Esessionstrings playing on my piece

I am singing the praises of Esessionstrings again here. I have shared this piece before, in “your music” category, but I have since added live strings by Pablo and his players at Esessionstrings dot com. They are terrific players. I think the results are fantastic.

This is mock-up plus 3 takes each of live V1, V2, VLA and Celli. The price is incredibly reasonable for what you get, and I’m having him add flute and trumpet this week to this and 2 more pieces.


Wow. It would be the dream to be able to compose anything near this. Absolutely true, the power of real instruments is a complete dimension of it´s own. Plugins remains an assistance.

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Thanks so much! As always, I’m happy to answer any questions about the piece.

One thing I’ll add: real professional players make the composer sound better. They add a dimension you can’t really compose, and give life to your lines. They simply make us better.


When you do a piece like this do you: Do you write it as you go along? Trial and error? In your daw? Do you write scores? Do you write directly for the different instruments or do you scetch with piano? Is this done to a film sequence?


Fantastic Everett! This is the main style I’m aiming for; That kind of old Hollywood, Erich Korngold/Max Steiner sound. I’ve really found that the music I hear in my head is probably closer to what it would sound like with live players and less with samples, as whenever I write something using sample libraries, I spend crazy amounts of time mixing to get it to sound like this but never does.

On the other hand I’ve found that my work sound much more realistic using Drioco Pro scoring software, even if the samples aren’t has high quality as some others. I will most definitely need to get Esessionstrings to do a piece of mine. The sound is incredible.

You said they can do other instruments than strings?


I love to write to an edited scene, but for this piece I didn’t have visuals, so I just imagined what a Star-Wars-like scene might look like. I think writing to visuals forces a lot of cool, unexpected choices, but I didn’t have that here.

I could not imagine writing a piece this massive without starting on piano. I create a piano sketch, or what I call a piano foundation, first. That piano foundation contains every part you hear orchestrated except for percussion and harp, which are added at the end. The piano foundation even contains some harp glissandi, if I know for sure it’s going to need it.

When I say piano, I don’t mean sheet music. I mean it’s sketched in a DAW, using a piano plugin. Usually it’s 3 parallel piano tracks. Some of it is played in, some of it clicked in with a mouse. Some great composers work with staff paper, but my reading skills, though I’m not totally incompetent at it, are too weak for that to be practical for me.

After I’ve completed the basic sketch, it’s a complete piece but it’s a little thin on the delicious flourishes and spices. So I have a process I follow whereby I add additional elements. I ask myself certain questions—I actually have these questions written down. I ask, for example: “are there places for high string activity above the main melody line”? I ask this because if I don’t, frequently the melody line will always be the “top line”—a piano foundation will sound good this way. But we often want the orchestra to be more “extended.” There are places where you want energy at higher frequency than your main line.

Other questions I ask: is there opportunity for ostinato that could add energy without distracting from the main line? Have I sufficiently used themes developed elsewhere in the project as counterpoint? Am I underutilizing low brass? (This is a tendency of mine I try to force myself to work against.)

So I go through those questions and add piano parts to flesh out the piece.

At this point, it’s all piano. I need to keep it piano because I just need to hear how the lines and harmony are working together, the “grammar” of the piece.

Then I go through the piano foundation and separate it into winds, brass and strings. It’s still using the piano sound: I don’t commit to any particular instrument yet. Some lines I will assign to two instruments—say, strings and winds—for doubling. This forces me to make sure each instrument is playing a line that is musically pleasing by itself, as well as part of the whole. If I had tried to start with samples instead of piano, it would be very hard to keep sight of the whole as I construct musically sensible lines.

With parts thus divided, then I open my orchestral template and start porting these piano lines over to the orchestra. Now I’ve gotta make it sound good, sound real. Nonetheless, it never starts sounding amazing until the end, and I always go through a period of insecurity, wondering whether this piece, orchestrated, will turn out bad. It never does, though: what sounds right on piano will always sound right orchestrated, if you do it sensibly. Maybe there will be a couple of adjustments, but if the foundation is strong, you can have confidence as you work.

It takes about 6 hours for each section. 6-9 for strings, 6 for brass, 6 for winds. Give or take.

Then I add percussion.

And finally, I add harp—the pixie dust that just makes everything magic. I have a few things I love to do with harp, but my favorite thing about harp is this: when I write my piece I try to keep the orchestra in constant motion. It’s undulating and flowing, never static. Even in quiet moments, it’s still usually vibrating with some kind of movement. But my arrangement—counterpoint, internal chord movement, trills, swells, etc.— always fails to fully complete this task. But harp plugs the holes. Harp can keep subtle movement going constantly. If you listen to my quietest passages, the harp is usually active, just bubbling under the main lines. I love this final stage, when this magical movement is added.

Then the mock-up is done. For some pieces, the next step is to chart it and add some live players. That adds yet more magic.

But the key to it all is that it starts with that rock solid piano foundation. If it’s not built on that, I don’t think you can have this amount of complexity and keep it cohesive. It’ll get away from you very quickly.

You asked about trial and error also. I do have a fairly extensive theoretical knowledge (mostly jazz based). And I also have some theoretical concepts that I have engineered on my own. Sometimes from analyzing John Williams or another composer, sometimes from my own discoveries. I don’t generally work atheoretically. I like to know what I’m doing.

That said, there is also some trial and error. I come to a chord, and I say to myself, “this needs more spice, more dissonance, but I’m not sure which note or notes to add to get it.” So I may resort to trial and error in this case. But once I’ve found that note, I seek to understand theoretically what role it’s playing, because that may affect what I do to get into or out of that chord, and of course I may want to use that concept again.

I believe the great composers—including Johnny—do continue to use trial and error to supplement their always growing knowledge.

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Yes, Pablo (I think that’s his name?) is a violinist, but he brings in others. I’ll let you know (and hear) the results for trumpet and flute in a few days! He’s doing two other pieces for me.

And yes, I just love the old Hollywood sound. It’s not so in-demand these days, but there are few composers who can really nail it, and I feel like I’m able to do it pretty convincingly, so when I find a project it’s right for, I am a happy composer.

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This piece really shows off the level of musicianship from esessionstrings. Those fast lines, runs, etc. they just nailed it. I asked for zero changes. It came back sounding amazing within a couple days of me sending the charts and the mock-up. I flew their parts into the mock-up session with almost no adjestmehts needed. It’s just so nice working with real world-class players. And unlike another off-site session pro service I’ve used, the recording quality was impeccable. They use U-87s and premium preamps and know how to mic the instruments.

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One more thing about trial and error: although I love theory, it’s also true that good voice leading will allow you to go from almost any point A to any point B. So trial and error, with that one rule—try to have most of your notes shift by only half steps or maybe whole steps, and tie it together with your top line melody and counterpoint—is Itself quite theoretically supported!

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I think it may not be in-demand, but I think it is enduring, and whenever anyone hears this style, it’s still very much loved. One one the reasons many of my favorite contemporary composers are Japanese is they still tend to write often with this style or quite similar.

From what I remember hearing of your music, you are very good at this style and I think the film/game world would do well to add more composers like you into the mix.

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Man, I’m trying to get into those worlds!! There are so many composers, and everybody’s work sounds like a million bucks.


Again very nice of you to take time to answer and so in detail. If I may ask, what would advice a person like me:
-I came into this late in my life (born 78)
-don’t read scores just understand them slightly
-am fairly musical don’t have perfect pitch but can hear music and play it if it’s not too complex and have some liking for it
-like most folk and orchestral stuff over hybrid

  1. Is it worth the time to learn scores properly?
    To be able to write anywhere anytime with high
    complexity ?
  2. Stick to be skilled in my daw?
  3. Are there any great work you would recommend study literature /recordings?
  4. Concentrate at orchestration or give time to get better at mixing also?

I’ve listened to your demos on your sites earlier, must say their quite inspiring.

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If you don’t mind my two cents, I’m in a similar position as yourself (born in '78 also!) but I have also been listening/playin classical music from an early age. I think that, while someone like Hans Zimmer proves you don’t need to go to Juliard to be successful at this, learning theory and doing score study and orchestration/composition in some formal manner, or even through mostly self-study as I have, is only going to be a huge asset to you.

Studying theory, especially harmony, will sharpen your ear even if you don’t have perfect pitch. You’ll eventually start to recognize different harmonies and understand how to apply them when composing–when you hear something in your head you want to write, you’ll have a good idea what it is your hearing and what to do with it. It will help if you want to write a specific style (if you want something to sound Middle Ages or Middle Eastern or Mozart for example) you’ll know where exactly to start.

Learning to read and do score study is beneficial in two ways; one, you can see, rather than just hear, what types of harmonies, scales, and composition methods a composer has used in a piece–how they got that sound–and you can use that as springboard in composing your own works. Two, you can visually see how a piece was orchestrated; what instruments were used, and what sort of parts they play.

By reading through some John Williams scores I have, I have written my own pieces (my Jurassic Park cover and my Deck The Halls re-orchestration for example) that use instrument combos and techniques he’s used and I then get a better understanding of what instruments sound well together or perform certain parts best, so it starts to become second nature now. Also, take your sample instruments and just play around with each instrument in solo to build up a memory of what it sounds like in different ranges and with different techniques. This way, when you hear some music in your head, you’ll know exactly which instrument it is, or, “hear” what the part might sound like played by different instruments.

Honestly, there’s no one right way to go about it. My method isn’t perfect and is still a work in progress, but when writing orchestral music, I do think there are some necessary foundations one needs to have and I think more successful composers than not have these foundations.


I agree with Matt. Try to get a little of everything. I do think taking an orchestration course or reading Adler’s book are both worthwhile. Spend a couple hours staring at a John Williams score.

However, I cannot emphasize enough that what works on piano will generally translate to the orchestra. Therefore, your ability to make a piano sound good is tantamount to your ability to orchestrate. Lean jazz theory and voice leading concepts if you don’t already know it, and learn to voice jazz chords with your hands. The same spacings that sound great in your hands will sound great in the orchestra.

I don’t think you need to be a good sightreader. I’m not. (Knowing how to translate sheet music is helpful, but being able to read fluently is not necessary.) But I think having pianistic instincts for what will sound great is very helpful. Sometimes I find that in my mind, I don’t know what the notes are that will sound right, but in my FINGERS, I know. I have to put my hands on the piano and THEN I see what the notes are.

I would love to listen to some of your work and get an idea of what directions you want to develop, and maybe we could do a zoom call and I could share some principles and ideas I use, maybe help you figure out the fastest way to get to where you want to go.

(To be clear: I’m not talking about a paid thing; I just love talking about composing and sharing discoveries.)

The piano is the orchestra! That is my first and main principle. (And it can be a midi, DAW-based piano. But spend time playIng it with your hands; don’t just sequence it.)


Totally agree with this, and I really want to level up my piano skills for this reason. How is your piano learning progress going by the way Everett?

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Thanks for very detailed answers @ComposerEverett and @MaestroX
You know how life is, I run a construction company also so time is the biggest obstacle. I’m in progress with two compositions that’s in line with what I like to write more of. Would gladly share them when their done. If you’d like to listen to it I’ll be most thankful, listen only if you have the time for it. IF I would be better at this in the future and would ask you for heavier help of course I’d compensate you for it.
This is my profile:
Since I was an infant I’ve heard my father play folk music violin for me so I always think violin in my head. But I learned piano and guitar so that’s what I play. Nowadays most piano. My skills are mediocre I play what I do quite good but can’t really play any classical heavier stuff.
I look up to:
Alan Menken
John Williams
Benny Andersson (Chess)
Ennio Morricone
Howard Shore
To name a few.


Thanks for asking! I’m playing better than I ever have in my life…but I have so far to go. I’m taking Zoom lessons from a guy named Ben Paterson. He’s so damn good. I don’t think I’ll ever reach his level. But he’s so encouraging. I need that, because I get easily discouraged with piano.

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I’m not a classical technician either. I have good pop chops and am beginning to sound somewhat legit playing jazz, although I’m pretty limited there.

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I’ll get my project done so I have something that sum up little of where I am composing wise then maybe we could take a Zoom occasion further ahead. At least for some music idea exchange.