Author Topic: How do most composers normally orchestrate?  (Read 15515 times)

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greg

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How do most composers normally orchestrate?
« on: June 06, 2007, 05:40:46 AM »
I've never actually figured out completely, or read how most composers orchestrate.
Back long ago, they usually had a symphony written as if it could be played on 2 pianos, then they orchestrated it without thinking of which instruments they would use first, right? But then during probably the late Romantic era, just about every composer starting orchestrating the music WHILE they were writing it down, at least the main aspects of it. This is obvious since before then I don't think there were many passages of solo (untuned) percussion, which is of course not playable on the piano.

The system I've thought of is setting it up like this:

3 treble staves
3 bass staves

(these are default- sometimes they might need a clef change or when writing percussion, you can write a percussion clef || )

Also, when writing down the music, I'd like to know how much, if any, of the instrumentation they write down alongside the notes. I find that this can be a real, messy problem, even when I use short abbreviations like vn1 = 1st violin, fl = flute, bsn = bassoon, hrn = french horn, etc. It's more to erase, too. Or do composers memorize what the orchestrations should sound like and decide to never write down any indications of which instrument should play what? It seems like a lot could be forgotten that way.

Last thing, voicing & octaves: say if you were to write down a bass line for cello doubled by the double bass 8vo. Do composers write the line in both octaves or do they write down the cello and memorize that it's doubled by the double bass? And...... do they always write out chords in full, or are notes sometimes omitted in the draft to save room and make their music more readable? My basic question with all of this is basically how detailed drafts are.


If anyone can show me a draft of a real (readable) orchestral score that answers my questions, that'd be nice.

Mark G. Simon

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Re: How do most composers normally orchestrate?
« Reply #1 on: June 10, 2007, 04:43:47 PM »
The system I've thought of is setting it up like this:

3 treble staves
3 bass staves

In other words, you're going to compose a short score. This is pretty much standard procedure, one of the most common ways composers write orchestral music. It is entirely up to you to decide how detailed you want to be about indicating which instruments play which lines. If you while you're writing it that one line is going to be an oboe solo, go ahead and write "ob." or whatever will help you remember that you wanted an oboe solo. If you only know that string instruments are going to play a certain line, write "strg." or some other abbreviation. No one else needs to be able to decipher this. It's all for your own benefit, to assist you when you come to write out the full score.

Quote
Last thing, voicing & octaves: say if you were to write down a bass line for cello doubled by the double bass 8vo.

If it were me, I'd write something like "+ 8vb in db". But remember the only right way is the way that helps you later.

Offline BachQ

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Re: How do most composers normally orchestrate?
« Reply #2 on: June 10, 2007, 05:18:10 PM »
how most composers orchestrate.

They buy a book on orchestration, peruse a few Mahler and Prokofiev scores, and go from there .........

Steve

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Re: How do most composers normally orchestrate?
« Reply #3 on: June 10, 2007, 07:41:08 PM »
They buy a book on orchestration, peruse a few Mahler and Prokofiev scores, and go from there .........

I'm sure there are comprehensive courses available. Perhaps, a Musical Theory class?

greg

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Re: How do most composers normally orchestrate?
« Reply #4 on: June 11, 2007, 06:38:12 AM »
They buy a book on orchestration, peruse a few Mahler and Prokofiev scores, and go from there .........
Orchestration books actually don't teach this part, I've read 3! I don't know why, it's weird.
(though i could've skipped over a section, possibly)

Quote
In other words, you're going to compose a short score. This is pretty much standard procedure, one of the most common ways composers write orchestral music. It is entirely up to you to decide how detailed you want to be about indicating which instruments play which lines. If you while you're writing it that one line is going to be an oboe solo, go ahead and write "ob." or whatever will help you remember that you wanted an oboe solo. If you only know that string instruments are going to play a certain line, write "strg." or some other abbreviation. No one else needs to be able to decipher this. It's all for your own benefit, to assist you when you come to write out the full score.


Quote
Last thing, voicing & octaves: say if you were to write down a bass line for cello doubled by the double bass 8vo.

If it were me, I'd write something like "+ 8vb in db". But remember the only right way is the way that helps you later.

Thanks! So it's a somewhat flexible system, it varies from composer to composer how detailed they write the short score. That's what I was thinking, though I wasn't 100% sure.

Offline Cato

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Re: How do most composers normally orchestrate?
« Reply #5 on: June 13, 2007, 04:35:45 PM »
I know that Rachmaninoff always used 4 staves for the draft, then orchestrated from that.  I think Rimsky-Korsakov worked directly on the orchestral paper, although sketching things out on a few staves beforehand, which is what I did when I was composing music.

Stravinsky's manuscripts were color-coded, with certain colors for dynamics, tempo, etc.  I have been told they are beautiful to see.

There are symbols you can use to prevent writing the same thing 5 times, but with computers today a good music-writing program should have all this, making older techniques unnecessary.
"Meet Miss Ruth Sherwood, from Columbus, Ohio, the Middle of the Universe!"

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greg

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Re: How do most composers normally orchestrate?
« Reply #6 on: June 14, 2007, 08:04:54 AM »
I know that Rachmaninoff always used 4 staves for the draft, then orchestrated from that.  I think Rimsky-Korsakov worked directly on the orchestral paper, although sketching things out on a few staves beforehand, which is what I did when I was composing music.
yep, 4 staves seems like the amount you need at least. I've never heard of sketching things out on orchestral paper beforehand, that's a new idea for me.

Stravinsky's manuscripts were color-coded, with certain colors for dynamics, tempo, etc.  I have been told they are beautiful to see.
I've heard about that, and how he had a desk or something with all of his tools and everyone thought it was cool.

There are symbols you can use to prevent writing the same thing 5 times, but with computers today a good music-writing program should have all this, making older techniques unnecessary.
you know...... i really wonder what you can do, or maybe what will be possible in the future with Finale or Sibelius. What'd be really cool is if you could do this: write a line, highlight it and do something like press a button to add a line that is doubling 8vo, and then use keyboard shortcuts to give the line multiple colors. And then after the highlighted section, you can change colors however you want. This way, you can write quickly and know what it's supposed to sound like immediately. After all that, it'd be cool if you could press a button to orchestrate (and then after that, you'll still have to make minor adjustments, you know, the usual to touch up a score such as making sure the line is in an instrument's range to begin with.) I can't remember how much, if any, of this is possible.

Offline Cato

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Re: How do most composers normally orchestrate?
« Reply #7 on: June 14, 2007, 03:59:40 PM »
I suspect that the music publishing companies already have a program like what you describe above: it is simply a matter of "how much?" 

 :o
"Meet Miss Ruth Sherwood, from Columbus, Ohio, the Middle of the Universe!"

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greg

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Re: How do most composers normally orchestrate?
« Reply #8 on: June 15, 2007, 05:31:32 AM »
I suspect that the music publishing companies already have a program like what you describe above: it is simply a matter of "how much?" 

 :o
lol, probably!
they probably have some super program that costs like $2000   :-X

karlhenning

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Re: How do most composers normally orchestrate?
« Reply #9 on: June 15, 2007, 05:34:01 AM »
Maybe;  but both Sibelius and Finale have more bells & whistles (and high-tech training-wheels) than some composers may find necessary . . . yet there are some good old-fashioned solid notation or typographic items which could still use some attention  8)

greg

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Re: How do most composers normally orchestrate?
« Reply #10 on: June 15, 2007, 05:47:38 AM »
you know, i was messing around with Finale yesterday and thought that, "hey, it might actually be possible to write without a (piano) keyboard." You could just take a laptop and sit outside and write. With Finale, if you enter notes, you can actually hear how they sound when before you even enter them.

With orchestral scores, you can have one document that is 4-hand piano and then the other document that's blank, and copy the notes into the staves for orchestral instruments, thus orchestrating a page at a time. Might be a good idea.

so Karl, how'd you go about composing White Nights? Did you work at a piano or just type into Finale?

karlhenning

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Re: How do most composers normally orchestrate?
« Reply #11 on: June 15, 2007, 06:07:11 AM »
I haven't worked at a piano in quite a while, Greg.  Probably about three-quarters of the time I just work on paper;  perhaps as much as one-quarter of the time, I compose directly into Finale.

greg

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Re: How do most composers normally orchestrate?
« Reply #12 on: June 15, 2007, 06:59:26 AM »
I haven't worked at a piano in quite a while, Greg.  Probably about three-quarters of the time I just work on paper;  perhaps as much as one-quarter of the time, I compose directly into Finale.
Cool... i bet the only reason you work on paper so much is when there isn't a laptop or computer around with Finale, though. I think it'd be cool to travel and compose- there isn't a piano around all the time when you're somewhere far away, so Finale would be perfect. A piece of paper, though, ugh, you can't play it back. You have to have pretty much perfect pitch to compose that way and know exactly how it will sound.

Mark G. Simon

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Re: How do most composers normally orchestrate?
« Reply #13 on: June 15, 2007, 07:24:25 AM »
Good relative pitch, in any case. It's very good discipline, Greg.

Offline Cato

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Re: How do most composers normally orchestrate?
« Reply #14 on: June 15, 2007, 04:41:05 PM »
Mr. Simon is quite right: imaginary pitch, relative at least, is still important. 

I wonder if always having the notes available in a computer program might not in fact weaken the musical imagination. 

When I was composing in my quarter-tone style in the 1970's, there was no way to determine immediately if my imagination and my notation matched.

Fortunately the synthesizer and computers came along in the 1980's and for the few works I was able to hear finally, I patted myself on the back, especially for the various quarter-tone chords.  By that time I had given up composing as a dead end for myself and my marriage.

Anyway, being able to hear it immediately to verify one's imagination would have been nice, but I wonder what the long-term effect might have been.

"Meet Miss Ruth Sherwood, from Columbus, Ohio, the Middle of the Universe!"

- Brian Aherne introducing Rosalind Russell in  My Sister Eileen (1942)

Offline Guido

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Re: How do most composers normally orchestrate?
« Reply #15 on: June 16, 2007, 07:21:26 AM »
Is there a way to do an instant crude piano reduction on Sibelius? i.e. taking all the notes off a score and pasting them into one piano stave (for later arranging)?
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greg

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Re: How do most composers normally orchestrate?
« Reply #16 on: June 16, 2007, 07:33:21 AM »

I wonder if always having the notes available in a computer program might not in fact weaken the musical imagination. 

"might not" the way you wrote this is kinda confusing- but you'res saying you wonder if the using the computer would weaken the musical imagination, right?

It's funny, I actually thought that sitting at the computer and writing directly into it would do just that, but comparing what I wrote into the computer to what I wrote by playing on the piano, the computer is much better for the musical imagination. This might be because I suck at piano since I'm not a pianist, maybe. When I play piano, I let my hands write for me, which is not the best thing to do, when you're not such a pro at the instrument  :P

Offline Cato

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Re: How do most composers normally orchestrate?
« Reply #17 on: June 16, 2007, 10:07:21 AM »
"might not" the way you wrote this is kinda confusing- but you'res saying you wonder if the using the computer would weaken the musical imagination, right?

It's funny, I actually thought that sitting at the computer and writing directly into it would do just that, but comparing what I wrote into the computer to what I wrote by playing on the piano, the computer is much better for the musical imagination. This might be because I suck at piano since I'm not a pianist, maybe. When I play piano, I let my hands write for me, which is not the best thing to do, when you're not such a pro at the instrument  :P

The physical limitations inhibit your mental ability: which is why I always preferred the imagination over any thing I might tap out on the piano.

It has been written somewhere by a musicologist or biographer that Wagner's poor abilities on the piano affected his abilities as a composer of melodies.
"Meet Miss Ruth Sherwood, from Columbus, Ohio, the Middle of the Universe!"

- Brian Aherne introducing Rosalind Russell in  My Sister Eileen (1942)

greg

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Re: How do most composers normally orchestrate?
« Reply #18 on: June 16, 2007, 01:01:21 PM »
The physical limitations inhibit your mental ability: which is why I always preferred the imagination over any thing I might tap out on the piano.
Well, before I used to compose using the guitar and computer more i guess.

It has been written somewhere by a musicologist or biographer that Wagner's poor abilities on the piano affected his abilities as a composer of melodies.
you mean in a bad way?

Offline Cato

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Re: How do most composers normally orchestrate?
« Reply #19 on: June 16, 2007, 02:53:29 PM »
Well, before I used to compose using the guitar and computer more i guess.
you mean in a bad way?

That is what the musicologist meant as a negative criticism: that the melodies tended to be things easily tapped out.  Certainly you can find examples counter to the claim in Wagner.

"Meet Miss Ruth Sherwood, from Columbus, Ohio, the Middle of the Universe!"

- Brian Aherne introducing Rosalind Russell in  My Sister Eileen (1942)