Category: Orchestration

Creating Keyswitches in LA Scoring Strings

LASS Keyswitching with the Auto ArrangerThose of you that use it know that LA Scoring Strings is an incredible tool for creating realistic string mockups and recordings. But it can be a little daunting at first, especially with the A.R.C. and all of the complexity (and power) that brings. When I first started using LASS, I didn’t know how to set up keyswitches and quickly retreated to putting different articulations of a string section in different Kontakt instruments just so I could get my piece finished.

I’ve recently been mixing a piece for a fellow composer and saw that he had used exactly the same workaround that I originally had—placing each articulation on a different track in his mix. I realized there may be a lot of you out there who haven’t yet found the excellent video tutorials on the Audiobro site, so I thought I’d share those. As you can see from the video, setting up keyswitching isn’t all that complex once you understand how it’s done, but if you don’t know how to do it you’d be hard pressed to work it out on your own. The best part is, you only have to set it up once and then save your template in Kontakt. Continue reading

Dovetailing

Photo by Miles Bintz

Film music tends to be sectional. A cue will be happy for a bit, then turn sad, then anxious. It’s the nature of the beast. Sometimes we want the changes to be abrupt, but sometimes the movie calls for a more invisible transition. I like to call this dovetailing. Just like in woodworking, dovetailing requires a carefully constructed overlap of two sections. Following is a quick tip for smoothly moving from one segment of a piece to the next.

Rather than allowing one section to end before beginning the next, start introducing elements of the later part into the first or vice versa. If your first bit has an eighth-note feel and your second is mostly whole notes, begin softly bringing in whole notes under the end of the first section. You can also fade the eighth notes at the end of the first part or carry them softly into the second to create more of a bridge and smooth the transition.

In my experience, dovetailing mostly involves the accompaniment. If one section uses arpeggiated figures in the background, carry those over into the other segment. If both parts use arpeggiation but of different types, change the arpeggiation before or after the section change. It’s really just a matter of gradually altering the accompaniment rather than changing it suddenly. It’s also easiest at first to focus on the rhythm. A triplet feel can slowly give way to a quarter-note pulse by gradually replacing triplets with quarter notes until you arrive at your destination.

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A Wealth of Info for Finale and Sibelius Users

I assume many of you out there use either Finale or Sibelius for your notation needs. If you’re not aware of fellow Seattleite Robert Puff’s blog, Of Note, you should be. It’s a treasure trove of tips and tutorials for both programs.

Recent posts include quickly deleting unison notes in Finale, two methods for creating Grand Pauses in Sibelius, and techniques for creating both boxed and free-floating aleatoric notation in Finale. If you’re like me, mastering your notation program can be a difficult path. Robert is a tremendous resource for anyone needing more out of their software!

Free eBooks on Composition and Orchestration

Image courtesy of Astroturfer, ©2010

I recently discovered this wonderful set of ebooks by Montreal composer and professor Alan Belkin. He’s got books on musical form, counterpoint, harmony and orchestration, as well as several other articles and essays. I’ve spent the most time with the orchestration book (since I’m currently orchestrating a symphonic piece for a March performance), and it’s excellent. I found it to be simple, straightforward, and full of great advice. Some of it is fairly common-sense and basic, but I never mind being reminded of the fundamentals, especially for something as complex as orchestration. The other books seem similarly well-written and instructional.

Incidentally, Belkin also authored the annotations to the online version of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Principles of Orchestration, available at NorthernSounds.com.

All of Belkin’s writings are available at his website.

Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, Animated

Here’s the score for one of the most famous atonal pieces of all time with a cool, follow-along animation. For those not familiar with the piece it’s difficult listening, but I’ve always found it very beautiful in a weird way. And it’s a great primer in aleatoric music and unconventional scoring techniques.

Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra

Here’s an amusing, if long, video of British comedian Bill Bailey discussing the instruments of the orchestra. Along the way he talks about 70’s cop show music and plays the theremin and the alpine bells. It’s from 2008, so some of you may have already seen it, but it’s a funny and interesting watch if you’ve got an hour to kill. The orchestra is none other than the BBC Concert Orchestra, and the conductor is the multi-talented (and Oscar-winning) Anne Dudley.

Action Cue in 9 Minutes

Here’s a great tutorial from composer Michael Patti and Cinesamples, wherein Mike creates an orchestral action cue in 8:57. He doesn’t mention what sample libraries he’s using, but I can only assume they’re all from Cinesamples since they’re sponsoring the video. The video is a lot of fun and highly educational to boot.

Thanks to Film and Game Composers.com, where I originally saw the video.

Edit: Patti does mention one of the libraries he’s using. The trumpets are from EastWest (I’d imagine from EastWest Symphonic Orchestra
). And for those curious about the octatonic scale (also called the diminished scale), there’s more info here.

Start with a Sketch

Photo courtesy Matthew Wanlin Photography

When I first started writing orchestral music, I was a bit overwhelmed. There are so many instruments! How was I supposed to know what to do with all of them? I would write for the whole orchestra at once, in my sequencer, and gradually build a complicated mess. It turns out I was making things a lot harder for myself than they needed to be. The secret? Start with a sketch.

These days when I write an orchestral piece, I always write on piano first, and create a three-line sketch. The melody goes on top (you are writing a melody, right?), and the accompaniment goes on the other two staves. Using this method, it’s much easier to tell if you’re writing good music because you’re not distracted by all of the bells and whistles of a full orchestra. Writing on piano—using just melody and accompaniment—lets you hear your music for what it really is. You can instantly tell if its good or not, and you’re not overwhelmed by choices.

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