5 tips for composing orchestral music on computer

Updated: May 25, 2020


I want to share 5 quick tips for all the composers that are making music on their computers. These tips are aimed at people that want to dive into virtual orchestration, but they apply to all kind of levels.

Tip 1: Make a plan for your composition

Very few composers can make their whole song in the head before composing. You often have an idea on how the song will develop. When I compose, I often sketch out the idea on the piano or guitar for the whole track. While I dont always go with all the melodies or chords I sketched out, it certainly helps a lot. It is easier to compose when you know what do to.

I often just use the easiest and most playable instruments when I deal with orchestration. I can make them sound better at a later point. If I start to tweak the instruments to much before the song is finished, I often get bored of the song before it is finished. I like to know what the flute will play for the whole song before I worry about timing, dynamics and articulations.

Tip 2: Know your libraries

It does not matter if you have the most expensive libraries. If you dont know how to use them, they will not sound good. Take some time to learn each library. How playable is it? Does it have some kind of delay when playing? What kinds of playing style suits the instrument best? It is better to have a few instruments you know, than 100 instruments you dont touch because you dont know how to use them.

Tip 3: Give the players a rest

Even if you can basicly have power and air with an virtual orchestra, does not mean you have to. Remember that woodwind and brass players need to breathe when they play. Leave some rests for them. No need to have the bassoons double the cellos for an whole track. Trombones need some rest between when they play. If you have an ostinato, move it between the instruments. This often helps the song feel more dynamic and fresh.

Tip 4: Move the melody to different instruments

I love to give the melody to the horns or violins. But the song becomes more interesting when switching between what instruments that plays the melody. Why not let the violins start the melody, and let the woodwinds take over halfways? Or let the horns play the melody, and let the trumpets take over if the melody goes to high for the horns? As I mentioned in tip 3, ostinatos can be moved between instruments too. Check out «Duel of the fates» by John Williams for an awesome example of this.

Tip 5: Chords dont have to be sustained

While we all like the trombones or strings to have long sustaining chords, this can become pretty boring after a while, both for the players and the listener. Try to have some rhyhm in the chords. Maybe let the viola move between the third and fifth of the chord. Or have the trombones accent the rhythm while still sustaining the chord. Trumpets sounds great too, when they play fast 16-notes patterns.

That was 5 quick tips. I hope you enjoyed them. Now, go ahead and make some music!

- Haakon