Preparing orchestral scores in Logic Pro

I’ve been using Apple’s Logic Pro X for around three years so it’s early days for me to start dishing out advice but I would like to pass on my experiences of opening instrumental notation files in Logic, which wasn’t as straightforward as I expected.

Many people record straight from the keyboard but there are obvious problems going that route. Orchestral and big band scores often have complex voicing, and overlapping instrumental sections, that are impossible to execute on the keyboard, added to which the sheer size of some chords exceeds the span of human hands. In my own case there’s another problem. I know the keyboard inside out – as well as anyone – but you really wouldn’t book me to play piano at your party. A smoke grenade would be a more effective method of clearing the room (I have little keyboard technique).

But one thing I DO know about is producing orchestral and band scores in notation programs. It was therefore my obvious choice to produce scores and import them into Logic.

Although I own Finale and Encore, I use MuseScore which, despite the fact that it’s free, is the easiest program I have found with regard to the way a user interacts with it – selecting, playing back, copying and pasting etc. The producers of the program are also extremely accessible and help can be easily obtained.

For our purposes here, do not insert markings and dynamics on the score, except staccato marks (these will save a LOT of time in Logic). If you also intend to produce hard copies of the score and band parts, markings can be added later, possibly on a duplicated copy of the score. Mscz files are tiny, as we all know.

The native mscz file has to be exported as a standard MIDI file which will open directly in Logic by right-clicking on the score’s MIDI file icon. As soon as this is done the MIDI file can go in the trash.

The result, in Logic, requires a bit of work. First of all the program often fails to recognise the instruments correctly which has to be rectified by hand. But the problem that stopped me was the tendency for the faders to have a mind of their own. This is caused by information coming from notation programs and the solution is to select each instrument in turn in Logic and open the List editor. Here, shift select ‘Reset all controllers, Chorus, Reverb, Volume and Pan’ and delete them. In some keyswitched instruments these effects occur more than once. Trumpets have muted and open versions and strings have effects such as pizzicato, tremolo etc. So, delete all references to ‘Reset all controllers, Chorus, Reverb, Volume and Pan’.

Turning down the mixers in MuseScore doesn’t solve the problem of unwanted information being sent so, if there’s another way, I’d like to hear about it.

I believe most people are aware that legato effects, particularly with strings, can be enhanced by overlapping notes in the piano roll. Also, string vibrato in the native Logic instruments doesn’t kick in until the velocity control reaches a certain level. If they are then too loud the volume sliders will override the velocity. (‘Velocity’, here, refers to the force with which a note is started.)

The addition of the new ‘Studio Horns’ in Logic was interesting. At least, now, solo brass sounds can be used together with ‘doits’ and other effects but the Studio Horns instruments will not sustain for more than a few seconds. I have found little advantage in using the new sax sounds and I still use the existing EXS24 sax samples, because of the sustain problem.

Sometimes the attack forms in the tenor saxes can sound a bit fierce. As I think we all know, this can be mollified by tweaking the ADSR settings in EXS24.

It’s difficult to complain about a program such as Logic (the Alchemy synth alone is worth the price of the entire program) especially when we consider the cost of high end software instruments but I think it is fair to say that the above mentioned lack of sustain really isn’t good enough.

Rock instruments are catered for superbly and the program has some of the best synths around. I really don’t believe the people at Apple care too much about the traditional arranger/composer (like me).

Cue the violins…

I always say ‘new methods, new skills’ and it isn’t therefore surprising to find that DAW programs also open up new ways of working. In one arrangement I added a guitar Amp effect and increased the fuzz in real time as the brass rose in volume. On another occasion, I wanted the arrangement to ‘fall to pieces’ at the end, so I used the randomizer and allowed the pronounced audio tail to hang on, enhanced by turning up the reverb in real time and retaining it in the bounced version. It worked, brilliantly.

There are many instances in film and TV music where synthesized sounds are combined with orchestration.

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