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Hi, I'm new to this forum although I have been a member for a while now- just not had chance to come on here since I joined. As my first post hello to all! :-) I'm posting three original tracks. I write pop and rock music but for many years I always wanted to learn about writing for the orchestra but after searching the internet for resources I never seemed to really find anything that helpful. My understanding is that most really good instructive resources are degree/education courses and so are closed to public access. Links and advice to any books or sites would be greatly appreciated.

Here are my first efforts at moving towards that soundscape. It's pre-production. I'm working on re-recordings for a band album at the moment.

That Old Alchemy

Smoking Gun

Whiskey with Sioux



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"My understanding is that most really good instructive resources are degree/education courses and so are closed to public access. Links and advice to any books or sites would be greatly appreciated."

I'm happy to say your understanding is wrong in this case! A course would probably focus time and knowledge together most efficiently, perhaps offering some practical experience which is always great, but a great deal of the stuff therein can be found for free, often from institutions offering courses in the first place. Aside from asking people here, which has yielded a trove of info for me, there's: - useful for layouts - absolutely invaluable for individual instrument strengths, weaknesses, articulations - similar to above, little less polished - scores and parts from the last few hundred years

There are many others ranging from specific instruments to vagaries of notation, google has turned up more than I can remember.

Untold videos on youtube about orchestration, scoring, arrangement, etc . . .

Many high-profile and talented musicians, composers, conductors on Twitter - I've had great advice and feedback from some of them. Grant Kirkhope sent me some scores to study, Austin Wintory answered a dynamics question, David Charles Abell helped me out with some score problems.

The more specific your difficulties the easier it gets: "Why is this timpani part too complex" is simpler than "how do I arrange chords and melody for full orchestra." Be persistent. Start small. Make many mistakes.

Specific steps that were cornerstones of my improvement, though everyone's process is different:
 - Be prepared to put in serious time.
 - Hire an orchestrator to check your scores and ask as much as you can. You could do the same via the above resources, but hiring someone for a couple (or dozen) of hours will condense a lot of first-time errors.
 - Study scores and try to break them down. Traditions change, a lot of rules get broken by the greats and they have their own ways but you'll strengthen your knowledge.
 - The more you write, the more chances for feedback and uncovering mistakes you'll find.
 - In terms of what the instruments can do - however good older orchestration books might be, I don't think anything compares to being able to watch and hear a musician. Go watch performances.
 - Further down the line, invest in musicians (or persuade them for free) to see how your music is interpreted in the wild.
 - Use this forum, though you'll have to take the rough with the smooth on occasion. Some members are professionals, ex-professionals or otherwise really know their shit. That said, composers are about the worst audience.

C'mon lads, let's bury Carl in links!


My impression of the first piece is that the vocal is lost in the mix. It needs to come up front more. Aside from that, I enjoyed it.

It's always tough looking for information about things you don't know much about. How do you know what questions to ask? What needs to be answered? You've been given some good links.

Thanks very much for the response and the links!I shall check them all out. Good news Dave that the resources are out there. After watching the videos to violin performances it seems that detache is the 'standard' way of playing...right? Getting a realistic sounding string section with samples and midi is a labour intensive process. I still hear adverts on the TV where I immediately know that it's using samples :-D Access to real musicians is way out of my reach I'm afraid. I do have a few study scores- I bought Ride of the Valkyries recently to look at what the strings were doing- all working together to produce that amazing result. Bob, the tracks are pre-production so yes, the vocals are a bit cockahoop anyway..I had a limited set of takes and had to process them way too much.Even knowing the right nomenclature is difficult. It's only because I studied for a diploma that I'm aware of terms such as 'instrumentation' and 'orchestration' etc. I know about things such as consecutive octaves and fifths...but I'm thinking that that's become less of strict rule in modern's an ear perception thing anyway since those intervals jump out of the 'mix'. A quick search no doubt would clarify things. I imagine it's still good practice. The e-book from DAW to score looks good Mike, but I'm going to have to buy a copy of Sibelius. The demo version I have would hold me back. I've have it in mind for a wee while to set up a virtual orchestra. I've squirrelled around and found recommendations on the best sample libraries. I use Kontakt and Vienna Instruments. I think there are samples for Sibelius as's a bit of a mine field sourcing compatible DAWs and samples. I think having it all under Sibelius would probably be the easiest option. Whether it would provide the best sample sets is another matter. I'm not really clued up as to what works with what out there. I used to have Cubase but my license expired and I miss the scoring capabilities. But again...maybe that's duplicating the feature in Sibelius. My experience is that Sibelius is the best for scores, but I've not seen the latest releases of Cubase. Ideally I'd like a DAW like Cubase running Sibelius as a plugin or something.


Having been a musician for 50 some years, I tend to think in terms of "notes on a page", rather than lines on a piano role. But that's just me. I can't afford a DAW, but for someone like me, the best way to produce a good sound file would be to write in notation, then export to a DAW. That said, I own Sibelius 7.5. I am able to produce decent sound files because I've learned many tricks. Not DAW quality, but good enough for me.

As for composition rules, it just depends on what type of music you want to write. There's nothing wrong with avoiding parallel fifth's. I believe not using them ( as well as following other "rules") makes you think more about what you are writing. And it is certainly OK to break the rules. But only to make a point. You have to know them to know went the best time to break them is.

Here's the thing. Write good music. How? Make every note count. Every note. There are no throw-away notes. Everything about every note is important. Where did it come from, and where is it going? What instrument has it? What octave is it in? Listen to the type of music you want to write. Experiment. Practice. A lot. 

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