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Topic: Orchestra For Dummies

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  1. #1

    Orchestra For Dummies

    Hi all,

    My copy of GPO will be arriving any day now (tears of joy streaming down sides of his face) and I have a few questions about orchestration!

    I'm a keyboard player who's played synthisized strings for a while and, for arguments sake, if I want my string section play a chord, say a "Gmajor", I'd play a couple of Low G's, and then add a G, B, & D combo up above somewhere - Sorted - no worries

    What on earth is the convention in a reach orchestra? I know the instruments involved, just not the correct way to use them! Here are a few questions which show my dumness

    Question One
    If I were to play that following notes for the chord G Major using the string section:
    - B, D, G (around middle C) plus two G's (One octave apart & one octave beneath the chord) What instuments can be used for each note?

    Question Two
    Kind of relating the first question - Is there any convention which states how many different notes a section can play? Say the 1st Violin Section - would they all play just the one note (say a high G), or can they play another note along with that? I know that it is technically possible for them all to be playing a different note, but that just seems a little daft.

    Question Three
    Does anyone have a link to a quick overview of this stuff? Is the viola section really the forgotten outsider, relegated to playing just one note (or two) at a time?

    I've played in a brass band before, so I have a general idea about section work - however we had a very small brass band, and a section was generally consisted of one of each instrument (if we were lucky) - so it was only a lesson half learnt!


    If someone more learned than me can assist in some of these conventions then more tears of happyness shall well.

    Cheers all
    Matt.

  2. #2

    Re: Orchestra For Dummies

    The above applies mainly to the string sections, HOWEVER if anyone would like to comment on any of the other sections then PLEASE DO.

    Cheers again
    Matt

  3. #3

    Re: Orchestra For Dummies

    Quote Originally Posted by Matt R.
    Question One
    If I were to play that following notes for the chord G Major using the string section:
    - B, D, G (around middle C) plus two G's (One octave apart & one octave beneath the chord) What instuments can be used for each note?
    From top to bottom, just go from first violins down to basses. Should work perfectly for those notes.

    Question Two
    Kind of relating the first question - Is there any convention which states how many different notes a section can play? Say the 1st Violin Section - would they all play just the one note (say a high G), or can they play another note along with that? I know that it is technically possible for them all to be playing a different note, but that just seems a little daft.
    It's not at all unusual for the section to divide and play two or more different notes. If you had 12 first violins and wrote two notes for them, then 6 players would play each note. You can write "divisi" above the chord in question if you want that effect. Sometimes it's possible for each player to play both notes, if they're on adjacent strings and the notes lie well under the left hand. This is called "double stopping." In orchestras, this is generally not done, but is frequently used in solo and chamber music.
    Question Three
    Does anyone have a link to a quick overview of this stuff? Is the viola section really the forgotten outsider, relegated to playing just one note (or two) at a time?
    It depends. If you're writing for a school or amateur group, the viola section is usually not as accomplished as the violins or cellos, and their parts should be kept simpler. If you're writing on the professional level, though, you have every right to expect the violas to be on a par with the rest of the string section.

    I suggest you look for a good book on orchestration, where you'll find a lot of your questions answered. Samuel Adler's "The Study of Orchestration" seems to be the preferred book these days. There are also good ones by Kent Kennan and Walter Piston.

    As for a link, try this: http://vsl.co.at/english/pages/instr...few__words.htm
    Dan Powers
    www.danielpowers.info

    "It's easier to be a composer than it is to compose."
    --Ray Luke (1928-2010)

  4. #4
    Senior Member Styxx's Avatar
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    Re: Orchestra For Dummies

    "Orchestra For Dummies". Ha! Think on that for awhile.
    Styxx

  5. #5

    Re: Orchestra For Dummies

    Hi Dan,

    Thankyou, thankyou.

    That link is pretty darn good - it's been frustraiting 'kind of knowing,' and for the most part I've been 'almost' spot on.

    Just for clarification:

    Question One
    If I were to play that following notes for the chord G Major using the string section:
    - B, D, G (around middle C) plus two G's (One octave apart & one octave beneath the chord) What instuments can be used for each note


    From top to bottom, just go from first violins down to basses. Should work perfectly for those notes.
    So for example, do you mean (and which would you prefer):

    (if no divisi)
    B5 - 1st Violins
    G4 - 2nd Violins
    D4 - Violas
    G2 - Cello
    G1 - Double-bass

    Or with divisi in both violin sections:

    (Divisi) B6 & G5 - 1st Violins
    (Divisi) B5 & G4 - 2nd Violins
    D4 - Violas
    G2 - Cello
    G1 - Double-bass


    Question four:
    What would you do to enhance, or fix the above?


    This is fun!
    Matt

  6. #6

    Re: Orchestra For Dummies

    Quote Originally Posted by Matt R.
    So for example, do you mean (and which would you prefer):

    (if no divisi)
    B5 - 1st Violins
    G4 - 2nd Violins
    D4 - Violas
    G2 - Cello
    G1 - Double-bass

    Or with divisi in both violin sections:

    (Divisi) B6 & G5 - 1st Violins
    (Divisi) B5 & G4 - 2nd Violins
    D4 - Violas
    G2 - Cello
    G1 - Double-bass


    Question four:
    What would you do to enhance, or fix the above?
    There's really no way to answer that. Either way will work just fine by itself, but which is "better" depends on the context. There are probably thousands of perfectly good ways to score a G major chord. The best way is going to depend on the general texture and voice leading of the chords leading up to it. If you have other instruments playing too, that's going to have to be considered.
    Dan Powers
    www.danielpowers.info

    "It's easier to be a composer than it is to compose."
    --Ray Luke (1928-2010)

  7. #7

    Re: Orchestra For Dummies

    If you divisi the 1st violins on a synth like GPO the result is louder because you have added a voice. But if you do that with a real orchestra the result is softer because you now have half as many violins playing each note. Something to watch out for.

  8. #8

    Re: Orchestra For Dummies

    Some very usefull replies you got there already. My advice is to get yourself a copy of Rimsky-Korsakof's principles of orchestration. The whole book is about answering exactly those questions, plus many more.

    The new book from Paul Gilreath also is said to answer many of those. I ordered about a month ago and is still waiting for my copy though. This one is also a bit expensive.

  9. #9
    Senior Member
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    Re: Orchestra For Dummies

    I'm also from the world of using synth sounds so I've had quite the learning curve. My suggestion is to listen to everything, look at scores of music you like and just sit down and play with it. With music learning is doing.

    One thing i've noticed: when I played a keyboard synth I often thought in block chords. Using GPO I think in individual lines. I don't think of the second violin as playing a B as part of the G chord, I think of the second violin playing a line that contains a B where the harmony happens to be a G chord. It's much more time consuming to do it that way, but I think the results are worth it.
    Trent P. McDonald

  10. #10

    Re: Orchestra For Dummies

    To add my angoe to the previous post ....

    Try as far as possible to get individual lines to make nice melodies. So each line makes sense horizontally ..... ie sequence of notes through time .... Melody.


    And also Vertically .... Chordally.

    Then the next level up is noticing the sense of chordal progression.


    Piano was my main instrumeht for many years .... and chord Progressions WAS the way I thought.

    Getting into multitracking, then chord prog was very helpful, because it DID give me a feeling for meaningul development through time.

    So then the next step was to leanr to apply this to single notes ... WHILST keeping them making sense as part of chords.

    All the best in your endeavour

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