Toontrack EZ Keys Review
I just got done checking out something that will change the world of songwriting, arranging, and computer based music creation for most of us! That something is EZ Keys from Toontrack. I’m sure most of you are familiar with their product EZ drummer, a tool that I’ve been using for songwriting for years now. When I first heard about EZ keys I assumed it was going to be a less expensive, not quite as amazing sounding alternative to something like Ivory. It turns out I was only partially correct.
While there is the side of EZ keys that is a simple, decent sounding, small file size piano plug-in the main component and what has me so jazzed up about it is the songwriting component. Much like they did with EZ drummer, you have preset grooves and patterns that you can use for piano. This way, if you’re not an accomplished piano player, which most of us aren’t, you can get some really great sounding MIDI performances that are drag and drop. You can arrange different patterns right inside of EZ keys, transpose, rearrange, edit chords, etc and then move it all over into your DAW for further use.
Also, if you’re completely ignorant when it comes to things like music theory (don’t feel bad I’m right there with you), chord structure, etc they have incorporated a bunch of tools that open this world wide open to you. When you drag a MIDI pattern (of which there are tons included in various styles) into the arranger window, it automatically lists the chords above the pattern so you could easily play along on another instrument. You can also open up a little chord wheel that kind of looks like the decoder pin in A Christmas Story and it will show you all available chords, variations of those chords, and voicings. Then you can click one, and the pattern automatically changes.
A really cool feature for those of us oblivious to theory is that when you open the chord wheel it highlights which chords would be a good match for that particular progression. You can choose any, but they give you some guidance. Also, there is a randomize button which will take the chords currently in the progression and completely randomize them while adding in other chords that will compliment the progression. Through this you could take the same performance and create limitless songs out of it by simply selecting a new key, clicking randomize, and playing back.
Being a guitarist, drummer, and songwriter the one thing that I’ve always struggled with is keys. Piano and organ naturally fit into the styles of music that I write, but outside of knowing basic triads, and being able to noodle my way across the keyboard, I’ve always had to outsource my piano work to other players. While that’s not a bad thing, and I love collaborating, when it’s 3am and I’m trying to bang out a song idea that is screaming for some piano, EZ Keys has just become my savior. The included performances are fantastic, they’re useful, and they’re organized much like EZ drummer into styles, and then subcategorized into Verse, Chorus, and Bridge folders. In about 20 seconds you could have an entire song written on piano that will sound shockingly authentic.
One cool addition that they’ve included is a tutorial aspect. They include over 20 pages of very digestible information on music theory and include basic MIDI files to accompany these “lessons.” You can also slow down progressions and go into a “visual” mode that lets you see the fingering of the chords on an actual piano so you could practice along. Honestly, I think they may have accidentally created one of the coolest piano training tools out there, and they don’t even know it.
The one downside to EZ keys is the piano sounds. They are good, not great, and there is only one piano to choose from. You can edit it with some built in effects, but that’s about it. I’m assuming that there will be expansions down the road, much like they’ve done with EZ drummer, but this one downside isn’t really a downside at all. I consider EZ Keys a songwriter’s tool that happens to come with a piano, not the other way around. If you’re picky you can easily take the MIDI performance and route it through things like Ivory, or the upcoming True Keys and get phenomenal piano sounds on a performance that sounds legit.
EZ keys will be available to order on March 13th and is only going for $149 so if you’re writing original music, and can’t play piano, this is a no brainer. I’m hurting for this to get here!