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MainStage Mondays: Designing Your Piano Sound

MainStage Mondays: Designing Your Piano Sound

I received this note from an UK reader this last week: 


Hi mate,


Thanks so much for all the info on your website.

Im a worship leader in the UK and we are just getting stuck into the world of MainStage etc … and loving it!

Wondered if you might be able to share some tips on making a sensible sounding piano that will cut through the mix – I lead on keys the majority of the time.


God bless



Hi Pete,


Glad you’re enjoying the blog! Here are three things to think about when tweaking your piano for worship: 


1. Slow Song Vs. Fast Song


If you’re playing a slow song, I recommend using less compression/no compression, and selecting a laid back, more sustained piano sample. A great option for this is the Yamaha grand piano sample in the EXS24 sampler plugin. Add just a little bit of reverb, a touch of compression to add sustain, and you’re good to go.


If you’re playing a faster song, select a more aggressive piano sample like the Steinway grand piano. Fast songs need quick attacks and releases, and you might even think about adjusting the release parameter in the EXS24 to make sure it doesn’t hold out too long. 


2. Playing Solo Vs. Playing In a Band


If you’re playing solo, I’d suggest a slower attack, full bodied piano sound. Only when you’re playing solo would I advise using what we’d consider a “true” piano sound. Most of the time, a natural sounding piano will be too big in a crowded band mix. Also, don’t use much compression if any at all. This is your chance to let the quality of your piano sample shine through. 


If you’re playing in a band, all bets are off. You’ll need to use EQ to find a good sonic pocket for your piano. You can partially accomplish this with your voicings, but it helps a bunch to have some of your problem frequencies rolled off beforehand. Also, you can compress the daylights out of your piano for some cool effects live. 


3. Stabilizing Your Piano Sound


Once you get the sound you’re looking for, it’s important to make sure your piano sample isn’t going to glitch out live. Don’t ever use convolution reverb plugins live, and make sure your polyphony isn’t too high (I’d recommend around 64 notes as a maximum). Also, make sure your audio latency is at a tolerable rate, and if you can stand it, put it up to 512 samples. 


While I love the piano sounds in MainStage, I recommend reading my blog about some of my favorite other piano VST plugins. You can find a link here.

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