Simulating a Real-World Piano
After having been to Budapest and found an 1896 C. Bechstein piano in the lobby of The Continental Hotel, I’ve learned much more about how I can make the same sound of it or any other piano within Pianoteq or via other vst instruments and effects. But, in fact, I aim to make it sound even better. Here’s what I have learned so far.
Last updated: 04-October-2019
- The best way to know what an actual piano sounds like is to go and listen to the real piano played in the actual setting. In this case, I went to Budapest and listened to the C. Bechstein played in a large lobby. This was accidental as I did not know they had a piano but was delighted when I found they did. You may not need to travel this far, so do a search on the internet and see if you can find one in the right setting.
- In Budapest, I took several pictures of the piano and room so I could remember what this thing looked like and where it was placed.
- Of course, it is essential to know what it sounds like – that is the whole point. Record the sound of the piano so you can hear the piano sound as well as the reverberations. I have a portable binaural recorder that I use. It allows me to get the sound of actually being right there in the room. When I play it back later, it sounds exactly like when I was there.
- Record the room ambiance so you can not only use it in a recording of your own but so you can know the relative levels and reverberations of the pseudo-white noise that is common in rooms. You may even record an impulse (a hand clap, for example) in the place (if empty) so you can use it in a convolution reverb (there’s one in Pianoteq). This is by far the best way to get the actual room reverberation characteristics. You can feed in the impulse recording to the convolution reverb, and it will recreate the room environment’s reverberation characteristics.
- Play the actual piano so you can know the keyboard velocity. This helps later in determining what speed to play in a simulated version. It may be normal. In any case, it will help you when you play this way in your simulation, such as Pianoteq, where you can adjust the velocity of the keyboard to try and match that of the piano.
- Play the recorded sounds side-by-side with Pianoteq. In my case I listened to a C. Bechstein and Pianoteq has a C. Bechstein simulation, so it was relatively easy to adjust the parameters to what I had seen and heard.
- For example, I saw that the actual one had felt placed in it, so I knew I needed to adjust those specific parameters to get that sound.
- I knew where I was or where I wanted to be to listen to it, so in Pianoteq, I placed the microphones in those locations. Microphone selection is critical in Pianoteq as it will determine the tone of your sounds. I like ribbon-type microphones for the close-up ones as they are warmer-sounding to me.
- To get the good reverberation effects needed, apply reverb.
- Pianoteq itself has reverb and effects built-in. Adjust these first to try and get the same sound.
- Use external reverbs and effects to simulate and go beyond the actual.
- I find that the reverbs that are out there as plug-ins are not adequate in capturing the reverberations of the instrument itself. The piano is made of wood and steel and has an echo all on its own independent of the room acoustics. The plug-in reverbs do an excellent job of the room acoustics, but not of the instrument itself. This is certainly needed to make it feel real. One method I use is a shimmering reverb applied just lightly to give resonance to the tails of the piano sound.