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Topic: How to make orchestral music

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  1. #1

    How to make orchestral music

    Two quick questions:

    1) If I want to learn how to write orchestral music, is it necessary for me to understand how to read notes?

    2) If yes, is there one book or paper out there which is generally recognized as being *the* book for learning it?

    I've been making music with Logic/EXS for a few years, and am now interested in learning how to write orchestral music.

    After concluding I was unable to afford both EWWLSO Gold and VSL Opus 1, which are generally recommended as being good starter libraries, I was lucky enough to bump into Kirk Hunter's homepage, where I just ordered the 25 GB Emerald library last week. Those who have already received their copy of the library seem to agree it's a good meat-and-potatoes library, exactly as Kirk Hunter describes it himself. Therefore I expect it will be useful for me as a starting point, and that I do not have to worry so much about getting further software, at least to begin with.

    But of course, software is not all you need in order to write orchestral music! You also need to know what to do with it.

    In various threads I have seen people recommend books such as these:

    *) Walter Piston: Counterpoint
    *) Walter Piston: Orchestration
    *) Kent Kennan: Counterpoint
    *) Alan Belkin: Various papers from his homepage

    I have peeked into the first three, but all of them contain examples with notes, and I do not know how to read notes. Hence the two questions above. Also, the first of Belkin's four pdf-papers contain references to classical music of which I have none, so it's not very useful for me. I have not looked at his other papers yet, but I assume they will also contain examples in notes.

    I have been listening to soundtracks such as Lord of the Rings and would love to be able to write something similar, although of course it will not be on such a professional level. I especially love music with horns & trumpets!

    Any tips are welcome.

    Best regards,
    Henrik

  2. #2

    Re: How to make orchestral music

    If you have an orchestral library, you can make orchestra music. Just use the sounds in the same manner you have been composing. Create interesting sound combinations with the aural colors provided. There are no rules to making music, in fact someone like yourself, coming from a completely different angle, might create something very new and different. You don't need to read notes to compose in DAW's as you already have learned from using Logic.

    HOWEVER.........

    If you are wanting to write "film music" particularly LOTR type music, you have some serious learning/training/experience ahead of you, to do it well.

    Film music borrows HEAVILY from music traditions of the 17th,18th, 19th and especially 20th centurys. There is a WEALTH of info you would need to know about style, orchestrating, instrument ranges/characteristics, bowings, harmony, as well as having a pretty good idea of how to replicate cliches and moods in classical music in a relevant way for film music. Not easy to do and hard to teach.

    Does not mean you can't learn, but to do it well really requires some higher level musical skill, on many different levels.

    Buy books, listen to music, keep writing every day, try to copy the styles of composers you like, keep reading forums and hear what others are doing...

    Oh..... and take piano lessons twice a week for 10 years. Practice no less than an hour a day. You will come across the foundations of the musical language every day, and learn how to replicate it with your own fingers/mind.

    GOOD LUCK!!!

  3. #3
    Senior Member Bruce A. Richardson's Avatar
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    Re: How to make orchestral music

    Learn to read music. Children learn it every day, it is not hard. Once you've learned to read (it will take you all of two or three weeks' effort), you will be able to start absorbing some of the language in the books you're reading.

    Just keep learning. If you have talent, you'll be able to apply it to the knowledge.

    I think the above tip to find a piano teacher and begin studying is a great idea. It is really true...studying piano confronts you very directly with all the foundations of western musical practice, so it's one of the fastest ways to start learning. Piano teachers are also generally experts at teaching beginning musicians to read music. In some beginning piano books, you'll actually find a "chart" that sits behind the piano keys that shows where each note falls on the staff.

  4. #4

    Re: How to make orchestral music

    Quote Originally Posted by hbjdk
    I have peeked into the first three, but all of them contain examples with notes, and I do not know how to read notes.
    Henrik
    It's why I picked Adler: The study of orchestration + the CD's

    A very good investment.

    Used along with the Cd's you can read notes in the partitions while listening the examples.

    Plus this book explain the good combinations to explore among all the instruments. You also learn in which registers each instrument gives is best expression. And something very useful, if you forget about the meaning of an articulation you'll find it in the book with an example to listen on the CD.

    I suspect the guy (M. Adler) to know a little about the orchestration

    SergeD

  5. #5

    Re: How to make orchestral music

    I second the Adler recommendation. It's not cheap, but being able to read the text and the notes and hear the results paints the whole picture.

    Oh, and learn how to read music as well. You won't be sightreading overnight, but it's not that hard to learn how to slow-read music. Being able to read music will help open the following doors in the musical maze.

    -JF

  6. #6

    Re: How to make orchestral music

    Quote Originally Posted by dubaifox
    If you have an orchestral library, you can make orchestra music. Just use the sounds in the same manner you have been composing. Create interesting sound combinations with the aural colors provided. There are no rules to making music, in fact someone like yourself, coming from a completely different angle, might create something very new and different. You don't need to read notes to compose in DAW's as you already have learned from using Logic.
    However, you will not be composing orchestral music, just sample orchestral music instead. That may be your goal, in which case you can do what you want, but if you ever intend to transfer your music to live players, then I would recommend knowing something about it...!

    D

  7. #7

    Re: How to make orchestral music

    Composing orchestral music should never be about just making a big sound using a large orchestra and trying to use every element of the orchestra in every possible way. To me it is more like coming up with ideas, usually on the piano, and arranging/orchestrating them for voices in the orchestra that fit the style I want. This allows you to take advantage of the more contrapuntal and harmonic qualities of music, whereas composing directly for a large orchestra ends up being a more coloristic approach if you are just starting out. The size of an orchestra can be overwhelming; so don’t feel pressured into using every instrument at every moment. Also consider that there can be a lot of doubling, usually in the bass range, that can fill out those empty parts.

    I suggest starting out by orchestrating existing, non-orchestral music that you don’t even have to have composed yourself. For example, the class I took on orchestration had us arranging choral music and Christmas carols for string orchestra.

  8. #8

    Re: How to make orchestral music

    Thanks for all the suggestions, I think there is a lot of good and useful advice in this thread.

    My goal is to write sample orchestral music for my own listening pleasure, not ”real” orchestral music that is to be transferred to live players. Still, to avoid having it sound too much like what it really is, i.e. music done with samples on a computer (!), I am assuming it's still a good idea to learn some theory also. If you want to hear an example of the type of music I really like, there is a good audio example at the VSL site under the Horizon-series (Epic Horns).

    My wrists and elbows are very "fragile" as I suffer badly from carpal tunnel syndrome, so I do not think I will look into getting piano lessons. But I am definitely going to pick up the Adler book as well as the cds when I can afford it, since the text/audio-combo sounds like a good thing for someone like me with no formal musical training. As far as reading notes goes, there is most likely some free stuff on the net that I can use, but thinking about it I actually have a friend who plays the piano. He will most likely be able to point me in the right direction. Orchestrating existing non-orchestral music...hm...I'd rather see if I can figure out how to re-do parts of existing orchestral work.

    Btw. the KH library should arrive today, I'm looking very much forward to playing with it!

    Thanks again - good forum, glad I found it

  9. #9

    Re: How to make orchestral music

    Another recommendation here for the Adler. I'd also suggest two older texts, both on Instrumentation and Orchestration. One's by Rimsky-Korsakov called "The Principles of Orchestration", I believe. The other is by a fellow named Cecil Forsyth. The title escapes me. Strauss/Berlioz's "Treatise on Instrumentation and Orchestration" is also useful. But all of these are supplemental to the Adler, in my opinion.

    Another thing to do once you've familiarized yourself with how to read notes effectively and after you've learned the transpositions of the different instruments and how to read them as well, the most useful tool in my opinion is score study. It's said that the way Stravinsky learned was by going to rehearsals and listening with the score. When he heard a "moment" he liked, he circled it really large in his score and then went home and copied it note for note. Based on his findings, he developed an orchestral "repretoire"... or a collection of orchestrational tricks, if you will, that helped him to master the craft. This is how I work, and it's how many of the people in the field learned. All the apprentices copied the works of the Masters to learn...

    Hope this helps,

    S.
    Steven J. Kukla
    Kuklamusic.com

  10. #10

    Re: How to make orchestral music

    [QUOTE=Bruce A. Richardson]Once you've learned to read (it will take you all of two or three weeks' effort)

    As a music teacher, I would say this is a bit optimistic.

    The latest research shows that children can learn faster than adults. Much like language, youngsters minds are developing in a way that allows them to make many new connections very quickly. By adolescense, our brains become hard wired and are less receptive to new concepts. Our rate of learning new material slows.

    Anything new can still be learned, but not in the same way as when we were younger.

    I would say that if you were involved with music on a regular basis as an adult, it might take up to a year or more to be able to read music at an intermediate level.

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