Updated: Dec 27, 2021
Pianos can be played in a multitude of ways; plucking the strings, sliding a magnet, using the hair from a bowed instrument to achieve overtones that would never be created by only using the keys. In my studio, like most bedroom producers, is only a keyboard and synthesizer and I've had no way to record these different ways of playing until I found Piano Colors by Native Instruments. Piano colors is a VST that runs in the free version of Kontakt. The virtual instrument costs $200 but is well worth the investment for a piano player who lacks a bed of experimental piano sounds and everything is always half off around Black Friday. There are 4 Layers in which to add different sounds and 240 presets to find inspiration in.
Pianos are partly percussive instruments so it was very easy to use only the VST to create a demo track that doesn't feel like its missing a beat because all the most important rhythms are happening in the presets. The beginning of the demo track sounds like a timpani drum with the preset 'Dark Flageolet'. The arpeggiator from the preset 'Slow Progression' at 1:23 has a catchy rhythm that is quite slow as the pattern in the arpeggiator is 3 long notes followed by two short ones so the big bass note was nice and long while the higher twinkly notes are playing a faster melody. A couple samples have a solo at :35 in the demo track; The 'harpsichord' preset sounds similar to a hammer dulcimer but is layered with the preset 'Bright Harp' which has a mellow sound and passes for a basic piano sound. Sometimes I use Grand Rhapsody from waves which has traditional piano sounds for an even more basic piano recording. Without Piano Colors it can be very difficult to blend a solid piano sound like waves into a sound scape of synthesizers. Piano Colors has multiple layers in which you can create an entire atmosphere that will fill this void.
The noises layer can be used to add a percussive element to the sound and an instance of pedal. I used the preset Rattle & Buzz in the demo which has shaker sounds in the noise layer. The next layer holds two samples and for each is a Tonal shift knob that brightens the sound as you pull the knob to the right and the Resonance knob can be used to add or remove a ringing tail. The Overtone knob adds more transients to the sound to fill more space in the atmosphere. For deep resonant bass notes you'll find a low knob and a sub nob that brings out the low end of the keyboard. This layer is where you can add a range of pad, piano, keyboard, and SFX sounds. The third layer is the particle layer that adds a twinkle to an otherwise smooth sound that can sync with the tempo, this is the layer that has rattling or buzzing string sounds in the preset Rattle & Buzz.
It's also very easy to create pads and atmospheres with piano colors and these types of sounds don't demand as many layers. I used the preset 'Piano Waves' as one of the main pads in the demo. Even though there is no percussive element in this preset it still has a lot of movement which saved some time in the mixing stage. Piano Colors has filled a big gap in my library of sounds and now it doesn't take any time at all to add an experimental element to an otherwise basic piano recording.
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