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I'm a high school student who's played piano for about a decade, and was hoping to learn orchestration. I've written several advanced piano compositions, so I'm familiar with the music-writing process, but haven't been able to translate that to orchestration very easily. I'll obviously need to use a digital orchestra rather than a live one, and have experimented with Garritan Personal Orchestra 5 and FL Studio 20, but haven't been able to achieve an authentic sound, so I have a few questions.

  1. Is GPO5 a good digital orchestra software, or would something else be better? I'm willing to spend up to a few hundred dollars to upgrade, but can't afford much more than that.

  2. How do I learn digital orchestration, such as with Garritan? I've experimented with it in the past, but always get overwhelmed by all of the options and everything I try sounds extremely fake. Is there any course that would teach what to do, or should I just continue to figure it out on my own? I'm really lost on how to progress at all in this area.

  3. What's the best way for me to learn orchestration, from a general standpoint, rather than just a VST? I'm sure there are books and online courses, but I've gotten pretty confused on what to do, especially considering that I'm using a digital orchestra rather than a real one.

Any help would be much appreciated! Thanks!

  • Don't expect a digital orchestra (or even a digital concert band) to sound like a real one. Even properly depicting slurs audio-wise (at least with woodwinds, where slurs mean no tonguing) is difficult with a digital orchestra. That problem often cannot be overcome with merely a better soundfont. – Dekkadeci Jul 27 '18 at 5:59
  • That makes sense. To be honest, I didn't really expect for there to be an easy solution to the "fake-soundingness", but I know there has to be some solution. I've heard songs with Garritan where it's sounded perfect, and I'm sure it took a lot of work, but my problem is that I don't even know where to start. Do books or courses exist that teach how to properly use a digital orchestra? I'm willing to put in lots of work to learn digital orchestration, but I would really appreciate any advice on what I can do to start. – Chase Peterson Jul 27 '18 at 7:22
  • Garritan is plenty good enough to learn with. Don't buy anything more expensive till you have hit the limitations of GPO and can judge for yourself whether a more expensive library will do what you want. IN general, the more expensive the library, the more learning you need to do to use it well. There are no magic bullets here! – user19146 Jul 27 '18 at 10:45
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    For Q3, Garritan used to have an on-line version of Rimsky-Korsakov's book on orchestration, with all the music examples played in GPO and downloadable as MIDI files. It used to be on the "Northern Sounds" forum - no idea if it's still available, or where it is on the web now, but it was a very good resource to get started. – user19146 Jul 27 '18 at 10:48
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You learn digital orchestration the same way you do the other kind. Study how it HAS been done.

Go here https://imslp.org/

Download some orchestral scores. Mozart and Beethoven would be good places to start. See how orchestration 'works'.

Also look around this site.

https://www.garritan.com/blog/new-garritan-forum/

If your aim is a recording that could be mistaken for a live orchestra, you can spend a LOT of money and still be disappointed. If your aim is to learn orchestration, GPO will give you a very useful idea of what your work will sound like. You can then work on the tricks of 'writing for samples' that make it sound even more effective - but sometimes at the price of writing impossibly over-notated scores that will just annoy live players who are quite capable of being expressive without meticilous instruction!

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