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Need a little help with Metro Ark I strings programming

Akarin

digitalcomposing.com
Hey all,

I'm trying to make my strings from Metropolis Ark I sound "good". Whatever I do, it always sounds like robotic crap.

I've made a little example to show you what I mean:


I use the "High Strings Legato 8va" patch for the melody and the "Low Strings Sus 8va" for the harmony.

This is what it looks like in Cubase:

High Strings:
vOIzEcB.png


Low Strings:
t9YzZZQ.png


Here's everything I tried in this short example:

- Added a reverb on a group channel (QL Spaces, NY Strings Hall, 3.2) and added a -6dB send from each track.
- As I can't play keys, I used the Cubase Chord Track for the harmony. I then shortened each MIDI note as you can see in the screenshot.
- I moved the starting point of each chord note manually.
- Changed the velocity for each note individually but it seems that MA1 strings don't really respond to the velocity setting.
- Drawn a CC1 pattern (shown in the screenshots).

...and that's where I'm at right now. Can you please point me to where I should look to make this sound right?

Is it due to the chord inversions? Is my CC1 totally off? Not enough reverb? Is this the best I can get from MA1 strings (totally don't think so, never heard a demo sound this bad).

I have other string libs but as I'm starting out, I want to learn one lib before jumping to another one.

Thank you, your help is much appreciated!
 

halfwalk

proposed deletion
I'm still rather amateur myself, but one thing that jumps out at me is that having 8 notes simultaneously in the low strings (4 note chords on an octave patch) seems a bit busy; when there's that much going on, it can start to sound like a synth/keyboard rather than a string section. I'd say maybe don't use an octave patch if your low strings are going to be that full, or maybe consider simplifying the part so as to "imply" the harmony rather than state it so forcefully. The way it's written seems to say "this is a keyboard part" because there isn't a real sense of thoughtful voice leading, which I've found is kind of essential if you want "realistic" strings. Admittedly, this is harder to do when working with ensemble libraries like Ark; I think something like Ark would shine more if you play to its strengths rather than try to make it something it's not.

Also, do you use expression (CC11) as well, or just CC1 by itself? I find this helps with more organic volume swells and breaths, because CC1 is more for changing the timbre.

That's just my 2 cents anyway; I'm sure some far more experienced people here can help you more.
 
Last edited:
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Akarin

Akarin

digitalcomposing.com
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I'm still rather amateur myself, but one thing that jumps out at me is that having 8 notes simultaneously in the low strings (4 note chords on an octave patch) seems a bit busy; when there's that much going on, it can start to sound like a synth/keyboard rather than a string section. I'd say maybe don't use an octave patch if your low strings are going to be that full, or maybe consider simplifying the part so as to "imply" the harmony rather than state it so forcefully. The way it's written seems to say "this is a keyboard part" because there isn't a real sense of thoughtful voice leading, which I've found is kind of essential if you want "realistic" strings. Admittedly, this is harder to do when working with ensemble libraries like Ark; I think something like Ark would shine more if you play to its strengths rather than try to make it something it's not.

Also, do you use expression (CC11) as well, or just CC1 by itself? I find this helps with more organic volume swells and breaths, because CC1 is more for changing the timbre.

That's just my 2 cents anyway; I'm sure some far more experienced people here can help you more.

This is a great tip! I haven't thought about the octave thing. Will try simplifying the chords.

I also didn't use CC11. I will take a look at this as well.

Thanks a lot!
 

Divico

Senior Member
Im pretty newbie but from what I can tell your problem starts with your composition. You have block chords + melody which doesn´t work too well for strings. All voices in your low string patch start and stop playing at the same time, which isnt good. Often you also have note changes in all voices at the same time including the melody-

When writing for strings its better to view each instrument as an own voice and melody not just a part of a chord.
First thing I would change is the blockness of the chords. An easy thing to do which glues your voices more together is holding notes. Whenever you have a note played in two adjacent chords, hold it. do not retrigger it.
You could check out some four part harmony tutorials for this matter.

Its also good to bring in some movement in the middle voices. Maybe a counter melody. Or some passing tones.

Regarding the melody you could work on the phrasing. I think I wouldnt play all notes legato in this melody. Better think of small phrases that you work out by using legato and expression, volume rides. The legato sound doesnt satisfy me. Is there an option to change legato speed or amount in the patch you are using?
 

Lassi Tani

Senior Member
Im pretty newbie but from what I can tell your problem starts with your composition. You have block chords + melody which doesn´t work too well for strings. All voices in your low string patch start and stop playing at the same time, which isnt good. Often you also have note changes in all voices at the same time including the melody-

When writing for strings its better to view each instrument as an own voice and melody not just a part of a chord.
First thing I would change is the blockness of the chords. An easy thing to do which glues your voices more together is holding notes. Whenever you have a note played in two adjacent chords, hold it. do not retrigger it.
You could check out some four part harmony tutorials for this matter.

Its also good to bring in some movement in the middle voices. Maybe a counter melody. Or some passing tones.

Regarding the melody you could work on the phrasing. I think I wouldnt play all notes legato in this melody. Better think of small phrases that you work out by using legato and expression, volume rides. The legato sound doesnt satisfy me. Is there an option to change legato speed or amount in the patch you are using?

This is very good advice. The chords sound quite weird, because you're using 8va patches. Usually the 8va low strings work well, when you need heavy bass under other sections, but not all notes are doubled in octaves. Also similarly high strings doubled in octaves is a quite heavy and piercing sound, and works well for thick orchestrations, when you need to emphasize the high strings line. But I think here your melody doesn't need doubled in octaves, at least not now, but maybe later, if you add more sections, like brass and woodwinds.

When you are writing for strings, think about orchestration also, e.g. do you a need heavy melody line to be heard over brass, or can you do it just with unisono.

Have you had courses on composing and orchestration?
 
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Akarin

Akarin

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Thanks for all these great tips and taking the time to explain all of this. Really awesome!
 

NoamL

Winter <3
Think about how strings would bow this. Here is your melody, where H means half note, Q means quarter note, and W means whole note.

HQQHQQHHWHQQHQQHHW.

Right now you are slurring all the notes, as shown above.

But, you don't have to use legato all the time, and in fact that version is physically impossible.

A more realistic version would be:

H QQ H QQ H H W H QQ H QQ H H W

In other words, only put a legato transition from the first quarter note to the second. The other notes will be detached.

(This probably matters less for fortissimo passages than for subtle mezzo-piano string writing but it's a good habit to get into.) :)

If you mime bowing this passage you will see that almost all of the up bow and down bows occupy the same amount of space and time. This is a pretty good rule of thumb for creating good bowings if you're not a string player, although it's not a universal rule by any means.
 

NoamL

Winter <3
Similar problems exist with your lower voices. Something like this might be more effective

nrjrUWQ.png


Because the octave patch will double all these voices an octave higher I made sure to put A LOT of space between the bass voice and the harmony. That way, there will still be an octave interval at the bottom of our harmony instead of a muddy fifth or third.

Similarly, I only used 3 voices, as they will double to create 6 which is already very thick harmony. The two middle voices should probably move smoothly, not jump all over the place unless you are creating a counter melody. Since you are repeating a lot in this short melody maybe the two middle voices can have different material the 1st and 2nd time to create interest or at least some more nuance around these chords.

Finally, notice that the bass voice is changed so that it's telling more of a story, it has its own melody. Opposite motion to the melody is often a good idea to make your bass interesting and independent. The awkward leap down in the bass that you had in measures 22 and 26 wasn't a great idea especially because the melody was also going down and so were the other voices!

This example probably still breaks some voice leading rules but it's on firmer ground than the original and won't sound so muddy and church-organ-y.
 

jeremiahpena

Active Member
Since everyone else has touched on the voicing and voice leading (which is all definitely most important), I'll talk about the performance. You need to be using way more mod wheel movement to have a noticeable effect. Ark 1's long strings are just 2 recorded layers that cover mf-f-ff (I know it says mf-fff, but it doesn't sound like that big of a range to me), which means the modulation you've used is covering half of a dynamic at best. It ends up sounding like nothing is happening.

The movement of the modulation you've used also doesn't seem very natural to me. Try outlining the motion of the melody or imagining how it would sound when sung. As an example (although how you want it to sound could very well be different, so YMMV), for this line I would probably have the violins crescendo with the contour of the melody from bar 20 to 22 and drop in volume at the end of the phrase at 23. Same with the next four bars, but instead crescendo at the last note.

Don't be afraid to greatly exaggerate the dynamics to see how it sounds. If it sounds like too much, it's easy to reduce.
 

Grim_Universe

Active Member
Harmony is very important, especially when you compose only for strings. Because samples can't "breathe" and they lack movement, so it's very important to make movement with wide or narrow voice leadings..
https://www.dropbox.com/s/p8thbf7edj2xxv5/0.jpg?dl=0
0.jpg

Then you start to orchestrate your music. To be honest, I wanted to do some things differently, but I did not want the end result to be very different from yours, so I used violins doubled in octave. When you have finished the orchestration (in our case it is a super simple strings piece), you start to draw CCs. Think of yourself as a sculptor: at the beginning of the work you draw a general outline
https://www.dropbox.com/s/58bvlynrz222s8g/1.jpg?dl=0
1.jpg

then you start working on the nuances
https://www.dropbox.com/s/rfcn1qdoru459c6/2.jpg?dl=0
2.jpg

in the end you have something like this
https://www.dropbox.com/s/typ90bkks0t9604/3.jpg?dl=0
3.jpg


Final result:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/4sho2b3dvt0iib9/Strings.wav?dl=0
 
M

mac

Guest
Harmony is very important, especially when you compose only for strings. Because samples can't "breathe" and they lack movement, so it's very important to make movement with wide or narrow voice leadings..
https://www.dropbox.com/s/p8thbf7edj2xxv5/0.jpg?dl=0
0.jpg

Then you start to orchestrate your music. To be honest, I wanted to do some things differently, but I did not want the end result to be very different from yours, so I used violins doubled in octave. When you have finished the orchestration (in our case it is a super simple strings piece), you start to draw CCs. Think of yourself as a sculptor: at the beginning of the work you draw a general outline
https://www.dropbox.com/s/58bvlynrz222s8g/1.jpg?dl=0
1.jpg

then you start working on the nuances
https://www.dropbox.com/s/rfcn1qdoru459c6/2.jpg?dl=0
2.jpg

in the end you have something like this
https://www.dropbox.com/s/typ90bkks0t9604/3.jpg?dl=0
3.jpg


Final result:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/4sho2b3dvt0iib9/Strings.wav?dl=0

This post should be some kind of strings 101 sticky :thumbsup:
 
OP
Akarin

Akarin

digitalcomposing.com
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I am amazed and humbled by all the great answers I got. You guys are the best. Thank you so much, it helps me a lot with my learning.
 

Fry777

Active Member
Harmony is very important, especially when you compose only for strings. Because samples can't "breathe" and they lack movement, so it's very important to make movement with wide or narrow voice leadings..
https://www.dropbox.com/s/p8thbf7edj2xxv5/0.jpg?dl=0
0.jpg

Then you start to orchestrate your music. To be honest, I wanted to do some things differently, but I did not want the end result to be very different from yours, so I used violins doubled in octave. When you have finished the orchestration (in our case it is a super simple strings piece), you start to draw CCs. Think of yourself as a sculptor: at the beginning of the work you draw a general outline
https://www.dropbox.com/s/58bvlynrz222s8g/1.jpg?dl=0
1.jpg

then you start working on the nuances
https://www.dropbox.com/s/rfcn1qdoru459c6/2.jpg?dl=0
2.jpg

in the end you have something like this
https://www.dropbox.com/s/typ90bkks0t9604/3.jpg?dl=0
3.jpg


Final result:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/4sho2b3dvt0iib9/Strings.wav?dl=0

This is so useful :thumbsup:

BTW, is there any course online to learn how to orchestrate strings specifically (midi CC writing,etc) ?
 
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Grim_Universe

Active Member
@Fry777 I'm sure that you can find one without any problems. I learned everything from many sources: harmony books, scores, youtube videos, experiments and so on.. Voice leadings for instance is a pretty tough and unpleasant component of harmony writing rules, and it requires practice and only practice to remember everything.. Then you will break all those rules if needed. For instance, Debussy used parallel octaves and fifths to achieve a certain color of his harmony, so all those rules should be used when necessary only.
 

Begfred

Member
I would try making contrary motions between melody and Bass. This is the kind of passage who need fluid voice leading, choral style writing.... Parallele motion is better for orchestral textures.

And use only 8ve patches for the bass notes, not for harmony.
 
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