Editor’s note: London-based Tristan Noon is a composer, orchestrator and copyist who has worked on numerous film and television productions. His e-book, From DAW to Score, is an 88-page guide geared towards students, enthusiasts, and anyone else seeking an introduction into working on those types of productions.
We’re pleased to provide this exclusive excerpt from the book, courtesy of Tristan, where he describes the process of breaking out chords from a single patch on a DAW to a readable orchestral score.
The ‘dreaded ensemble patch chords’
As an orchestrator, you have to be prepared to face what I call the ‘dreaded ensemble patch chords’. This is where the composer, in a anxiety-fuelled frenzy to meet the deadline, has just played in an enormous piano-like chord with two hands to save time. It is then up to you as the orchestrator to split this out into something playable. We are going to look at an example in the strings where the composer has played in block chords instead of separate midi parts for the first violin, second violin, viola etc.
Some people split these chords within the DAW (and sometimes I do, depending on the situation), but for the purposes of this book, I am just going to show you how to split them in Sibelius using a couple of simple key commands. A lot of the following information is just the way I go about this process, many other people I know have a different way of doing it.
Below is a screenshot of the MIDI (post quantization, so it looks tidy), and you’ll see that there are six notes playing at any given time. Generally, the best and most obvious way to go about this is to have the bass part playing the lowest note, the ’celli playing the second lowest note and so on. Sometimes this can change, but this is a general rule of thumb.
But what do we do about the extra note, as there are 6 notes and only 5 string instruments to fit them into? This means that somebody is going to have to perform a ‘divisi’. This can differ from one orchestrator to another but in this instance, I would have everybody play one note each, apart from the second violin. This is because, more often than not, you want the melody sounding loud and clear in the first violins. If you divide them, you’re dividing the power and clarity of the note. So for that reason, I would split the second violins. If the extra note is more suited to the viola due to its range, then you’d have them play two notes but in this case I think it’s better to split the second violins.
Everything below is hypothetical because you don’t have the score, but you can use this walk-through as a guide for when you orchestrate scores in the future.
Later on, you’ll see the way I have translated this six note chord in a strings ensemble patch to score notation that is actually playable by session musicians in real life. As you full well know, a violin can’t play six notes at once.
The next step would be to export this midi file from your DAW and open the midi file in Sibelius. Following that will require some copying and pasting from your rough Sibelius file and into your template file. I’m using my Scoring Templates Sibelius template here which saves any faffing around with formatting and fonts, the parts for the session musicians are 80% ready to go and need little care and attention once all of the notation has been inputted.
So, let’s tackle this step-by-step.
- So, you’ve exported the midi and imported the file into Sibelius. Now we look at the import options. In this particular situation, I’m going to use these import settings. You may have different options ticked when you import your own midi files.
I’ve set the minimum note duration at the top left to crotchets because that is my shortest note length. From here, we’ll get the best import options possible. If you had any tuplets, you’d need to tell Sibelius about that using the buttons on the right hand side of the dialog box.
The midi data should come in to Sibelius looking like the screenshot below.
You’ll notice that the highest and second highest note (playing a B natural and a G natural) and the bottom three notes haven’t been imported as semibreves, and instead have been imported as a dotted minim tied to a crotchet. Unfortunately, this is a downside to Sibelius, so you’ll always have to scan through at the end to make sure that there aren’t any ties where there’s no reason for them.
- So now we go about the process of splitting it into each individual string instrument such as the first violin, second violin, and so on.
- I use a shortcut in Sibelius 8.5 to filter (select only) the top note of a chord. Triple click on the stave to select from the first bar to the end and type Command-Alt-1. For Windows, you just need to remember to replace the Command button with Control.
- The note then gets highlighted in blue to indicate that those notes have been selected. Now hit Command-X to copy it to the clipboard and delete it from the score at the same time. This is so that you don’t forget what notes you’ve already copied over to the template. I always do this to avoid any confusion.
- Now you’ll need to press Command-V to paste it onto a stave in the template score. I’d recommend using two screens to do this if you can, because you can have the rough midi Sibelius score on one screen and the Sibelius template into which you’re pasting notation into on the second screen. I’ll now paste the top note of the chord into the first violin.
- Once you have copied the top note into first violin part in the template, you’ll need to change the dotted minim tied to a crotchet to a semibreve tied to the semibreve in the next bar, as shown below. Always refer back to the original midi data if you’re unsure.
In this case, you can see that the composer has started their string chord at bar 6. This means that it should start at bar 6 on the score. Whatever bar the notation starts at in the DAW should be the bar that it starts at in the score. This is for reference when mixing, and stops things becoming confusing later on in the process. It also ensures that the bar numbers in the score always match the bar numbers in the midi file.
- Keep filtering the top note by pressing Command-X and pasting it into the template score. I know that I’ll need to ‘divide’ in the second violins because there are 6 notes to split between 5 instruments in the string section. The tessitura of the note also gives you an idea of which instrument the divisi needs to occur in. You can see that I’ve pasted the second highest note of the chord (starting with a G natural at bar 6) into the template.
- Following this, you’ll need to do a bit of manual selection and use a handy plugin called Paste Into Voice. You can also use the button in the screenshot shown below, just under the File menu.
- This takes the voice one notation in the rough Sibelius midi file and pastes it into your chosen score in whichever voice you’d like. If you just try and paste more notes as voice one over the top of the existing notes, Sibelius will overwrite the notation. In this case, we need voice two so that we can paste it over our existing notes in the second violin without deleting the 3 bars of notation we have.
- So, select the dotted minim playing the D using Command and clicking on the note. Keep holding Command click on the D semibreve in bars 7-8. Essentially what you’re doing here is selecting just the top note. If you use the ‘select top note’ shortcut, it’ll get confused and select the crotchet playing G on beat 4. You’ll see in a moment why we don’t want that.
- Copy those to the clipboard and delete them using Command-X and then paste them into your template using the Paste Into Voice plug-in. You’ll want to paste from voice one into voice two. I’d recommend assigning a shortcut to this. As mentioned earlier, you must always copy the notation from the first bar of the rough Sibelius score. You can remove/hide the empty bars at the start when the score is complete.
- You’ll end up with something looking a little like this, as shown below.
- The next step would be to change the crotchet E to voice 2 (because the G natural needs to play for a semibreve). Do this by selecting the note and clicking Alt-2. This now means that you can change the top note G in voice 1 to a semibreve without Sibelius deleting anything. It will now look like the picture below.
- Copy and paste the last 3 bottom notes into the template and make them semibreves tied to the last 2 bars of semibreves.
It may all seem a bit long winded, but once you’ve done it a few times you’ll be a lot quicker. I’d recommend checking out my screencast videos on YouTube (Noon With A Tune) to see me doing this in action.
It’s usually easier when the chords are all playing the same rhythm. It gets more complicated when there are notes moving around inside the block chord.
The screenshot above is the finished product, having exported midi out of your DAW and imported into Sibelius. I’ve deleted the first 5 bars so that the score starts at bar 6, corresponding to the midi in the DAW file.
I’ve also added some dynamics in to make it musical and also a ‘div.’ marking over the second violin part. This tells the second violin section to split directly in half (unless stated otherwise), to cater for the two notes. You can see how I have gone from a midi file in my DAW, to a readable score, ready to put in front of players at a recording session.
In the rest of this chapter, I demonstrate another example using a homophonic block chord from your DAW and importing it into Sibelius. But you’ll need to purchase the book to read how to do it!
Purchase the e-book
In addition to the e-book, the download includes:
- A score of the cue being orchestrated in the book
- A mp3 of the cue being orchestrated in the book
- A free String Scoring Template