Orchestral Libraries with NO Key Switches?

I need suggestions on Orchestral Libraries that are Playable

So the reason I have been a fan of Sample Modeling Brass (and looking forward to the future of physical modeling) is that I hate key switches. I hate them! :stuck_out_tongue:

I also hate having to load articulations on separate tracks, it makes no sense to me at all. I want to play an instrument. I want ONE instrument per track, and to be able to play that instrument with my keyboard + MOD-wheel + Breath Controller + CC faders etc.

So, let’s share a big list of all orchestral plugins and libraries that are actually playable without using those god awful key switches in the performance. Something I can play live with CC-modulation, velocity etc. Here are some I know:

  • Sample Modeling: Brass + Strings
  • SWAM: Strings + Woodwinds
  • Infinite Series: Brass + Woodwinds

What else is out there my fellow composers?! :smiley:


Virharmonic Bohemian violin can do pretty great stuff out of the box. I like it.

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i am not sure but i think that in the last library of vienna , smart orchestra, you can change the articulation with the mod wheel

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What I am looking for is being able to play anything from short notes to long notes, change legato transitions, vibrato etc. without using any key switching at all. Will check it out and see how it works in that library. :slight_smile:

I know VSL has that, and while it is doable it is very very hard to know exactly what articulation you will get when using MOD-wheel to change them.

Spitfire’s “Originals” Epic Strings, and Epic Brass and Woodwinds, have various articulations, but this one caught my attention, in view of this topic (from their website):

"…This library contains 11 string articulations:

Live — incorporates longs and shorts into a single playable patch…"

(It then lists the other articulations - the Epic Brass & Woodwinds also have a “Live” articulation).
Even though you obviously have better libraries, these could be ok for quickly sketching ideas, at least? No keyswitches in sight…! :wink:

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Ah that sounds interesting. I am still hoping for a new era of software instruments that can be performed and recorded live into my DAW without using those awful programmed key switches to add variation and expression into the parts.

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I think there are some problems with “smart” articulations and properly expressive virtual instruments, no matter how you turn it…

One way or another, you need to indicate what exactly you want the instrument to do. Sure, velocity sensitivity, aftertouch, breath controllers etc can technically allow you to play expressively - but you have to get the velocity, aftertouch, modwheel, timing etc just right to actually get the articulation you intend. I believe the main reason for the popularity of pre-selecting articulations with key switches or similar is that it doesn’t really demand anything extra from the actual playing, so it makes the instruments directly accessible to anyone who can play a standard keyboard controller or similar.

I like the BBC2 and the Touché, and I have no doubt I’ll love the Osmose - but using them is not very different from playing the cello or violin! They’re fun and easy to play around with for effect, but actually playing expressively, in a controlled fashion, requires a fair bit of focused training, and some techniques (like vibrato) can take years to master.

So, we’re starting to see technology that literally turns “synths” into infinitely expressive, real instruments, but how many will put in the time to learn playing them properly? TBH, the difficulty/results ratio has not been enough for me to seriously practice with the BBC2 or Touché. I spend that time on the violin, cello, and vocals instead, because they’re still much more inspiring, and learning those techniques feels like a safer investment somehow. If the Osmose is anything like I expect, it might be a game changer here, but even though it has more in common with the standard keyboard than prior attempts, I don’t think it can be played to its full potential without lots of training.

Finally, there is still this issue of interpreting input, and rendering it as audio, in the context of realistic virtual instruments. Sample libraries need to add substantial latency to have a chance of figuring out which articulations to select, as you can’t just switch samples at any random moment. Key switches sort of circumvent that, as they’re inaudible “out-of-band” information, allowing the player to make a final, unambiguous decisions well before playing the actual notes. Physical modelling and similar tend to generate sound on the fly, rather than “branching” within a limited set of samples, so that would seem to improve matters, but only by so much. After all, the main reason sample libraries tend to have “delays” (even with key switches) is that real instruments have various audible onset phenomena going on, and those are really supposed to happen before the actual notes. The Osmose sensing the very moment you touch a key might help with this, but ordinary keyboards just don’t transmit any information at all until the key is fully down.

So… Bottom line is, this is a much more complicated problem than it may seem at first, and most “solutions” just cause more problems than they solve.

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Great points David, and I agree it is very difficult to achieve real playability with any software instrument however clever it is implemented. However, one has to continue dreaming! :wink:

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We’ll forever dream of the Holy Grail (directly controlling instruments with our minds or something) - but we definitely are moving in the right general direction. :slight_smile:

I believe the turning point will be when an aspiring soloist might decide to pick up some form of expressive digital instrument, as a legitimate alternative to violin or saxophone. Synths and controllers need much more focus on true expression and virtuoso level playability for that to happen - but I think we’re getting there.

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Indeed, and I believe the best of both worlds is the current most interesting compromise. Meaning samples with very clever scripting (like Infinite Series).

By any chance, have you tried Leap Motion to control expression with any time? I’ve seen it used for this, and while it seems very difficult it seems very very fast in response which I find particularly important if let’s say I am to control articulations with it.

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My younger son has a Leap Motion, actually, but I still haven’t gotten around to try using it as a MIDI controller! Now I’m wondering if it might serve as an “air bow” for modeled bowed strings and the like… I’m not quite sure how one would do that otherwise, as you need at least three dimensions (bowing, weight, sul pont/sul tasto position) - four if you want to select string with it as well.

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I agree Mike. I hate key switches as well. Mainly because I am a poor piano player. I was actually giving serious consideration to the Infinite Series.

In the past I have tried to create my own articulation sets in Logic Pro, but I rarely can get them to work correctly.

I also purchased Art conductor and Audiogrocery. AG is impossible for me to grasp. AC I find works sometimes. I tried it on VSL did not work on all articulations listed and I couldn’t get it to work at all with Spitfire.

I just end up drawing in the keyswitches into the piano roll. Very time consuming

Yes Jonathan, and another huge problem with key switches is that there is no standard for which keys trigger what articulation. It will always be different with every single plugin and library. So it is literally impossible to “remember” them. The very idea to use keys which are meant to trigger notes as a way to switch articulations is dumb imho. :stuck_out_tongue:

If there would be some MIDI standard for articulations, with a separate lane in the DAW to record them, at least that would be a better way than the current standard. At least from my view.

I agree with you 1000%. I don’t use a separate lane. I just use the piano roll for now.

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Maybe you should be looking for a controller like this instesd of just the software


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This is interesting.

Roli keyboard

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These are very interesting indeed, and there are some other options as well. However, I feel that anything that loses the mechanical feel and feedback is problematic, or at least, difficult two learn to play expressively.

I also think anything that isn’t fast and sensitive enough to accurately register percussive tapping and the like is missing out on a whole dimension of expression. The Expressive E Touché really opened up my eyes to that aspect. Even though it’s “just” an alternative to wheels and pedals, it already starts to make synths feel like real instruments. You can just wire it to a noise generator and a filter, and play that much like a brushed snare drum; that’s how responsive it is.

So, I’m awaiting an early bird Osmose! Basically an array of Touchés, hopefully without losing too much of the feel and playability of the traditional keyboard.

Now, how/when these devices will be properly usable in a virtual orchestral setting, I’m not sure, but I think we’ll figure it out eventually. After all, the instruments we’re trying to model have been in development for hundreds of years (though it’s mostly subtle tweaks and use of modern materials these days), and we’re still making progress on the learning and playing of them - so reaching the corresponding level on the virtual/synth side isn’t going to happen overnight either.