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There are thousands of different musical instruments in the world and they are all separated into different categories.
Most people are familiar with a number of instruments that are classified as keyboard instruments. Whether we’re referring to a keyboard-style synthesizer or keyboard instruments like the piano, and pipe organ, these names will more or less ring a bell.
But there are so many more instruments in this category that many of us are oblivious to, so it should make you wonder what instruments are similar to the keyboard.
Keyboard instruments are divided into chordophones, aerophones, idiophones, and electrophones. Some well-known instruments that are similar to the keyboard are the synthesizer, keytar, piano, and fortepiano, as well as the electric and digital piano. Less known instruments include the celesta, hurdy-gurdy, pipe organ, accordion, harmonium, and even instruments like the wheelharp and many more.
While the keyboard is a wonderful instrument, it’s not the only one belonging to the keyboard classification. So, if you want to explore the unique world of keyboard instruments beyond the piano then this list is for you.
You will also learn whether the keyboard is easier than the piano, and how different the keyboard is compared to a synthesizer. By the end of this article, you even find out which keyboard-like instrument to learn next!
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What Type Of Instrument Is The Keyboard?
When we say keyboard we usually refer to a digital or home keyboard. This type of keyboard has a similar function to an ordinary acoustic piano, but the home keyboard is much easier to play and it’s significantly cheaper. The home keyboard specifically was mainly designed for home users and non-professional users.
Electrified keyboards go as far back as 1760 when Jean Baptiste Thillaie de Laborde developed the clavecin électrique, which was played with plectra and activated by electricity.
But it wasn’t until the early 20th century that things began evolving and in 1929 the electric piano was invented, but the real step towards the modern keyboard happened in the 1960s when synthesizers were transformed into portable instruments.
The digital or home keyboard as we know it today belongs to the keyboard instruments which is a classification that encompasses a number of other instruments that, as the name suggests, are played using a keyboard, meaning that they have a row of levers that are pressed by the fingers.
This means that there is a great number of instruments that are similar to the keyboard!
What Musical Instruments Are Similar To The Keyboard?
The way an instrument is classified as a keyboard instrument is based on how the performer is playing that instrument and not how the sound is produced.
That’s why keyboard instruments are separated into four main groups, electrophones, chordophones, aerophones, and idiophones.
So, let’s see how similar the instruments in these groups are to the keyboard!
The instruments in this category share the most similarities with the keyboard and that’s because the keyboard also belongs to the electrophones.
So, let’s discover other electronic keyboards that can produce sound by electronic means!
1. Digital Or Studio Piano
As I mentioned above, when we usually talk about keyboards we usually refer to electronic keyboards that are either cheap home keyboards or a slightly more expensive digital version of them.
If however, you were looking for a higher-quality electronic keyboard that produces a sound and has a feel that’s closer to an acoustic piano then you would have to go for a digital piano, or an even more expensive option the stage piano.
Standard home keyboards can produce a much wider variety of sounds and offer more features, and the keys are smaller and much easier to press down, which makes them a great option for beginners or musicians that want to experiment with the type of sound they produce.
However, unlike the home keyboard, the digital piano is designed to mimic an acoustic piano, but it can also sound like various keyboard instruments, and I’m not talking just the grand piano, but an electric piano, an organ pipe, and a Hammond organ as well as the harpsichord.
Keyboards and synthesizers are often considered the same instrument, but that’s not exactly right. Perhaps that’s because it’s more difficult to tell the difference nowadays compared to the early models that were far more simplified.
Still, you can tell the difference by looking at the two instruments. Unlike the keyboard, synthesizers often have wheels or knobs for pitch bend or mod wheel, or other buttons and features on the front panel that allows the player to quickly change the type of sound it creates.
Some keyboards have these features nowadays, and they can sound like synthesizers but these are usually recordings of synthesizers.
A synthesizer however looks like you have your mixing and mastering equipment on a panel along with some keyboards. You have complete control of the sound this instrument can produce, the pitch, filtering, the attack and so much more!
Don’t get me wrong, the synthesizer is very similar to a keyboard, but it’s its own distinct instrument!
While the keytar is an instrument of the 80s there’s something futuristic about it. This instrument is very similar to the keyboard, but instead of having the keytar sit horizontally before you, it’s strapped like a guitar and played vertically, hence the name “KEYboard guiTAR”.
The layout of a keytar is also similar to a keyboard but it has fewer keys. When it comes to sound the keytar shares more functions with a synthesizer, compared to a keyboard since you have more control over the type of sound you can produce.
It’s also much easier to travel with a keytar, since it’s more compact and doesn’t require a stand. Plus you get to be more mobile when playing the keytar and you don’t have to stand in one spot.
Despite its futuristic feel, the keytar is not as popular these days, which is a shame, but perhaps you might want to join the small dedicated group of keytar enthusiasts!
If you think that the keytar is an out of this world keyboard, then you will be impressed with the exotic PianoArc!
As you can see in the video above, this is a circular keyboard with a 6 ft (1.8 m) outer diameter, and 292 keys.
It may look like another crazy 80s invention, but the PianoArc was actually created by Lady Gaga’s lead keyboardist Brockett Parson and used in 2012.
The similarities with a keyboard are pretty evident, after all the PianoArc is basically three or four keyboards in one.
Depending on the PianoArc design it can have LED lights that help the player define where the middle C is.
So, aside from its incredibly unique sound, the PianoArc is a visually stunning instrument!
5. Ondes Martenot
The ondes Martenot is one of the earliest electronic instruments and while it looks a lot like a keyboard the sound it produces is far from keyboard-like.
In fact, it sounds more like the theremin, which was featured in this article as one of the hardest instruments to learn to play.
It is played with a keyboard, as well as by moving a ring along a wire, and the sound produced by the ondes Martenot keyboard is almost like a flute, while the sound from the ring is ethereal and spooky.
While the nodes Martenot mightn’t be the most well-known musical instrument, it’s actually used in classical compositions.
6. Continuum Fingerboard
The continuum fingerboard or haken continuum is another strange instrument, and while it resembles a keyboard, it’s so much more expressive and adaptable. After all, that was the goal of Lippold Haken the person who created this instrument in the early 80s.
The continuum fingerboard doesn’t have keys, but it’s sensitive to the touch. The surface that the player comes in contact with stretches over hundreds of metal bars held by springs, sitting beside magnets that detect the slightest touch and movement and it has a built-in digital synthesizer.
The sound is very versatile, but I must admit that at first, I thought it was a theremin. In the right hands, it can be an incredibly atmospheric instrument like no other.
Like in the video above, some use the continuum fingerboard alongside an actual keyboard!
7. ROLI Seaboard
The seaboard is probably one of my favorite instruments on this list, simply because the sound this instrument is capable of producing is incredibly cinematic, but it still manages to retain more evident keyboard qualities, compared to the continuum fingerboard.
The seaboard is a keyboard-style MIDI controller, and instead of moving keys, it has flexible silicone rubber keywaves, that you can play by striking, gliding, sliding, lifting, and pressing the keys.
This instrument offers a new depth of expression and despite its relative obscurity from the mainstream, you might recognize the seaboard sound from a well-known composer, Hans Zimmer.
The family of chordophones includes various instruments that produce sounds through the stretched and vibrating strings.
While it’s difficult to associate strings with electronic keyboards, there are plenty of chordophones that are similar to the keyboard, so let’s check them out!
As you can imagine the piano is at the top of the chordophone list because simply speaking there wouldn’t be a keyboard if there hadn’t been a piano first.
It’s also important to make a distinction between the fortepiano and pianoforte because even though these terms are often used interchangeably, the term fortepiano refers to pianos that were made before 1830, and they have a distinct touch, sound, and appearance compared to the modern pianoforte.
But no matter which way you look at it the keyboard is quite similar to both the pianoforte and fortepiano.
The arrangement of the keys on a piano and a keyboard are identical. While the keyboard might have slightly narrower in width keys they are pretty much indistinguishable. Plus the way you play the piano and a keyboard are also identical.
Of course, the two instruments also share a few differences. Piano keys are weighted so they require more finger strength, so the initial transition from a keyboard to a piano can be quite difficult.
The piano also has a richer sound, because the moment you press a key, a wooden hammer strikes a string. So, each note resonates within the body of the piano instead of the sound being produced by a synthesizer that can’t replicate the incredible tone of the piano.
As you can already imagine there are going to be a lot of piano-like instruments in this category and many of these instruments are the predecessors of the modern piano.
However, each instrument, the clavichord included, has a very unique sound of its own. That’s why the clavichord is still manufactured to this day and used by Renaissance, Baroque, and Classical music enthusiasts.
Now the main similarity between the clavichord and the keyboard is that both instruments have keys, but the clavichord has fewer keys, 37 compared to the 66, 72, or 88 keys of the keyboard.
What sets the clavichord apart from most chordophone keyboard instruments, is the way the clavichord player can add vibrato to a note. Unlike the piano that throws a hammer at the string, a clavichord key rouches the string directly.
This means that this instrument requires constant control of the fingers, which makes it much harder to play compared to the keyboard.
But if you’re looking for a unique instrument that is still as familiar as the keyboard then perhaps you need to consider the clavichord.
If you want to go one step further on the quirky ladder, then you need to give the harpsichord a chance.
This is a keyboard instrument that looks a lot like a keyboard and while the two rows of keys might feel intimidating, it only has 60 keys, less than what a player might use on a beginner’s keyboard that has 66 keys.
For those of you who are familiar with the keyboard, you’ll probably find the harpsichord easier to play practically, but when it comes to sound the harpsichord is less forgiving simply because the action on this instrument is different, usually lighter, than an electric keyboard, or a piano for that matter.
You main reason why you might struggle to learn this instrument is because of how niche it is, but it’s not impossible!
If you’re looking for a keyboard instrument that uses a set of keys but sounds nothing like a keyboard or a piano then you need to check out the hurdy-gurdy.
This is probably one of my favorite instruments, simply because it has the ability to transport me to a medieval or fantasy world without the need for other supporting instruments.
At first glance the hurdy-gurdy looks more like a guitar, after all, it is a stringed instrument, but instead of plucking or strumming the strings, you use short wooden keys to stop the strings, all the while you use a handle to turn the rosined wheel that’s rubbing against the strings.
So, despite its deceiving looks the hurdy-gurdy is the first stringed instrument to which the keyboard principle was applied, that’s why it deserves a spot on our list!
Aerophones is another group where you can find keyboard instruments that are similar to the keyboard, so let’s take a look!
12. Pipe Organ
The keyboard is an amazing instrument and often times it’s considered an easier keyboard instrument compared to a piano, or in this case a pipe organ.
Despite the difficulty level, the keyboard is similar to a pipe organ because it also has keys, and as an electronic instrument it can imitate the sound of a piano organ.
But if you want the real sound a pipe organ produces as well as the ability to command not just one keyboard but three or four keyboards then you got to look for an organist at your local church or cathedral.
Knowing how to play the keyboard can give you an advantage, but you will need time to adjust to the instrument’s needs, like acquiring good pedal technique and working on your coordination.
There are two types of accordions, one with piano keys and the other with buttons. The piano accordion is considered easier to learn, and if you are familiar with the keyboard then you might find the transition more natural because they are more similar to each other.
Aside from the different feel, there’s also a difference when it comes to the sound of a piano or button accordion.
When you play on a piano accordion you will notice that the same note sounds on both the pull and the push of the bellows, while a different note will sound on the pull than on the push when you play a button accordion.
Despite the difficulty level, the good thing is that the piano accordion has fewer keys, usually 41, but you can also find one with 25 and 45 keys.
Because of the slight similarity between the keyboard and the piano accordion, you might have a bit of a head start, but it’s still a very challenging instrument, plus you will also have to learn how to use the bellows.
Our list features mainstream instruments that are similar to the keyboard as well as more obscure keyboard instruments that have a cult following.
The Hohner claviola falls right under this niche category because while it was designed in the 60s Erhest Zacharias, this instrument lasted only for a few months in the late 90s until it was discontinued.
The claviola looks a lot like a keyboard, more so than the accordion, but it has a completely unique sound that can be compared to a clarinet.
The piano keys are on the right side with a two-and-a-half octave range, and instead of pushing or pumping bellows you blow the reed and you can use your left hand to cover the pipe openings to bend notes or add vibrato.
The claviola is a difficult instrument to find and buy, but if you’re passionate enough you can find it in various retail shops. It also comes with a manual guide which means that with some prior keyboard knowledge, you can easily learn to play the claviola.
The harmonium or the reed organ went through different transformations, but in 1875, Dwarkanath Ghose designed his version of the Indian hand-pumped harmonium.
In some ways, it resembles the accordion, but because it’s positioned on the ground it looks more similar to the keyboard.
It’s definitely not the easiest instrument to come by or learn, but if you are familiar with the keyboard then you definitely have an advantage. The harmonium has 42 keys and these keys and notes are similar in both instruments.
That being said, the harmonium is played with one hand and you use the other hand to pump the bellows. It’s also an instrument that is used mainly in Indian music, so it requires a different approach when it comes to music theory and chords.
Melodica looks a lot like a mini version of a keyboard, but it also shares a similarity with the discontinued claviola, because aside from keys it also has a reed that you blow into.
When I first laid my eyes on a melodica I thought it was a children’s toy, simply because of how small it was and in a lot of ways quite obscure. But it’s actually a very affordable professional instrument that is used in various musical genres by professional musicians.
Unlike the keyboard that requires electricity, this tiny keyboard requires your lungs to produce sound. It can be an extremely fulfilling instrument to get into, and an easy one at that, especially if you know how to play the keyboard.
Of course, as with any instrument, melodica takes time and practice, especially if you’ve never relied on your lungs to perform music.
Unlike chordophones, idiophones are instruments that create sound by vibrating themselves.
There is a number of idiophones that are similar to the keyboard, so let’s explore them all!
You might have heard of the glockenspiel, a percussion instrument that has steel bars and it produces a bell-like sound when the player strikes the bars with a wooden or plastic mallet.
The keyboard glockenspiel has a similar sound, but instead of a mallet, it is operated by a piano keyboard to produce the sound. This instrument was famously used by Mozart when performing “The Magic Flute.”
While some orchestras still use the keyboard glockenspiel, its production is rare, to say the least. That’s because the celesta is used instead and even though it was invented in 1886, long after Mozart’s death, it’s the one instrument that is commonly used when performing “The Magic Flute.”
Despite their clear sound differences, the celesta is similar to the keyboard, mostly because it uses the same mechanisms as any grand piano.
That means that the transition from playing the keyboard to playing the celesta should be much smoother. After all, you’ll be using a set of keys to create sound. But it will still be challenging, especially for those of you who can’t play the piano, or play the keyboard without pedals.
The world of music is filled with unique instruments and the carillon is one of them. What sets the carillon apart are the bells. So, instead of metal bars, strings, or pipes, you have at least 23 carillon bells arranged in chromatic sequence.
To be fair the instrument doesn’t look a lot like a keyboard, but it is played with a keyboard of wooden batons and using your hands and feet.
Each key pulls down a wire that is connected to the clapper on a bell, and the more bells the carillon has the more harmonious and complex the sound it produces.
As you can already imagine this is a massive instrument and it’s among the heaviest in the whole world. This makes it a difficult instrument to find and learn, especially since there are only 700 carillons worldwide.
The dulcitone is another instrument that is similar to the keyboard, not only because it has between 49 to 68 keys, compared to most keyboards that can come with 66, 72, or 88 keys, but the dulcitone is also portable.
Unlike some of the largest keyboard instruments on our list, you can fold up the legs of a dulcitone and use the handles on each side to transport it.
While the electronic keyboard could produce a similar sound, it can’t really replicate the sweet and quiet sound of the dulcitone.
That’s because the sound comes from tuning forks, which vibrate when struck by felt-covered hammers. This results in the most magical and melodic sound that is reminiscent of an old musical box.
Other Instruments Similar To A Keyboard
While our list has a great variety of instruments that are similar to a keyboard, it’s important to acknowledge the fact that there are even more instruments out there that share similarities with a keyboard.
Some are simply outdated versions of the instruments on our list, like the clavinet that was replaced by the electronic and digital keyboard.
Others like the Optigan, another electronic keyboard instrument, are no longer produced and are hard to find.
There are also keyboard instruments that are simply too niche, like the calliope that produced sound by sending steam or compressed air through large whistles and was predominantly used on riverboats.
Speaking of obscure instruments, let’s take a look at one last keyboard instrument that is out of this world!
Despite how ancient this instrument might look, the wheelharp is fairly new. It was created by Jon Jones and Mitchel Manger in 2013.
The sound the wheelharp produces is eerie and sorrowful, and frankly, it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s still an impressive construction.
Just like the keyboard it uses keys, however the 61 keys, as you can see in the video above, aren’t positioned horizontally.
When you hold down a key it pushes the bowed string down onto the rotating wheel. There’s also a foot pedal that controls the wheel and depending on how much you press the pedal down, the more intense the sound gets.
In concept, it’s similar to the viola organista, a musical instrument designed by Leonardo da Vinci that was never constructed.
The wheelharp is not an easy instrument to acquire especially if you’re on a budget, and it definitely isn’t as easy as playing the keyboard, despite the similarities!
Is The Keyboard Easier To Play Than The Piano?
The major difference between a keyboard and a piano are the keys, specifically their size, which can often be smaller, and they are not fully weighted, so they require less pressure and effort to press down when playing.
This difference makes the keyboard easier to play compared to the piano. That’s why the transition from a piano to a keyboard is relatively easy but you might find yourself struggling if it’s the other way around.
It’s also important to note that the sonic potentials on a piano are far greater since the keyboard samples can be quite limited in this regard.
If you’ve never played a musical instrument, there’s nothing wrong with learning how to play the keyboard, but you need to be prepared that even though it’s easier to learn, even a high-end keyboard has its limitations when it comes to mimicking the sound and feel of a real piano.
Is Playing A Synthesizer The Same As A Keyboard?
These two instruments might look very similar, but there are still significant differences that can make it difficult to transition from a keyboard to a synthesizer.
If you know how to play the synthesizer the transition to playing a keyboard is going to be smooth, but the same can’t be said if it was the other way around simply because the synthesizer has lots of features that most keyboards don’t have.
You also need to remember that these two instruments are designed with different players in mind.
Keyboards are more suitable for players that want to use a number of sounds, samples, and automated accompaniments in every style imaginable.
On the other hand, someone who plays the synthesizer is looking to create their own sounds and work on adjusting their own or existing samples in much greater detail.
How To Choose Which Keyboard-Like Instrument To Learn Next?
There are a few things to consider before you choose which keyboard instrument to learn how to play.
First of all, you need to look at the availability, and that includes both the instrument and the instructor.
You also need to consider your budget and space. While guitars can be expensive, you can still find affordable guitars as a beginner, plus they are easy to transport and store.
Keyboard instruments, on the other hand, are usually much bulkier and they are quite expensive, and the more obscure keyboard-like instruments can be even pricier.
You also need to consider the type of sound you like, if you are a freak like me then you might go for a continuum fingerboard, but if you want something folky and traditional then consider an accordion.
While you should keep in mind the level of difficulty, I don’t think that should be your biggest concern, simply because learning a new instrument is always going to be challenging.
Of course, if you already know how to play the keyboard and you’re looking for a similar instrument then you should worry even less.
The keyboard is a well-known instrument, but the same can be said about most keyboard instruments like the synthesizer, the acoustic piano, and even the accordion.
But that’s not all, and we hope that thanks to this list you’ve got to discover even more keyboard-like instruments and that you might be willing to explore them and even learn how to play some of them!