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Hello Colleagues,

I am investigating writing something for orchestra, which I haven't written for before. In doing some basic research, I've found lots of different possibilities for instruments to include. I'm curious if anyone has an opinion on a basic instrument set to start with. The only parameter I have at this point is that a piano will be included. From what I have read, it seems like winds, brass, strings, and percussion are commonplace inclusions. If anyone would care to share what they think about what to include in those categories (which winds, which brass, etc.) or any other suggestions, would appreciate to hear from you -

Thanks!

Gav

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All, you can upload a file (see my post above this one) by doing it in the text, use the "paperclip" icon.

Inclined to go along with Bob Porter - start with a chamber orchestra to get used balance and setting out chords which is likely to be different at p/mf than f or ff.. Big brass usually comes with full orchestra. At piano/pianissimo everything can be made to balance but at fortissimo, the full orchestral tutti, it's important to have every important note of the harmony in the brass as it'll drown everything else. Other instruments just double the brass.

Dovetailing woodwinds (or not) happens when you need chords in the woodwind and probably necessary with a chamber orchestra using 2:2:2:2 as they say, two of each. What you do depends on what register each instrument is playing in for a given volume. But these things are dealt with in the books.

One book I used was Gordon Jacob's "Orchestral Technique". It's mainly about arranging from short score for orchestra and as such has plenty of examples how to set out the orchestration in quite a range situations. It starts with strings, then chamber orchestra then the full orchestra, dealing with the instruments and their quirks as it goes. Like all these books it's pretty expensive but could probably be got for around £10 used on abebooks. 

Any number of scores are worth looking it. Could I suggest Elgar's Enigma Variations or Beethoven's Eroica to pick up orchestral conventions? Beethoven's wind writing is worth study for conventional diatonic harmony. 

 

All good wishes with it!

 

Thanks kindly Dane, appreciate the info! 

Gav

Here's a collection of orchestration links with a few others mixed in.

Jazz Arranging Tutorial

This web page has been designed to assist students with learning basic skills in arranging for jazz ensemble.

Range of Instruments

Instrument Studies for Eyes and Ears

OrchestrationOnline - YouTube

Sibelius-Akatemia - The Harp

Introduction - deBreved - Tim Davies Website

IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library: Free Public Domain Sheet Music

IMSLP-Petrucci Music Library Free Public Domain Sheet Music

Boosey & Hawkes Composers, Classical Music and Jazz Repertoire

Classical music and jazz composers. Choral, opera, ballet, orchestral, chamber, piano, strings, concert and brass band music repertoire.

The Orchestra: A User's Manual

A-Level Music | Composition | String Techniques With David Alberman...

OrchPlayMusic

OrchPlayMusic develops new technologies for music education and appreciation related to orchestration through the online multichannel OrchPlay Music Library orchestral excerpts. The Library currently offers a selection of 100 musical pieces from the symphonic repertoire from late 18th Century to Contemporary.

Principles of Orchestration

Principles of Orchestration by Nikolay Rimsky Korsakov online orchestration course - Garritan Interactive

Violin Technique - Ponticello / Sul Pont - YouTube

composingForHarp - composeForHarp.pdf

Music Notation Style Guide: Composition: Departments, Offices and S...

IU Composition Department Music Notation Style Guide

Internet Archive: Digital Library of Free Books, Movies, Music &...

Internet Archive is a non-profit digital library offering free universal access to books, movies & music, as well as 286 billion archived web pages.

Composer Focus - Music & Audio Tutorials

Composer Focus is an online publication dedicated to delivering useful and innovative resources for composers.

Guide to Orchestral VSTs

This is the home page's excerpt

Forum | Sons of Sibelius

Composers - new and experienced. Classical, Baroque, Impressionist. Discuss musical form, Share your music and get feedback from other members. Site competitions. Piano, brass woodwind. International members are welcome to join.

99orchestra

Commissioning music: a basic guide (meet the composer) by Nilo Alca...

Issuu is a digital publishing platform that makes it simple to publish magazines, catalogs, newspapers, books, and more online. Easily share your publications and get them in front of Issuu’s millions of monthly readers. Title: Commissioning music: a basic guide (meet the composer), Author: Nilo Alcala, Name: Commissioning music: a basic guide (meet the composer), Length: 10 pages, Page: 8, Published: 2016-03-24

Resources | New Music USA

Sites Like Soundcloud, The 14 Best Alternatives (as of February 2017)

Again & again, artists have wondered where to post their music besides Soundcloud. So, we've compiled a list of all the best Soundcloud alternatives.

LKR Sheet Music

Home page of LKR Sheet Music, an online store from Andover. LKR Sheet Music is the goto place for a variety of music for a variety of ensembles.

OrchPlay Music Library • OrchPlayMusic

OrchPlayMusic develops new technologies for music education and appreciation related to orchestration through the online multichannel OrchPlay Music Library orchestral excerpts. The Library currently offers a selection of 100 musical pieces from the symphonic repertoire from late 18th Century to Contemporary.

 

Here's CF member John Driscoll talking about orchestrating an existing piece.

 

 

You do want it for full orchestra (or at least chamber orchestra) or chamber ensemble? I would determine that first.

This is how I would think about the orchestration.

Looking at the first four bars, you have a piano melody that sits in the middle-lower part of the G-clef. Assuming you don't want to change the octave, this actually limits the most effective instrumentation.

Let's start with the standard winds.

It's low for the solo flute or flutes (especially at a piano dynamic and with strong accompaniment), good range for oboe, kind of a meh range for clarinet (least expressive and crosses the break), too high for bassoon. For brass, it's too high for french horn, not characteristic of trombones and I don't think trumpet is probably the character you're looking for (though that might be worth a try--or save it for later).

So oboe it is. But wait a minute... if you look only a few bars ahead the melody dips down quite a bit, well below the range of an oboe (which gets quite honky in its bottom notes). Do you want all that melody played by the same instrument? If so, maybe this should be an English Horn solo. EH is quite evocative and I think would fit well with the "like a narrative" character you're going for.

OK, so we have English Horn. Do you want to double the melody with strings? Of course violins would handle this range well, even down to the low G in m. 5. Violins will also blend well with EH. So it's really just a question of... do you want the opening to have the character of a solo voice or an ensemble? As expressive as strings are, a solo wind instrument will be the most expressive of all. If combined, it will lose some of its individuality. My vote goes for solo EH.

But hold on... I went through all that spiel without looking far enough ahead.  Now I see at measure 6 the melody returns.  I think it would be cool to do that in a different way than the opening.  So maybe the first time it's violins and the second time it's EH (or oboe, since it goes higher the second time)?  Going from the sweeping opening to the more intimate...  I like that.

So, melody in the beginning is covered. Let's get on to the accompaniment.

Let's start with the 2nd voice in the right hand. Now, consistent with a piano piece, you've written quarter notes on beats 1 and 3. However, given this is all slurred and pedaled, what's happening musically is more of a sustained harmony throughout 2 beats of the measure.  There are lots of orchestration options for this range near middle C--horns immediately come to mind, especially given the somewhat Romantic tonal language, but if the opening melody is violins, you might just want a string accompaniment.  The opening D-C-D-Bb-B all playable by the 2nd violins, but in measure 5 you have the low F#, which could only be played by viola.  So maybe have viola play this 2nd voice throughout?  Also, the low notes of a violin can be somewhat intense, whereas viola is a bit more mellow in that range.

OK, left hand.  Now this is standard piano figuration, but not nearly as idiomatic for orchestral instruments.  Although this is all playable by cellos, it might be to split this out into a repeating pattern amongst more than one instrument (or section).  For example, first G played by bass and the following three notes played by cello, as a pattern repeated throughout this passage.  I thought maybe the three-note group should go the violas, but by measure 2, it's already out of range (and we've already given the 2nd voice in the right hand to violas), so cello it is.

What else?  Well, normally I would give some passing thought to percussion.  But I really can't see how it fits here.  None of this opening seems particularly suited to brass (except perhaps french horns for sustained harmonies), so I would save them for later.

Some other things:

-Consider adding some sustained harmony notes that aren't written in the piano score.  Again the piano figurations suggest a lot of harmonies that could be emphasized with additional sustained notes (while the strings will be there to articulate the "motion" of the accompaniment).  Orchestration doesn't have to be a 1:1 with the piano.
-There is somewhat of a call and response nature to the first 2 measures and the follow 2 measures.  There may be an opportunity to delineate that a bit more with the orchestration.  Maybe 1st violins play the first two measures and 2nd violins play the next two--that would also avoid the issue of having too many violins on the melody at the opening...

Anyway, these are my initial thoughts about how you might go about orchestrating it.  Orchestration really is all about making choices and there is almost always one choice that is clearly better than the other (or more in line with the composer's intent--which you know better than anyone!).  

Thanks so much for both messages, Ingo!

Gav

Do you already have a plan for what, exactly, you need the orchestra for? I'm asking this question because since you immediately state that a piano will be included (and to be fair, going by what I know about the music you usually write, too), I'm inclined to assume you aren't going to follow the traditional approach to orchestral writing, and so the default methodology for acquiring the skill set, which others have already covered (in short: start with just the string section, heh) may not be the ideal solution for you.

Hi Greg,

No plan exactly. What I have is a score I started some years ago on the piano which never went anywhere because I could see it needed an orchestra. I think the piano is also needed because there are some harmonies in the score which I think can only work on piano. I've already started to convert it over using Bob's idea of a small set of instruments, and of course it's too preliminary to have anything to say about it. 

Thanks for your question,

Gav

Gav,

What you include in your score is entirely up to you of course but I take issue with your comment about harmonies that would only work on a piano - part of the art of arranging/orchestrating is precisely that - putting together instrumental combinations of the correct timbre and correctly balanced to produce the harmonic effect you seek. Most of my classes as a student demanded the orchestration of piano scores into other (mainly orchestral) media and vice versa - it is to me a fascinating and sometimes demanding exercise that requires enormous aural understanding of how these combinations may be used to create the appropriate effect. A large part is having a good appreciation of what happens to a particular chord played on a piano and what creates the overall sound - the upper and lower partials produced by a combination of notes (particularly on the piano because they are so clear due to the instrument's resonance): requires a good ear and an artistic approach to distributing that chord amongst wind and string instruments - and sometimes tuned percussion too.

I cannot stress sufficiently what deep satisfaction is gained personally when I manage to achieve a good result - 'correct' orchestration can transform a piece of music from something that might otherwise be rather mundane into something special. Many professional composers over the past few centuries have utilised the skills of other composers that excel in orchestration techniques to bring their own compositions to life - it's a gift and an essential part of expressing your musical thoughts coherently and effectively.

Gav Brown said:

Hi Greg,

No plan exactly. What I have is a score I started some years ago on the piano which never went anywhere because I could see it needed an orchestra. I think the piano is also needed because there are some harmonies in the score which I think can only work on piano. I've already started to convert it over using Bob's idea of a small set of instruments, and of course it's too preliminary to have anything to say about it. 

Thanks for your question,

Gav

Thanks for both mails Stephen! Here's an example of the harmony I was mentioning, would be interested in your opinion if you have one - 

Further to the above, it occurred to me I ought to put my money where my mouth is by giving an example of what I mean. This is not by at all the best example you will find in the universe but it serves its purpose. You may recall a couple of years ago commenting on (and indeed encouraging me to write more music in the style of) my Thema Obscurante. I attach MP3s and pdfs of the scores written originally for solo piano and subsequently arranged for full orchestra (you will note incidentally that there is no keyboard in the orchestral version). Clearly I never really got around to finishing the piano score because I could see quite clearly its orchestral potential and couldn't wait to get started. I'm not suggesting that you take quite such liberties as I have done in arranging this when dealing with others' compositions but, because it's my own, I felt I had every right to do so.

If you can find the time and are sufficiently interested I think you might find a study of the two scores quite useful in assisting what you're trying to achieve - particularly in terms of the use of the instrumentation to achieve the lushness of the piano chords and their inherent upper partials. Being a keyboard player you will certainly be aware of the occasional use of close harmonies in the lower register of the piano - contrary to what the books on orchestration might tell you to do in the initial stages of learning - in the case of Thema Obscurante I've done it to achieve precisely the effect I was looking for (deep, mysterious, obscure theme etc.).

Please feel free to contact me directly via email if you think this thread might become a bit too boring or in-depth for general consumption.

All the best.

Stephen

PS. Due to file size limitations I might have to separate them and send them as follow-ons. 

Thema%20Obscurante%20-%20Piano.pdf

Thema%20ObscuranteRevFINAL%20-%20Full%20Score.pdf

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