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Play all the instruments yourself (poorly) or emulate them on keys to play them (good)?


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Is it better to record myself playing bass, guitar and drums as well as I can (which is not well at all) or playing the bass, guitar and drums with a keyboard making them way better but not real? 

 

 

 

 

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I'd much rather have a "real" player than me faking it on keyboard...but it depends on the part and the song.   

Actually ideally I'd just learn to play guitar and drums but I've been saying that for how long now?  :)  

What I intend to do on a couple tunes I've worked up is mock up rough parts on either piano or maybe using Session Acoustic and then send them to my buddy to add real guitar.  Drums I don't really have a good resource.

This is putting aside any feelings of "cheese", I have these about playing horns live...just doesn't feel ok!  I tend to play organ or synth horn parts.  I can't really explain this but I also don't fight the feeling :)  

I've noticed sometimes there is an "uncanny valley" thing where you get really close to sounding like a guitar/bass/whatever but it just isn't quite there.   Sometimes if I feel that's the case I kind of switch that part to a rhodes or something.   And I might be overthinking it in any case :)  Probably nobody else would care, and it is true that the vocal is the most important thing--and as of yet, that's hard to fake!

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Depends on the parts and they player.   I’ve covered bass guitar in bands. Probably did 80% of on keys but carried my old P bass for things where I couldn’t pull of the articulations.  Like the harmonics on the bass part in All right now. But I play string thingies about as well as keys thingies.  So I probably don’t count.  
 

I suck on drums. I played drums at band camps but I only played one drum at a time. LOL. 

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56 minutes ago, Krakit said:

Is it better to record myself playing bass, guitar and drums as well as I can (which is not well at all) or playing the bass, guitar and drums with a keyboard making them way better but not real? 

Only you can answer that one.

 

I have nowhere near the time, energy, or desire to learn to play a bunch of different instruments - I'm no Stevie Wonder or Stevie Winwood (hey maybe if I changed my name to Stevie it would help?) so the answer for me is easy and plenty "real" enough. After all, i'm still doing the playing, just using different sounds for different parts. I do plan on buying a drum kit, but that's only because trying to tap out drums on a keyboard for me is totally unacceptable. Playing drums (e-drums) is not only a far better and easier way, but a lot more fun too :)  

 

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I actually find finger drumming far easier than drum kit drumming, because I just don't have the muscle memory for it.  My brain says "hit snare now" but you have to start the motion before you hear the sound, and the end result is bad timing :)   Whereas at least with finger drumming the timing isn't different than playing piano.  I still suck at it but not as much :)  Playing a real drum set is definitely fun and good exercise though.

Bass is the instrument I'm most likely to be happy with--though after playing with a couple really good bass players in my life, it's still a pretty weak approximation.  Then again I mostly do electronic stuff that isn't a real bass.

I get pretty pissed at myself for not sticking with guitar...at least four different times.  My wall has a nice Eastman acoustic and beautiful fender strat just staring at me right now, I haven't touched either in way too long.  I am pretty happy with strides I've made vocally.

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I think not all but in most cases you can hear when someone is playing what isn't there main instrument because they don't get the feel right.  

 

Now someone who makes YouTubes playing all the instrument himself that I think sounds good is Warren Wolf. 

 

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That’s a funny thread title. I’d go with play it best you can both ways.  Keep what’s good and throw away what you don’t like.  

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10 minutes ago, ElmerJFudd said:

That’s a funny thread title. I’d go with play it best you can both ways.  Keep what’s good and throw away what you don’t like.  

I agree. The parts don’t have to sound poorly played. When I record guitar parts, I often do them a bit at a time. Edit and comp to build the parts. I am curious to see how that might work out with trumpet. If you don’t have enough fluency to improvise parts, then you can write the parts out and practice them first. Depending on what the music is, even a bit of actual (non-keys) playing can make a track more compelling.

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These days I do actually play drums, some guitar, and some bass, but I know my limits on the latter two in particular. My thing is that I tend to hear parts in my head that I'm not actually skilled enough to play on the real thing (for now).

 

With drums, since I don't even own an acoustic kit, sound-wise it would always be digital anyways (whether triggered from my electric kit or played via keys using something like Addictive Drums 2). So I go for what gets me the best sound - since it's midi anyways, I do have the option to play the parts (or close to them) live and edit as needed. But up until recently I just did it via keys, which I have gotten pretty good at over the years. The important part is treating it like a hand percussion instrument of sorts and make the groove like a drummer would, rather than drawing in beats in the DAW. Even for something with a very electronic sound (think 909's), I will play the part live on keys rather than just draw it in. It gives natural variation and velocity subtleties that you don't get from drawing notes into a midi track.

 

Guitars are an interesting situation - I do a mix of both. Acoustic is way harder to emulate than electric in a mix. It also strongly depends on the style of music - would I want to cover guitar parts on keys for an acoustic ballad? No way. But if it's some sort of an ambient electric or nylon part in a full band mix, I am willing to use keys, especially since Yamaha actually does a pretty good job at guitars. That said, I have also tracked electric for some fairly simplistic parts where keys just wouldn't sound quite as good (think fingerpicked clean electric with a trem).

 

For bass, I have some excellent software (Modo Bass and Waves Bass Fingers), and I can make very convincing bass lines from keys. Years of playing in a band with no bass player does help on the realism side, because in that case it's almost just as much about playing technique as it is the quality of sample you use. Sure, if I become excellent at the actual bass, I would switch to that, but for now I can make better basslines that fit the music I make better using software than the real deal.

 

TL,DR: Play what sounds the best and suits the given song the best. Lots of stuff you hear on the radio isn't fully live instruments anyways.

 

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I will play everything with vst's for reference and composition,  but with the intent of letting real players apply their own magic to any final product.  I have spent hours trying to create interesting drum tracks, but would rather have a good player.    I would, of course, not realistically be able to do this with orchestral arrangements.  

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Define "real" these days. I hate to agree with Homer Simpson, but in this case, "Perfect is the enemy of Good Enough." As the fine writer Alan Moore once put it, "The audience doesn't know what it needs. If it did, it would be the artist." In modern music production, especially with synths, its about compromising without BEING compromised. That's what you bring to the table as the creator: knowing what you're doing. I do. Mostly.

 

All the song has to do is get across. If it does, its a WIN. If it doesn't, you'll know soon enough. 98% of the audience will never know what you did to get there and the remaining 2% are on here, grousing about oscillator types. 🤓 :D

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2 minutes ago, Michael Wright said:

I would, of course, not realistically be able to do this with orchestral arrangements.  

 

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     with a kick to the groin."
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Whatever it takes to get what is in my head onto the recording. I play guitar, bass, trumpet and sax well enough to enjoy them, but I am a good enough musician to know that my playing of those instruments is not equal to my faking them on a keyboard. The real question for me is when do I abandon those sounds and go full synth.

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My goal for decades has been to fake it as well as I can on the keyboard.   I can't play a guitar or bass for ****, but I can fake several guitar articulations, enough to fool many people's ears; even more so with bass.  It helps to be able to program nuances into synth/workstation voices, such as fretted pitch bend or harmonic plucking; the more you can tweak the synth voice to behave like a <insert instrument name here> and not just like a sample playback, the better your chances of getting a good <instrument> sound out of it.

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7 hours ago, David Emm said:

All the song has to do is get across. If it does, its a WIN. If it doesn't, you'll know soon enough. 98% of the audience will never know what you did to get there and the remaining 2% are on here, grousing about oscillator types. 🤓 :D

That's true commercially. For someone like me, I don't give a rat's ass about an "audience." I make music mostly for me. If it's good enough, I may share it with family/close friends...and maybe beyond. But their opinion is secondary at most. 

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If it's a demo, use keyboards. If it's a recording to be released to the public, use real players.

 

I might put a distinction between: is it a creative project, like your band or solo stuff? Use real players. That's when it will be good enough for yourself to be satisfied with the result. Is it a commissioned recording, like a TV show soundtrack or a commercial jingle? The client doesn't care if it's synth drums or whatever.

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17 hours ago, Krakit said:

Is it better to record myself playing bass, guitar and drums as well as I can (which is not well at all) or playing the bass, guitar and drums with a keyboard making them way better but not real?

 

Ummm....you are the only one who can answer that question for yourself satisfactorily.

 

I can tell you what I think; I can tell you what I do for my own recordings (I can only play keyboard so that makes the decision easy for me).  But you need to figure out what makes your recordings real/good to you.

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Was debating something similar yesterday…

A drummer friend of mine is doing a University production of Little Shop of Horrors in March and asked if I could do the guitar part on keys as the guy has had to drop out. (Not many reading guitarists around, but with Little Shop, I think decent ears and a chord chart would be fine…)

It's decent money, and I already asked the bass player if he wouldn't mind moving to guitar, as keyboard bass is definitely doable, but he's not keen 😛

So, I'm asking myself if I should attempt the guitar parts on keys? Got an Integra where the Supernatural sounds are nice and reactive, and some plugins I could maybe tap-tempo to for strums etc., or should I get out my comfort zone and just play guitar? I'm fine on acoustic rhythm parts with the usual chord shapes, but always think I'm a bit heavy-handed on electric… 

Guitar parts aren't too tricky, looking at the score. I've only ever played keys 1 on it before - although keys 2 is quite fun!

 

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As many are saying, it really depends on the vibe you're after. As another semi-frustrated multi-instrumentalist (with... uneven distribution of chops across those instruments), my ability vs. expectation is factored in from tune to tune. But whether I choose to do the "real" thing or a keyboard version of it, I try to embrace an aesthetic that feels good for the arrangement. If I'm playing synth bass, or programming/executing electronic drums, or doing a part that needs to feel like guitar (either rhythmically or as a lead), I look to recordings I enjoy that are loud and proud in their employment of synthetic instruments. Whether that's contemporary pop, or 80s studio productions, or what have you. No listener really cares about whether the instruments are "real" or not if they're played well and make sense in the arrangement. So why not make that keyboard bass sound like a Moog rather than a sampled "Pick Bass 01?" Or some drum machine plugins modeled after an 808 rather than Logic's "Surfer Kit?"

 

Of course, there's a lot of middle ground here, and again, I think the song and the arrangement are big factors (you wouldn't want the sound of an old-school drum machine on a metal track, or a sloppy-but-"real" rhythm guitar part on a dance track -- unless you're trying to Make a Statement). A lot of samples and modeling are very, very good these days -- in ways that can sometimes reveal the lack of "proper" articulation and execution when they're triggered in ways the instruments couldn't be played organically. I think that's when you get into the "uncanny valley" stuff that some other folks have discussed here.

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The project I'm asking about is my you tube channel. I want to showcase my keyboard playing with original backing tracks. I figure I can either play real instruments (and film myself playing those parts) or I can play virtual instruments off camera and just video myself playing the keyboard parts only. 

 

I'm wondering if the pizazz of playing the parts on real instruments (but like a novice) is more entertaining or should I put my best foot forward and create all the parts on keyboards at the cost of zero variety in what gets filmed (other than possible B roll that I might pepper in for spice)

 

 

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2 hours ago, SamuelBLupowitz said:

A lot of samples and modeling are very, very good these days -- in ways that can sometimes reveal the lack of "proper" articulation and execution when they're triggered in ways the instruments couldn't be played organically. I think that's when you get into the "uncanny valley" stuff that some other folks have discussed here.

Exactly. It's not even about people caring whether it's "real" or not, it's getting harder and harder to tell the diff sound quality wise. But as you say, it is harder to play say a keyboard and sound like a guitar, simply because notes on a guitar are played differently...it's not all about the sound itself.

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This is the kind of thread that makes me cross-eyed. Post after post, I see: "If you want it to sound real and you can't play that instrument, get someone in to play it."

 

Easy for you to say. Apparently you guys live where there are people who can/will do that. Some of us live in impoverished wastelands where there are no musicians to fill in. As I've noted elsewhere, for all the fact that the aggregate population in my area is on the order of at least a quarter million, perhaps as high as a half million, there is zero...and I mean ZERO interest in doing original material. Worse yet, even if I was to persuade someone to break out of their little bubble of Southern rock/Top 40/religious music...they just ain't got the chops. A guy I know recommended a drummer to me. The drummer was useless. Totally. His entire mindset was 4/4 time. 3/4 was exotic to him. WTF peeps! I need someone who can grok 5/4 to 7/8 to 4/4 and back again in the same song. Right now I'm working on something that's 11/8 (shades of Mussorgsky). The guys around here simply can't hack it. Period. Might as well ask them to sprout wings and fly.

 

So...like...when someone airily waves their hand and says, "Get someone else to play it," I get pretty flustered and frustrated. I desperately want real people playing real instruments, but there are simply none to be found.

 

I'm jealous. The musical resources that you take for granted are not available for some of us. I have no choice but to use hardware to fake the parts I can't play.

 

Sigh...

 

Grey

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I'm not interested in someone's ability to program. I'm interested in their ability to compose and play.

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16 minutes ago, GRollins said:

This is the kind of thread that makes me cross-eyed. Post after post, I see: "If you want it to sound real and you can't play that instrument, get someone in to play it."

 

Easy for you to say. Apparently you guys live where there are people who can/will do that. Some of us live in impoverished wastelands where there are no musicians to fill in. As I've noted elsewhere, for all the fact that the aggregate population in my area is on the order of at least a quarter million, perhaps as high as a half million, there is zero...and I mean ZERO interest in doing original material. Worse yet, even if I was to persuade someone to break out of their little bubble of Southern rock/Top 40/religious music...they just ain't got the chops. A guy I know recommended a drummer to me. The drummer was useless. Totally. His entire mindset was 4/4 time. 3/4 was exotic to him. WTF peeps! I need someone who can grok 5/4 to 7/8 to 4/4 and back again in the same song. Right now I'm working on something that's 11/8 (shades of Mussorgsky). The guys around here simply can't hack it. Period. Might as well ask them to sprout wings and fly.

 

So...like...when someone airily waves their hand and says, "Get someone else to play it," I get pretty flustered and frustrated. I desperately want real people playing real instruments, but there are simply none to be found.

 

I'm jealous. The musical resources that you take for granted are not available for some of us. I have no choice but to use hardware to fake the parts I can't play.

 

Sigh...

 

Grey

I can appreciate the frustration.  I have a few great players I can call on.  I lost my go to drummer/best friend  last year.  I just have to endeavour to write something worthy of their time.      

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22 minutes ago, GRollins said:

This is the kind of thread that makes me cross-eyed. Post after post, I see: "If you want it to sound real and you can't play that instrument, get someone in to play it."

 

Easy for you to say. Apparently you guys live where there are people who can/will do that. Some of us live in impoverished wastelands where there are no musicians to fill in. As I've noted elsewhere, for all the fact that the aggregate population in my area is on the order of at least a quarter million, perhaps as high as a half million, there is zero...and I mean ZERO interest in doing original material. Worse yet, even if I was to persuade someone to break out of their little bubble of Southern rock/Top 40/religious music...they just ain't got the chops. A guy I know recommended a drummer to me. The drummer was useless. Totally. His entire mindset was 4/4 time. 3/4 was exotic to him. WTF peeps! I need someone who can grok 5/4 to 7/8 to 4/4 and back again in the same song. Right now I'm working on something that's 11/8 (shades of Mussorgsky). The guys around here simply can't hack it. Period. Might as well ask them to sprout wings and fly.

 

So...like...when someone airily waves their hand and says, "Get someone else to play it," I get pretty flustered and frustrated. I desperately want real people playing real instruments, but there are simply none to be found.

 

I'm jealous. The musical resources that you take for granted are not available for some of us. I have no choice but to use hardware to fake the parts I can't play.

 

Sigh...

 

Grey

Very much this ^

 

I would always rather have actual human musicians working with me than strike out on my own but that is the way of things at this time. 

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It takes skill (and good plugins) to program a virtual instrument to sound "real", but it's a different set of skills than actually playing the instrument. In the end, which method results in a better-sounding track? Be objective about it and you'll probably have your answer pretty quickly. Do you want folks to be impressed by your writing, recording and producing skills? Or so you want them to chuckle at you sounding bad on a bunch of instruments - or maybe just click away?

 

4 hours ago, Krakit said:

I'm wondering if the pizazz of playing the parts on real instruments (but like a novice) is more entertaining or should I put my best foot forward and create all the parts on keyboards at the cost of zero variety in what gets filmed (other than possible B roll that I might pepper in for spice)

 

 

This kinda sounds like presenting yourself playing "like a novice" might be entertaining to people. Perhaps it would, but in my opinion it might also take away from showcasing your talent as a songwriter, if you were looking to do that.

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5 hours ago, Krakit said:

I want to showcase my keyboard playing with original backing tracks. I figure I can either play real instruments (and film myself playing those parts) or I can play virtual instruments off camera and just video myself playing the keyboard parts only. 

Since none of it is a live recording (real-time), lay down the parts to the best of your ability.  Videotape yourself playing the real instruments against the backing tracks. Splice it all together similar to the video above.  Have fun with it.😎

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2 hours ago, Reezekeys said:

It takes skill (and good plugins) to program a virtual instrument to sound "real", but it's a different set of skills than actually playing the instrument. In the end, which method results in a better-sounding track? Be objective about it and you'll probably have your answer pretty quickly.

It takes skill to lay down a good track playing-wise, whether it's using the "real" instrument or a plugin on a keyboard that sounds like it. You gotta hit the notes either way; it's just how to get them that's different. In some ways for sure playing the real instrument is harder, but there is a unique difficulty in playing a keyboard and realizing for other instruments, you usually don't want to play them like a keyboard.

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I am particularly raw on this topic at the moment because I'm attempting to come up with a drum track for the tune I'm working on and...I ain't no drummer...and I know it. But there's no one to call on.

 

Hell, I would dearly love to turn the keys (in this case, piano) over to a real keyboard player and get my butt busy on strings, where I'm supposed to be.

 

Yeah, like that's gonna happen!

 

Grey

I'm not interested in someone's ability to program. I'm interested in their ability to compose and play.

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Of the three instruments, Bass, Guitar and Drums, Bass is my strong suit. I've been playing it longer than the other two instruments and have even played Bass on stage in a Led Zeppelin cover band.  Bass at large has come a long way in the last couple of decades. Bass players these days are amazing. Everyone sounds like Jaco, Claypool and Wooten nowadays. 

I can replicate some of that on keys (slapping and tapping, improvising and all that busy playing that I love in a bass player). I have no chance of playing so well on a real bass. (thinking about taking lessons though because I do love Bass. "don't forget to slap like") 

 

I've played guitar almost as long as the bass, but really nothing beyond the typical campfire guitarist. Open chords, barre chords and no leads at all. Well, I could do a few Beatle song leads (badly) but I can't improvise on guitar at all. I have gotten good at mimicking guitar playing on keys though, even adding string squeaks and other articulations on acoustic patches. Nothing that could replace a gifted guitarist by any means, but good enough for backing tracks. I can do lead playing on keys too, but it's not as convincing as my keyboard version of rhythm guitar. Plus, I'm not trying to showcase guitar. Just keyboard. 

 

I've only had a drum set for about a year and I haven't really spent any time with it. I mostly bought it so that visitors could play the drums at my house. I'm not even good enough to call myself a bad drummer, but I'm sure that I could use lots of takes and overdubs to get something out of my kit if I wanted. I usually play over my Beat Buddy or canned drums or drums I have programmed myself. 

 

If I were even 50% more talented I would much rather play the real instruments myself, but I'm just good enough that I don't know which trade off is best. 

 

Superior musicianship at the cost of authenticity or vice versa?

 

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If I were the OP I would go ahead and record myself playing the parts, then later decide whether or not to post on the Youtube channel.   

 

When you decide that your parts are going to suck before you even try recording, you have already put yourself in a a hole.  So, maybe don't put yourself in the hole?

 

There is much to be gained by going through the process of arranging musical parts to be played, recording, editing, then putting everything together into a video.  Even if you end up hiding it all away from the public, you gain experience in all these different, yet related activities, and over time you'll get better at these activities.  Unless of course you quit too easily.

 

Also if you end up getting other people to record those parts later, at least they can use the parts you previously recorded to help themselves understand what you're looking for.   

 

 

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