Hey! As i have been getting better at melodies and harmony, something that keeps coming back is the struggle of assigning every instrument in an orchestra a role. Far too often i end up just laying a huge pad of strings in a single track and an ostinato in the bass to accompany a single solo instrument over many bars. Like, what the hell does the woodwinds do? Or the tuba and the violas. I do not understand how I can give every single instrument or section its own ideas. I do realise this might be quite the vague question to be answered in a single post, so maybe you can also offer me some recommendations of books or sites that cover this subject (I suppose this is what's called "orchestration"?). I write music in the style of Hans Zimmer and James Horny to give you an idea of the type of answer I am looking for. Thank you very much! 

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  • What you're asking for is the question of orchestration. This is a huge topic of which volumes can (and have) been written. I don't think any answer you can get here will be sufficient to explain all aspects of this large subject. Since you stated that you write music in a particular style, I would say the best answer is to study the scores of the composers whose style matches yours, and learn from them.  Try to obtain as many scores as you can from the music of the style you intend to write, and listen to each piece as you follow along the score. Each time you listen, focus on a different aspect of the orchestration; e.g., what are the violas doing? How does it affect the overall sound? Then listen again to the same piece and look at a different instrument, e.g., what are the bassoons doing? Why do you think the composer wrote what he did? etc..

  • To supplement score study, it would also help to read a textbook on orchestration. I personally find The Study of Orchestration by Samuel Adler very helpful; it comes with CDs containing audio clips of examples shown in the book, which is an invaluable resource in understanding how each instrument and each combination of instruments sounds like. Other texts may also be helpful; e..g, books about orchestration by Walter Piston, Rimsky-Korsakov, and many others.

  • The problem is he is listening to composers like Hans Zimmer who doesn't know what to do with certain instruments like bassoons, trumpets, or tuba either. For example, in his last score in interstellar he incorporated a huge woodwind section with the organ but simply did not use the potential color and chose to make the sound another pad where the trombones and horns did their typical BRAHHHHMMMMMSSSSS!!!!!! If you want to look in how to write for certain instruments explore movie composers like John Williams but then his style in simply a mixture of late romantic composers mixed with 20th century, but you won't learn how to write for percussion listening or studying his scores. You need to study DCI drum and bugle corps for that or marching band charts. In my opinion, movie composers and video game and other media composers have ruined orchestration for young composers. Y'all don't know how to write for low woodwinds or clarinets, what in the world do the trumpets or trombones do, why should I use a tuba, they think saxophones do not even exist anymore, and heaven forbid they know what percussion rudiments are.
  • If you want to write like Hans Zimmer, simply buy all of the Spitfire products, the synth Zebra, and Cinesamples' epic grooves 2. I forgot what's it called but it's something like that.
  • Solid tips here, thanks a bunch. Rodney, you are hitting the head of the nail. The problem is that I want to write "epic" kind of music or at least have the style in my repertoire if you can say it that way.  But I still do want to use the woodwinds and the tuba at the same time, as I have also noticed Zimmer ignores them for most of the time and treats brass as a single instrument etc. Tech, I will look up the book you mentioned and see if I can find any scores of my favourite composers. 

    To begin with, learn to write in four part harmony. Not just melody and one or two notes of harmony under it. Make all the voices important. There can be no throw-away notes. Then you can begin to expand. Oh, there is so much more.

    Yeah, I have started to try writing for string quartet and four-part choral harmony. Will indeed continue doing that.

  • What Bob says is sound advice, starting small and working up.

    Also I learnt a lot about orchestration by being in an orchestra. Listening to how a conductor would pull pieces apart at rehearsals. If you can get to sit in at rehearsals, even an amateur group, it would help you.

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