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Background: I have a Roland FP10 digital piano that I'd like to use as a midi controller, ie connected to a laptop running a daw, then out to headphones/speakers. I'm far from being a serious musician and really just want to play around with an expanded range of tones, rather than restricted to the few instruments built in to the Roland.

This might be a silly question but how does a daw generate its sounds? Does each daw come with its own "samples" of the instruments, with the quality of those sounds dependent on the particular daw? Or do all daws use the Windows GS wavetable synth (and if so, is it possible to replace those sounds with a better quality set)? The only time I've done anything with midi was with a freeware Windows app (I forget the name), which used the GS wavetable, so sounded very poor,hence wondering if all daws do the same.

On a related note (pardon the pun), if I wanted additional tones, over and above the "general midi" instruments, what should I look for in a daw? Specifically I'm interested in 80s/90s pop/synth sounds.

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    Which DAW? Protools? Cubase? Regardless, many such might "come with" some virtual instruments, but more can usually be downloaded and added. To your last question: I think the DAW and the "virtual instruments" are less linked than you imagine. DAW is to virtual instrument as workbench in the garage is to drill press: you can't use the tool without the workspace, but the end result has a lot more to do with the tool than the workspace. Dec 9, 2022 at 16:06
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    Start at steinberg.net/cubase read all the info, watch all the videos. Then do the same for the other DAWs. You're starting from ground zero, you need to gain some background knowledge even if you never touch a DAW as you're researching. The GS Wavetable is to modern music production as the wax cylinder is to Dolby Atmos.
    – Tetsujin
    Dec 9, 2022 at 16:18
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    I think it's actually a good question, but writing a good answer would take a long time. Try using a DAW and you'll see why. Dec 10, 2022 at 0:01

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Given how many DAWs there are, I wonder if I would be able to write something general enough to cover all DAWs, but let me try.

The main function of a DAW is to record, edit and mix audio and MIDI tracks. If you want your MIDI tracks to make actual sound, you need a virtual instrument. Some DAWs come with virtual instruments built in or bundled, some come with none. Then most of DAWs allow using plug in instruments in various formats, the most widespread being VST (or VSTi).

There are many kinds of virtual instruments, varying from synthesizers which produce sounds based on algorithms, samplers which focus on playing back samples, and virtual instruments attempting to emulate the sound of real instruments, typically basing on a large library of multiple carefully selected samples.

There is a lot of to choose from, and you can easily spend thousands on software and sample banks. Before you do, I would advise trying the free ones (some of which are very good!), to see what is available and learn what you want to do.

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    I'd also add, in case the OP needs it: These "virtual instruments" are just that, virtual. You can operate them using your actual physical keyboard as a "controller," though you could also get sound out of them with other interfaces, like programming in a pattern, perhaps using "piano roll" interface. It's in a sense coincidence that your Roland has its own sounds ("patches"); a MIDI controller just sends information like which key you pressed, how hard, and for how long. The virtual instrument can then use that info, so you can use the physical keyboard to "play" the virtual one. Dec 9, 2022 at 19:00

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