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coffincoffee

How many tracks would I need for a little piece of strings music?

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Hello there everyone.

I've  just got Cakewalk by Bandlab installed on my rather ageing laptop here and I've been meaning to create music with it for quite some time, tho I really have to admit that this is all new territory to me. 

Until recently, apart from using it for a little guitar practice I had no idea how to go about creating complete music.  The  few videos I've watched  these last few months really  helped me set my bearings on where  to  begin  tho they have also left me with a lot to ask.

As for the moment I'm thinking of using  virtual instruments  esp. the piano and one or two string instruments: the cellos, violas etc. 

Lets say I'm planning on a little piece of music which makes use of a cello, violin and piano virtual instr. For each instrument how many tracks would  be  needed to make the music sound acceptably realistic and not sound too thin? Honestly I'm more worried of it sounding thin like listening to a song on a laptop built-in speakers...Pardon my analogy but that's what I hear when I take a listen to what little bits I've managed to create these last couple of months. Frustrating, yeah I know the feeling..:D

Hope to learn new things  from you guys here.  Thanks :D

 

 

 

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So how "thin" does that ensemble sound performing live in a room?  In the not so distant past, such events were recorded in real time with just a couple of strategically placed microphones and two tracks. Those recordings did not sound particularly "thin." The magic of sound massage available these days, and our addiction to that magic, makes doing something like that seem unthinkable. If you plan to try to double some of the instruments, you could use more tracks to create the impression of a string section playing unisons slightly detuned and time offset using more than three stereo tracks. But you can get the same effects using plugins on each of three tracks. The advantage of at least one track per instrument is that you can apply effects to each instrument independently, although there is some risk of making it sound like they are not all in the same soundspace doing that. In any case you can get a "fat" sound with no more than three tracks if you want.

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15 hours ago, coffincoffee said:

As for the moment I'm thinking of using  virtual instruments  esp. the piano and one or two string instruments: the cellos, violas etc. 

Which VST-I (virtual instruments) are you using ?

 

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Its really a matter of personal taste (let your ears be your guide), but I like low-end for filling in the audio spectrum. Not sure you have considered adding a double bass to your orchestration. If you are using staff view to write parts, having each instrument on its own track has some advantages. The suggestion of doubling parts seems like a good one given your instrumentation. Other possibilities include your choice of rich/full patches/sounds, "thickening" the sound/patch used, production techniques, etc. 

Are you are scoring for an actual ensemble of a set number of performers?  If not, you could do something as simple as double a part (duplicate track), put it on a different instrument/patch/sound/multisample at a lower octave for starters and then tweak the part for variety.  Obviously, if you are scoring for a string trio + piano, you might have to make it a string quartet to do this.

Anyhow, just some thoughts. Hope they help.

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Hi, 

The realism you will get using virtual instruments will depend on many variables:

  • Quality / Price of VST library. There are zillions of libraries, so you should research the best and which ones fit your budget.
  • Ease of use vs. flexibility: Many VST libraries allow you to create realistic sounds with little work, however, they do not allow you flexibilities in different variations; there are other very flexible libraries that are more difficult to use at the same time.
  • Practice: After experimenting with various options, everything will depend on your experience in creating musical works. Humanization is the most important factor after all. There are many tutorials on how to humanize works with VST.
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Start with some good studio monitors! Those laptop speakers will always sound thin, no matter how many tracks or what VSTi you are using.

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Posted (edited)

Yes, at least use some decent headphones.

Double tracking is frequently used to thicken up instruments recorded in audio or you can record those instruments originally in stereo. Some think it is different for midi based VST recording, it isn't. Some think that if you just duplicate a midi track and pan one left and one right you have "thickened" the track, they are wrong. Recording midi is the same as audio, namely you have to record 2 different performances and then pan one left, one right. It is the nuances in the recorded performances, the differences, that thicken the sound.

If you are not actually recording midi but writing it in, you can duplicate this by duplicating the original track and then making sure the velocities and placement of the notes are different in the second track, move them around.

I will try to explain what I mean, If you imagine the following 4 note chord is set on a grid at 64th's and has been manually drawn in the piano roll. The dashes are 64th's, the brackets are the beginning and end of the midi note and the v represents the velocity of the note. :

-------[note v80]------
-------[note v80]------
-------[note v80]------
-------[note v80]------

This will sound thin, all the notes start the same, end the same and have the same velocities. It's less noticeable on synths but very noticeable on pianos or any natural sounding instrument.

This is what it looks like when I play it in:

-------[note v85     ]-------
-----[note v93     ]---------
--------[note v97         ]----
------[note v88       ]-------

This sounds thicker and richer and the reason why when you play it in it sound better. The notes start and end differently and it It will also sound different to the chord above because different notes are being emphasized through different velocities. Piano players almost unconsciously emphasize certain notes in a chord to enrich the melody. Now lets have a look at drawing in and recording in stereo:

Track one, left
-------[note v80]------
-------[note v80]------
-------[note v80]------
-------[note v80]------

Track two right
-------[note v80]------
-------[note v80]------
-------[note v80]------
-------[note v80]------

This is still going to sound thin and lifeless. lets record or draw the two tracks in slightly differently:

Track one, left
-------[note v85     ]-------
-----[note v93     ]---------
--------[note v97         ]----
------[note v88       ]-------

Track two, right
---------[note v92     ]-----
------[note v80       ]-------
-------[note v99       ]------
------[note v85       ]-------

This will sound thick and full. The note lengths, placement and velocities are different within each track and also between the tracks. When I play in from the keyboard, I will typically then go in and make minor adjustments in the placement of the notes if i need to if they are too far off time. I rarely use quantization or turn the grid on.

 

 

 

 

Edited by Tezza
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Don't try to do orchestral arrangements with solo string instruments alone, as it's a lot of work. Get a nice library that includes both solo instruments and ensemble sections. Layering the two will get you the fatness while preserving clear melodies.

My orchestral projects will usually have a minimum of four and up to 16 tracks. But if the strings are just serving as backing pads, then the right library will let you do it all with just one track. The number of tracks has little to do with how full a sound you get - more tracks let you get more creative with the interplay between instruments, but won't necessarily make it sound fatter. Cellos and basses, that's where the beef is.

Orchestral libraries can get incredibly expensive, but there are some good-enough ones for cheap. In my most recent orchestral outing, I set aside the monster string and orchestral libraries and exclusively used Amadeus Symphonic Orchestra from Sonic Scores. It's got both ensembles and solo instruments, and not just strings but also brass, woodwinds, percussion and even a serviceable choir. The downside is that it needs the full version of Kontakt.

If the only playback option you have is laptop speakers, you're going to have a real difficult time of it. They are simply physically incapable of informing you about how the music really sounds. Invest in some decent headphones, which will set you back between $150 and $300. Bear in mind that some higher-end headphones won't perform well when driven from your laptop's headphone output without adding an external headphone amplifier, so if you don't want to go through that hassle choose low-impedance (< 150 ohm) headphones.

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3 hours ago, bitflipper said:

Orchestral libraries can get incredibly expensive, but there are some good-enough ones for cheap. In my most recent orchestral outing, I set aside the monster string and orchestral libraries and exclusively used Amadeus Symphonic Orchestra from Sonic Scores. It's got both ensembles and solo instruments, and not just strings but also brass, woodwinds, percussion and even a serviceable choir. The downside is that it needs the full version of Kontakt.

I don't believe that the full Kontakt is required. I was looking into getting Amadeus, and the SonicScores site lists the requirements as: "Kontakt Player 5.8.1 or higher". https://sonicscores.com/amadeus/

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Don't forget the most important ingredient for realistic string performance!!! ARTICULATIONS!!!!

Orchestral performances are chock full of different bowing techniques for different timbres. I think you will find if you are using just one sample sawing away thru the whole piece, the results will be mundane and boring in a very short time. That's no reason to not go ahead and do your arrangement now with what you have and later invest in a little more sophisticated string library to replace the instruments you have now.

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On 10/3/2019 at 1:11 PM, abacab said:

...I don't believe that the full Kontakt is required. I was looking into getting Amadeus, and the SonicScores site lists the requirements as: "Kontakt Player 5.8.1 or higher". https://sonicscores.com/amadeus/

I think you are right. I never use the Player, so the only way I can tell if it's player-compatible is to look on the Libraries tab. Which I also never use.

[EDIT] OK, I found some know-it-all "authority" who wrote a review on Amadeus for SoundBytes, and according to him it is player-compatible.

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On 10/3/2019 at 5:09 AM, slartabartfast said:

 The magic of sound massage available these days, and our addiction to that magic, makes doing something like that seem unthinkable.

Yes I'm afraid this is so. The more we depend on the multitudes of today's sophistication the more we lose  touch of how simple and effective they had been. The moment we break them, we stretch our hands forward and begin to walk in the dark and end up knocking down a whole lot of things in our journey to reach the..light switch. :D

 

On 10/3/2019 at 6:02 PM, Chuck E Baby said:

Which VST-I (virtual instruments) are you using ?

 

For the piano tracks:
TruePianos Cakewalk that came with the default installation. 

For the string tracks: (some string instruments I grabbed from vst4free.com); 
Sonatina Violin
VSCO2 Violin

VSCO2 Cello Section
Sonatina Cello 

Sonatina Double 
VSCO2 Double Bass

with different articulations for each track.


I am certain they're not the best around but for the purpose of learning and experimenting esp. for a beginner I believe they are more than enough.

 

On 10/3/2019 at 7:18 PM, MusicMan11712 (aka Dr. Steve) said:

Are you are scoring for an actual ensemble of a set number of performers?  If not, you could do something as simple as double a part (duplicate track), put it on a different instrument/patch/sound/multisample at a lower octave for starters and then tweak the part for variety.  Obviously, if you are scoring for a string trio + piano, you might have to make it a string quartet to do this.

 

Scoring for an actual ensemble would seriously be a wild dream come true :D Perhaps in 20 years, haha, I would be there somewhere. Basically what I've been doing up till now is create a triad on the virtual piano (by using the guitar fret pane), keeping in mind to make the root the lowest note, and then copy or separate the notes into different instruments, e.g.
 

-all the root notes go to the double bass,
- all the 3rds go to the cello
- and all the 5ths go to the violin/viola. 

I will then make some tweaks on the notes, like making a group of notes an octave higher or lower as long as they're within the ranges of those instruments and mostly  making tweaks  to the velocities of the notes.

From here as suggested by these replies, I would just double each of these instruments with each track having different articulations, pannings, volumes, etc.
 

On 10/3/2019 at 9:29 PM, Rogério said:
  • Quality / Price of VST library. There are zillions of libraries, so you should research the best and which ones fit your budget.
  • Ease of use vs. flexibility: Many VST libraries allow you to create realistic sounds with little work, however, they do not allow you flexibilities in different variations; there are other very flexible libraries that are more difficult to use at the same time.
  • Practice: After experimenting with various options, everything will depend on your experience in creating musical works. Humanization is the most important factor after all. There are many tutorials on how to humanize works with VST.

Yes I'm aware of the many  millions libs  available out there and there's gonna be plenty of factors that I think will require some considerations on my part e.g. the capcabilities of the system I'm using here,  and not least critical, the amount of $$$ I'd be able to spend.

Thanks for the tips, will look  further into this.

 

On 10/3/2019 at 9:39 PM, abacab said:

Start with some good studio monitors! Those laptop speakers will always sound thin, no matter how many tracks or what VSTi you are using.

Currently I'm on a pair of affordable (read: mediocre  :D ) Sony headphones and also earphones. Probably won't get a more decent pair of monitors anytime soon. But hopefully  when I get better at this I may get one.  

When I mentioned about  'music sounding too thin' I wasn't really referring to the laptop built-in speakers, but rather to my 10 watt single-speaker Vietnam assembled Marshall amp :D Enuff for mild bedroom guitar practice but leaves a lot to be desired in terms of  it acting as a decent monitor.

On 10/3/2019 at 10:25 PM, Tezza said:

If you are not actually recording midi but writing it in, you can duplicate this by duplicating the original track and then making sure the velocities and placement of the notes are different in the second track, move them around.

I will try to explain what I mean, If you imagine the following 4 note chord is set on a grid at 64th's and has been manually drawn in the piano roll. The dashes are 64th's, the brackets are the beginning and end of the midi note and the v represents the velocity of the note. :

 

 

Lotsa thanks for a clear explanation, you nailed the answer to many of my burning questions on what it exactly means to 'move/nudge notes a bit to the right/left etc.' that I've been reading in the few articles and videos I could find on the web.

This really has helped clear a whole lot of the confusion I got when I first used the piano roll view and started tweaking those notes to meet similar objectives above. 

This is undoubtedly the 2nd most important piece of info in my thus far brief journey, the most important pieces are of course, 'how to use CbB for beginners' :D

On 10/4/2019 at 12:49 AM, bitflipper said:

Don't try to do orchestral arrangements with solo string instruments alone, as it's a lot of work. Get a nice library that includes both solo instruments and ensemble sections. Layering the two will get you the fatness while preserving clear melodies.

For the time being I only have instruments taht are freely available mostly from here; vst4free.com. A lot of people recommend Dimension Pro and for my current purposes it looks like it will suffice but I'm afraid it would have to come later on when I'm a bit more familiar with using all these virtual instruments.    

Question 1:
If I have an 'ensemble' track, does it need to be doubled too like the single instrument tracks?  Won't this make ensamble track(s) sound muddy/cluttered?

 

On 10/4/2019 at 4:29 AM, Sidney Earl Goodroe said:

Don't forget the most important ingredient for realistic string performance!!! ARTICULATIONS!!!!

Yes, I've been playing with different articulations for the instruments I use and they do sound a bit realistic now than they did previously.

 

<b>Question 2: 

Lets say I have a cello track for a  rhythm section that lasts for a whole minute.

Is a particular articulation meant to be played thruout the whole length of the track, or do I apply the articulation to wherever I want it to be and  not the whole of the track?

Or perhaps it's really up to one's taste?

-----------------


Many, many thanx for all the replies and tips. Looking forward to making some great music with CbB, and uh, I used the word 'great' just now with a lot of freedom and most relatively :D i.e  within the constraints that  are on me.

 Oh, one final question..

Question 3:
When I need to add some effects to a vst instrument, e.g. I'd like to add some delay to a viola, do I use the 'built-in' delay that came with the said instrument or do I add the effect to the track itself  (e.g. the sonitus delay)? Or simply a bit of both would result in  a better job?  

Lotsa thanx again. :) 

Edited by coffincoffee

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1. As a general rule, you are correct: it is usually unnecessary to layer ensembles. That doesn't mean it's never done, though. Layering ensemble samples from two different libraries can fatten a track. The larger libraries will offer different variations, e.g. close- and far-miked versions or ensembles of different sizes.

2. It's not unusual for a rhythmic ostinato to repeat the same articulation over and over. Think Ravel's Bolero. Or superhero movie trailers. However, the technique can be very boring, and I'd suggest avoiding it for more than a few bars. Best way to learn articulations is to listen to each one in your sample library so you can recognize how they are being used in classical music. You'll find that even cellos and basses alter their articulations often, even if it's just for one note in a phrase.

3. I prefer to use effects in Cakewalk's fx bins over the built-in effects in a Kontakt library. They are usually more configurable and can be left in-circuit after freezing the track. If you use a lot of big sample libraries in a project, it's likely that at some point you'll want to freeze some tracks to conserve computer resources, mainly RAM and disk I/O. If you use the intrinsic effects in Kontakt, they'll get frozen too and therefore be un-tweakable.

Beware of effecting each instrument differently, though, as that can create an unrealistic sound. You want the orchestra to sound like they're all playing in the same room. That means using aux busses so that any delays or reverbs are shared by every instrument. You can still exaggerate the effect on particular sections, though, e.g. more reverb on solo violins and less on basses.

All of the above assumes you want your orchestra to sound realistic. Maybe you don't, and that's OK - it is, after all, a creative endeavor. If a flanger sounds cool to your ears on that cello ensemble, go for it!

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bitflipper, again many many thanx for the input. 

I think I have enough recommendations and tips now to start hacking away at the daw. There is tho some sort of a foreboding sense that I'm going to require months to churn and assimilate all the info I get from just this one thread😁 but I also believe it's going to be one hell of a fascinating ride.

Lotsa thanx again guys.

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21 hours ago, coffincoffee said:

...I'm going to require months to churn and assimilate all the info I get from just this one thread😁 but I also believe it's going to be one hell of a fascinating ride.

 

That's the spirit! Keep telling yourself it'll only take "months". That optimism will keep you going for at least the next ten years. 😁

Seriously, though, it is a fascinating ride. I won't tell you how long I've been at it, and how much I still don't know despite my longevity, lest you be discouraged. Let's just say that the learning curve is endless and no matter how long you've been doing it there will always be something new to learn. That, of course, is what makes this such a great hobby.

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