I recently started playing around with my MIDI keyboard and Garageband. However, I noticed the default "Grand Piano" etc. in Garageband have very poor sound and expression capability.

Is there a free or moderately priced (for a student) virtual piano that I can use in Garageband? I am looking for something of very high quality; ie., something where one can express oneself well. The default sound in Garageband just sounds too electric and unvaried to be fun to play.

Through Googling, I found the Garritan Steinway piano virtual instrument, which seems good, but I thought people here might have more experience.

  • Personally, I quite like the free Tascam CVPiano. It has a slight tendency to over-pollute the bass range with damper sounds, but is very expressive when played in continuous mode. But it's VST only, I think you can't use these in Garageband? Sep 24, 2011 at 19:15
  • @leftaroundabout: I found kvraudio.com/get/2897.html, but it seems there is no Mac version, so I guess I can't use it. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong though, I'm really a beginner when it comes to Garageband etc., perhaps there's a plugin or converter that could make it work?
    – houbysoft
    Sep 24, 2011 at 19:33
  • Are you sure you want to go on with Garageband at all? It's not really a professional program. I'd recommend Reaper – which supports VST, but even that won't let you install Windows files directly on a mac. Sep 24, 2011 at 19:59
  • @leftaroundabout: not sure at all. I just went with Garageband since it was preinstalled. I'll try Reaper soon.
    – houbysoft
    Sep 24, 2011 at 20:16
  • If what you want to do is play piano, Garageband is as good as any way of getting midi notes from a keyboard to a software instrument. Garageband supports VST and AU. Don't spend money on a fancier studio app, unless you find yourself knocking against Garageband's constraints.
    – slim
    Sep 30, 2011 at 10:10

6 Answers 6


Personally I'm rather satisfied with Garageband's supplied piano sounds. However, it's entirely possible that I have cloth ears, and certain that I have very basic piano skills.

Have you explored the full range or GarageBand sounds? Note that if you go into the detailed instrument settings, there are more sounds than are apparent in the first menu of instruments.

GarageBand, like every other Mac audio application worth its salt, is compatible with Audio Unit modules, which provide instruments and effects.

There are plenty of Audio Unit modules that provide piano sounds. You can find them using a search at kvraudio.com.

I can't recommend any in particular, but a number of them make grandiose claims about the advanced technology they use to emulate a real piano.

Prices range from free to rather high - for example you could pay $350 for Ivory II Grand Pianos - but I expect they all have demo versions.


However, I noticed the default "Grand Piano" etc. in Garageband have very poor sound and expression capability.

When it comes to virtual pianos, there are two schools of thought. Sample based virtual pianos are collections of recordings of real pianos. Physical modeling virtual pianos use sophisticated mathematical models to emulate some or all of the physical interactions within a real piano.

Most virtual pianos are made out of samples. The worst ones use a single sample that is pitch shifted up and down the keyboard. An improvement is to use one or more samples per octave, and shift that sample up and down within its octave. Even better is to use a single sample per key. Still better than that is multiple samples per key, with each sample recorded at a different velocity.

Like most virtual pianos, Garage Band's pianos are sample based.

Depending on your aesthetic needs, a sampled piano may do the job. But if you are interested in the subtle interactions between notes, samples won't do the job. Samples can't resonate sympathetically. They don't change slightly as the piano slowly slips out of tune. They don't respond to humidity.

Physical modeling pianos attempt to address these deficiencies by modeling some or all of the physics of a piano. All this modeling is computationally expensive, so it is only recently that the physical models have begun to approach the quality of an actual piano. The least expensive way to play with a physical modeling piano is Pianoteq Play.

  • Thanks for the explanation of sample-based vs. physics-model based, I'll look into Pianoteq Play then
    – houbysoft
    Dec 14, 2011 at 4:29

Pianoteq 4 Stage

can be bought at retail in the United States for $100, or online for €100. I recommend it most highly. It is the most musical of all virtual piano instruments. It requires very little space on your hard drive, and can run fine on a modest computer system.

This instrument is particularly expressive. You can really hear a smooth, gradual change in timbre as you go from pianissimo (playing very softly) to fortissimo (hitting the keys really hard).

It uses virtual modeling, not samples, and can emulate different brands of pianos and even some historical fortepianos and harpsichords. It has additional modules you can purchase to add electric pianos, marimba and xylophone, and more.

You can download a free demo that is fully functional (except that some black keys are muted).

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  • 1
    Looks very interesting, will definitely check it out soon
    – houbysoft
    Dec 14, 2011 at 4:30

I would wholeheartedly recommend Alicia's Keys. Ignoring the extremely tacky name, this, like all the other Native Instruments plugins, is an amazing synth.

It's huge (7GB), it's MSRP'd at $120 (but I got it for $80 at Guitar Center on Memorial Day), it's amazing.

Not only does it sound like a real piano (I cannot tell the difference between synth and real), it sounds better than my home piano.

Totally worth the money, IMO.

Oh, and Native Instruments likes to brag that they have a sympathetic resonance system built-in. Haven't really noticed it, but I find the quiet "kssh" as you press the pedal pretty cool.

At least worth checking out, even if you aren't planning on spending $120.

  • Is Alicia's Keys significantly different from the Akoustik Pianos? Dec 14, 2011 at 4:42
  • I've never used Akoustik pianos, but Alicia's Keys is cheaper. And I think it's the only Yamaha piano Native Instruments has sampled.
    – citelao
    Dec 19, 2011 at 16:29

For good results, consideration must also be given not only to the software, but also the computer (processing power), audio-interface, the audio reproduction (amps/speakers), AND the MIDI keyboard used. For best piano play, a hammer-action MIDI keyboard is advisable, but not essential.

Good thing with software is that most have limited trial versions.


I've had very good results with the sForzando plugin (free) and various free sample libraries.

A nice selection of free samples: http://bedroomproducersblog.com/2010/07/01/free-sample-shootout-3-acoustic-electric-and-toy-pianos/

And some more: http://bigcatinstruments.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/all-keyboard-instruments.html

Audio Examples

Iowa Piano:

City Piano:


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