TOONTRACK EZ KEYS GRAND PIANO £99.99 (typical street price)
(Reviewed by John Verity)

A digitally sampled Steinway Model D piano and MIDI sequencer plug-in together in a package designed to aid song-writing - equally at home in the teaching environment or recording studio.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Installation was quick and easy - completely trouble-free, which is not the case with too many software packages these days..! Install from the supplied disk or download from the Toontracks website, then on first launching the programme enter the required information into the authorisation screen. If your computer is connected to the internet simply follow the instructions, if not then copy the information into the host computer. This reviewer used the latter with no problems at all...

I decided to focus on the main sound - the Steinway Model D Grand. There are a number of other sounds available in the package but for the purposes of this review I will use the premier (Standard) sample.

This sound is impressive! When simply played by connecting a MIDI keyboard, you are struck by the realistic sound of the instrument - warm and bright yet with full clarity in the mids right to the top end of the register. Dynamics are excellent, and there is no compromise to quality at this price.

The Dynamics and Tuning panels shown in the illustration above allow further tweaking though the default settings are perfectly usable straight out of the box. At the top of the display you will see the currently loaded sounds - simply mouse-click on the keys to audition the sound, and depending on the sound loaded, up to 3 pedals are available. The lower part of the display contains the Song Track - you can drag MIDI here, and manipulate/ edit to form the piano part. The display is also showing the Chord Selector, (Circle of Fifths) which enables the editing of imported chords once they are in the Song Track - simply by clicking with the mouse on the chord symbol shown above the MIDI track in the display.

 TIME TO PLAY!

I decided to import, then edit some of the suppliedMIDI files (see Song Browser above) in order to try out the programme. In a teaching situation this is a really easy way to introduce learners to the idea of using \'building blocks\' to create compositional ideas, and each imported file can be easily manipulated through the use of the Chord Selector (click on the chord symbol)... For me it a little like working with an experienced pianist - there to play my ideas effectively as they developed from my starting points. Learners are not limited to the supplied MIDI files, as files can be imported - so teachers may find it useful to provide examples earlier in the process and encourage learners to create their own once familiar with the software. As ever it is important that assessors ensure that all work presented for grading is the learners own, so with that in mind learners should be made fully aware that the \'starting points\' they are given are simply that and that the work submitted for assessment must show significant development and original content. Certainly in my own case, I was soon able to construct original and interesting pieces that suited my own style of song writing, and also some very useful tracks to be used in my own practice routine (I play guitar). It is very inspiring to rehearse with the help of such a competent piano player! The piano parts created run in sync with the host DAW so any additional tracks - I added drums and bass guitar, are perfectly in time with the piano parts created in EZ Piano.

So...

A brilliant piece of kit.

Learners studying composition/ song-writing at both Level 2 and Level 3 will benefit greatly from having access to Toontrack EZ Keys Grand Piano when creating their work, and will doubtless find many more ways than your Reviewer to utilise the software to enhance their studies. There is not space here to cover all the capabilities of this programme, so please take the time to visit the Toontrack website - there is a Demo Download available. There is also interesting information here: http://www.youtube.com/toontrack

Highly recommended.

Follow this link to the Toontrack Education Store for special pricing and license information: