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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  • It seems to work well. I'm having to listen to it quietly at the mo. I'll try it at a higher volume later.

    The vertical spacing of chords is fine, the doublings work, usually to create new timbres as far as I can see rather than reinforce a grand tutti. The way you gradually bring in the orchestra is fine but that's more about the composition than the scoring. The piano (to me) is part of the ensemble rather than a soloist. The accompaniment to the horn tune (bar 75 on) is an interesting elaboration.

    A nice composition. An excellent start in my view and it'll be interesting to see how you score a climax. 

  • I can tell the effort that has been put in this, I love the way you structure your pieces; the contrast and the instruments selection is fulfilling the purpose all through the piece; the call and respond between bars 63-70 is giving the piece a sense of a thematic chorus that you can refer to more often, I happily connected to that part. I think you are referring to the timpani loneliness at bar 17-18 but it still speaks the language of the sample, however, I think if you add double bass and a taste of Cello to play along will empower the phrase as you did at bar 30. When it comes to key selection, I always try to transpose the melody to the 12 different keys and see which one I connect to the most.

    May be also if you consider giving the ending a different approach, I kinda felt it is quite out of context; as if it has nothing to with the composition, but may be that's just me. I hope this is the kind of feedback you are looking for. 

    Well done, a very powerful start and I look forward to hear your next one. 



  • 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!


  • 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. 



  • There's a ton of little details that an experienced person will pick up on that could use some thought, I could spend the entire evening talking about these. Instead I'll just answer your questions :)

    1) A decent rule of thumb for keys is that more accidentals = more annoying. For some instruments it's only the issue of familiarity with obscure keys, but for others the actual difficulty does in fact increase. Keeping in tune for woodwinds / brass, for example; string instruments lose the crutch of resonance with open strings if you give them "black keys" only etc etc. Everything is doable, but it bears consideration.

    2) Your solution to fitting timpani somewhere is realising that practically nobody uses those old fashioned ones that required 5 minutes of work to change pitch anymore. You can give them any note as long as pitch adjustments aren't rapid. If you wanna play it safe, let's say you give them at least a measure of rest for every tuning, and you can go anywhere from there. Of course, try to stay in range of each drum (if your bottom B is played on something like a 29'', don't force the timpanist to play stuff near the C above the staff on that one, he will just look at you in a funny way).

  • I believe that choice of key depends more on the tone quality produced by the chosen instruments range, rather than certain keys invoke certain emotions. Does this key produce the sound you want?

    There are many places you can add tympani notes. Both as accent or two note answers. Xylophone, temple and wood blocks also add flavor to this kind of music. I can hear a triangle rhythm. Your piece is open to many possibilities.

  • Islam, thanks, a fun video!

    Greg, thanks also, that is the information I was looking for!

    Bob, thanks, Greg got where I was headed with the question!

    Again to all who've offered help, thanks so much!


  • To add to what Greg said.

    You key transposes to 6 sharps for horn in F. 5 flats for Bb trumpet and tenor sax. 4 flats for Eb instruments, like alto sax. Your key (what made you choose it, anyway?) would not be great for a middle school orchestra. But neither would this piece. I think it is within the grasp of most community type groups. Which tend to be made up of teachers, simi-pros, and good highschoolers. Even a good high school orchestra. As for playing in tune, why do you think there are so many dang keys on a clarinet or sax ( although no real hope for sax :-)? Good trumpets have triggers on the first and third valves to help play in tune. String players avoid open strings. both because the tone quality is different from a fingered note, and they have to fake vibrato.

    Consider moving this up a half step. Or better yet, down a half step.

  • Thanks Bob, I'll experiment with a half-step change as you suggest. No particular reason why I picked they key I did.


  • Thanks Michael, and what an interesting comment. I have seen the terms horizontal vs. vertical composing before, but never knew what they meant. I guess I can sort of see that now that I've done this, though I don't quite see how one could write a piece which didn't have something of both approaches somewhere in it. I appreciate your taking the time to listen and share your thoughts!


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