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The Art Of The Orchestral Template

Perhaps surprisingly, a good deal of the work that goes into creating an orchestral score takes place before the composition stage has even begun. Once you have acquired some high-quality sample libraries, it’s time to set them up as a template in Studio One in a way that will both inspire you and speed up your workflow.

Templates allow you to configure a session however you like, and then, in one click, recall it again and again whenever you start a new project. More so than other types of music, templates are absolutely vital to the orchestral composer for several reasons.

Firstly, the number of different instrument tracks involved in mocking up an orchestral score dwarfs most other genres of music. Secondly, the orchestra is more-or-less a standardized ensemble, so it makes sense to write for the same (or similar) track setup every time.

Depending on the size and complexity of your desired template, the process of setting it up can take an hour or more, which is why it’s so important to put aside some time to do it. Imagine all the time you will save by using a template compared to starting from scratch every time you go to write something! It’s

worth indulging your OCD side to get it exactly right, as the rewards you reap in convenience, time saved and inspiration in the future will be invaluable.

In this guide, I will offer some thoughts, advice and tips for creating an orchestral template that works for

you. In it (and for the rest of this series), we will be using NI Kontakt almost exclusively. Be sure to read

the articles in part one of this series which summarize the capabilities of each of the instruments we’ll be

including here.

Differentiate

Make different templates for different kinds of music! Chances are, if you're composing for media, you know what kind of music you're going to be making before you start. Have lots of smaller templates for a bunch of different styles. All-encompassing "super templates" slow everything down and tend to be unwieldy. For example, you could have a template dedicated to traditional orchestral composition, one for film, one for fantasy, one for special effects, one for unusual articulations, a large and small string section, one for pop arrangements, one that has synths, one percussion-heavy template… Don’t try to make a one-size-fits-all solution, you probably will have to have so much stuff in it that it will end up being unusable.

Instrument Tracks

The most basic part of any MIDI template are the instrument tracks. In an orchestral template, you’ll likely be using very many tracks to cover all the instruments and articulations you’re likely to need in any composition. So it’s extremely important to keep everything organized from the very start. I prefer to

group the patches such that each instrument (with all articulations) gets its own kontakt instance. Not only will this allow you to cut down on processing power required to run scores of kontakt instances for every articulation, but you will also be able to control the entire instrument (including every articulation) on a single automation lane. Further, the faders will be linked which is handy to keep the levels in line with one another, and we are forced to use more natural-sounding ways to control the volume, such as modulation and expression CC controllers.

If you wish to include solo instruments as well as instrument sections, be sure to include those as appropriate. Note that it is often useful to be able to control the automation of soloists independently of their sections, so it is a good idea to either use a separate Kontakt instance, or route the soloist to a separate output channel. For the sake of convenience, I usually opt for the former. Speaking of solo

instruments, don’t forget to include the grand piano! Even if you don’t intend to use it in your piece, it’s a

great way to hammer out melodic ideas before assigning them to the orchestra proper.

Articulations

Orchestral instruments are capable of performing in a number of different ways. We refer to these different playing techniques as articulations. It is important to include a variety of performance techniques in your template in order to make it easy for yourself to create a realistic and interesting composition. For a detailed overview of the most common articulations of orchestral instruments, please see the first part of this series.

Here is a list of articulations that you might consider including in your template, grouped by section and by usefulness.

 

Strings

Woodwinds

Brass

Percussion

 

Legato

 

Legato

 

Essential

Spiccato / Staccato Pizzicato Tremolo Poly Sustain

Legato

Staccato

Poly Sustain

Poly Sustain

Staccato

Staccatissimo

Ord.

     

Trill

 

Recommended

Trill

Glissando

Trill

Portamento

Rips

Marcato

Tremolo

 

Portato Special FX Runs

 

Sordino

 

Optional

Harmonics

Double/Triple Tonguing Runs

Dynamics

Sordino

Sordino

Special FX

Portamento

 

Portamento Col legno battuto Sul Ponticello

Portamento

Glissando

 

Some Flute Articulations

Networking

Consider whether you want to use a single machine, or use a networking tool like Vienna Ensemble Pro to harness the power of multiple computers. Vienna Ensemble Pro is the leading solution for building orchestral templates, either locally on one machine or spread over multiple slave machines up to a true server farm. If you have the resources and the ambition to create a massive template that spans multiple networked machines, you’d do well to check this out. Since this topic is well outside the score of this guide, you can read more at the VSL website: https://www.vsl.co.at/en/Vienna_Software_Package/Vienna_Ensemble_PRO

Bussing

Create a bus track for each orchestral section (Strings / Woodwinds / Brass / Percussion) If you want, you can also create subgroups for different instruments or groups of instruments (eg. If you have 2 violin

tracks with many articulations each, you could bus them all together) This allows great flexibility in the mixing stages of your work- and you can rest assured that anything you change on the bus will affect the entire instrument, not just part of it which could create a weird disparity.

Panning

Since the orchestra is such a large collection of musicians, often different sections in the ensemble can be physically positioned quite far from one another. This means the sound we hear is coming from all different places- we need to account for this in our template. Along with reverb, effective panning will go a long way towards helping create a sense of the performance space.

Here is one possible panning scheme that preserves the natural seating position of a modern symphony orchestra.

1st violins 50%L

2nd violins <50%L

Violas C or <10%R

Celli <50%R

Basses 50%R

Trumpets 33%R

Horns 33%L

Trombones/tuba 50%R

Flutes/clarinets <20%L

Oboes/bassoons <20%R

Timpani and bass drum C

Other Percussion - to taste

Note that these values are extremely approximate, and it largely depends on the particular sample library involved. You may need to pan samples with a wide stereo image more aggressively to make them blend well with the rest of the orchestra. If you find the width of a particular library too wide or narrow, it may be necessary to use a stereo imaging plugin like binaural pan to narrow it down or convert the signal to mono.

FX

Because we are trying to achieve a natural sound, we should try to keep the audio effects to a minimum.

We’ll use only what we need to enhance the sound of the natural ensemble and nothing more.

Orchestras usually perform in large concert halls, so the most useful effect for your orchestral template is undoubtedly the humble reverb. Add some reverb on a new FX channel so that the effect becomes available to use as a send for your whole ensemble. This will make it easier to get a consistent sound and create a convincing sense of space. Finally, make sure to solo-safe the FX channel by shift-clicking the Solo button.

If you have a patch that you know needs some EQ, you can apply that to the track as part of your template. You can also add some very gentle compression / limiting to the master channel if you really must. Other than that, if you have good-quality samples you really shouldn’t need much else in terms of FX processing unless you’re going for something in particular. For a natural, acoustic orchestral sound, the simpler the better. Most sample libraries are processed enough already out of the box, so there’s no

need usually for you to do much more with it. Besides, by including a lot of effects in your template, you will be draining valuable resources that would probably be better used by your samples.

Keeping everything clear

When it comes to organizing your template, there are no rules. Use what’s comfortable for you. The only

absolute necessity is that you must your processing resources efficiently and present everything in a clear way that you can understand at a glance. Here are some tips on how to do that.

Colour Scheme

Make up a colour scheme that seems natural for you and stick with it diligently. It will save you untold

confusion later on when you’re dealing with large chunks of MIDI later on. Quickly select a colour for

multiple tracks by ctrl /cmd + clicking each track to select it, then choose a colour from the left side of

the track panel.

Choose a colour for your tracks

Naming Scheme

You should clearly label every track in your session, for obvious reasons. As well as naming the tracks, it is also a really good idea to name the devices, so you can pull up the exact VI instance you need to and make changes to it instantly. This will also help you to keep track of your routing.

Secondly, you should think of a naming convention. This heavily depends on what libraries you use in your template. If you only have one single library by, say, 8dio, just writing "8dio Vln I" should be ok. If you have lots of libraries by different companies, you should differentiate.

Rename Instrument Devices

Rename Instrument Devices

Folder Tracks

It’s always a great idea to keep your instrument tracks organized into folders, as it’s not always necessary

to have all tracks visible at any one time. Folder tracks allow you great flexibility in organization, editing

and arranging. So at the very minimum, you could create a folder for each orchestral section (eg. Strings / Woodwinds / Brass / Percussion / FX & Others). Additionally, if you have a lot of different articulations, you could make a sub-folder for each instrument in the sections. Finally, I always recommend including a Master Folder that includes every track in your song- this will help you arrange your ideas within the song as you are composing.

Folder Nesting

3rd party tools

You may opt for some third party tools like VE Pro or Plogue Bidule to outsource your plugin hosting. We won’t cover them here but you can check them out at their respective websites:

Finally, when you are happy with your template, click File > Save As Template