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How to create realistic pianos

Including a list of the top piano VSTs, both free and paid 🎹.



You're looking for a realistic piano sound but you don't have the space and money for a grand piano? That's not a problem! Because you can create realistic pianos right on your computer in your DAW! Actually, a lot of pianos in songs are created with VSTs. But how do you get that realistic, rich piano sound? Let's get started!


Table of Contents:


1. Choosing a VST


First of all, it is super helpful to have a good piano VST that can create a realistic sound.


I personally love the Grand Rhapsody Piano plugin from Waves. You can adjust a lot of settings and there are great presets. And most importantly, the plugin creates a natural sound.



Here is list of the best piano VST's available right now (2021)


Paid:


Sampled from the Fazioli F228 grand piano housed at London’s Metropolis Studios – the very piano played on Grammy-winning hits such as Adele’s “Hello.”


Keyscape is an extraordinary virtual instrument featuring the largest selection of collector keyboards in the world. From “holy grail” pianos to stunning keyboards you didn’t even know existed.


The Studio Grand features a classic Steinway Model D concert grand piano. The first choice of many pianists, Steinways are famous for their character unrivaled sound. The included ExploreMaps offer presets in a variety of styles ranging from open natural to processed strange.


The Garritan Abbey Road Studios CFX Concert Grand places the user on the bench before the Yamaha CFX, an incredible concert grand piano characterized by a wide palette of tonal colors and the ability to create the most subtle, expressive nuances. This beautiful instrument is matched with the stunning acoustics of Abbey Road Studios’ legendary Studio One and the finest collection of microphones in the world.


THE GRANDEUR brings a beloved concert grand to life in crisp, sonorous detail. Featuring a bright, silky top end and booming, full bass even in the quietest passages, THE GRANDEUR delivers a high-end sound that is perfectly at home in mainstream pop, jazz, and classical productions.



Free:


Recorded on a dry stage at Air Edel Studios, London, this intimate sound has become a favourite of musicians and composers across the globe. The soft tone is achieved by placing a thin strip of felt between the hammers and the strings.


Keyzone Classic is a sample based piano, with a lot of different presets, Piano from Keyzone 1, Yamaha Grand Piano, Steinway Grand Piano, Basic Electric Piano and Rhodes Piano.


Piano One comes from the Yamaha C7 concert grand, a true workhorse in the professional piano world, appearing on famous concert stages, in international competitions and in prestigious music events throughout the world.


Designed as a light-weight sketching piano, the VS Upright No. 1 is a clean sampling of an upright piano, the standard of homes, small clubs and studios around the world. With a broad dynamic range and a bright, clear tone, the upright can still display a soft side when needed.



2. Creating the MIDI



Don't worry, if you're not good at playing the piano or you don't even have a MIDI keyboard, you can just draw the notes into the piano roll.


Start with a basic chord progression.

If you want, create a rhythm to make the progression more interesting.


After you've created some chords, start by adding some notes above to create a melody.


That's the creative process, after some time you get into it fast and can write great chord progressions in the piano roll!



3. Setting the velocity



You may have seen the velocity faders in your DAW.


Velocity is the mechanism that allows the keys to respond to the force or speed with which they're pressed. In other words: If you play on a real piano, it's highly unlikely that you press all the keys with exactly the same strength. To create a more realistic effect, each note should have a slightly different velocity.


A higher velocity tends to sound more aggressive and a lower velocity sounds calmer and more pleasing.


It depends on your song but I like to have a lower velocity in a verse section for example to create a more calm and chill vibe.


In FL Studio you can randomize the velocity which can be useful if you don't want to edit every single note.


I like to give the higher notes a higher velocity and the lower notes a lower velocity. For me, that just sounds more natural.


And overall, I like to bring down the velocity of all notes slightly (just a bit) . I personally feel like a lower velocity feels more realistic.


Here is what that could look like:




4. Timing & strum


Just as with the velocity that we discussed above, it's also super unlikely that you press each note at exactly the same time.

If you just draw in the notes they are all perfectly quantized most of the time.


So, we try to emulate that real, non perfect sound.


In FL Studio you can do this by selecting the notes and using the strum function. This will make the start of each note a bit different. Don't go too crazy, use it just a tiny bit.




5. Note Length


The note length is another important thing to discuss.

You should often sustain all your notes until the next note comes. This emulates the piano pedals. The sustain should only stop when another note is played to create this long-lasting note sound. This can be different per style, for example in jazz you don't want to have that sustain.




6. Effects


If your piano sounds too dry, you can add some reverb.

Make sure you don't drown your pianos in reverb too much, otherwise the piano will lose its body.

I also like to add OTT to it to add a final touch of definition and depth.



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