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Digital Subscriptions > MusicTech > Aug 17 > THE COMPLETE GUIDE To Virtual Instruments

THE COMPLETE GUIDE To Virtual Instruments

Welcome to the new MusicTech Beginner’s Section, designed for newcomers to the world of music production. Last time, we looked at DAWS – the central components of the modern studio. Over the following pages, we look at the range of instruments you can run in them…

Beginner’s Guide

In our opening Beginner’s Guide, we looked at the central piece of software that’s used on the central piece of hardware within practically every modern music-production studio: the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). DAWs are used on laptop or desktop computers, or mobile devices such as a phone or tablet. They can do pretty much everything you need to make music. Most come with huge lists of features and offer you all of the power, sounds and instruments you need to make professional-sounding music. It’s these ‘virtual’ instruments that we’re going to look at in more detail this time around, as they’ve become a key part of music production in the 21st century. They can replicate any ‘real’ instrument – guitars, drums, pianos and so on – from the outside world, or even come up with futuristic or fantastical sounds by way of synths, or huge libraries of otherworldly sounds. Best of all, you don’t need the physical skills to actual play the instruments they recreate, as you can simply trigger their sounds via a keyboard controller or even your computer keyboard – a complete virtual orchestra at your fingertips!

Plug-in to plug in

Virtual (also known as ‘plug-in’ instruments) came to prominence around 20 years ago (yes, really, computer music fans) after Steinberg developed the VST (Virtual Studio Technology) platform that enabled software instruments to run within DAWs (then more commonly known as sequencers).

Steinberg’s first proper virtual instrument was a synth called Neon, which recreated the interface and sounds of an analogue hardware synth – see boxout. As processor power increased, a huge number of more complex virtual instruments started appearing, with more emulations of ‘real’ instruments – that is, guitars, pianos and other acoustic instruments – and more complex synthesisers, which could eventually do things in the virtual environment never dreamt of in real life.

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