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[This FAQ is a work in progress. Please post suggestions for additional Q/A's and other feedback below. Thanks.]

Okay, so you've decided that you would like to try your hands at virtual orchestration. And scouring the web for tips and information, you've ended up here. So let's see if we can help answer some of the questions you might have.

Do I need a high-end orchestral sample library?

No. You shouldn't buy anything but one of the cheapest libraries available before you're absolutely certain this is something you're going to get serious about. A high-end sample library is wasted on a beginner and will likely just confuse and frustrate you with all its advanced features and innumerable options. High-end libraries are also VERY expensive.

Do I need a powerful computer?

Anything manufactured after 2010 that is not a netbook will probably do the trick if you're starting out. Basically, if it's multicore, has at least 4GB RAM and runs Windows 7 (PC) or OS 10.6 Snow Leopard (Mac) or higher you're good to go. Of course, this depends on the library and the software that runs it so make sure to check out the system requirements before buying anything. If your computer is on the meek side, pick a library that isn't too taxing.

Which DAW is best?

Short answer: The one that works best for you.

Long answer: To dispel a common myth, modern DAW's sound exactly the same unless they are designed to mimic the character of hardware mixing consoles or there's something wrong with them. Behind the scenes it's all the same math so make sure to choose your DAW from criteria such as features, workflow, UI, bundled content and price, not "sound".

What level of computer skill do I need?

An average grasp of computers is highly recommended. Meaning, some experience with file handling (copying, moving and deleting files, creating folders, navigating your hard drive etc), installing drivers and programs, and configuring your computer for best performance. If the prospect of doing anything beyond opening and closing your web browser makes your palms clammy, you're probably not ready for DAW work. Going from such a basic level of computer use to working with an advanced program is just going to be a pain, and you will be better off taking some course in computer basics before venturing further. Alternatively, maybe you have some computer savvy friend or relative who might be willing to teach you? 

Do I need to have a background in music?

Yes. You need to walk before you can run. Obviously, anyone can draw notes with the mouse into a piano roll editor, but if you have no idea what you're doing or how music works, the results are not going to be that great. Especially considering that orchestral music is likely one of the most complex styles of music in existance.

Do I need to have a background in orchestral music?

No, but it helps. Even some familiarity with the genre from having listened to it a lot will be beneficial.

Must I be able to read/write notation?

No, but it helps. If nothing else so that you can study printed scores of classical works for education and inspiration.

Anything else I need to be prepared to spend money on?

Three things:
  • An audio interface. I.e. an external sound card with higher quality components and more features than your computer's built-in audio chip. Dedicated audio intefaces also offer low-latency drivers, which is crucial if you're going to be playing things live on...

  • A MIDI controller. I.e. a piano keyboard for playing and recording notes. A minimum of 49 full-size keys is recommended. 

  • A pair of monitors. Monitors, in audio lingo, are studio speakers designed to reveal flaws and provide accurate listening for mixing. Consumer speakers on the other hand are designed to mask the flaws and are unreliable for serious audio work (though they will of course do in a pinch if you can't afford anything better).

As far as these three go, get the best things your budget will allow.
Quote:Do I need a high-end orchestral sample library?

In my opinion, a good place to start before buying any sample library is with the Sonatina Symphonic Orchestra. Widely considered the best and most complete free sample library available. (Mattias: I imagine you didn't mention this to avoid self promotion)

Quote:Do I need a powerful computer?

It's surprising what even an XP computer with 2GB of ram can handle. Even that limited computer can handle the tracks for a full orchestra if using the right DAW, plugins and orchestral sample library. It works hard but gets the job done with out getting in the way.
Welcome aboard, Paul Battersby! Yeah, it's not impossible to get good results even from a system like that, but XP pretty much falls into the realm of retrocomputing and that might not be the best way to go if you're just getting started. Wink
(05-28-2016, 08:42 PM)Otto Halmén Wrote: [ -> ]Yeah, it's not impossible to get good results even from a system like that, but XP pretty much falls into the realm of retrocomputing and that might not be the best way to go if you're just getting started. Wink

I completely agree.  I would never recommend going out and seeking a Windows XP machine as a starting point. If someone offers you one today, just say no, but ... if you already have one, you can get started with it. (Disclaimer: in a couple of months, I intend to replace my Windows XP machine with the fastest Windows 10 machine I feel is worth my money)

A further point also being that using a dual core Windows 7 machine with 4GB as Mattias recommended, should be fine if even my far less powerful Win XP machine can be useful.
(05-28-2016, 08:01 PM)pbattersby Wrote: [ -> ](Mattias: I imagine you didn't mention this to avoid self promotion)

Partly, yes, but mostly because I'm not too fond of it TBH. You know how going back and listening to a mix you did six or seven years ago will make you cringe and go "damn, what was I thinking?" That's how I feel about SSO these days, so I rarely recommend it to people.
(05-29-2016, 02:24 PM)Mattias Westlund Wrote: [ -> ]You know how going back and listening to a mix you did six or seven years ago will make you cringe and go "damn, what was I thinking?"

Oh, I definitely know that experience.

(05-29-2016, 02:24 PM)Mattias Westlund Wrote: [ -> ]That's how I feel about SSO these days, so I rarely recommend it to people.

Still, I think it has met the needs of many people over the years. Besides, in the free domain, is there yet anything better? In fact, is there anything close?
Hi Mattias,

In response to your request at the beginning for other FAQ additions and in response to the discussion afterwards regarding hardware requirements and the quality of SSO...I would suggest that SSO's inclusion in the Music Studio app for iOS and Android is a very good way for someone new to writing orchestral music to get started. Using a piano roll editor is surprisingly pleasant on a touchscreen, especially if you have a device with a stylus. That's how I started and, as a result, I find using a pc to do the same thing rather cumbersome in comparison - I guess it's just what you're used to.

As for the quality of SSO, well, it's definitely the best quality of any orchestra which is built in to an android app (can't talk for iOS), the only other real option being the Varazdin mobile version in FL Studio Mobile which I feel has some very clumsy looping of samples going on, really letting it down. True, there are other apps which allow you to use sfz format samples - thus, the Virtual Playing Orchestra and VSCO Community Edition can be used, and I do - but, having SSO built in makes Music Studio very convenient and a pleasure to use. And the results are perfectly acceptable in terms of quality. Are they as good as a top end commercial orchestra sample package? No, of course not but they're really not in any way bad either. I think you're maybe being a bit too harsh on your own creation Mattias?

There is also an uncomfortable truth that anyone new to, well, any artistic endeavour really should be aware of: having the very best equipment possible can't actually make you a better composer/artist/writer etc. Or, to flip it the other way, if you're brilliantly talented, your work's going to be more interesting than most other people's even if it's been made on an ancient computer, using old freeware and sample sets, and theirs has been made using the very best of everything that's available. In other words, just do it, use whatever equipment is available to you because, if it's there, talent will shine through (if, however, it's not, spending money isn't going to change anything). And don't be put off by audiophiles who might scoff at side issues, qualities that ultimately don't really matter, and miss the bigger picture in doing so!
"Very high quality sounds, works well when used with DSK Virtuoso, or as an addition to Halion Sonic SE (or whatever stock sampler your DAW comes with)."

"WOOOOOOOOOOOOW.... Don't wanna spam under all your plugins but DUDE alone for that solo violin it is 1000% worth I mean it's free... this sounds sooooo good."

"Cool the best plug-in ever I love it"

"Great multi instrument orchestral plug in. Pick and choose your instrument, very high quality, sounds great. Thanks a lot."

"thank you so much for this amazing VST"

"So now I am happy, u definitly are z best for FREE VST my dear VST4FREE. THANKS SOOOO MUCH TO YOU FOR YOUR HARD WORK and easy site to surf"

"I love the sound of the sonatina samples! Specially when added some reverb and stereo effects, and then you equalize it. WOW."

"i LOVE YOU!!!!"

"Best orchestral percussion vst that is free, out there! Big Grin Yep."

"Thank you so much for sharing this. Great to have some tubular bells with more than one octave."

"Great sound."

"With my wife recently getting back into playing the flute after a few decades away from it, she asked me if I had any synth programs she could play with. I had about two or three before this one. She is going to love this. To me, it sounds amazing! "

"I love the staccato flute sound, very realistic.. I'm flute player ! "

"Amazing for a free vst. I was looking for a piccolo sound and this one is great. I'd love for there to be an option for less vibrato though. Thanks guys!"

"Beautifully sounding plugin. The Sonatina series never fails to impress me."

"It's really perfect, exactely what I hoped. "


"Wow!!! And Free??? Wow!!! Thank you very, very much"

"This VSt is stunning.. beautiful sound from both the ladies and the men choirs."

"When I find awesome free vst like this, I want to make music even more."

"Sounds like Legend of Zelda material! Brilliant!"

"Thanks for sharing this beautiful plugin for free. I think it would be perfectly OK, if one has to pay a few dollars for it. So it is very generous to give it away. A lot of musicians who are on a small budged will be thankful :-)"

"Something beautiful."

"Amazing viola sound. I especially love the staccato.."


"Sounds amazing for a free vst!"

"This is BY FAR the best free Violin VST I have encountered! The sounds are so wonderful when you add reverb! Though, the tremolo is a bit odd sounding, but I pay no mind to it. 5/5!"

Sonatina responses on VST4Free in the past year...