Toontrack EZkeys – a review by non-pianist Mark Cohen

Mark CohenToontrack EZkeys is a revolutionary plugin that offers innovative features and tools that mean even the most unskilled ivory tinklers can create impressive piano parts in no time at all.

That’s what the marketing tells us anyway, and, having tried it ourselves we heartily agree, however, don’t just take our word for it, here’s a great review from Mark Cohen, a guitar playing Time+Space customer who professes his piano skills are “pretty non existent”.

Over to Mark…

“Prior to the release of EZKeys in March 2012 I had just started to work on some country style songs in Logic as a bit of fun for some American friends.  I am an amateur songwriter and I wondered how I might program piano parts to sound authentic. As a guitar player, with few piano skills, my usual practice would be to painstakingly work out the notes from the guitar chords and program the piano in step time. I would have to reference the rhythm of the programmed piano ‘playing’ to MIDI songs downloadeEZkeys Grand Pianod from the internet.  Programming for a three minute song might take many hours of work.  The process was laborious and often the result sounded stiff and lacking in nuance or excitement.  I then saw an email from Time & Space about a new product called EZKeys from Toontrack and immediately downloaded a demo.  All my piano prayers had been answered and I bought the plug in within a few hours of using the demo.

In essence, EZKeys provides a means of adapting professionally played piano chord progressions and rhythms which are based on 9 genres from Pop/Rock through Blues, Funk, Gospel, Country & more.  Each genre contains a variety of song styles and in turn chord sequences to different parts of a song such as Intro, Verse, Chorus etc.  At least four variations of each of these parts are available, which increase in complexity from simple to more complex patterns.  In other words, there are hundreds of possible patterns to choose from.  The speed of the part can also be chosen – half, normal and double speed options are available.  Once a pattern is chosen by dragging it to the timeline, the fun can begin.

EZkeys Interface Circle of fifths

Toontrack have designed an innovative chord wheel which enables the user to change the pre-arranged chord progressions to any type of chord to suit the user’s own chord ideas and composition, whilst retaining the rhythm and fluidity of the original playing.   From the timeline more editing can take place when a part or song is completed.

Taking bars from verse, chorus, bridge parts etc, and using the chord wheel and editing options (cut, paste and transpose), I was able to produce a convincing piano part within a very short time. Occasionally, using the chord wheel to change a supplied MIDI part does not always produce the desired result – discordant notes appear or some notes are deleted but the beauty of EZKeys is the ability to drag the content of the timeline to your DAW as a MIDI part.  It can then be further edited within the DAW.  Of course, any sound can be played from the DAW, perhaps a different piano (I already owned Pianoteq) or an orchestral sound.  Indeed, viewing the MIDI part in Logic gave me more of an appreciation of how a piano player uses velocity, grace notes etc and I was able to use Logic’s MIDI editing to create and copy parts, change velocities, delete unwanted notes etc.

EZkeys Interface MIDI-blocks
EZkeys interface showing MIDI blocks

EZKeys also allows any MIDI part to be dragged to the timeline so if the supplied parts don’t fit the bill, a search on the internet for MIDI files will help.  I used an intro from a downloaded MIDI file, changed the chords and edited it to create the intro to my song called ‘Angel’.

Apart from the composition and editing options, the piano sound is very nice.  For piano aficionados it probably won’t beat the sound of a multi-gigabyte plug-in but this is not the point of EZKeys.  From my point of view, the sound has to sit in a mix and the Grand Piano does this admirably and anyway, its main function is as a song writing tool.

So far, I have used EZKeys to complement ideas conceived on the guitar, but using and changing the supplied chord progressions on their own could easily spark song ideas.  Toontrack has just updated EZKeys to version 1.1 which adds some more possibilities such as chord inversion – a very useful tool for trying out different voicings of chords.  It can also record MIDI input although personally I would probably play directly into Logic.

Version 1.1 now allows the user to choose the chords first on the timeline and then adapt the style of play from a selected part variation without changing the chosen chords.  Amazing!  The timeline can now be exported as a wav file.  Possibly not so useful to me as I would prefer to edit in Logic, but maybe useful to some people.  It can also humanise stiffly played MIDI parts. I’m going to have to dig out some of my old programmed parts to see what it does to them!  Toontrack are obviously committed to this product as they have released additional MIDI packs for Pop/Rock and Gospel styles as well as a tasty new Upright Piano module.

As you can tell, I remain very impressed with EZKeys and have so far completed three songs using it.  I would definitely recommend it as a an essential song writing and recording tool.  Even with my simple songs, it has made a difference in a short period of time and I believe I have only just skimmed the surface of possibilities!”

Mark has used EZKeys in the following tracks. For more information on his music, visit the Shining Hour website here.

Posted by Melanie Doidge

Having worked in marketing for over fifteen years with experience in various industries, Time+Space and the world of music production continues to be the most exciting of them all. With our brands consistently pushing the boundaries of technology with their products, the terrific DJs, Composers and Producers using them and the feedback from magazines and our customers, there's always plenty to tell the world about. Musical experience? I reached Grade 6 in piano back in my school days and am currently in the throes of trying to resurrect my abilities!


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