Previously we’ve created our rhythm, using some epic orchestral drums, and we’ve created string ostinato providing the feeling of movement to our track. Today we will make small changes to our track, and start working on our brass section.

Watch the video for this part:

Bars 9-12

Making Changes

Let’s move on, and let’s focus on the third section of our music, bars 9-12. Copy the following tracks: piano, drums, cellos, but not violas. They were nice, but now we want to make a small change: we will move the violas part to contrabasses, which are very low strings, and then we will introduce an arpeggio on our violas track.

Create a new track, and load contrabasses. Set their articulation to staccato again, and copy the violas part there. Now open the midi editor for our new contrabasses track. The notes may have to be moved down a bit, because we want it to sound low, in the range of contrabasses.

For example, for violas, we had this ostinato pattern for octaves 3 and 4. But for contrabasses, we may need to select all these notes and move them one octave down, to octaves 2 and 3. In Reaper, just select the notes, press and hold CTRL, and move the notes down, until they reach the same note an octave lower. I say “may”, because it depends on the library. Experiment yourself – in my case, I didn’t had to move anything, because the contrabasses from Cinematic Strings sound very nice in octaves 3 and 4.

Figure 4.22

You may need to change the velocity of the contrabasses, so that they get louder or quieter depending on your library. Don’t overdo it. Always use your ears, they are more important than my screenshots, especially if you use different libraries.

Now we lack something in our middle part, our violas. But we can add a great effect here.


Arpeggio can be defined as a way to create dynamic melody made of short notes that adds dynamics to the track. Or, in other words, it’s a different way to write chords – not as long notes at the same time, but as notes placed one after another. We build a great, yet still basic arpeggios based on our chords, and here it is:

Figure 4.23

Take a look at the first bar of music, our first chord that was A Minor, made of A, C and E notes. Our violas arpeggio is made the same way. We start with a short note on E, then move to A, then to C, then to A again, and repeat the whole thing three more times.

Basic arpeggios can be made in different ways, jumping through octaves if needed. Try to experiment with it on a separate project.

The next chord is G Major, made of G, B and D. We do the same thing, we start with D, then move to G, then to B and then to G again, and repeat it three more times. You should see the pattern now. This is we make all the chords as arpeggio:

  1. A Minor: E → A → C → A x3
  2. G Major: D → G → B → G x3
  3. C Major in first inversion: E → G → C → G x3
  4. F Major: C → F → A → F x2
  5. G Major: D → G → B → G x2

This way we have filled all four bars. This part will be copied all over again until the end.

High Strings

This track could use details in higher range of sounds. So we can add high strings.

Create a new track above violas, group it to Strings, and create a midi item that is four bars long. Load violins instrument. Open the midi editor and add five notes: E, D, E, C and D. Set lower velocities. This way our strings will sound gentler.

Figure 4.24

It’s time to introduce a new concept – expression. Instrument libraries that are well-programmed, allows us to control the expression of our virtual instruments, which means we can make them sound loud or silent, aggressive or gentle. Velocity is one of the ways we can control such expression, thus achieving better realism.

Expression and mod wheel are two other means to do so. Under these terms, we find special midi controls present in all DAW software and controlled via most midi keyboards.

Figure 4.25

In Reaper, while you are in the midi editor, in the bottom left corner you see a menu, click on it and from the list select “11 Expression” OR “01 Modulation Wheel”. The number 11 and 01 is the ID of the midi control. When you configure your midi keyboard or virtual instrument, sometimes you have the option to set up which midi control you can use to perform which tasks. 11 is a default for expression control, and 01 is a default for modulation wheel.

What’s the difference between expression and mod wheel? In many, many libraries it’s only a matter of programming:

  1. More advanced libraries use mod wheel to control expression/realism because mod wheel control is assigned to the physical mod wheel which is present in most midi keyboards.
  2. Cheaper libraries usually ignore mod wheel controls, and assign expression directly to 11 expression.
  3. Sometimes, in some libraries, mod wheel is used for expression, and expression control is used for special effects, such as vibration sounds.

Whenever you get a new instrument, I suggest you read its manual to see which control you can use to achieve which effect.

Anyway, let’s get back to our violins. As you can see on the image of the expression control (figure 4.25), the expression rises toward the middle of the note, and then falls down. In results, the note is slowly becoming louder, and then quieter and it’s repeated three more times.

Trombones Part

Now we’re moving to bass area. Create a new group, call it “Brass”. Create a new track in this group, and load a trombone ensemble. Create a new midi item in grids 9-12, and open the midi editor.

Add the root notes of our chords in one of the lower octaves.

Figure 4.26

Once again, we’re doubling the root notes of the chords: A, G, C, F, G. This way we’ve created a brass part in our bass (lower) register.

Notice how I do not draw these notes throughout the entire bar. I’m leaving some space. This is a matter of realism, a small detail you should look out for. Strings are easier in this matter – they do not require breath to play – but when you create parts for instruments that do require breathing, like woodwinds or brass: flutes or trombones or horns, you need to remember that in real life, the player needs to breath.

This means, you need to create some kind of rests for our virtual player to remain conscious and alive.

Bars 13-16

We’re moving on. Copy and paste piano, violas, cellos, contrabasses, trombones and drums parts from grid 9-12 to grids 13-16. Do not copy the violins part.

Now duplicate the cellos track, and rename it to “Cellos Short”. Delete all the midi boxes by selecting them and hitting “Delete” on your keybord. Now, copy the contrabasses part into cellos short. Just select the contrabasses part, press CTRL+C or right click with our mouse and choose “Copy items”. Open Kontakt and switch the articulation from long notes to staccato or some other short notes. Then open the editor on our new track and make sure everything sounds right, adjusting velocities if needed.

You can duplicate any track, by right-clicking on the track’s controls, the gray field, and clicking “Duplicate tracks” from the menu that will appear.

Figure 4.27

This way, we have doubled the contrabasses part and increased the “power” of this particular section of our track.

You probably noticed we haven’t doubled the violins part. That’s right, because now I want you to create a new midi box in grids 13-16, on the violins track, and open the midi editor. We’re going to make some changes. Instead of using the fifths, we will double the root notes again, but in higher register. This simple change will make the music more interesting.

Figure 4.28 shows this:

Figure 4.28

Figure 4.28 shows the doubled lines on the same midi item, but some legato libraries do not use this kind of polyphonic system and both lines must be placed on separate instruments. I did so, by separating these two lines into 1st and 2nd violins:

Figure 4.29

Figure 4.30 – This “Epic Drums” label? Don’t worry about it, often I just copy the boxes from other tracks and don’t bother changing their labels.

We’re literally doubling the part, the violins play the same notes, yet octave apart. Again, we’re using the expression control to gently manipulate the way the strings are played here.

And if you’re unsure still, these are the notes: A, G, C, F, G.

Another thing about realism: there is a limited number of players in each orchestral section. By doubling instruments, you may realize that the entire piece of music sounds like there are more players in the orchestra than the sections would suggest.

If you want to achieve greater realism, you should keep this in mind. More advanced libraries offer “divisi”, which basically means a section can be divided into two, and, for example, 1st violins can play two different melodies (or even more, but this is a bit more advanced thing).

Generally, don’t worry about this if you don’t need it (like when you don’t care), but remember about the limited amount of players and try to keep this is mind when assigning notes to each section of your virtual orchestra.

Now, duplicate the contrabasses track, delete previous midi items, set the articulation to sustain, and move the long cellos part to long contrabasses, thus doubling this part. Right now, you should have both long and short cellos, as well as long and short contrabasses, doubling each other. If in doubt, refer to the MIDI file for this guidebook.

Now, it’s copy time!

Copy all these sections from grids 13-16 to grids 17-20 with no changes. We just made the track longer, simply by repeating stuff.

Skip the bar 21.

And paste bars 13-20 to 22-29.

Yes, that’s a lot of copying, but that’s intentional.

Figure 4.31

As you should remember, in this kind of track, we base everything on repetition, and we’re building up towards the grand finale. The form of the track is very simple, it’s actually AAA – the same thing repeated all over again. Because it’s a short trailer track, it’s not annoying (at least I hope so). But you should be careful with such basic form in longer tracks.

If you’re making longer, more “artistic” or “cinematic” music, you need to experiment with tracks, add or subtract or even replace instruments, introduce new musical ideas, new melodies and generally make music dynamic and interesting.

The 21st Bar

As you may remember, we’ve skipped the 21st bar. We’ll fill it now with music, but it will be slightly different, like a “pause”. Such pauses are great way to create tension, and then introduce dynamic orchestra. Right now, our bar is empty.

Figure 4.32

Let’s add a single bar on our piano track. You should know the drill by now – make a selection, and add a new midi item, then open the midi editor, add notes, change velocities.

Figure 4.33

In this bar, we add four D notes, going down in velocity. D is part of the A Minor scale, but it’s not the note from our first chord, A Minor. Since the listener isn’t expecting this note, this creates tension that will be released as soon as A Minor begins in the very next bar.

Lowering the velocities will make the piano “fade away”.

Now, let’s add violins to our 21st bar. Add a long, sustained D7 note, and create a curved expression, thus making the note quieter, and then louder again.

Figure 4.34

Add a single G note, no expression, to long cellos, as a sustained note.

Figure 4.34

It’s time for some percussion.

Add the following rhythm to our main drums, taikos, on the 21st bar.

Figure 4.35

And finally, something new, a small and simple flute run.

Create a new group, Woodwinds. Create a new track in that group, and a midi box on the bars 21-22 – yes, including the 22nd bar. Load a flute ensemble or piccolo flute, and open the midi editor. You may want to change the articulation of this flute to staccato.

Now, let’s start adding notes. In case of piccolo from Kontakt Factory, let’s start on A5, and then add B, C, D, E, G and end up on A6, right on our 22nd bar. Set the velocity to increase, like on the image.

Don’t worry about the fact the notes are not really “sticking” to the grid – that’s intentional. We use humanization here: you can select all the notes and hit the key “H” in Reaper to humanize stuff.

Figure 4.36

Later on, we will humanize everything, because when notes don’t stick to the grid, they sound more realistic.

Let’s work on some expression, too. In the midi editor, switch to the expression control and draw something like this:

Figure 4.37

That’s it for now. In the next part, we will create our grand finale.

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