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Adagio for Strings

Using Albion one by Spitfire studios.



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Hi Saul,

The hymn-like theme is lovely and very expressive. I wish you had done more with it! I have only listened once, but my first impression is that it sounds like a theme and variations movement, with a short contrasting section beginning around 4:15 or so. The theme itself seemed to be varied hardly at all though, and it was always in the treble (I assume the violins).

On the positive side, I loved the harmonic shifts that occurred in several places. You have a real talent for melody and for expressive string writing. Thank you for sharing.

Hi Saul, nice piece but it could be much more expressive.

One of the reasons I love Spitfire libraries is that they give you CC control over Expression and Dynamics. (dynamics is always mapped to a mod wheel).

String players never suddenly stop but naturally diminuendo and they play in a wide range from very quiet to very loud. Expression is basically an internal volume (works within the actual track volume) so allows that variation. Dynamics in Spitfire libraries blends samples - they sample each instrument playing at different levels, as this affects not just the volume but the tonality of each note. The Dynamics control blends through these sample layers in real time.

I use faders which I assign to each of these parameters. If I am fully scoring, writing one instrument line at a time rather then playing full chords with both hands, then I use the sliders while I am playing in to give it a natural sound and some movement. If not I go back through the piece recording the automation (put the channel in touch mode to do this). Listen to the strings on any of the pieces I have posted here and you will see what I mean.

I'd love to hear this again with some dynamics and expression.

This video by Christian Henson (co founder of spitfire and professional media composer) makes this really clear.

Good stuff here Saul and good points made by Nigel.

You may assign "automation" to the knobs or sliders on your midi controller. Think of automation like articulation. Not quite sure how this works in Logic. In many DAWS you right click on the parameter you want to control. You then will see a CC learn message. Then move the control on your midi controller you want to control it.

 Swells are often pre programmed to the Modulation wheel on your midi controller or CC2. In case you didn't quite get what Nigel was saying dynamics is controlled by the force of the keys on the keyboard and the mod wheel in most libraries. Spitfire might be a little different in that maybe it doesn't see key force as a part of dynamics. TBH I have the library and forget. This adjusts the velocity which makes changes in the attack and volume. So you have those two main things, the mod wheel and key force. The colored keys displayed in the graphic are key switches indicating different articulations and can be "learned" by your controller or manually selected. In addition to these real time recording techniques, you may alternately program the same kinds of things after you play the parts. This isn't as difficult as it may seem. In most DAWS there is a piano roll or "midi view" that allows for changes to dynamics using velocity adjustment to be made. In my DAW I can add key switch changes from templates made for my instruments. All instrument articulations are mapped to keys on the keyboard and generally labeled by the key designations themselves such as  C-1, D-1 etc. 

Don't confuse midi automation with audio volume automation. They are two different things. You may  alter the volume or panning of individual tracks after they have been written from midi to audio as well. 

The Albion One library is a great library. In my opinion it lends itself to softer more indiscrete sounds mainly because it was recorded in a very ambient setting. This makes it especially difficult if you're going for a more up front feel. You may roll all of the reverb off of the samples and it still sounds slightly wet no matter what you do to it. If this is the goal, as it often is in movie or classical played in large spaces, then there is no issue. 

In Spitfire Libraries dynamics works slightly differently. For shorts (staccato, spic, pizz etc.) it is controlled by key velocity (how hard or soft you play the keyboard). For longs you control dynamics with a CC control (I used a Korg NanoKontrol 2 ) and assign the first fader to dynamics and the next to expression. 

The reason Spitfire do it this way is that it makes no sense to have try to play a flowing long string line while trying to hit the keys harder and softer at the same time. Swells are not just about volume but the sound character changes as it gets louder so you need both expression (volume) and dynamics (tonality) to change at the same time.

Once you get used to playing while using the faders it feels much more expressive as you play in. Mostly it feels more like playing an instrument than being a programmer (by drawing dynamics with your mouse once you have recorded)

Hope that helps.

Example similar to what Nigel is talking about only this is being done after the notes were recorded using the sliders on a keyboard. Look at 22:50 in this video. I like the idea of using the sliders live as part of playing the part in as Nigel says too.

You could go back into what you made here and add these things to it ( or any other mix). 


Thank you Liz Nigel and Tim for your comments and suggestions they are all good and thoughtful.

I have composed this piece adjacent to the time that I purchased the Spitfire Albion 1. 

I was experimenting and learning the sound library and this composition was a spontaneous playing and recording of myself at the keyboard using 'Big Strings' as sound that is available on Albion one. It is safe to assume that had I composed this piece not in one sitting but rather as a gradual growing process and project that the simplicity and the innocence and the entire feel of the music would have been totally different. 

We tend to forget that composers back then were musicians that created music instantaneously through improvisation and meditation. In contrast take Beethoven's fifth for example, much papers and ink was used until the final product was chiseled away and appears, my piece is not like that.

While all your comments and suggestions hold true they will be only effective if one uses the method of composition like Beethoven's fifth, were the desired product is born out of much labor and thought instead of the innocent musings of the soul. But in the case of my piece, if these elements of refinement would be inserted in a generic way after the completion of the piece, the piece will turn out to be something else altogether and I'm not sure that this was the intention and purpose of this piece.

But I thank you for the comments regardless.

Best of Wishes

 Saul, I am only now getting deeper into the best ways to play some of these instrument libraries which is a shame as long as I've been at this.. I still have a lot to learn.

For such a long time I simply "played the patches" like you are obviously doing.. so I hope you see this as simply me trying to help you get how these key switches and articulations work. I don't know Nigel, but I feel he was doing the same. It really opens up a whole new world when you begin to get this stuff.

Nothing wrong with experimenting! That's the only way we learn anything.

I don't see the technology holding a person back  since a person can either create in an abstract or analytical fashion...or both using it. 

Composition methods varied among the great composers who often heard multiple parts in their minds and wrote them down. I'm sure it wasn't always right the very first try. Trial and error were likely a very real part of their work. Today in software we have similar and we can change it. Instead of a pencil eraser or throwing away a mistake we can change it in software. Most of what I do though is "played in" and often small corrections are made. My point being I don't really compose the way you say Beethoven's 5th was made but I do make corrections.

I'm not sure if you are saying that you composed this with simplicity and innocence in mind. It would appear so. I sincerely hope you aren't defending against the idea that this could be further developed by saying that you didn't have those intentions. If this is true, then it might not have been a good idea to post it in an analysis thread.

Have a good day!

Tim, all these info is valuable and appreciated for future projects that one may consider when composing in a certain way, but  I don't think that these methods are for every compositional style, on the emphasis on improvisation based composition.

I hope that we can disagree on this respectfully.


By the way after watching some of the videos posted here I'm currently incorporating some of these ideas into my next project. So therefore thanks again for everyone's input and assistance.

Best Wishes

This is a very nice piece Saul with good sound, very enjoyable. 

Composer's forum is a great place to get encouragement and to learn stuff as well, I always appreciate that Gav Brown makes the effort to maintain this place for us. Spitfire is a great library I think, I hope someday to own it after hearing your work and others as well

The debate about improvisation versus editing and arrangement will always be important to composers and I like both approaches myself FWIW. I did recently read an interesting article about Mozart which said that after he died his wife destroyed a large amount of sketches, edits and rough drafts that he had stashed away.  She did this in order to enhance his reputation as a quick study.  Hardly necessary I would think, but that's what they say.

Thank you Ingo for your nice comments!

I apologize for dumping my nitpicky remarks on your work again... but here are some comments:

You appear to have taken an organ score and played it on strings. ;-) Or at least, that's what it sounded like. The scoring for the lower register, in particular, is a bit too thick for strings, and sounds quite muddy. IMO, you could have scored this for organ and it would have worked better with the current chord spacings!

If I were to score this piece for string ensemble, I'd keep the general pitch range higher, and leave wide spacings in the low register to avoid the muddiness. Also, I'd write with much more polyphony or at least independence of lines when I'm writing for string ensemble. It would be more idiomatic that way (and more interesting, if once in a while an inner voice comes through with an interesting melodic fragment or two). Block chords on strings ought to be used sparingly; writing block chords for extended periods of time like this for string ensemble gets a bit tiring on the ears after a while. At the very least, I'd shift the overall distribution of pitches once in a while -- say for one passage the basses could temporarily drop out while the higher instruments do their thing above an empty basement, so to speak, then for another passage thin out the chords a bit and have the upper strings and lower strings interact with each other contrapuntally for a while, before returning to the full-scale, all-octave block chords. Maybe even throw in a solo line or two at strategic places to really emphasize a particular melodic fragment. IOW, more variety in the texture than the same block chords scoring the whole way through. (You did have one passage around 2:25 or so that leaves the basement for a bit -- that was refreshing, but IMO could be carried further -- consider completely leaving out the bassline for one or two passages, for instance.)

Alternatively, the current chord spacings would work really well with a brass ensemble instead -- perhaps that's something to consider.  A properly-scored brass ensemble would go very nicely with the grandiose, hymn-like music that you currently have. IMO brass instruments generally do better with block chords than a string ensemble, esp. for extended periods of time. Or possibly add some horns to strengthen the chordal mix a little, on top of the strings. Also, in some parts a trumpet or horn in high register (the so-called "epic horn" cliche) would really bring out the mood much better than violins. Or perhaps even have both at different points, just for extra flavor.

But definitely clear that basement -- i.e., thin out the lower notes of your chord more, esp. below middle C. Two or more octaves below that, seriously consider doing only octaves; anything closer will seriously cloud your lower register with muddiness. An organ with the lower stops pulled out would have a similar effect (which is why I said this piece might work better on an organ!), but even then you wouldn't want to stay in that register for too long. If it were up to me, I'd use it for one or two key passages just to shake up and awe the audience a bit with those 32' stops, but pull back soonish afterwards in order to avoid ear fatigue.  Staying in such a low register for a long time, esp. with full-scale block chords, can become rather tiring to listen to, no matter how grand the music may be. Learn to use these gestures sparingly, and in strategic locations, and leave the other passages relatively in the "clear zone" (around the middle register, not going too low or too high, except for intentional special effects), and your music will become more much effective.

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