I am trying to figure out the best workflow for composing orchestral music.

I have tried using Finale but find some aspects of it frustrating.

Most composers I see in Youtube are working in DAWs working with midi data.

I don't like getting bogged down in technical issues when I want inspiration to flow, so I'm looking for user-friendly software.

What methods have you guys found best?

What software do you use?  

Or do you just write notes by hand and then scan it?

If you can describe the advantages of your method, that would be excellent!

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  • I certainly don't mean to be discouraging, but pretty much any software you choose to go with is going to have that learning curve you'll have to be prepared to deal with adjusting to. Myself, I mostly use Reaper DAW, as well as Notion 5 notation software, the latter of which is extremely intuitive, as well as not being very expensive, running about $150. There are times when I'll sketch out a quick idea in Notion, then take that on over to Reaper in order to render a much more realistic sound, all of which usually doesn't take too long. But... again... your best results, soundwise, are definitely going to be with a DAW, and there really is no way around that, short of a live orchestra. Once you get used to working in one, your workflow will certainly pick up considerably, so don't get discouraged and just keep at it. And, of course, and probably needless to say, there are tons and tons of tutorial videos on youtube covering technical aspects regarding just about every DAW out there.

    Finally, as for "a best method," maybe this doesn't make all that much sense, but eventually coming up with what you're sure is a promising musical idea is one huge part of the whole battle. Once you've latched onto something that inspires you, well... I guess I feel like the workflow would at least seem like it would go along a lot more smoothly. That is, that the hassles would seem well worth it in order to achieve the execution.

    p.s. I recently acquired Staffpad, for doing quick sketches in bed at night, and it's quite an impressive piece of software, for sure. But bear in mind that the instrument samples, in this iteration of it, leave a lot to be desired, unless you mostly want to stick with composing for piano.

  • Can you use Staffpad as an app in an Ipad?

    I already have an Ipad but wouldn't pay for more hardware at this stage.

  • Hi Stephen

    If your intention is to write for real players then you need notation software.

    Check out Notion for IOS.

    As I recall only $20 for base software.

    very intuitive interface. Reasonable sound and printouts.

    And you can export sounds and mxml.

    Mike L

  • Nope, you can't, unfortunately. Staffpad is solely for the Microsoft Surface line right now, and is likely to remain that way, at least for a good long while, from what I've been reading.

    Stephen Williams said:

    Can you use Staffpad as an app in an Ipad?

    I already have an Ipad but wouldn't pay for more hardware at this stage.

    What is the Best Way to Compose for orchestras?
    I am trying to figure out the best workflow for composing orchestral music. I have tried using Finale but find some aspects of it frustrating. Most…
  • Hi Paul,

    Thank you for your helpful responses.

    I also use Reaper and have found it the most user-friendly DAW (and by far the cheapest), so plan to stick with that one.

    I am thinking of working with blocks of midi data in Reaper, arranging a piece there and then exporting the file to Finale which is the best software for notation translation from Midi (I tested about 12 different notation programs, including Sibelius which did a terrible job).

    I haven't looked at Notion much, but my PC is Windows and getting my Ipad to transfer files to my PC is not easy.

    I spoke to a successful composer years ago and recall him saying that he got most of his ideas from other composers and modified them enough to make them his own.  

    I'm thinking this is likely the best idea for orchestration because rather than experimenting with dozens of instrument combinations, most of which won't work, it would be best to use what is proven to sound nice already.

    So, using this principle, I'm looking at importing orchestral midi files of music that I like and figuring out how they created the sounds I like and emulating that in my own work.

    What do you think of that method?  Have you done it this way?

  • Well, no, man, I can't say I went that route, although I can see how that could be helpful. What I did was I read Kennan's 'The Technique of Orchestration' about 20 or 30 times (slight exaggeration, probably...) over the years, and will still refer to it on occasion, even though it's a bit dated at this point. Adler's classic 'Study of Orchestration' would very probably be the better bet these days, but there's some risk of it making your head explode, from what I've heard about it. But one fairly simple thing that ended up helping me tremendously was when I went and seriously studied Mozart's minuets, by which I mean the orchestral ones from his late symphonies. The forces he uses there are quite small, obviously, compared to the usual today, but I wouldn't let that put you off, if you decided to look into some of these. He has a lot to teach about things like great chord spacings, groupings, effects, etc., etc. You can find all these scores, too, for free online at IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library. And, yeah, your composer friend was certainly right... A whole lot of music is little more than veiled theft, to one degree or another, but there doesn't have to be anything wrong with that, I suppose, once we've learned enough to put our own stamp on what we write. Whatever you find works best for you is definitely what you should do, but I would be a bit wary of attempting to rely more or less exclusively on intuition and your ear to clue you in on how certain things were done. None (or very few) of us like it, but there's a certain complete pain in the ass nuts and bolts assembly to the whole business that just can't be avoided, that must be studied, at least if you want to save on time for your own stuff later on.

    Also, before I forget it, Reaper is getting close to at last incorporating notation in their software. I understand it's out in beta already, in fact. If they can get this right, I'll be as happy as a pig in shite.     

  • Happy as a pig... !  You're hilarious.

    Yes, if Reaper can do a decent job with notation, that would be awesome and save hours of editing in Finale.

    I honestly don't understand why it's so hard to make decent notation software.

    The two main problems I encountered were millions of rests being inserted (which Finale still does a lot of even with the rest insertion option deselected), and not recognising the existence of two staves by trying to put a two-piece piano work onto one staff, making notes fly way off the stave on a dozen ledger lines.  

    I just hope Reaper programmers are musicians themselves and know what we want to see.

    I did used to have Adler's study of orchestration and recall that it was very boring, so I gave it away, but perhaps I should look at it again. 

    I love Mozart, however I want to write music that sounds modern (but not abstract atonal rubbish), and think I will study some Movie scores.  Basically I want my music to evoke certain emotions to go along with words.

    I haven't found any book that explains how certain music creates emotion, apart from the basic Minor=sad, Major = happy.  Have you seen anything that goes into more depth on that?

  • Good luck in finding fully, accurately scored movie scores, man... From what I've heard, those can be very hard, and quite expensive, to find, although I could be wrong. I think the vast majority of them out there are simple piano reductions, which obviously wouldn't be much help. About putting emotion into a piece, I just personally don't have any idea how to really answer that, beyond what you say about the major-minor business. I guess it seems to me that that's one of those magical elements that can't really be taught? Who knows, I could very well be mistaken about that, too. But I suspect that for greater depth in that area, simple exposure to pieces depicting a feeling you're after could potentially help a lot.

    Yep, the guys at Reaper are musicians, too. Guitarists, I think. But they're a small team, which is one reason Reaper is priced so cheaply. But to do notation correctly requires a hell of a lot of especially careful coding, which, if they have to hire on more people in order to really do it right, might make that price go up. From what I've heard, the beta version notation right now is pretty bare bones, so I guess we'll see...

  • Hi Paul,

    Since I posted my last reply, I found this great video which I think has some excellent points on composing


    Also, I discovered that SCRIBD has professional music scores that you can download in PDF and I already have membership with SCRIBD!

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