The story

Imperfect Viola

Another sampled stringed instrument? Well, yes. But before you roll your eyes, know that this one does not purport to be deep sampled, or recorded in a state-of-the-art studio in lush hall, or performed by a world class violist. In fact, it doesn’t even have that many samples and each sample was recorded by an amateur violist. But what it does have is imperfection. That is to say, humanity.

This began as an experiment to understand what it takes to make sampled instruments sound realistic. For those of you who downloaded Micah’s Choir, our first submission to Pianobook (under Sons of Serendip), you will notice that the breaths taken before each note were not removed. And you’ll notice that not every note began completely on pitch. Rather, some started with a small pitchbend and vocal fry. These are features not included in your run-of-the-mill perfectly Ooo-ed and Ahh-ed choir sample libraries. Yet, these are the sounds you’d hear from a live musician.

Similarly, string instruments have many idiosyncrasies that are often overlooked. I’ve been learning the viola for the past 2 years and have gotten decent enough to record simple string parts. I would start with mockups using various string libraries. But for some reason, the perfectly sampled libraries lacked the “life” I would hear in the parts I recorded live. I soon realized why.

As a learner of the viola, I’m hyper aware of the sounds I should and should not be making. When bowing lightly, the bow bounces on the string. I never hear that “forbidden” bounce in any string library unless it’s purposely trying to be avant garde. However, this is a natural result of physics and being an imperfect human player. When you place your finger on the fingerboard or lift your finger off, you hear a minor pluck sound. It’s easy to ignore, unless you are trying to be perfect, in which case, you realize how hard it is to prevent that from happening. Sometimes, you’ll find that one note will cause another open string to resonate. And in many recordings, you’ll hear the performer even take a breath before beginning a musical phrase.

Sample libraries almost never include those subtle features. When I began this viola project, I decided to include them. In this submission, however, I did not include every “imperfect” sample that I recorded; I’m still working on how to integrate them. This is a work in progress that we hope to release commercially one day soon after we re-record the samples chromatically. But I do feel that what’s included in this submission is enough for you to understand and enjoy the spirit of what I’m going for.

If you do enjoy it, feel free to leave a tip. In fact, when we finish this project, we’ll make it available for no additional charge to anyone who leaves a tip before it’s released.

Anywho, stay tuned. Micah and I are working on another vocal library. Be sure to follow this page, and/or our instagram for news on when it’s ready. @thinkingwillowproductions

Here’s a quick demo:


There are 4 patches available. Viola Ensemble, Viola, Violin-esque, and Cello-esque.

Viola Ensemble. This patch uses the viola samples but has the keyboard panned left, center, and right to create a string trio feel.

Viola. This patch is the viola with the legato turned on by default. Note that the lower C has been stretched downward beyond the viola’s range. Because, why not?

Cello-esque. This is a simulated cello, using the viola samples but tweaked with EQ, Convolution, and some low-grade magic. Definitely not going to be your go-to for a cello, but useful enough if you’d like a different timbre for your viola.

Violin-esque. Similar deal as above.

UI Features

– Legato Mode. When set to sustain, you can play polyphonically. The remaining legato modes are all simulated using a script developed by Big Bob. Note that this UI slider can be assigned to a midi controller. By default it is set to CC11. I’d love to make this feature be controlled by velocity, but I’m not scripting guru.

– Dynamics. There are 3 dynamic layers. At the lowest dynamic it’s pianissimo, which has the fragile bouncing of the bow. Above that is a non-vibrato layer. Finally, above that is a lush vibrato.

– Reverb. This is an impulse response reverb. The samples were recorded completely dry, so feel free to turn this IR all the way down and add your own reverb.

– Legato Settings. On this tab, you can control the legato settings and tweak to taste. It can get complicated, so use this only if you like getting your hands messy. There are some amazing things you can do with this script, including controlling the length of a portamento glide as it is playing.


In terms of playability, you’ll get the best results if you REALLY exaggerate the modwheel movements. Do not be afraid to bring the modwheel all the way down to the bottom frequently. And try lingering in between the area where the sample changes from non-vibrato to vibrato. I’ve already recorded a layer of samples transitioning from non-vibrato to vibrato, but I haven’t included them here because I’m still testing the best way to crossfade into them without sudden timbre changes. Also, note that the attack on each note is velocity sensitive. Softer velocities yield slower attacks.

Imperfect Viola Walkthrough


Reviews for Imperfect Viola

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Leave a review to let others know what you thought of the instrument!

  • The Best of Piano Book

    This sample library is simply incredible. Thank you so much for this!

    angelvazquez16 July 2022
  • Great job :D

    This pack was simply outstanding, but I kind of want to see it in decent sampler as well if that is possible.

    Darker22 October 2023
  • So good

    Playing the ensemble viola and controlling the dynamics with the mod wheel makes a truly inspiring instrument to play. Excellent work.

    Sevarino20 April 2022
  • Wow.... real feel into it!

    Awesome job amigo... I love the character of the sound, the feel, and the philosophy behind your work... can't wait to hear, and play, with the evolution of it!

    alainog13 April 2022
  • Great Job

    It sounds really cool. Great Job.

    zenek_paskudnik16 April 2022
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