Sonority - electronic instruments

Electronic instruments were developed during the 20th century. They are an essential part of modern popular music.

Electric guitar and bass guitar

An electric guitar uses a pickup to convert the vibration of the strings into electrical signals. These signals are amplified when an instrument is connected to an amplifier. The electric guitar is common in rock music and can also be found in other types of popular music. Bass guitars have lower notes than regular electric guitars.

Guitar techniques

Electric guitarists and bassists are able to vary the sound by using a variety of guitar playing techniques.


Bottleneck is a technique of playing guitar by sliding a tube made of metal or glass along the guitar strings to alter the pitch. This technique is often found in bluegrass music.


Distortion happens when an amplified sound is changed to create a fuzzy or growling tone on a guitar. This is usually done using a pedal. Distortion is also called overdrive and is common in heavy metal and rock music.


There are two kinds of harmonic on the guitar:

Natural harmonic

A natural harmonic is a musical note produced by reducing or amplifying vibrations of overtones on a guitar string. A natural harmonic is usually played by lightly placing a finger on a string halfway or a quarter of the way along its length. When the string is picked it vibrates at a higher frequency than the fundamental tone. This produces a higher pitched overtone.

Pinch harmonic

A pinch harmonic is produced when the player's thumb or index finger slightly catches the string at a point near the pickups after it is picked. This cancels the fundamental tone of the string, but does not cancel its overtones. The result is a high pitch squeal.

Pitch bend

When a guitarist bends pitch they push a string across or over the fingerboard with the left hand. The string gets tighter and the pitch goes up. This is found in a number of different popular music styles.

Pull offs

This technique is used by guitarists to create a more legato sound. The guitarist picks one note on the string and then quickly uses a finger on their left hand to pull off the next note.

Palm mute

Palm mute is when a player places the side of the picking hand below the little finger across the strings to be plucked, very close to the bridge. The strings are then plucked while they are dampened. This produces a muted sound. Palm mute is often indicated with “PM” and then a line.


A synthesiser is an electronic musical instrument. It is typically operated through a keyboard, and produces a wide variety of sounds by generating and combining signals of different frequencies. The band Kraftwerk popularised electronic music by using synthesisers, drum machines and vocoders.

Drum machine

A drum machine is a synthesiser designed to reproduce the sounds of a drum kit. It was often used in disco music and continues to be used in club dance music.


The vocoder is a machine that synthesises the human voice. Effects and transformations can be added afterwards.


A turntable is a circular revolving plate on which records are placed. They are used by DJs and also known as decks.


Computers are a very important part of modern music technology, particularly for sampling.