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. (

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