It’s been a while since my last orchestral sketch. So it’s time for a new one. One that I started with some basic chords written in the scale of E minor. I always find the translation of these piano chords to orchestral instruments mind-blowing. In this case to the strings. The sound of the strings can be really beautiful and captivating. Changing the way drastically how you experience the chord progression.
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Timestamps of the video
- 00:00 – Introduction
- 00:30 – First listening (piano and orchestrated version)
- 01:21 – Chords (the chord progression on the piano in E minor scale)
- 02:15 – Harmony (translation piano chords to strings)
- 04:15 – Adding context (subtle influences of the total sound)
- 05:48 – Melody (solo violin for extra emotional layer)
- 06:43 – Logic Pro (the orchestral sketch build in my DAW)
- 07:20 – Ending
Chord progression in E minor scale
This is the chord progression I started with. Eight chords to be precise. StaffPad helps out a bit by showing the chords on top of the staff. Not sure if they are correct all the time, but it will give you a clue at least.
Alright. A couple of things. You see one sharp on the staff. That’s right, cause I wrote this in the E minor scale. I have set the tempo to 89. A tempo that is used a lot in film music. The motion of the chord progression is very clear. It goes down stepwise. And after the Am6 chord it raises again to end on an Em chord.
So this is the first step. In the next one we translate this chord progression to the strings.
Strings for the harmony
I always find this step mind-blowing. The translation of a chord progression on the piano to strings. The sound of the strings can be really beautiful and captivating. Changing the way drastically how you experience the chord progression, or in this case the harmony if you will.
It’s really lovely. It would be enough for on its own. I see this work as background music in a film scene.
That said, let’s address a couple of things. How do you translate the piano chords to strings? I did it in a very simple way. I started with the highest note and gave that to the violin I. Second note to the violin II. Third note to the viola. And the fourth note out of the chord to the violoncello doubled in octave with the double bass.
To make it more realistic or more enjoyable to listen to, I wrote in some dynamics. The strings play from piano to mezzo forte to piano etc.. Something I always do. Not only in StaffPad, but also when I write music in my DAW on my computer. For that I use a Korg NanoKontrol 2. A small and affordable midi controller.
Enough about the strings. Let’s continue with the next step which I called “adding context”.
Adding context to the harmony
I wanted to show you this step separately cause this one is subtle. Some things are happening in the background which your ear maybe didn’t pick up the first time.
These are instruments that in a subtle way influence the total sound of this sketch. So if I would leave these instruments out, you would notice that something is missing.
Again, this is subtle. You probably will hear it best on good headphones or on monitors in a quiet room. What am I talking about? Well, a solo flute that plays tenuto and a trill. The last one, the trill, you probably noticed in the first listening session of this video. It stands out.
Then the timpani. Really subtle hits and a roll in the background. The triangle with two accents. And the harp which you probably also heard in the first listening session.
How does it sound together? Let’s listen and continue with the last step which is about the melody.
The melody played by the solo violin
To finish this sketch I added a melody on top played by the solo violin. A beautiful instrument that is capable to add that extra emotional layer I was looking for.
I talked about patterns a couple of time. That we humans love patterns. We are constantly looking for them in music. They will give us comfort and it enhances the connection with the music. So I made use of that knowledge for this simple melody. And I guess the pattern is quite obvious.
And that completes this sketch in StaffPad. Let’s listen to it one more time from out of my DAW. Cause I transported the MIDI out of StaffPad to Logic Pro and I assigned some of my favourite orchestral instruments to the MIDI tracks.