HOW TO SAMPLE FOR PIANOBOOK
Pianobook presents a unique opportunity for a community of musicians to contribute to a library of sampled pianos. For many this may be their first experience sampling a piano and so this guide is to help make the process as simple as possible. It covers how to record your piano, edit the samples, create a virtual instrument, apply noise reduction and package your samples for upload.
There are many different options when it comes to sampling a piano - how many microphone positions, how many notes to sample, how many times to sample an individual note, how many velocities to record, whether to capture with different combinations of the pedals. For Pianobook we are keeping things simple and trying to capture the core character of the piano and so will be sampling all pianos as:
Cycle of fifths (every 7 semitones)
Sustain pedal down (everything sounds better with sustain)
Two velocity layers (notes play quiet and played loader)
Release triggers (the sound of the key being released)
The guide below is just one way to sample a piano to the spec - feel free to adapt it or use your own methods if you prefer.
Recording Your Piano
To record your piano you will need a pair of microphones (to capture a stereo image), an audio interface plus DAW or an audio recorder, and a DAW to cut up your samples.
Most recordings of pianos make use of one or more stereo pairs of condenser microphones - anything from a pair of large diaphragm Neumanns, through to Aston Spirit microphones, to a simple pair of small diaphragm condensers. Whilst Condenser microphones are typically used, you could get great results from something like a Shure SM58. Microphone placement and polar pattern will depend on the particular piano, the room and whatever sounds best!
You will be recording the piano multiple times across a cycle of fifths, starting at the low C and ending at the top F. The complete cycle (C0, G0, D1, A1, E2, B2, F#3, C#4, G#4, D#5, A#5, F6) is shown below.
To capture the piano, start a recording (record at 48khz), capture each note for long enough to capture a good portion of its tail. The amount of time you will need to play each note will decrease as you move up the keyboard because the higher notes tail off quicker. In the template (see below) there is a tempo map that captures the first note (C0) for about 18 seconds whilst the last note (F6) for about 6 seconds. As we are capturing the piano with the sustain pedal down, ensure you engage the pedal before striking the note and then carefully lift the pedal after you have released the note.
When you have completed a first cycle of recordings, play the whole cycle of fifths again but at a louder velocity. You may need to experiment to find the optimal “quite” and “loud” versions that capture the sound you like the best. Remember to try to keep the volume the same for all samples in a particular layer.
Following the recording of the “quite” and “loud”, capture the release triggers of each note in the cycle of fifths, which can be used to add realism to the virtual version of your piano. To capture a release trigger, press down the key (without the sustain pedal) but don’t let the hammers strike the strings. Then simply release the key - slight more exaggerated than you might normally (it’s easier to turn down the sample than turn it up).
Finally, capture some “wild track”, sitting in silence to capture the room noise, which will be helpful when processing through noise reduction later.
You may want to repeat the whole process multiple times so that you can pick your best take or even mix and match across takes if one note doesn’t quite work from one of your takes.
Using the template
To help with the process, Christian has created a template, which you can download from: bit.ly/2BDgYxX. In this template you will find
A Logic Pro X project template
A midi file for a tempo map (to import into other DAW)
A simple manual for editing samples
Samples of “Kate” (voice assistant)
A virtual assistant “Kate” provides prompts through the recording to help you remember which notes to play and when to release the note. Christian walks through the template in the following video
Editing the samples
Once you have completed your recording it’s time to slice up your samples so they can be loaded into a sampler. Most DAWs have a function to cut an audio file at transients and this is the easiest way to slice up your recording into the individual notes. The video above walks through this process and the template also provides a step-by-step guide for editing in Logic Pro X (which should be easy enough to adapt to other DAW).
When naming your samples, make sure you include the name of the note (using sharp ‘#’ signs rather than flat ‘b’ signs) to make it possible to auto-map your samples into a sampler. Also include the velocity layer in the name or “RT” for release tiggers. Files should be save at 48khz, 24bit, wav. A full recorded set of samples will look similar to the following:
My Piano p C0.wav
My Piano p G0.wav
My Piano p D1.wav
My Piano p A1.wav
My Piano p E2.wav
My Piano p B2.wav
My Piano p F#3.wav
My Piano p C#4.wav
My Piano p G#4.wav
My Piano p D#5.wav
My Piano p A#5.wav
My Piano p F6.wav
My Piano f C0.wav
My Piano f G0.wav
My Piano f D1.wav
My Piano f A1.wav
My Piano f E2.wav
My Piano f B2.wav
My Piano f F#3.wav
My Piano f C#4.wav
My Piano f G#4.wav
My Piano f D#5.wav
My Piano f A#5.wav
My Piano f F6.wav
My Piano RT C0.wav
My Piano RT G0.wav
My Piano RT D1.wav
My Piano RT A1.wav
My Piano RT E2.wav
My Piano RT B2.wav
My Piano RT F#3.wav
My Piano RT C#4.wav
My Piano RT G#4.wav
My Piano RT D#5.wav
My Piano RT A#5.wav
My Piano RT F6.wav
Also include a file that is your “wild track” of room noise, e.g “My Piano room.wav”.
Creating a Virtual Instrument
Note: The following guide is for ESX24 Sample - we hope to have a similar guide for Kontakt soon
The most exciting bit of this process is trying out your carefully recorded samples in a virtual instrument. The following shows how to load up your samples in Logic’s EXS24 sampler, however similar techniques can be applied in other samplers.
With all you sample files nicely named, in a blank ESX24 instrument click the “Edit” option to bring up the sample editor. Select Zone -> Load Multiple Samples and then select your recorded samples. Use the “auto-map” function to detect the sample note from the file name. You will need to create three zones for the different samples - the easiest way to do this is just select one layer of files (“p”, “f” or “RT") at a time when loading.
When ESX24 auto-maps the samples it will pitch shift each sample half way up to the next note and half way down to the previous. Pitching up samples tends to sound unpleasant and so we want to adjust the ranges so that the sample is only used for the note it was recorded at and then down to the next sample. To do this, select all the samples in all zones except for the very top note and, in the keyboard section, drag the top of the note range down to the sampled note. Then deselect the bottom note samples, select the top note samples and drag the start of each range to fill the gap.
When you have adjusted the ranges you should have something that looks a bit like this.
Notice how each note has three versions, one in each of the groups “p”, “f” and “RT”.
To make sure the right samples play at the right volumes, switch to the “Groups” section and set up your groups similar to the following.
Notice how the “p” group plays in the velocity range 0 to 110, the “f” group plays in the range 111 to 127 and the RT group has a Trigger of “Key Release” and ensure you set a decay time (1500 is used in the example above). You may need to adjust the velocity range to suit your samples.
To tweak the instrument you will probably need to go and adjust the start times of each sample so that they align correctly. A full walkthrough of this process is in the video above (or watch it here www.youtube.com/watch?v=2nUa8Rkxkk4).
When playing back a sampled instrument, any noise captured in the recording can build up when multiple samples are played simultaneously. To help with this, noise reduction of the individual samples can be very important to creating a playable instrument. Whilst it is not essential to supply your Pianobook samples with a noise reduced option, having one available will make it more usable by others. Don’t worry if you don’t have the software to noise reduce, this can be done later using you “wild track”. You may want to ask people from the community to help out.
Christian walks through noise reduction in the following video:
Note: It is important to provide the both the original samples and the noise reduced samples, and keep the files named the same to allow for each sample swapping between each version.
Packaging your samples
To keep a uniform feel of all samples, please submit a single zip file containing the raw samples, any noise reduced versions, any sample instruments (e.g. ESX24 or Kontakt), a short text file describing your piano and a photo or two of the piano (ideally at least one landscape orientation for use in the library). The following is a recommended folder structure:
Please make sure your instruments are saved with “relative path” and not “absolute path” so they can be loaded easily by other people. As a quick test, try moving your whole directory of samples and instruments into a different folder on your computer and then load your instrument back into the sampler. If it complains about missing files you’ll need to rescan and save with relative paths.
The following is an example of what you might include in the README.txt file:
My Lovely Piano - by My Full Name
This piano has a lovely story that means a lot to me…
When you are ready… go ahead and submit your piano. We can’t wait to hear it!