In this Logic Pro X tutorial, I’ll share some tips for getting the most out of Logic Pro X's humble, but very useable orchestral sample library.
Getting the Most out of Logic Pro X’s Orchestral Sounds
Many of us either can’t afford or don’t entirely need expansive and complex third-party orchestral sample libraries like those from Vienna, Spitfire Audio, or East West Sounds. But that doesn’t mean we want to be left out of the party. In digital music production, there will be lots of musical situations that require the use of basic orchestral sounds.
Happily, Logic Pro X ships with a very respectable orchestral sample library that can get the job done in most day-to-day situations.
One of the main differences between the range of orchestral sample libraries available on the market today is the number of articulations, or playing styles, available for each classical instrument. For example, stringed instruments can be bowed or plucked at different volume levels. They can be played with the bow moving in different directions, at different speeds, etc. How we program up parts and switch between these different playing styles is also a distinguishing factor between various orchestral sample libraries.
The orchestral sounds that come with Logic Pro X use a proprietary method of articulation switching, called Articulation IDs. Rather than using key switch notes or MIDI channels to summon the different articulations, each note contains a unique Articulation ID that corresponds with one of the available playing styles. So, to switch articulations, one needs to either switch or edit a note’s Articulation ID. Fortunately, Apple's team of Logic Pro developers have given us some very simple ways of doing this.
The Orchestral Instruments
The first task is calling up the orchestral instruments themselves. How we do this will determine how we will work with the Articulation IDs. There are two methods of accessing Logic Pro’s built-in orchestral sounds: through patches in the Library, or directly in the EXS24 Sampler Instrument. Either method will call up EXS24 instruments that contain all of the available articulations. But there is a significant difference between the two. When calling up patches from the Library, a corresponding set of pre-mapped Smart Controls will accompany the instrument. Loading the preset directly from the EXS24 preset menu, either from within the Library or directly from the EXS24 instrument interface, will not.
Above image: loading a Library patch.
Above image: loading an EXS 24 preset.
In either case, the sound set loaded into the EXS24 instrument contains a + symbol after its name. This symbol indicates that the loaded sample set contains multiple articulations. With the Library patch, a couple of reverb sends are automatically instantiated. But more importantly, the accompanying Smart Controls include buttons to switch between the various playing styles. Simply press the desired articulation button, and the notes recorded will contain the accompanying Articulation ID. They will play back with the appropriate playing style automatically. The Smart Control buttons can also easily be mapped to external MIDI controls for real-time articulation switching.
When loaded in through the EXS24 preset loader, the accompanying generic Smart Controls layout does not contain any articulation switching buttons. Notes will play back with the default articulation (usually a set of legato samples). To change playing styles, the Articulation IDs need to be edited manually in the Event List Editor. Make sure to enable Articulation ID view from the Event List’s View menu; it is disabled by default.
Using multiple articulations is arguably the most important programming technique in creating realistic MIDI performances. In Logic Pro, orchestral sounds are limited to each instrument’s most basic articulations. If you need or want more, you’ll need to invest the time and money in some third party libraries.
Using MIDI Expression
Adding realism to the dynamics of a performance is important with any musical instrument, but particularly so with orchestral music. Nuance and emotion are often evoked by having notes swell or fade while they are sustained. Using simple MIDI velocity won’t be adequate for these types of playing gestures. MIDI Expression (Control Change 11) is a continuous controller that can alter playback level continuously, independent of note on events. It has the added advantage of leaving MIDI Volume (CC 7) untouched, and available for setting overall instrument levels. Therefore CC 11 is often used for a part’s internal dynamics, i.e. crescendos and decrescendos, while CC 7 is used for the overall volume in the mix.
If you have a MIDI keyboard or MIDI controller with some available sliders, it is simple to map them to send CC 11 messages in Logic Pro’s Environment Window. In my setup, I use a slider on my Novation Impulse controller that sends out CC 49 messages. In Logic Pro’s Environment Window, go to the Clicks and Ports layer. Create a new Transformer and cable it between the Sum out of the Physical Input object and the Input Notes Keyboard. Set the Status field to Control messages. Set the Data Byte 1 value in the Conditions section to the desired Control Change number, in my case 49. In the Operations area, set the corresponding Data Byte 1 field to “Fix” and a value of 11. In the image below I also cabled a fader object into the pathway to get a visual representation of the movement of my hardware fader. Make sure to set the fader object’s parameters to match the Control Change number sent from your Keyboard.
Now simply ride the fader while playing in the part to generate the natural swells and fades you want during the performance. The CC 11 info is easily editable in any of the MIDI Draw editors. What I often do is create a new track with the same instrument in the Tracks Area, and then record the fader movement separately. I do this because it is usually easier to execute the performance of the notes and the expression separately. It is also more flexible for the inevitable editing that is needed.
Quantizing & Tempo Curves
Two aspects of orchestral music that are unique from how we think about programming music in a DAW are timing and tempo. Rather than quantizing everything, leaving parts unquantized yields a human-like feel that allows for capturing the nuance of the performance in more detail. With regards to tempo; we are generally used to working at a constant tempo in our DAWs. But orchestral music often “breathes” during cadences. There can be slight accelerandos and ritardandos between sections of a piece. One way I like to emulate these is by using tempo curves in the Global Tempo Track.
To use tempo curves in Logic Pro X, press G to open the Global Tracks at the top of the Main Window (or in the Editors if you prefer). In the image below, I removed all Global Tracks except Tempo from displaying by right-clicking and selectively disabling the others.
Click in the lane to establish different tempos. Then click and drag the node at the “elbow” between the tempo changes to create smooth ramps up/down. These can sound very natural, and it is easy to move the weighting of the curve as needed to yield the most musical sounding results.
The Global Tempo track is also useful for creating alternate Tempo Sets. I like creating one that is a bit slower and with no tempo changes, for the purpose of recording in my parts. I can then easily switch back and forth to the playback set that contains the tempo curves and the faster tempo.
Space and Stereo Panning
It’s often desirable to pan the different instruments to correspond to the position of the instruments in a traditional orchestral setup. The new stereo panning in Logic Pro X adds another element of depth, in that we can still maintain the stereo space of the sound while offsetting it to a different position in the left/right spectrum.
While it is desirable to send all of the instruments to the same reverb instance(s) to establish a uniform sense of space, the pre-delay and early reflections components of PlatinumVerb can be used for subtle front-back positioning. Make sure to push PlatinumVerb’s balance slider all the way to the left in order to hear the Early Reflections only. Set some subtle variations in the pre-delay amounts for the different instruments. Then send them all to a common reverb tail.
Putting it All Together
I recently produced a series of Logic Pro X video tutorials for Groove3 putting all of these ideas into practice. I was pleased to hear the quality of what Logic Pro’s orchestral instruments had to offer. I strongly believe that by using these simple techniques, you can get a lot of mileage out of the orchestral sample library that comes with Logic Pro X. Now I’m not suggesting John Williams will use it for his next Star Wars score, but it can certainly go a long way in day-to-day bread and butter situations.
Groove3 - Orchestrating in Logic Pro X
If you are interested, you can check out my new Groove3 series Orchestrating in Logic Pro X showing these techniques used as a piece is built up from a simple piano sketch. For each video tutorial, there are accompanying Logic Pro X project files available for download so you can follow along as each stage of the arrangement is built up.
Here is the piano sketch I began with:
And here is the finished Exercise: