Your favorite MIDI orchestration tip


New Member
Fantastic thread. So much useful information here. I enjoyed reading it not only for the handy tips but also the display of lively personalities. I wouldn't say anyone was going out of their way to be rude, they were just passionate, which is pretty much what you'd expect for people on this site. I'd be quite disappointed if everyone were indifferent.

The only thing I can add (still a novice here and I know it's not MIDI related) is that you should take a break from your music when you notice fatigue coming on. Although sometimes we don't realise when we need to rest because we get caught up in excitement. But the difference is quite noticeable and I wake up the next day to hear a completely different song...not in a good way either. It's like audio gremlins came out during the night and wrecked havoc in my studio! Because when I make the mistake of pushing myself too far I lose perspective. In my tired state I usually end up leaving the project in a direction where ideas becomes lost, mangled or lose coherency (my main sin). Then there's less inspiration and I get discouraged to complete the piece. Perhaps some of you can relate?

Second thing I can add is that sometimes it's tempting to use all your ideas that come to surface in the immediate track you're working on. But if it conflicts with the theme, unnecessarily complicates it, or adds nothing to it... it may be better suited for a forked off track or even discarded. Easier said than done though. I've committed this cardinal sin many times and probably will continue to do so :P.

But my most important lesson to take from this thread is that I've learnt I have a lot more to learn than I initially thought. Cliche. But true for me nonetheless. I grossly underestimated the vast ways of how I could improve on my compositions. And this frightened me at first because I knew it's going to be a long road ahead but then I realised I'd be encouraged by the extremely satisfying journey of musical discovery. But no, for those of you reading, I won't become obsessed with technicalities. I'm more interested in how I can use knowledge as a tool to ignite my creativity and free me from stagnation, not imprison me with its weight. No accusations here. It's from personal experience not just with music but other fields I dabble in too.

Many thanks to everyone who contributed to this thread and I hope it still continues to grow. I have benefited and read every single post in this thread without discounting anything. You never know what can come in handy even if it goes against "common sense". I have a lot of unlearning to do too; so many bad, bad habits. I feel a bit like I've just watched the director's commentary on my composer life past and shocked at all the things I missed. Many things I cringed at, at first because I had overlooked the obvious but I'm over that stage. No more self-flagellation... it's time for orchestration!

Oh, and the most important tip: don't forget to rehydrate. OK, kidding on that one.
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Active Member
Confession: I quantize. Not all the time, but often enough. I sometimes wonder if there are others like me, carrying this shameful secret that must never be spoken out loud. I have my reasons. It makes my job easier when the picture goes through a million edits a million times and I need to rearrange my season to match. (This can range from simply quantizing the first note of every section to saying f it and hitting "Q" on everything for the heavy hack and slash jobs). It also makes the music editors job easier when that task eventually falls to them.
Anyway, if you're going to quantize use MIDI pre delay. NEVER/EVER quantize string parts without it.


Active Member
Getting back into the "MIDI tips" part of this thread:

You can 'fake' measured tremolo on strings with a spiccato patch quite easily. This trick was mentioned in Alex Wallbank's Cinematic Strings 2 video and he took it from Jasper Blunk again. I use this trick quite often with good results and it is an actual midi trick.

See the video for details. The video will start playing at the appropiate timestamp for the trick:



Senior Member
Someone said that playing it live is overrated...I think it's the only way to get a true live feeling performance...but I think the better way of saying it, is only quantize when absolutely necessary...And never at 100%. Secondly, PERFORMANCE is key...aside from playing it live, you need to "perform" the part as a real musician might do...Give room to breathe, don't play out of range or in a range that's not comfortable and make sure your tempo is comfortable as well...etc, etc. Third, BALANCE YOUR Sorry for yelling, but this is absolute key to realism. Making sure the parts are well balanced amongst the orchestra is more important that having the most realistic samples. Playability of your samples is also key...they need to do what you want them to. And others have mentioned, never set to a perfect tempo...fluctuate a bit as a conductor might have you do to create excitement and more movement from the samples.


Randomise your little midi stubs. Move some notes a bit to the left, to the right. Make them last a little longer or shorter. Maybe let the first violin start the phrase just a liiiittle bit earlier than the rest. Don't give it too much thought, simply pick a note every now and then and have some fun with it.

Living Fossil

Senior Member
Make them last a little longer or shorter. Maybe let the first violin start the phrase just a liiiittle bit earlier than the rest. Don't give it too much thought, simply pick a note every now and then and have some fun with it.
No. Just no.
With the wrong lengths and positions you can completely mess up the feeling of a texture.
The lengths, volume and exact position of a note can be completely crucial and often requires a lot of fiddeling.

Of course, a too quantized playback sounds usually bad. But you have to have an idea why you introduce which deviations. It's not a bricolage...


Active Member
Personally, I've gave up the quest of pursuing and achieving "realism" in virtual orchestration quite some time ago. While I believe that it's possible, as numerous audible examples by other composers and members of these boards prove, above all I cherish the certain "democracy" that MIDI orchestration provides: the ability for musicians and composers who don't have traditional music education and training (like myself) to also express themselves through orchestral music.

I like to think that I know a thing or two about orchestration, at least in theory, but for me those principles were always more the aesthetic guidelines than a strict rules that I aim to follow to the letter. That being said, here are my favorite principles about virtual orchestration:

1) Don't take a french horn patch and play a boogie-woogie piano lick with it;

2) Try not to use close and dense voicing while using ensemble and especially section patches;

3) Try to use dynamic and expression as much as possible.