts performance gestures (that is, what notes you play, how hard you play them, and so on) into a series of different events, or messages, each of which has a specific meaning.

MIDI Out One of three common connectors found on MIDI equipment. The Out jack carries MIDI MESSAGES generated by the instrument.

MIDI Thru One of three common connectors found on MIDI equipment. The Thru jack passes on an exact duplicate of the messages received by a device at its MIDI IN connector, allowing other instruments or SOUND MODULES to respond to the MIDI data.

modulation wheel A CONTROLLER used to control vibrato, tremolo, or other modulation effects.

multitimbral The term used to describe a MIDI instrument capable of playing different sounds, or multiple TIMBRES, simultaneously.

notation The most common form of musical representation, showing musical notes on staves.

notation editing An EDITING method found in software SEQUENCERS in which the notes recorded appear on a staff, where you can move them around with the mouse.

notation program Computer software that allows the user to create and print sheet music. Some programs let you hear what you compose, and some sequencing programs let you edit notes while viewing them as standard NOTATION.

patch A specific sound on a keyboard. The term originated with early SYNTHESIZERS, which required hooking various components together with “patch” cords to create a sound.

PC card A small card, about the size of a credit card, that some electronic keyboards use to add new sounds or memory; also called PCM-CIA cards. The acronym stands for Personal Computer Memory Card International Association, the body that defined the standard.

phone connector A ¼-inch plug commonly used as an audio connector on electric guitars and SYNTHESIZERS. The name originated with the developer, Bell Telephone.

phono connector Sometimes referred to as an RCA connector and generically known as a pinjack connector; commonly used on home-stereo equipment. The name originated from its almost universal use for the outputs on phonographs.

pinjack connector See PHONO CONNECTOR.

pitch wheel A CONTROLLER on an instrument that raises or lowers the pitch of the sound playing.

polyphony The number of notes an instrument can play simultaneously (for example, 24-voice or 24-note polyphony).

pulse-code modulation (PCM) A common method used in encoding, transmitting, and storing digital data.

quantization A feature found on SEQUENCERS that corrects sloppy playing by moving notes to the closest beat or other note marker, such as an 8th note or 16th note. Quantization allows correction of a less-than-perfect performance (from a timing standpoint) to perfect tempo. Manufacturers of some devices refer to the quantizing feature as autocorrect.

RAM Random access memory. Memory in an electronic device that can be altered. For instance, other sounds can replace digital-piano sounds stored in RAM.


real time A means of recording or manipulating audio or data as it occurs. For example, you must record a cassette copy of a phonograph record live — that is, as the record plays in real time — rather than entering the notes one at a time.

reverb A series of diminishing echolike effects that simulates the sound of playing in a large room.

ROM Read only memory. A type of memory that cannot be altered.

sample A digital recording of a sound. Most electronic keyboards and digital pianos store numerous samples of different instruments and sounds on memory chips inside the keyboard and play them back when you depress a key. The process of obtaining these samples is called sampling.

SCSI Small Computer Systems Interface. A high-speed connection between electronic devices. Some electronic keyboards use SCSI ports to connect to hard drives or CD players.

sequencer A device that records MIDI MESSAGES in their order or sequence of playing and then plays them back. Sequencers come in three main formats: built-in functions of electronic keyboards, stand-alone hardware boxes, and dedicated computer programs.

sound card An add-on circuit card that gives PCs audio capabilities. These generally include a sound-generation engine and connections for speakers and microphones.

sound module A device that contains sound-generating circuitry but lacks a keyboard. The user plays sound modules remotely from electronic keyboards via MIDI. Also called a tone generator.

S/PDIF Sony/Philips Digital Interface. A format for sending digital audio information. S/PDIF connections use optical cables or PHONO CONNECTORS.

Standard MIDI File (SMF) An industry-standard computer-file format for SEQUENCERS. By using a common format, musicians who have different computers or sequencers can share songs and musical ideas.

step editing A form of EDITING in which you manipulate one MIDI MESSAGE at a time.

step time A method of recording messages into a SEQUENCER one step at a time, without reference to a metronome or other timing clock. It is the opposite of REAL-TIME recording, in which you record messages by playing them live.

synthesizer A musical instrument that can generate audio WAVEFORMS electronically and modulate them to create new audio waveforms.

timbre The tonal color of a sound, which reflects its harmonic content and envelope.

tone generator Another term for SOUND MODULE.

track 1: A location for storing recorded information in a SEQUENCER or on a multitrack tape. In a sequencer, a track typically holds one MIDI CHANNEL's worth of notes. 2: A verb synonymous with record. For example, the phrase to track drums means the same as the phrase to record drums.

transpose The process of adjusting the pitch of a note or an entire song by a musical interval.

Velocity 1: The speed at which you depress a key. 2: A MIDI MESSAGE that communicates this information and determines how loudly or softly a sound will play.

Velocity curve A preprogrammed relationship between key VELOCITY and the loudness of the sound produced. Some electronic keyboards give you a choice of velocity curves so that hitting a key twice as hard will not necessarily produce a sound twice as loud.

Velocity-sensitive A characteristic that means the keyboard responds to a player's touch. For example, with an acoustic piano, if you hit a key softly, the sound is soft, and if you hit a key hard, the sound is loud. Depending on the weight of the touch, the volume level and TIMBRE of the notes will vary.

waveform A two-dimensional graph of a signal, showing changes in pressure (amplitude) as a function of time.

XG An extension to the GENERAL MIDI standard, defined by Yamaha and used in some of its newer instruments and SOUND MODULES. XG adds new sound banks with variations of General MIDI sounds (for example, brighter versions of the same instruments) and also standardizes some EFFECTS parameters.