Music Mechanics


This being my first contribution to this site, I would like to offer an apology for very likely repeating what others have pointed out.  However, I’ll do the best I can to offer something of value to the conversations here.

There is a lot of musical passion here but sometimes some technical roadblocks are obvious in the presentation of the musical demos I’ve heard.   It can be really easy to fill in the sonic blanks in our own minds when we don’t stay focused on exactly what we are hearing….or more to the point, what we really want to hear.  In one sample that I enjoyed, I heard a subtle passage which I could imagine being played by real instruments, but the reality suffered under midi, having not been performed using the necessary tools in the midi arsenal. A live player would not have performed the sample as I heard it…not even the sustained tones.  We all know that a long held note is not a static thing…it changes in vibrato, dynamics and therefore tone…. however minimally so.   The latter is a natural tendency in performance when music is played with engagement…..soul.  

The gear can often get in the way of musicality too so we have to remember…. If it is to be played in midi land it must still change dynamics, and therefore tone, in order to be recognized as realistic…. even if only using the greatest of subtlety in tonal inflections.  Sometimes the smallest of movement can create the greatest attraction to the ear.  For midi interfaces, some people play strictly on a piano, others use EWI’s and both can do a good job as long as they also use the dynamic controllers required to do what a real player would inherently do without thinking….after many years of learning to make it second nature.

 So why does a pianist prefer a Bosendorfer or a Steinway…..or a violinist a Stradivarius?  Well…they’re pretty nice sounding aren’t they?  However, in today’s world there is just no getting around the fact that there are some really nice samples in midi land…and played with the appropriate knowledge, you can get some really great recordings from them.  Some of the sounds that I’ve heard are really not there yet but with the prices of today’s samples (which have seriously gone down), one can really create some realism if performed with care.

To put out a first-class product, or one that doesn’t attract too much attention to the fact that it’s not actually a "real clarinet", you can’t escape the need for quality sounds to create something that will impress your audience, or at the very least not distract them from your work of art.

 Composers, in one sense, have never been so fortunate as to have had access to tools that previous composers couldn’t even dream about…..but then it will never match being face to face with live musicians who share the journey with you…..and bring more to the table than you can imagine….and then God takes over. J

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  • Dave,

     These are really fabulous points you have made here and they are absolutely expressed and lived in our various worlds of music.  It’s for every individual to decide on their sentiments and as to how they will proceed in manifesting their art and in finding their audience along with those scenarios you outlined. 

    In reality we may seldom achieve those goals entirely either way, orchestra or samples, but therein lies the challenge and the journey….as frustrating as it can be. 😊

    The threat of realism I think is something more to be feared initially by the reality that performers are being replaced as we are slowly slipping into lower quality music generated by computers both for film and on radio/digital suppliers.  Sorry to go to this dark place but it’s there.

    Being concerned with realism also depends, as has been said, on the type of music one is generating whether it leads to the need for a traditional orchestra or a set of samples.  How badly does it hurt to have to do one when you want the other? 😊.  Ya know…..when it comes down to it, as much as we need it to be just right…and we should strive for that……what does your audience think?  I suggest we may always be picking at what wasn’t quite there no matter how good it gets……but isn’t that a good thing?

    Again, thanks Dave for a really superb analysis of the writers scene!  Really well covered!


    David Jephrey Young

  • Hi David,

    You've raised a lot of interesting points, which many of us have wrestled with.  In my own personal journey working with samples and live performers, they each have considerations that must be addressed in order to maximize their potential. 

    With live performers, depending on skill level (from my own experience, I'll relate things to professional orchestral/chamber musicians), one must remember the practical challenges of preparing scores for rehearsal, often with many revisions for clarification and/or playability, managing egos (the very passive-aggressive world of artist insecurity can lead to interesting rehearsal dynamics), adequate rehearsal time (which is almost never enough), and for composers, having the confidence/experience to direct rehearsals and balance our own expectations/interpretations against the experience and contributions of the musicians.  

    Using samples, the obvious observation is that the composer becomes the performer/interpreter, and must have the technical skills (and time!) to realize their artistic vision, recognizing also the inherent limitations of the samples.  That said, virtual performances can exceed live performances in many respects (intonation, technical precision, etc.) even if those "perfect" aspects are often the very thing that detract from realism.

    You wrote about creating "something that will impress your audience, or at the very least not distract them from your work of art." To my mind, this should be the ultimate goal of realizing a virtual performance.  The truth is, in my own journey with samples, I was initially concerned exclusively with realism.  Over the years, after having many "real" performances, some of which were musical but riddled with technical imperfections, others which were technically sound, but interpreted in a way that was completely different than what I envisioned (and not necessarily in a good way), I've come to value samples as a means of controlling the entire vision from initial idea on paper (or Finale staff) to that rewarding first listen on quality speakers.  My goal is simply to create a performance that doesn't, as you suggested, distract.  You'll find that fellow composers are always more sensitive to the "real vs. sampled" thing than regular listeners.  And a lot of the criticism against sample use is from people either threatened by their improving realism, or their own technical limitations/resistance to learning how to use them and/or devote the (substantial!) time necessary to making them convincing.

    Just my two cents,


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