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  • Student495321
    Posts: 5
    Joined: May 22nd, 2022
    Need GarageBand help improving my digital piano recording
    My home keyboard is a Kawai CA 13 digital piano, and to record it I connect it to my Mac computer through the headphone jack on the piano. I use an inexpensive Behringer interface and record using GarageBand. I am fairly new to trying to record using GarageBand. I only have access to my digital piano for recording my piano efforts, but I'm not happy with the recording results. I realize it's just a digital piano, but even so I feel like if I were an expert on GarageBand, I'd be able to improve the sound results. I'm wondering if I should be getting a MIDI interface and trying to use "virtual piano" samples instead. With the Kawai CA 13, I can either record through the headphone jack or through a MIDI connection. I haven't tried MIDI yet. If you have a chance, I'd be grateful if you could listen to some of my recent recordings on my YouTube channel--they were made on my Kawai digital piano, and you can hear why I'm not happy with the recorded sound. Here's a link to my channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQkLPcd4uf2shG5bE1peQQg Thank you very much in advance for anything you can suggest on getting a better recorded sound. I know so little about it that there are probably many things I just don't know about that might help.
    Reply
  • Joe A
    Posts: 1834
    Joined: Oct 1st, 2013
    Re: Need GarageBand help improving my digital piano recording
    Hi - The basic sound of the piano seems fine to me -- it's not the richest-sounding virtual piano, and it doesn't have the characteristic growl of a Steinway or the bright edge of a Yamaha, but it seems ok. You could try adding a little reverb or small room ambience, for more of a "roomy" sound, if that's what you'd prefer. You could also experiment with EQ to see if that helps, maybe brightening it up [a broad, slight boost in the upper midrange], for a piano sound that's more like what you hear on pop records [rather than the more mellow basic classic piano sound], if that's what you're going for..? But if you just don't care for the particular sound of that Kawai piano then you may want to try the Steinway piano that comes with GarageBand -- as you said you'd have to use the MIDI connection [instead of the audio [headphone] output], create a Software Instrument track [instead of an Audio track], and select Piano > Steinway Grand Piano in the Library panel. You still might want to tweak the EQ and reverb/ambience, but there'll be controls right there for that in GB's Software Instruments, in the Smart Controls panel at the bottom [shortcut B], which should make that easier to do.. I guess your Behringer interface doesn't also include MIDI connections -- if you want to check out the sound of the GB Steinway before you invest in a MIDI interface you could open the 'Musical Typing' window [shortcut Command-K], which lets you play notes from the computer QWERTY keyboard, just to test out the sound [no dynamics of course, but you might be able to get a sense of whether you might prefer that piano]. If you do decide you want a different virtual piano sound, or a wider rage of choices, then naturally there are other 3rd-party piano instrument plug-ins available [like Modartt Pianoteq, which has a demo version], but at least you can start by checking out the GB piano, and then proceed from there..
    Reply
  • Student495321
    Posts: 5
    Joined: May 22nd, 2022
    Re: Need GarageBand help improving my digital piano recording
    Thank you, Joe! It's really kind of you to share your knowledge with me--I really appreciate it! I started out studying classical piano, and my ideal of the perfect piano would be a top drawer Steinway concert grand, the piano sound that you hear in most classical piano recordings. Though some Yamaha concert grands can be great pianos as well. But if I were rich, a top quality Hamburg Steinway concert grand would probably be my one-piano-for-all-music choice. I like to play ragtime and also lots of jazz renderings of songs from "the great American songbook." I once played a Shigeru Kawai grand piano in a Kawai piano shop, and it was a gorgeous piano--it was so hard to leave that piano! And it even had a better action than most Kawai pianos I've tried--which tend to have a heavy touch. I tried a Bosendorfer once in a piano shop in Chicago many years ago, and although I loved the midrange and bass, I found the treble range was a bit weak. I actually preferred the Yamaha concert grand that was right next to it for a more satisfying overall sound. But since I'm not likely to become rich, (sigh) I guess I'll be trying to do the best I can with my Kawai digital piano. I will try experimenting with the reverb as you suggested. Though when I tried it before it seemed to produce a fake electronic sort of sound that didn't sound realistic. My basic problem is that I feel the recorded sound I'm getting sounds overly electronic instead of like a real piano. I hate that, but I realize I'm recording a digital piano, so maybe there's not much I can do. But I have yet to try using MIDI, and I think I need to give that a go. I've read various comments online that "bash" the GarageBand piano sounds, but earlier I did test the GB Steinway piano sound, and I liked it a lot more than the sound I get from recording the Kawai digital piano! For me, at least, that sound would be a big improvement over what I've been getting. My (cheap--what I could afford!) Behringer interface doesn't have MIDI connections, so I'd need to get a MIDI interface cable to hook up to my Mac. Speaking of 3rd-party piano plug-ins, my older brother uses Pianoteq and loves it. The most realistic and satisfying MIDI piano sound I've heard so far is the setup used by Corte Swearingen in his American Piano Music videos. I'll quote his description of his setup here: THE PIANO The piano you hear in my video recordings is the legendary 1951 New York Steinway D Concert Grand that was hand-picked by Steinway & Sons for artist promotion and concert hall duties. This massive 9-ft instrument was signed by Glenn Gould, Rudolf Serkin, and other legendary pianists and has an exceedingly pure tone, clarity, and extraordinary dynamic range. It's been described by numerous concert artists as among the finest they've played. ​ THE TECHNOLOGY So how am I able to play and record on this 1951 Steinway grand? I'm playing the piano virtually - through the use of sampled technology. This Steinway piano was meticulously sampled by Synthogy and recorded in the Françoys-Bernier Concert Hall at Le Domaine Forget in the Charlevoix region of Quebec. Through the use of a virtual piano keyboard controller (The Kawai MP11SE), I am able to bring you performances of these American composers as voiced by this iconic Steinway. I hope you enjoy the sounds of these incredible American composers as played on this amazing American instrument! So I might ultimately try to copy his setup--get that Synthogy sampled Steinway software. I presume I wouldn't have to have the Kawai MP11SE controller in order to get the same sound. Or would I? I don't have the budget for buying a new digital keyboard. Anyway, I'm curious to know what you think of the sound he gets! Thanks again so much for taking the time to share your suggestions with me. My basic problem is just that I'd rather be practicing the piano than messing around with the technology of recording--but I guess there's no way around it. I have one very basic question for you about GarageBand: Should I use compression and/or the equalizer at all? I read somewhere that you shouldn't use the compressor when recording digital piano. For the last half dozen or so of my recording efforts, I turned off both the compressor and the equalizer. I don't even know--in my ignorance--if that's a bad or a good thing. Anyway, thanks again very much for your tips!
    Reply
  • Joe A
    Posts: 1834
    Joined: Oct 1st, 2013
    Re: Need GarageBand help improving my digital piano recording
    Neither compression or EQ is required for a good piano sound -- usually they're employed when a piano is mixed in a larger arrangement, to help carve out room for all the instruments in the stereo soundfield. If the sound of the piano itself is good -- if it's well-sampled [as with many of the higher-end virtual pianos] or well-modeled [as with the Modartt] -- then it may be fine without needing to resort to a lot of processing. One important consideration is always the dynamic response of the keyboard. When using your Kawai piano with its built-in piano sound, then the physical response of the keys is already matched to that sound, but if you use that keyboard [or any MIDI keyboard] with a virtual piano sound from a different company, then you may want to tweak the dynamic response [how it responds to the dynamics of your playing] so you can perform comfortably and get the full range of musical dynamics the virtual instrument is capable of. Even the GB Steinway seems to have a dynamic response slider [Keyboard Sensitivity], and most of the better virtual pianos may have dynamic response settings as well -- it's worth spending a little time to match the piano's dynamic response to the touch of the keyboard you're using, to be able to get the most musical performances..
    Reply
  • Student495321
    Posts: 5
    Joined: May 22nd, 2022
    Re: Need GarageBand help improving my digital piano recording
    Thanks again for your time and thoughtful response! I wasn't aware that compression and EQ aren't necessarily needed for a good piano sound. I'll keep that in mind. I wasn't aware that the dynamic response of the keys might not automatically be a good match with a MIDI virtual piano. I'll definitely keep that in mind when I give MIDI a go. By the way, not that I could afford anything expensive at this time, but just for my information, in your opinion, which company puts out the best virtual piano sounds? I'm traditional in my tastes and generally find a high quality Steinway concert grand to be all I'd ever want in a piano. Though other makes can be excellent as well. My brother uses Pianoteq and "morphs" different virtual piano sounds into his own piano Frankenstein creation, but I'm not convinced by the results he gets. I'm just hoping to find something that sounds as much like an acoustic piano as possible and not "electronic." I guess that might be asking too much. Thanks again very much for your response--I'm much obliged to you!
    Reply
  • Joe A
    Posts: 1834
    Joined: Oct 1st, 2013
    Re: Need GarageBand help improving my digital piano recording
    There are a lot of good virtual pianos out there. Most are sampled pianos, like ones from Native Instruments , Arturia, Waves, and many many others [just google virtual piano plugin].. Personally, I tend to like Modartt Pianoteq because the pianos sound good to me and have a natural response [which can be customized by the user], because it uses modeling technology [which doesn't require samples, so it takes up almost no HD space], and because there's a demo which can be installed & played to get a good sense of the sound and playability of the instruments (also electric pianos & mallet instruments].. But a piano sound is usually a personal preference, so everyone will have a different favorite. Most of the better sample-based virtual pianos are large, using many samples to insure smooth dynamic response and natural tonality. Many include recordings taken with different mic positions for useful variations in the recorded piano sound [close mics for a brighter more percussive sound [pop], distance mics for a more classical piano sound, etc]. Most [though not all] include extra programming like simulation of sympathetic resonance [from the lid], response to different pedal techniques [with an appropriate MIDI pedal], and subtle things like pedal noise, to enhance the realism of piano recordings. As long as you're able to play comfortably on the controller keyboard and get a natural dynamic response, most of the better virtual pianos can sound pretty convincing.
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  • Student495321
    Posts: 5
    Joined: May 22nd, 2022
    Re: Need GarageBand help improving my digital piano recording
    I don't know, I guess I'm just not totally sold on virtual pianos. I'd honestly take just a decent upright acoustic piano over the fanciest virtual piano. I just don't feel that all the zillions of fine nuances of real piano sounds can be fully captured in virtual piano simulations. Then again, maybe my ears just aren't good enough to appreciate what virtual pianos are doing--no doubt that's true. But because I'm not familiar with or comfortable with recording technology, the honest truth is that I wish someone could just tell me exactly where to turn the various knobs and sliders to on GarageBand! The "master volume" and the "volume," the "noise gate," compressor and EQ things. I still haven't found a GarageBand guide that explains things easily for aging farts like me who frankly know next to nothing about this stuff. Most of the tutorials are way beyond my experience. I'd love to find a one-size-fits-all "quick and dirty" template for the settings on GarageBand that I can use every time when recording. Maybe that sounds unreasonable, but I always use the same volume level on the digital piano, always the same basic unaltered sound on it, and I want nothing more than to get as realistic a piano sound I can get with no "special effects." So I imagine there must be some ideal template that would give me the best recorded sound I can get on GarageBand, but I don't know what all the settings should be. I've tried pushing the volume sliders around and listened to the "Factory sounds" and whatnot, but I don't know what I'm doing. Just my own lazy fault, no doubt! Anyway, thanks again so much for your time and consideration. I'm really happy to get your input! Anything I can learn is good to know!
    Reply
  • Joe A
    Posts: 1834
    Joined: Oct 1st, 2013
    Re: Need GarageBand help improving my digital piano recording
    The most important aspect of any virtual piano is the sample set [the recordings of notes from the real thing] or the modeling algorithms [as with the Modartt] that simulate the sound & response of the real thing. Effect settings -- like compression, EQ, reverb, etc -- can help sculpt the tone, dynamics, and ambience, but there really are no uniform best settings -- what works for enhancing a piano sound will depend on the particular instrument, the dynamics of the particular performance, the particular player's touch, the arrangement [if there are other instruments playing along with it], and the type of piano sound desired [bright pop piano sound with hard hammers, mellow midrangy jazz piano sound, softer more ambient classical piano sound, etc]. While it's possible to make some general consistent settings [certain consistent EQ for a particular piano whose tone seems lacking in a specific way, or consistent compression to compensate for the dynamic response built in to a particular virtual instrument], most of the time the processing will be tailored to each situation, for the most helpful results. The GB piano seems to be basically just the one piano sound, while some third-party virtual pianos have a bunch of presets with different EQ, compression, etc, but in the end it's a matter of selecting the best piano instrument for the player's needs and the style of music, and getting used to the basic processors and what they can do to get the most out of them. That said, the piano sound should at least sound ok right out of the gate -- the processing is really for enhancement, not compensating for a piano sound that doesn't really make the grade. High-end virtual instruments tend to have more natural tonal and dynamic variations then the usual factory-included sounds that come with the DAW, but sample-based instruments don't usually provide playable demos because of their large sample libraries -- except for the Modartt [no samples, so a downloadable demo can be installed and played], which makes it a good instrument to test out different virtual piano sounds with to get a feel for a variety of different piano sounds and how they respond. That's why I often suggest it to people searching for a piano sound that suits their taste -- you really have to play a virtual piano to know if it's going to work for you...
    Reply
  • Student495321
    Posts: 5
    Joined: May 22nd, 2022
    Re: Need GarageBand help improving my digital piano recording
    Hi Joe, It's really generous of you to explain all these things to me--I'm afraid I'm not worthy of your time and trouble! But I will try to keep in mind what you have written, and when I get a MIDI interface, I'll refer back to your comments above. Due to "budgetary constraints" I'll probably just get an inexpensive MIDI interface and then trying using the GarageBand Steinway sounds to see what results I can get. I'm really eager to try and get a better overall sound, though I don't have the patience to really study everything I should in order to get the best results. But I'm hoping that just a switch to MIDI and the GarageBand Steinway sounds will at least give me a generally more attractive overall piano sound. Just hitting a few "keys" in the "keyboard typing" for trying out the GarageBand Steinway gave me a better sound--I think, though as you say, I'd really have to try it out for awhile to know how I'd feel about it--than recording from the headphone jack of my digital Kawai. I've seen a few videos on "improving the sound of the GarageBand Steinway," so maybe later on I might check some of those out. Thanks again so much for your time and thoughtful responses, Joe. I must say I wish I had a friend who lived nearby who knew as much as you do about recording!
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