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How to write realistic solo piano pieces

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I recently started writing a solo piano piece, and I was just wondering if any artists have any general tips on how to write realistic pieces. I really love this genre, but as I've never played a piano before, I wasn't quite sure how to get started.

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I meant that if I printed the sheet music for the piece, a single person could play it.

I tend to have the problem where I make my music overly complex, which doesn't work so well when the performer only has 2 hands.

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Piano pieces that sound realistic?

Hit up Ghetto Lee Lewis, he's probably the most proficient piano player I know from these boards here. He's EXTREMELY anal about piano performance, but he backs it up pretty good (his piano album back in the summer was gorgeous). He'll probably tell you a lot more about it.

Also, quick word, you'll likely find this topic soon in Music Production forum.

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Well, when you have to sequence a piano piece with nothing but a mouse, you basically gotta make sure that both the performance and the arrangement are realistic. The performance depends on adding 'imperfections' to make the playing seem more human. This pertains to stuff like variable velocities and rubato or other tempo variations.

Creating a believable arrangement is probably harder because you will constantly have to doublecheck how the stuff you're writing matches up with a piano players hands so you avoid things like implausible stretches.

Another big thing is chord inversions; If you're used to writing from a guitar players perspective, you might have the urge to note for note translate a guitar bar chord to a piano chord. This would mean, however, that you'd end up with a chord that goes something like Root-fifth-octave-third-fifth-second octave, which is very unusual for a piano chord layout so you should try to avoid that.

Honestly, though, sequencing by mouse is a hassle, and grabbing a cheap midi controller will save you so much time and effort.

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Sheet music and a performance is, of course, very different.

If I imported a score as MIDI into a sequencer I'd think about the emotional content of the song and what I wanted to portray and would tweak the rigid MIDI notes into a Human (as close to!) performance and then edit etc...

If you're wanting to print off the sheet music and have a real person play it on Piano for you it really depends on the players skill and individual style. You would have to explain the concepts and emotional content you want to invoke in the song. You could leave notes on the sheet music and work closely with the artist to achieve the sound you're after etc...

It's a very specific-to-the-project kinda task, if this is what you mean! :)

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Honestly you're probably much better off just purchasing an inexpensive keyboard or MIDI controller and teach yourself how to play. It will be incredibly rewarding and the skills you learn will prove invaluable in many areas of music. Not to mention you'll get your realistic piano performances at the drop of a hat if you manage to get any good.

Sorry if that sounds obvious, but it truly is the best advice I would give anyone who asks that.

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I'm going to contradict what several people have said and say that if you can't play piano, buying a MIDI controller may not help much in creating performable piano music. You'll be able to see what fits under the hand with a MIDI controller, yes, but you'll still have questions about how complicated things can get before a competent pianist is unable to play them. These questions cannot be answered by playing around with a keyboard -- you either need to be able to play proficiently or to understand what is entailed in playing proficiently.

The easiest thing to do would be to write what you want and then post the MIDI file/sheet music and ask pianists to comment on its playability and make suggestions. It's only by discussing your actual music with an actual pianist (and ideally hearing that pianist play the music) that you'll come to understand what does and doesn't work well.

Some general pointers:

Remember that the pianist has only two hands. For each note you write, you should know what hand will play it and should make sure it can be reached in the context of the other notes that the hand is playing. Simultaneous notes in a single hand should generally be kept within the span of a ninth to make sure all the keys can be reached (unless you're writing for someone whom you know has larger hands).

Pretty much any single-voice line is playable in a single hand. The faster and jumpier it gets, though, the more difficult it will become to play.

Large leaps are only a problem when they involve a lot of notes at a high speed. Even then, most things won't be strictly unplayable -- just really awkward.

Parallel octaves in a single hand are difficult to play accurately at high speeds (e.g. a fast melody doubled at the octave).

Remember that pedaling can be used to sustain notes and build fuller textures.

EDIT: If you can put a link to the MIDI file in your WIP thread, I'd be happy to take a look at it.

EDIT 2: If if makes you feel any more confident, I've seen orchestral piano parts that are unplayable. It's an issue that even professional arrangers sometimes struggle with.

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Well, the suggestion to purchase a MIDI controller was made with the (obvious to me IMO) implication that she learn how to play it as if he were learning a piano... so in essence you would gain those skills and knowledge. You're absolutely right of course that just having the controller won't confer to you those assets just by virtue of having the keys laid out in front of you... no, you have to deliberately practice it.

I'm self taught and while I'm certain I could be much better with a legit trainer, I think I've came a long way on my own just through reading, watching videos and playing a lot. I am certain anyone can, if they try.

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Right, but my point is that it's not necessary to learn to play an instrument in order to write for it. It's much more time-efficient to write the music, run it by a pianist, and then revise it based on the feedback you get. Rinse, repeat on future arrangements, and you'll get more and more comfortable with how piano arranging works.

That said, I definitely agree that learning to play the piano at least on a basic level is probably worth the time investment for any musician.

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Moseph hit all the major points pretty well.

The most important thing to keep in mind is making sure the notes are reachable with just two hands. I'd suggest watching some youtube videos of people playing some similar styles to what you're trying to write so you have an idea of hand placements and phrasing.

Listening to track you linked it looks like you're on the right path.

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you shouldn't write music that you can't play yourself

not saying you can't, but how can you expect to create a believable piano performance without knowing how to play the piano? without playing anything live you'll spend needless hours finetuning and doing velocity changes & such

as a composer I would stress that at least a basic knowledge of how to play the piano is important

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She mentioned that she wanted to be able to print it and have someone play it, so there wouldn't be needless hours spent fine tuning velocities and timings to make it sound like a human is playing it.

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i would either like someone to play the final rendition live, or create a somewhat believable sequenced performance. remember though, i only spent a few hours on this first edition, so keep in mind that there's still a ton of work to go.

but on the subject of realism, i'm not terribly pleased with the soundfont i am using. are there any recommended *free* soundfonts/vsts for solo piano?

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you shouldn't write music that you can't play yourself

not saying you can't, but how can you expect to create a believable piano performance without knowing how to play the piano? without playing anything live you'll spend needless hours finetuning and doing velocity changes & such

as a composer I would stress that at least a basic knowledge of how to play the piano is important

Yep, gotta agree. I play -- or have played -- piano, guitar, bass, and alto sax. As a result, I really don't have any issues writing for those instruments, but since I've never played drums, I just kinda fake it :P Talking to drummers has really helped clear up how to approach some aspects of percussion writing. Also, checking out videos of drummers on youtube has been really constructive. Watching videos of pianists may be helpful for you, but I'm not so sure how useful that would be on a melodic instrument. If I were you, I'd take the low road and just download some sheet music, see how chords are voiced, how the melodies are written, how wide the pitch intervals tend to be across both hands, and go from there. Also, a good rule of thumb is that most pianists can't play comfortably or accurately beyond a 10th (octave + major third), so don't write chords for one hand that require that stretch.

Tensei also mentioned not just shifting bar/block chords around. That's critical. While you certainly don't need to follow the "rules" of voice-leading, pianists almost never play two successive chords in the same voice.

You could always try writing your piece and sending a MIDI to a pianist who can check it for feasibility and make some corrections.

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i would either like someone to play the final rendition live, or create a somewhat believable sequenced performance. remember though, i only spent a few hours on this first edition, so keep in mind that there's still a ton of work to go.

but on the subject of realism, i'm not terribly pleased with the soundfont i am using. are there any recommended *free* soundfonts/vsts for solo piano?

What if you collaborated with a pianist on the song? You give them ideas for a part of the song, mainly a melody and style, and see what they can come up with?

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Out of all free pianos I've tried, Maestro Concert Grand is still number one, though you might have a hard time finding a player for the .gig file (a free one, at least). I converted mine to the .sfz format, which I'd upload but I don't know if I need the original author's permission.

You can find a list of some free piano samples here:

http://bedroomproducersblog.com/2010/07/01/free-sample-shootout-3-acoustic-electric-and-toy-pianos/

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I'm a pretty serious pianist who's done a fair amount of composing for piano and would be more than happy to review anything you've written and give you feedback, if you'd like.

You're probably tired of hearing it at this point, but I'm going to echo everyone else and say you should learn some piano basics -- obviously that won't open up to you the full range of what's possible for two hands to do, but it will teach you what hand positions and basic line shapes and types of movements are comfortable. Plus, it really helps with harmony-building and harmonic recognition.

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