EWI (musical instrument)

EWI (from electronic wind instrument, pronounced EE-wee) is a type of wind controller, an electronic musical instrument. It was invented by Nyle Steiner, who actually originally conceptualized the idea of a brass style analogue wind synthesizer instrument in the 1960s, later to become known as the EVI. Steiner then went on to develop both the concepts of the EVI (brass style fingering) and the EWI (closer to woodwind style fingering). These instrument designs first working models appearing in the 1970s.[1]


The early models consisted of two parts: a wind controller and a digitally-controlled analog synthesizer in a rackmount box (which also houses the instrument's electronics). The once Japanese company Akai took over the EVI and EWI instruments from Steiner and released several models (with his design help). Today Akai only make designs based around the EWI, having dropped the less commercially successful EVI. The current Akai models EWI5000, and EWI SOLO contain built-in sample based digital synthesizers and don't strictly require an external box. However Akai also offers the EWI USB, a five octave MIDI controller that connects directly to a Mac or Windows computer via USB and uses software for control.

EWIs, depending on the brand (Akai or Berglund; the latter referred to as NuRad), can use the Boehm fingering system used by most woodwind instruments, or other fingerings, like that of recorder or tin whistle. The instrument feels somewhat like a soprano saxophone or clarinet, except that its keys are activated by touch rather than being depressed (i.e. the player's fingers don't rest on the keys).

Nyle Steiner’s EWI fingering was quite novel because it does not operate like an acoustic instrument. Instead of closing or opening a hole, each EWI key acts as a pitch modifier that can change note values by plus or minus a half step or whole step. As a result, fingerings similar to that of a Boehm instrument, but many other alternate fingers are possible on EWI that are not possible on acoustic instruments. This gave Steiner’s invention incredible flexibility, yet remains familiar to woodwind players. [2]

Modern EWIs can be switched to flute, oboe, and saxophone fingering modes.[3] The EWI 5000 and EWI USB also have a special electronic valve instrument (EVI) fingering mode that allows brass players to play the EWI.[4] Like a straight soprano saxophone or clarinet, the EWI is straight with a slight inward bend a few inches below the mouthpiece, and it is held in front of the body with a neck strap.

The EWI has a silicone mouthpiece with sensors for air pressure (sending MIDI Breath Control by default) and bite pressure (which sends vibrato, more specifically a quick pitch up-down "blip" by default). Because the EWI keys do not move (instead, they sense when fingers are touching them by body capacitance). Owing to the touch capacitative switches and breath and bite sensors the instrument is very agile, however the sensitive nature of the touch capacitative switches does not appeal to all players; some of which may prefer electronic wind instruments with mechanical buttons on which they can rest their fingers, more similar to a saxophone. It also requires substantially less breath control than an acoustic instrument; breath sensitivity is one of the parameters that can be adjusted to the player's preference.

Unlike acoustic wind instruments, the fingering is identical in every octave. The current octave is determined by putting your left thumb between any two of the four to eight rollers (*depending on model), and also by rolling the thumb to the ends of the EWI USB roller track to achieve a fifth octave from just the four octave rollers on that model. Touching a plate next to the rollers sends portamento by default. EWI USB and EWI 5000 also have pitchbend up and down plates (EWI SOLO has pitchbend down plate only) all operated by the right thumb.

EWI models can control external synthesizers or other MIDI instruments, either simultaneously or instead of the synthesizers that come with the instrument. Earlier EWIs require the external box unit, while the discontinued (as of 2019) EWI4000s and current EWI5000 have built-in MIDI outputs. The EWI SOLO and EWI USB have only a USB connector. In 2021 a small volume (cottage industry) company Berglund also makes its own original variations on the EVI and EWI designs, approved and demonstrated by Nyle Steiner himself. Any EWI can play software synthesizers running on a computer.

Though often associated with jazz fusion due to the analog synthesizers that came with the early models, the EWI is a versatile instrument capable of handling multiple genres and styles. The air pressure sensor allows for a considerable dynamic range.

Notable playersEdit


  1. ^ "The Nyle Steiner Homepage". Patchman Music. Retrieved 2017-11-21.
  2. ^ "Flexible EWI fingerings". Bretpimental.com. Retrieved 2010-07-24.
  3. ^ "Akai EWI USB EWI-USB MIDI Wind Controller at Patchman Music". Patchmanmusic.com. Retrieved 2012-02-01.
  4. ^ "Akai EWI-4000s and EWI-USB EVI Fingering Mode". Patchmanmusic.com. 2010-05-20. Retrieved 2012-02-01.

External linksEdit