Free, High-Quality Musical Instrument Samples
March 31, 2011 11:14 AM   Subscribe

Do you need a free library of high-quality, carefully-recorded samples of a wide variety of musical instruments? The University of Iowa Electronic Music Studios' Musical Instrument Samples page has got you covered, from alto flute to violin.

Also check out the Philharmonia Orchestra sample library, which has a few instruments the University of Iowa collection does not, although the sample quality is a little more variable.
posted by jedicus (29 comments total) 111 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for posting this. Wish I would have found out about it before I plunked money down on another softsynth.
posted by drezdn at 11:26 AM on March 31, 2011

thank you very much. Into the sampler they go. Just in time for my new mpd18 to play them on...
posted by pucklermuskau at 11:30 AM on March 31, 2011

I should mention that the Philharmonia page has easy mass-download links for each instrument (just select an instrument and you'll get a link to a zip file), but the Iowa page does not. If you have wget (e.g. if you're running OS X or Linux), the following command should work:

wget -r -l1 --no-parent -A.aiff

You can substitute the piano URL for whichever instrument you'd like to download. For Windows users and people who aren't comfortable with the command line, there are lots of user friendly bulk download programs out there.

Since the Iowa samples are available free of any restrictions, presumably one could also make a torrent out of them. I'm kind of surprised the university isn't doing that already.
posted by jedicus at 11:33 AM on March 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yes, I need some of these. Thanks for posting.
posted by ChuqD at 11:38 AM on March 31, 2011

posted by Hoopo at 11:39 AM on March 31, 2011

What, no zithers?
posted by kaibutsu at 11:50 AM on March 31, 2011

posted by defenestration at 11:50 AM on March 31, 2011

Um, holy shit, I don't have much to say but for this is awesome.
posted by invitapriore at 12:01 PM on March 31, 2011

This is awesome. They should set up a suggestion box for instruments we all want to see added to the list.
posted by Carsey at 12:06 PM on March 31, 2011

Wonderful post, just the sort of thing I love to find on the front page.

It illustrates very nicely one crucial music-theoretical concept, namely, "french horn is difficult" (which has a corollary, " don't write exposed solo lines for it like it's a flute, Mr. School Orchestra Arranger.")
posted by Wolfdog at 12:08 PM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

Neat! I wonder if they're still active.
posted by LSK at 12:11 PM on March 31, 2011

I take issue with your statement, Wolfdog! I have heard that the oboe and the french horn are the hardest instruments to play, and the oboe frequently has "flute-esque" solos. Mozart wrote four concertos worth of french horn solos, and horns back then were arguably even harder to play well.
posted by frecklefaerie at 12:13 PM on March 31, 2011

Please feel free to use these samples in your research or music projects without restriction.
Does this constitute a license? For commercial use? Seem that way...
posted by victors at 12:24 PM on March 31, 2011

If I had my druthers, they quit dithering and digitize the zithers.
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:29 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh sure, frecklefaerie, and Dennis Brain or Klaus Wallendorf can make it sound beautiful and effortless. Reicha, a favorite of mine, wrote even more demanding horn parts than Mozart. But - they were well aware of what could be expected from even the very best horn players at the time. One of the Mozart horn concertos, in fact, is famous for having lots of jokey comments from him in the manuscript, like "you're out of tune again, you ass!" and so on. You can hear in the samples linked how difficult it is to attack and sustain a single note accurately - and the performer they sampled is very skilled.
posted by Wolfdog at 12:30 PM on March 31, 2011

Needs the freestuff tag.
posted by Effigy2000 at 12:30 PM on March 31, 2011

> Mozart wrote four concertos worth of french horn solos, and horns back then were arguably
> even harder to play well.
> posted by frecklefaerie at 3:13 PM on March 31 [+] [!]

Rather more than "arguably," heh. They used the natural (no valves) horn then. Mozart wrote all four for Joseph Leutgeb who, M's jokey comments aside, is remembered as an outstanding virtuoso.

One of them has words (by Michael Flanders). They start out

I once had a whim
and I had to obey it
to buy a Fench horn
in a secondhand shop.
I polished it up
and I started to play it
in spite of the neighbors
who begged me to stop.
posted by jfuller at 2:23 PM on March 31, 2011

I have heard that the oboe and the french horn are the hardest instruments to play.

I play the oboe professionally. I hear this a lot (NEVER SAY THIS TO CHILDREN; THEY LEARN *ANYTHING* EASILY COMPARED TO ADULTS) and wanted to elaborate.

The oboe is "difficult" mainly because reed-making brings with it a whole host of skills (mainly, those related to hand tools and whittling) many aspiring musicians are simply not prepared for.

I would say because of the reed, which allows for a great amount of nuance in playing, it is an instrument that is very easy to play badly. But that does not make it a "difficult" instrument from the perspective of scoring parts (there are very few solos an oboe player dreads due to the limitations of the instrument). The fingerings are very simple and the instrument plays fairly well in tune with itself. And because it's a high-pressure, low-volume instrument, it's very easy to sustain notes, to the point where circular-breathing is possible. Fast solos, slow solos, the oboe does them all and all very well. Now if only all the various schools of oboe-playing could agree on what a good "oboe tone" is!

The only problem high school band arrangers run into is our restrictive register -- at barely over 2 octaves, I think we have the smallest range of all the instruments (flute and clarinet hit 3 octaves easily). That, and writing parts that are too soft for young players to play. Due to the oboe's conical bore, it naturally wants to amplify its tone. (Really, learning how to play soft is probably the hardest thing to do on the instrument. Nothing to do with finger technique.) Clarinet, by contrast, has a cylindrical bore, and they can play whisper-soft much more easily.

Anyway... While a bad embouchure can make the oboe sound like a dying duck, even the most novice of players will get the pitch correct so that an "A" sounds somewhere in the same neighborhood as 440. It's a little like a piano -- want an "A?" Hit the key/fingering for an "A" and there you go.

Want an "A" on the French Horn? The fingerings alone won't help you -- if your embouchure isn't set for the note you're expecting, who knows what horrible wailing will come out of the bell. Which, by the way, is pointed the entirely wrong way and requires your hand be placed inside to adjust the pitch and volume of the note.

Give me the oboe any day.
posted by Wossname at 2:48 PM on March 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

What, no zithers?

And no Frula. What's the point if there is no Frula?
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 4:37 PM on March 31, 2011

Anyone make Kontakt sets for these?
posted by bongo_x at 6:10 PM on March 31, 2011

Iowa City, you never cease to amaze me. I'm just glad they've decided not to sell their Jackson Pollock painting. It was totally worth the 2-hour drive to just sit and gaze at that for an afternoon. I would be furious if it left the state.
posted by TrialByMedia at 7:10 PM on March 31, 2011

If anyone has some tips on how one could import these into Logic Studio, I'd be grateful... I'd like to try playing around with the solo violin samples, because as far as I've seen Logic only has full string sections, not solo string instruments.
posted by dnash at 8:46 PM on March 31, 2011

I don't know anything about Logic, but the free program Sound eXchange (aka sox) is a kind of "swiss army knife of sound" that can be used to slice and dice the samples in preparation for import. A single command can trim off the ambient silence in the piano samples, for example. Other commands can be used to slice up the instrument samples that have more than one note per file. It's a command-line program, though, and the syntax can be a bit arcane. Not recommended for people who aren't comfortable with working on the command line.

Alternatively one could import the samples into a sound editor and edit them up by hand, but that could be tedious for the instruments with a wide range (e.g. the piano).
posted by jedicus at 5:47 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Those who just want to be able to play the samples without fiddling around with wave files may want to check out Sonatina, a CC-licensed orchestral sample library with samples from the two libraries in the FPP (and many more) in sfz format, ready to load in the DAW of your choice.
posted by anthom at 5:52 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've heard this all my life regarding music, and yet my actual experience with children and adults is quite different. Children are unfettered by preconceptions, yet are also unable to see larger scale structures that the adult mind can.

Kids are certainly fast learners, but there are some things that are very hard for most of them to learn. Smoothness is a key example - it isn't "difficult" but it takes a certain mind-set. Another example is "jamming with a group of other musicians".

I figured out "jamming with others" before I was 10 but it took until my 20s or even later to really understand "smoothness".

Adults, particularly adults who do creative work with their hands like artists, can often learn to sound musical on an instrument much faster than a child can.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:36 AM on April 14, 2011

jedicus: thanks for turning me on to sox! It's in my path and my theory is that I'll get a lot of use out of it.

OT whiney: I thought of contributing to their software effort - but it's entirely in C which I certainly know and use almost every day but... I'm baffled as to the lack of uptake of C++ in the open source community even in 2011. C++ is just a better language than C for every purpose - with today's compilers, your C++ program will almost certainly be faster, use less memory, and be more reliable and easier for you to write and other people to read - and you can pretty well write your old C code most of the time and just use a few things like string and vector if you like.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:01 AM on April 14, 2011

Does anyone else show the original link as dead? Hope we didn't kill it...
posted by erebora at 9:36 AM on April 14, 2011

Yea it's dead for me too. But it appears that anthom's link has all of it on it.
posted by alligatorman at 5:13 PM on April 15, 2011

The original link appears to be dead, but I found this site with all the samples in .flac format:
posted by alligatorman at 8:51 PM on April 30, 2011

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