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Topic: Octave leaps

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  1. #1

    Octave leaps

    In adapting my piano score to the orchestra, I am trying to get a handle on which instruments have difficulty jumping octaves.

    From what I have read so far, it seems that octave leaps in the flute and piccolo are okay, but not in the other woodwinds (except saxes, which I am not using in the piece.) However, I have seen this contradicted in descriptions of the clarinet being able to easily jump from register to register (a la Gershwin). What are the rules here?

    I have read that octave leaps are difficult or impossible to play in the strings. I was just wondering if this held equally true for the cello and bass. It seems that octave leaps are quite a natural thing to do in an ostinato bass line.

    I read that octave leaps in the brass are difficult as well. This puzzles me because, if they are playing the fundamental, it seems to me that the same note an octave above is the same overtone series (which I thought was supposed to make it easier to play).

  2. #2

    Re: Octave leaps

    I've been a violin and viola player in my dim and distant past and I can assure you that string players have no problems whatever playing octave jumps - unless, I suppose, they are ludicrously high for the range of the individual instrument.
    But I'd like to make a point that often occurs to me when this kind of enquiry is made. If you have the opportunity to write for a good semi-pro or professional orchestra (or GPO where the players are extemely well behaved and never answer back) you will find that the players will laugh at what you thought they'd find difficult, or figure a quick work round solution. I've NEVER been able to write something that a good band can't play, remember an individual player is a highly trained expert in what he or she does - you'll never get near that knowledge - so you don't have to do the worrying for them!
    Just make sure that you're in workable range - concentrate on what you want to say musically, and leave the rest to the professionals.
    I only say that because when I was starting out I was always depressed and repressed by all the RULES that you are supposed to stick by when composing and arranging, and worrying about what the musicians can play (unless you are specifically writing for an amateur or young ensemble - although they love to be pushed technically too! ) is one you can forget about.

    My opinion of course, but I do write for a living!

    regards,

    Barrie

  3. #3

    Re: Octave leaps

    I'd qualify this a bit. There are situations, even in strings, where it quite possible for someone who does not understand the instruments to write stuff which is VERY awkward or even impossible to play, even if it is within range, e.g. certain chords, fast passage work with many big shifts, etc.. There are usually better ways around these kinds of clumsiness and a good orchestrator should know them, if only not to waste expensive rehearsal time.

    As for 8ve leaps in the brass, yes they are easier than many other intervals, but even octave leaps can be difficult or impossible if too fast.

    Quote Originally Posted by BarrieB
    I've been a violin and viola player in my dim and distant past and I can assure you that string players have no problems whatever playing octave jumps - unless, I suppose, they are ludicrously high for the range of the individual instrument.
    But I'd like to make a point that often occurs to me when this kind of enquiry is made. If you have the opportunity to write for a good semi-pro or professional orchestra (or GPO where the players are extemely well behaved and never answer back) you will find that the players will laugh at what you thought they'd find difficult, or figure a quick work round solution. I've NEVER been able to write something that a good band can't play, remember an individual player is a highly trained expert in what he or she does - you'll never get near that knowledge - so you don't have to do the worrying for them!
    Just make sure that you're in workable range - concentrate on what you want to say musically, and leave the rest to the professionals.
    I only say that because when I was starting out I was always depressed and repressed by all the RULES that you are supposed to stick by when composing and arranging, and worrying about what the musicians can play (unless you are specifically writing for an amateur or young ensemble - although they love to be pushed technically too! ) is one you can forget about.

    My opinion of course, but I do write for a living!

    regards,

    Barrie
    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

    Re: Octave leaps

    It was just that my heart went out to poor ejr who has read somewhere - hopefully slightly misread - that octaves are a big issue in orchestral playing (God help us - there are 9ths 10ths and 11ths ahead!) - I love the thought of orchestral players the world over quaking in their boots in case they should suddenly turn a page to be confronted by an octave leap.
    I jest of course, but my further point was to advise against getting so paralised by all the technicalities, real or imagined, so that you never get to write anything and learn by your own experience.
    Professor Belkin is of course right in that it is possible to write a nigh on impossible passage for ANY instrument, but if you are stuck at the point of whether or not to write an octave jump or not this probably isn't an issue yet.

    regards


    Barrie

  5. #5

    Re: Octave leaps

    My initial attidude was not to shy away from the unusual or difficult, because that is what makes it interesting. And, yes, after a while, orchestration books (and forum posts) do make me feel overly cautious. But, mostly, I'm just trying to write as idiomatically for each instrument as possible. The piano is all I know and I don't want every part to sound like a piano part.

  6. #6

    Re: Octave leaps

    I just wish you enormous and absorbing pleasure from orchestration and composition ejr!!

    best

    Barrie

  7. #7

    Re: Octave leaps

    [QUOTE=ejr] However, I have seen this contradicted in descriptions of the clarinet being able to easily jump from register to register (a la Gershwin). What are the rules here?

    QUOTE]

    Do not confuse register with octave when talking about the clarinet, they are not the same thing. The clarinet acts like a closed pipe and thus overblows at the twelfth, id est an octave and a fifth, and not at the octave as do most other wind instruments.
    //
    // Ars longa, vita brevis
    // http://edosbear.blogspot.com/
    //

  8. #8

    Re: Octave leaps

    This is a good goal. The hard part is learning which kinds of difficulties are idiomatic, and which simply will never sound good.

    Stravinsky had a good idea: study advanced ETUDE books for each instrument. There you will see the kind of difficulty they work on, and which "fits" the instrument.

    Quote Originally Posted by ejr
    My initial attidude was not to shy away from the unusual or difficult, because that is what makes it interesting. And, yes, after a while, orchestration books (and forum posts) do make me feel overly cautious. But, mostly, I'm just trying to write as idiomatically for each instrument as possible. The piano is all I know and I don't want every part to sound like a piano part.
    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)

  9. #9

    Re: Octave leaps

    Dear ejr,

    It is a matter of context; the speed, instrument, loudness, style of play and actual notes will determine how difficult it is. Given that there are so many variations in this, it is not sensible to spend time when you could be composing or orchestrating worrying too much about this. If you know from your own experience that something is impossible, don't do it, otherwise forget about it.

    Fast passages with lots of leaps tend to be more difficult on pretty much all instruments - but then you knew that already!

    Just to work through an example of these issues (hopefully to illustrate the futility of worrying about it unless you know you have something to worry about):

    For example, for strings, leaps of an octave are not a problem if the notes are not intended to be played legato (joined). If the notes are intended to be played legato, it is not a problem unless the string player cannot arrange the fingering/positions such that he does not have to cross more than 1 string (i.e.G string to A string, or D to E etc.). If thenotes are intended to be played legato and the string player cannot arrange the fingering/positions such that he doesnot have to cross more than 1 string, the natural resonance of the strings and reverb of the surroundings will make the disconnection so slight it would not usually be perceptible. So in summary yes there can be challenges, and yes they would almost always be possible to overcome - I have to say that the idea of working through etudes for each instrument is very clever - I may try that.

    Therefore, let your instrumentalists worry about the technicalities of playing their lines, and you worry about scoring them in an idiomatic manner (i.e. make a tuba play a tuba-like line, make a piccolo play a piccolo-type line). Nearly any good instrumentalist can play pretty much anything (within reason). To produce idiomatic writing, I would suggest that you go back to orchestral scores within the standard literature, listen to and understand the piece, identify the themes/tunes, then look through the score for each time the theme appears in different instruments, and look at the differences in the way the theme is written for that instrument. For example, you would tend to find that piccolo is more ornate, has more upbeat runs, tends to have more trills and grace notes than exactly the same theme played on a horn or tuba etc. This comparison should generally make clear the idiomatic differences. Also imagine in your mind's eye (and ear) an instrumentalist playing the same tune, and try to guess what they would do differently, based on the agility and range of the instrument.

    I do believe however, that octave leaps are very difficult (almost impossible) on cymbals

    Kind Regards,

    Nick.

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