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Topic: Criteria for good orchestration (elementary)

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  1. #1

    Criteria for good orchestration (elementary)

    Orchestration is one of those fields where there is always something to learn, but I thought it would be useful for beginners here to have some concrete goals to start with. As a first goal, aim to orchestrate what I call "CLEANLY".

    These are the most basic questions to ask yourself:

    1) Is everything I have written reasonably *easily* playable? For your first orchestrations your musicians will not be members of the world's best ensembles. It is ALWAYS better to make things as simple to play as you can. Even with pro orchestras it saves rehearsal time (=$$$).

    2) Have I used my ensemble fully? Unlike in a virtual orchestra, adding 4 extra tuba parts is not free in the real world. Adding 4 extra tubas to play 3 notes each means lots of $$$. Is it worth it? Wherever possible, write for STANDARD ensembles, for the same reason.

    3) Is the orchestration CLEAR? Is the main line properly emphasized and does it stand out enough in relation to accompanying material? Make the orchestration balance on its own wherever possible.

    4) Does the orchestration respect and enhance the form? Making major changes in orchestration in mid-phrase usually will simply distort the music.

    5) Are the score and part professionally presented? Nothing gives away an amateur faster than parts badly copied or a score with a wierd ordering of instruments. Standards exist here for a reason: The musician does not have to learn new conventions for each piece. N.B. Having a computer make your parts does NOT guarantee they are OK. Computer generated page turns are sometimes ridiculous, the parts may not be big enough to be read at a distance (remember, the trombone has to be able to see his part at quite a ways off!), etc. etc. ...

    There is much, much more, of course, and some points (like #4 above) could be discussed at great length, but I'd say if you can't answer an unequivocal yes to all of the above, you don't DESERVE a real orchestra yet!
    Alan Belkin, composer
    Professor of Composition
    University of Montreal

    http://www.musique.umontreal.ca/pers...n/e.index.html (links to examples of my music, as well as my online textbooks)

  2. #2
    Senior Member Leaf's Avatar
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    Re: Criteria for good orchestration (elementary)

    Thanks for posting this very good info. I'm saving this as a text file for future reference.

    When I was exploring the different instruments in GPO, i found that to my ears the tuba sounds very beautiful when playing in it's higher register. I haven't however played with doubling or overlaying them yet. Would you say that sound is unique enough to justify an extra tuba or extra pair of tubas... or can they offer a part distinct or special enough to justify them?

  3. #3

    Re: Criteria for good orchestration (elementary)

    It's VERY rare to use the tuba in the high register for anything but a SOLO. Doubling will only make such a line sound out of tune. Also keep in mind that *any* brass in the higher register will not exactly be .... how shall I say ... self-effacing?

    Normally an orchestra will have more than 1 tuba only for the LARGEST orchestrations (Sacre du Printemps, some Richard Strauss, etc.), where ALL the brass are very numerous.

    Hope that helps.

    Quote Originally Posted by Leaf
    Thanks for posting this very good info. I'm saving this as a text file for future reference.

    When I was exploring the different instruments in GPO, i found that to my ears the tuba sounds very beautiful when playing in it's higher register. I haven't however played with doubling or overlaying them yet. Would you say that sound is unique enough to justify an extra tuba or extra pair of tubas... or can they offer a part distinct or special enough to justify them?
    Alan Belkin, composer
    Professor of Composition
    University of Montreal

    http://www.musique.umontreal.ca/pers...n/e.index.html (links to examples of my music, as well as my online textbooks)

  4. #4
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    Re: Criteria for good orchestration (elementary)

    Wise advice, in particular to aim for natural balance in the score. You can do amazing things with 'ppp' marks on a computer, but a horn player, for example, will never be that subtle in his infernal nether regions.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Leaf's Avatar
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    Re: Criteria for good orchestration (elementary)

    Yes, very helpful, thanks.

  6. #6

    Re: Criteria for good orchestration (elementary)

    Quote Originally Posted by belkina
    Normally an orchestra will have more than 1 tuba only for the LARGEST orchestrations (Sacre du Printemps, some Richard Strauss, etc.), where ALL the brass are very numerous.
    Yup. The tuba is by nature a forceful, penetrating instrument. It can be quite lovely in its higher register (or indeed anywhere in its range) -- I had the pleasure of writing a solo piece for a player who made the instrument's sound approach that of a bassoon -- but writing for more than one is decidedly unusual, as one tuba can balance all but the very largest brass sections (Sacre calls for over 20 brass players!). Doubling is not necessary for volume or mass, and 2 tubas could get quite heavy-sounding if you don't use them very carefully indeed.
    Last edited by marnen; 06-10-2006 at 12:06 PM. Reason: Make a better reply.
    Marnen E. Laibow-Koser
    Composer / Web developer
    http://www.marnen.org

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    Re: Criteria for good orchestration (elementary)

    Quote Originally Posted by belkina
    Orchestration is one of those fields where there is always something to learn, but I thought it would be useful for beginners here to have some concrete goals to start with. As a first goal, aim to orchestrate what I call "CLEANLY".
    I was thinking that another tool we could all use is to get some classic scores and study them. For example, for $14US you can get Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27 in full score. I am particulary fond of this music and the way he uses the orchestra. As an example of extrordinary melody without too many notes or instruments, check out the Moderato (molto cantabile) section of Mv. II (near rehearsal 28.)In my humble opinion, it is one of the best examples of clean, romantic, melodic styles I have ever heard. Movement III is very nice, too (where Eric Carmen got "Never Gonna Fall In Love Again"...)

    Keith Walls

  8. #8

    Re: Criteria for good orchestration (elementary)

    Quote Originally Posted by KeithW
    Movement III is very nice, too (where Eric Carmen got "Never Gonna Fall In Love Again"...)
    wow, he had a thing for swiping from others eh?
    not only his song themes from Rachmaninov, but his name from a Bizet opera too?

    (I WAS gonna make a joke about that fat little kid from SouthPark being multitalented...)

  9. #9

    Re: Criteria for good orchestration (elementary)

    I think building the inner ear as much as possible is a great guide for orchestration, harmony, counterpoint etc In fact it's the most powerful tool of all. I try to combine instruments in my mind taking into account volume, the timbre of the instrument at the range and in combination with various chords/ dissonances etc, dynamics, expression etc. it is very, very difficult!!!

  10. #10

    Thumbs up Re: Criteria for good orchestration (elementary)

    Professor Belkin,

    As a beginner, I really appreciated your post on orchestration guidance for beginners.

    I love all the info on this forum. And I feel like I am not keeping my head above water at times. So, I really appreciate easily graspable 'nuggets' like your post for a change of scenery.

    Thank you!

    Beverly

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