Orchestral Workflow Example & Tips

Unsurprisingly, this example is about simple input vs. organic output again.

As you can see, the figures are straightforward and simple, with only a few of them adding small accents and ornaments (Brass, Clarinets) to an otherwise linear texture.


I've used the pencil to draw the Violins 1. Then I shifted, flipped and edited them a bit for the Violas. Playing up-beat and down-beat notes in an alternating fashion, the strings build a tip toe kind of rhythm. Violins 2 add forward-pushing offbeat accents. This single figure is basically the source material for the strings:

Tip: For background (harmony) lines, use the turqouise [v] symbols (vertical scale). They are best for distributing harmony across multiple instruments. To do so, transpose the figures using the arrow keys, so each instrument plays a different voice of the harmonic progression.

Tip: Don't use the Auto-Chords feature for orchestral instruments, unless you really know why and what for. Auto-Chords renders narrow voiced chords for keyboard instruments. In an orcherstra, you most often want to distribute harmony in a wide and open voicing. Use the above method for this.

Tip: The blue [h] symbols are best for lead melody (solo) and ostinato. While they also follow harmony, they do not follow the individual chord/scale, which blurs the chord progression somewhat.

Basses are very simple. They will need more work.

I've recorded the horns, trumpets & trombones shots with a midi keyboard and nudged the notes a bit to fit.

For the Clarinet, I edited a recorded figure and fine-tuned it. I shifted it back and forth on the timeline to make sure the rhythm is working with the other instruments.

Tip: Use the green [c] symbols for brass shots.

Tip: Keep interpretation strong (chord tones & extensions only) where your chord progression is dramatic and full of tensions. Keep it weak and relaxed, where your chords are easy and popular (full scale, allows more passing tones).


The root container contains the texture depicted above. Harmony was "painted" with a palette. It does not follow a scheme nor does it have any symmetry. The only special thing about it is the Blues-Wholetone scale used throughout. For this I double-clicked that scale in the Catalog, which opened a palette on the scale that I used to "paint" the progression.

Container B includes Pauses for Violins 2 and the Clarinets only. Container A replaces two figures for the strings with a short slow melody fragment. Harmony is taken from the "Subtle Changes" progression template. I've transposed it and  added two dominant chords at the end.

Container C follows the same idea to add variation. The figures are all simple and short. Harmony is a simple pop progression transposed to Db Major.

After part C, the piece returns to the root container until the end.

Tip: You can transpose any progression (template) chromatically to make it play nicely with other progressions in an arrangement (you'll find the keyboard shortcut on the Transform menu).


Film scores and epic orchestral music does not follow a "verse scheme" as is used in popular music. This means you are free to "paint with chords" in any way you like. The palettes are great for playing your texture "live" to test different scales, sonorities and timbres. An occasional V-I movement or other popular cadence is great for glueing parts together, but you will not need them all the time.

Tip: Select the container that includes your texture and do Container >> Make Sketch. Now you can play that texture in a palette. Be sure you have all heavy sounds hosted on a global rack, or your RAM will suffer from the copy Synfire needs to make of the arrangement rack.


Although I doubt it is used the same way in formal education, the term "Texture" refers to the rhythm and sound of multiple instruments playing together, regardless of harmony. Of course, since sound (timbre) largely also depends on harmony, this is a rather theoretical notion. On the other hand, Synfire is sort of rendering a texture against a source of light (harmony), so, if thinking in this analogy to computer graphics, the term "Texture" makes perfectly sense.

The phrases you see in the large picture above are one texture. Typically you put a texture in a container.

One easy workflow for composing orchestral music with Synfire is to build a number of textures and map them against different chord progressions throughout the piece.

This is exactly what I did: The example uses no more than one and a half textures (one texture, plus a little variation later). The narrative you hear, all the ups and downs, the subtle changes in mood and everything, are simply a result of throwing in a different chord progression! That's the magic of Synfire. Look how simple the input is and what you actually hear.

Tip: Build several textures, slow and fast, mellow and dramatic, one for each mood in the narrative of your piece. Use the embedded library to keep them around: Remember that you can drag entire containers into a library.

Tip: Put your heavy sample libraries in a dedicated global rack that you save along with the other files of your project. Laborate on different approaches, ideas and textures in individual arrangement files. Remember that you can keep as many arrangements open as you like and copy/paste like mad. Leverage this power.

Tip: Build your texture using a progression with a single chord only. Use a rich, large chord and select a scale you are interested in. First, you will be surprised how lively a single chord can sound. Second, you will be able to focus on the actual texture. A good texture maps fine to any progression you throw at it later.

Here's the result again. It was rendered with EWQL Gold exclusively (no effects, except a final limiter).

I've attached the original bottle of cognac for your enjoyment and further experimentation:

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