What are electronic wind instruments?

Electronic wind instruments (EWI, pronounced EE-wee) are digital wind instruments that offer the sounds of many different wind instruments in one dynamic controller. Also known as wind synthesizers, they were conceptualized and invented in the 1960’s and 70’s.

Early EWI models had two parts – the wind controller and a separate box that housed the instrument’s electronics. Today’s modern EWIs have built-in digital synthesizers and don’t require the external box, making them extremely portable. Modern models can be hooked up to devices like laptops and tablets, have headphone jacks and some can even be connected to an app on your smart phone.

EWIs offer a player the sounds of many different instruments, including traditional orchestral ones (brass, woodwind, strings) and non-traditional sounds (progressive synths, basses, leads). Though electronic wind instruments are often associated with musical styles like jazz or rock fusion because of the analog synthesizers from the early models, EWIs are incredibly versatile instruments that allow for a considerable dynamic range (some have up to 8 octaves), making them suitable for all styles of playing.  

Fingering

Most EWIs use the Boehm fingering system, which any woodwind player will be familiar with. They can also be played with a simple fingering system similar to the recorder. To the player, the instrument might feel like holding a soprano saxophone or clarinet, however, its keys are activated by touch rather than being depressed. A big difference between EWIs and acoustic wind instruments is that the fingering is identical in every octave.

Mouthpiece

Digital wind instruments have a silicone mouthpiece with sensors for air pressure and bite pressure. One of the many benefits of these instruments is that they require considerably less breath control than acoustic wind instruments.

Shape

Like a straight soprano saxophone or clarinet, EWIs are generally light-weight, straight instruments with a slight inward bend. They are held in front of the body with a neck strap.

Who plays electronic wind instruments?

Anyone can play EWIs! Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned professional, electronic instruments are flexible and fun. Plus, you don’t need to be tech savvy to use an electronic wind instrument. Well-known artists like Michael Becker, Bob Mintzer, Jeff Kashiwa, Dave Koz and Steve Tavaglione have played EWIs.

No matter your level, some good advice is to treat an EWI and an acoustic instrument as completely separate things. EWI manufacturers have done their best to model the instruments closely after the acoustic versions (with features like breath control and familiar fingering). But, there are notable differences in the experience of playing the two instruments and the character of the sound they produce. So, if you’re serious about playing an electronic instrument, you should invest equal time in playing and practicing the EWI and the acoustic instrument.

Popular EWI Brands

Since EWIs have been around since the 1970’s, there have been many models available over the years, but there are two main manufacturers these days: Roland and Akai. These two brands make a variety of electronic wind instruments at multiple price points, making EWIs accessible to pretty much any player who wants to give one a try.

Endless possibilities

All modern EWIs, including the new Roland Aerophone GO, give you the flexibility and portability to play almost anywhere. And since they offer the sounds of many different instruments in one light-weight device, your creativity will know no bounds! Beginners, professionals, hobbyists, school programs – everyone can benefit from access to electronic wind instruments.

If you have more questions about EWIs, contact our specialists at 800.348.5003 - they can help you pick the best model for you. You can also read more about electronic options for woodwind players or continue learning about using technology to make music. We encourage you to try out an EWI and see how exciting it can be to hear so many sounds in one compact instrument.