How to Create Piano Visualization Videos with Particles

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falling piano notes with particles visualization from pianist Rousseau

Recently I’ve been spending some time investigating how to create piano visualization videos with particles. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, these mesmerizing videos can be found in a few youtube channels. The most popular of these is probably Rousseau, with around 1,6 Million subscribers at the time of writing this – not easy for a piano only channel!

In this post, I will go through the general process and types of piano visualization software you will need to produce a video like this one, this one or even this one. There’s a lot of info to cover, so let’s get right to it!

How is the Video Made?

So you want to make a piano video like Rousseau… Or, even better, like Bruno M 😁 The elegant result consists of two parts: a rolling panel with the notes falling down on the top half, along with an overhead recording of the actual performance on the bottom half. While playing, the piano keys light up. Yes, this is not edited, there is an actual reactive LED strip in front of the piano keys lighting up. I have investigated this kind of video a lot (I find them fascinating) and the result requires several processes:

What Kind of Piano Can I Use?

In order to produce the effect as the one you see here or here, you will need a digital piano. In my youtube channel (which you should totally subscribe to, by the way) I use the Yamaha P45, for having the quality and features I was looking for, at the most affordable price, but there are options for every wallet. 

What Software Tools are Necessary?

As you might have guessed, some of these steps require software that is not free.

For handling the MIDI capture and audio generation I’ve seen the use of Ableton Live highly recommended. There are, however, some alternatives worth a try, such as FL Studio and Cubase. The generation of the piano roll video is done using the most popular piano visualization software, Synthesia. The output video is then generated using Synthesia Video Creator, their video creation tool. The remaining steps are done in the MVP of this project, which is Adobe After Effects. You will also need Red Giant’s Trapcode Particular, a mind-blowing plugin (with a matching price).

Although there is no doubt the end result is beautiful to watch, even hypnotising in a way, all this adds to a considerable amount using the recommended setup of software.

Since a lot of you were asking about it in the comments, I made a tutorial on how to download and use Synthesia Video Creator 😉

📢 Update 01 Oct 2019 📢 I have finally created my first complete video using these techniques! I came back here to let you know you can use Cakewalk as your DAW. It is free and you won’t be missing anything!

Learning How to Create Piano Visualization Videos with Particles

After a somewhat slow first try (ok, several tries over a week), I managed to produce the following video from a generic Fur Elise MIDI file. I’m not completely satisfied with the result, but you can already see a lot of progress here. There are falling notes generated from the MIDI file, the background was keyed out, the color of the notes was edited, a fancy smoke border was added between the keys and the notes, there is glow when the notes touch the keys and we have the almighty particles (single, smoke and random flyers!).

For the border, I used Video Copilot’s free “Saber” plugin, and for the particles, I used Trapcode Particular. In order to use it, I recommend you read through Particular’s documentation since there are several configurable fields. The main idea is to make a small section at the bottom of the falling notes, that will act as the trigger for the particles to be generated.

Source File - Synthesia Video Generated from MIDI

Below is the video I created with Synthesia. I was able to change the background color to black using Synthesia itself. As it turns out there is a hidden customization tool that you can launch by pressing Shift while you click the icon.

Final After Effects Output

Below is the end result of this first try after changing the piano roll colors and adding the particles and glow.

Don't Give Up!

Slow and steady wins the race. This may seem like a whole new world for some, and it certainly was for me, but if you take the time to slowly learn how to do this you will be able to do things you never thought you would. After originally making this article, I kept working on these techniques. I started a whole youtube series where I try something different in each video and, after a few months, I was able to create this video, that mixes these effects into an actual video of me performing (augmented reality piano particles video? haha)

More info on that particular video in this post.

Thoughts and Future Plans

Riiight, spending a considerable amount of money on this kind of project is not for everyone for sure, especially if you are a piano beginner. However, remember you might not need the particles. Sure, they look great and it’s fun to look at them (they might even help with viewer retention if that’s important to you), but just the MIDI notes alone, with some glow effects when they hit the piano keys will already create a pretty cool effect.

Now that I’ve learned how to create piano visualization videos with particles, I feel it is not enough. It’s not enough to know how to do it, I need to put it to practice and perfect it. I’m also sure it’s going to be a lot more complicated when also dealing with the bottom section with the actual video of the performance. After you have everything set up it all comes down to taking the time to familiarize yourself with each of the tools and messing around with the countless possibilities of the Trapcode Particular plugin. 

Meanwhile, the next step for me is to set up a proper recording environment for the overhead performance and tweaking the particles to my taste. Obviously, there are still a lot of after effects details I need to learn in order to get all of this going. I’ll be trying to figure out the best way to do it myself in the weeks to come 🙂 I’ll make sure to keep updating this article with my findings. If you’d like to check my most recent tweaks you can find them here 🙂

Need Help Creating Your Own Video?

Hopefully, at this point you have an idea of how it all works out, or at least how to get started! As you can imagine, it took a lot of effort to learn all these methods and do this tutorial post, so as much as I want to, it would be impossible to assist everyone individually on their doubts. In any case, if you have a quick question, feel free to leave a comment with it here and I will do my best to help. However, if what you’d really like is to skip all the hassle and have the project files for any of my videos, email me at lifetap.contact@gmail.com and I’ll see what I can do 🙂

What about the LED Light Strip Visualizer?

As you might have noticed we didn’t cover the reactive LED visualizer part! Yup, that’s a whole other project to add to this one. I’ll make a post about my ideas on it when I get around to it.

What to be notified when I post the piano LED visualizer tutorial? 👇

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This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. Tom Mewes

    hey man really great stuff!
    i wanted to make such videos for a long time but i cant get it to work.
    Over the past 2 month i tried and tried but i have problem with the particles.
    could perhaps explain how you let the particles appear at the right time or do you just keyframe everything( i´ve tried this but its just taking way too long).
    sorry for my bad english im not a native speaker, im from germany.
    would be great if you reply.

    Thanks in advance!
    -Tom-

    1. lifetap

      Hey Tom, welcome to the blog! I know how you feel, this stuff is overwhelming at first (still is to me!). Eventually, I will complete this blog post with more detailed information on how to actually get this stuff done, but until then I think you will find it very useful to have my own .aep project files. Check your email! 😉

      Have fun! 🙂

  2. Worke

    This is an awesome post! Well done for making this work! I know this might be a long stretch, but is it possible if you could share your After Effects project? That way we could understand how this is done.

    The problem I encountered is actually telling the specific type of particles to work through a specified precomp that’s connecting notes on the bottom where the particles are created. Whenever I make them good, if I specify the Emitter Type as Layer, the particle is almost lost and then I try to make it up with increasing particles per second, which doesn’t work. So, how dod you do it is a million-dollar question? 🙂 Thanks in advance!

    1. lifetap

      Hello Worke, sorry for taking so long. Check your email 😉

  3. Deidra Tunick

    I found How to Create Piano Visualization Videos with
    Particles very educational.
    I want to share with you how my children learned to love the piano.
    Kisses!! 🙂

  4. Sibananda rath

    i wanted to know how to record the synthesia video in high quality? first add the overhead video and then mask the synthesia video which is of low quality!!!! Then when i try to use the extract plugin to make the background balck everything messes up! plz help

    1. lifetap

      Hey Sibananda, the method I use for recording the synthesia video is the Synthesia Video Creator 🙂 you can find it in their website. I actually have a more in depth guide I’m working on, on how to do all of this, and it includes those tools and how to configure them for the best result. Hopefully I can make it accessible in the future. If you’d like to be notified, subscribe to my mailing list on top of this page 😉 cheers

  5. Sibananda rath

    Do you use the paid version of synthesis? Please make it soon I want to make my video and can’t get help

    1. lifetap

      I do use the paid version. The synthesia video creator is a separate software that you can get from their website, although it is kind of hidden.
      I will make an article tomorrow explaining how to download it 🙂

  6. João

    Hello, this information is very helpful,thank you!
    But I´m having some trouble launching After Effects on my 400$ pc, do you know of a pc under a 1000$ where After Effects works well?

    1. lifetap

      Hey João, glad you found it useful! 🙂 I would say any 1000$ PC should be able to run it. These are demanding software, so it’s useful to have at leas 8GB of RAM (preferably 16GB) and a good processor. Graphics card, on the other hand, isn’t really meaningful. Good luck!

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