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Hello Colleagues,

I've never written any orchestral music so I thought I'd give it a try. I recently asked on this forum for input for how to get started and got some great tips, thanks again to those who shared in that conversation. I'm now working on something and I have a sample I'd like to run by everyone for input. It is a rough example of the beginning of the piece. Before I go past this opening, I'd be happy to hear from you. Feel free to make any comments you feel would be helpful, and I am in particular looking for a feedback on two questions: 1) the key? Is there a better choice? 2) the timpani - it gets kind of lonely on those drums because I couldn't think of a way to fit them in after using them a couple of times in the opening. Any other feedback also invited. You can see the score best in full-screen view - 

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Thanks for listening and commenting, J Paul! I'm going to be experimenting with some new percussion and will bear your comment about the Timpani in mind!

Gav

Gav,

any percussion will add color, percussion is the most colorful group by far :) The key is to be able to imagine what kind of color enhancement you want where, then you can try matching instruments until something clicks. Because the possibilities are endless, it's easy to get lost.

I see you don't really have a clear idea of where you want to go with this. But if you're thinking mainstream drumkit, then maybe this will be interesting:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdnFzVLjOpU

Score should be available somewhere. It's not drumkit, but it's just as busy (if not more) while blending better thanks to using more oldschool percussion rather than relying on a rock band style of drumming. Of course, you need several percussionists to pull this off. I believe you might find some inspiration here.

Another link, which I think shows up on the forum every now and then:

http://resources.music.indiana.edu/isfee/

This is an excellent resource for instrumentation knowledge in general, but what I have in mind here is taking the percussion section and digging deeper than just general knowledge of how something works. You can listen to specific samples until you internalize the sound and feel of them, it should give you the ability to construct ideas of your own.

A bonus from Varese:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L4IWWgfEf_Q

This one is weird around the edges but several sections will serve the same purpose as the John Mackey piece, without all the awesome (but ultimately distracting) brass and wind parts. You can get an idea on how to build an entire working texture with orchestral percussion. Then you carve a hole in there to fit in as much of the rest of the orchestra as you want.

I think the bottom like is that you aren't limited to the combination of kick, snare, toms, hat, cymbals... and trying to find working substitutes for those. If you ditch the idea of drums in popular music and just go looking for cool, interesting sounds, you should get there relatively easily. You can even leave figuring out whether your ideas are actually playable as the last step of it all :) I mean, if things get too crazy, just add another percussionist. Heh.

Great fun....some drumming!

Islam Y.Omari said:

Hey Gav, 

Check out this guy on the video link below, I find it very creative in terms of using the classical orchestral percussion, and I hope it will find its way to inspire you yet open an exploration path. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWki-Jac8H0

Regards

Gav,

The choice of what percussion is put on stage for a symphony concert is dictated solely by the music programme. Bear in mind it would take a large removal's van to transport everything percussive around. Some scores require 5 timpani whereas others require none. Here is a not exhaustive list of what you could specify in your own scores:

Pitched Percussion:
Almglocken, Antique cymbals, Crotales, Cimbalom, Zither, Tubular Bells, Chimes, Glockenspiel, Orchestral Bells, Xylophone, Xylorimba, Marimba, Vibraphone, Celesta, Piano, Harp.
Percussion and Drums:
Timpani, Drum Set (Rock), Anvil, Bass Drum, Bongos, Castanets, Maracas, Congas, Large/Medium Gong, Tam-Tam, Roto-toms, Snare Drum, Taiko Drum, Tambourine, Temple Blocks, Tenor Drum, Tom-Toms, Triangle, Whistle, Whip, Wood Blocks, Wind Machine, Sheet Metal,
Shakers: Cocoa Bean Rattle, Egg Shaker, Gourd Maracas, Kayamba, Nsdak Rattle, Shekere, Wasembe Rattle.

We're not spoilt for choice are we!

Percussion parts have to be very carefully thought out so as to restrict the number of players required (each one costs a fat fee)….allow time for them to change instruments, for example from drumsticks to xylophone sticks and to walk the distance between two instruments; allow time for the timpanists to change the note (even pedal timps can't be altered in an instant), give time to swap between bass drum stick(s) and hand cymbals etc. Give instructions early on the score to allow the players time e.g. 'move from bass drum to xylophone'. Quite often percussionists will change what you've indicated as they have their own preferences - but at least you will have given them a point from which to start.

I hope this helps. Of course you will be unfamiliar with some of these instruments but YouTube is a great resource to help you read about and hear them in action.

Stephen


Gav Brown said:

I'd be interested to know if anyone has any recommendations for adding percussion instruments so I can create a "percussion kit" which would function somewhat like the drum kit does in the link Islam shared earlier in the thread - 

Islam Y.Omari said:

Hey Gav, 

Check out this guy on the video link below, I find it very creative in terms of using the classical orchestral percussion, and I hope it will find its way to inspire you yet open an exploration path. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWki-Jac8H0

Regards

Thanks Greg and Stephen, I will come back to this thread after I’ve had a moment to look over your responses -

Gav

Thanks again Greg and Stephen, I've had some time to look at your posts and there is certainly a lot of material to explore, I will delve into these when next I visit this issue. I wonder if anyone could answer the following question: given 1 percussionist and no more than 5 instruments, which 5 instruments would you pick? 

Again, it depends on the style of music you're going to compose. Something martial would require timpani, snare drum, bass drum, 22" hand cymbals and perhaps tam-tam too. But of course just one percussionist would only be able to play one at a time, but with such a restriction I might settle simply for a Drum Set (Rock), because it contains bass drum, snare drum, tom-toms, woodblock, cow bells and cymbals of various sorts, possibly also maybe roto-toms.

Stephen

Gav Brown said:

Thanks again Greg and Stephen, I've had some time to look at your posts and there is certainly a lot of material to explore, I will delve into these when next I visit this issue. I wonder if anyone could answer the following question: given 1 percussionist and no more than 5 instruments, which 5 instruments would you pick? 

Thanks Stephen, that is what I'm looking for!

Gav

Hi Gav

Nice to see you playing with a larger ensemble. I like the general sound of this. No idea where it's going but it really invokes (in my mind anyway) a wander through a gallery or a dinner party with a load of different images, smells and characters to share time with.

From a conducting perspective, your score layout is very confusing. Can't remember what you're writing with, but you should be able to reset the layout to a more standard setting. Finale will do it through the Window/ScoreManager/Score Order option. As a sight reader, it would be easier to follow that way.

Keep going with it. There are plenty of soundbites to build upon here.

In terms of key, just keep an eye out for those poor transposing instruments who end up working with multiple sharps. As a trumpet player myself, I jump between orchestral and transposing scores just to make sure I'm not giving the French horns too hard a time (though they probably deserve it).

Hi Gav,

I found this amazing free vst plugin that will help u to determine each instrument range. This vst contain a collection of orchestral instruments; Once you select the instrument you wanna play, it automatically highlights the instrument range itself on a piano role, i think it will definitaly remove the headache of wondering the playability existence.

check out the link below:

https://youtu.be/3CxPeilBTGA

Regards

Gav Brown said:

Dane, thanks for this input, you've perceived my intentions pretty well, so at least it is coming across how I wanted it to - bringing in the orchestra over time I did find to be a challenge for the simple reason of how do you maintain interest while that is happening. Yes on your comments on the piano - so far it is as an ensemble player rather than a soloist. The accompaniment at 75 was critical I think, some major departure from what had come before was needed to avoid tediousness/simple repetition/predictable elaboration. Thanks for listening and sharing your thoughts!

Islam, thanks kindly for these complementary words, strong and unexpected contrast I feel is key to avoid a longer work sinking into a mush of sameness. It does contain as you noted a lot of call-and-response, which seems to be one of the key tools in orchestral writing I am learning. My question about the timpani is that it only appears in the first part of the piece because I couldn't find a way to use it later without it feeling gratuitous. Percussion is one of the deep mysteries to me about orchestration and I think a whole area for exploration in and of itself. If you (or anyone) has suggestions about other percussion instruments to add, I'd be interested. The "key" issue for me largely revolves around playability. I am interested to know if anyone has any recommendations on that. I may not in the end change it, but still looking for that input. I note your comment about the ending not fitting - yes, it is new, and will lead into the next section, which it is a prep for. Perhaps it will make more sense once that is added. 

Thanks again both for your input, very helpful!

Gav

Graeme and Islam, thanks for these posts, I will come back after I have some time to look them over in detail -

Gav

Gav,

To qualify what I've said - please be aware that an orchestral bass drum is about 300% larger than that found on a drum kit and its effect is almost elemental by comparison. Also, crash cymbals are a poor substitute for 22" Zildjian (or similar) hand held ones. You get what you pay for I'm afraid;)

Stephen

Gav Brown said:

Thanks Stephen, that is what I'm looking for!

Gav

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