5 Steps to Sampling an Instrument (Kawai)

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Kawai Baby Grand
Kawai Baby Grand

Written by Engineer / Instructor Adam Stamper

In conjunction with the release of the Omega Studio’s Kawai Baby Grand Sample Pack I’d like to explain the basic process behind the creation of a sample based instrument.  Recording an instrument so it can later be recreated within a sampler is known as Multi-Sampling and can be a fairly tedious process.  However this process can be broken down into five primary steps.

 

Step 1 – Planning

This is a very important step and often gets too little attention.  In order to get the best results when sampling an instrument you must be organized throughout the entire process and starting with a little pre-planning can go a long way.

Before recording anything set a goal for yourself and establish what will be required to meet that goal.  Every instrument has it’s own unique qualities and this is especially true of acoustic instruments, so learn about the instrument you’re about to sample.

What is its musical range (from the lowest note it can play to the highest)?  What is its dynamic range (from soft to loud)?  What are some good ways to record this instrument?  How many different ways can you play this instrument (these are known as articulations)?  A violin for example can be played with long bow strokes (more legato), short bow strokes (more staccato), with pitch variation (called vibrato), plucked with a finger (called pizzicato), and more.

Decide how many of these variations in pitch, dynamics, and articulations you want to capture, but remember to stay within your time and/or money budget.  Then write a list of every note, dynamic and articulation you wish to capture so you don’t forget any during the recording phase.

 

Step 2 – Recording

Now that you have a master plan you can start recording all the pieces you will need to complete that plan.  Begin by finding an appropriate recording method for the specific instrument your sampling.  Take your time and experiment with various microphones and mic placements.  Make sure the signal is as clean (low noise) as possible and that you’re happy with the sonic character the mics are capturing.  Once the samples are recorded it will be harder to correct for any shortcomings.

If you’re not playing the instrument yourself make sure your player knows the game plan.  Give them a copy of your master list so they don’t miss anything and make sure they know to be really quiet as each note is recorded.  It is also important to be very consistent with each dynamic level and articulation.

Once again stay organized.  Carefully label each and every sample so you don’t get confused later in editing.  This can be done by using markers within your recording software or by recording a verbal slate for each sample.  I recommend both just to be safe, so have the player call out each sample before they play it and then drop a corresponding marker.  This way if your markers ever get misaligned you’ll still have a verbal slate before each sample.

 

Step 3 – Editing

            Once you have confirmed that all of the required samples have been recorded you can then move on to the editing phase.  This is often the most tedious of the five stages, but as long as you have stayed organized it shouldn’t be too overwhelming.

Edit each and every sample into a separate audio clip.  Make sure the beginning of each audio clip is trimmed to as close to the start of each sample as possible so that there will be no delay later when triggered from a sampler.  Also make sure the beginning is trimmed to a zero crossing in order to prevent pops and clicks.  You’ll need to zoom way in to check this.

Similarly the end of each audio clip should be trimmed appropriately and should not cut off any of the decay of the original sample.  I would recommend adding a slight fade out to the end of each audio clip, again in order to prevent any pops and clicks.

 

Phase 4 – Naming and Export

Now that each sample has been edited into it’s own discrete audio clip it must be named and exported as an individual audio file.  Every software is different, but in general the non-destructive editing process used by most audio software creates clips (or regions) when editing, not audio files.  In short this means that each of the audio clips you’ve just created during the editing phase is not an individual audio file on your hard drive.  In order for the samples to be loaded into most samplers they must first be converted into actual audio files.

First convert each audio clip into an individual audio file.  This process will differ slightly between software so you may need to do a little research on your particular software.  In Pro Tools this is done by selecting each clip and choosing the consolidate option under the edit menu.  Once all the audio clips have been converted into individual audio files rename them using a consistent naming scheme.  For the Omega Studios’ Kawai Pack I named each sample starting with the instrument (prep piano), followed by the note name (ie: C3), and the dynamic level (soft or hard).  For example, the soft dynamic for the second F# note I sampled was named “prep_piano_F#2_Soft”.

Once all the samples are appropriately named export them all to one folder on your hard drive.

 

Step 5 – Programming

This is the most rewarding phase of the process because you finally get to hear the results of all your hard work as you program and play the final patch.  First choose your sampler.  Samplers are available in both hardware and software varieties.  More often these days people use software samplers due to their generally lower price point and ease of use.  Many are even included as stock instruments in software such as Apple’s Logic, Propellerhead’s Reason, or Ableton’s Live.

Make sure your samples are located on the hard drive where you intend to keep them.  Moving them later after programming the sampler will most likely cause problems.  Create a blank new patch in your sampler and import the samples.  This may be as simple as a drag and drop or may require some sort of menu.

Once the samples are loaded into the sampler you will need to set the parameters of each sample based on their individual pitch and dynamic values.  The root key of each sample should be set to match the note that it represents (the “prep_piano_F#2_Soft” sample I mentioned earlier would get a root key of F#2).  When the root key is played on your MIDI keyboard the sample will be triggered/played at it’s original pitch.  The key range of each sample is adjusted by setting a high and low key on the keyboard.  Between these two keys is the range in which the sample will be triggered and within in that range the sample will be automatically pitched up or down based on how far you play away from the root key.

If you have captured multiple dynamic levels for your samples you will need to set appropriate velocity ranges as well.  Velocity is a measurement of how hard you play a key on your MIDI keyboard and ranges from values of 0 to 127.  Set the top and bottom velocity settings for each sample so that the softer dynamic samples are only triggered by lower velocities and the harder dynamic samples are only triggered by higher velocities.  Experiment with your settings and test them from your MIDI keyboard controller.

Be sure to save your finished patch so you can access it whenever you need it.  Consider creating variations of the patch using other articulations that you captured or simply by adjusting the settings available to you in the sampler.

 

Omega’s Kawai Baby Grand lovingly recorded with prepared/muted treatment.
Propellerhead’s Reason Refill format and 48kHz 24bit WAV Files

You can download the Kawai Prepared Piano Pack here.

Omega-Studios-Prepared-Piano.zip (16 downloads)

 

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