Electronic Instruments

“Electronic Instruments” in The Oxford Handbook of Music Performance: Insights from Education, Psychology, Musicology, Science and Medicine, G. McPherson (ed.) Oxford University Press, 2019 (in press)

pre-print ( .pdf)


Electronic musical instruments using electrical signals as a sound source have existed for over 150 years. The chapter on Electronic Instruments focuses on digital musical instruments and explores the designs of computer-based technologies in the most common present of electronic synthesizers. As these machines advance, so do the capabilities for expressive performance. Instruments may be devices with keyboards, microphones and / or other kinds of sensors attached or they may exist solely as software applications running on many possible kinds of computers. The chapter describes how performance gestures and sound are treated as numbers and are represented in formats such as the MIDI protocol and sound files. Musical sound is produced by samplers and synthesizers which are programmed for tone generation. The basics of spectrum analysis and synthesis methods are covered in order to understand what a particular tone generator algorithm provides as sonic dimensions to control and which dimensions of control might be available to the performer.