Whilst the origins of the Synthesizer Keyboard lie in the early to mid twentieth century, it wasn’t really until the Sixties and Seventies that they really started to become used by musicians, mainly due to the reasons of reliability and cost.
In 1964 that started to change, with the release of the Moog (named after its creator Robert Moog) which was the first commercially available instrument of its kind. The first band to release an album featuring Moog created music was The Monkees, but they were soon followed by other notables including The Rolling Stones, The Doors and The Beatles.
The Moog created its sound by allowing the user of it to layer together simple waveforms of different kinds, such as sine waves. In doing so the sound created by the instrument could be changed to achieve a wide number of different effects.
In 1979 the Synthesizer market was shaken up again with the release of the Fairlight CMI (Computer Musical Instrument) as it took a different approach. The advent of micro computers allowed the Fairlight to work by using sampled sounds of real instruments, meaning that in theory at least it could sound like any instrument you wanted it to.
However the Fairlight and similar synthesizers still cost a huge amount of money when they first appeared, so remained the preserve of professional musicians, with probably Jean Michel Jarre being the artist who is most often linked with the Fairlight.
Back in the home however, we were pretty much still stuck with our old Bontempi Air Organs or expensive piano sized organs, until the clever bods at companies such as Yamaha and Casio came along and size and cost reduced the innards of a synthesizer onto a microchip.
By the mid-eighties you couldn’t walk into a branch of Dixons without seeing a stand of more affordable synthesizer keyboards left out for demo purposes. There wasn’t a kid in the land who couldn’t resist heading over to the stand for a little fiddle, first plinking and plonking out a load of noises by stabbing at the keys, then locating the demo button (which for some reason always seemed to play Wham’s Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go) and pretending that they had suddenly become a piano whizz in the hope that their parents might buy them one.
These home synthesizers were available in a wide number of configurations, with different sized keyboards (from two octaves upwards), different numbers of built in instruments, the ability to sample your own sounds through a built in microphone. Most also featured a usually terrible sounding array of “boom-diddy-ba-boom” type backing tracks.
Another useful ability was to be able to record the notes you played and then play them back again later to check for where you were making mistakes. Some models even then you play back the recording bit by bit by tapping any key on the keyboard, so you could enter the notes correctly first, then get the timing right afterwards.