For most of us, hiring a Philharmonic Orchestra is a task completely out of reach. Therefore we have to settle for the next best thing, which is selecting the best possible (most realistic) sample library. Newer sample libraries that contain pre-recorded orchestral samples are getting better and better. However, in most cases, they still lack that special human touch. If you compare a recording of a real orchestra where some musicians play real instruments with a previously mentioned pre-recorded sample library, you will in, 90 % of the cases, hear that the second one is missing that special “something“.
The best thing you can do to come as close as possible to the real thing is to follow the next four tips.
1. Instruments octave range and MIDI keyboard
If you possess a MIDI keyboard with 5+ octaves, it’s not necessary for you to play your orchestral instruments over every octave. If you are aiming for realism, then the first thing you should care about is that every instrument (violin, viola, cello, etc.) plays at its own range. In other words, limit their performance to a specific octave range. If you search the internet, you can easily find charts that are visually representing octave ranges which are most fitting for different orchestral instruments.
2. Place the instruments correctly
Another critical thing to mention when talking about orchestral instruments is their position in space. Most of the scoring professionals are focusing considerable attention on this task. Therefore, correct panning of the instruments will get you even closer to the real thing. There are also charts which you can search on the internet that are representing placements of orchestral instruments in concert halls.
3. Synthesizing human touch
Sample libraries first attempts of dealing with orchestral instruments didn’t offer too many possibilities regarding expression. Nowadays we have very advanced sample libraries which incorporate numerous options. You should use those and with careful automation of the parameters such as volume, velocity, expression and key switches try to get closer to the real thing.
4. There is a kind of beauty in imperfection
It’s easy to create an orchestral sequence with the sample libraries that will sound the same each time you re-cycle the loop. Nevertheless, this will most probably sound lifeless and unrealistic. The beauty of the real orchestra is that it’s never perfect. Each player holding a paper with the same notes in front of him will always play it slightly differently. To make it easier to comprehend this, try to listen to let’s say a string quartet since by listening to a full orchestra you won’t be able to notice this.