Good software to orchestrate

Dear composers,

I've been struggling to find the right software to orchestrate my works. I have tried Reason on my Macbook Pro, but I find the sound way to unnatural (especially the violin parts). I wonder, since you have more experience, what are your favorite programs to compose/orchestrate with? Which program creates the most realistic sound and is not to hard to use?

Thanks in advance!


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  • To orchestrate use pencil and paper (and eraser)

    For parts and scores Sibelius.

    For sequencing and recording (any DAW such as  Sonar, DP, Logic, Pro Tools) and the VSL (vienna symphonyc library)

    or other such libraries in kontakt or the old gigastudio

  • @ Ariel Ramos Is VSL an extended library to Sonar, Dp, Logic and Pro Tools or is it a program on it's self? 

  • VSL falls into the VSTi category, which are mostly shipped separately from any Sonar/Logic/ProTools you might get, BUT they're made compatible with sequencers and thus can be used inside them. An additional midi sound bank, more or less.

  • Greg is right.

    VSL needs a sequencing program, it's just sounds that need to be triggered by midi.

  • I think what you're looking for are virtual instruments (DXis for Mac I think). You could try VSL for a solo violin, or if you've got Kontakt you could try others like Hollywood Strings.

    Most virtual instrument plugins need a sequencer/DAW like ProTools, Reason, Cubase. Sounds like you might need to invest in both instruments and a DAW if you don't like the reason interface.

  • Hi Charlotte,

    It depends where you are having issues with virtual orchestration. If you are finding the interface/workflow awkward for actual composition or orchestration then I agree that either using pencil and paper or some kind of notation software (like Sibelius) would be the answer.


    If the problem is down to the quality of the virtual instruments then ... welcome to the never-ending world of trying to make mockups sound realistic. Basically you will need sequencer software and a professional level set of orchestral samples.


    At the moment East West are doing an exceptional deal on their Symphonic Orchestra but it tends to have a fairly cinematic sound by default. It depends what you are looking for overall.


    I use Cubase (and occasionally pencil and paper and advice from some amazing orchestrator friends) and I use a LOT of sample libraries. You can see more details at If you check out my page here at Composers' Forum then you can hear some of my mockups.


    Realistic orchestral mockups require a fairly serious hardware setup so you might find my approach won't work for you. One of the best possible approaches for beautiful and realistic-sounding orchestral 'sketches' is Spitfire Albion. It's even designed to be run on a laptop.


    Solo strings are one of the hardest things to mock up however again I would recommend Spitfire for this. Their Spitfire Solo Strings library is reasonably priced and sounds amazing (because it's top-class British performers recorded by a world-class engineer with top-quality equipment in AIR Studios in London).


    If there's anything else you'd like to know then message me and I could set up a Skype session.





    James Semple Composer
    James Semple
  • @James thanks for your offer and the advice. I'll be listening to your samples and trying the things you advised soon. For now, I think I have enough information. 

    Thanks for all your useful advice, I really appreciate it.

  • Hi Charlotte,

    I was completely new to this game about 5 years ago, and I'm still struggling.  However, the first piece I ever wrote was a string quartet, with the now vastly underated IK Multimedia Miroslav Philharmonic Orchestra.  I thought at the time that the solo strings were gorgeous.  I'm not recommending the above orchestra, but you're welcome to listen to my string quartet on my profile page.

  • Hi everyone,

    So, I've a fine program now on my MBP which I find very practical to work with: Finale 2011. Yes, it's notation software, but I discovered that it's the best way for me to compose.

    One problem is that the sound of the instruments are not quite good (actually it's terrible). Now, I've read somewhere that it is possible to add some better instruments. Does anyone know how this works? And do you have some advice what instruments (VST ?) are giving a good sound?

  • Hi Charlotte,


    While it is possible to get better sounds for Finale, you are always going to have issues with it not sounding quite right because of the lack of control needed to get a performance out of virtual instruments. The approach taken by many composers is to write in Finale, then export the MIDI and import it into sequencer software such as Cubase or Logic. Then you use VSTs inside the sequencer to try and create the final version. Not sure how much time and resource you are prepared to put into this but I can help you put together a package for a certain price range. If you don't want to do this publically then feel free to message me directly.

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