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The Sampled Orchestra: Part 7

The Kitchen Strikes Back By Dave Stewart
Published January 2018

The Sampled Orchestra

Symphonic percussion joins forces with ethnic drums in the modern Hybrid Orchestra.

Classical musicians of yesteryear used to refer jokingly to the percussion section as ‘the kitchen department’. This highbrow take on today’s ‘three musicians and a drummer’ joke likened percussion to the noisy clatter of pots and pans, a view I doubt Evelyn Glennie would share. Unsurprisingly, the BBC’s ‘Orchestras and Singers — Guide to the Orchestra’ archived web page perpetuates this old-fashioned attitude, adding the off-colour aside, “What is a percussion instrument? Well, in the simplest terms it’s something you hit that isn’t your brother or sister!” Other descriptions from the same source include: “The piano was originally used in the orchestra to add strength to weak bits of music,” and “The xylophone is made of bits of wood that are tuned to different notes.” Dumbing down, or what?

Thankfully, despite such outdated stereotyping, percussion has thrown off its chains, broken out of the imaginary ‘kitchen’ and now occupies its own suite in the palatial mansion of modern orchestral music. In this article we’ll explore the role of traditional symphonic percussion and explore how it’s been supplemented by non-Western instruments in film and TV soundtracks.


The principal orchestral percussion instrument is the timpani, a large, resonant, thin-shelled metal drum made in various sizes which plays in the bass register and can be tuned according to the needs of the music. The drum evolved from 12th-entury military ‘kettledrums’ to become the aristocracy’s cavalry signalling instruments, thereafter rising even higher up the social scale to symbolise the power of the crown: players were regarded as equal in rank to officers and dressed in the same way as knights (no kitchen duties there, then).

Timpani play a vital role in orchestral music. A pedal attachment enables these tuned drums to change pitch quickly during a performance.Timpani play a vital role in orchestral music. A pedal attachment enables these tuned drums to change pitch quickly during a performance.

Timpani were originally tuned manually with rim lugs in the manner of tom toms and snare drums, but a design breakthrough in the 1870s enabled players to set pitch with a pedal attachment, which also made comedic glissando effects possible. Nowadays, it’s common to find sets of four timpani on the orchestral stage, though some compositions call for more. The standard timp diameters are 32, 29, 26 and 23 inches, with pitch rising as size decreases; each drum has a range of roughly a sixth and can quickly be tuned to any note within that span, thus allowing composers to write melodic timpani figures in any key.

Its deep, clear pitch places the timpani in the unique position of being both a bass and a percussion instrument.

In the words of the Philharmonia Orchestra’s Principal Timpanist Andy ‘Thumper’ Smith, “The modern timpani bridges the gap between the double bass section and the percussion section”. This vital contribution to the overall sound has led some to say that the timpanist is, after the leader, probably the most important member of the orchestra. You can see Mr. Smith demonstrating (but not thumping) his instrument at

Symphonic Staples

Other staple orchestral percussion instruments include bass drum, snare drum, cymbals and gong. Played with a heavy felt-covered mallet, the orchestral bass drum (aka gran cassa) makes the same kind of hefty thump as a rock kick drum, but the sound is deeper, more resonant and sustaining; loud strikes and rolls blast out like cannon fire, while the gong-like sustain of single quiet strokes can be wonderfully sombre and menacing.

Five staple orchestral percussion instruments. Clockwise from the left: bass drum, tam-tam gong, side drum, piatti cymbals, suspended cymbal (not to scale).Five staple orchestral percussion instruments. Clockwise from the left: bass drum, tam-tam gong, side drum, piatti cymbals, suspended cymbal (not to scale).

As in rock and marching bands, a bang on the bass drum is often accompanied by a deafening cymbal crash. In orchestral music, this is created by a pair of large, hand-held cymbals called piatti (plates) which are clashed together at dramatic moments, creating an explosive percussive ‘splash’, which can be heard above the sound of the entire orchestra. For more subtle sonorities, a single cymbal, played with sticks or soft-headed mallets, is used; the cymbal was originally hung on a strap from a gooseneck-style stand, though these have largely been replaced by conventional rock-style hardware. Nevertheless, the term ‘suspended cymbal’ persists.

The snare drum, also known as side drum, was inducted into the orchestra in the second half of the 18th century. Adapted from the medieval two-headed tabor drum, its crisp, buzzing sound is created by strands of wire stretched across the lower head. Due to its history on the battlefield, composers often feature the side drum in militaristic works; Beethoven’s Wellington’s Victory used two (one representing each army), along with rattles and off-stage ‘cannons’ (large bass drums). More recently, film composers James Horner and Joel McNeely used them for send-in-the-marines scenes in their respective scores for Aliens (1986) and Soldier (1998). During this period snare drums were all the rage in orchestral media music, but their popularity has subsequently dwindled.

Not to be confused with the tuned gongs of South-East Asia (of which more later), the orchestral tam-tam gong is a large, unpitched metal percussion instrument which dates back to sixth-century China. Having first appeared in the orchestra in the 1790s, it emerged as a fully fledged member of the percussion group in the 20th century, when composers such as Stravinsky began to exploit its diverse tonal range. The tam-tam is extremely dynamic, producing anything from an ominous, muted bassy growl to an explosive roar of unpitched noise which is loud enough to wake the dead. In his Treatise On Instrumentation (1843), the composer Berlioz characterises the instrument as “only used in compositions of a dirge-like character and for dramatic scenes of the utmost horror”. Sounds ideal for The X Factor — however, the composer does go on to admit, “Its vibrations have an awe-inspiring quality.”

In his splendidly bad-tempered treatise, Berlioz reserves his harshest criticism for the over-use of bass drums in orchestral works, ranting, “…it is without doubt the bass drum that has caused the greatest havoc and introduced most nonsense and vulgarity in modern music”, and “…the strong beat of every bar is struck, the orchestra is crushed, the voices obliterated; nothing is left, neither melody, nor harmony, nor line; even the tonality barely emerges.” Oh dear. Lord knows what this grumpy Frenchman would have made of today’s drum-heavy, harmonically impoverished trailer music.

The Sampled Orchestra

Orchestral Percussion Playing Styles

Diagram 1: A banging timpani pattern from Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra.Diagram 1: A banging timpani pattern from Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra.Orchestral percussion benefits from a long tradition of dramatic playing styles, some of which arose from historic limitations: due to the fact that the original ‘kettledrums’ were carried around in pairs (either on horseback or on the back of a boy walking in front of the player!), 19th-century composers usually wrote for two timpani which were conventionally tuned a fourth apart, with the higher drum tuned to the key note of the piece.

Diagram 2: These simple timpani figures are an easy way of adding instant grandeur to a score.Diagram 2: These simple timpani figures are an easy way of adding instant grandeur to a score.A classic example can be heard in the opening of Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra (aka the theme music of 2001: A Space Odyssey), which we looked at in last month’s article. After the initial huge ‘ta-da’ fanfare, the timpanist belts out the pattern shown in Diagram 1 in his own time, while the rest of the orchestra look on admiringly. This bombastic, two-fisted lick alternates between a low G and the key note of C above: such ‘dominant to tonic’ movements are often heard in classical scores, and although something of a cliché, they create by association an immediate atmosphere of regal pomp.

Being a big, dominant sound, timpani don’t need a busy part to make their mark — a single note placed on the downbeat, or emphasising a chord change, immediately imparts a sense of drama. Simple timpani figures like those shown in Diagram 2 are an easy way of adding instant grandeur to your score: the first features the above-mentioned ‘dominant to tonic’ upward fourth movement, examples two and three show a downbeat preceded by (respectively) fast double and triple notes, while the fourth is a straight double hit on the top of a bar. In the first three patterns, the final note should be played louder than the pickup notes.

Diagram 3: This repeated 5/4 single-note timpani pattern underpins the opening 39 bars of Gustav Holst’s ‘Mars, The Bringer Of War’.Diagram 3: This repeated 5/4 single-note timpani pattern underpins the opening 39 bars of Gustav Holst’s ‘Mars, The Bringer Of War’.As well as such simple interjections, timps can provide a strong pulse. Gustav Holst’s ‘Mars, the Bringer of War’ from The Planets suite opens with the 5/4 bass riff notated in Diagram 3, played by a single timpani, two harps and low-register strings (played col legno, with the back of the bow), underpinned by a sustained tam-tam roll. The piece starts quietly and ominously, insistently repeating the ostinato bass pattern while a menacing low tune and ascending, slow-building chord progression develop and build inexorably over 39 bars. Though the timpani pattern never varies during this passage, the music undergoes constant dynamic change, a key factor in creating overall organic feel.

Diagram 4: The crescendo roll, arguably the most ear-grabbing orchestral percussion playing style of all. This example requires separate patches for the roll (marked ‘tr’ for trill) and the final accented single hit.Diagram 4: The crescendo roll, arguably the most ear-grabbing orchestral percussion playing style of all. This example requires separate patches for the roll (marked ‘tr’ for trill) and the final accented single hit.The most ear-grabbing orchestral percussion playing style of all is arguably the timpani crescendo roll, which starts quietly and builds in volume before reaching an intense climax in an exciting final surge. Diagram 4 shows a crescendo roll performed over two beats, culminating in an accented single hit on the downbeat: this requires separate patches for the roll and the hit. Orchestral percussion libraries supply rolls of different lengths which can be manipulated to fit the tempo of your track. I do this by finding a sample that roughly fits (best judged by turning off the music and listening to it against the click), recording a MIDI note in roughly the right place, then dragging its start point around till the final ‘whoosh’ coincides exactly with the target downbeat. You can then add the final accented single hit, which in my experience usually helps to drive the point home.

Diagram 5: These handy keyboard mappings duplicate timpani samples in twin keyboard zones, making it easy to programme fast rhythm patterns and repeated notes with two hands. (From top: Vienna Symphonic Library, Orchestral Tools Berlin Percussion, EWQL Hollywood Orchestral Percussion.)Diagram 5: These handy keyboard mappings duplicate timpani samples in twin keyboard zones, making it easy to programme fast rhythm patterns and repeated notes with two hands. (From top: Vienna Symphonic Library, Orchestral Tools Berlin Percussion, EWQL Hollywood Orchestral Percussion.)This hugely effective device also sounds great played on an orchestral bass drum or large tam-tam gong — the latter is particularly hair-raising, sounding like a tube train rushing into an Underground station. For a more subtle effect, suspended cymbal crescendo rolls played with mallets produce a beautiful, swelling ‘swoosh’, a fabulous way of starting a musical passage. But if you need something a tad more cataclysmic, a timp roll leading to the massive, full-frequency percussive hit shown in Diagram 6 might be more up your street.

For those interested in the finer points of timpani programming, I recommend Sascha Knorr’s deconstruction ‘Timpani Escapades Screencast’ at

Mallet Percussion

Diagram 6: A timp roll leading to layered bass drum, timpani, tam-tam and piatti crash cymbals loud hits creates an ear-splitting, full-frequency percussive bash.Diagram 6: A timp roll leading to layered bass drum, timpani, tam-tam and piatti crash cymbals loud hits creates an ear-splitting, full-frequency percussive bash.If clobbering drums and smashing cymbals represent the orchestra’s violent side, a softer, more magical and colourful sound world awaits in the shape of tuned percussion. Mallet instruments such as the xylophone, marimba and vibraphone now feature in many orchestral works. The xylophone is an ancient instrument found in many cultures: played with plastic or wooden-headed beaters, its modern incarnation has a bright, piercing tone and an extended high range. The bold, childlike sound of its wooden bars lends itself to playful humorous settings, though some composers have seized upon a darker side, notably in Danse Macabre and The Carnival Of The Animals where Saint-Saëns uses the xylophone’s somewhat dry, brittle tone to suggest the rattling of skeleton and fossil bones.

Mallet percussion — clockwise from top left, xylophone, marimba, vibraphone (not to scale).Mallet percussion — clockwise from top left, xylophone, marimba, vibraphone (not to scale).

The big brother of the xylophone is the marimba, a wonderfully rich-sounding, sonorous instrument blessed with a surprisingly long sustain in its low register. Though it superficially resembles its smaller relative, the marimba’s softer sound and wide range (which extends deep into the bass register) set it apart. In fact, the two instruments emanate from different cultures: the marimba’s dark, woody timbre has African roots, its resonator tubes owing their design to the calabash gourds traditionally used in marimba construction in Congo and Tanzania.

The marimba plays a starring role in a soundtrack that has become probably the most plagiarised in the history of film music: ‘Dead Already’ from Thomas Newman’s American Beauty opens with a catchy marimba riff in 6/4 time, based on a simple, bluesy Cm7 to F movement. In this cue the marimba is played with medium-hard mallets, giving an incisive, slightly ‘knocky’ note attack. Played with softer mallets, the instrument blossoms into a lovely full, lyrical, sustaining timbre which is beautifully demonstrated in percussionist Jisu Jung’s performance of ‘Land’ by Takatsugu Muramatsu — check it out at

Diagram 7: Simple two-handed ostinato patterns are very effective when played on marimba with soft mallets.Diagram 7: Simple two-handed ostinato patterns are very effective when played on marimba with soft mallets.When it comes to tuned perc, a personal predilection is for two-handed ostinato marimba patterns such as the example shown in Diagram 7. This simple eighth-note minor-key figure is supported by a continual A-C-B-C left-hand accompaniment — played quietly on a sampled marimba soft mallets patch, it creates a mesmeric, soft woody rippling. While the marimba sounds magnificent in the low to middle register, its top notes lack resonance, so might be better assigned to the low register of the xylophone in a sampled arrangement.

Developed in the USA at the time of the First World War, the vibraphone has metal bars and a long, piano-like sustain. Motor-driven spinning disks positioned on top of its resonators create the instrument’s distinctive pulsating, floaty vibrato effect, which can be turned off when not required. Vibraphones are fitted with a pedal that the player presses down to sustain notes: this has led to some companies presenting their sampled vibraphones in a choice of pedal-up (dead-sounding staccato notes) or pedal-down (all notes ringing on uncontrollably) versions, neither of which is musically helpful. In my book, the ideal sampled vibraphone would behave like a piano — ie. a held note sustains until its key is lifted, and pressing the sustain pedal causes all played notes to ring on. However, 50 percent of the sampled vibraphones I’ve reviewed fail to achieve this. Nevertheless, its ethereal, softly metallic chime remains one of my favourite tuned percussion timbres.

In addition to single notes, mallet instruments can play chords of up to four notes — a stunning display of four-mallet virtuosity can be seen in Christoph Sietzen’s ‘Attraction’ at Notes may be sustained by means of rolls, which is particularly effective on the marimba; playing chords on a marimba rolls patch creates an instant, laidback sunny Caribbean atmosphere! Some libraries also provide samples of vibraphones and/or marimbas being stroked with a violin bow — an interesting, eerie slithering timbre for your next horror film score.

Orchestral Chimes

For those moments in an arrangement that require a bell-like sound, a trio of excellent instruments is at hand. Tubular bells were popular long before Mike Oldfield borrowed their name for his best-selling ‘70s instrumental album. Known simply as ‘chimes’ in the US, these long, resonant suspended metal tubes are struck with a hammer-like mallet, producing a solemn chime which performs a decent imitation of a church bell at a fraction of the cost.

Orchestral chimes — clockwise from top left, tubular bells, glockenspiel, crotales (not to scale)Orchestral chimes — clockwise from top left, tubular bells, glockenspiel, crotales (not to scale)

The glockenspiel (German for ‘bell play’) is a magical orchestral sonority. Originally consisting of a set of small bells, the instrument evolved into a xylophone-like set of chromatically tuned metal bars laid out in two rows like piano keys. The sound is high-pitched, penetrating and twinkling, ideal for spraying ‘fairy dust’ melodies over a track. Crotales (named ‘antique cymbals’ in classical scores) operate in the same rarefied pitch zone: these small, tuned thick bronze or brass disks resemble mini-cymbals, producing a distinct, bell-like chime over a two-octave range.

Other attractive, high-pitched metallic chimes include finger cymbals (played in pairs, like miniature piatti), mark tree (a suspended row of small metal chimes, used for ascending and descending glissandi) and bell tree, a set of graduated cup-shaped bells of indeterminate pitch mounted in a row along a centre post. The humble triangle also has its uses for accents and light rhythmic ostinato accompaniment. Though not standard orchestral items, these instruments are often included in percussion sample libraries.

Diagram 8 shows the playing ranges of orchestral tuned percussion, spanning six octaves from the deep bass tones of the marimba to the practically supersonic top notes of crotales and glockenspiel. Orchestral bass drum, snare drum, piatti, suspended cymbal, tam-tam gong, vibraphone, xylophone, marimba, glockenspiel and crotales can all be seen in action courtesy of percussionist David Corkhill at

Diagram 8: Orchestral tuned percussion playing ranges (Middle C marked in blue).Diagram 8: Orchestral tuned percussion playing ranges (Middle C marked in blue).

Thunder Drums

Having expanded beyond all recognition in recent years, the sampled orchestra now includes acoustic instruments that Victorian composers would have considered beyond the pale. This explosion of new sound can be partly traced back to the work of visionaries such as David Fanshawe (composer of the 1974 African Sanctus) and more recently, Hans Zimmer, for many years now a dominant figure in the film music world. Starting with Rain Man in 1988, Zimmer’s original, rock-inspired take on soundtrack composition introduced percussion from all corners of the globe, featuring what sounds likes sampled Egyptian darbuka along with low-pitched African tribal drums.

Mr Zimmer’s big drum sound spawned a rash of imitators, which in turn inspired developers to create ‘cinematic’ drum libraries brimming with booming and crashing sonorities such as orchestral bass drums, concert tom toms, Japanese taikos, Brazilian surdos, Indian dhol drums, African djembe, anvils, brake drums and the like, along with unidentified, near-sub-sonic booms and massive percussive impacts of the kind notated in Diagram 6. A selection of these cinematic percussion sample libraries (including one produced by the man himself) is listed in the ‘Orchestral Percussion Libraries’ box.

For students of this genre, Spitfire Audio supremo Christian Henson’s ‘How To Program Epic Drums’ ( provides some fascinating insights (the drums enter at 3.16). I also recommend Danny Elfman’s ‘Main Title’ from the 2001 Planet Of The Apes remake ( this combines thunderous drums with an excellent electro-acoustic orchestration which would have caused consternation in Victorian music circles. In a more traditional vein, John Williams’ brilliant ‘Zam The Assassin And The Chase Through Coruscant’ from Star Wars Episode II features percussion duos played on single-headed tunable tom toms called rototoms, thereby demonstrating that you don’t need huge taiko drums to produce an exciting rhythm track. (Check it out at


In addition to the instruments mentioned above, today’s sampled orchestra benefits from the inclusion of a large array of exotic and specialised percussion instruments. Scour the Internet and you’ll find items like the lithophone (a stone marimba), cencerros (tuned cowbells), Japanese singing bowls, waterphone (a very spooky sound indeed) and the hang drum, a vibrant, hand-played tuned instrument with an unmistakeable, steel-drum-like tone, which resembles the 1950s flying saucers in the opening credits of Mars Attacks.

Intrigued by the resonant properties of glass, instrument makers have brought us such gems as the Glass Armonica (invented in 1761 by US Founding Father Benjamin Franklin), verrophone (a large set of tall, tuned glass tubes) and the amazing Cristal Baschet, which has to be seen and heard to be believed. Samples of these glassy wonders can be found in Vienna Symphonic Library’s Elements, Soniccouture’s Glassworks and Spitfire Audio’s Titanium Euphone.

US companies Soundiron and 8Dio also have a nice line in exotic tuned percussion, and Ferdinand Försch’s art-percussion project Klanghaus offers some unique and intriguing left-field timbres. Visit these makers’ web pages and you’ll find a fascinating selection of colourful world-percussion-inspired collections and solo instruments which can enhance your arrangements and become part of your personal New Hybrid Orchestra.


It’s worth noting that the thunderous sound of sampled big drums is not entirely a result of how hard they were hit — in order to create the requisite explosive ‘bang’ around a sample, a hall or large-room acoustic is essential. If you listen to (say) closely miked timpani, the sound can be surprisingly small and dry, lacking the size and power we associate with symphonic percussion. In a multi-microphone library this can be remedied by opening up the more distant mics, enabling you to add natural room reverb to taste. In the case of studio-recorded, single-mic-position libraries, any added reverb will be of the synthetic variety, but that’s not a show-stopper: the ‘impulse responses’ used in modern convolution reverbs are recorded in real acoustic spaces, so you’ll be able to drench your dry percussion with the sound of a classy concert hall!

In a change to the advertised programme, harp and orchestral keyboards (including celeste) will now be covered in next month’s article, which also takes an in-depth look at sampled choirs. Thanks for reading!

The Sampled Orchestra: Part 1 Getting Started

The Sampled Orchestra: Part 2 Basic String Writing

The Sampled Orchestra: Part 3 Essential String Playing Styles

The Sampled Orchestra: Part 4 Basic Woodwind Writing

The Sampled Orchestra: Part 5 Into The Woods

The Sampled Orchestra: Part 6 The Brass Family

The Sampled Orchestra: Part 7 The Kitchen Strikes Back

Masterclass Tip: Two-Handed Programming

Fans of the rock music ‘mockumentary’ This Is Spinal Tap (and they are legion) will recall the poignant moment when singer David St. Hubbins asks the band’s keyboardist Viv Savage to fill in for their absent lead guitarist. “Can you play a bass line like Nigel used to on ‘Big Bottom’? Can you double that? You might recall the line’s in fifths.” Savage replies, “Oh, yeah. I’ve got two hands here, yeah I can do it.” With such musical expertise on hand, where did it all go wrong for this band?

Assuming you share the hard-partying keyboardist’s ambidextrous abilities, you too can use two hands to good advantage when programming timpani and drum patterns. Many percussion libraries present timpani samples mapped to two identical keyboard zones, as depicted in Diagram 5. This makes it easier to program fast repeated notes like those shown earlier in Diagram 2; rather than trying to play all the notes on one key (which is quite difficult), you can spread your hands and play the fast triplet-based figure in the third example with your left hand in Zone A and your right playing the equivalent pitch in Zone B, using a fingering of L-R-L-R. Similarly, the second example in Diagram 4 could be played R-L-R (once again ending with the right hand, which tends to be the stronger).

For ease of playability, sampled timpani normally span two octaves (or thereabouts), from a low C2 up to a high C4 (Middle C). Due to the makers’ programming skill, transitions between adjacent notes invariably sound smooth, so you don’t have to worry about the range limits of individual drums.

Though a MIDI keyboard is the most efficient tool for programming tuned percussion, pad-based systems such as the Korg Wavedrum and Roland SPD range can work well for unpitched samples — and provided you have modest percussive chops and can wield a pair of sticks, programming fast strokes and rolls would be easier on a drum pad than on a keyboard.


Top: Javanese gamelan, bottom: Balinese gamelan.Top: Javanese gamelan, bottom: Balinese gamelan.While space doesn’t permit a run-down of the world’s vast treasure trove of percussion instruments, the tuned percussion culture of South East Asia is too compelling to ignore. The ancient art of gong-making spread from China to Java, where the word ‘gong’ was reserved for a specific type of instrument: a bronze gong with a raised central ‘boss’ which produced a clear bass pitch. The instrument evolved into a variety of forms and shapes which were played, along with metallophones of various sizes, in a multi-timbre ensemble known as a gamelan.

For the last 30 years, the sound of the gamelan has resounded throughout the UK as one educational establishment after another proudly acquired their own set of gamelan instruments. As well as being a great, enjoyable music education tool which firmly dispenses with classical virtuoso-soloist culture in favour of an egalitarian team-oriented approach, these instruments have much to offer the creative sample user: from the massively deep bass notes of large suwukan gongs and the mysterious gong-chimes of bonang and kenong, to the high-pitched, pure, bell-like tones of saron and gender metallophones, this beguiling percussion texture is increasingly heard in TV and film soundtracks.

Though the majority of UK-based gamelan instrument sets emanate from Java, the magical, shimmering tones of Balinese gamelan have infiltrated our misty island in recent years. For those interested in incorporating the sound of these instruments in their arrangements, I recommend Soniccouture’s Balinese Gamelan (reviewed in SOS May 2008), which captures the sound of a magnificent Semara Dana gamelan situated at LSO St Luke’s in central London. The samples are presented in a choice of native and concert pitch tuning, so can be used in tandem with other sample libraries. There is no equivalent contemporary Javanese gamelan sample collection, but back in the day Propeller Island’s Akai-format Complete Gamelan came the closest.

Orchestral Percussion Libraries

This list of current libraries focuses on traditional orchestral percussion and ‘cinematic’ percussion featuring large ethnic drum ensembles, low-pitched booms and impacts. Loop and phrase-based libraries are not included. As with previous listings, the orchestral titles are sub-divided into percussion-only, and full orchestral collections that include percussion. The ‘cinematic’ category is so large as to be almost unquantifiable, so I’ve chosen titles most likely to be of general use to the modern media composer — no disrespect to those omitted.

Maintaining the convention used throughout this series, the figures in square brackets indicate each library’s number of microphone positions excluding any mixes or processed versions, while the GB figure shows its total size in Gigabytes once installed on your hard drive. Multiple mic positions automatically increase the number of samples without adding extra performance content, so a large GB size doesn’t necessarily indicate a large articulation menu.


Vienna Symphonic Library

  • VSL Percussion * [1] 51.4GB
  • VSL Synchron Percussion I * [7] 426.9GB

EastWest / Quantum Leap

  • EWQL Hollywood Orchestral Percussion [5] 71GB

Spitfire Audio

  • Spitfire Percussion [3] 28.9GB

Orchestral Tools

  • Berlin Percussion Main Library [6] 75GB
  • Berlin Percussion EXP A Timpani [4] 6.2GB


  • Cinesamples Cineperc [4] 100GB


  • LA Drama Drums [3] 24GB


  • Studio Percussion Orchestral [3] 14.8GB

Native Instruments / Sonuscore

  • Symphony Series — Percussion [4] 29GB
  • Symphony Essentials — Percussion [1] 4GB

Project SAM

  • True Strike 1 [3] 8.9GB

Impact Soundworks

  • Rhapsody Orchestral Percussion [3] 9GB


  • Drums of the Deep [7] 11.8GB
  • Drums of the Deep II [5] 27.4GB

IK Multimedia

  • Orchestral Percussion [1] 3GB


Vienna Symphonic Library

  • Special Edition Vol. 1 * [1] 27GB

EastWest / Quantum Leap

  • EWQLSO Play Edition [3] 194GB

Spitfire Audio

  • Bernard Herrmann Composer Toolkit [6] 146.6GB


  • Da Capo [4] 7.9GB


  • Majestica [2] 23.7GB
  • Acoustic Grand Ensembles [4] 53GB

Native Instruments

  • Action Strikes [2] 3GB

Kirk Hunter

  • Diamond [1] 65GB
  • Virtuoso Ensembles [1] 2.55GB


  • The Orchestra [1] 7GB


  • Garritan Personal Orchestra 5 [1] 11.6GB


EastWest / Quantum Leap

  • Quantum Leap Stormdrum 2 [1] 17.2GB
  • Quantum Leap Stormdrum 3 [5] 84.7GB

Spitfire Audio

  • Hans Zimmer Percussion + [3] 19.6GB
  • Hans Zimmer Percussion Professional + [4] 131.9GB

(Some HZPP patches have additional mikings.)

  • Albion One ^ + [4] 50GB
  • Albion II — Loegria ^ [4] 27.3GB
  • Albion III — Iceni ^ [5] 11GB
  • Albion V — Tundra ^ [4] 44.4GB

Orchestral Tools

  • Metropolis Ark 1 ^ [5] 70GB
  • Metropolis Ark 2 ^ [5] 54GB


  • Epic Taiko Ensemble [2] 1.1GB
  • Epic Frame Drum Ensemble [1] 2.4GB
  • Epic Toms Ensemble [1] 1.6GB
  • Epic Dhol Ensemble [1] 1.1GB


  • Apocalypse Percussion Ensemble + [3] 24.8GB

Project SAM

  • True Strike 2 [3] 7.8GB

Strezov Sampling www.strezov-sampling

  • Tupans X3M [3] 5GB
  • Thunder X3M [3] 19GB

Vir2 Instruments

  • Elite Orchestral Percussion + [1] 19.5GB

IK Multimedia

  • Cinematic Percussion [1] unpublished


* Includes instruments that may be purchased separately.

^ Contains cinematic drum hits along with orchestral strings, brass and woodwind sections.

+ Also contains a non-comprehensive selection of orchestral percussion.