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This is the second movement of a piece I will post probably in a few days. It was an attempt to make an orchestral version of, and develop, musical ideas I came up with on piano years before. I'm posting a quick iPhone recording I did of the piano melodies so you can hear the source material I was trying to adapt (the toddler running around making noise, while cute, was not part of my musical statement).  I hope to get feedback on a couple things: 

1) Suggestions for improvements in the chords/rhythms/harmony lines.

       - I'm an okay-at-best piano player, so my left hand was playing simple octaves, sometimes on quarter notes, sometimes syncopated. I'm sure there must be a better way to incorporate this feel into the string section, but I'm not sure what that is. 

2) Comments/suggestions about the form/structure

Thanks for your help!

Matt

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I think it's all a matter of taste tied in with increasing knowledge of instruments - you pick this up as you go. Experience. A good text like Gordon Jacob's "Orchestral Technique" helps. That book deals particularly with arranging from short score and details the what and wherefore of instruments as it goes along. It starts with strings, goes on to woodwinds, chamber orchestra, brass (that you know about) and finally the full orchestra.

Other than that it's experiment, a kind of "sense of adventure" and building up a repertoire based on what you've learned. 

If you wanted to write concerto solo parts then Bob Porter's point holds good. You need much familiarity with the instrument and someone prepared to give up time to help/comment. 

You mention the melancholy mood about your piece and, honestly? It suits strings brilliantly. You could try melody instruments: clarinet, oboe, flute but I'd put my money on you returning to a stringed instrument to play the melody in the end. 

I deliberately didn't touch on the harmonic progression as you seem to have that sorted. It works for the length. If you wanted to develop the movement further a few changes / modulations and/or a second subject would be necessary.

Good luck with it. Looking forward to hearing the final result as and when! 

Matt Baker said:

Wow!  Such simple changes that make it so much less boring! Needless to say, I enjoyed your ideas, and I will attempt to work them in. One thing I've noticed in string scores is that sort of passing of melodies/musical ideas around the orchestra. Every time I see it, I think, "Duh, that makes total sense," yet I always forget it's a thing when I'm writing, and I tend to write one line for each instrument, like how I might arrange a garage band type song. Thank you for posting these examples.

I also liked how you broke up the melody slightly with the 16th note/rest combo. I really like the the recording of that note. Is that a specific technique that should be notated as such, or is that just how it would be played naturally? How would one notate for a player to play it that way?

Thank you so much for your input!

Matt

Dane Aubrun said:

Seems it wasn't too hard to make the music score at least decipherable. Something I had to learn about!

Here's the better version aligned with your piece, Matt, and the double bass transposed up an octave.

Hi Matt,  here is an article that CF member John Driscoll posted a while back.  John did some orchestrations of Grieg piano pieces that got good reviews so he outlined his approach for us, hopefully he won't mind if I repost this.

"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!)."

 

Dane, I'm not in the least talking about writing concerto parts. You can't write for viola if you don't know it's range. What idioms work best. How well it blends with what other instruments, and in what range. Should the viola take the G# ( or any particular note ), or is it best in a different instrument, or octave? And then there is bowing. 

Matt, writing for strings is not at all like flipping on the string stop on your keyboard and writing down what you hear. And if you are not somewhat proficient on some instrument ( be it guitar or kazoo or didgeridoo) much of what is in a book won't mean much to you. Though of course you need to read up on what you want to do. You really need to listen to as much string music as possible, especially if it is similar to what you want to write. And learn by doing. Just jump in and do it. See what happens. You've been given some great suggestions. 

I agree this is a good example of how one should approach orchestration - it's clear that a good working knowledge of every orchestral instrument is required in order to make informed choices. A combination of reading and listening (and remembering what you've learned) is needed - but it's not hard work if the correct approach is taken - in fact it can be very satisfying indeed to undertake such study and then be able to apply it to your own compositions.

Ingo Lee said:

Hi Matt,  here is an article that CF member John Driscoll posted a while back.  John did some orchestrations of Grieg piano pieces that got good reviews so he outlined his approach for us, hopefully he won't mind if I repost this.

"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!)."

 

Bob,

1.  Right now it's just in the software, but a soft long-term goal/desire I have is to offer music for the middle school music program to use (I teach elementary).

2.  An excellent point. This is in fact what I did for movement 1 of the same piece: I had a short melody I had written on a piano but once that was in I developed everything else in the notation with strings. I felt that this theme (movement 2) fit well with what I had already written, but it was much more developed on the piano, which is why it wasn't as strong in the strings--which is why I offered it up for critique first, before the rest of the piece.

3.  Agreed! I have a learner's stance and have appreciated all the input so far, and I look forward to becoming more familiar with the instruments and how to make them sound good. 

4.  Great reminder! Also very encouraging. I hope to hear this played live someday to be able to re-write it!

Thank you for your input and advice. It is greatly appreciated!

Matt

Thank you for the article! I love reading things on the thought process go through on these kinds of decisions. I will definitely refer back to this when I'm working this way again.

Matt

Ingo Lee said:

Hi Matt,  here is an article that CF member John Driscoll posted a while back.  John did some orchestrations of Grieg piano pieces that got good reviews so he outlined his approach for us, hopefully he won't mind if I repost this.

"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!)."

 

Thank you for your insights, Bob. I have listened to a lot of string music, which I think is why I have a decent enough ear for noodling around with what I think sounds good/similar to what I've heard before. I agree with you, though, that my knowledge of the "language" of how to communicate ideas is quite raw. This piece is actually my first attempt jumping in and doing it with regards to string writing. I realize it was ambitious, but I was riding an inspiration wave at the time I wrote it (I had just interviewed to be a music teacher), so I went with it. Though I was/am sentimental to this movement, I've always known it could be better, but wasn't sure how to get it there. I've already got great tips and will play around with them soon and hopefully have something that feels much less... meandering.

Bob Porter said:

Dane, I'm not in the least talking about writing concerto parts. You can't write for viola if you don't know it's range. What idioms work best. How well it blends with what other instruments, and in what range. Should the viola take the G# ( or any particular note ), or is it best in a different instrument, or octave? And then there is bowing. 

Matt, writing for strings is not at all like flipping on the string stop on your keyboard and writing down what you hear. And if you are not somewhat proficient on some instrument ( be it guitar or kazoo or didgeridoo) much of what is in a book won't mean much to you. Though of course you need to read up on what you want to do. You really need to listen to as much string music as possible, especially if it is similar to what you want to write. And learn by doing. Just jump in and do it. See what happens. You've been given some great suggestions. 

I appreciate your comment on the length--that was something I was considering. I think it works too, but I'm also pretty close to it emotionally, so the external feedback helps. I've had trouble with the form issue as well: I wasn't sure what the form even was / if it had one. Then last night I was looking at random bits of music theory stuff and read about theme and variation and realized that's what this was, so I'm going to look it over with that lens and develop it that way, using some of the ideas you and others have given me. 

I look forward to posting the results!

Matt

Dane Aubrun said:

[...] I deliberately didn't touch on the harmonic progression as you seem to have that sorted. It works for the length. If you wanted to develop the movement further a few changes / modulations and/or a second subject would be necessary.

Good luck with it. Looking forward to hearing the final result as and when! 

Here's my latest revision. Let me know your thoughts!

Attachments:

Yes, really shaped up now. The REAL improvement would be to hear a live performance. Only a small alteration I can think of: when it goes fully pizz would be to have one instrument playing arco just to smooth it out a bit - but again, with live performance the players would add delicacy to the pizz as it is.

All in all a nice work now. You've definitely learned to space out the harmony vertically. I still think it sounds better for strings alone (and as a quintet). Well done.

I'm having a problem getting past the 4th beat of the 3rd measure. Not that anyone should care, but it's too much of an odd flavor too soon for me. With these instruments, that chord slapped me in the face, and I couldn't un-hear it later. Even when it wan't there. At first I thought it was the C natural, but no, that adds interest. So I changed that chord and the downbeat after to something that seemed to fit better this early in the piece. Consider these changes. beat 4, beat 1.

cello G#2, A2

viola F#3, E3

Better voice leading, also. 

But then again, maybe I just don't get what you are trying to do.

That makes sense. When I looked at it closer, the original chord (Bar 3 Beat 4) was [E - F# - C natural] going to [C# - A - C#]--an inverted Cdim5 chord into a weak A major (two thirds and one root). I liked your suggestion, other than it didn't fit the mood I was going for, but you were absolutely right about the voice leading (that's a skill I know about, but I'm not always good at remembering it when writing). So what I ended up doing was changing m.3 beat 4 of the cello up to an F# [F# - F# - C natural] and then on the downbeat of m.4 cello has an F# and viola gets an A while the viola goes to E [A - E - C#]. I think it sounds stronger with the better voice leading, but the viola walking down I think gives it more the feel I'm after.

Thanks for your input!

Matt


Bob Porter said:

I'm having a problem getting past the 4th beat of the 3rd measure. Not that anyone should care, but it's too much of an odd flavor too soon for me. With these instruments, that chord slapped me in the face, and I couldn't un-hear it later. Even when it wan't there. At first I thought it was the C natural, but no, that adds interest. So I changed that chord and the downbeat after to something that seemed to fit better this early in the piece. Consider these changes. beat 4, beat 1.

cello G#2, A2

viola F#3, E3

Better voice leading, also. 

But then again, maybe I just don't get what you are trying to do.

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