The electronic keyboard is by far the most common type of MIDI performance instrument. Because of its easy adaptability and early adoption, the keyboard became the standard performance controller for synthesizers and later, MIDI. A performance controller—or simply controller—is the mechanical interface or device we use and interact with to perform music. While the keyboard is a versatile controller device, guitar, percussion, and wind controller instruments are often better suited for producing and expressively controlling many types of sounds—especially those related to their family of instruments.
These types of instruments are often referred to as MIDI controller instruments because they typically generate MIDI information when played. Depending on the type of instrument and its design, the controller may have internal sound producing capabilities, or require an external sound module. Although the physical design characteristics of a given controller may better suited to the production and expressive control of certain types of sounds, it is by no means limited to one family of instrumental sounds—as in most electronic instruments, the potential is virtually unlimited. For example, while percussion type-controller instruments may be best suited for playing percussion sounds, they can be used to trigger or play other sounds, such as bass or a variety of sound effects.
Roland makes a variety of percussion performance controllers including V-Drums, multi-pad percussion controllers, and the HandSonic line. Designed for performance like a conventional drum set, V-Drums come in a variety of sizes and configurations. An external sound module produces the sound—the various drum and cymbal pads send the performance data to the sound module. Multipad percussion controllers integrate six to eight pads with hundreds of internally produced sounds all in one portable instrument. The HandSonic, the world’s first electronic hand percussion controller, is a unique multi-part 10-inch pad instrument that is designed to be played like a hand drum rather than using sticks or mallets.
Guitar and bass players can also get in on the MIDI and synthesizer action. Roland makes a divided pickup that mounts onto any standard electric guitar or bass and connects to a specially designed MIDI interface (the GI-20). These allow the guitarist or bassist to trigger and play any MIDI synthesizer module. Foot pedal controllable synthesizers, specifically made for guitars, are also available.
For those who prefer a keyboard instrument, but desire the performance freedom and stage presence normally reserved for guitar players, there is the strap-on shoulder MIDI keyboard controller. Connect a MIDI cable from the keyboard to a sound module, strap on the lightweight keyboard, and you are free to move around the stage while performing— just like a guitar player.
In addition to the variety of MIDI controller instruments made by Roland, numerous other types of electronic performance controllers are available from other manufacturers including mallet percussion, violin, wind, and Theremin instruments. Although electronic keyboard instruments may still play a predominant role, the world of MIDI and electronic instrument performance is available to a wide range of instrumentalists.