Electronic instruments are a fun way to create musical tracks. There are many different types of electronic instruments on the market. Many of these are often also referred to as “musical toys” due to their small size and unique designs. They usually operate on batteries and have a touch interface of some sort that makes them very easy to pick up and play.

StylophoneThe Stylophone was one of the earliest pocket sized synthesizers. It was invented in 1967 by Brian Jarvis, a British sound engineer who got the idea from an electronic piano that he had modified for his niece. The company that he worked for was named Dübreq. This is the same company that still produces the Stylophone.

The Stylophone is a pocket sized electronic organ with a design that seems a bit ahead of its time. It has a small rectangular metal surface for a keyboard that is made up of separate contacts. Each of these contacts corresponds with a separate note in the musical scale. The Stylophone is played by touching the surface of the metal plate in different areas with a stylus that is connected to the instrument by a wire. When the stylus makes contact with one of the contacts it completes a circuit. Depending on where the stylus makes contact, different notes are produced.

The Stylophone became quite popular in Britain in the late 1960's. David Bowie even used the instrument in his 1969 hit “Space Oddity”. This added to the popularity of the diminutive electronic synth. It was sold primarily as a children's toy in Britain for several years. Eventually the general public lost interest in the Stylophone. Dübreq ceased production of the instrument in 1975. It was virtually forgotten until recently when it was resurrected. 

The resurgence in the popularity of this tiny instrument is no doubt due in part to the overall growing practice of producing music with various electronic instruments and musical toys. One of the popular practices of this growing musical movement is called circuit bending. This involves modifying toys such as the ever popular Speak and Spell to produce various electronic sounds that can be incorporated into musical tracks. Many electronic musicians collect vintage electronic and musical toys so that they can modify their circuits in this way to create new and unique sounds.

Vintage Stylophones from the 1960's and 1970's have also become collector's items. There were two different models of the instrument the other being the much rarer larger 350S with more notes and features. The re-released version of the Stylophone is pretty much unchanged from its original design. There is also a new electronic percussion version of the Stylophone called the Stylophone Beatbox that has a round interface with more features including a useful loop function.

Along with the rebirth of the Stylophone, there have been many other popular electronic instruments created in recent years. One of these is the Tenori-On. It was designed by the famous Japanese multimedia artist Toshio Iwai, who was also the creator of the Nintendo DS musical game Electroplankton. The Tenori-On is a midi synthesizer that consists of a square aluminum frame with a grid LED lights in the middle. The synth is played by touching the led lights to create different patterns.

The Tenori-On is produced by Yamaha. It has many different built in instrument sounds and effects. It can be used to create looping melodies and tracks. There are two different versions of the instrument. The original has a silver aluminum casing and can operate on batteries. The second version has orange LEDs and a white plastic frame. It can only be powered by its included AC adapter.

The Nintendo DS game Electroplankton has also been used to create musical tracks. Even though the scope of the sound created by the game is somewhat limited, it is still possible to create some beautiful sounding tracks by recording and multi-tracking the various modes. Each one can be adequately manipulated within the game to produce a wide variety of unique melodies and combinations of sounds.

Korg is another company that has produced quite a few different series of intriguing electronic instruments. One of these is the Monotron. The Korg Monotron is a pocket sized analogue ribbon synthesizer that looks very similar to the Stylophone. The similarities end with looks though. It is a bit smaller than the Stylophone and it is played by running a finger over a ribbon controller. The musician can use their finger to create effects like vibrato and glide. It also features the ability to create an impressively large array of retro synthesizer sounds thanks to its three way switch and five control knobs.

Another interesting and useful feature of the Korg Monotron is the MS-20 filter input. This simple auxiliary audio input jack can allow the user to utilize the Monotron as a sort of synthesized effects filter. The cool part is that this can work with practically anything that you care to plug into it. This includes electric guitars. It makes for an amazing sounds effects filter for electric guitars. You can also plug in a cheap toy keyboard and use it to make some astonishingly rich sounds.

To the unimaginative and uncreative, the minimalist, analogue design of the Monotron could be a bit boring and uninspiring. The great thing about the simplistic design and execution of this pocket synth is in the fact that, just like any other musical instrument, it takes a bit of practice, effort, and musical talent to produce any real music with it. That is the beauty of it. Even though it make not appear to be at first glance, the Monotron is indeed a real musical instrument that can be mastered with a bit of time and patience.

Electronic instruments have been around for decades and they are continuing to evolve over time. There have been many exciting innovations in recent years. Things like ribbon controllers and touch screens, along with the fact that a massive sounding synth can now easily fit into your pocket. Based on the current trends it is easy to believe that the best is yet to come.