How being musically genre-fluid affected my confidence 🎹🎤

Being genre-fluid and challenging conventions about musical manners can only be a good thing but it can be difficult to find the confidence to play music in your own authentic voice, especially across more than one genre. We live in a mimetic society and the style gatekeepers guard norms ferociously. But for music to truly entertain, move and inspire listeners, artists must find the courage to be 100% expressively honest.

Resisting the urge to change presets too much 🎹

The presets in Pianoteq and Waves that I use are designed by highly skilled people. So I resist the temptation to fiddle too much with them as they work very well out of the box. A few subtle adjustments are often all that is needed to find just the sound you’re after.

Volume settings like a concert grand using Pianoteq 🎹

To recreate a realistic-sounding piano recording using Pianoteq, the experience must be very much the same. A concert grand piano is loud. To generate the same experience of playing one, we need to set the volume higher than normal listening.

How I make a classical recording using Pianoteq 🎹

To make a very plausible classical piano recording, I take the NY Steinway D Classical Recording but play it with the stereo width set to default (0), the mics in the player position and the reverb mix set to default (0). To make the recording, I revert back to the original preset and add subtle mastering dynamics using Waves C6 and L1.

2 velocity curves for Pianoteq’s Steinway B Gentle 🎹

Different velocity curves can bring out different playing characteristics. This video features the same basic preset with drastically different velocity curves and a few other changes to generate very different playing experiences.

Different pianos inspire different kinds of playing

Different pianos inspire different kinds of playing

Which is the best piano in Pianoteq?

In our rather competitive culture, I’ve noticed how pianos often get compared to each other, with a view to deciding which one comes out top. People even like to argue about which one is best rather than simply acknowledging that a certain instrument may just be their personal favourite. Perhaps the human mind is geared this way innately, to look for our favourite things and defend them against other people’s. But it might be a rather impoverished way of thinking, that fails to celebrate diversity.

It’s all about what you get used to

As a child, we had a lovely old Grotrian grand piano, with a big, bright tone, a light action and a slightly disconcerting if exciting tendency to sway when you started playing big chords. I became so attached to this very unique instrument. It became my standard and other pianos felt odd in comparison. They had dull, introverted tones with heavy actions that needed too much force to extract brilliance. But of course, that was not true except in comparison to my personal “normal” of the Grotrian piano which I played on every day.

My favourite piano model in Pianoteq

I can’t deny that I have most fun playing the New York Steinway in Pianoteq. So I could say that it’s my favourite. This may well be because of underlying condition: firstly, the model D Steinway is an industry standard that you will hear on many, if not most classical piano recordings; secondly, at my music college, we had lots of Steinway pianos that I practised on all the time, so they became my normal.

Letting the piano control me a little

One of the things I developed as a gigging classical pianist, was the ability to adapt to different pianos. My way of doing this was to improvise on the instrument freely to discover its special qualities. This way, I would stop fighting with it, often in a futile attempt to make it “speak” like a Steinway and would allow it to speak to me. So it became a two-way conversation. And this interaction would generate magic, as I adjusted my playing to naturally bring out particular sonorities, feelings, colours and moods. I let myself fall in love with the piano with all its idiosyncrasies, quirks, flaws and of course strengths.

Bringing out the qualities of each piano and each preset in Pianoteq

I’ve been reflecting on this lately and considering how I could challenge my tendency to always choose the Model D Steinway for my practice. I have decided to improvise and practise on different instruments to bring out their various unique musical essences which will inform my playing and help to keep me inspired. I will release videos exploring individual pianos and presets and the kind of music they bring out of me as I improvise using them. I intend also to share some of the fruits of this process by creating packs of midi stems that people can purchase and download. I may even start developing some presets of my own. The possibilities are intriguing…

NI’s Alicia’s Keys vs Pianoteq’s YC5 🎹

Using Pianoteq’s YC5 and Native Instrument’s Alicia’s Keys I demonstrate how there are pros and cons to physically modelled pianos and sampled pianos, depending on how you choose to use them.