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Orchestration: Where do I even start?

ism

Senior Member
I've lookout at Adler number of times (and rather longingly). I'd love to take a course using this as a text, but it just doesn't strike me as a reasonably to start for anyone outside of a fairly intensive formal setting ... anyone have any experience in a self study of Adler? (Anyone who didn't already have a degree).
 

TigerTheFrog

Amateur
I'm looking into getting the Adler 4th edition, but from my reading, the online portion costs $40 every 180 days. True? $80 a year forever seems steep considering you used to be able to pay once for the CD.

They don't offer the option of CD with the new edition and nearly all used copies of earlier editions state that they don't have the CD.
 

jmauz

Active Member
Walter Piston's orchestration book is a great reference to have around the studio. I usually have it on the desk if I'm doing a full-blown orchestration mockup.

 

David Cuny

Summer, we hardly knew ye.
With the caveat that I don't score films... :whistling:

Back in 1960, Frank Skinner wrote a book called Underscore that details the process of scoring a film. The film is referred to as "The Irishman", but apparently is actuall "The Fighting O'Flynn".

It's obviously way out of date, and might be hard to track down. I was able to find it in my library Link+ system.

The thing I really like about it is that it first presents the scores in 4 staff format, laid out as melody/countermelody/bass/harmony. These are then followed by full score arrangements, showing the full orchestration.

I found that helpful in clarifying how a composer thinks about writing for an orchestra. Or at least how Frank did. :P

Plus, it's a good read.
 
And don't forget the Rimsky-Korsakov Garritan free online course:

http://northernsounds.com/forum/forumdisplay.php/77-Principles-of-Orchestration
Seconding this as a quick way to get started. When I initially wanted to get into this stuff, I just went over most of the sections there just to get an awareness of what people think about when orchestrating, then experimented with a sample library on my own musical ideas. Just reading very simple things like what relative register each instrument is supposed to occupy or what character an instrument has when it's playing high or low, and being able to simulate what happens when you break those guidelines in a DAW, was quite helpful to me.
 

JohnG

Senior Member
anything that gets you going is ok in my book.

That said, both Kennan and Rimsky-Korsakov are overly cautious for anyone who has (or hopes to have) studio players from London / Los Angeles etc. available.

You can still learn a lot from Rimsky-Korsakov and it's free, which can be a plus.

However...

...your time is not free. So I still recommend Adler first and last for someone who wants to be a professional and not just a hummer (not that there haven't been some awesome hummers). Adler's ranges and materials aim at a professional level of player ability, not just "real good college players." Some of the other stuff is like learning it half-baked; you would still eventually have to get to the other level if you want -- to get to the other level.

To answer one question from @ism , I did self-study with Adler. With the audio, you can readily absorb it with a relatively rudimentary knowledge of reading notes.

That said, if you find in reading Adler that you can't read music / bass clef or something, then suggest you learn it. Because unless you either are rich (and can hire expertise) or have the chops and good fortune to land straight into the A list of composers in Hollywood (so someone else is hiring that expertise), it helps immeasurably to know this stuff.

(get it? "immeasurably"?)
 
OP
L

Last-Echo

New Member
if you find in reading Adler that you can't read music / bass clef or something, then suggest you learn it.
Hmm I see. I am descent with reading music, not quiet the sight reading level. But I know what's what. Since you mentioned it, would you consider it to require an advanced/itermediate level of music reading to be able to digest?
 

JohnG

Senior Member
Hmm I see. I am descent with reading music, not quiet the sight reading level. But I know what's what. Since you mentioned it, would you consider it to require an advanced/itermediate level of music reading to be able to digest?
Intermediate maybe? Really it depends on how determined you are. If you have never played an instrument reading any notation, it will be quite difficult. However, it's not insurmountable; if you have taken even one year of lessons at school or something that is a pretty good start.

You need to be able to read bass and treble clef, I'd say, but that's something you can learn. Later, it's nice to be able to read (even if slowly....) alto clef for viola parts but plenty of people just muddle through.

The main thing is -- do something! If you dream of a career at this, you don't have to know everything, but I use everything I know, every time.
 

JohnG

Senior Member
Well, I'm sold.
I'm not sure I am!

I love Adler but I fear that someone watching this will interpret his saying that, "before you think of composing you must learn this and this and this...," which mishandles the most crucial instinct of any composer: The urge to make stuff up.

The most important thing for a young composer to do is -- anything. I agree that to achieve a professional level of success, normally one needs to know a lot of things. But to do something, you don't need to know everything.

That does not translate to: "It's bad to know anything," or "it's ok, or even preferable to know nothing." That is foolish. It is, however equally foolish to insist that any young person be assigned years of drudgery before being allowed to try to write music. That is stupid, because...

...the only thing that is guaranteed to make you unsuccessful as a composer is to quit.

So? What do you do?

Learn As You Go

If you hear a piece of music and think a particular passage is "cool," then figure it out, or buy the score and figure out that passage. Then do that about a thousand times (over six months or six decades) and you'll be able to say what you want to say, the way you want to say it.

Do you need to copy out all Beethoven's / Hans' / Scriabin's great works before being permitted to compose? No. But you would learn a lot if you did copy out, say, eight (or merely four) bars of your favourite part of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," or "Back to the Future," or "Edward Scissorhands" -- or any of the many movie scores you can buy (for less than the price of the next v.i. library).

You don't need to know everything to get started, but it is helpful to know something. If you are going to survive your first low-budget feature film (and its typically impossible schedule) it's great to have a few bits and bobs figured out first.

Or copy advertising, or "The Pines of Rome" or "Carmina Burana." Learn a little here and a little there.
 

TigerTheFrog

Amateur
I'm not sure I am!

I love Adler but I fear that someone watching this will interpret his saying that, "before you think of composing you must learn this and this and this...," which mishandles the most crucial instinct of any composer: The urge to make stuff up.

The most important thing for a young composer to do is -- anything. I agree that to achieve a professional level of success, normally one needs to know a lot of things. But to do something, you don't need to know everything.

That does not translate to: "It's bad to know anything," or "it's ok, or even preferable to know nothing." That is foolish. It is, however equally foolish to insist that any young person be assigned years of drudgery before being allowed to try to write music. That is stupid, because...

...the only thing that is guaranteed to make you unsuccessful as a composer is to quit.

So? What do you do?

Learn As You Go

If you hear a piece of music and think a particular passage is "cool," then figure it out, or buy the score and figure out that passage. Then do that about a thousand times (over six months or six decades) and you'll be able to say what you want to say, the way you want to say it.

Do you need to copy out all Beethoven's / Hans' / Scriabin's great works before being permitted to compose? No. But you would learn a lot if you did copy out, say, eight (or merely four) bars of your favourite part of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," or "Back to the Future," or "Edward Scissorhands" -- or any of the many movie scores you can buy (for less than the price of the next v.i. library).

You don't need to know everything to get started, but it is helpful to know something. If you are going to survive your first low-budget feature film (and its typically impossible schedule) it's great to have a few bits and bobs figured out first.

Or copy advertising, or "The Pines of Rome" or "Carmina Burana." Learn a little here and a little there.
I just meant I was sold on him as a wonderful teacher.
 

Robert_G

It really is just an expensive hobby for me
This topic has been so helpful. Im so green when it comes to composing and the fact that there are pros here willing to spend their valuable time helping complete newbies like myself and the OP is just fantastic.

Just giving out a big thank you.
 

synergy543

Senior Member
I think the best tools for learning orchestration are a notation program (Sibelius or Dorico) and NotePerformer. You can try out just a few notes from a simple score and hear immediate results that give you a reasonable representation of the balance you might get with real instruments. You can start out as simple as you need and expand from there. Try just one note! Then a few more. Then add some other instruments. Hear what a section sounds like by itself or with other sections. Basically, its a computer representation of what you could only get otherwise by being a conductor and having an orchestra to try out various ideas and passages. Nothing like this ever existed previously in history, this is quite unique.

NotePerformer + a notation program is very different from using a DAW and samples as its essentially instant gratification whereas using a DAW and samples can take a fair amount of work and time and you're still not assured a good representative balance in the end. As witnessed on this forum, many people are struggling for years to get good results with a DAW and samples. Of course NotePerformer is not the same nor a substitute for the better results that are possible with a DAW and samples. However, as a learning tool, NotePerformer and a notation program is a far better choice.
 

ed buller

Senior Member
I'm a lone voice here but I'm not that enamored with Adler. There are much better books out there IMHO.

But firstly to "start" studying orchestartion i'd get a copy of Pictures at an Exhibition. This was originally a piano piece. Listen to that then the Orchestrated version by Ravel;


just listen to this over and over. Imagine it orchestrated . How would YOU do it....what would play the melody at the beginning ? where would it build. How would the bass be handled. How wide would the sound get ? where's the peaks and troughs ?...etc etc......


then listen to this:




Now not ALL orchestration is a piano transformation. A lot is written FOR orchestra from the get go . But with the Ravel version we can clearly see and hear, a before and after. And Ravel was a supreme orchestrator. But in essence what you are trying to learn is how to go from Black and white to color. No easy task. The problem with 90% of ALL orchestration books is that they deal with the individual instruments. Very little about the sound of the combinations. And even then sometimes it just drifts into specifics far too much. Essentially Orchestras are 4 blocks. Woodwind Brass Perc and Strings. They can play together, on their own and in combinations. The strings are the most versatile in terms of dynamics and color. So many techniques and they can go down to almost total silence. The brass is by far the loudest. A trombone can go from a "murmur"...to....................................... "IF YOU EVER DO THAT AGAIN I"M GOING TO FUCKING KILL YOU...............I"M NOT KIDDING !!"

Glockenspiels and piccolos can drown out almost everything.....( except trombones) .


For most people there are 8 Levels. PPP PP P MP MF F FF FFF . But a Flutes FFF is very hard at it's lowest range as is a PPP at it's highest...Physics plays a huge part !!!!


If You can, go hear an orchestra as much as possible. Go to rehearsals. I used to go and hear Micheal Tilson Thomas rehearse in San Francisco...it was very educational.

Go onto A free website like ( https://imslp.org/wiki/ ). Download something easy...Like Mozart. Get some Colored Markers. Three should do it. And highlight the bit's. Look for Melody and Harmony. And usually something else. The rule of three is very true.

https://music.tutsplus.com/tutorials/the-rule-of-three-and-music--audio-1389


and


https://music.tutsplus.com/tutorials/rule-of-three-part-2-orchestrating-the-nutcracker--audio-15527?_ga=2.120495880.1858138829.1559258500-1788638492.1557338243


but it's a huge subject. And you really should study the Masters. Yes Hollywood has some fabulous orchestrations but start with The classics.

Stravinsky
Debussy
Mahler
Wagner
Ravel
Rimsky Korsakov
...........................

they will keep you going for a while


bet

of luck


e
 
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JJP

I put dots and lines on paper.
I think the best tools for learning orchestration are a notation program (Sibelius or Dorico) and NotePerformer.
I could not disagree more. This is not good advice. This is about the same as saying writing something in Word and having text-to-speech read it back is a good way to learn how to write an effective speech. These programs will give you an idea of how the instruments sound together in a computer, but absolutely no information on how they balance in real life or behave in different registers. You will end up with some conclusions that are completely out of touch with how instruments work in practice.

I know this won't be popular, but my honest advice is this: If you are learning the basics of harmony and general music composition, stick with that for now. Learn that to the best of your ability. Ask your teacher when would be a good time to study orchestration. You will need solid harmony fundamentals to be an effective orchestrator. This is why most most decent college music programs require at minimum of two semesters of music theory, even four in the case of my school, as a prerequisite for studying orchestration. You can't have intelligent discussions about orchestration unless you first know harmony.
 

synergy543

Senior Member
I could not disagree more. This is not good advice. This is about the same as saying writing something in Word and having text-to-speech read it back is a good way to learn how to write an effective speech.
JJP, that's a poor analogy. Composers have been learning by copying masters for centuries with pen and paper. The only difference with NotePerformer and a notation program is that the tools are different (and in many ways better). Many people suggest reading Adler and Rimsky-Korsakov but you don't learn by just reading these books. Half of the Rimsky-Korsakov orchestration book are scores and beginners don't get much by just looking at them or even by score reading. So much more can be learned by playing these either in a DAW or notation program but this takes a lot of work. And even better is to reduce these scores to study the harmony and structure of the lines. Students can read all they want from harmony and orchestration books but probably less than 5% will be retained if they don't actually write and use this knowledge in practice.

btw, Prokofiev started writing as child and before he knew much at all. His early work was fairly mundane and Taneyev even told him his harmony was "painfully primitive". Prokofiev said "those words burned themselves into my brain", and thus began his ambition towards more complex harmonies. So of course, both skills (composition and harmony) need to be developed and as music requires many different skills, it makes sense to learn them concurrently.
 
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