Thursday, April 7, 2016

Families of Orchestra Instruments in the MIDI Hymn Project

One of the goals of the MIDI Hymn Project is to learn about the instruments of the orchestra and how to use them to voice a hymn.  The simplest of the techniques is answering the question, "Which voice (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) can this instrument play?"  As a class we explored two simple ways of knowing which instruments could play the voices of a hymn: (1) what is the size of the instrument and (2) what range of notes does it play?

How to find the range of an instrument in Wikipedia

Sizes of musical instruments have a direct impact on how high or low a note it can play.  As a general rule, the smaller the instrument (like a piccolo), the higher it can play.  Likewise, the bigger and longer the instrument, the lower it can play (like a double bass).  What does a particular instrument sound like? Look it up in Youtube by searching for the the instrument and the word "solo" to hear that instrument by itself, like this for "English horn solo".

There are four families of instruments in the orchestra: string, woodwind, brass, and percussion.

In a hymn, there are usually four voices: Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Bass.

In Garageband, pitch designations are assigned with numbers: 0 means "as written", +12 means and octave higher (literally, 12 half steps), and -12 means an octave lower.  To make octave adjustments, open up the track editor by either clicking on a green region or the track editor button, which looks like a scissors.
Track Editor Button
How to make octave adjustments in Garageband 10.1.0

In the string family, I used the following instruments, voices, and pitch designations:
  • Violin 1, playing the soprano part at +12, an octave above the written melody to help the melody stand out.
  • Violin 2,  playing the soprano part at 0 
  • Viola, playing the alto part, at 0
  • Cello, playing the tenor part, at 0
  • Cello, playing the bass part, at 0
  • Double Bass, playing the bass part at -12, doubling the cellos at the lower octave
String Family
In the woodwind family, I used the following instruments, voices, and pitch designations:
  • Piccolo, playing the soprano part at +12, an octave above the written melody to help the melody stand out.
  • Flute,  playing the soprano part at +12, an octave above...
  • Oboe, playing the soprano part at 0
  • Clarinet,  playing the alto part at 0
  • English Horn, playing the tenor part at 0
  • Bassoon, playing the bass part, at 0
  • Bassoon, playing the bass part at -12, doubling the other bassoons at the lower octave
Woodwind Family
When we listened to the woodwind family by itself, the oboe was sticking out of the mix too loudly. We pulled back on the track volume of the oboe to help it fit back into the mix better.



In the brass family, I used the following instruments, voices, and pitch designations:
  • Trumpets,  playing the soprano part at 0 
  • French Horn, playing the alto part, at 0
  • Trombones, playing the tenor part, at 0
  • Trombones, playing the bass part, at 0
  • Tuba, playing the bass part at -12, doubling the trombones at the lower octave.

Brass Family

Finally, we panned the sound in Garageband so it would sound like it was coming from where the instrument in the orchestra was sitting.  How do you pan sound?  Every track has a pan knob.

Pan knobs in Garageband 10.1.0
Pan knobs let you direct the sound coming from Garageband to either the left or the right ear of your headphones.  Drag the pan knob up or down to turn it.  Then, imagine that you are the conductor of the orchestra and point the pan knob in the direction of where the instrument sits in the orchestra. Do this for all of the instruments in a family to spread them from left to right across the stereo spectrum of your headphones.



I haven't said a thing about how to enter notes in Garageband (I wrote how to do that in April 2014) , why I have four piano tracks in my project, or why we added percussion to hymns.  We first entered the notes of Glory Be to Jesus in four piano tracks, one track for each of the voices of the hymn. Why enter the music into four tracks and not all into one?  In order to have many different instruments playing the soprano part, it has to exist by itself in a track–it cannot have other voices with it.  I left the piano tracks in my final orchestra mix because the piano helps define the attack at the beginning of a note.  Some instruments (strings, woodwinds) have a very slow attack and feel behind the beat.

This year, I decided to have my students add percussion to their MIDI hymn projects because (a) percussion is an instrumental family of the orchestra, and (2) percussion makes the hymn come alive and propels the beat and the energy of the hymn forward.  The simplest way to add percussion is to drag in a loop of a beat from the loop menu.  We also added drum fills at the ends of verses to teach how a drummer changes the pattern at the end of a pattern to alert the listener that a new part of music is coming up.

Here's what my version of "Glory Be to Jesus" sounds like using the symphony orchestra jam pack from Garageband.


28 comments:

  1. Hey Mr. Witte!
    In this project you had us pan some of the instruments. could you go more in depth as to why we did that?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hey Mr. Witte!
    In this project you had us pan some of the instruments. could you go more in depth as to why we did that?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Mr. Witte, how does the tuba double the cellos at a lower octave?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Mr. Witte!
    On certain instruments we had to turn down the volume due to it over-playing the other instruments. Could you mention that as well?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes. I added that in the article above.

      Delete
  5. Hey Mr. Witte!
    Is there such thing as half an octave lower, as in -6 or +6?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes there is. You can use the pitch slider to adjust the pitch of a track to any number of half steps. Octaves sound good. Other intervals may not sound as good. Try it and see what you think!

      Delete
  6. Hi Mr. Witte
    Can the ocive go higher than +12 or lower than -12

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, for two octaves try +/-24. Read what I replied to Charlie above for more information.

      Delete
  7. Mr. Witte,
    If you know that the file that you make will only be heard by an audience out of one main speaker source (rather than headphones) should you still take the time to use the pan knobs to determine where an instrument is heard?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good question. If you have good speakers and they are separated from each other, you will hear the panning. If the speakers are close to each other, like they are in the bottom on an iMac, then you may not hear the panning, unless you have panned everything either hard left or hard right.

      Delete
  8. Great article Mr. Witte! Will we work on more hymns like this in the future?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. Yes. You will get to pick the next hymn that you do and it will be sung in chapel this spring!

      Delete
  9. Great job Mr Witte! How did you know what hymn to pick?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I picked Glory Be to Jesus because it was an easy first hymn to work on. Your next hymn you will pick in conjunction with one of the male teachers or pastors at WLA and the Bible reading they are using for chapel.

      Delete
  10. Great job Mr Witte! How did you know what hymn to pick?

    ReplyDelete
  11. Good job! I like how you showed how you turned the pan knobs to make music come from different directions. How hard was it to find the right way to turn the pan knobs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I too was confused how to "turn" the knobs at first. Dragging up and down didn't occur to me until I read about it somewhere.

      Delete
  12. Mr. Witte,
    I love your use of many images to explain everything; it makes it much easier.
    Why the piano is not included in your instrument list? Is there any special reason for not including it in the string section?
    Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oops! I forgot the piano! I'll add it.

      Delete
  13. Awesome article!! I'm pretty sure nobody can't explain this project better than you. I like the details and the way it explains with images. I'm looking forward to next project. What is our next project?

    ReplyDelete
  14. Great job! What was the hardest part of doing this project for you?

    ReplyDelete
  15. Mr. Witte,
    The images to explain each step make everything so much clear.
    Do you have any beats on your example project?

    ReplyDelete
  16. I like how you explain this all things!!! It is very clear easy to know how to make it , is awesome! Is all of hymn can make it like this?

    ReplyDelete