Virtual Instruments

I bought myself a great Christmas present – a copy of Garritan’s ‘Personal Orchestra’. The sounds of each instrument of the orchestra, plus a Steinway piano, have been sampled for this software, which can be used to play the music recorded into sequencers and notation programs. It’s great to hear my music for violin and piano played on a Stradivarius and a Steinway!

With a MIDI keyboard, or other MIDI-enabled controller connected, ‘Personal Orchestra’ can also be played ‘live’ and it’s really motivating to explore ideas when the auditory feedback is so good! It’s reminded me of the importance of putting good quality, and well-tuned,  instruments into the hands of beginners.

I’d be the last person to suggest that a prospective instrumentalist should play at a computer if they have access to a real instrument of appropriate quality and have some realistic prospect of learning to play it. I’m sure, though, that many would achieve greater musical satisfaction and development by by working with virtual instruments. Never having played the violin, to date, I’m too old, and have too little available time, to have any real hope of becoming the violinist I can hear playing in my imagination but, with this software, it wouldn’t seem such an outlandish idea.

Computer-based resources can often be accessed by disabled people using special access systems. On the Garritan website, there are examples of ways in which the, Edinburgh-based,  Drake Music Project is using Garritan virtual instruments with disabled players ( ). One is a recording of an 18-year old woman with cerebral palsy realising her dream to play Massenet’s “Meditation”. She is using the Garritan Stradivari Solo Violin with E-Scape software developed by the Drake Music Project. (

Guitar after a stroke

This afternoon, I’ve been replying to a website visitor who is trying to find a way for a guitarist to continue playing after a stroke affecting the left-hand side of the body. I thought this reply might also be of interest to others:

“If your guitarist has some use of his left hand, he might be able to play a Suzuki Q Chord, a sort of combination of electronic keyboard and guitar. There are many ways of using this versatile instrument, the most guitar-like of which is to press chord buttons with the left hand and strum various patterns on the ‘strum-plate’ with the right. The internal sounds are pretty good but the Q-chord can also be connected to an external MIDI device such as a sound card or guitar-sampler. (See:

The simplest, and cheapest, solution might be a customised version of GridPlay software. Gridplay, published by my own company, The Full Pitcher Music Resources, is a (Windows) software instrument that can be played by means of the mouse. Each GridPlay package has 15 grids, each a mini-application in which the instrument is configured in a different way. It can be used with the nothing more than the internal sound-system but it also has a full MIDI specification and like the Q-chord can be used with other software/hardware synthesizers and samplers. (see:, for demos of a standard package and for more information about customisation for special needs). Grids could be prepared using guitar sounds and various scales, arpeggios, block chords/ strum patterns.

I know that a stroke often has a negative impact on learning and recall but, if this does not apply to your gentleman, the Sibelius G7 software has great guitar samples and provides an excellent way for an experienced guitarist to channel their musical energies into composing for the instrument. A Suzuki Q-chord or a GridPlay/MIDIgrid software package could be used to play the music for recording/editing in G7. (see:

Update 7/02/2014: What do you all think of this? Ian Pearce can play again, after 47 years, with this adapted guitar: