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Topic: Mixing An Orchestra!

  1. #1

    Mixing An Orchestra!


    Does anybody have a general guide on how to mix an orchestra. Lets say i have a Cello and Viola playing at the same time, what should be louder etc... Or if anbody know of a guide somehwere i would really appriciate it.

    Also if you could share with me what music program you are using Garritan with. I am using Cubase, and Final and Sibelius for notation.


  2. #2

    Re: Mixing An Orchestra!

    Galvetus -

    First, I see that you're relatively new hear and therefore wish to say,"Welcome to this bulletin board!" I hope that you find this place a friendly, supportive and informative place to visit and share your music.

    Now, on to your request for a general guide on mixing an orchestra. I guess I seek clarification. Are you interested in the actual "mixing" of a live recording of an orchestra? Are you interesting in the actual process of orchestration?

    Well. . . I hope these links will serve as a starting point to help answer your questions.

    The first link will take you to a forum found HERE on this bulletin board! The title of the forum is: Principles of Orchestration and is based on a book written by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov. It is very informative and it's FREE!!

    The second link is to another web site that sells text books on orchestration, composition, recording, etc and also might prove helpful: TrueSpec Web Site . I haven't purchased anything from this particular company yet. They do seem to have lots of music-related text books for sale, though. (They're not cheap.)

    I sequence Garritan software libraries using Apple's Logic Pro 8.02 program. I also use Finale 2009 for any notation project. As you probably already know, there are quite of few different sequencing and notation programs available. Each one had their strengths and weakness. These two programs are my preferences. I am sure other members here use different programs for their own reasons.

    Take care. . .

    Music and humor are healthy for the soul.

  3. #3

    Re: Mixing An Orchestra!

    Thank you very much.

    To clarify, i am interested in mixing after i have recordered all instruments, not the process of orchestration. For that the first link you gave me does a good job. I have read it btw .

    I will check out the second link and see what they offer.

    So since you are using Logic Pro with Garritan, you do probably mix after recording? Maiby you could tell me what principles you follow if any? Like is there a specific instruments you start from.

    I would like every instrument to sound good in relationship too eachother, and i know there are some books on mixing but it's mostly not for orchestra music.


  4. #4
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    Just north of Sydney

    Re: Mixing An Orchestra!

    Hi Galvetus,

    My view is that sample libraries of acoustic instruments are already recorded from real instruments. The functions of a midi sequencer only, will provide you with all necessary tools to create realistic sounding orchestral music. Some minimal mixing and use of effects may polish off your creation.

    Think of Bach Mozart, Schubert, Wagner, Strauss etc, they did not require sound engineers to improve their art. A good way to learn is to attend live concerts and listen very carefully, if possible following a score of the performed music.

    Best wishes,


  5. #5

    Re: Mixing An Orchestra!


    I'm not talking about getting it to sound realistic, not in this post anyway. I'm talking about mixing, and what instruments should be louder or lower than the others etc... In general should the cello be higher that the viola, or do i set them both on the same volume?

  6. #6

    Re: Mixing An Orchestra!

    Excellent question. I'm interested in this also.
    Say I want to build an ensemble of strings and brass. Which components of this ensemble need to be highest in volume and which the lowest? I know it's all about what sounds good but aren't there any rules of thumb?

  7. #7

    Re: Mixing An Orchestra!

    Hi, Galvetus

    You've gotten some very good replies. They may seem more general and less specific than you were hoping, but they've really been as concrete as answers about an art like mixing can be.

    I think perhaps your question is akin to questions I've seen before from home studio newbies who feel there must be formulas which will guarantee great results - when there really aren't any. I remember someone posting that they were very concerned about how many Violins to use in a project so it would sound like the "right" size. The only possible answer was for that person to use as few or many Violins as they thought sounded good.

    At the very best, we're creating simulations of orchestras when we use software like GPO. There's no reason to try setting up our virtual orchestras so they are literally the way live orchestras are set up - the theory that being that literal will yield results that sound the same as live orchestras just doesn't hold up. We need to engage our own sensibilities and produce recordings that sound good to us. To get the effect we want, maybe we'll need the equivilant of 30 Violins in a given section - it doesn't matter that it wouldn't usually be practical to have that many musicians suddenly available for that big section in a live performance.

    Listening to classical recordings of course is a good starting guide. You can even put a track in your project for quick reference as you work, muting it when you don't need it, but referring to it for guidance on instrument placement, the nature and amount of reverb to use etc. That could be a helpful starting point - but you still would never be able to get your virtual orchestra to sound Exactly like that pro recording of the live orchestra - and that's OK.

    Specifically to your example - a Cello and Viola are playing at the same time, and you wonder which "should" be louder. Well - I'm betting that if you just use your ears, doing some experimenting with each instrument's volume fader will answer that question for you. If you start with the Viola at the center, and the Cello half way to the right - you'll have the physical positions emulating where those instruments are placed in an orchestra, and that's a good start, because they'll each have their own space in the stereo field.

    Then it's a good bet that the Viola is playing a subordinate harmonic role, in which case to have its volume appropriately lower would be a starting point. Perhaps you've added a Violin to this group and its playing the melody. You'd start by placing the Violin half way towards the left, and letting its volume remain high enough above the other two instruments in order for its melody line to be heard. You'll discover, in that example, that because of the nature of a Violin's brilliant sound in comparison to the more mellow sound of both the Viola and Cello, that it doesn't really need much if any volume boosting in order to be comfortably heard.

    And don't forget that your mixing actually starts when you're still working with the MIDI data. The volume settings for each instrument inside of the Kontakt Player is the starting point for balancing the instruments, then your Mod Wheel (CC1) is controlling the balance even more - and then when you have recorded your tracks to audio, you already have a rough mix in place. Then you can take advantage of audio mixing tools to hone the balances and entire mix even more.

    And so on.

    It all requires attentive use of your own ears.


  8. #8

    Re: Mixing An Orchestra!

    Viola over Cello or vice versa and other oddities..... No way, first establish the role of the instrument in the piece and then break it down to smaller sections, like phrases, groups of words, and only words.

    It is what you like to do and what the piece demands. In my orchestral pieces, I sometimes raised the volume of the violas for only three notes to make some transition between two phrases.

    But as an advice, start with the volumes given by the default settings when loading the instruments. You are talking about the balance between instrument groups. Get some DVD's with recorded rehearsals of orchestras and see how the conductor moulds the sound. I've seen only one soemwhere playing in a shop, but I think these are available for sale somewhere.

    The rest. Just experiment with it, continuously.


  9. #9

    Re: Mixing An Orchestra!

    Thanks for all the great answers, i'm a total beginner when it comes to orchestral music so i need to ask.

    But this was very helpfull .

  10. #10

    Re: Mixing An Orchestra!

    Hello again

    I see that you've received a number of very thoughtful responses! Cool!

    This is a very nice place to learn and grow as a composer/arranger/orchestrator.

    I guess one thing to do is trust your ears. If it sounds good to you, then that's a very good place to start.

    With regards to recording and mixing down, there are lots of things to consider, though. What type of monitoring speakers are being used? Is the room where the sequencing/mixing is taking place conducive for recording/mixing (is the room "treated" for the best and most reliable listening)? Is the computer's sound card "faithful" to the sound generated from the instrumental libraries?

    What's good about GPO (and probably most other orchestral instrumental sound libraries) is that most of the instruments are already "set" in terms of placement along the listening field. Most of the instruments (if not all) are pre-panned with pre-set volume levels. From there, a lot of the softness and loudness of any particular GPO instrument will be determined by how the CC1 control is used.

    One thing that I do when I mix down any sequenced and/or recorded project is to try the mix on different speakers. In my humble home studio, I have 3 different speakers that I use to help me (and my very modest ears) during the mix-down process. THEN I burn a CD of the recording and play it through my car's speakers. If is sounds good through these 4 sets of speakers, then, generally, I keep the final mix down. It's a bit of a process but it seems to work well for me most of the time.

    There's lots of great experience and great "ears" found here. I am glad to see that many talented people have already begun to provide you support. I've learned a LOT through this (and other) forums.

    (By the way. . . I'm a nurse who LOVES composing and sequencing music. I ain't no professional. LOL! Others are, though. I'm sure you'll meet them and learn as I did. )

    Music and humor are healthy for the soul.

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