Can You Use Virtual Instruments Convincingly in Your Songs?

Explore how virtual instruments can be used convincingly in your music. Learn their pros, cons, and how to blend them effectively with real instruments.

As we navigate the digital revolution, one of the most intriguing questions posed by music enthusiasts is, “Can you use virtual instruments convincingly in songs?” With the advent of digital technology in music production, it’s worth exploring whether we are past the era of recording real instruments entirely. There seems to be a fine line between what is real and what is fake in music production. This blog post is all about exploring that line, analyzing the efficacy of virtual instruments, and demonstrating how they can be used convincingly.

Can you create convincing music with virtual instruments?

There’s no denying that keyboard players have the upper hand when it comes to virtual instruments. However, even those whose keyboard skills might not be virtuosic have tools within their grasp to craft convincing music. The trick with virtual instruments is truly comprehending the broad spectrum of sounds they can produce and knowing how to harness that potential to its fullest.

Image of a man making music with a digital keyboard. Source: unsplash
Image of a man making music with a digital keyboard. Source: unsplash

Perhaps, the best way to understand the power of virtual instruments is to consider the words of Andrew Sheps, one of the most esteemed mixers in the music industry. In a talk at Oxford University, Sheps said,

All that matters is what comes out of the speakers.

Andrew Sheps

This simple yet profound insight captures the essence of music production. The audience doesn’t care about the specifics of how a piece of music is created. Instead, they care about the sound that they hear. It doesn’t matter if a song was recorded live with real instruments or using a virtual instrument; the focus is on the sound quality.

For instance, modern film scores often take form entirely within the realm of sample libraries. The sophistication of today’s virtual instruments is such that they can emulate everything from the warm, resonant tones of a piano or bass, to the percussive heartbeat of drums, to the sweeping majesty of strings and brass, and even the pulsating buzz of organs and synths, with accuracy.

My favorite MIDI keyboard (at the moment):

AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3

Can you use virtual instruments convincingly in your songs? | 717qmgla7zl. Ac sl1500 | audio apartment
My favorite MIDI keyboard (at the moment):

AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3

I’m loving the AKAI MPK Mini MK3 for its compact design and the range of controls. It’s one of my essential tools. The velocity-sensitive keys and MPC-style pads are great for making beats, while the thumbstick and knobs give me precise control.

How can virtual instruments mimic real instruments?

A piano, perhaps the most obvious example, can be convincingly replicated using virtual instruments such as EZ Keys. Even a tool like EZ Drummer can replicate an entire drum performance with real recorded drums that were then sampled. For the bass, IK Multimedia has a great plugin called Moto Bass. It is becoming increasingly popular amongst artists who want to play MIDI bass notes.

Similarly, strings and brass instruments can also be convincingly replicated using virtual instruments. While it is more challenging to convincingly reproduce the sounds of trumpets and trombones, as long as these instruments are not the primary focus of the song, it is possible to convincingly use virtual instruments.

How important are real instruments?

Despite the progress made with virtual instruments, some elements of music production require a real instrument. Guitar, for instance, is an instrument that is challenging to convincingly replicate using virtual instruments. The nuanced sounds produced by a real guitar cannot be easily replicated. However, you can get creative and mix virtual guitar plugins with other elements, especially if your song is more oriented toward electronic or pop music.

In the case of vocals, it’s recommended to use human singers, especially for the lead vocal. There’s just something about the raw, unique quality of a human voice that breathes life and emotional depth into a song in a way that’s impossible to replicate. It’s a critical part of the recording process, so it’s worth the effort to get it spot on.

How do you choose between virtual and real instruments?

The choice between real and virtual instruments often comes down to several factors. Let’s break down each of them:

Image of virtual instruments in a daw (digital audio workstation). Source: unsplash
Image of virtual instruments in a daw (digital audio workstation). Source: unsplash
  • Understand your song’s needs: Each song has its unique requirements. Some songs might sound better with a grand piano, while others might shine with a simple synth. Understanding the texture your song needs will help you make a decision about whether to use a virtual or real instrument.
  • Experiment: While a virtual instrument might not be able to replace a real one in all aspects, it can provide unique sounds that real instruments cannot. Use this to your advantage. Experiment with different sounds and combinations of real and virtual instruments.
  • Utilize MIDI controllers: To bring expressiveness to virtual instruments, use MIDI controllers. Modulation wheels, pitch bend, and aftertouch can provide added expression to a virtual instrument, making it feel more ‘real’.
  • Process virtual instruments like real ones: When using a virtual instrument, don’t just drop it into the mix. Treat it as you would a real instrument. Use equalization, compression, and other effects to help it blend well with the rest of the mix.
  • Use layering techniques: A common technique is to layer a virtual instrument with a real one. This can give you the best of both worlds – the unique sound of a real instrument, coupled with the flexibility of a virtual one.

How are virtual instruments shaping the future of music production?

It’s undeniable that the realm of virtual instruments is evolving at breakneck speed. With developments in artificial intelligence and machine learning, we may soon see virtual instruments that can convincingly replicate the nuances of a real instrument.

Take a look at the marketplace today and you’ll spot plugins leveraging AI to mirror the expressive flair of live musicians. Superior Drummer 3 from Toontrack, for example, provides drum performances that echo human precision, all with the added advantage of complete customization.

Real instruments have a unique soul and can bring irreplaceable depth to a piece of music but, it’s worth exploring the vast possibilities that virtual instruments offer.

This raises an important question: is it time to trade your collection of real instruments for virtual equivalents? Not necessarily. Real instruments have a unique soul and can bring irreplaceable depth to a piece of music but, it’s worth exploring the vast possibilities that virtual instruments offer. After all, a good producer knows how to use the best of both worlds to create a captivating piece of music.

Remember, the end goal is not to trick your listener into believing they’re hearing a real instrument when they’re not. Rather, it’s about creating a piece of music that resonates with them and sounds fantastic, regardless of the tools you used to get there.

If you want even more tips and insights, watch this video called “Virtual Instruments vs Real… does it matter?” from the Recordingrevolution YouTube channel.

A video called “Virtual Instruments vs Real… does it matter?” from the Recordingrevolution YouTube channel.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do you still have questions about virtual instruments? Below are some of the most commonly asked questions.

What is a virtual instrument, and how does it work?

A virtual instrument is a software program or plugin that produces sound. It can be any type of musical instrument or sound effect. Virtual instruments are primarily used in the process of music production and are typically used with a MIDI controller.

Can virtual instruments replace real instruments in a song?

Virtual instruments have significantly improved in quality and are convincingly used in professional releases. However, they don’t entirely replace real instruments. They both have their unique benefits and can be combined for a rich, layered sound.

Are there any limitations in using virtual instruments?

While virtual instruments can convincingly reproduce many sounds, some instruments like the guitar and lead vocals are more challenging to replicate convincingly. For these elements, it is often better to opt for a live performance.


In this ever-evolving world of music production, where technology and creativity intertwine, it’s crucial to keep learning and adapting. However, let’s not forget the soul of music that real instruments carry—the human touch, the flaws, and the raw emotion. The goal is not to pit real instruments against virtual ones but to leverage the strengths of both. With a blend of both real and virtual, we can create a rich, layered sound that captures the authenticity of the former and the versatility of the latter.

Key takeaways

  • Virtual instruments offer a vast spectrum of sounds, empowering even those with less developed keyboard skills to craft convincing music.
  • Today’s advanced virtual instruments can convincingly emulate a wide range of instruments, from pianos to drums, bass, strings, brass, organs, and synths.
  • Certain instruments like the guitar and vocals still hold a unique quality when recorded live, adding irreplaceable depth and emotion to a track
  • Virtual instruments are evolving rapidly, with tools like Toontrack’s Superior Drummer 3 leveraging AI to replicate the performance nuances of real musicians.

Did I cover everything you wanted to know? Let me know in the comments section below. I read and reply to every comment. If you found this article helpful, share it with a friend, and check out my full blog for more tips and tricks on music production. Thanks for reading!

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Image Andrew Ash
Written by Andrew Ash, Staff Writer

Hey there! My name is Andrew, and I'm relatively new to music production, but I've been learning a ton, and documenting my journey along the way. That's why I started this blog. If you want to improve your home studio setup and learn more along with me, this is the place for you!

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