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Hey guys, maybe some of you guys know of this page already, but I recently discovered Vienna Symphonic Library's Instrumentology section here


I often compose using at least somewhat of an Orchestral profile (not necessarily well lol) and one of the things I can struggle with is the roles of the instruments in the orchestra. My background is choir mostly so this to me has been a great help. Particularly helpful though is the sound combinations section for each instrument. I'm mostly familiar enough with the instruments individually but combinations I highly struggle with. 

I hope maybe some of you guys can find use in this as well! I'll probably never own their library (nor do I need it really) but what a heck of a resource. Be curious to see if it helps anyone else as well.


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VSL or Vienna Instruments also contains some of the best high-quality VSTis out there - although the VSTi interface couldn't look much more boring and loveless.

But it also seems to have a pretty nice virtual room editor where you can obviously place your VSTis and other sound sources directly on a stage with precise directions, distances and sound propagation - which is quite an amazing expert tool as it seems.

Some time ago, I also bought VIENNA WHISTLER - which is a very good and professional whistling VSTi from VSL...

But, what is really annoying about VSL and what me keeps from buying more stuff from VSL...
... is the fact that you are forced to use an USB dongle and you always have to connect this USB stick to your PC in order to use the instruments from VSL.

But I always want to have all the stuff I need for composing directly on my internal harddrive.

If every VSTi developer company comes with its own USB dongle, your PC might soon look like a jenga tower which you could crush easily with any false movement.
And if you have a dog, a cat or a hungry bunny at home, your VSTis might get kidnapped or eaten alive within the blink of an eye without even noticing it.

So, I admire the high quality of the stuff they create as well as the useful information for music production they provide.
But in the end, I'll definitely stick with the much more user-friendly content from Native Instruments, Kontakt-based VSTis, the great collections from Eduardo Tarilonte and all the nice stuff for the Engine 2 sample player.

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So the unfortunate bit with orchestration is that it's really hard to get familiar with without digging into it extensively. 

Although there's a lot of resources available for learning orchestration - a lot of books, a really good extensive youtube channel (Thomas Goss, orchestration online) - the issue is that applying that information is not easy to start doing.

To be honest, when I first started orchestrating I just started applying instruments based on how I heard them used - trumpets were loud and brilliant, so use them for loud, glorious moments. Horns were flowing and elegant, so have them doing countermelodies. Strings *were* the "orchestral" sound, so have them doing everything. 

This was a good start and in reality I still do this, but a bit more nuanced. I've also gotten a degree between now and then, so I had some help, but here are the places I would start:

For one, don't think about roles. Thinking about roles and who has what is a very inefficient way to develop your orchestration. Think about textures. The reason I say this is that when you think about textures, you're thinking about roles in context. If you were going for a brilliant heroic texture, perhaps the brass would be playing the melody and harmonizing it, while the strings and woodwinds would be supporting it. An example would be having the woodwinds playing fast running lines landing on notes that accent certain chord tones while the strings are playing arpeggiated patterns or driving rhythms. Already, you can get a pretty defined idea of what instruments will play what, much more clear than "this instrument has melody, this one has harmony, and this one has support." You end up saying the same thing, but with much more efficient transfer of information.

Just play around with combinations. Gradually, you'll start to figure out what instruments sound like when playing in various contexts - in their extreme high or low registers, or accented, or softly - and then can make new decisions based on that. If you know you want some kind of reedy aspect to the sound, think about what instruments you have available. Do you want piercing reediness, and it's high? Oboe or clarinet. Do you want that but it's low? Bassoon maybe. Do you want brassiness, but very warm and not edgy, and it's in the mid range? Add horn. What about if you do want it edgy and intense? Put the trombone playing in the same range for added brassiness. 

These are just examples, but that's more or less how orchestrators think of these things. Unfortunately, there isn't really a good collection of these that doesn't start to look suspiciously like an orchestration textbook. But if you listen to a lot of music and try to ask yourself, "what textures are they using and what effect does it get" you'll start to notice some common threads that make that happen.

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