Keyboard vs. Synthesizer
Comparing the keyboard and the synthesizer is like telling the difference between a common car and a Toyota Vios. It is because keyboard is the more general term for all keyboard-like instruments. The most popular keyboard is perhaps the piano. Other electronic keyboard instruments also fall under this classification, like the organ and many others.
The synthesizer just happens to be one of those subclasses of keyboards, under the more specific category called electrophones. Thus, a keyboard can be regarded as a synthesizer and vice versa, but the latter can make or create its own sounds from nothing but pure mathematical equations or formulas handed over to digital chips; when compared to the keyboard samplers whose sounds are already recorded.
Most synthesizers nowadays are digital. They require an input of data that will act as a trigger to play a sound or note. This trigger is in the form of MIDI, which is composed of messages that tell the synthesizer to make the sounds you desire. This is contrary to keyboards that don’t require any triggers. The trigger usually comes from a keyboard-like instrument (either attached with or physically separated from the synthesizer equipment). In this regard, other triggers may also come from other musical instruments, such as the violin, as well as, some common wind instruments.
It is said that the most expensive synthesizers are capable of making more sounds. With these instruments, you can be flexible with whatever sound you’d like to create, as opposed to the preset sounds of stand-alone keyboards.
The confusion about the disparity between keyboards and synthesizers is greatly attributed to the new keyboards that are manufactured today, which merge as a synthesizer-like device. The keyboard in this ‘all-in-one’ device can play the synthesizer housed within the same box; hence, many have used both terms interchangeably.
In addition, some keyboards are not instruments in themselves in the sense that they cannot play any sound at all. They only act as the input (that’s why they are called keyboard controllers) to signal the synthesizer what to do.
Because most modern synthesizers and keyboards are now made in the same box by many manufacturers, confusion between the two set in. Nevertheless, they differ because:
1. Keyboard is a more general term that encompasses the synthesizer instrument.
2. A keyboard can act as a controller which tells the synthesizer what sound to play, whereas the synthesizer is just a device that generates or makes sound.
3. Synthesizers, either analog or digital, require triggers in the form of volts and MIDI; unlike keyboards that don’t require any form of trigger.