Electronic Music Keyboard Slang

As a keyboardist, it’s essential that you familiarise yourself with key music industry terms and slang in order to gain confidence when conversing with peers. Doing this can give your interactions with them greater clarity.

MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is an open-standard data link used by various electronic musical instruments to exchange information.


Polyphony refers to the ability of musical instruments to simultaneously play multiple melodies simultaneously; those without this feature are known as monophonic. Polyphony is essential for keyboard players because it enables multiple notes to be played at once without clashing and sounding disjointed; similarly it plays a pivotal role in EDM as it allows more complex chords and harmonies to be utilized.

MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface and is the standard protocol that connects electronic musical instruments to computers. MIDI transmits several types of data, including control signals that instruct keyboards to perform certain functions and audio data that is used for playing back sound samples. As this protocol has an international standard status, most keyboards today feature an MIDI port.

BPM (Beats Per Minute). BPM measures the rhythm and tempo of a song’s rhythmic elements such as drums or vocals in electronic music production, as it sets their pacing and timing. It plays an essential part in electronic music composition by setting this pace and time of other sounds in its mix, such as vocals.

DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation and forms the centerpiece of most modern studios; Ableton Live, FL Studio and Logic Pro are examples of DAWs.

Chords – Chords are repeated notes played together at the same time, an essential element in most musical genres. Also referred to as arpeggios, chords add extra punch to any track by providing additional layers of notes that play simultaneously.

Chords have also become an integral component of electronic dance music production since Roland introduced their TR-808 and TR-909 drum machines, popularizing drum synthesizers in popular music production. Yamaha Motif and Roland Jupiter 8 synthesizers used during these productions offered 16 note polyphony which revolutionised music making at that time; later reduced due to cost concerns, this still enabled sophisticated composition with less instruments.


Portamento refers to a technique in which notes flow into each other without clear breaks between them, most often used in vocal music and instruments like violin and trombone, though keyboard users may also employ this approach. Although similar, portamento differs significantly from glissando which requires more intentionality over longer duration; they’re sometimes mistaken as equivalent terms;

A MIDI controller is an electronic device used to access sounds generated by sound modules or software synthesizers via MIDI cables, usually consisting of sliders, knobs, and buttons that allow the user to control elements on a keyboard – including volume. Also called patch, program voice sound.

Keyboards are specialized keyboards designed to produce electrical signals through mechanical keys that convert them to audio using internal circuitry or connected sound cards. Most modern keyboards are polyphonic – enabling multiple notes at the same time – allowing more than one note to be played simultaneously.

Preset: An audio sound stored at a specific location on a keyboard. Its name derives from Latin “pretium,” meaning something that has been predetermined or set beforehand. A preset is typically stored in memory that cannot be overwritten (ROM), so editing requires saving it elsewhere with more free space available.

Glissando: Glissando refers to the gradual shifting or sliding of output frequency from one note to the next during melody playback, typically found on monophonic synthesizers but more difficult for polyphonic ones to implement.

Portamento can be heard in several classic songs by Herbie Flowers, such as Lou Reed’s Walk On The Wild Side. Sugar Blue’s version of Ain’t Got You and Nine Below Zero’s early rendition of Rocket 88 also include portamento effects. On harp you can hear this technique used by Magic Dick at the very start of Whammer Jammer where his riff includes portamento into standard trill.


Panned: Panned is the term that describes where sounds sit within a stereo field, often used to refer to how drum or guitar sounds are distributed across a track, though it can also refer to specific effects such as reverb. Sounds can generally be “panned” left and right for different effects and sounds.

kHz stands for “kilohertz,” the frequency at which audio signals are converted from analog to digital form and sampled as part of this conversion process. This directly relates to sound waveform quality; hence its inclusion when discussing instrument fidelity.

Future Beats – Future beats are a genre of electronic music which encompasses hip-hop, alternative and other musical influences. Characterised by distorted kick drums and 140bpm+ tempos, Future beats is popularly found at raves.


Parameters are attributes that can be identified and quantified. In musical context, this refers to variables controlled via keyboard or other controller devices; for instance, filter parameters allow them to be adjusted from flat response to resonance-rich, creating different sounds. Tempo is another common parameter which allows one to set their playing at an exact rate expressed as beats per minute (BPM).

Polyphonic – Polyphony refers to an electronic instrument’s capability of playing multiple notes at once, which makes electronic keyboards particularly suitable for creating and playing complex chords more quickly and effortlessly.

Pitch Bend – Pitch bend is a wheel or slider on a keyboard used to alter the pitch of a note, typically for vibrato effects. Some keyboards also include a modulation wheel for altering other aspects of sound.

Rhythm patterns – Pre-programmed accompaniment tracks that enable keyboards to simulate the sound of a full band can be found on many auto-accompaniment keyboards.

Sampler – A type of computer program which allows producers to map the sounds of traditional instruments onto keyboard notes and play them digitally, mimicking piano, guitar or any other traditional instruments without incurring the expense or effort involved with purchasing and setting up an entire drum kit. Producers use them extensively when recreating specific sounding pieces without taking on too many traditional instruments such as accordions.

Plugin – A piece of software which adds features and functionality to an existing music production program, such as adding an equalizer, compressor, reverb or distortion effect to enhance its capabilities. New producers typically rely on such plugins when producing their tracks; common examples of plugins used include equalizers, compression ratios, reverb effects and distortion effects.


A sampler is a digital device that digitally stores and plays back samples. These devices can be used to record or playback a range of sounds – vocals and instruments alike – as well as create and manipulate music using various effects – beats, bass lines, melodies or entire songs can all be created using samplers; their use also speeds up the creation process and makes editing and mixing work much simpler for musicians.

MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is the universal language for electronic keyboards and digital music equipment, used to transmit musical notes between machines. This specification specifies which notes are played and for how long, as well as information regarding velocity (how hard keys were pushed) which helps determine sound production from various instruments.

Phrase Sampler: Some electronic keyboards feature wheels on the left side that can be used to trigger one-shot sounds like drum hits quickly and efficiently – this process is known as phrase sampling and can save both time and energy when compared with trigger each sound individually via pads. Furthermore, phrase sampling lends itself better for live performances as it doesn’t re-pitch samples!

As part of becoming a professional musician, learning the necessary jargon and terminology is a critical aspect. While this might be challenging without proper guidance from peers or experienced staff, a good production or music school offers an environment in which you can learn the required terminology from peers who share your interest while also increasing clarity in communication.