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touch sensitive keyboards

Keyboards can be one of four things:-

1. Not touch sensitive,

2. velocity sensitive,

3. pressure sensitive or

4. displacement sensitive





1. Not Touch sensitive

This usually occurs with basic beginner and childrens keyboards (e.g. costing less than $100). A simple test to see if the keyboard is like this is to strike a key firmly and then gently. If the keyboard produces no difference in volume between the two strikes, then you are playing a non-touch sensitive instrument. Electronic organ keyboards are often also not touch sensitive.


2. Velocity Sensitive Keyboards

This is to do with how fast or hard a key is struck, and the resultant sound that is made. Keyboards which are velocity sensitive respond accordingly - if a key is struck hard it will result in a loud sound, gently striking a key will produce a soft sound. Grand and upright pianos are velocity sensitive, and modern electronic keyboards seek to mimic this effect. When attached to a midi or USB cable and linked to a computer, this velocity information is assigned a number between 1 and 127, the later being the loudest possible way the key could be played, a "1" would be the quietest possible note. A value of about 80 to 100 would be approximately "mf" (mezzo forte).

Manufacturers often advertise keyboards as "touch sensitive" although often these are strictly speaking "velocity sensitive".


3. Pressure Sensitive Keyboards

Keyboards which respond to change when the key is held down (after striking it) are said to be "pressure sensitive". The clavichord is an early example of this - unlike the piano (where the hammer leaves the string once it has hit it) the clavichord remains in contact with the string when the key is held down. It is therefore possible to extert expression on the string via the key, and create subtle vibrato known as "Bebung". On modern day electronic keyboards, pressure sensitivity is known as aftertouch, and can tranform the sound in a number of ways. For example, on an organ setting, applying more pressure to the key may add more tremolo to the note. On professional keyboards, this aftertouch ability can often be defined by the user to transform the sound in a number of ways (by creating a swelling sound to a brass setting etc). Aftertouch also has it's own dedicated MIDI transmission channel and value (between 1 and 127).

It worth noting that many modern professional keyboards are both velocity and pressure sensitive, although usually the pressure sensitive ability is not available when the instrument is seeking to mimic non-pressure sensitive instruments such as pianos and vibraphones.


4. Displacement Sensitive Instruments

Some keyboard instruments offer a different type of sensitivity which is a little cruder than velocity sensitivity. Here the instrument can produce two different sounds depending on how far down the key is struck. Depressing the note half-way will result in a quieter tone, pressing the key fully down will engage a fuller tone. Displacement sensitivity is common practise in church pipe organs and accordians.




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