How To Make Your Digital Piano Sound Like A Grand Piano: A Introduction To Virtual Studio Technology

As you progress your piano playing, something that often happens to many players, both new and seasoned is you become accustomed to your instrument’s sound samples. Especially for those who practice with a teacher on an acoustic instrument and then transition back to a digital, it’s not uncommon for the sound to feel ‘emptier’ or less impactful than that of the real acoustic. 

This can often leave the player either not enjoying their instrument as much as possible or feeling demotivated to continue playing…both are bad news!

That’s why today we want to introduce you to a few pieces of revolutionary software that we have tried and tested to expand your digital piano’s capabilities and keep you motivated to continue your playing journey!

With a little know-how, a laptop and a decent set of speakers or headphones, you can transform your portable or digital piano into a fully fledged grand instrument!

Enter Virtual Studio Technology (VSTs)

VSTs are essentially new and incredibly well recorded samples for your piano that will help expand your piano’s range of playable sounds. Even if you’re not the most ‘techy’ of players,  the process of setting up a VST is relatively straightforward and all you need to do this is a simple laptop, access to the internet, a connector cable from a laptop or computer into your piano.

In the same way that your digital piano likely create its sound through a sample of pre-recorded sounds at different frequencies, velocities and speeds, so too do VSTs, the only difference is that a laptop computer will (often) have far more powerful processing and than your piano’s small onboard computer, meaning the computer is able to process much more complicated sounds and higher levels of polyphony.

Why you should try a VST

We believe that a high quality VST can help improve any player’s ability and enthusiasm for practising, even those just beginning their journey. The beauty of having a fantastic sounding piano is that it will leave you wanting to come back time and time again. Due to the high level of intricate detail in the sound samples, notes feel more authentic, and your playing feels more expressive.

It’s not uncommon for many manufacturers to reserve their most pristine sounding samples for their higher end ranges. VSTs give you access to this sound without the necessary price increase!

Requirements of Your Digital Piano

Thankfully, VSTs work on almost any modern digital piano and you’ll be able to use them on pretty much any digital instrument with a MIDI USB or bluetooth output.

In an ideal world and also to get the absolute most of your VST, you’ll want a piano with a weighted key or weighted hammer action as this will not only help the on board computer understand better the sound you’re intending but also enhance your playing overall.

How do I set up a VST?

All VSTs are set up slightly differently and each has their own way of installing. However in short, all you need to do is:

1) Buy your chosen VST (we’ve recommended a few below)

2) Connect your piano to a computer (via a MIDI input)

3) Set up a good pair of speakers or headphones as your piano ‘speakers’

4) Configure the VST to the desired sound you are looking for

5) Get playing and enjoying your new sound!

Most modern digital pianos come with some kind of USB MIDI or Bluetooth connection. This means all you need to do is get the right USB cable to connect to your PC, or follow Bluetooth pairing procedures and follow the instructions for your VST.

On older digital pianos, you might only find an old-school MIDI output, a port with 5 pins. In this case, you’ll need a MIDI to USB interface. Once that’s all sorted, you’re set to go!

Most modern MIDI connectors look like this

Something to note here however is to be aware of latency (the time difference between hitting a key and hearing the sound, you’ll want to adjust your VST’s setting for minimal latency, however wireless devices such as bluetooth headphones or bluetooth connectivity can sometimes struggle slightly here.

So, now your piano is set up with your VST, chances are it’s playing through your computer speaker system, or external speakers. After all, the sound is only as good as your playback system. We’d generally recommend a set of good studio monitors (here are three compact suggestions) or other speakers with a neutral frequency response; these will provide you with the most authentic reproduction of the sampled or modelled piano.

How much does a VST cost?

So after reading this, are you excited to improve your piano’s sound quality or welcome some new sounds into the arsenal? Great! So just how much do VSTs cost? Much like pianos, VSTs can cost as much or little as you’d like and everyone will have their own preferences and requirements when deciding which is right for them.

Generally speaking the softwares varies anywhere from £100 all the way up to £1000+. Of course each has their own functionality and sound sampling, so ultimately we’d recommend reviewing each one and selecting the one that most appeals to you, both visually and audibly. Here just a handful that we’d recommend looking into:

Garritan Abbey Road CFX Concert Grand

From: $199

The thing we love most about this soundscape is not only that it uses a Yamaha CFX Concert Grand piano, regarded as one of the most prestigious pianos in the world, but it also features 3 unique Microphone perspectives include Classic, Contemporary, and Player positioning, giving you a fully immersive sound experience.

Vienna Symphonic Library Vienna Imperial 

From: $305

The Vienna Imperial virtual grand piano by Vienna Symphonic Library is perhaps one of the most sensational pieces of sound engineering we’ve come across. Recorded on the immaculately pristine sounds of a Bösendorfer 290-755 and over 1,200 samples recorded per key, this software truly does cover all bases. Well-regarded by composers. Many world-class film composers use VSL within their own compositions.

With both easy to use and advanced interfaces, this package uses up to 100 dynamic layers. This is number of dynamic layers recorded for each note, from the softest pianissimo to the loudest fortissimo, giving you a natural smooth transition as you move between playing styles.

Pianoteq 7 by Modartt 

A firm favourite amidst our team, Pianoteq 7 is a sensationally personalisable product that immaculately captures the sounds of beloved pianos from the likes of Steinway, Bluethner, and C. Bechstein as well as several extras like historical instruments, so there really is something for everyone.

Pianoteq 7 can be used with any MIDI keyboard and does not require a lot of RAM so is generally suitable for most computers to handle. The software also uses all 127 layers (velocity range of MIDI), allowing for a very broad dynamic range and nuance to be found within your playing.

It’s also worth noting that Pianoteq has a fantastic demo available to experiment with that only disables a few of the black keys and briefly interrupts playback after 20 minutes. You should definitely give the demo a try as this will give you a rough idea on the capabilities possible by this software, especially if you’re a beginner.

Keen to jump into the world of VSTs? We’d love to hear how you get on! Share your sound on our social media channels and with our musical community using the #MillersMusic!

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