Gilreath, Paul. The guide to MIDI orchestration

Gilreath, P. (2004) The guide to MIDI orchestration. Atlanta: MusicWorks Atlanta

“Orchestration, according  to the Harvard Dictionary of Music, is defined as the art of employing, in an instrumental composition, the various instruments in accordance with (a) their individual properties and (b) the composer’s concept of the sonorous effect of his work. It involves a detailed knowledge of the playing mechanism of each instrument, its range, tone quality, loudness, limitations, etc. MIDI id the acronym for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. This is a standard created to allow electronic instruments to communicate with one another. It allows us to play multiple sound modules from a single source, to record performances into a computer or sequencer and to transmit detailed musical data from one place to another. When I combine these words into the new term “MIDI orchestration”, I intend it to take on a new meaning greater than the two parts. MIDI orchestration is more than composing and assigning different parts to various MIDI intruments. It is the total, process of employing MIDI, samples and samplers, sound modules, processing hardware and software and recording gear to achieve maximum realism, ultimately creating the wonderful experience and sound of having a true, living orchestra within your own working studio.
Orchestration for real instruments is very time-consuming and requires attention to detail. It is an art that can be as challenging as the compositional process. Not only must you decide what notes each musician in the orchestra should play, you must also inform them, through notation, as to how to play the notes and with what loudness and phrasing. You must tell them how to balance with the rest of the orchestra and in what tempo to play. In order to render a successful MIDI orchestration, you must accomplish all of these things and more. Translating the art of orchestration into the world of MIDI is an extremely difficult task. […] Orchestration deals with humans and other more organic elements.” (Gilreath:2004;V)

“For the novice, one of the most overwhelming aspects of MIDI orchestration is the amount of detail that the techniques incorporate. It is no secret among those who arrange for both real and MIDI orchestra that it is far easier and less time-consuming to arrange for a real orchestra. In MIDI orchestration, you have to do twice the work. Not only must you compose the music and corresponding lines for each instrument[…],  you must also choose appropriate sample banks, panning, volume levels, processing and host of other details. You must perform each line perfectly. You must phrase expressively and play musically. ” (Gilreath:2004;vi)

“As you may know, all of the instruments in an orchestra have their own sounds and characteristics. Each instrument has a unique range and varying timbre within his range. Furthermore, a single instrument sounds vastly different than an entire section of that same instument. Instruments playing at the same time tend to meld together, forming a composite or “layered” sound. The distinct sounds of the solo instruments blend in a synergy that is often  difficult to copy electronically. Simply compiling four identical French horn samples to form a virtual section does not yield the same sound as what is achieved by four live horn players playing simultaneously. You must also remember that real orchestra has the performance venue that will modify the sound. Natural reverberation, reflections, tone alterations, and room shape alter the overall sound. These alterations and additions make up what I call “the air”, which is crucial to the sound of the orchestra.” (Gilreath:2004;vii)

[como comentario, a mí no me gustaría tratar de copiar electrónicamente las cosas de la realidad, sino tomar los instrumentos MIDI con sus timbres y jugar con eso sin intentar darle un toque realista]


“Asking someone how to put together an orchestration can yield perplexing answers. It is similar to asking an artist how to paint. There are actually many comparisons between the two, and even if you are not artistic in the visual sense, drawing comparisons between the two can be beneficial. The composition is part of the orchestration just as the composition is part of the painting. The artists uses a palette of paint colors, and must learn how to use these colors-to manipulate them to achieve exactly what he or she wants in the work. How artists use colors depends on what on what they’re are trying to accomplish; the mood of the painting, what the artist is trying to evoke, the subject and style of the composition. Similarly, the orchestra is the palette of colors for the orchestrator, and he or she must learn how to use it. How orchestrations use the instruments of the orchestra depends on what they’re trying to accomplish. Just as an artist would not begin a painting without first having a subject, a style and a vision, so too the orchestrator must not begin without these elements already in mind. Once these things are firmly engrained in the orchestrator’s head, it’s time to begin.” (Gilreath:2004;63)


The duality of orchestral composing

Typically when writing for orchestra, there are two elements that are evolving at the same time -a compositional element and an orchestrational element. Each has its own set of demands […]

The compositional goals are:

· A finished piece that achieves the desired mood in the intended style.

· A piece that is structurally sound and put together in a manner that makes sense to the listener.

· A piece that is interesting and not dull or mundane.

· A piece that takes de listener through a series of emotional highs and lows.

Orchestrationally, the goals are:

· A balanced sound from start to finish in terms of volume, timbre and texture.

· An interesting score with no monotony, taking advantage of the differing timbres of the orchestra.

· Appropriate instrumentation of melodies, secondary lines and accompaniments.

· Lines that are appropriate for all instruments in terms of range, timbre and approach.” (Gilreath:2004;64)


“I like to begin by deciding on the following orchestral elements:

· The size  of orchestra and the exact instrumentation I will be using.

· The style of the orchestration (Classical, Baroque, Romantic, avant-garde).

· The scale  and scope of the piece in terms of dynamics, timbres and articulations.

And in terms of composition:

· The style and mood of the piece.

· The length and complexity of the piece.

· Its raison d’etre: Does it stand on its own, or is it a score for another medium?

· Ther harmonic structure: Will it be simple or use more complex harmonies?” (Gilreath:2004;64)

“I begin a new piece by thinking about the composition phase of the process. I write some element, typically a melody, an interesting accompaniment, or a chord progression. I will then play this element(s) in my head or at the keyboard, trying to develop it into an entity that is both musical and interesting. Note that my first idea will not necessarily be used at the beginning of the piece. This element might not show up until several measures into the piece or at a totally different point in the piece. For a piece of extended lenght, it is beneficial to work on several motifs or elements. Dependent on the style and length of the piece, you might want to write several melodies, countermelodies and alternate melodies in order to give you enough material to work with. Most often, as I am writing these elements, I try to hear in my head the particular instrument(s) that will be playing the lines. This helps begin the bridge from composition to orchestration and it has a direct influence on the working out of the orchestration.”  (Gilreath:2004;64)