synthesizer, digital

Title: Village Life—Kanatente; Herbie Hancock, synthesizer, and Foday Musa Suso, kora. Label: Columbia. Format: LP. Catalogue#: FC 39870. Track: B1.

Title: Earl Howard: Granular Modality—Strasser 60 (2009); Earl Howard, Kurzweil K2600 synthesizer. Label: New World Records. Format: CD. Catalogue#: 80728-2. Track: 4.

Title: Peter Thoegersen: Three Pieces in Polytempic Polymicrotonality—Milko (2013-16); Peter Thoegersen, synthesizer. Label: New World Records. Format: CD. Catalogue#: 80812-2. Track: 1.

Contextual Associations

The digital synthesizer is a keyboard-controlled electrophone that produces sounds through digital synthesis. The instrument described here was designed and manufactured in Japan, which, along with the United States, has been, and currently is, a primary locale for the production of digital synthesizers for the world market. Synthesizers, whether digital or analogue, have become a truly global instrument of music performance, composition, and studio production. They are basic fixtures in professional recording studios around the world, and as well in university music departments where they are used for keyboard labs, in classrooms, and as compositional tools. Performers in an endless variety of musical genres around the world have integrated synthesizers into their creative work, whether to introduce never-before-heard sounds or to imitate (and often replace) acoustic instruments in live performances. Digital synthesizers such as the Yamaha MOXF8 provide amateur and professional performers, music producers, and composers with a seemingly limitless number of synthesized sounds that can be brought into relation with one another in real-time live performance or sequentially built-up in the studio to produce recorded works for later playback. These instruments have arguably become the most versatile instruments of our time, yet the instruments themselves produce no audible sound—they produce audio signals that can be heard only through external devices to which they are connected (headphones and speakers, which are not integral to the instruments themselves; see gallery #1).


The Yamaha MOXF8 is an electronic musical studio with an integral, conventional looking 88-key keyboard as its primary controller. For a detailed summary of its electronic components, the remarkable breadth of options they present to the performer/composer, and the access to these options through its numerous button, knob, and wheel controls (see detail #2-5), we refer you to the Electronic Music Archive page on this instrument. The instrument must be plugged into an electrical source in order to operate (which is why the instrument’s AC adapter appears in gallery #1). All ports used to connect the synthesizer to external devices are located on the back-side of the instrument (detail #6); these include USB ports to connect to computers, MIDI ports to interface with other digital devices, ports for a foot pedal controller (seen in detail #1), outputs for connecting to speakers, studio mixers, and headphones, and microphone inputs. Ultimately, for the magic of sound synthesis produced with the synthesizer to be heard, an external speaker or headphones (which is basically a pair of miniature speakers) must be employed (which is why both appear in gallery #1). 

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The performer, either sitting or standing, is located on the keyboard side of the instrument (detail #1) from where s/he has access to keyboard and other optional controllers (a foot pedal is seen in this image) and to other devices to which the synthesizer is linked (a laptop computer is also seen in this image). If being utilized in a conventional musical performance setting, the performer will select or design one or more timbres (these can be simulacre of acoustic instruments, or synthesized sounds) as presets, and then use the keyboard controller to perform the musical material (listen to audio #1, in which the performer is playing the synthesizer as though it were a piano but the sound of the instrument is clearly synthesized). The instrument can also be used to perform live less conventional music than heard in audio #1. In audio #2, the composer/performer has ahead of time synthesized a variety of sounds on the synthesizer and other devices to which it is linked, and draws upon them in real time, with the aid of the keyboard and other controllers, to create a live performance of electronic music. Finally, a synthesizer such as the Yamaha MOXF8 can be used as an electronic music studio to assemble a work of music, in the form of a digital file, that needs no live performers—indeed, some composers have taken full advantage of the synthesizer’s potentials to create music that simply cannot be performed by humans (audio #3)—and that are listened to as recordings through speakers or earphones. 


The Yamaha MOXF8 digital music production synthesizer was introduced in 2013. The history of digital audio workstations, of which the MOXF8 is a part, goes back to the 1990s (when home computers became powerful enough to run audio synthesis software and could be interfaced with digital synthesizers), and that of commercially-available digital synthesizers to the mid-1970s. Digital sound synthesis had its origins at the Bell Laboratories in the 1950s and has evolved rapidly ever since, often benefitting from developments in the area of computer technology and design such as the microprocessor, which is now situated at the heart of any digital synthesizer.

Bibliographic Citations

Campbell, Murray, Clive Greated, and Arnold Meyers. 2004. Musical Instruments: History, Technology, and Performance of Instruments of Western Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Davies, Hugh. 2000. “Electronic Instruments: Classifications and Mechanisms,” in Hans-Joachim Braun, ed., Music and Technology in the Twentieth Century. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. 43-58.

________. 2014. “Electronic instruments.” GDMI v.2: 151-193.

Devine, Kyle. 2014. “Synthesizer.” Grove Music Online, accessed January 15, 2020:

Roberts, David, Hugh Davies, Kyle Devine, and Ann Beetem Acker. 2014. “Synthesizer.” GDMI v.4: 670-673.  

“Yamaha MOXF8.” Page on Encyclotronic Electronic Music Archive website, accessed 12/4.19:


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: East Asia

Nation: Japan

Formation: cosmopolitan

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

541-8 electrophone--digital synthesizers and other electronic equipment that use quantized sequences of pulses to digitally design and process electronic sound signals; with keyboard

Design and Playing Features

Category: electrophone

Type of electrophone: digital electronic

Type of oscillator: digital electronic circuit

Type of pickup: none

Number of voices: partially polyphonic

Primary pitch controller: keyboard

MIDI compatible: yes

Signal processing devices: digital


52 in. length 16 in. wide 6.6 in. height

Primary Materials






Entry Author

Roger Vetter