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!

Charlotte

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  • What many people do (and this is what I did) is purchase Garritan Personal Orchestra (GPO4) with Finale 2011. There are other sound libraries to consider, too, depending on your orchestration needs.

    I got both for a discount, since I purchased it through a religious institution (an educational discount may be available, to you.)

    I am new to this [I used Finale in the early 1990s, and quit], and often exasperated by the string section, especially. But Finale is fairly straightforward, once you know how to manipulate it - and it is one of two standard programs (Sibelius is the other one) used for notation and orchestration. The sounds you hear within the existing program are "Softsynth" samples, which comes free with Finale. They are good for getting an idea of a piece, but it is better to add a VST program like GPO4.  [You will see a place to change your MIDI settings in Finale - VST can be checked off, once you have a better sound library to pull from.] There are many other sound libraries to choose from, and I'm sure better ones, but the price for GPO4 was a bargain - not much more than $100-$150.

    Once inside of GPO4, you will still find the strings disappointing. There are two special Garritan VST add-ons for violin and cello, both inexpensive. I have not purchased them, because I rarely hear a mockup that sounds convincing enough to make the leap. The Garritan website has a lot of information. That said, I still do not know how to use all the controls in GPO4 with any competency. There are ways to improve the samples themselves, as per taste.

    GPO4 warns you, and most people do not take heed: you must use a mod wheel to make the samples sound realistic! I do not have a mod wheel yet - it is a point of contention in my mind. I do not know how to use one, frankly. I'm not sure I will ever be satisfied with inexpensive samples, and all the work that goes into making them sound halfway decent. So a recent string arrangement I made sounds like a reedy Wurlizter organ to me. I've considerd substituting other innstruments for string quartets, just to get a pleasing mockup.

     The website for Garritan has notation examples of their VST samples - using existing symphonic music (I think Rimsky-Korsakoff), and the effect is tremendous. This means that the samples can be manipulated to sound wonderful, given that you will put in the time to add finesse and musicianship to the parts yourself. This requires patience, and a sequencer. 

    I see that everyone exports MIDI to a sequencer, or DAW (I do not really know anything more). But I understand: Finale does a crummy job at interpreting what I write, dynamics-wise, and tempo/rubato-wise correctly. There are myriad adjustments the wise composer can make to almost everything - how much intensity to put into a hairpin, a crescendo, how much velocity to give to a mezzo forte, human playback, etc. One needs advice/trial & error on these particulars. I have made guesses - dreadful ones, mostly. But not entirely.

    For one mockup I did, which was used to educate the performers, I used string sections instead of solo instruments. I got a less irritating result. I wrote in dynamics in nearly every bar, and changed the tempo often to emulate something of a performance. The result is crude by the high standard used by most, but you can hear it just the same: "French Noel" on my page. This was my first effort with Finale 2011 + GPO4. I thought I would never use it again, since I was unhappy. But I am back for more. People, rarely if you really know string instruments get a realistic sound in their digital works. Do not expect to fool a string player, ever! I went through this with digital organs, as an organist, years ago.

    But you can do amazing things today, considering what we had to use 20 years ago (and that was a revelation). 

    Your decision to use Finale is university standard, and I think a wise investment. Good luck.
     
    Charlotte van Gemeren said:

    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?

    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…
  • Hi Charlotte. When I got my Cubase 5 and started composing using HALionONe as the VSTi I was not very satisfied with the sound I heard, so I've tried several other VSTis, including Sonatina Symphonic Orchestra, East West Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra, Miroslav Philarmonik, and the most recent I am using now, Garritan Personal Orchestra.

    I am quite satisfied with the sounds of Miroslav and East West. So maybe, you could also try those or any other great VSTis, such as Vienna Symphonic Library, although I haven't tried that one, but I've been listening to the samples. :)

  • Hi Charlotte,

    You appear to have found a solution to the problem for now.

    It took me a long time to get software, and to get it adjusted properly, so that it sounded reasonably authentic for string instruments,  and most especially for violins in the higher registers.  The problem has been even more difficult for solo violin.

    I found that Logic Pro, with additional applications and instruments, met most of my needs.

    (I am not advertising this product, since for all I know there may be ways to attain the same results with Reason or Sibelius or some other application).

    Here is an example, a piece I composed about a year ago.

    (See link below).

    This work emphasizes the role of solo string instruments, but also contains solo piano and numerous other orchestral effects.  

    The violin(s) have been created and adjusted using an EXS24 setting.  I have created a series of violin instruments, just for this piece, adjusted to be as little as 20 cents apart in tuning, for the particular effects I have in mind.  If you use glides and/or pitch bending, as I have done here, in addition to other effects, the sound becomes much more authentic, I believe.

    Here is the result:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFDS9f-K6U4 

    (I suppose we can post links here, as part of the general conversation, since there is a link button.)

    You'll hear some solo string effects in the beginning, but the clearest demonstration comes after the first minute.  Some of the best solo string effects appear at about 4:00 in the video.   You'll also hear some software effects that come from a "World Instruments" application, that offers an "Irish fiddle" and a "Chinese Erhu" (traditional two stringed Chinese violin).

    Another way to generate string effects is by using "sound sculpture" in Logic.  This seems particularly good for the cello and for the double bass.

    I'm working on a piece now that features the double bass in a combined orchestral and electronic framework.

    I have attached a file to this message, which contains a very short excerpt.  (You may hear a flute at the beginning, and at the end, but you can ignore that).

    The file name begins with the words "Double Bass," and it is the double bass portion of the piece that I want to put forward.

    Imagine three double basses, playing together in what sounds like a brief cadenza.

    The one in the middle always plays pizzicato.  The other two, on the left and the right, play using a variety of techniques, and so vigorously that one feels the instruments may break apart. Listen with a good set of headphones, if you can.  There are dramatic glissandi and grinding effects.  (I actually have five double basses simulated here, but in real life three would probably suffice).

    As in a traditional cadenza, the content is a reworking of a theme which has already been stated and partly developed by other instruments.  That will be difficult to grasp since I present the double bass passage out of context. 

    But what you may find of interest, is the extent to which the sound of a double bass, or perhaps any string instrument, can be produced, using sound sculpture.  I won't take the time to explain how it works here, but it is very different from a traditional synthesizer.   The actual grinding, the friction, the rubbing of one object against another, such as a bow against a set of strings, or air against a set of strings-- and various types of motions, such as striking, bouncing, dropping, etc -- can be produced.   (The piece may sound pantonal, but it is actually moving in and out of a heptatonic Indian mode, and settling on the tonic.  There is a great deal of pitch bending, gliding, and there are some partly randomized effects, held within a tight framework). 

    So I am interested in your opinion.  

    After listening to some of these effects (in the linked and/or the attached piece), what do you think?  How does the authenticity of the sound compare with other computer generated instruments you have heard?

    Double Bass Indian Rhapsody for Wood, Glass, Steel.mp3

  • I use Finale 2012.

    I havent tried Sibelius vbut these two programs are the flagships for composers.

    Finale is really just like having pencil and manuscript in front of you and then you can immediately play back what you have written.

  • So money is not an option then?! All these Vstii

    Get a good notation programme and an orchestra to play your music Charlotte,saves so much time tweaking midi files!!

  • Yeah, orchestras are much cheaper than VSTi gear these days :)

  • If you have a local amateur ensemble write for them. Nothing like getting music played by people and not computers.

  • Oh, I do agree completely. Only this gets very complicated when you decide you totally want to write for a symphonic orchestra, and unfortunately there's no amateur symphonic orchestra around. They aren't very common, either. The sensible solution would be to write mostly for what's available, but here comes the question: what's more important, the music or the need to have it performed at all costs?

  • Here we go with this old nutmeg! I am not going to hijack this thread to discuss this one though.

  • I hear what you're saying  Sam. but HALion,s biggest downfall is it's resolute dryness.  With a good reverb programme, a good engineer can make HALion sing

    Sam Umar said:

    Hi Charlotte. When I got my Cubase 5 and started composing using HALionONe as the VSTi I was not very satisfied with the sound I heard, so I've tried several other VSTis, including Sonatina Symphonic Orchestra, East West Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra, Miroslav Philarmonik, and the most recent I am using now, Garritan Personal Orchestra.

    I am quite satisfied with the sounds of Miroslav and East West. So maybe, you could also try those or any other great VSTis, such as Vienna Symphonic Library, although I haven't tried that one, but I've been listening to the samples. :)

    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…
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