How to up your virtual orchestration game in 6 easy steps

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How to up your virtual orchestration game in 6 easy steps •

As a composer or songwriter, there’s no way you haven’t ever worked with MIDI or virtual instruments. Sure, you can produce some music with just your voice and a piano or guitar, or record some other musicians (and that’s perfectly fine!), but eventually you want more. You want strings, exotic instruments or maybe even a whole orchestra.

Problem is, people are expensive. Every person has an hourly rate for their work and an orchestra can easily be made up of 60 people or more! And then I’m note even talking about finding a recording studio big enough…

So, people invented MIDI. People invented awesome virtual instruments which, if used correctly, can sound like the real deal. But how on earth do you create a virtual orchestration that sounds like the real thing?

This is my plan of attack!

6 steps to upping your virtual orchestration game •

1 – Create your arrangement

Firstly, you need some music to start with. Choose your instruments and write your parts down in the piano roll window. You can do this by clicking with a mouse, or by playing on a MIDI keyboard, or by importing MIDI fils rendered by Finale or… Whatever suits your style and workflow.

I use the virtual instruments from the East West Composer Cloud. They sound wonderful and you have tons of different instruments at your fingertips for a reasonable monthly fee. Comes in quite handy if you can’t pay a few hundred dollars per package. ~ €30 per month is really affordable for even students.

2 – Add keyswitches

Whenever possible, I add the master keyswitch instrument to my track, and not just legato or staccato or whatever. This way, I can change the expression of every note in a part very easily by just placing a keyswitch note just before it. When you sing or play a melody, it’s never entirely legato, or staccato. There are tons of options: portato, with or without sordino, pizzicato, slides, trills, with or without vibrato, soft or hard attacks… Anything is possible!

3 – Set the velocity

Velocity is basically the speed with which you start a note. For example on a piano: if you slowly press a key, it will give a soft tone, quickly or more aggressively pressing a key results in a harsher tone.

For my way of virtual orchestration, I do this in two rounds: firstly, I set the general velocity for every section. When I’m done, I’m on to the details: accented notes, crescendos and decrescendos.

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4 – Humanize

Logic has this great function called “Humanize”: it lets you select a part (or all) of your notes and humanize them: displacing them a little, making them a little longer and shorter or softer or harder using a random algorithm, combined with some parameters you set yourself. No human ver plays everything perfectly straight like a robot, so neither should your virtual orchestration sound like one.

5 – Tempo

Just like not every note is played the same, neither is the tempo always exactly the same. The beginning and end of every musical phrase are a little slower, and at its peak it’s always a little faster. It takes some time, but add little, almost unnoticeable tempo changes in your song.

6 – Volume

This is largely coherent with velocity. When you have soft or loud parts, sometimes just low and high velocitis don’t cut it. A crescendo or descrescendo needs to actually sound like one. Use small volume changes to enhance the effect of your velocity changes.


That’s it! Now get to work yourself! Let me know if you have any questions, or just post a link to your music if this blogpost helped you a great deal! You can do that in the comment section below or on social media. I’d love to hear from you!

One Response

  1. Rob
    | Reply

    Pretty much every cinematic score you hear out there, even the hollywood ones, are made using premium orchestral libraries. East West is good, I wonder if you ever took a look at some of the other libraries out there, like Vienna, or Miroslav Philharmonik. What do you think?
    While I’m at it, there’s some really great drum emulation plugins as well, like EZ Drummer or Addictive Drums. Completely replaces a studio drummer for a fraction of the cost.
    Technology is awesome.

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