How to make Hybrid Orchestral MusicToday your new learning journey will begin! You will learn how to create the hybrid orchestral style of music that has become hugely popular in modern movie, TV and game soundtracks. A mix of synthesizers, sound design and orchestral/acoustic instruments.

A blend of the classic beauty of the orchestra, and cutting edge modern sound design. Famous soundtracks in this hybrid orchestral style of music are many of Hans Zimmer’s modern scores, but of course many other composers have adopted this style.

Link to the Course: How to make Hybrid Orchestral Music

In this course you will learn:

  • The Fundamentals of Hybrid Orchestral Music
  • The Sounds of Hybrid Orchestral Music
  • The Synths & Sound Design of Hybrid Orchestral Music
  • The Guidelines of Hybrid Orchestral Music

You will learn all the essential ingredients of how to make hybrid orchestral music, but also great tips, tricks and guidelines on instrumentation, sound design, synthesizers, layering, arrangement, composition, production, mixing and much more. And I will share my favorite insights and secrets of this style of music so that you can start composing and producing hybrid orchestral tracks right away after you have taken this course.

So are you ready to learn how to make hybrid orchestral music like Hans Zimmer and many other famous modern composers? Then let’s get started, right now!

The Fundamentals of Hybrid Orchestral Music

Introduction to Hybrid Orchestral Music

Let’s start by defining what hybrid orchestral music is? And particularly the hybrid approach that Hans Zimmer have used in so many scores. The sound of this style is basically a mix of synthesizers, sound design elements and traditional orchestral and acoustic instruments…in a way that blends seamlessly together. So it is not a synth-focused soundtrack with some chords on orchestral strings on top. And it’s not an orchestral score with a synth pad in the background. The hybrid orchestral music style that this course will focus on, is the fusion of the sound of electronica with the sound of the orchestra.

Your First Action – Music Style Instinct

It is very important that you develop your ears and instincts for how this style of music sounds and works in practice. So I will give you a few examples of soundtracks you should listen to and analyse the details of. The most important aspects of the tracks I want you to become aware of are:

  • The Acoustic Instruments (orchestral instruments, piano, guitar etc.)
  • The Synthesizers & Samples (pads, plucks, arpeggios, drum samples etc.)
  • The Sound Design Elements (hits, transition effects etc.)
  • The Hybrid Layering & Blend (ostinato strings + synth pulse)
  • The Mix & Production Effects used (distortion, delay, reverb etc.)

Soundtracks to Analyze

  • The Dark Knight Soundtrack by Hans Zimmer
  • Inception Soundtrack by Hans Zimmer
  • Tron Legacy Soundtrack by Daft Punk

The point of this exercise, is to listen to hybrid orchestral music with a purpose. Not only listen for entertainment like we usually do, but listen actively, and analyze what is going on inside the music.  This is how you develop your ears and instincts for any style of music, including this one. When you feel ready, you can move on to the next video, and I’ll see you there my friends.

Electronic vs Orchestral Blend

Hybrid orchestral music is a blend of electronic and orchestral instruments, however, that blend can be tilted towards one or the other. Meaning the music can be more focused on the electronic sound, or the orchestral sound. Not only that, but the hybrid mix can change during the track itself. And on for example a soundtrack to a movie the electronic vs orchestral focus can be hugely different on a track by track basis, depending on the scene.

Example of Hybrid Orchestral Music with More Orchestral Focus

  • The Dark Knight – I’m not a Hero
  • Tron Legacy – Recognizer
  • Inception – Dream is Collapsing

Example of Hybrid Orchestral Music with more Electronic Focus

  • Tron Legacy – The Grid
  • Dune – Dream of Arrakis
  • Blade Runner 2049 – Memory

You can change the focus of your hybrid sound in your music in many ways. But here are some of the most common:

  • Instrumentation & Arranging (Electronic vs Acoustic)
  • Clean vs Processed (Sound Design vs Natural)
  • Layering & Dynamics (Focus & Power)
  • Levels & Space (Front vs Back)

The most important thing is that you are aware of the electronic vs orchestral blend of your music story. Try experimenting with the two sides of hybrid orchestral music: Electronic Focused vs Orchestral Focused. And don’t be afraid of changing the focus over time during your composition.

Epic vs Atmospheric

Hybrid orchestral music includes a huge range of overall sound and mood: from hard hitting trailer music to atmospheric underscores. The main ways you shape the overall sound, mood, energy and power of your hybrid orchestral music are:

  • Arrangement Density (Minimal vs Wall of Sound)
  • Percussion & Rhythmic Drive (Density & Layering)
  • Dynamics & Articulations (Whisper vs Power)
  • Sound Design & Processing (Clean vs Heavily Processed)
  • Mixing & Mastering (Space, Compression etc.)

The epic sound of hybrid orchestral music is favored in trailers and dramatic scores. While the atmospheric mood is very effective as a background emotional support in soundtracks, which leaves more room for vocals and sound effects.

Examples of Epic Hybrid Orchestral Tracks:

  • Audio Machine – Flames of War
  • Colossal Trailer Music – Will We Ever Die
  • Hans Zimmer – Dream is Collapsing (Inception)

Examples of Atmospheric Hybrid Orchestral Tracks:

  • Harry Gregson-Williams – See you on the Other Side (Call of Duty)
  • Jeremy Soule – Ancient Stones (Skyrim)
  • Thomas Bergersen – Enigmatic Soul

Example of In Between Epic & Atmospheric Track: Daft Punk – Disc Wars (Tron Legacy)

Practice creating the 2 extremes of hybrid orchestral music: epic vs atmospheric. But also try to find the gradients in between. Meaning for example dramatic action without becoming too epic. Or subtle underscore, without becoming too ambient. Good luck and have fun experimenting with the Epic vs Atmospheric blend of hybrid orchestral music.

The Guidelines & Sounds of Hybrid Orchestral Music

Now it’s time for you to learn about the guidelines and foundations of hybrid orchestral music. You will learn about the main instruments and sounds used. The articulations and performance styles. The arrangements, layering, sound design and composition essentials of hybrid orchestral music. But please be aware that these are guidelines, tips and foundations. Not rules you have to always follow. With all that being said, let’s start the exploration of the essence of hybrid orchestral music, right now!

Hybrid Percussion

Percussion is at the very core of hybrid orchestral music, because percussion can provide the core energy and pulse of your music. The first aspect is the hybrid layering of different types of percussion. Traditional Orchestral Percussion like orchestral bass drums, concert toms, snare drums etc. The next type of percussion often used in hybrid orchestral are the World Percussion Instruments, which are all the percussion that are traditional to a specific culture or region in the world. But they are then placed in the same domain as the traditional orchestral percussion with the use of reverb, to create that cinematic sound. These drums can be anything from big Japanese taiko drums, to frame drums, to hand drums and shakers from different parts of the world. Then we get to the Classic Acoustic Drum Kit, which can be another layer used in some hybrid orchestral music. And finally we have the Sound Design Percussion which can range anywhere from Electronic Drum Kits to any type of percussive sounds based on samples and sound design. Most often your will focus on that cinematic percussion sound, meaning the big room reverb. But also the low range focus meaning a tilt towards the deep sound and lower frequencies. This is because in hybrid orchestral music you want to leave room in the mid range focus frequencies and high range clarity frequencies to: voices and sound effects. The hybrid percussion is there for that core rhythm, energy and power. This means that you can go hard on filters, EQs, saturation etc. to shape both the individual parts of your percussion mix, as well as the overall tone of your percussion group.

Hybrid Rhythm

In most hybrid orchestral scores, there is a lot of focus on the drive and pulse in the music. Much more so than melodies and harmonies. In combination with the percussion, the instruments that provide the rhythmic drive is what sets the energy of your music. It can be anything from subtle pulses to dramatic action energy to rhythmic riffs and grooves. Again, with a hybrid approach. Which means that you can combine any blend between classic orchestral instrumental rhythms, to synthesizer rhythms to pulses created from effects and sound design. The main articulations for acoustic instruments are the short  ones like: spiccato, staccato, pizzicato etc. And on synthesizers you can do anything from short pluck sounds to sweeping arpeggios. Here are some of the essential rhythmic performances in hybrid orchestral music: Ostinatos (mainly on strings, but can also be on synthesizers), Staccatos (mainly on orchestral instruments), Pizzicatos (strings or harp), Comping Rhythms (guitar strumming or synthesizer chord repetitions), Arpeggios (on any attack-focused instrument/sound), Synth Pulses (especially in the low range), Rhythmic Textures (made from effects like rhythmic gates and envelopes), Repeat Riffs (guitars, mixed short note performances etc.).

Low End Focus

There is a lot of focus on the low end in hybrid orchestral music. Both with percussive sounds, as well as bass instruments and all instruments with melodic focus. Not only is the focus within the orchestration and arrangement generally weighted towards the lower range octaves. But the bass and low end is more processed and hyped. This comes from a good amount of layering sounds and parts in the lower range for an overall bigger sound. For example: layering ensembles with various section sizes and overall tone. Layering parts with huge depth and space with more focused and up front sounds, and so on. The low end is also often boosted by adding clarity and focus from hybrid sound design parts and synthesizers that help beef up the low end. For example: sub basses, low pulses, deep pads etc. And finally, even in the production and mixing stage, the low end is hyped and boosted by saturation, compression, EQs and filters to not only make it bigger and louder, but also have more power and presence in the overall mix.

Accents & Power

Hybrid orchestral music, and specifically the epic and action versions of this genre, are heavily focused on: accents and power. Strong dynamic articulations, high overall levels and loudness, and powerful accents based on both the sounds themselves as well as layering. Basically an overall very powerful and bold sound. This focus on accents and power can come from sounds and performances like: epic and hyped versions of orchestral and acoustic percussion, sound design elements like braams and power notes, massive hits and booms, orchestral stabs, bold marcato notes, impacts, metal hits and crashes and so on. And of course from a lot of accented layering, and a high amount of saturation and compression to create a dense wall of sound.

Atmospheric Mood

The focus of soundtrack music and any type of music for media like movies, TV, games etc. is to create an emotional tone and overall mood in the music. This is particularly true for hybrid orchestral music. As a result this style of music is most often way more focused on creating a sound world and atmosphere, and less on memorable melodies and harmonic progressions. Sounds and performances like drones and pedal tones are very common, pads and string carpets of all colors are very much used, as well as all kinds of ambient textures that can be based on real acoustic recordings or synthesized sounds. There is also a more open mind towards applying automation and modulation effects on orchestral and acoustic instruments such as LFO’s to add motion to sounds and so on. And finally, you can be very creative with the use of different rooms and settings on reverb effects, as well as delay effects, to create a more atmospheric and cinematic sound.

Hybrid Contrast

I would say that there are 2 main ways of arranging your instruments and sounds in hybrid orchestral music. The first way is what I call “hybrid contrast”. By this I mean that your orchestral instruments and your electronic instruments, both work against each other in a complimentary way. For example: you may have an ostinato performance on staccato strings, with a synth pad as the complimentary harmonic addition. Or perhaps you have long chords on strings, backed up with orchestral double basses in the low end…but you have an arpeggio electro synth sound on top of this. The point is that you create a contrast in the hybrid mix, and don’t try to for example hide the electronic instruments in an otherwise orchestral focused composition, or vice versa. Hybrid contrast is about complimentary sounds, but from the different worlds: electronic vs orchestral.

Hybrid Layering

Now the other main way of creating that hybrid orchestral sound, is not to layer to create contrast between electronic vs orchestral sounds. But to layer them in a way that makes them more or less blend into each other. I call this “hybrid layering”, as it is essentially to merge similar sounds in the electronic vs orchestral domain. For example: ostinato strings with an ostinato pluck synth, long strings playing chords with the same performance played on a synth pad. Or an orchestral double bass part with a deep bass synth. The point is not to hide the neither the electronic nor the orchestral sound, but to blend them together into a new hybrid sound, where 2 instruments and performances in each style will have a similar main character. And as a result the listener will feel a more layered and mixed overall sound in the music, as opposed to contrasting electronic vs orchestral parts.

Building Tension

So in hybrid orchestral music, the main focus is to create a mood in your music. An atmosphere, a core energy, and overall emotion. Using various types of tension adding articulations in your acoustic instruments, as well as synths and sound design elements with a built-in degree of tension, can be a great way to get this added emotion and overall mood, without having to change the harmonic progression as much, or to focus on melodic variation. So basically you could use one single chord for a longer section, and still have great expression, movement and interest in your music…all based on ways to create and shape the tension and mood over time. Some examples to do this with acoustic instruments are: clusters and aleatoric performances, harmonics or articulations that aim to change the tone of your sound, tremolos and trills of different intervals, glissandos, flutter-tonguing and growls, as well as rips and falls. In the electronic and sound design domain you have infinite possibilities with various tension textures and atmospheric sounds, as well as various ways to shape sounds with effects like distortion, bit-crushing, granular effects etc. And of course you can also force glissandos and shape the pitch curve on any instrument using pitch-bend automation.

Cinematic Sound Mix

Hybrid orchestral music is a blend of electronic sounds and orchestral sounds. But in most cases they will all be produced and mixed with a cinematic sound. I know the word cinematic when it comes to music can be a bit vague, so let me clarify with some practical examples. The first aspect is depth and space in terms of reverb. So even if you use synths, electric guitars, sound effects etc. they will mixed with a big room sound, so they blend well with your orchestral instruments. The second aspect is spatial movement, which can come from delay effects, and rhythmic stereo modulation effects like tremolo. Then there are all other forms of automation curves that focus on adding movement and expression, like dynamic curves, stereo panning LFOs, filter sweeps etc. all help in getting a cinematic sound. And in terms of tone, cinematic music will in most cases be tilted towards a warm and deep overall tone, meaning more focus on the lower range frequencies. And finally, a wide stereo image is often created both with panning…but also from stereo widening effects.

Creative Sound Design

I believe that being creative with sound design is at the core of hybrid orchestral music. But sound design can mean many different things. It can be unusual ways to perform articulations on an acoustic instrument. It can be interesting ways to synthesize sounds. It can be creative layering of samples. It can be unorthodox automation and modulation effects on orchestral and acoustic instruments. And of course it can be any number of ways to shape your instruments and performances with added effects. But it all comes down to being creative in terms of sound design when you create the sound world that your final piece of music will become. To think outside the box, and push the boundaries outside the usual pure orchestral sound or pure electronic sound.

Epic Processing

The word epic is a bit like cinematic, vague and may mean different things to different people. But with I am referring to with this guideline is epic processing as in over-the-top and hyped mixing, effects and production. As opposed to traditional orchestral music where the overall sound and production should be as natural as possible. The main ways to achieve this epic processing is with: heavy compression, good use of analog saturation and distortion, harmonic exciters, sub bass generation, and other types of effects that will add more power and density to your hybrid orchestral music.

Harmonic Stability

The focus in most hybrid orchestral music is more about creating a world of sound, an emotional tone, and basically set the mood…which means that you can generally keep the harmonic language less complex. Especially when it comes to chord changes overall, you can as a guideline hold the chords for longer, use fairly simple chord progressions and so on. This is the concept I call “harmonic stability”. Instead you add interest and expression with movement, motion and flow…as opposed to chord changes. This guideline can be applied to the melodies as well, keeping them simpler and generally with longer notes. In the extreme cases you can keep the fundamental chord for many measures of music, and simply riff around this chord with all your instruments and sounds of your music. Things like evolving drones, moving pads and dynamic string carpets, ostinatos etc. are all very common in hybrid orchestral music to create interest and expression while still keeping the harmonic language of your chord progressions simple and stable.

Motion Minded

I would say that movement and motion is at the essence of hybrid orchestral music. One way to add motion is with rhythm and pulse, but another is to add movement in your performances. And movement can be applied in so many different ways. One of the main ways is of course to shape the dynamics over time with dynamic curves or level automation. You can of course use LFO’s or envelopes to add movement to any parameter in your synthesizers or effects. But there are also performance articulations you can use on acoustic instruments that have a built in movement in them. Like vibrato, tremolo, crescendos/swells etc. And you can also use various types of motion creating effects both on electronic instruments as well as the orchestral instruments.

Sound Design Elements

You will use a lot of sound design elements in hybrid orchestral music. Mainly based on samples of sounds as well as synthesizers, and generally heavily processed with effects. I would categorize the main types of sound design elements in these categories: percussive hits, power notes, transitions, and ambience. Some practical examples are: sub booms and low rumbles. Massive hits and destruction sounds. Braahms and processed marcato articulations. Risers, downers and whooshes as transitions. And various soundscapes that can be both tonal or unpitched background noise.

Sticks & Shimmer

Sticks, clicks, and any type of ticking and tocking is incredibly popular to use in hybrid orchestral music. Especially the more atmospheric styles. The great part about clicking sounds is that you can easily create it yourself by sampling practically anything you hit with a stick, brush or even your fingers. There are of course many instruments dedicated to these types of sounds as well. For example: stick hits, rim hits, clocks, small metal hits etc. All will provide a nice atmospheric background rhythm in the higher frequencies. Hybrid orchestral music also often use sounds that I categorize as shimmer. Things like different kinds of shakers, bowing or scraping metal objects like cymbals, gongs etc. And of course many types of cymbal hits, from ride cymbal rhythms to cymbal swells for transitions.