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How the Harmonic Series Makes Orchestration SO Much Easier

ChrisSiuMusic

Senior Member
Hi everyone! I hope you're well.

I wanted to share with you a concept that not enough people talk about, and it really can make or break an orchestral arrangement: the harmonic series.

I think many people have a natural ear for what sounds muddy or clear in an arrangement, but hopefully this can help clear up some confusion if you've ever wondered "Why doesn't my arrangement sound clear?".

Please enjoy, and feel free to share your thoughts!!

 

rhizomusicosmos

Active Member
Thanks, Chris. Looking forward to the chorale orchestration video.

Hindemith's "Craft of Musical Composition - Book 1" starts with outlining the overtone series as his basis for (Western European) music theory. This was a prescribed text when I was learning music in college. Though it is somewhat culturally biased, it is an interesting "first principles" book on the derivation of the equal tempered scale from the natural overtone series and the necessary comprises made for the sake of polyphony.
 

J.T.

New Member
Important subject. I saw a symphony concert once where the first half was a modern work and the second half was Tchaikovsky. The orchestra suddenly sounded larger on the Tchaikovsky piece because his orchestration is scored to be very resonant, while the modern work didn't implement any of those principles. The big difference taught me an important lesson.
 

ProfoundSilence

Senior Member
Trying to remember if 12tone had a video on it, regardless - if you're going to name drop good channels for learning theory, 12tone is pretty entertaining - both in delivery, but also a lot of more specific and interesting concepts.

One thing I would definitely like to point out, is that lower harmonies present a richness and warmness - and this isn't necessarily a bad thing. The older you get the more realize that truly good music is a constant oscillation on many individual components of the music.

So strong, clear chords - are important to understand for the sake of clarity. On the flip side, doing the opposite to achieve the contrast between richness and clarity is part of how masters craft. If you think about it - strong, clear, brass statements are arranged octaves, fiths, then 3rds/ect on top. The next logical re-statement of the melody is often times the exact opposite - texture being strings, and voiced the other way around, with warm, gooey chords using cello/viola and bass on the bottom, with octave violins on top - again, the precise opposite.
 

ed buller

Senior Member
Trying to remember if 12tone had a video on it, regardless - if you're going to name drop good channels for learning theory, 12tone is pretty entertaining - both in delivery, but also a lot of more specific and interesting concepts.

One thing I would definitely like to point out, is that lower harmonies present a richness and warmness - and this isn't necessarily a bad thing. The older you get the more realize that truly good music is a constant oscillation on many individual components of the music.

So strong, clear chords - are important to understand for the sake of clarity. On the flip side, doing the opposite to achieve the contrast between richness and clarity is part of how masters craft. If you think about it - strong, clear, brass statements are arranged octaves, fifths, then 3rds/etc on top. The next logical re-statement of the melody is often times the exact opposite - texture being strings, and voiced the other way around, with warm, gooey chords using cello/viola and bass on the bottom, with octave violins on top - again, the precise opposite.

Actually if you look at Beethoven and others you see that a lot of basic triads in the orchestra favored 3'rds over 5ths all the time. If you have a strong root you don't need many fifths and leaving some out gives a lot of clarity.


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ProfoundSilence

Senior Member
Actually if you look at Beethoven and others you see that a lot of basic triads in the orchestra favored 3'rds over 5ths all the time. If you have a strong root you don't need many fifths and leaving some out gives a lot of clarity.


e

I wouldn't say that the harmonic series was supposed to be the be-all-end-all method to achieve clarity, I'm not sure why you started that sentence with the word "actually". 'Actually' just creating a defined space for the melody is probably the most important tool for creating clarity in an orchestration. You can have clear orchestration with chord tones above and below the melody - or even in the same register but different timbres, so the conversation could continue on forever, with clever tricks used in countless works that got the job done. The concept of the harmonic series and how that relates to common voicing strategies is great for beginners, regardless.
 

mikeh-375

old school
I wouldn't say that the harmonic series was supposed to be the be-all-end-all method to achieve clarity, I'm not sure why you started that sentence with the word "actually". 'Actually' just creating a defined space for the melody is probably the most important tool for creating clarity in an orchestration. You can have clear orchestration with chord tones above and below the melody - or even in the same register but different timbres, so the conversation could continue on forever, with clever tricks used in countless works that got the job done. The concept of the harmonic series and how that relates to common voicing strategies is great for beginners, regardless.

Yes, absolutely @ProfoundSilence. After that, immersion and experience of scores allied to an intent to develop musical and aural imagination that works in tandem with the actual writing of notes, is a great way to develop skill and individuality in scoring.
The success of risk in scoring is largely dependant upon the study one puts in and if fortunate enough, the experience gained from real life performance. As we see in the literature, the unique and individual expressive potential of an innovative and yet calculated approach to orchestration that defies vertical 'correctness' is incredible.
 
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cmillar

Active Member
It's a never-ending study (orchestration, instrumentation) especially now with electronic elements that can be introduced and mixed into traditional instruments.

Anyways....I love listening to much of the music of John Luther Adams in order to hear his manipulation of overtones, intervallic structures, etc. He's done a lot of exploring.

But for the sheer joy of orchestral music and the power of natural overtone sonorities I'll always put on some Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Rimsky-Korsakov, etc.

I think that the late Peter Alexander (Alexander Publishing) did some wonderful work with his updating of Rimsky-Korsakov's orchestration books along with Alexander's other great offerings on his website. He was a fine orchestrator in Hollywood as well and knew what he was doing.
 
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ChrisSiuMusic

ChrisSiuMusic

Senior Member
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Trying to remember if 12tone had a video on it, regardless - if you're going to name drop good channels for learning theory, 12tone is pretty entertaining - both in delivery, but also a lot of more specific and interesting concepts.

One thing I would definitely like to point out, is that lower harmonies present a richness and warmness - and this isn't necessarily a bad thing. The older you get the more realize that truly good music is a constant oscillation on many individual components of the music.

So strong, clear chords - are important to understand for the sake of clarity. On the flip side, doing the opposite to achieve the contrast between richness and clarity is part of how masters craft. If you think about it - strong, clear, brass statements are arranged octaves, fiths, then 3rds/ect on top. The next logical re-statement of the melody is often times the exact opposite - texture being strings, and voiced the other way around, with warm, gooey chords using cello/viola and bass on the bottom, with octave violins on top - again, the precise opposite.
Yes, 12tone is great. I name-dropped those 2 as those were the ones I came across recently. Thanks for sharing!
 
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