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Topic: Pit Panning

  1. #1

    Pit Panning

    I know there was a post about this once, but I can't find it.

    I'm trying to figure out the most useful pan settings for suggesting the instruments in a theater pit orchestra. The sounds I am using in my demo ar all virtual instruments (GPO, JABB, and others). I realize, of course, that there is no set size for the sections, or the orchestra as a whole (or the size of the performance space itself) -- and that the guideliness should roughly follow that of a sympony orchestra. But the reality of the situation is that pits seem to be as wide as the stage, but shallower -- meaniing, I suppose, that the sound is more spread out. I'm finding it difficult to visualize the relative size and the amount of space each instrument requires. I'm also a bit confused about how the shape of the pit affects the available space (assuming it curves, so that there is more room in the center, where the conductor will stand).

    I expect the keyboards and strings to be amplified, but not the percussion and wind instruments. I know that the pit, if covered will affect the quality of the sound. But I not aiming for perfection -- just a demo that will (1) allow enough separation among the various instruments so that they can all be easily distinguished and (2) suggest what my score might sound like when played live, in the theater.

    Here's what I've got for the pan settings, so far, for my "ful" version of the score (where the furtherst pan setting to the Left channel =0 and furtherst to the Right=127):

    String Bass = 20

    MIDI Keyboard I (patches: piano, harp, accordian, organ, etc.) = 30

    Violins I (3 players) = 40

    Violins II (3 players) = 50

    Cellos (2 players, usually in unison, but divisi on softer passages) = 64

    MIDI Keyboard II (harpsichord, xylophone, celeste, bells, etc.) = 64

    Reed I (flute, piccolo) = 55

    Reed II (Bb Clar, Soprano Sax, flute) = 60

    Reed III (Oboe, Eng. Horn, Bb Clar., Eb Clar.) = 65

    Reed IV (Bassoon, Bass Clar., Bb Clar.) = 70

    French Horn = 80

    Trumpet I = 80

    Trumpet II / Flugelhorn = 80

    Tenor Trombone = 90

    Bass Trombone (possible optional double on tuba in a few numbers) = 90

    Drums = 100

    Percussion (timpani, tambourine, toys, etc.) = 110

    I'd welcome any ideas and suggestions, especially from those who have worked in pit orchestras. Thanks.

    Allegro Data Solutions

  2. #2

    Re: Pit Panning

    I personally wouldn't worry too much about this, I'd just aim to get a good balance for demonstration purposes with a nod to the expected position in the pit.
    Why? Well, (apart from the fact that most cast albums that we are used to hearing are recorded in the studio so that pit positions tend to go out of the window) - unless you happen to be lucky enough to sit in the centre seat of the first row you're unlikely to hear a lot of stereo separation anyway. A solid front rail to the pit and a roofed over section at the back helps with this, and although you say you are unlikely to mic everything in the pit when a full sound rig is used it's normal to pretty much mono everything to avoid the issue of everyone on the right only hearing the drummer and everyone on the left only hearing the brass (for example). You could say that an ideal mix for the theatre would be everything panned centre so that all the audience hear the same thing. Certainly tiny degrees of separation in panning are not really relevant - just make the mock-up sound great for the prospective producer!
    All pits are different - different shapes and depths - try touring a big musical round regional theatres - each seating call is a headache!!
    In an earlier life I spent a lot of time conducting here in the West End of London so have a bit of experience..



  3. #3

    Re: Pit Panning

    Hi, ejr - I think the response from Barrie, a conductor, should ease your mind. I completely agree with him, that the placement of instruments in our virtual orchestras isn't very critical. You can hear for yourself how subtle the difference is between placing an instrument at 25% or 50% in one direction, for instance. We can hear the sound is coming from right or left of center, but we can't really hear the difference between one spot or another. BUT--there's more:

    What's more important than trying to slavishly emulate a seating chart you might refer to (which will always be unique to a given performance venue, as Barrie said) - is that you don't have instruments sitting on top of each other. It helps for clarity in a recording if each sound source has its own niche in the panorama. Even when the listener can't really pinpoint where an instrument is coming from, we can make better recordings by not crowding the instruments.

    Here's something you can do with Aria which will instantly help with this. In the upper left hand corner of Aria, click the box under "Ensembles," and for GPO choose #18 "Chamber Orchestra." Let all those instruments load, and then study the results. Notice how cleverly the string sections have been built, with each of the instruments having a slightly different stage position. This gives a nice, full sound - and that's all you need. A full orchestra has more instruments than this, but this one pre-set template will get you started in figuring out ways you can spread the rest of the orchestra which will require a 2nd or even a 3rd or 4th instance of Aria.


  4. #4

    Re: Pit Panning

    I agree with what Randy has stated. In addition something DPDAN (probably Randy too) mentioned awhile back has helped me place instruments in the stereo field.

    Certain samples can be used in mono mode instead of full stereo (before reverb is added) and panned that way. Then it becomes much easier (for me at least) to place them left to right.

    What I usually do is have the instrument playing, in mono, no reverb and then from the mixing chair I actually point (yes physically point!) to where it ought to be. I tweak the pan until it's there. I do this with all instruments (for position only) and only after all are placed do I add reverb (in varying degrees of course depending on how far back they are on the "stage").

    The mono thing was a revelation in placement for me and I hope it may help you too! Good luck.
    In theory there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is.

    http://reberclark.blogspot.com http://reberclark.bandcamp.com http://www.youtube.com/reberclark

  5. #5

    Re: Pit Panning

    Using mono instruments and studying the chamber orchestra panning template, both top ideas...



  6. #6
    Senior Member Frank D's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Suburban NYC

    Re: Pit Panning

    Hi EJR,

    Good info so far. I see 2-3 B'way musicals a year and twice that amount in regional and dinner theater ... if the pit is open, I'm charting it in my Playbill (mainly to note the reed chair doubles).

    Having done this since the mid-70's, I can tell you there is absolutely no pattern, rhyme, or reason to the actual seating arrangements. There have even been shows where some of the pit is off in the basement or far away from the rest of the pit ('Lion King' brass for example!).

    A new trend I noticed are small video monitors clipped to the pit player's music stands since conductors are not always visable to the musicians who are hidden in nooks and crannies ('Lion King' and 'Scottsboro Boys' did this). Also, I can't remember looking into a pit in recent years and not seeing it miked. Additionally, plexi-baffles around drum sets/percussion and small string sections ('Wicked') are also fairly common now.

    What I have observed as being more important than pit layout is the sound design of the shows ... this really has made or broken my enjoyment of the music from the audience. What I noticed was that some shows processed the pit to death ... no distinction between instruments, almost like listening to old AM radio; not a very elegant approach. OTOH, at 'Scottboro Boys', we were seated pretty severely stage-left and yet the mix was simply beautiful. Although I never stopped to analyze it in stereo terms, what was most noticable was the separation of the various instruments and voices ... the mix was crystal clear. A few weeks earlier we saw 'Mary Poppins' and there were times in the show where the mix was not all that great.

    So, the idea to just make a good, solid, virtual pit mix with good aural separation of the instruments and voices should outweigh any actual pit layout influence since, as someone already mentioned, it would never be the same in the next venue anyway.



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