I have re-discovered several of my old compositions from several years ago, and would now like to work on/finish them. Unfortunately, they are in MIDI format written in a very "un-arranged" manner, i.e., big chords with 6 or more notes played with String Ensemble 1 or 2, or Synth Strings. At the time of composition these had the advantage of quickly yielding the desired results, without the hassle of arranging for individual instruments.

Now I would like to finish these projects by arranging them correctly (i.e., converting the large MIDI symphonic chords into bass, viola, string sections, ...). Eventually, I would like to "render" the arrangements using some musical software such as Garritan Personal Orchestra, and later perhaps hire musicians for a recording performance. However, the process of transcribing a 20+ minute piece note by note to the correct instruments (bass, viola, violin section(s), leads, ...) is tedious to say the least. Moreover, it entails various potential issues, such as:

  • Potential errors: it is likely that the "robotic" arrangement of large MIDI chords results in out-of-range notes for certain instruments due to human error (i.e., notes that are too high for the bass, too low for the violins, ...),
  • Doubling notes: in some cases it is advantageous for the bass to double notes played by the viola, and vice-versa. These are very time-consuming to analyze and write for thousands of notes.

Finally, the couple of minutes of the score I managed to arrange does not sound satisfactory, i.e., it does not sound "as rich" as the original midi composition, with the large chords played by the String Ensembles and the Synth Strings.

My questions are thus the following:

  1. How do I efficiently transcribe/arrange such a MIDI piece into a "usable" composition, arranged correctly for a full string section involving basses, viola, violin sections, and leads, that preserves the "rich" sounding of a full MIDI chord?
  2. How do I do this efficiently for a long composition, requiring the least amount of robotic "manual" work? Is there perhaps an automated solution for this, i.e., some software package?

2 Answers 2


What you basically have right now is what composers call a “short score”. A short score is an abbreviated score that gives an approximation of the full score but omits details of individual instruments. Composers use them because, like you said, it allows you to focus on writing without really the hassle of orchestration. However, the next step is always invariably taking the short score and blowing it up to be a full score. Yes, this is time consuming, but it is part of the craft. There are a hundred different ways you can orchestrate something, but you need to use your ear and sensibility to find the exact right way. You’re not going to like this but there are no short cuts here. If you had written your music on different staves / channels, the most you can do is export the MIDI and separate into tracks, but if they’re written on the same track, your options are limited. You just need to do the work; if you don’t care about the music that much, why should anyone else? Also, don’t forget that you’ll need to make parts for the musicians you intend to hire.

Regarding playback: it doesn’t sound the same because those ensemble patches do the orchestration for you - a given chord is split thickly between the ensemble and this gives a thick, full sound. When you orchestrate it yourself, you are spreading the parts our more thinly and thus, the sound is thinner. It has nothing to do with the actual samples, just craft of orchestration. So my advice here is to learn how to fill the sound out manually. Also remember here that the end goal should be people playing and not some silly computer, so don’t get too hung up on playback.

In sum, if you take shortcuts in your work, your work will suffer. Even if there was a program that would do all that automatically for you, it removes all of the skill and artistry of composing. If you care enough to commit time to writing, and if you plan to ask others to commit time to playing your music, it should be of the highest quality, don’t you think?

  • 1
    I can only concur: it IS tedious. But it's the only way to get a proper result. And seriously, OP if you don't know the range of an instrument you need to look it up. It's only a very very small part of your craft. If you can't be bothered with that, you probably just want to BE a composer, not become one.
    – Creynders
    Dec 28, 2017 at 13:21
  • Thank you for your remarks. I did not know it was common practice to write "short scores" before arrangement. I will work on the individual instruments one by one.
    – Klangen
    Dec 28, 2017 at 14:04

The MIDI sequencer which I use allows one to filter notes. So you could copy the track to a new track then filter out every note below C3; copy the original track to a new track and filter out every note above C3. This can be continued several times until you get one part per track.

Use chorus when you play back; this is supposed to emulate the sound of several violins (for example) playing together where each is very slightly out of tune. The affect will make the sound stronger. I did this once with a 'guitar' solo: two tracks playing the same notes, but with one track very slightly detuned; the sound was fantastic!

  • @Noam Thank you for your comment. I will also try to do that. Which MIDI software are you using for this?
    – Klangen
    Dec 28, 2017 at 14:05
  • 1
    @Pickle: I'm very old-school. The sequencer is an old version of Master Tracks; I export MIDI files to Reason 3. I prefer the tools that I know rather than updating to current versions. Dec 29, 2017 at 9:50

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