I would like to be able to listen to an orchestral piece of music one instrument at a time, something like what happens in the famous Amadeus scene during the composition of the Requiem.

Are there resources that allow to do that? or programs? it does not need to be a specific version.

I guess something like that could be done with MIDI but the last time I used a MIDI file was in the last millenium and they didnt sound nice at all.

I would like to be able to say "what's the clarinet doing during this passage?" and with a few click, I can listen only to clarinet... and then maybe I want to hear clarinet + bassoon but not the rest of the woodwinds.

I hope the request is clear enough! I hope to find an inexpensive solution and, if possible, not extremely complicated.

Thank you!


  • You could check out Prokofiev's 'Peter and the Wolf'.
    – PeterJ
    Jan 10 '19 at 15:15

If you have a particular piece of music in mind, you may be able to purchase a digital score of it, which plays back in scoring software such as Sibelius or Finale. Both of these have a “light” version which is relatively inexpensive. These programs would allow you to hear individual instruments or whatever instruments you wanted to hear, while filtering the others out.

Alternatively, if you have (or can find) the score, you can enter it manually into the same software. It’s tedious, but it can be done. Many classical music scores are available for free from http://imslp.org.

The quality of the playback is subject to your software or equipment. MIDI files contain the parameters of a performance, not an actual audio recording. So if the MIDI file you had in the 90s is still around and accurate, you can play it back today and expect a better rendering. Scoring software won’t sound like a real orchestra, of course, but the state of the art has advanced somewhat. If you have a General MIDI playback device connected to your computer, you may be able to use that as well.

  • i would say that the quality of the midi file would also effect the "performance". for example, how much care did the creator of the file put into dynamics, note length, accents, and other elements that make a good musician sound better than a not so good musician.
    – b3ko
    Jan 10 '19 at 15:14
  • Oh indeed! I certainly never meant to imply that all MIDI files are created equally. But the quality of the timbres coming from a consumer-level GM-compatible sound card from the 90s is not going to sound as good as what's available today. That's what I meant.
    – trw
    Jan 10 '19 at 15:30

This is a semi-famous question -- I ran across a student who wanted to design an 'instrument filter' back in the early 1970s, for example.

The short answer is: if all you have is the full symphonic recording, there is no way to extract any particular instrument or section. The digitized analog soundwave pattern can't be separated out that way.

Now, if you have a software copy of the score, you might well be able to feed each instrument to a different midi channel and then do a "channel select" on your audio output.

One other possibility, which works much better for small rock groups than for symphony orchestras, is to hope the original master recording had separate microphones (or signal feeds) from each performer, so if you can get the multi-track source recording, you could play back only the desired track.

  • Thank you Carl. I had the suspect that MIDI was the only way to go and, as I said, years ago I remember MIDI sounded just horrible. What kind of resources would you reccomend to use nowdays? I know and adore classical music but I am really ignorant about using MIDI on the PC. I remember there was something like classicalMIDI collection but I never found anything good to reproduce them, let alone "feed each instrument to a different midi channel". Thank you in advance for your suggestions Jan 10 '19 at 14:09
  • 1
    MIDI, per se, doesn't 'sound' anything. It's simply a tool. Think of it like a violin - in the hands of an expert it can sound fabulous, in the hands of a 6-year-old beginner, cats will leave the room ;)
    – Tetsujin
    Jan 10 '19 at 14:14

The number of midi-channels is too limited (max. 16) to allow each instrument (group) to be placed into a separate one and that would still require a very cleanly separated MIDI-file - these are very hard to find.

What I suggest is the the brainware approach, requiring some learning and time getting adjusted to it: Read the full score while listening. Even if you don't know the respective key and cannot decode the note name in real time, the notated rhythm will help. Added benefit is, that you will clearly recognize, where a theme jumps from one instrument to the next. Of course, this does not work for improvised music and requires existence of the score, but for classical music a library or IMSLP should cover quite a bit.

  • The MIDI file format does have a 16-channel limitation, but that's on a per-track basis. The number of tracks is limited to 65,536, which should allow separation for each part. If these are routed to different playback devices, you can have considerably more than 16 instruments at once.
    – trw
    Jan 10 '19 at 15:22

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