The keyboard section of an orchestra or concert band includes keyboard instruments. Keyboard instruments are not usually a standard member of a 2010-era orchestra or concert band, but they are included occasionally. In orchestras from the 1600s to the mid-1750s, a keyboard instrument such as the pipe organ or harpsichord normally played with an orchestra, with the performer improvising chords from a figured bass part. This practice, called basso continuo, was phased out after 1750 (although some Masses for choir and orchestra would occasionally still have a keyboard part in the late 1700s).
Common members of this section are:
- Piano: although infrequent in standard symphonic repertoire, many larger-scale works call for this instrument, and often have very important roles to play. These include Ottorino Respighi's Pines of Rome, Igor Stravinsky's Petrushka (almost scored as a piano concerto), Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story, most of Bohuslav Martinů's orchestral compositions, and many of Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich's symphonies. It is more frequently found in 20th- and 21st-century pieces, such as Aaron Copland's "Hoedown" and Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements.
- Pipe organ or harpsichord (in 17th- and early 18th-century works with basso continuo accompaniment; occasionally pipe organ is used in later music, such as Richard Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra, Gustav Mahler's Eighth Symphony, Camille Saint-Saëns's Organ Symphony (Symphony No. 3), Edward Elgar's Enigma Variations (final variation), and Gustav Holst's suite, The Planets.
- Celesta (from the late-19th century onward, in works like Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite)
- Keyboard glockenspiel (from the early 18th century onward, first by Handel in 1739 in his oratorio Saul)
- Ondes Martenot, an early electronic musical instrument invented in 1928 that creates eerie wavering notes. It is not a keyboard instrument but it is still usually placed in the keyboard section. Notable examples of its orchestral use include Olivier Messiaen's Turangalîla-Symphonie and Trois Petites Liturgies de la Présence Divine, as well as his opera Saint-François d'Assise, which requires three of the instruments.
- Synthesizer (called for in some 20th- and 21st-century works, like John Adams's Short Ride in a Fast Machine)
Less common members
- Electronic organs, such as the Hammond and Lowrey organs
- Fender Rhodes (e.g., Bill Evans' "Symbiosis" for Fender Rhodes and orchestra (1974))
- Accordion (e.g., Virgil Thomson's film music for Louisiana Story)
Although technically not a keyboard instrument, the cimbalom, a concert hammered dulcimer, is usually placed in the keyboard section, as in Franz Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6 and Béla Bartók's First Rhapsody for violin and orchestra. In some cases, one or more concert harps may be placed in the keyboard section.