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Realism... a partial how-to

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Realism... a partial how-to

Postby KMFrye » Thu Mar 10, 2016 4:28 pm

There was a posting here a while ago where the reviewer was a little less than flattering about the horns in GPO, saying they sounded a little unrealistic. I was going to add a thought or two of my own to the discussion, but the entire thread seems to have been lost. Well, here's a couple of thoughts aimed mostly at Garritan "newbies" who have not spent a great deal of time with the product.

I work 95% in Finale, and only get into the DAW when I'm almost "there". In fact, I've had tracks on albums which only saw the inside of a DAW during final Mastering. So far, no one's really complained so far. So while I acknowledge that DAW's are very important, I maintain that a more-than-reasonable sound can be had without one. You just need to play around a little.

First- Watch the videos. I can't say that enough. They're invaluable, especially if you are new to the idea of using VSTs as sound modules. Take the time. They answer a lot of questions.

Next, be aware of how each instrument in your ensemble is played out there in the Real World. Is it plucked? Pedaled, or wind-driven? If it's wind driven, remember that a real-world player needs to breathe once in a while. Horns (and piccolos, clarinets, etc) are not pianos- they're powered by lungs, not fingers. So many VST-based recordings sound like crud because they were all entered by an enthusiastic person on a keyboard. As a result, every instrument winds up with a "keyboardy" sound. There's a technique unique to each type of instrument (often several), and while you don't need to master each one, you do need to be aware of how it sounds when a real expert makes noises on it. Also- real-world players are not fond of extreme ranges and accordion players still only have five fingers on each hand[i] (I've seen a couple of published accordion "solos" that needed eight or nine fingers on the right hand! Good luck with those!)[/i]

A well-respected producer who has helped me with tracks on four albums to date taught me a "realism" technique about four years ago that changed all of my music. It goes like this:

Once you've written a trumpet line (in this case), play it back, but just as you push "play", breathe in deeply and exhale slowly as the music plays. When you run out of air, that's where a breath mark should be added.

If the aim is simply notation, you're probably okay with just that little add, but if you desire a realistic playback on your pc, you may have to substitute slightly altered notation (Ie- reduce a quarternote to a dotted eighth followed by an eight rest) for the double-stroke breath mark at the breath point. This will greatly help the "realism" of the piece on playback. It may make the engraving look a little odd, but using a second copy strictly for playback solves any cosmetic issues.

There's really no rule about how much to shorten that note- it all depends on speed,intensity, the orchestration and other factors. In some cases, just placing a staccato mark over the last note before the breath is enough. I just did a workup of the Boston Pops' "Bugler's Holiday" featuring three solo trumpets. For most of the breathing inserts, a staccato mark was enough, though sometimes I had to add a brief rest. But different songs need different ideas, so you must be flexible. Also, trumpets need a lot of air, and "tonguing" is a big part of a trumpet's sound. Additional articulations over the notes (again, only on a playback copy) can provide a pretty accurate representation of the tongue during playback (again, applied to the "playback only" copy)

Finally, it's been my observation that just like pianos, violins and celli, no two trumpets (trombones, French horns etc) sound exactly alike, so whether you place your three or four trumpets on one staff or on multiple, it's worthwhile to use the Aria settings to change the sounds of each just a little. Make one a little more strident, another a little mellower, the next a little thinner, etc. That way, when the ensemble plays back, it sounds a little more like multiple instruments. Using separate staves, though not mandatory, does make it easier to set up the variations and hear them in playback. Depending on the piece, I sometimes crank the
lead (melody) trumpet up a couple of points in Score Manager as well, just to make it a wee bit brighter in the mix.

In the end, it takes time, a healthy dose of experimentation, and a few outright failures before you will start to hear the sounds that are already in your head coming from the speakers on your desk. But the combo of Finale and Garritan is still the best bang for the buck out there.

I hope this helps - even if it only gets you to start a little experimenting with the "toys" .

Wow- did this get long... apologies.
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KM Frye
BVStudios
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Re: Realism... a partial how-to

Postby Derrek » Thu Mar 10, 2016 5:16 pm

I try as much as possible not to keep separate notation and playback versions of a piece (at least until I siphon one off to a DAW): too much risk of them getting out of sync. Instead (in Finale) I use articulations that are hidden, which go a long way to affecting how instruments speak.

I also sometimes use hidden staves to keep (say) a rehearsal piano version in the same file as the full score. I then can generate parts to split off a piano/vocal score from the same file that holds the full score (with the rehearsal part hidden).
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Re: Realism... a partial how-to

Postby KMFrye » Thu Mar 10, 2016 7:36 pm

Absolutely! Understand completely the risks. Tripped over them more than once.
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KM Frye
BVStudios
Composer, Arranger, Performer
Living on the Wild, West Coast.
current work- "Culloden:1746", an oratorio, using
Finale 2014.5
GPO 4
JABB3
World
REAPER DAW
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KMFrye
 
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Software Owned:
PM since 2001, Finale 2014.5,
Garritan Personal Orchestra IV
Garritan Jazz and Big Band 3
Reaper DAW

Re: Realism... a partial how-to

Postby Rich936 » Mon Mar 14, 2016 9:06 am

Excellent comments and article KMFrye. Your observations and ideas about realism are truly on the mark.
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Re: Realism... a partial how-to

Postby Tom Davis » Tue Mar 15, 2016 3:17 pm

You're list of ideas was not at all too long and very, very helpful. I cannot agree more about knowing how the instruments are played and what their practical ranges are. While some composers (Stravinsky and his ultra high range for bassoon comes quickly to mind), a more realistic and pleasing sound can be had by staying within the conventional range of the individual instrument.

With the trumpet, for example, high C and above can indeed be played by professional players. But unless you know for sure the ability of the performers, try to not go above high A (or 4th space E for younger players). And above all - don't ask a player to play high C or above with a dynamic level of ppp. It ain't gonna' happen. Even if the computer can make that happen, the listener is going to reject it as being unreal.

While younger players may attempt the higher ranges, the tone is usually strained and usually quite loud. And there is the added complication that they may suffer lip damage. I had a 5th grade student who, after attempting to reach high C observed that he had hit a high "P." He may have been speaking literally.

Tom
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