I need some valued opinions about an orchestration i did.

Edited: August 27, 2018, 8:51 PM ·

Hi all,

I and a friend of mine were discussing adding strings to one of his songs. I told him i would try to think of something. I came up with this.
I, sort of, like it as is but i am settling.
I hear sounds in my head but i am not sure of the musical instrument-combinations required to achieve those timbres. So, i settled on what i could figure out.

I am a novice violinist. I am an untrained guitarist/ songwriter, actually. So that's just to give you an idea of my background.

Anyway, i know this is the best place to ask for advice on how orchestrated music should sound.
So, i offer this to you all with the hope some of you will...hmm...study?...analyze?...or maybe just listen and offer some opinions.
Obviously, there is no musical "technique", at all, here. It was all played on a keyboard, phrase by phrase, instrument by instrument, layer by layer.
Nothing sounds as good as real instruments in a real room - agreed. However, i am in a small apartment without all the instruments (and the training to play them), so keep in mind it's a keyboard making all of these sounds.

A note on the DAW i am using - CuBase. It's high-end with a steep learning curve and pretty complicated if you are new to digital recording. If you can master CuBase, you'll have a great studio at your fingertips.

For those unfamiliar with what i did here, i'll explain.
I copied a song from my friend's cd of acoustic guitar and voice onto my hard drive.
Then, i added all the orchestral instruments, pretty much, note by note using MIDI.
This took me about three weeks to do.

Here is the song. Enjoy.
(Go easy on me. please)

Thank you so much.


Replies (18)

Edited: August 27, 2018, 9:07 PM · I would suggest posting this to a composition forum like youngcomposers.com or the composers' forum at ning.com. You are more likely to get helpful responses there. Of course, you are welcome to ask here if you like.
Edited: August 27, 2018, 10:21 PM ·

Hi Ella,

I am not asking if the song is good or not.
Besides, i did not even write the song.
Also, i am not a member there. I am a member here and i asked this forum.

Geez, i hope this doesn't become a "why are you here?" thread.

Here, i am not asking "songwriters" (per se) how the orchestration sounds. I am asking how the orchestration and the arrangement sounds - and i am asking people who've sat (or sit) in orchestras.

LOL i'm just thinking.
If real string players say this doesn't sound half bad, then i might take your advice and join that songwriter forum and ask them about the song structure with full confidence with the knowledge, at least, that what i did was musically sound (because the violinists at www.violinist.com said so.)

As a songwriter, i, personally, do not like the weak structure of this song. There is no bridge (middle-8) section, no real solo section, and the tempo fluctuates
all through the song.

But he's a friend, and i like his topics, style of songs and his unique voice.


August 27, 2018, 11:47 PM · I think the songwriting is actually pretty decent. I wouldn't say it has a weak structure for what it is. This style of song doesn't need more than what it has here.

We use bridges as a way of making our "hook" or "chorus" more significant when it comes back in from our verse. But if a song isn't intended as a "Catchy" song (or a "pop" song), then there's not necessarily a requirement to have a memorable hook, and thus no bridge is needed.

One shouldn't assume that all songs need bridges, that they all need hooks, etc... If you listen to old irish tunes, for example, they certainly don't have bridges. This song seems to be written in a "folk" style, so it matches.


I like the orchestration you did. I think it matches pretty well, actually. Within the confines of what you were limited to in the song without overriding the singer/guitar, as well as the quality of sample you could get in Cubase, I think it's pretty acceptable.

Only things I would change in *general* are the repetitiveness of the guitar and the absolute lack of reverb given to the vocals, but I'm also aware you had nothing to do with either of those things.

Edited: August 28, 2018, 1:41 AM · Hi Erik,

He is 100% Irish and sings folk, Irish traditional, and ship shanties. He even re-arranges " boring" Irish tunes and shamrocks them up a little with a rough edge.

As for the reverb, it's clearly heard when the orchestra is not doing much. I covered it up a lot with the orchestra.

Repetitive, yes.
He says, "if you have something worth repeating, repeat it over and over, again."

The weak structure i referred to was the repetitiveness. A bridge could be incorporated into many of his songs so easily, i think. It would only extend the time by another 45 seconds or so, but at least there would be a break from the "monotony". I was running out of things to "say" between each verse and chorus.

I am glad i get a thumbs up for what i did.


When he heard this, he even mentioned that he should have thought of a bridge section. But it's too late - unless he wants to redo it. He should.

I could easily have added more reverb to his track.
Do you want to hear it with more reverb on the voice and guitar?...(they come together).
I can do that. It would take only a few minutes.

Edited: August 28, 2018, 1:42 AM ·

Anyone else is welcome to express their opinion.

Thanks, all.


Edited: August 28, 2018, 1:52 AM ·

Hi again, Erik,

I'm sitting here, thinking...since you like what i did, please find faults with it, now, if you have time and the desire, of course. Much appreciated.

Thanks so much.

August 28, 2018, 2:11 AM · Robbie, here's an idea: why don't you make an instrumental bridge? Should be easy enough for you to do without him having to re-record anything.

While you're at it, more reverb would definitely help.

Hard to find faults with what you've done so far since it's all based around the track that already exists. It's like finding an issue with salt which was added to a meal. We can say "too much salt" or "too little salt" but it can be difficult to be more specific than that. It's a lot easier to critique something which was designed to stand on its own two feet.

August 28, 2018, 11:02 AM · I'm sorry if I tried to say you don't belong because I believe you have many other questions to ask. It is totally acceptable to post such topics. It's just that I thought you were looking for composition advice.
Edited: August 28, 2018, 7:18 PM ·

Hi Erik,

Well, for the bridge, i used the "when i close my eyes..." verse and added the synthesizer part to try to break up the monotony (as a bridge should do). That verse is very bridge-like lyrically. It's the harmony, though, which is NOT bridge-like.

The song structure is odd for me - feels almost unbalanced or unresolved.

I write songs with a very contemporary formula.
solo section

If you listen to many pop songs, this formula is applied to about 75% of the hits on top 40 radio stations. One can sit and listen and actually predict when the changes will happen every time because the formula is so widely used.
Many songwriters opt to leave out the solo section and replace it with the all too familiar part where a drum will sound on the 1st and 2nd beat, and the singer chants the chorus (without the rest of the band) over and over again while clapping his/her hands over his/her head, what i call the sing-a-long part, and then, after a few refrains, the whole band kicks in and plays the chorus over and over until it finally ends. Lots of that happening in modern country music, pop, and stadium rock bands.
Songs like, Brown-Eyed Girl, for example, do not follow this formula. Most of the 70s hard rock bands like Zeppelin, Sabbath, Purple never used this formula, and of course, many folk-acts do not use it, either.

Another popular formula is


solo section (or "sing-a-long" with the chorus)

Wally's songs are well-written songs, but sometimes he doesn't think in terms of an actual band backing him up when he composes.
Wally is a busker, a street musician. He writes tunes that he can bang out in the subway station. He likes to keep things simple. Adding a bridge tends to complicate things.
That's not to say he's not a well-crafted songwriter/story-teller.
I am his biggest fan (i presume).
He does have one song using the first formula i'd mentioned - but it's only one song.

For the reverb, i can hear it on his voice in my mix. It does not stand out but it's definitely there. The original recording sounds like he is in a nice sized room.
Add in all the rest to it and we get what we have.
I will redo it for you with more reverb on his track, and we'll see how it sounds. Shouldn't take too long. It would be good for me to try it because i never thought of it. You might just be right, after all. I did mention that the orchestration covers up much of his reverb.

I am impressed with myself that YOU (a violin teacher) think the orchestration is "faultless". I mean, Wow! Really? Thank you so much.

I hope you can give it several more (or enough) listens so that all the ticks (might) show themselves and hopefully annoy you enough to say something to me. That's what i want. I want to find out what's WRONG with the orchestration. People in this forum are perfect for this - i mean, come on, who else do i know enjoys heated discussions about the precise frequency of vibrating strings?! Only string players are that precise.

For me, i think i am not using enough horns, although there is a brass section in the second verse.
And in the first and second verse, i used a contrabass trombone for those bottom notes.

As far as the salt goes. I dunno, i tend to think there can be 'a little too much', 'too much', and 'WAY too much' salt. It all depends on who is doing the tasting.

When you write "It's a lot easier to critique something which was designed to stand on its own two feet", do you mean the song should be critiqued on its own, or, the orchestration on it's own?

Thanks for the comments.

Edited: August 28, 2018, 11:53 AM ·

Hi Ella,

Thank you.
Maybe i write too much.
I am sorry that you misunderstood.
No worries.

Now, have you any comments about what i did because i would love to read what you think - whether it's good or bad.

Go for it.

Edited: August 28, 2018, 2:08 PM · The song is built like many traditional songs from England, Ireland, and Scotland, and transplanted to North America. Nothing wrong with that, moving on. You asked about your orchestration. The movie "Black Robe" from the 80s was awesome, by the way.

I think a lot of it works very well. There are the issues with how it fits in the moment (which you I think you do well--the parts fit, I can't hear it in that much detail, but it works). Then there is the architectural sense of arranging, and there I think you could get more out of this recording.

I would probably have the guitar alone in the beginning with the singer. I think we should really focus on the singer, since we're going to be following him the whole way here. When you get to the "One More Pipe..." thing, then intensify that with adding a part from your orchestra--I'd say, start by using as little as possible. A single violin note pad, even. One of my criticisms would be that you hit us with too much too soon. There was nowhere to go, but the parts themselves were fine.

Then bring things in gradually as the song intensifies, with a few sudden jumps where you want to punch it up. I recall a rhythmic element in one of your parts, and that can jump in thickening the guitar rhythm. You're bringing us into the song, adding drama.

The intimacy of a traditional singer and a guitar is important here. One of the differences between using an individual fiddle player and a string orchestra is that the fiddle player is perceived as a voice alongside the singer, while an orchestra is an environment around the singer. There are places--an oboe?--where you bring up an individual voice, but mainly your parts function as accompaniment. Where you want a melody to stand out, I would seriously recommend a human playing a real instrument, because anything else would sound a little plastic in contrast with your singer, IMO. A whistle player... or a fiddler, of course!

Anyway, I don't think the song needs much, and you have plenty to work with. Cheers, Paul

August 28, 2018, 3:43 PM · Ella, was your link to ning.com correct? I've looked at that website and it appears to be a company providing platforms for social websites, and isn't itself a website for composers.
August 28, 2018, 4:36 PM · Hi Trevor,

Trevor. Hi. Hello. Over here.
Good to see you, again.


August 28, 2018, 6:04 PM ·

Hi Paul,

Thank you, for the great comment. Wow!

I'm...I'm...I'm a little beside myself to read seasoned players liking what i did (and on a musical keyboard).
Maybe the harder-edged members will stroll, in here, in a while, and pick it apart for me with their "cold-hearted ruthlessness" lol.

Yea, Wally has a unique songwriting style and he is into music from the places you've mentioned. He's not a Bon Jovi fan, that's for certain. He's one of those folky guys who always use a capo and gets different chord voicings by moving the capo up and down the neck while still only using the same, basic (folky) left-hand chord forms.

I did consider having the orchestra come in later as you suggest but the song is only so long. Having access to a "full orchestra" (MIDI) and then using it so sparingly in such a short, 3m 44s song might appear to some that i was, kind of, "playing it too safe".

If you think i've already given 'too much too soon' just consider that way above those, brother John horns, in the second verse, i am hearing in my head, a soft swirl of violins playing some sort of ascending and descending 32nd-note arpeggios on each beat, playing way up in the higher registers. In my head, i can hear the passages, but they're too fast for me to distinguish the individual pitches of each run. It'll come the more i think of it.

Too much too soon. Wow! That baffles me, Paul.
I had, actually, expected real string players to comment on how there is NOT ENOUGH happening.
When considering SATB, for example, in some spots, i think i am still leaving out the soprano too much - the strings still sound dark and heavy, to me, even after adding a few passages in the higher frequencies. Am i correct in saying it still sounds rather dark and heavy?...(heavy like lead)...slow and heavy?
I imagine higher strings would "lighten it up" a bit. I do not want to reduce the basses and cellos that i am using, but i feel the "top end" is quite vacant and is waiting for more.

"The Iroquois was a soldier..."
Yes, the single voice you mentioned is, in fact, an oboe (on the left side) then doubled by a clarinet on the right side, and then tripled by a flute, also on the right side.

I am wondering what you think of that single, ascending cello on the left, just before the oboe starts. That one worried me, but no one has mentioned it, yet. I was wondering if a single cello would be heard in a real orchestra in that particular little climax before the oboe.
My interpretation of that single oboe part is like this:
He sings,
"The Iroquois was a soldier..." meaning, he died in some religious battle. So, he is represented by that single oboe.
Wally then sings, "More and more, every day, they fell" meaning, more died. And so, they are represented by the clarinet and flute repeating what the oboe played.
When he sings, "Time to cast out all the demons and send the Black Robe back to hell", i tried to use the whole string section to represent all the tribe rebelling at once against the Black Robe - do you notice the slight pulse in the strings when they play that part? I am not sure if that is just in my head or if you can hear it, too.

It's funny, when i play this song back through the headphones, I CAN HEAR notes and passages in the recording that are NOT in the mix i am hearing.

I have a tin whistle and a few recorders along with an acoustic and electric violin. My CuBase studio is still alien to me and i have not, yet, figured out how to record audio using the effects in my interface (long story) - but yea, i can agree with using real musicians for single voice passages.
With enough practice, maybe, i'll be able to play my own violins and wind instrumnts once i get this studio figured out. I am only using MIDI for now.

Thank you for the opinions.
Keep them coming if you have more.

August 28, 2018, 7:26 PM · I think Paul's points are valid; one thing I did notice is that there are not enough "breaks" in the lush background that you've provided to the drier component (singing + guitar).

It would be good to have sections where it's just him and the guitar, and that way when you bring back in the orchestra it's more significant and meaningful.

Sometimes silence is the most important part of a song!

Edited: August 28, 2018, 8:24 PM ·

Hey Erik,

I'm not sure Paul was saying the lush background is too...shall we say thick or perhaps, too present, but i can certainly agree that those low, whole notes played on the (if my memory serves me) "Big Strings", pretty much, all throughout the song, are a bit annoying, yes.

The only "empty" spaces are during the brief woodwind section of oboe, clarinet, and the (ethnic) flute. "The Iroquois was a soldier..."

And then, again, when he sings, "When i close my eyes...."
I thought that was sufficient silence to allow offer some relief.
You still think the bass notes are too long?
I do, again, now.
I will keep the basses in mind and start re-thinking it after more comments come in.

I heard a piece the other day, i forget what it was, and the contrabasses and cellos were like, alternating with high and low notes using short bow strokes - leaving empty space. The violins were soaring high above - it was really nice, and i considered for a moment incorporating something like that but just couldn't decide where to put it. I heard what i had completed near the end of "composing", and thought,
"Oooh, i'd have to change soooo much! Leave it like that, for now. Get some opinions, first".

Very many important things to consider in order to have a logical-sounding final arrangement. Yes, good points, which i HAD considered but thought i could get by with what i had. Hmmm.
This is good. Thank you.

I am not sure how many people here use a Digital Audio Workspace (DAW), but i am sure they would know how it happens when they start layering sound on sound on sound on sound in a Project that it's easy to overdo even a simple phrase, and then, before they know it, they find themselves in a Goulash soup (which is delicious, by the way).

Maybe others will agree or disagree. Let's find out.
I am very curious.

Thanks so much.

August 28, 2018, 9:55 PM · I'm a master of DAW Goulash soup, especially when I compose by recording, instead of composing and THEN recording. But I get too bored of using sheet music to compose, so here I am.
September 13, 2018, 11:59 AM · @Robbie Daug, I like what you did with this. Did your friend request that the song be made to sound bigger? As in making it sound like a full production?

I guess it all depends on the approach you take. I'll give you my reasons why I don't think taking a 1+1 into a full production is usually a good idea.
-The song was intended to work well in a more intimate setting. Adding too much to it can actually take away from the desired goal of the music.

-It can be difficult to glue the mix together. IOW it still sounds like separate components instead of a collective whole. Sometimes tube warming and console emulation helps to add that glue.This adds desirable harmonics that can be shared between all tracks.

This is why on a 1+1 I usually keep it sparse. I might add a single cello or other light background strings.If there's a bridge I might bring in a singular cello or violin. Maybe a second guitar part so that it sounds like a group of musicians in a small setting somewhere.From composition perspective,I need to be thinking big at the drawing board stage to make a larger fully complimented project because I need to leave "holes" for where everything will eventually be.Otherwise the parts begin to step on one another.

Here's an example of one of my recent 1+1 songs. The instruments might be a bit too low now, but I'm fairly happy with the simplicity of it for a more intimate approach.

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