Special key

Updated: 12/31/2020 by Computer Hope
Keyboard special keys

A special key or media key, or multimedia key is a keyboard key that performs a special function not included with the traditional 104-key keyboard. For example, the picture shows a Logitech keyboard. You can see that the first four buttons shown control the volume of the speakers and the computer's brightness. These four buttons, or keys, are considered special keys.


Special keys are found on keyboards often called multimedia keyboards.

Some keyboards may also have special keys that perform more than one function with the use of an FN key. With the second four buttons shown in the picture above, you can see that they are the function keys F9 to F12. However, they also have orange icons that perform the special functions of controlling music. To use special keys with a dual purpose like these keys, press Fn and the special key at the same time. For example, if you wanted to press F12, you would press F12. If you wanted to skip an audio track, you would press Fn and F12 at the same time.


Toggle keys, like the Print Screen and Scroll Lock, are not special keys because they are on all keyboards.

Because these keys are special, they require software and drivers that are included with the keyboard. The included software may also allow you to choose how these keys function on your keyboard. For example, if you have an e-mail special key, you may want the key to open Mozilla Thunderbird instead of Microsoft Outlook. If you have an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) computer, such as a Hewlett Packard or Dell, the software and drivers are available on the computer manufacturer's website. Otherwise, visit the keyboard manufacturer's website for software and drivers.

Other examples of special keys

Below is a list of special keys and the functions they are intended to perform. Some keyboards also allow you to program keys to perform other various actions.

  • Application - Open applications, such as the calculator, Microsoft Excel, or Microsoft Word.
  • Audio controls - Turn up and down the volume, mute, and open a media player and control it using play, pause, and skip tracks.
  • Folder control - Open folders, like the My Documents folder and My Pictures folder.
  • Internet controls - Open Internet browser, homepage, e-mail, favorites, or search.
  • Window control - Show open windows, cascade windows, or switch between windows.

How many special keys are on a keyboard?

There are no computer technology standards that dictate the number of special keys to be included on a keyboard. On average, most keyboards have between 12 and 20 special keys.

Keyboard shortcut, Keyboard terms