EZKeys by Eric Parsons… EZKeys, by Toontrack, is a virtual instrument that combines a digitally sampled Steinway D concert grand piano with a variety of songwriting and compositional tools.
System Requirements, Installation and Registration
- Windows XP SP3 or newer, Pentium IV/Athlon 1.8 with 1 GB RAM
(32 and 64-bit versions are supported as per host application)
- Max OS X 10.5 or higher, G5 or Intel processor with 1 GB RAM
(32 and 64-bit hosts are supported on the Mac Intel platform)
An Audio Unit, VST or RTAS host application and a professional sound card are recommended. The installation and registration went smoothly with no hiccups. Toontrack does require the user to enter both a serial number and a computer ID number, after which you are provided with an authorization code to finalize the process. If you get confused, just refer to the included manual.
EZKeys will work as either a standalone or loaded in your DAW as a virtual instrument. The initial graphical interface is quite attractive, consisting of the keyboard portion of a classical piano on the top half and a song track section on the bottom half of the window.
There are fourteen different sound library presets available, but to be honest, I found the standard sampled piano to be the most useful for my purposes. There are also four controls that allow you to adjust a number of parameters, which vary depending on the selected preset. The standard preset provides adjustments for reverb, tone, compression and detail settings.
The Song Browser
The song browser contains a collection of midi files that are grouped under nine different musical genres: Pop/Rock, Soul/RNB, Country, Gospel, Jazz, Latin, Blues, Boogie, and Funk with two additional categories for Basic Chords and FX and Endings. Many of the genres contain subcategories for straight or swing and/or 4/4 or 6/8 time signatures. Each subcategory is further divided into song types based on stylistic and tempo differences which are then further categorized as an intro, verse, pre chorus, chorus, or bridge. You can browse and audition the files in the browser or drag and drop the file into the Song Track and play it there. For convenience you can also drag a copy of any file to “My Favorites” for easy access at a later date.
The Song Track
MIDI files can either be brought into the Song Track via drop and drag from the midi browser or imported in from any available source. Once a MIDI file is placed in the Song Track, EZKeys analyzes the data and display a chord symbol above each cord change in the chord block. EZKeys provides several tools for copying, pasting, and adding or deleting either a selected chord or the entire song block. Right clicking on the block and selecting properties allows you to change the key, octave and velocity of the block. On a more granular level, left clicking on any of the chord symbols will call up the Chord Selector, which provides for an even wider variety of editing capabilities.
The Chord Selector
The Chord Selector allows you to easily and sensibly alter the harmonic structure of the chord. The Chord Selector is based upon the concept of the Circle of Fifths, which is a fundamental music theory tool for displaying musical relationships.
(Note: Toontrack has included an additional 26-page document on music theory for anyone seeking more knowledge on this subject.)
When using the Chord Selector, it is important to verify that the correct key has been selected for the song. EZKeys will perform this task for you when you import a midi file, but I found the process just a little bit ambiguous to my way of thinking – it may make complete sense to everyone else. After importing a midi file, EZKeys will ask, “Transpose MIDI file to project key signature?” Your choices are either:
- Don’t change
This seems simple enough, but the default key for EZKeys is “C” – so if you select “Don’t change” the MIDI file will import with no changes, but EZKeys will assume that the song is in the Key of C and the Chord Selector will display harmonic options accordingly. I found it best to import the song in this manner and to note the first chord and then to remove the song block and re-import the MIDI file and then select “Transpose”. After the MIDI file is again imported, you can then change the song block to the appropriate key so that the first chord matches up with the original noted chord and you are good to go. (It would be nice if Toontrack to offered the option of having the song block key automatically update and not stay on the default key of C when importing).
Once the key is correctly set the Chord Selector is ready to use. The Chord Selector does two very powerful things: (1) it allows you to choose chords from a selection of six related chords that are appropriate for the key of the song and (2) it also allows you to easily alter the notes and/or coloration of any given chord. For those of us with only a modicum of music theory under our belts, this is huge because we are now able to start exploring the vast new frontier of chord substitution while using the Toontrack provided training wheels of the Chord Selector to keep us from wandering too far a field.
I find EZKeys to be fascinating and fun but I will admit that I was initially quite challenged to find the exact right part for the particular song I was working on. I want to be perfectly clear on this point, the MIDI files that are included with EZKeys offer a wide range of stylistic variety and they are all performed impeccably – the issue was that my particular song did not (in my opinion) readily fit into any one of the provided genre categories. I also found it a little cumbersome that I would have to re-enter my chord progression every time I tried out a new style in the Song File. (Note: I think it would be terrific if Toontrack could figure out a way to allow for an option where the chord progression could be independent from the rhythmic portion of the MIDI file).
I then hit on a process that brought it all together. I found that once I constructed a piano part in EZKeys that was close to what I wanted, I could then import it into my DAW and really dial in the fine details using the editing tools present in the DAW. Here is a sound clip of EZKeys in action. (Click for EZKeys Soundclip) Please note that the mix is way out of whack for demonstration purposes with the keys really boosted and everything else turned down.
EZKeys is a versatile and multifaceted tool that allows those of us who are “Keyboard Challenged” to easily add professional sounding piano parts to our compositions. The utility of the Chord Selector and ease in which a piano part can be constructed, edited and auditioned makes EZKeys a valuable partner in songwriting. To learn more about EZKeys or to download the demo click here: EZKeys by Toontrack