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The Orchestra Composition Thread

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Fortunately the Music Composition threads are overviewable ( is THAT an existing word? Sorry , i tend to use german grammar in my english ) and so after some search ( there was a thread close to my idea but not completely fitting ) i think i can do a thread about this without bringing out stuff which has been told in 347163458213 other threads before.(feel free to tell me if im wrong ) But lets get to the point.

Ive got the following programs: Cubase Essential 5 and Mark of the Unicorn ( Motu ) Symphonic Instruments.

For quite some months i want to compose something orchestral. I studied the way an orchestra is set up. Im quit good in listening out instruments ( though not notes ) but there is something that ceeps me from doing more than midi rips: My unsureness of excactly harmonise the instrument together so that ( that the most important point for me here ) its true to a real orchestra.

Let me explain my selfdoubt: (The questions im telling me )

Im unsure when to use an ensemble ( like woodwind, strings, horns ) or just put some single instruments together to a chord. Whats sounding more like a real orchestra would do? And then, when i try to fill up the frequency band with deeper and higher tones (by playing the same chord or melody an octave higher or lower) can i use a second ensemble of the same type? One more: Are ensembles even used for chords?I think i can use 2 Strings ensembles because theres a first and second strings in one of the wings, if i am not mistaken ( i maybe remember its the left wing , viewed from the audience ). Maybe the essential question for me is when to use single instruments and when to use ensembles.

I hope youre guessing out whats my problem. Im unsure if im ( sounds kinda like a pun, and yes, i love to write in brackets =) "keeping it real". That leads me to a thread topic like this with the main question:


I hope to hit some nerv, mainly of the newer wanna be composers like me, because this is the reason for allways delaying my attemp to compose ( even just remixing! ) stuff. I also have a yamaha PSR E413 ( its a not THAT expensive home keyboard but it has velocity dynamic, i hope thats the right word ... or touch-dynamic? And it works in my cubase , which i use mainly for my Roland TD12 VDrum and Superior Drummer 2) and basic experience of harmonics, scales and such things but also the thaught of "im surely doing it wrong" and "it surely sounds awkward after all"

I hope some of the experienced orchestra composers stumble over this thread and can give some explanation of how they are doing their compositions and if they are even paying attention to such things im thinking about. I got some tips in other threads ( like panning instruments like a real orchestra is arranged by their seats ) but not quite excactly that what im looking for.

I maybe typed to much, but i hope it touches a heart or two, it really means a lot to me!

( my main fear is that ive missed a thread and everyones going "Ah not again such a thread" after watching... )

Thanks in advance

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Ensembles vs Solo instruments.

In modern times the choice of an ensemble over a solo instrument is based on the timbre of the homogonized sound of an ensemble versus the timbre of a single instrument.

In older times, the choice of an ensemble over a solo instrument is more one of power.

For example, 4 f horns at full fortissimo can over-power the entire orchestra.

So pre-recorded-music-era (how's that for german style?) composers and orchestrators detremined a series of instrumentation ratios that defined balance in the orchestra.

There are several thoughts on the subject and usually they change based on the total size of the orchestra.

With a MOTU Symphonic Instrument, go with your gut and what sounds best.

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If you are willing to spend some time on the matter (of orchestration) then I would advise you to at least check out this free course on Garritan's site. It's free and consists of 26 lessons. So it will take time and patience to read through. I'm currently through half of lesson one, and I have already learned a few things. So I recommend you to check that out.

link - http://www.garritan.com/index.php?option=com_wrapper&view=wrapper&Itemid=34

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I thank you both for answering!

@dannthr: Thats what ive done in my 2 attemps i made up till now. Ive done a melody based on a lead violin and one thats playing the bass tone ( maybe i switched to a string, i have to look ) and then orchestrated the melody with string and horn ensembles. ( maybe i chorded the horns as solo instruments, i really should look again into it, its been some time ...) Somehow i thought at first too: "Well i should just do what sounds good for ME" but then also theres that strive for perfection which i almost have when doing something. i dont now what you meant with your "hows that in german style?" but i think i know whats the meaning of "pre-recorded-music-era" , you also tried to describe a word you didnt know? =)

@Dissidia: That will be of great help, i will at least start to read it and usually ive got the willpower to get through things im really interested in, even if they arent THAT easy to understand. Thank you!

Edit: I just started to read the first course and i have to say that its really hard and maybe needs some understanding of some things before it ( i dont understand that divisi routine and whats a double stop? ) Well maybe i need more basics first... Helpful was the comment on strings that play cords with more than 2 notes need some time to get full into the chord. ( I guess the bow needs the swing from left to right and then from right to left, but thats a vague guess... )

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For whether solo or ensemble patches are more realistic for building chords, the answer is that in a real orchestra, there are a fixed number of instruments (say, four horns) and anything that causes more than that number of instruments to sound at the same time is "unrealistic." If we assume, for example, that there are four horns in our orchestra, and if the horn ensemble patch is four horns playing the same note, then building a four note chord with the horn ensemble patch means that there are actually sixteen total horns sounding at the same time.

This is not to say that you can't do this, or that it even necessarily sounds undesirable. It's usually extremely difficult to discern exactly how many instruments are playing in a ensemble patch, so you really have quite a bit of leeway in how you voice chords with them. Generally, if you want a really thick sound, the ensemble patch will give you that, although excessive layering may end up sounding over-saturated. Usually I don't play more than two notes simultaneously with a given ensemble patch; your mileage may vary. Another way to look at it is just to assume that there are a whole lot of horns (or whatever) in the particular orchestra you're using.

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@moseph: You brought me to an interesting thought: I really dont know how many horns are involved in the ensemble (so its called patch, not sample? ). So chording, them if they really contain all instruments of a given section of the orchestra, is indeed ridiculous. Unfortunately my manual is in the boxes from my last move from my flat, so i try to find some answers about this in the Motu Forum. But, taking not more than 2 ensemble patches of the same type similary sounds like a good rule of thumb.

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Yeah, i just got through the Strings section yesterday and after googling all the words , everything became quite clear. It was really mind-opening , especially the chording of the Violin, Viola, Cello and Double Bass was great to know. Also i never knew what "Harmonics" where. I never thought about that stopping a string creates a colder flute like timbre, but when i read it through it totally makes sense and ive heard it a hundred times before. Finally, getting through this stuff needs some research on some terms, but its definite worth the time!

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