100 Orchestration Tips Thomas Goss

July 15, 2017 | Author: beefy123 | Category: Composers, Pop Culture, Bassoon, Orchestras, Clarinet
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100 Orchestration Tips by Thomas Goss


100 Orchestration Tips by Thomas Goss with a Foreword by Tim Davies

Text and Illustrations ©2013-2015 Thomas Goss Excerpts ©1998, 2000, 2002, 2005, 2011-2015 Tiritiri Matangi Music (ASCAP). Photographs by the author, also used by permission from Lane Violins. Certain images used by license from Shutterstock. Text and images excerpted from Orchestration Training Series, Courses 101-107, ©2014-2015. Public domain works available from IMSLP.org and the Petrucci Library. Brief excerpts of copyrighted works and images published under the Fair Use Doctrine for commentary and satire. Book design, cover, and layout by Thomas Goss. Formatting, layout finalisation, and cover titles by Sam Hayman. Please respect living authors and composers by keeping your copy of this book as your personal property. Permission is not given to share this book to any uploading site of any kind.

In Memoriam Peter Alexander Composer • Orchestrator • Scholar • True Gentleman and a strong supporter of both this book and the Orchestration Online community. Tacet

NAVIGATION This e-book is fully integrated to modern standards of web navigation. You may simply scroll through the pages of this PDF document; or you may choose to narrow in on specific topics, or browse through related topics. The tips in this book are organised in order of standard orchestral instrument groups: winds, brass, percussion, harp, strings, plus bonus scoring tips. Clicking on any of the section titles to the right will jump you forward in this book to the appropriate section, which will contain its own table of contents. Each tip page contains a navigation bar that moves you from instrument to instrument within the section, or returns you to the section head or back to this Navigation Page. With a book of this size and amount of detail, it’s inevitable that some errors will occur. Check our online Corrections Page for updates, along with notes and clarifications. If you spot an error, check the page, and if I haven’t caught it then use the contact form to let me know. This book conforms to American musical terms: half-steps instead of semitones, 8th notes instead of quavers. Scientific pitch notation is used throughout.

CONTENTS Foreword by Tim Davies Introduction: How To Use This Book The Ongoing Evolution of the Process of Orchestration Tips 1-25: Winds Tips 26-50: Brass Tips 51-63: Percussion Tips 63-70: Harp Tips 71-100: Strings Bonus Scoring Tips 101-113 20 Orchestration Questions Thanks, Acknowledgements, and Afterword Supporters Bibliography Index of Tips

Scientific Pitch Notation i


A student of orchestration today has any number of classic texts to study when it comes to learning the craft. From old standards like Rimsky-Korsakov and Berlioz to the twentieth century texts of Piston, Kennan, or Adler, there are plenty of sources to turn to for general surveys of orchestral instruments and technique. However, most of them attempt to cover everything you might need to know about the orchestra, which means they are limited in the detail they can go into about any one instrument or topic. 100 Orchestration Tips is a perfect complement to these texts. It is the inside information from someone who knows these books backwards and forwards, and has a wealth of professional experience. Thomas Goss and I first became acquainted with each other online, through our efforts to provide additional educational resources related to orchestration. Both his site, Orchestration Online, and my blog deBreved are dedicated to providing in-depth information beyond the standard textbooks, rooted in our own practical experience as working orchestrators. These kinds of contemporary resources are great assets for anyone who is serious about mastering orchestration. Once you have the Swiss Army knives of Piston or Berlioz in your library, then it’s time to acquire more specific tools. Think of 100 Orchestration Tips as a new fine paring knife to add to your arsenal. This is not so much a “how-to” manual but a “why-to” reference. It contains details and explanations that you simply will not find in other sources. Instead of merely being told something is common practice because X composer did it that way, you will learn why certain techniques work or don’t work on a given instrument. In reading these tips, I often found myself discovering the reasons why a lot of the things I’ve picked up from trial and error work the way they do. All orchestrators could benefit from having this knowledge. And the best thing of all: What other orchestration text exists where you can chat to the author online after you’re done reading? None that I can think of. So enjoy 100 Orchestration Tips.

Tim Davies, Los Angeles, April 14, 2015


Introduction: How To Use This Book This e-book is a collection of advice on the craft of orchestration from the perspective of a working composer and orchestrator. It’s the inside story: bits of information and insight picked up from years of scoring dozens of completed hours of music for professional orchestras. That level of work requires both an omniscient view of scoring - the ability to look over a score and comprehend its entirety on any given page - and a tightly focused view on every little detail of every bar in every part.

100 Orchestration Tips contains much information that isn’t in any orchestration manual I’ve ever read: the use of auxiliary instruments in film scoring, for instance, or how harpists are likely to “stomp” notes too quickly repeated. It also elucidates certain key points mentioned in manuals but breezily passed over, like the lack of key signatures in horn parts, or the importance of overtones in the resonance of a texture.

After a while, a certain set of instincts evolves about the implications of writing a note or phrase - how it will sound on its own, interrelate with other instruments, and function in a carefully constructed passage. Some of these instincts relate to the personal style of the composer with little bearing on the approach of their colleagues. Others ring true for the general body of work, and are universally applicable to the craft of orchestration. Their widespread use could help to strengthen the field, bringing a new level of comprehension and polish to the scoring of many composers.

This book collects a series of essays and blog posts originally shared with the Orchestration Online internet community, updating and expanding them for more comprehensive use as a combined text. In addition, quite a few tips have been newly written to form a more comprehensive overview of the orchestra, filling in many categories of instrument that I hadn’t the time or opportunity to address. The final form is a book that addresses all orchestral sections and essential instruments nearly equally, and hopefully will expand the skill sets of many composers.

So that’s what you’ve got on your screen: a collection of practical, usable instincts, interpreted in the form of “tips.” A tip is essentially a message from the future, telling you what to you’re bound to comprehend at the level of mastery that may await you. Its information saves you a period of trial-anderror, allowing you to put that time to better use and stronger, more informed effort. In the case of the sprawling subject of orchestration, the breadth of which no one composer can ever truly compass, every chance of jumping forward should be taken without hesitation.

A book such as this doesn’t happen by itself. It’s part of an ongoing conversation about the craft of orchestration with a community of several thousand composers. The members of that community helped inspire many of these tips, then personally funded their transformation into book form. Their generosity has allowed me to set aside the requisite time in my normally frantic schedule for the accomplishment of this task. In fact, they contributed 113% of my funding goal. In recognition and gratitude, I’ve included a section of 13 bonus tips, dealing specifically with issues of scoring the orchestra.

Now that I’ve defined what this book is, let me stress what it isn’t. It isn’t an orchestration manual. If you purchased this book thinking that it was a shortcut past hefty university texts, or a replacement for them, think again. Orchestration manuals are what you need when you open the box and look at the parts, and they guide you in defining those parts and their assembly. 100 Orchestration Tips is something else: a set of warnings, suggestions, and insights on the proper use of what’s in the box once you’ve got it running. Student composers are strongly encouraged to own an up-to-date, wellwritten orchestration manual, and to use it constantly for practical reference (the bibliography section contains several great examples).

In addition, I’ve supplied a series of detailed answers to 20 commonly asked questions by developing composers, which build on the craft-driven philosophy of the 100 Tips. And I’ve written a prologue of sorts, an essay on the evolution of the orchestration process, which immediately follows this introduction. The entire effect of these writings is to demystify the study of orchestration, humanise it, give it context, and bring it closer to the grasp of the composer-in-progress.

So if it isn’t an orchestration manual, then how should this book be used? In whichever way suits the ongoing path to perfection of each reader. You might read it through in one effort, and then review certain tips as each topic emerges as a concern in your work. Or you might simply pick through the book as an almanac of intriguing information, a Book of Lists or a Whole Earth Catalogue of orchestral tidbits. There are certain rooms of the house and moments of the day in which such scattershot reading might well prove productive. I personally recommend keeping this e-book on the desktop of your work computer, for immediate reference - but try not to get sucked into the flow of the text, or hours might easily be lost.

But I find myself observing, like J.R.R. Tolkien after completing over 1,000 pages of his epic The Lord of the Rings: “The book is too short.” In order to fit the entire orchestra into the arbitrary sum of 100 topics, quite a few existing tips had to be left out. The reader should be assured that I have far more than a half-dozen things to say about any given instrument. A truly comprehensive collection of tips might easily run three times the length of this book before I felt that the subject had been adequately dealt with. Nonetheless, here are the beginnings of what might be said by this orchestrator, and might be unearthed by the reader in that undiscovered country of their own artistic future.


As you may well know, I host a series of interrelated internet resources called Orchestration Online, with a YouTube channel, Twitter feed, Facebook group, and website that incorporates a variety of educational resources and links. It’s enormously refreshing to be at the centre of a daily exchange of information, insights, opinions, and musings on one of the most complex artistic topics of all: orchestration. The privilege of engaging with a more experienced colleague is well-matched by the honour that colleague feels in helping to shape the outlook and craft of a future professional in the field. And so the conversation has developed and widened into a community in which the entire career path can viewed at once, as travellers on that path interact with freely shared and divergent perspectives. And so we all get smarter, more capable, and less removed from the spectrum of our artistic population. As proof of this, let’s return to that perennial question, “How do you compose?” As posted on the Orchestration Online Facebook group, it’s bound to get several categories of reply. Composers develop ideas with pencil or pen on paper whilst sitting at their pianos ; or they use DAW’s (digital audio workstations) with an ever more sophisticated array of lifelike sound sets; or they score using notation software; or even a combination of some or all these approaches. The developing composer soon discovers that there’s no more or less professional way of preserving ideas. Two icons of composing at either end of the 20th century, Igor Stravinsky and John Williams, both scored their most well-known works using a pen or pencil while working at the piano. Conversely, there’s the realisation that the slickest technology in the world doesn’t make one a better composer. The most flexible, intricate DAW combined with the most realistic sound sets still must be powered by the composer’s imagination - and if that imagination hasn’t been challenged or stimulated, then there’s little to say. Likewise with notation software applications: for all their mounting perfection, they’ve little to offer a composer who hasn’t grasped the fundamentals of reading music.

The Ongoing Evolution of the Process of Orchestration “How do you compose?” It’s a question that I often see, in personal messages and internet postings. Developing composers are looking for guidance as they start to shape their own individual approaches to the compositional process. Now they’re reaching out to a resource of fellow creators whose mutual participation on such specialised issues wouldn’t have been possible half a generation ago.

The two biggest problems I see for young composers today are false expectations and lack of context. Composing products are advertised and discussed, with both gleaming reviews and more realistic grumbling. Composers’ expectations for the future often measure the potential success of their artistic ventures by how many of these products they’ll own, and how well they may operate them. The way products are pushed, along with the tech culture springing up around them, often lacks a sense of resonance with the history and intellectual process of composition. Very seldom do I see education programs integrated into these products on the fundamentals of musical theory and ear-training, so you can master both software and musicianship along with learning the interface. The perception has somehow arisen that technology can do a lot of this thinking for the composer, or that those principles are somewhat out-of-date. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you’re a young composer reading this, or a software developer, you should know that I’m not judging you. Misperceptions and market forces are more to blame than outright manipulation and gullibility. What’s more, the stripping of context from advances in the artistic process has been going on for centuries, with better or worse results. Witness how the enormous synthesis of craft, subtlety, and iv

culture in Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring was blithely ignored by modernist composers such as Varése and Antheil. They were more interested in celebrating the noise and controversy The Rite produced, and developing those qualities for their own sake. So let’s take a look at the entire history of the process involved in at least one of the key factors of composition - orchestration - and see where the heart of that process lies. To begin with, certain ensembles developed around music for ritual, entertainment, and warfare. The availability and appropriateness of the instruments in question determined their makeup. Before music notation developed, the content of the music relied on traditions passed down from professionals to apprentices. Instruments in large ensembles had roles every bit as specific as those we see in groups today such as marching bands and jazz combos. This non-literate approach survives today in folk ensembles around the world. At the dawn of Western music notation, the capacity of these ensembles to sort their own business remained for a time. Many collections of tunes were compiled, which preserved the secular music of the day. Ensembles interpreted these tunes quite freely, each musician joining in to support the music according to their set role. Music masters and theorists wrote treatises on interpretation, which survive as a kind of backdoor guide to arranging in the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. Meanwhile, church music was experimenting with vocal polyphony. To encourage an atmosphere of reverence and spiritual resolution, church composers developed the beginning of a system of voices working in independence and relation to one another. This eventually became known as counterpoint, and though its rules evolved slowly, its possibilities were explored quite rapidly in ever-increasing complexity. By the 14th and 15th centuries, composers like Josquin Desprez were composing extremely intricate vocal polyphony, laying the groundwork for the establishment of concert music. The beginnings of what we understand as orchestration started here - the concept that multiple voices in a composition could be preserved in a score, which in turn served as a set of final instructions to an ensemble. But it depended on the availability of musical resources, like trained specialist players with reliable instruments. These musicians were a haphazard crew until the growth of international trade and the resultant economic stability created cultural despots who could foster the development of the arts. This meant that early scores were necessarily patchy in approach, because a composer couldn’t count on a set ensemble for any performance. Thus we have the tradition of figured bass, in which the keyboardist realised an accompaniment from a simple bass line plus numeric cues. The rise of the keyboardist-composer was a natural result of this convention (along with the eventual supremacy of the church organ), culminating in the supreme figure of J.S. Bach, who represents the ultimate level of achievement for his time and way of working. By the 17th century into which Bach was born, the practical application of the term orchestration meant arranging for a string group, plus perhaps some soloists or special guests. The string group was essentially a quartet: first and second sections of violins, the middle voice of violas, and a lower section of cellos shadowed beneath by double basses. Orchestrations for this complement of musicians might

be sketched in a short score: a reduction using the grand staff to encompass the range of ideas. This helped composers to visually organise details, with both groups of violins typically scored in the treble staff and the lower strings in the bass. Once the music was perfected, it could be expanded into a full score and then extracted into separate parts. Parchment and paper were both expensive commodities in the 17th century, as was ink itself. Preprinted staff paper was unheard-of. Instead, composers custom-inked sheets of paper with a fivenibbed pen called a rastrum. Errors had to be scratched out with a penknife. Very few if any music manuscripts were ever published, as a market didn’t yet exist for their distribution and consumption. Thus, a finished work was an extremely precious object - perhaps the only existing copy ever made. If it were destroyed after the composer’s death, that idea would be lost to the world forever. To guard against this, many works were copied by hand, a laborious process if legibility was a priority. Thus, the rise of the specialist musician carried certain built-in presumptions. The first was that a large part of the creative process depended on internalisation. A master musician truly had to manipulate the realities of the situation to survive as a professional, which in that day meant that their brains had to work things out as automatically as possible. The rules of counterpoint and structural harmony had to be nearly instinctive, with a premium on the ability to improvise and find new meaning in a thoroughcomposed work. As precious as manuscripts might be, the composers themselves were considered to be the hard resource for accessing musical works, and enthusiasts might travel hundreds of miles to hear them perform. This all depended on the evolution of structured music driven by form, contrasts of emotion, and intellectual development. Composers who became successful at mastering these features pushed the possibilities forward with each generation, until concert music became highly complex and deeply sensitive: ultimately symbolic of the heights of human endeavour. But this progression also forced a process onto the composers themselves, especially with the emerging presumption that each of them had to orchestrate. The fundamentals of this process are these: 1. Initiation: an original idea emerges, containing the potential within it upon which to base a composition. 2. Development: the idea is strengthened and extended by improvisation, experimentation, and the application of theoretical principles. 3. Completion: the work is finalised and then preserved in a fixed form, usually with the intention that it may be shared with and performed by others. Of course, the list above is so general as to be arbitrarily applied to any artistic or intellectual endeavour. What’s fascinating to me is that each aspect applies to a different main function of the brain: creativity, analytics, and communication. For an orchestral composer, that translates as follows: a foundational musical idea emerges from the brain - a creative act. The extension of that idea into a musical work v

relies on looking at that idea from many different angles - creativity mixes with the brain’s capacity to analyse and freely associate with other ideas. This process shapes the original idea in many ways, particularly if formal principles are involved (such as common practice harmony, counterpoint, 12-tone systems, and so on). Or the composer may use contexts such as sensual imagery, narrative arcs, or even random chance to determine the outcome. The final step deals with our capacity for language. The composer must score a work containing all the musical information necessary for an ensemble of musicians to realise the composition. It’s a set of directions to the performers and conductor, a sometimes monumental act of communication. The specialised knowledge that each musician possesses (not to mention their level of ability) makes that act even more complex. All of these factors must be intelligently written out in a series of vertically simultaneous beats and bars, and come together to elevate the music to the level of inspiration that the composer intends. That’s where the subject of craft enters the conversation; the purpose of this whole book, in fact. The practicalities, realities, and subtleties are all part of the vocabulary and grammar of the language of orchestration. It precisely parallels the craft of great writers in their use of words, phrasing, and syntax to astound and delight the reader. An awkwardly scored passage is just as unwelcome in an epic symphony as a clumsy choice of words in a great novel. But the implications are even greater than that. The possibilities are so far-reaching in both crafts that they can be used to forge a highly personal style, either for an orchestrator or a writer. In each case, a developed sense of craft may be honed to convey new paradigms of communication with readers, audience members, and performers. The more that is known, the more natural it becomes to apply principles of craft in individual ways. Beethoven’s creative life stands as a testament to the possibilities of craft in the service of inspiration and analytical development. From his teens to his twenties, he absorbed and mastered a variety of disciplines within the scope of professional composing, seeking instruction from many teachers and theoretical works. He also studied hundreds of scores of both his contemporaries and of the previous generations of composers well into the Baroque era. The turning point from student to master came in his early thirties, as he embarked on a series of symphonic works that elevated the form past all recognition. For Beethoven, the creative process was all about development and experimentation. The initial ideas for many of his greatest works seem lacking in potential - but Beethoven’s patient, laborious method worked through the possibilities of each motive until the final result became transcendent. Then he applied an exacting and personal sense of craft to the final score, sometimes breaking new ground in the realms of technique and expression for his performers.

The tragedy of his deafness proved something even greater about the creative process. With a disciplined mind, a high level of inspiration, and a powerful imagination, Beethoven could dispense with the necessity of hearing his ideas. The entire process of composition could be an internal one. And actually, it always has been. Every device we use to capture and work out our ideas is merely a confirmative echo of our own internal process. No matter what we write down, play on our instruments, or hear in a mockup, the sensation is happening in our brains. Those brains are far more powerful than we realise at first, their functioning spurred by the challenge of processing information. The less that creativity depends upon external elements, the faster and more instinctive it becomes as all its channels interrelate with no patching, key entry, mixing, or tweaking. Let’s contrast the internal with the external. The basic process of working out ideas on paper, assisted by an instrument, is one of the oldest and most traditional approaches to composition. It’s an essential part of the craft of orchestration to be able to write and read notation, and certainly the work of score preparation is much more instinctive with experienced musical penmanship. And yet the mind is capable of remembering ideas, developing them internally, and eventually writing out a completed score. Many composers have had this ability, not just Mozart. Saint-Saëns used to compose in a windowless room with nothing in it but a podium, a pen, and a stack of blank staff paper. I think of that room as the smallest allowable extension of the internal process, with no distractions, the only act possible being that of composition direct to paper. What’s required for this level of internalisation is a highly developed ear. The ability to recognise relationships between pitches is only the start. When the ear applies theoretical knowledge and instincts to what it hears, it can perceive many simultaneous levels of musical information. Additionally, imagination can transform the memory of what’s been heard into new sounds. All of this adds up to a powerful internal workshop that can develop ideas without any need for plinking keys on a piano. Memory plays a key role in internalisation. A conductor can memorise an entire score, including the rehearsal marks. So can a virtuoso soloist. But what is it that they remember? Usually, it’s a combination of notes on the page with a strong sense of how things are supposed to sound. A composer may also train their mind to remember works in progress, with pages of orchestrated developments, even entire completed movements. Here, memory works in yet another way, replicating the sounds of many instruments while the imagination explores new ideas. My own strong feeling is that every orchestrator has a first-class orchestra sitting around in their head, waiting to pick up their instruments if only they’re asked. Most of the time, that orchestra merely plays back the greatest hits: those works that stand out most strongly in the composer’s memory. Be assured, though, those imaginary players long for the challenge to play something of yours, and to help you work out that idea all day long. You can people your internal orchestra with the memory of the great players you’ve heard from favourite performances. The more you recognise the subtleties and individuality of players, the stronger the internal performance. Imagine an orchestra with the horn section of San Francisco Symphony, the vi

winds of Concertgebouw Amsterdam, and the strings of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. No, that wasn’t rhetorical: go ahead, imagine that orchestra, or any other combination of players who inspire you. This personal orchestra can assist you in many ways. One of the most useful is in score-reading. The more you develop your inner ear and the better your craft and notation skills, the easier it is to pick up a score and let it tell you what’s going on. You can hear what sound the notes are making, almost like listening to a recording, if you can quickly absorb the details and put them to work. For an orchestrator who’s at it every day, this skill can elevate beyond listening internally in real time to the point where you just look at a score and know what it sounds like. At that point, the errors and difficulties on a page will stand out as if highlighted in marker pen. The most relevant benefit to having your own internal orchestra in this day and age is that it obviates the need for huge investment in sound sets. You’ve already got your own sound set, and it will prove more flexible than anything you could purchase if you’ll just put it to work. You don’t need sonic gratification, you need a strong imagination that can go anywhere and do anything immediately without taking hours to load. What do you need sound sets for? To realise your music for other listeners, that’s what. What’s the benefit of playback on notation software? To check for errors in pitch and tempo, and make quick mockups for collaborators. What’s the use of upgrades and advances in interfacing with your application? Speed, pure and simple. If you really want to make this passion an occupation that will feed your family and see you through a rewarding creative life, then you don’t have time to mess around. But for now, if you can maintain a realistic set of expectations about the use of technology, along with a strong sense of context about the creative process, then you can stop being convenient to tech culture and force it to be convenient for you. It has no other purpose than that. So how do I compose? How do I orchestrate? I use the fastest tools of all in their most convenient way. I conceive an idea, work on it mentally, figure out exactly how it should sound with the use of my imaginary orchestra, and then score it out using notation software. Sometimes I fight the tedium of

notating thousands of notes by keeping my mind engaged on finalising some passages I’ve intentionally left incomplete. By the time I’ve reached that point in the score, I’ve worked things out, and I can then focus on the next little bit of vagueness. The ultimate point is that the entire creative process is internal from conception to finalisation. I’ve composed in every other way, including DAW’s, pen and paper, even improvising into a recording device, and still the internal process is the fastest and most reliable of all. But that’s how I operate. It’s no set of rules for anyone to follow, nor is it the ultimate pinnacle of musical attainment. As I mentioned, many great composers have worked in quite miscellaneous ways, and some of the greatest have used the most basic tools. My way of working is ideal for me because I’m a concert music composer and a freelance orchestrator. If I were heading a team as a film composer, I’d have to adjust my processes to that world and its expectations. I might score to picture with DAW’s all morning, then connect with clients via phone and e-mail all afternoon. Some of my assistants would clean up the cues, adding better processing and fuller textures, then send the tracks on to the director. Others would be orchestrating and copying the approved cues. There might be long stretches for me between actually orchestrating anything, much less seeing the inside of a notation application. That life has its attractions; and yet at this writing I have no desire to lead any other type of life than the one I created for myself. For you see, a life is also a creative act, with its own sense of form, pacing, and arrangement of textural elements. The process by which that life is realised may also require enormous amounts of improvisation, experimentation, and analysis. The fulfilment of its themes and episodes is a score that an artist adds to with each new work. Craft is absolutely a powerful element in making the often impractical form of that life fit the equally unpredictable course of personal history. So look at this book on craft as kind of primer. May whatever useful information it may contain have a greater sense of meaning when it can, or at the least get you closer to the life you need to live to do the work that’s set out before you. And now, for the tips…


OBOE 11. Oboe Vibrato Formation and Frequency 12. Oboe Articulation 13. Oboe Lowest Octave 14. Oboe Phrasing 15. Oboe Family Optimum Ranges




Woodwind Note Durations and Breathing

16. Clarinet Registers and the Harmonic Series


Woodwind Registers and the Harmonic Series

17. Clarinet Octave Melodies


Woodwind Doubling Pros & Cons

18. Clarinet Textural and Melodic Blending


Woodwind Auxiliary Changeovers

19. E Clarinet Strengths and Realities


Woodwind Extreme Auxiliaries in Film Music

20. Bass Clarinet Flexibility





Flute Volume of Breath

21. Bassoon Uniqueness of Character


Flute Technique

22. Bassoon Low Register Resonance


Flute Lowest Octave

23. Bassoon Textural and Melodic Blending


Flute and Piccolo Realising Overtones

24. Bassoon High Register Usability

10. Alto Flute Strengths and Realities

25. Contrabassoon, Bass Clarinet, and Tuba Character and Differences 1

1. Woodwind Note Durations and Breathing

the application of this principle in many passages, with measured phrasing that encourages natural breathing. You’ll also witness long, glorious passages that use the full capacity of breath from a player, followed by generous periods of rests within which to recover.

Breathing for wind instruments is cyclical, not inexhaustible. Breathing is the foundational mechanism for the operation of wind instruments. It’s puzzling why, therefore, some orchestration manuals pass so lightly over the subject. This gap undoubtedly contributes to that question often posed by the student composer: “Just how long can a wind player hold a note?” This question shows that the manuals haven’t adequately covered the subject of how wind players breathe, and how that breath is used musically and expressively. Take, for instance, the outcome of answering this question. We’d need to set a different value for each instrument and auxiliary, and adjust that for the lung capacity of each player. But once those values were established, their existence would pose a threat to intelligent scoring. Freed from the necessity to learn about the limitations and natural processes inherent in breathing from the actual player, students might use these charts to justify composing completely unplayable phrases. For instance, let’s assume that our chart says that oboe players can hold a note for 30 seconds. Reading this, our hypothetical student orchestrator figures out what that means in terms of beats per minute, and scores exceedingly long phrases in their work, one immediately following another. Now the player has no time to recover their breath, and their natural breathing cycle has been stretched past the limit. The result: their arc of expression will diminish as they struggle to fulfil these enormous durations, and the whole affair will feel exhausting if not demoralising.

Fig. 1: Mozart, Adagio from Serenade “Gran Partita, K. 381, flute solo bars 1-17. Note the frequent breaks.

What you may also notice is that certain instruments have a different capacity for note duration. Oboes possess the lengthiest natural capacity, as the air passage through the reed is so restricted. Bassoons and clarinets are somewhat less capable of extremely long tones, and flutes least of all. But now that you understand these extremes, reduce them to reasonable lengths. What you’re left with is a template for natural cadences of of inflection and rhythms of breath. Applying it to your scoring helps ensure optimum performance by your players.

How have we come to this pass? The answer is simple. We’ve been taught to think of woodwind playing strictly in terms of what we hear as musical notes, which represents the outflow of air. We don’t think about inflow as music, but as necessary gaps within which the player can recover their breath so that they can get back to work. I feel that this perception is far too narrow. Breathing is about inspiration and expiration. Listen to the speech of a great orator, and how each phrase is measured and delivered with the exact amount of power to convey emotional and intellectual meaning. Then listen again for how the speaker sets up each sentence with the correct amount of support, and how words are paced so that that breath falls naturally in moments that feel inevitable. What you’re hearing is perfectly measured cyclical breathing, wherein the natural rhythms of speech balance the inflow and outflow of air. Once you’ve completed this experiment, score-read some perfectly-composed music for winds. Start with pieces like Janacek’s Mladi and Mozart’s Gran Partita. You’ll see INDEX


2. Woodwind Registers and the Harmonic Series Woodwind registers conform closely to the harmonic positions at which the range of pitches are blown and overblown. This tip goes to the heart of woodwind tone production, but once again, few orchestration manuals take the time to thoroughly explain it (one exception is Walter Piston’s “Orchestration” - see bibliography). Briefly, the pipe of a wind instrument is a resonating chamber whose length determines the frequency of its waveform. For example, a pipe which is two feet long produces a Middle C. Tone-holes which are opened along its length shorten the chamber and therefore raise the pitch of the waveform. This is all pretty basic mechanics, which I’m sure most student orchestrators have figured out by now. But they might not be aware of the role that the harmonic series plays. The lowest series of notes which a pipe may produce are all fundamental tones, with a waveform composed of a single node. These pitches are therefore first partials of the harmonic series, the same as the open string of a violin or the fundamental of a brass instrument. When the wind player runs out of notes in the first octave, a vent hole is opened, dividing the resonant chamber in two (with the exception of clarinets, which I’ll address below). This creates a doubled node, or second partial. The result is a series of pitches an octave higher, which may be similarly fingered. The player can access pitches in a third octave of range and beyond by overblowing into ever higher positions of the harmonic series, from the third to in some cases the 9th partial. The point at which options for dividing these waveforms runs out is the point at which embouchure and breath support can no longer coax a meaningful note out of the instrument. What’s the point of learning the scientific basis for all this? Simple: it informs us of the basic relationship of tone production to the concept of registers. Once this is understood, the comparative resonances of notes become clear, and the orchestrator may score more clearly and appropriately for each instrument.


mechanism is designed to play notes on the scale of D, from D4 to C 5. This means that the range of fundamental tones for a flute is 14 half-steps. The lowest notes on a flute have very weak overtones, because the force of air across the embouchure must be rather open and slow in order to match the lower pitch. This makes them very breathy and vaporous, easily drowned-out by other instruments in an orchestral texture. However, as the pipe is shortened and higher notes are played, the embouchure becomes more stable and the tone more forceful and rich in overtones. Some orchestration teachers like Adler and Rimsky-Korsakov feel this starts the middle register at around A4, carrying on up to G5. However, let’s not lose sight of the fact that right in the middle of this register, the harmonic series jumps from a 1st-partial C 5 to a 2nd-partial D5. Because of the growing clarity of the overtones towards the top end of the fundamental range, it’s easy for a player to match their tone to the higher neighbouring pitches at the bottom of the second register.


The second octave’s timbre is a mirror of the lowest octave. The bottom of the 2nd-partial range is as sweet and gentle as the 1st-partial range was breathy and insubstantial. As the second octave ascends, a parallel phenomenon occurs of rising strength and projection. The top notes are considered to be the beginning of the next register, just as they were an octave below. The third octave fragments into different partials, whichever makes the note speak the easiest and clearest. D6 is an overblown 3rd partial an octave and a 5th above the root note of G4. D 6 through G 6 are covered by simple 2-octave overblowing from the 4th partial, as is B 6. From there, the intonation becomes trickier, as the imperfections in the higher partials must be adjusted with lip pressure.




Notice something about this third octave: the fundamental pitches of nearly every overblown note are from the low-to-middle range of the first octave. In fact, most of them occur between E4 and G4, a range of 4 half-steps. The oboe’s construction is similar: its basic fingered range is the same D major scale as the flute. Its bottom 4 half-steps are also lower extensions, fingered by extra keys with the little fingers of either hand. This makes the fundamental pitch range a full 16 half-steps. But its problems of audibility are

Let’s start with the flute. The length of a flute from embouchure hole to pipe end is 2-foot Middle C. And yet technically, the low C and C are considered extra low notes, and the actual fingering




either hand; but also the thumb, which has a much more active role than in other wind instruments. The size of the reed and build of the instrument are far more optimised for clear articulation on extended lower tones than the oboe so much so that it’s the most solid and characteristic register of the bassoon.

the reverse of the flute. The very lowest notes tend to squawk, and are hard to control. This is because the frequency of vibration in the reed tends to flap around instead of staying nicely taut. All the same, the registers break across the harmonic series very much like the flute. As the top half of the pipe shortens in the lowest octave, the vibration of the reed becomes much better matched to the diminishing wavelengths. Here the middle register emerges, a range of a little over an octave in which the oboe is at its best and most characteristic. Halfway through at D5, the oboe crosses over to the 2nd partial of the harmonic series, and the transition is almost effortless. Up to G 5, the first octave key completes the middle register.


At A5, the second octave key takes over, and from here the test for the oboist is how tightly the reed can vibrate. The oboe can reach nearly a complete third octave with some coaxing, but the higher the pitch, the more difficult for the reed to speak. Note how the oboist uses a different pattern of harmonic partials than the flute for its extreme range. Also, the tendency toward sharpness caused by certain venting mechanisms is exploited to push some of these very high harmonics even higher. You’ll note this if you try to work out the relationship between each note and its fundamental on the last 8 notes of the chart.

This tradeoff comes at a price: the second partial harmonics run out at D4, and the bassoonist must overblow the third partial up to G4. Like the oboe, the imperfection of these higher partials is exploited to produce notes higher or lower than the mathematical overtones. From there, a progression of 4th, 5th, and 6th partials gets the pitch all the way up to top E, a safe limit for orchestral section players. One last note on registers. There’s an almost comical difference of opinion on demarcations of bassoon registers. Adler, Kennan, and Rimsky-Korsakov all have different charts, perhaps reflecting different philosophies about tone. I’m with Casella here: the most reasonable boundaries for registers are that which are built into the instrument itself. I’ll address the relationship of the harmonic series to the clarinet in a separate tip. But for now, I recommend score-reading many passages of orchestral wind solos and chamber music, and noting how the quality of tone changes as the player switches registers and harmonic positions.

The bassoon continues the concept of extending the lower range of a pipe. Its basic fingering lies across a G Mixolydian scale from G2 to F3. However, it extends downward from there to B 1. This means that the fundamental range is 20 half-steps, all 1st-partial tones. Similar to the oboe, these extended lower tones are fingered using the little fingers of




3. Woodwind Doubling Pros & Cons Be aware of the consequences of scoring a2 unison for winds. The question of doubling for winds comes up quite often for an orchestrator-in-progress. Strange to say, the simple act of putting two of the same type of wind instrument on the same note can have broad implications for the type of sound you want in the orchestra. You should never do it arbitrarily, or by default. Always question why you want that sound, and be clear about its actual effect on your texture. This feature of scoring is made all the more complicated by sound sets, especially those specifically created for use in notation software. As of this writing, the words “a2” or “1. solo” have no effect on the sound played back, and therefore may convey nothing to a less experienced orchestrator. And yet the difference for live players is marked at the very least, and enormous at times. The first question you have to ask is: why do it at all? The truth is that two wind instruments on a note doesn’t give that note double the dynamic power. It makes the note fuller in terms of projection and tone, but that isn’t volume; that’s tone quality and audibility. And it doesn’t make a woodwind line more expressive to have two oboes or two flutes on it - quite the reverse. The interpretation of dynamic arcs and inflections becomes more controlled and less individual. The biggest concern for doubled wind players is unity. Musicians in topnotch orchestras who sit next to each other for years will be able to match in a spookily precise way but few orchestrators have ever counted on this in the wide scope. The reality is that on an exposed melodic part, doubling immediately reveals the minute differences in intonation between the two players. Sometimes this is intentional, as in the famous clarinet solo at the opening of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, where the unison of two clarinets rings out coldly in the chalumeau register. A single clarinet here would be much less devastating.

Fig. 3a: The opening double clarinet solo of Symphony no. 5, Movement 1 by Tchaikovsky. Here, the unusual combined timbre enhances a unique emotional quality in the music.


Things don’t improve with the addition of more and more winds. While string instruments sound ever more silky and unified the more you add on one line, the winds achieve the opposite effect. Sixteen violins sound unified on a melody - three-to-four unison clarinets or flutes sound like a marching band, even with excellent players. With amateur players, make that a high school band. All the same, let’s categorise when such doubling might be appropriate, and what it sounds like when so used. Keep in mind that the following list deals with doubling in exposed parts rather than textural support (which I’ll address at the end). • Doubled flutes: actually, this sound isn’t so bad. Even with good amateur players, one can achieve a nicely blended tone, especially at softer dynamics in the middle and lower registers. As a general rule, when wind instruments become more strident in tone, the accompanying overtones tend to widen between players - or at least, that’s the perceived effect to the listener as the intonation differences between players become ever more obvious. This means that the blending for flutes will be quite difficult for the top half octave, especially at fff. Of course, if you’re doing that, you may not care too much about the niceties.

Fig. 3b: Doubled flute solo from Mahler Symphony no. 1, Movement 1, bars 71-81. The combination steadies the bottom notes of the flutes’ range, while the softness of the following passage helps the instruments to blend in their middle register.

• Doubled oboes: difficult to manage for players in an exposed part, no matter how stable the tuning may be for the instruments. Because of the nature of the overtones, intonation differences can be quite wide. A line that sounds flowing in the composer’s imagination may have little to do with reality.

Fig. 3c: A little wind chorale from Brahms Symphony no. 1, Movement 1, bars 495-500. Here, the dense tone of the combined winds has a very reedy effect, and helps to ease the conflicts inherent in oboe doubling. All the same, it’s a passage that’s easy to play badly.


The worst aspect here is that the precious tone of the oboe is the one that’s most cheapened by melodic doubling. Yet this error is repeated over and over, to the consternation of university instructors everywhere. • Doubled clarinets: a bit better than oboes, because of the essence of the sound. Like Tchaikovsky, an orchestrator can use the somewhat hollow, edgy effect of unison clarinets for a special effect. But it’s important to note that such doubling wears thin quite soon, and should be used carefully if at all.

Of course, in any such list, there are countless exceptions and variables at play. Articulation can make all the difference - for instance, a row of doubled oboe staccatos might easily come off bettersounding than an attempt at a lyrical melody. And this doesn’t address the question of doubling at the octave, or doubling with other winds, but you can read all about that in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Principles of Orchestration. One thing is for sure, though - the wonderfully enveloping and forgiving tone of strings can smooth over all differences in intonation when a doubled wind line is itself strengthening the strings. Here, doubled flutes and doubled oboes can support the melody of first and second violins into the stratosphere, and make them soar with added colour and strength. This is especially effective if the winds play a hair under the strings in dynamics, or the players take pains to blend. There are other exceptions as well, such as winds stacking in interesting combinations with brass, or winds adding to bits of colour in complex textures. The difference here is that the somewhat difficult intonation is less of an issue in the broader scheme; at least that’s true with more experienced players.

Fig. 3d: A nicely contrapuntal passage from Tchaikovsky Symphony no. 5, Movement 2, bar 33-37. Note the composer’s vision of balance here: a single 3rd horn, doubled bassoons and clarinets, and strings - but only a single oboe. Tripled flutes start big in their low register and tail off as they ascend.

• Doubled bassoons: there’s a wide variety of opinions on this between different orchestrators and teachers. Some feel that such doubling is as tasteless as that of the oboe. Others have little problem with it. My own personal take is that doubling bassoons can work quite well in a bass line in the bottom octave and a half of their range; but the higher one scores, and the more melodic the part gets, the worse the effect, until finally the sound becomes ridiculous. INDEX

Fig. 3e: Excerpt from “Anchors Aweigh” by Charles A. Zimmerman, arr. Thomas Goss, showing only the upper three octaves of strings and winds from a fully orchestrated page. Here oboes play a2, but their intonation is smoothed over by unison with 2nd violins and violas. Only one flute is needed for a balanced sound, leaving the second flutist to play filigree on piccolo.


4. Woodwind Auxiliary Changeovers A. Sometimes, it’s better that a wind player stays on their auxiliary instead of changing back to their principal instrument. B. Auxiliary instruments are useful as part of the general fabric of a composition, not just as soloists or as extensions of their sections.

Let’s say that you’re second oboist for a mid-sized orchestra. You play a lot of English horn parts as a result. On one new work, you’re piping away at some very good writing for second oboe - clean, well-supported, and easy to articulate. Then you’ve got a little solo on English horn a few bars later, followed by a quick change back to oboe II for a few background notes. Then you’ve got to play that solo again, and then trade off back and forth several times over the next few minutes. What’s the main thing you want to tell the composer at that point? “Why can’t the English horn play those background notes?” The very success of the English horn as a solo instrument makes it hard for composers to realise that it’s also great at support. English horn is capable of very soft playing, with a range that’s more even throughout its registers in some ways than its prototype, the standard oboe. The same applies for piccolo. Many are the passages in which composers have carelessly scored a series of changes back and forth between second flute and piccolo, unnecessarily if all the passages are in the same basic octave above the staff in concert pitch. As long as the dynamics are handled intelligently and there aren’t too many loud notes below written D in the staff, there’s no reason why a player mightn’t just play right through the whole passage on the piccolo. The instrument can add a pearly colour to support textures, or merge seamlessly into the background with upper strings or unison with flute I.

Fig. 4a: Goss, Excerpt from “Give Me My Bone.” The cor anglais (English horn) part plays 6ths and 7ths below oboe I, then ascends to a perfectly playable trill on C6. The parts supports a tutti, with some melodic doubling of the 2nd violins.


Of course, there are exceptions to this, especially with instruments of an octave extension downward, like the contrabassoon. In this case, the rougher buzzing of its immense reed gives it away in higher passages, making it hard to blend as naturally with the standard bassoon. But the same isn’t true for the bass clarinet, whose paler upper register is enormously useful in support scoring. It can fill in a midrange harmony along with a regular B or A clarinet, or eerily track the flutes at one or two octaves, or thicken the viola line. It doesn’t have to just bounce creepily around in the basement.



The above sample depicts a passage in which the composer wants a featured bass clarinet solo in its bottom register. Halfway through the passage, the top version asks the player to put down his instrument and pick up his clarinet, playing some chalumeau register harmonies with the wind section. Then it’s back to bass clarinet again for some more spelunking. But as you can see in the lower version, there’s no need for such a change. The player can stay on bass clarinet for the whole passage. There’ll be virtually no difference to the listener.


warmed up. Think about that next time you hear an E clarinet or cor anglais entrance that’s a little flat. Don’t always blame the player: the temperature of the hall and lack of planning by the orchestrator may be factors as well. Yes, you can actually write a part into your piece where you’ve created a risk of less than perfect intonation. Keeping instrument changes to a minimum can be key to lessening this risk, and using auxiliaries to bridge certain parts can be liberating in this process.

The implications go further than merely the fussiness of constantly alternating between two instruments and two different types of reading. There’s also the issue of instrument temperature. A player wants to hold onto their instrument for as long as possible once it’s INDEX


5. Extreme Woodwind Auxiliary Instruments While orchestration manuals discourage their use, extreme auxiliary instruments can be quite common in film scores.

Sam Adler’s “The Study of Orchestration” is a little bit hipper: “…because [the bass flute] is relatively newer and still very expensive, few orchestras have one and few composers score for it. It can be found, however, in solo and chamber music and in some film and band scores.” Precisely, Mr. Adler. In fact, the sound of the bass flute is also well-known to viewers of film and television, where it is often found in the scores of many an action/adventure script, especially those dealing with some sort of covert action. Composers of the 1960’s and 70’s used it so often that it became a kind of auditory cliché to hear it playing a motive in an octatonic scale, solo or in harmonies with standard flute in its lowest octave.

For every orchestral family, there are always auxiliary instruments: holdovers from older periods, like the viola d’amore or the oboe d’amore; or extensions of range like the piccolo or bass clarinet. Then there are the extreme auxiliaries, which push the range of the families in strange directions, usually downwards: the bass flute, the baritone oboe/heckelphone, and the contrabass clarinet. In orchestration manuals, you’ll run across cautions when reading up on many of these less common auxiliary instruments. Here’s one from the 1955 edition of Walter Piston’s “Orchestration”: “The contrabass clarinet is as yet too great a rarity to be considered an available resource in symphonic composition.” Professor Piston inadvertently put a huge blind spot into his otherwise worthy tome. While thousands of orchestration students in the late 1950’s to mid-70’s were reading this passage and sighing with regret, millions of Americans were listening to the contrabass clarinet constantly. They didn’t know what it was, and might not even be paying attention. But they reacted most appropriately to the low rumblings coming out of their tiny TV speakers with feelings of disquiet, suspense, even horror. The contrabass clarinet was much easier to hear within the limited sound spectrum because of its overtones, easily trumping the somewhat muffled contrabassoon. It was brilliant in a duo or trio with bass clarinets, possessing the ability to have beautifully fine-tuned intonation at the lowest pitches. Fig. 5b: Goss, example from “License to Trill,” 33 Orchestral Textures. TV cue in the 1960’s action/suspense style for standard flute and bass flute

The reasons for the use of these instruments is fairly uncomplicated on the surface. Film and TV composers were always searching for new elements of sound with which to spice up their textures. An unusual sound like a lower wind auxiliary would be ideal for setting one’s score apart from others at first, and then when the new sound caught on it would become standard. Fig. 5a: Goss, example from “Good Evening,” 33 Orchestral Textures. TV cue in the Hitchcock style for two bass clarinets and Eb contra-alto (contrabass) clarinet


But there’s more to the story. There was a whole Hollywood culture of dedicated musicians who prided themselves on being able to tackle the weirdest thing that composers could throw at them. Just listen to Looney Tunes scores - some of the cuing sessions might take hours to fine-tune some of the 9

complex gestures that were thrown at the players, but somehow the work got finished. Parts would be delivered to stands with the ink still wet, and the players would go to work on them as if they’d rehearsed the night before. There was a great deal of good-natured ego involved, with a lot of players switching around. A friend of mine, now regrettably passed away, told of playing every type of clarinet in the family, from sopranino down to BB Contrabass; every member of the saxophone family; and oboes, flutes, slide whistles, you name it. A player might sit in one section, and then play in another for pickups, dubbing, or solos. Composers would ask for things hesitantly, then be amazed when the players blasted through the cue with both perfection and nonchalance.


One such group of players was the L.A. Horns, who performed special arrangements by such composers as Gunther Schuller, making use of every possible member of the horn family: descant horns with a much higher range; contrabass horns; and as always, the slobbery, dogged Wagner tubas with their huge, difficult timbre. The members of the group were a mixture of orchestral players, soloists, and Hollywood session players who were phenomenally gifted. Often, a film score from a couple of generations ago with a large horn section might essentially be thought of as a “L.A. Horns score,” capturing their essential sound and personality. As time progressed, the culture of the group was seen in more and more scores by such composers as Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams, whether the actual players were involved or not. In these scores, the aforementioned Wagner tubas (essentially overbuilt French horns) often played a prominent role. Again, the average TV-watcher had much more experience with auxiliary instruments than the orchestration books suggested. So the next time you read a comment such as “Instances of its use are so rare that few orchestras are prepared to supply the instrument,” (Piston, p.. 162, The Heckelphone), dig deeper. There’s a reason why these instruments exist, and they do get played by someone somewhere. Find out who’s doing the playing, and don’t be afraid to add them to your cue if the player can be contracted. The results will be truly out of this world.

Fig. 5c: Goss, excerpt from Uriel’s Flame for Wagner tuba quartet and bass tuba. Some scoring for these unique instruments in a heroic style.



6. Flute Volume of Breath

once you hear them they’re obvious. Most players will take a breath right in the middle of the first beat of the second and third bars, lending power to the pickup into beat two.

The flute’s capacity of breath should be considered while scoring.

Unlike pp bowing on string instruments, a softer dynamic doesn’t necessarily equal more notes and longer durations for phrasing. In fact, many wind players feel that breath support should be even more focused on softer passages. Hence the first breath mark in the sample above is just as necessary as the second one, if not more so.

Nearly every orchestration text ever written will mention the oboe’s unusual capacity of breath, and caution against its overuse. This book is no different (see Tip no. 14). But let’s turn it around. What if the oboe’s seemingly endless sustain were the norm? That would make the clarinet and bassoon somewhat less capable in this regard, and the flute least of all. For it takes a lot of breath to play the flute. The embouchure determines the technique: a thin stream of air directed across the embouchure hole. In order for this airflow to create a tone, it must split precisely at a specific angle, at which the pressure differential starts a vibration through the resonating chamber. This technical explanation simply describes the act of whistling; but whistling engages and directs the breath. For an experiment, whistle a familiar tune for a full minute. As you do, notice how much breath support you’re using to maintain the tone, and how often you need to replenish your lungs. A flutist might have to breathe in the same way, carefully setting up the phrasing for each passage so that the correct amount of force and expression may be applied.

The rest of the Orchestral Suite’s shorter movements are worth reading as well for studying breathing. Bach tends to write in set phrases of four to eight bars on faster movements, ending each on a final note which can be followed by a breath with the least amount of fuss. Slower movements are composed of phrase groupings that are more or less difficult to manage for the player. This is not to say that flutists naturally fall into predictable patterns of breathing. In fact, they try to avoid making things sound obvious. Here’s where well-crafted note shaping can disguise the setup to a following breath, making the junction between phrases seem smooth, perhaps even continuous unless the listener is paying very close attention. In orchestral section playing, naturally there’s much less of this nonstop pressure on the flutes. Nevertheless, what makes the Bach playable is what makes Tchaikovsky playable: a sense of dialogue and pacing, in which the breath is wisely used to support conversational and emotional arcs. The opening to the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s third symphony contains the type of scoring that a flutist could play all day: little motives that sit right in the ideal register, with lots of breathing space. The clarinet’s octave doubling makes the flute line glow.

This means that flute players are masters of sneaking a breath, especially as composers often seem oblivious to all this. J.S. Bach in particular tends to treat his flutist’s lungs like an inexhaustible source of air, scoring entire movements without a single rest. Or so it seems on the surface. But if you dig a little deeper, you can hear that his endless phrases often contain moments perfectly designed for taking a quick breath. A perfect example of this is the Polonaise from the Bach Orchestral Suite no. 2 in B minor. In a polonaise, emphasis lands on the second beat because of the dotted rhythm of the first beat. Bach uses this rhythmic hook to score a somewhat circular melody, returning over and over to the first note of B5. If you score-read the opening passage, listening along to a video of a flutist, you’ll notice where the breaths occur, and in fact

Fig. 6a: J.S. Bach, Polonaise from Orchestral Suite no. 2 in B minor, flute solo part bars 1-4. Note breath marks in red.


Fig. 6b: Tchaikovsky, Movement II from Symphony no. 3, flute part bars 1-21.

If further evidence were needed of the flute’s greater need for breath, then it would be easily found in comparisons of the lower wind auxiliaries. The english horn, contrabassoon, and bass clarinet all require more breath than their standard counterparts; but their airflow demands pale by comparison to the alto and bass flutes, the performance of which orchestration teacher Cecil Forsyth felt would require a race of heroes with far greater lung capacity than mere mortals. Oddly, the piccolo also requires more breath, with a similar level of support but a considerably faster airflow. Consider all these factors when scoring for the flute family, and give your players some phrases that are well-planned and worthy of committing their breath. 11

7. Flute Technique Neglecting to exploit the flute’s technical prowess is the chief error in many composers’ efforts. This is something of an anti-tip, as it’s generally known that the flute has one of the greatest capacities for technical fluidity of any instrument, wind or otherwise. One might assume from this that an orchestration teacher might spend much time telling their students that they’ve gone too far technically - but this is not the case. In fact, even more than improper balance in lower-register scoring (which I’ll cover in the next tip), I’d say that the majority of student scores that I audit lack an appropriate amount of interesting and challenging lines for the flute.

So where else can we cast the flute besides these well-worn roles? Introducing a theme; elaborating on an idea; contrasting a colour; playing call-and-response; reacting to and counterpointing statements by other instruments and sections; changing the direction of the music; establishing a mood; and many many other strategies. These various ways of treating the flute open the door for a plurality of technical approaches as well: cascades of arpeggiation, lightning-fast phrasing and staccatos, trills, tremolos, flutter-tonguing, pitch bending, harmonics, and more. This is not to say that I’m pushing the idea of technical display for its own sake. No, I’m pushing it for your sake. There are few things so personal to a composer as the way in which they write a freeflowing, technically challenging passage. It can be so individual as to represent a trademark sound, which one might well develop to define their own voice, or at very least try to avoid imitating in other composers. Let that be your reason and motivation for heavily score-reading technical passages for flute, and developing your own signature approach.

This may have something to do with general trends in film scoring that greatly influence the work of a developing composer. The general sound of many cues is focused on bombast, with big brass chorales and octave melodies plus soaring strings. In such an often unrelenting landscape of orchestral brute force, the flute has little to offer but filigree and thickening. And yet such scoring is only a percentage of the scores I see. Many other works are composed in a more placid style of film music, or in neoromantic to neoimpressionist styles. It’s odd to look through a score with great influence by Debussy or Ravel and witness a timid approach to flute scoring, with mere doubling of the first violins, or background harmony. Even the progenitors of modern post-romantic maximalism, like Richard Strauss, Mahler, and Holst had long passages of graceful intrigue in addition to their overwhelming bombast. The great Russian composers of a century ago were also keenly aware of the flute as a melodic resource and wrote some of their best lines for it, far more powerfully than 16 bars of quarter notes and half notes with no slurs. This is not to scorn the efforts I see but to challenge them to higher aspiration. The first step is to lift one’s perception of the orchestral role of the flute beyond the role of the first violin’s partner. Of course there will be many times when the upper strings will need some thickening by the upper winds. But those instances are high points of emotion, whose constant appearance loses its lustre with repetition. The other overused role for the flute is that of being the top of a wind harmony. There’s nothing wrong with putting the oboes on top and giving the flutes a rest at times. The flutes don’t have to lead the wind section every single time it dominates the texture. They can sit back and bide their time, waiting for a more intimate moment in which to solo. The oboe or clarinet can lead for a while. INDEX

Fig. 7: Individuality of style expressed through flute technique. A. Debussy, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, bars 1-4. B. Ravel, Feria, bars 1-6, from Rapsodie Espagnole. C. Holst, Jupiter, bars 389-390, from The Planets. D. Mahler, Symphony no. 4, Movt. 1, before Fig. 17


8. Flute Lowest Octave The lowest octave of the flute is tricky to balance, but effective if handled correctly. In my previous tip, I mentioned the lack of technical challenges as being the most common error in flute scoring. A very close second is scoring the flute too low in thickly orchestrated passages. Even composers whose scores show every sign of being guided by well-written orchestration manuals will still stick on this point. Flutes are given intensely demanding first-octave phrasing and rewarded with a part that’s buried in the texture (much like the harp is often scored by beginners). Or they start wellplaced in their middle register, then descend into complete, utter inaudibility. Yet what does every orchestration manual say? “Don’t swamp your flutes!” They simply can’t compete in a strong texture in their first octave, and even the first few notes of their second octave should be treated with some care in balancing if the texture is big. The conventional wisdom is to avoid using the lowest register unless very thinly accompanied - but it’s more complicated than that, and an orchestrator with a keen ear can find unexpected opportunities. In the following two excerpts from movement 2 of my harp concerto, I score for this register in two different ways, both in group textures. The first is as a melody, the top note of a chorale with clarinets and bassoon 1. Note that while the lower lines of the chorale have one instrument each, the top line is played by doubled flutes. This is not for balance, but for solidity and for a blended (rather than soloistic) tone. The balance is provided by the flutes being one dynamic degree higher than the other winds. I could have used my favourite auxiliary the bass clarinet as the bottom line - but that might have resulted in too many of the wrong type of overtones being reinforced in the flutes. Also, it would have made the clarinet timbre dominate. The bassoon encourages the tones to blend because of its own very complex timbre underpinning each chord. The second example is part of a very delicate harmonic texture. The horns play ppp along with gently pulsing strings and tremolo basses. The flutes and clarinets push slightly at the rhythm of each pulse, like the slight flex of tone in a heartbeat. Here, the flutes blend into the harmonic cushion without being swallowed, because of the character of the textural elements that surround them. The horns and strings create a radiant, complex chord, while the clarinets and flutes have a cooler combined tone in the centre of the sound picture. So while it’s important to be realistic about the flute’s ability to project in its lower range, there are still many ways of putting it to work down there that can be every bit as individual as an approach to technique as noted previously. Make your treatment of this unique resource into a defining characteristic, and not a road to the musical Everglades. INDEX

Fig. 8: Goss, Harp Concerto, Movement 2, bars 7-10, 42-45


9. Flute and Piccolo Realising Overtones Think of the bigger picture when scoring flute and piccolo as the top voice of a harmony, in how their timbre fulfils the inherent spectrum of overtones. It’s instructive to score-read and listen to Classical-era wind band compositions, particularly those without flute. Mozart composed several, including his most famous, the Serenade in B K.361 (“Gran Partita”). Have a listen to a few movements from a variety of such works, focusing on the overall sound picture, especially in homophonic passages with fully-scored harmony. Haydn also wrote an extensive amount of divertimentos, of which several feature winds without flute, which also apply in this regard.


What you may notice from this study is that the full wind ensemble without flutes has a very pungent character, a very chesty, earthy type of sound. It’s not only that oboes and bassoons abound, but also that they form upper and lower boundaries to the sound picture. The bassoons form the root of the harmony, and the oboes complete it as the top voice. This textural resonance, though fascinating, has its limits, which explains the eventual ascendancy of the flute by the end of the Classical period (not to mention the addition of the clarinet). The wind section as it exists today is a nicely balanced set of timbres. Each general timbre of each wind family contributes to an overall harmonic texture with a smoother, more colourful mix. Bassoons provide a bass rich with potentially complementary overtones. Clarinets sit very well at an octave or octave-and-a-5th above the bassoons, while encouraging overtones above of a major 3rd, 5th, or 9th. Oboes clarify any unevenness that might be developing between bassoon and clarinet overtones with a quite penetrating, direct sound. Finally, flutes sit atop all, fulfilling the combined potential of all the overtones. The more consonant (similar to the harmonic series) these relationships are devised, the clearer the sound. Of course, subverting that clarity can be much more interesting; and yet, such subversions sound more informed when the composer knows where they’re departing from.


The Mendelssohn excerpt to the left illustrates a keen awareness of wind instrument resonance, and the flute’s role in making it radiant. Read the short-score version I’ve provided along to a decent recording. Note how the flutes start simply, then gain in richness of overtones as they rise until the whole harmony glows with a pearly luminescence. Though it looks quite straightforward on the surface, this passage is a nightmare for players. It’s very exposed, and requires an expert sense of intonation. The second horn part is notorious for throwing the last two chords off, as it carries the most resonance on the fifth of A minor, and then immediately jumps down to the same note two octaves lower as the fundamental of the resolving E chord. The slightest discrepancy can ruin everyone else’s day, as the horn has to underpin the narrow intonation at the top of both chords. The piccolo takes this radiance to a starshine, with overtones that can reach in and twist our eardrums around. Often a composer will score high register piccolo at the same dynamic level as the rest of the orchestra in a crashing tutti, and then find at rehearsal that the conductor (or the player on their own initiative) has taken this screaming sound down a notch or two. It’s not that the high pitch is essentially louder; it’s that the power of the highest overtones dominates in registers we cannot exactly hear but will still feel somewhat painfully. Yet for fulfilment of overtones inherent in harmonic passages, nothing beats the piccolo. Its shorter length and slimmer bore restrict the range of overtones, leading to a thinner, more piping sound, exactly the narrower timbre one might need to balance a larger harmony. This limitation can be used to excellent effect in substituting middle-register piccolo notes at the same pitch as high flute notes. In the opening to Holst’s Saturn from The Planets, the piccolo plays the top D 6 of a G minor triad with two oboes. The piquant overtones of the oboes match perfectly with the veiled iciness of the piccolo. The underpinning A minor trombone chord three octaves below makes the harmony gleam all the more, because the wide separation catches the conflicting brass overtones right at their strongest high partials.



One last observation about this quality of the flute family is that audibility may sometimes be less of a concern than presence. I’ve occasionally scored an invisible Fig. 9c: Gustav Holst, Saturn, bars 3-4 flute or piccolo line with intention of bringing more life to the overall texture. This is very similar to passages in Classical scores like Mozart’s Symphony no. 40 in G minor, where the single flute gets swallowed by the resonance of the strings an octave below. It’s scored to be felt more than heard. 14

10. Alto Flute Strengths and Realities The alto flute is stronger and more usable across its range than some orchestration manuals admit. The alto flute is often treated with far too much caution, and far too little imagination. Complicit in this conspiracy are simplistic uses in well-known scores on the one hand, and orchestration manuals exaggerating its limitations on the other. Developing orchestrators tend to follow Holst’s lead in The Planets or Phantastes, scoring alto flute parts mostly in its lowest octave as a solo part, or as the lowest voice in a combined flute chorale. This kid-glove approach is backed up by manuals such as Adler’s, which refers to the alto flute’s top octave as “ordinary and without the brilliance of the flute.” Piston writes more or less the same thing for the top half-octave, then goes on to stress that its lower octave is “…the most individual part of the alto flute’s range.” Faced with such an emphasis, it’s little wonder that most alto flute music is low and slow. Of course, there’s no question that indeed this is a great register for the instrument, much stronger in that pulsing, earthy resonance than the bottom notes of the standard flute. Part of the unique charm of the alto flute is derived from the natural acoustic properties that occur when any instrument is scaled larger. In this case, the increased width and length of the bore limits the entire first octave from a higher range of harmonic resonance, resulting in a throaty rather than piping tone.

Here’s where the injustice of a casual opinion cuts the most unkindly. Piston calls the timbral difference between alto flute and standard flute in the middle register “subtle.” Adler generously describes the alto’s middle register as “full and quite effective” - and then shows no examples. But there’s a reason why Stravinsky scored alto flute so heavily in Le Sacre du Printemps. The limitation of upper partials carries on somewhat across the whole range of the instrument, and I personally find the difference more than subtle. It has a certain cool, unpolished quality that probably evoked a kind of village flute for Stravinsky. Ravel also gets this right. In his masterpiece Daphnis et Chloé, the alto flute fearlessly joins in on tuttis in its middle register, artfully weaving a line to support clarinets and oboe rather than simply provide an anchor for the other flutes. Likewise, its big solo in the first suite centres on the middle register, dipping down to its velvety depths and back again only in a couple of places, and quickly rather than slow and sweet. It sounds very little like a standard flute here - much more discreet and exotic, having a folk-like character similar to Stravinsky’s sacrificial alto. Ravel underlines the exoticism by echoing the solo on standard flute doubled by A clarinet, resulting in a timbre that’s very much like the alto’s alone, but somewhat fuller. It’s a perfectly crafted solo, ending in a couple of bars of doubling by first flute on C above the staff. The orchestration of this passage is well worth studying, with extremely delicate, highly coloured, and yet driving accompaniment.

In Tip no. 2, I illustrated that the flute’s lowest octave starts to firm up at A4, signifying the start of new register. For the alto flute, an equivalent increase of power, projection, and resonance occurs around the same concert pitch: written D5, but sounding on the same pitch as the standard flute’s middle-register bottom note of A4. This means that the second and third registers of both instruments will nearly match, with the alto’s bottom octave adding a few notes below the standard flute’s.

Fig. 10b: Ravel, Alto flute solo from Daphnis et Chloé.

Fig. 10a: Comparison of alto flute and standard flute registers.


I’ve also scored for alto flute several times, working with extremely experienced players. I found the instrument to have a quite different character than what’s generally described. There’s a certain fullness of sound that works on the ear, without the same strength of projection as other winds, and yet with a kind of encompassing warmth that’s its own sound picture. Capturing and supporting that essence is a challenge, as few other instruments have a complementary sound; double basses, cellos, and violas playing lower natural harmonics and sul tasto, perhaps, or extremely soft clarinets and horns. Marimba or harp might well provide punctuation for this type of texture-building, or soft double-bass pizzicato. 15

As far as registers go, my own observation is that the instrument may be used very well across its entire range, even the highest notes, provided that one is intentionally scoring for a veiled sound. The top notes, far from being “ordinary,” have an unearthly sense of incompleteness that could be exploited in many innovative ways.

At bar 140, I make use of the alto flute’s natural tendency towards a cooler, less vibrant tone. Another way to mark this would be “nonvibrato.” Taking away that variation of force leaves a somewhat refined, distant sound that’s undoubtedly the source of many half-hearted estimations of the alto flute’s character. Yet it’s another colour available in the orchestrator’s palette, waiting to be used. Throughout, though, there’s no substantial lessening of technical capacity. The alto flute can be fleet, agile, even virtuosic. What’s playable on standard flute is mostly playable on alto, with adjustments of breath and embouchure. Its expressive range has the same variety and width, within the parameters of its altered resonance. It speaks the standard flute’s language, but in a somewhat affected accent with slightly slower pronunciation. One caution that’s entirely valid: it really does take a great deal of breath to play. Another caution that’s seldom mentioned: it’s quite heavy compared to the standard flute, and the drag on a player’s body may well effect their energy, having consequences for intonation and concentration. Frequent rest breaks are in order.

Fig. 10c: Goss, Cadenza excerpt from Matins for Alto Flute and Harp, bars 130-146.

The excerpt above from the cadenza of my piece Matins is a study in the continuity of the alto flute’s range, spanning from bottom to top written C’s (concert G3-G6). Here, the alto is treated more like a standard flute than staying reverentially stuck in the bottom octave. The more fluid middle register is allowed to become the centre of melodic gravity. From bars 132-135, that central position is extended gradually outward in either direction to the limit in both directions. This presents a challenge for the player in maintaining uniform strength and clarity across so many changes of register, but it’s manageable. At bars 138-139, the line ascends to the top C with a great deal of strength, immediately followed by the bottom C. This really is like going from one world directly to another in terms of embouchure and breathing. The top notes are going to feel and sound like a steam whistle, and the bottom like a velvety whisper. INDEX


11. Oboe Vibrato Formation and Frequency Be aware of the process by which oboists produce vibrato, and how the variability of speed thereof affects musical expression.

Score-read several different cues to compare vibrato speeds, starting with the excerpt above - the oboe solo from the third movement opening of Schumann’s Second Symphony. That’s a good starting point. Don’t be surprised if the “slow” vibrato seems a bit fast. The gap between the speeds is closer together than on string instruments. Slow movements of Brahms symphonies and J.S. Bach concertos also contain similar examples.

As most composers are aware, string vibrato is caused by a minute oscillation of the fingertips, essentially a direct modulation of pitch. But oboe can’t vibrato in pitch from a direct application of pressure where the tone is created, i.e. the embouchure (in fact, an oboist who tried would get a honking sound). Rather, the technique must come directly from the abdomen, with slight variations in the wind support creating the right expressive sound. Try this: take a deep breath, then exhale through pursed lips. As you do, laugh without using your vocal cords. That is pretty much how oboe vibrato works - with a modulation of intensity of force, NOT pitch (though some minuscule variation of pitch may result). Wind vibrato as a common orchestral resource is actually a fairly recent development, going back only about a century. Before the ascendancy of players like Leon Goossens, wind and especially oboe vibrato was considered to be rather cheap and tasteless. Now it’s standard - to a point. The player must decide how much vibrato, if any, to use in certain passages. It’s quite common for period instrument players to leave it it out entirely, and still attain a beautiful sound (check out some recordings of Bach and Händel featuring oboe with period instrument specialists to see what I mean). But that’s just the beginning. An oboist will actually think in terms of 4 degrees of expression: nonvibrato, then slow, medium, and fast vibrato. These degrees are somewhat geared to the tempo of the music, but not always. The criteria can also deal with dynamic level, character of the music, and other factors.

Fig. 11b: Mozart, Oboe Quartet KV 370, Movement 1, oboe part bars 1-20

For a quicker vibrato, score-read some Mozart fast movements. A great example is the Oboe Quartet KV 370, Movement 1. Listen to two or three different recordings, and note how the speed varies form player. Heinz Holliger maintains a warm, tasteful vibrato on nearly every sustained note. Rachel Bullen, on the other hand plays nonvibrato on some emphasised notes - for instance, the half-notes in bars 9-10 and 12-14. Note as well the use of staccato and staccatissimo, to be discussed in the next tip. Staccato marking may be played more connected than you might expect, with staccatissimo more resembling the modern concept of staccato.

Fig. 11a: Robert Schumann, Symphony no. 2, Movement 2, oboe solo bars 1-23.



12. Oboe Articulation

even though the IMSLP files only contain the piano score and solo part. The extreme delicacy and control of sections like these is highly instructive to the possibilities of oboe, far beyond just spreading melodic Nutella across a score.

Use the extreme precision of oboe articulation to its best effect. There’s a certain default position about oboe in the minds of many beginning composers - to see it mainly as a lyrical resource. While oboe is one of the most expressive of instruments in emoting a legato passage, restricting your oboe parts to only playing cantabile solos is a wasted opportunity. Actually, oboe is also superb at articulation, perhaps the most well-defined instrument in the orchestra. This is because in comparison to the other standard winds, the oboe is a somewhat overpowered instrument, like a small-body car with a V8 engine. The small size of the reed and bore of the instrument are almost overwhelmed by the capacity of the player’s diaphragm and embouchure. This proportion is intentional, helping the oboe to shape a phrase with a unique degree of finesse. This is especially true with accents and staccato. The oboe can get many degrees of shading from these articulations, from a soft, pulsing tenuto to a hard, biting marcatissimo - and every possible accent between. But the best effect of all is staccato. Even with the customary single-tongue attack, oboe can rattle off a string of staccatos with relative ease, each separate note clear and clean. With that kind of resource available, it really behooves the student orchestrator to get off his lazy semibreve and listen to many examples of oboe scoring from the masters, comparing how different oboists play the same passage, and listening for different types of articulation (some of which isn’t written in, but implied). Mozart’s generation had several different approaches to staccato: staccato, staccatissimo (the “wedge staccato”), and mezzo staccato. Unfortunately, publishers often edit out staccatissimo, interpreting it as a simple staccato dot. This is a mistake of monumental proportions. A staccatissimo means to bite off the notes with a hard, pointy attack. Staccato would be a more normally separated bounce, and mezzo staccato a connected bounce.

Fig. 12: Mozart (?) Oboe Concerto in Eb, Movement 1, bars 174-123


The excerpt below, from the solo part of Mozart’s E Oboe Concerto (possibly spurious, but still a fine work), contains several examples of staccato. The top highlighted passage, marked p. on the previous staff, has a series of mezzo staccato bars - a lovely effect involving a kind of lifting between notes rather than a complete separation. On oboe, this is especially poetic. Further down, the same effect is used, but at three times the speed. Then at the bottom, I’ve highlighted yet a third passage, this time a run of normal staccato triplets at pp. This whole concerto would be a good work to start with, INDEX


13. Oboe Lowest Octave Be aware of the problems of dynamic control represented by the oboe’s lowest register. It’s been said by some orchestration teachers that the oboe represents the opposite dynamic characteristics to the flute. As the the flute gets lower and lower in pitch, it becomes ever softer and more delicate, while the oboe gets louder and coarser. The proof of this is in how older-model oboes in the 20th century lacked the low B . It was probably rationalised that the note would be so seldom required as to be an unnecessary addition to the instrument. And that’s actually not a bad excuse - the oboe’s low B is - to put it politely - “unusually pungent.” To put it rudely, it squawks. There’s no way to play it gently or as part of a flowing phrase, unless the player is some sort of specialist. It’s a hallmark of inexperienced scoring to see a low B-flat on oboe with a pp marking in front of it.



The entire melodic statement from figure A in the third movement is worth score-reading. Why did Rimsky-Korsakov choose to use the oboe there instead of the cor anglais, which answers it immediately? Or the clarinet which follows that? Both would have been more apt choices for ease of register and playability. The answer is that the composer saw past the warnings and the coarser tendencies, and helped define a unique voice for the oboe of which even the players may not have been entirely aware. This just goes to show that when the lowest oboe register is used intelligently, it’s a powerful resource for composers. A perfect example is the passage below from Mendelssohn’s Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In this passage, the oboes play a little harmonic passage going back and forth in chromatic thirds. The lowest note is C-double-sharp in second oboe. Despite the fact that the other instruments around them are playing quite loudly, the oboes stand out comfortably in the texture. Typical Mendelssohn - despite his conservatism, he had the makings of a brilliant orchestrator.

The Russians and French have got it right here. Go look through their scores for any example of oboe pitched below D4. Examples are far and few between. But passages in that register for English horn are plentiful. There seems to be a rule of thumb at work in which the lower instrument is used, even when the notes are comfortably within the higher instrument’s range. This is true of Stravinsky in particular - in his first three ballets, the English horn increases in use, until finally in the Rite of Spring it’s practically the lead instrument for most of the winds. This is not to say that Russian orchestrators could not cross this line occasionally. Stravinsky’s orchestration teacher Rimsky-Korsakov composed a tricky solo for oboe in Scheherazade that takes it all the way down B3 - and yet he makes it very much worth the oboist’s time, as it’s possibly the most well-known melody he ever wrote (with the possible exception of Flight of the Bumblebee). Note the downward slur from F 4 to B3 in the middle of the passage. This is actually quite difficult for the player. Not only is it much more difficult to slur large intervals down than up on the oboe, but the player’s being asked to slur down to one of their honkiest notes.


Fig. 13b: Mendelssohn, Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, oboes I & II bars 98-114

Fig. 13a: Rimsky-Korsakov, Scheherazade, Movement 3, melody line bars 24-40



14. Oboe Phrasing Use the oboe’s seemingly endless ability to phrase to its best effect in constructing powerfully phrased episodes, but never take it for granted.

assisted by the solo being placed right in the sweet spot of the oboe’s range, the middle of its second octave. Bach also helps the soloist by making almost every single interval a melodic second, with a few thirds and only one big skip, a diminished seventh at the start of the fourth bar. That simplifies the player’s task immensely - the reasons for which we’ll examine in the next tip.

As I mentioned in Tip 12, the oboe is a remarkably small device driven by the overpowered engine of the player’s breath and embouchure. In some ways, it’s the opposite of the tuba. Instead of speaking easily but requiring huge amounts of breath, the oboe has a very delicate, focused approach to breath, which is slowly forced through a very small opening. This force is kept constant by the use of the player’s abdomen - in essence, one’s gut is constantly pushing at a tiny air passage. This means that the oboe has the ability to play one long phrase with a single breath. That’s what all the orchestration books say - but what they mostly neglect to add is that such breathing is actually essential for continuity. At times, it’s better NOT to divide the flow of a phrase with breath marks, but to keep the pressure constant. This allows the player to form the optimum expressive arc as one idea in one effort. This takes enormous planning sometimes. The oboist has to look over certain solo passages and decide how much breath will be needed, where the most push will occur, and even whether or not to obey the composer’s dynamic markings (which may be unrealistic or which may betray the player’s efforts). That’s where the composer’s responsibility kicks in - you must intelligently assist the oboist in shaping a coherent, playable line, with emotional logic and carefully balanced proportions. That’s the bridge between the first piece of commonly used advice about the oboist’s ability to play long phrases with one breath, and the equally common second piece, which to not tire the player out with too long a phrase or too many in a row. The oboe isn’t a bagpipe, with unlimited constant breath. The player must be able to carefully think ahead, play something exquisite, then collect themselves. It’s not the constant patter of a salesman - rather, it’s the ardent expression of a rather shy lover proposing. One can’t just turn it on and off like a spigot. The excerpt below is one of the most famous in the repertoire - the opening oboe solo from the second movement of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 1. Try an experiment. Score-read it now in your head, or along to the music. As you do, purse your lips rather tightly, and breath out a forced, tiny stream of air, pushing strongly with your abdomen... for the length of the entire 8-bar solo! That will give you an appreciation of how oboe solos work, and why you shouldn’t abuse their awesome powers of continuity.

Fig. 14: J.S. Bach, Brandenburg Concerto no. 1, Movement 2, oboe solo part bars 1-20.

Now look over the solo once again. Note how there’s essentially no place to sneak in a breath without it sounding obvious, even if the player wanted to. But the player is INDEX


15. Oboe Family Optimum Ranges

derived from “cor anglé” - “angled horn”). Adapting the same redesign principles, they created an instrument optimised for its lowest range rather than its middle register, with a larger reed, longer bore, and bulbous bell at the end for absorbing certain rougher overtones.

The best, most characteristic sound of the oboe comes from its middle octaveand-a-half: from F4 at the bottom of the staff up to B 5 above. The optimum registers of other oboe family members lie at the bottom of their ranges, with implications of a wider separation from the oboe than one might expect.

The biggest misconception that many orchestrators have about the English horn is that it represents an extension downwards of a fifth for the oboe’s range. This is technically true, but functionally false. The functional truth: in optimal range of expression, the English horn is an extension downward of a full minor seventh from the oboe. These are the registers which should mirror each other, support each other, and take context from one another. This makes the pitch relationship between the two more like piccolo to flute rather than flute to alto flute. Not that they should necessarily play octaves: the English horn is great at playing close intervals with the oboe, particularly when the oboe is at the bottom of its middle register or even lower. It’s more that the perception of each instrument’s centre more truly defines their relationship than a blunt comparison of their playable ranges.


The previous tips on the oboe have covered phrasing and breath issues, along with extremes of range. But it’s worth writing a few words for you about the optimum range of the oboe, and why it’s the best place for 99% of all scoring.


First, let’s define that range: first-space F4 up to first ledger-line B 5 above. That gives you 11 diatonic or 18 chromatic pitches with which to score. You’ll find that if you go through most orchestral scores, these boundaries are taken as a general neighbourhood for oboe parts, with a few notes here or there stepping over the line. Some higher notes are used in doubling high string lines or building wind harmonies. Some lower notes are used in very strong passages. But this middle range is the test for an orchestrator: using it well and as a home base shows that you respect the oboe’s essential character (not to mention the player). Why are those notes the best? Simply because the whole instrument has been designed around that range. The oboe’s design is a distillation of the ancient instrument called the shawm, a rude, blatting, buzzing beast of a thing. Instrument builders thickened the walls and refined the shape of the bore, as well as making the finger holes smaller. The shawm reeds had been encased in the instrument so that only the tiniest tip emerged from the mouthpiece, to make it more playable. The oboe redesign team dispensed with these training wheels and fully exposed the reeds so the player’s lips could control the entire means of tone formation. In the process, they adjusted all these new features to favour a central tessitura in the new instrument’s range. What this means in practical terms is that embouchure, breath control, intonation, and dynamic smoothness are all at a premium here. It may be an effort to control the forceful mechanism of the breath to get that beautiful flowing, chuckling sound, but the struggle pays off most rewardingly in that range. At the extremes, intonation problems abound, but in the centre, the pitches tend to line up in agreement by comparison. And best of all, the strength of the notes is more even, with fewer pitches that want to leap out at the listener over the flow of a phrase.

Fig. 15: Optimum oboe family ranges

When this fundamental truth is grasped by the orchestrator, then the ranges and strengths of the other oboe family members become clearer. After all, if we think only of playable range, why bother making an oboe d’amore, with only a whole step’s-worth of difference? But if we compare their optimum registers, we see that they’re a good minor 6th apart. This makes the bass oboe a baritone rather than a tenor instrument (it was originally named the “hautbois baryton,” and is still sold as such by some makers). The relationship between bass and standard oboes shouldn’t be defined by the octave’s difference in their parallel ranges. After all, scoring octaves between these two very different instruments might very well rob both of them of their magical qualities. Their best registers are an octave plus a 5th apart (depending on the exact model of bass oboe - some have the low B , others don’t). This means that the bass oboe’s more natural partner in big scoring is the English horn, as the separation is only that of a perfect 4th or so, and the timbres are much more closely related. Think on that should you ever have the incredibly rare opportunity to score for the instrument.


The inventors of the oboe didn’t stop there, though. Seemingly aware that a significant portion of usable range was now lost or less enticing, they developed the oboe da caccia, known today by the malaprop name of English horn or cor anglais (probably INDEX


16. Clarinet Registers and the Harmonic Series

and the seventh partial, two octaves and a slightly flat minor 7th above. The clarinet’s G3 will carry a hint of D5 in it, with the slightest colouring of B5 and F6. If you’ve ever wondered why clarinet low tones sound organ-like, then that’s the answer.

Clarinet registers conform the closest of all wind instruments to the harmonic positions at which the range of pitches are blown and overblown.

On an oboe or flute, the top note of the first octave in the home scale is a simple overblown 2nd-partial D. But a clarinet can’t overblow 2nd partials, because of the half consonance. Just as its overtones divide unevenly, so does its overblowing. Instead of overblowing a simple 2nd-partial octave, the clarinetist must instead overblow a 3rd-partial 12th to open up its higher range.

In Tip no. 2, I left off explaining the role of the harmonic series in overblowing when I reached the clarinet. This is because the instrument behaves like no other in this regard. Its ability to overblow certain harmonics is limited because of its construction, and yet its registers are even more clearly defined by the overtones that it can reach. Though the clarinet shares the basic mechanics of the other wind instruments, the behaviour of the waveform is that of a closed pipe. This is largely due to the cylindrical bore of the pipe. The fundamental wave shape, instead of completing a full node, forms a frequency that’s closed at one end and open at the other. This is known as half a consonance. The effect on the pitch is to drop it by an octave. This explains why the standard B-flat clarinet is about the same length as the flute, and yet sounds an octave lower. In essence, the complete fundamental node that the open pipe might have produced has been halved. Let’s look at the basic fingering model of the clarinet. For convenience, the pitches referred to below are the written, not sounding notes. Clarinet fingering layout bears resemblances to the other winds. Like the oboe and flute, its bottom few notes are extensions: E3-F 4 are covered by the little fingers playing extra keys. And like the bassoon, its basic fingered scale is G major, but an octave higher from G3 to F 4.



These tones represent the chalumeau register, a highly individualised range of the clarinet. The hollow quality of the notes is due to the truncated waveform. A halfconsonance doesn’t behave like a complete fundamental tone. Its range of harmonic resonance is limited to odd-numbered partials, because it has no central point from which to divide in half. Thus, the first overtone you hear building on a chalumeau note is the third partial, an octave and a 5th (or 12th) above. The next possible overtones will be the fifth partial, two octaves and a major third above; INDEX

The lowest note on the clarinet is E3, which when overblown produces a B4. Well and good. But where does that leave the fingering scheme? The highest note of the chalumeau register ended at a normally fingered F 4. This leaves a gap of 4 half-steps to fill in. G4 may be reached simply by lifting all the fingers, while G 4-B 4 are reached by the means of keys that expose higher and higher openings up the bore of the clarinet. Since this goes further up the neck than other wind instruments, this little fill-in register is called the “throat tones.”




The throat tones are problematic. The tube length is terrifically short between the mouthpiece and the keyed openings. This effects the quality of tone. Notes tend to be less resonant, and can stick out in a melodic line if not carefully managed. What’s more, the distance between the tiny little B 4 note and the suddenly overblown 3rd-partial B 4 may be only a half-step, but the change in fingering positions and embouchure is considerable. It’s the mark of an experienced player that this break is smoothed over to imperceptibility.



Overblowing the chalumeau register at the 12th opens up the clarino register. Though many of the timbral characteristics are similar between the two, the clarino is much brighter and more naturally fluid and expressive. Aside from one or two alterations, the fingering is nearly identical to the chalumeau, greatly simplifying technical passages. This parallel reaches all the way up to C6, above which the player must overblow the next odd partial, the fifth. C 6 must be played by overblowing A3 two octaves and a major 3rd below. This is the start of the altissimo, or highest register. A series of overblown odd partials can get the player all the way up to



C7 and beyond, depending on their lip. Note that the actual overblown notes are all in a very limited range around the bottom of the basic fingering layout in the chalumeau register, similar to the strategy of all the other winds. To a clarinetist, everything I’ve just written is a basic explanation of what they do. But the outcome has a huge significance on the way a clarinet functions in the orchestra. The capacity of the clarinet to support, blend, and solo is different in each register, and different ideal relationships with other instruments are implicit in this variety. What’s more, the necessity for extension in the fundamental register, just so that it may reach the overblown 12th, means that the clarinet family has possibly the greatest commonly usable range out of the entire wind section, with nearly 4 octaves of range (bass and contrabass clarinets can reach even further). We’ll explore the potential of clarinets in this context in the next few tips.



17. Clarinet Octave Melodies Use extreme caution when scoring octave melodies for clarinets, and be aware that the overtones reinforce each other with great potency.

passages like the one below - but the effect is tempered by doubling with strings and other winds like the oboes, also in octaves. The resulting sound is icy at first, then ferociously thick as the doubling piles on.

Octave melodies for wind instruments of the same model are generally problematic. Rimsky-Korsakov gently advises against their use, though he opens the door for doubling by auxiliaries at the octave, like contrabassoon below bassoon, or piccolo above flute. Of course, this advice doesn’t necessarily apply in other functional applications, like harmonies (especially in combinations with other winds), doubling with strings, bass lines, and so on. But in an exposed melody, a number of problems may occur. When two of the same wind instrument play melodically an octave apart, whichever is in the most resonant register will tend to dominate. For double-reeds, this will generally be the lower player, which on certain octave notes may go so far as to swallow most of the high player’s resonance. For flutes, this is reversed. The upper player will drown out the lower player unless the dynamics are carefully controlled, and even then there will be difficulties balancing the quality of tone between the two players. Of course, all these problems go away when it’s an auxiliary doubling at the octave, because both instruments are at exactly the same respective register and level of projection. Underlying this phenomenon is the reinforcement of partials. Auxiliaries tracking below standard instruments will add a spectrum of timbre, the dominant partial of which will actually reinforce the root tone of player above. This is also why the lower oboe may swallow the upper oboe in an octave if the lower tone’s second partial is too dominant. But clarinets are a special case, in that they don’t reinforce the second partial at all. As I wrote in Tip 16, they’re rich in odd-numbered partials, which result in overtones that spell out a complete dominant ninth chord. Instead of the tones stacking nicely, they tend to have certain edgy timbre, not always pleasant in quality. The imperfection of some of those overtones seem to be emphasised to an acutely sensitive ear by octave clarinets, where otherwise they might not cause the slightest twinge. This acoustical weirdness is also somewhat present when bass clarinets play octaves with B clarinets, but it’s ameliorated by the similarity of register. If both instruments are playing chalumeau octaves, their overtones don’t tend to set up such aggressive resonance above. But all bets are off when an E clarinet plays octaves with a B clarinet, both in their clarino registers. A very potent ringing quality is quite likely to result, even at a lower dynamic.




Tchaikovsky stacked his clarinets in fearless octaves, but most often as integrated support or a wind chorale. In his Fifth Symphony, for instance, he scores several INDEX

Fig. 17: Tchaikovsky Symphony no. 5, bars 101-112

If you need an octave melody in winds but want to avoid such a pungent sound, try them with the clarinet as the top instrument over a bassoon or english horn, or the old Mozart and Haydn trick of flute over bassoon. In The Dance of the Moor from the ballet Petrushka, Stravinsky intentionally wanted an eerie, edgy sound. So he set the clarinet and bass clarinet not one, but two octaves apart. The effect is one of barely suppressed menace, plus a blush of the exotic and a touch of buffoonery. This proved so successful that he repeated the effect in at the start of the Spring Rounds section of the Rite of Spring, but this time with bass clarinet and E clarinet, both in their clarino registers. Exactly what was needed in both spots, as usual with Stravinsky.



18. Clarinet Textural and Melodic Blending The clarinet is an excellent resource for supporting and colouring harmonic and melodic texture. The unique resonance of the the clarinet’s registers are sometimes misconstrued as too individual to blend harmonically or melodically with other instruments. But a little score-reading will immediately reveal the clarinet as the perfect mixer at a party, with the ability to combine constructively with nearly every other type of timbre. Let’s start with the chalumeau register. The woodiness of its tone means that it can bond almost imperceptibly to the cellos or violas. Of course, it’s important to point out that for a perfect blend, the clarinet may need marking down by one dynamic degree. But generally speaking, clarinets double very well with strings, especially violas who may need strengthening in some passages. Be aware that clarinets tend to add a hollower sheen when blending, which might suck a little bit of characteristic warmth out of some passages, but work just perfectly in others. The overall effect is a string line or harmony that feels fuller without being too thick - which may be just what’s needed in lighter textures. In harmonic combinations with other winds, the general rule is underlay higher-register flutes and oboes and overlay middle-to-lower register bassoons. Clarinets interlock (aka “cross-voicing”) quite well with middle-register oboes for a mysteriously blended sound, combining the reediness of both instruments. But these crossings must be scored with a great deal of care and intuition.

In the clarino register, the clarinet shows greater affinity for the flute in doublings, harmonies, and octaves. Because of the tendency of both instruments to shine a bit, their combined resonance will evoke organ-like tones, especially in octaves. When these octaves double violin melodies, the result is a soaring sound that has more of an edge to it than if oboe were the lower voice. Orchestrators are often warned not to double oboes with clarinets - but in fact many great works are so scored, especially Tchaikovsky, in both harmony and melody. Of course, there’s also the well-known opening theme of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, a unison melody of clarinet and oboe that works precisely because one register compensates for the other as the music rises and falls. Clarinet unison with trumpet can also work okay, if the conductor takes the time to balance the effect.

Fig. 18b: Schubert, Symphony no. 8 (“Unfinished”), Movement 1, clarinet part bars 1-

Of course, clarinet works just as well when providing a background pattern under a melodic line, very much like the violas with which they blend so well. Examples of this are numerous throughout the literature. In fact, the clarinet is such a flexible instrument in accompaniment and complement that its uses can express a highly individual style on the part of different composers. There’s a wealth of great strategies to score-read. Let’s close this tip with one of my favourites, the opening of Debussy’s La Mer, movement 2: Jeux de vagues. Here, the combination of clarinets, bassoons, and English horn creates a positively horn-like sound behind the shivering strings. The voicing of the woodwind harmony plays a role in this, an F madd2/C chord. The whole page has wonderful depths of coloristic intrigue, but only lasts a brief moment when performed.



Fig 18a: Clarinet combinations and relationships.

Clarinets give a lot of shine to a four-part harmony when overlaid on lower horns. They also play quite well when enclosed by octave brass, so long as the dynamic isn’t too loud. Doubled clarinets in unison with horns and octave unison with trombones is a powerful sound. One of RImsky-Korsakov’s favourite blendings was chalumeau register clarinets in thirds with low stopped horns, though keep in mind that horn stopping has a natural lower limit (as we’ll see in Tip 31). INDEX


19. Eb Clarinet Strengths and Realities


The E clarinet extends the range of the clarinet family upwards to a degree that feels and sounds much higher than actually scored.


The E clarinet is an indispensable resource in large-scale, programmatic scoring. It has a perky, sometimes cheeky sound that’s great at comedy. Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel is the prime example (scored for the little-used D clarinet, it’s most often played on the E for convenience). Or it can prove chillingly uncivilised. Stravinsky used it precisely for its lonely, piercing wail in the Rite of Spring so thoroughly that it’s essentially the lead instrument for the clarinets, if not the whole wind section. Perhaps both characteristic roles stem from Berlioz’s symphonic debut of the instrument in the Witches’ Sabbath finale to his Symphonie Fantastique, where it approximates the mocking voices of damned souls.


Ravel used it in other ways, with perhaps the most even hand. In his scoring, it strengthens the top line of strings, trumpets, and flutes; provides textural and harmonic support; and often stands on its own as a well-rounded soloist, not appearing merely on account of its peculiarities. Two striking passages stand out from Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G: a solo flight of fancy that sets a playful tone for the madcap third movement, and a soft unison melody with piccolo, doubling first trumpet at the octave from the jazzy first movement. The latter passage shows why Ravel was the possibly greatest orchestral colourist of all.


Fig 19c: Ravel, Piano Concerto in G, Movement 1, E clarinet part bars 84-86.

Fig 19a: Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique, Movement 5, Eb clarinet part bars 40-53.


But let’s come down to earth a bit and look at what the E clarinet really is, and how that has a bearing on its use. As the name implies, it’s a clarinet pitched a perfect fourth higher than the standard B clarinet. The scaling-down of proportions has several immediate consequences. The first, of course, is that the E clarinet’s range is higher, and it’s for those high notes that it’s most commonly scored. The second is that the smaller bore and reed will naturally make the timbre of the instrument more shrill, with a certain shallowness of tone throughout its entire range. (This forceful brightness of colour is one reason why the C clarinet fell out of use, and the more even-toned B and A clarinets became dominant.) The third consequence is that the instrument is quite challenging to play, with many of the minor challenges of the lower clarinets magnified by a tightening of the technical and timbral parameters.






Fig 19b: Ravel, Piano Concerto in G, Movement 3, E clarinet part bars 17-23.


The biggest error for the E clarinet that an orchestrator could make: using it everywhere in the score, with very little letup. This is hard on the ear of the listener, but even harder for the player. The small instrument makes big demands, and requires frequent periods of rest and recovery. 26


Another error is to only use the E as a soloist. This is a waste of many good opportunities. There are countless ways to apply it in textural and melodic support. It can provide the middle voice in a chorale between flute and oboe; interact with low flutes with incredible softness and delicacy; provide the upper voice in a chord with clarinets, or bridge between them and the upper winds; and many other combinations and timbral fixes as yet unimagined. A third error comes from a lack of understanding of timbre and range. To my mind, the E clarinet wasn’t created so that orchestrators could get a clarinet sound all the way up into piccolo territory. Rather, its chief purpose is to cover the same pitches of the standard clarinet’s upper registers with far more dynamic and expressive control. It can be just as hard if not harder on an E clarinet player to reach its very highest notes with any kind of clarity. In the excerpt below from my New Zealand legend for orchestra, Tane and the Kiwi, the first clarinetist imitates the call of the Brown Kiwi at the exact pitch. The orchestra part offers options to the player of either E clarinet or B clarinet. Pitch accuracy for either instrument is difficult at this extreme, but the E handles the task with greater control.






Fig. 19d: Goss, Kiwi call from Tane and the Kiwi, bars 493-496



20. Bass Clarinet Flexiblility Never underestimate the usefulness of the bass clarinet: perhaps the most flexible of all auxiliary winds. If I were told that my small orchestra commission allowed for only one dedicated auxiliary player, I would probably choose the bass clarinet every time. Why? Well, if we look at the most commonly used auxiliaries of the other winds - piccolo, english horn, and contrabassoon - each one can be easily doubled by an existing player for occasional solos or support within a work. While this is also true of bass clarinet, I’ve always found it better to have a third clarinet player covering the part throughout. Bass clarinet has the widest range of pitch and dynamics; it can blend more easily than its fellow auxiliaries; it’s more agile than english horn, not to mention contrabassoon; and it can free up the bassoons for soloing and higher-pitched harmonic and rhythmic support. It’s also much easier to find a competent player with a first-rate instrument than is the case for english horn or contra. Of course, piccolos are ubiquitous, and are nearly as responsive as C flutes in every way - but they can be easily doubled, during which time the second flutist’s absence does not affect the tone of a melodic line or harmonic position as radically as it might with the reed instruments. One thing bass clarinet can do that other low instruments can’t: stand out without interfering. A bassoon can stand out quite far in a way that complicates the colour of a delicately balanced texture. Soli cellos may do this at times as well, and don’t even get me started on trombone and tuba. But a bass clarinet can just sit cleanly under the music, well-defined and yet without competitive overtones. Russian orchestrators understood this well, with great examples from the ballets of Tchaikovsky to Stravinsky. In the excerpt below from movement 1 of my harp concerto, the bass clarinet part runs the gamut of possibility. Fig. M: part of a chordal line with horn, bassoon, and tremolo strings. Bar 251: a doubling of arco, then pizz. double basses, allowing the bassoons to support the sweeping cello melody. Fig. N: a combined melodic passage with bass trombone and lower strings. Bar 264: four-part harmony with bassoon, bass trombone, and cuivre horn III. Bar 268: soft doubling of double bass pizz. About the only thing that’s not here is a featured solo - but the music didn’t allow for it. Anyway, the point is that over the same section of music, another auxiliary instrument might be making half the contribution.


Fig 20: Goss, Harp Concerto, Movement 1, bass clarinet part bars 242-289


21. Bassoon Uniqueness of Character The bassoon is not a member of the oboe family, but its own category. There’s a tendency among some orchestration teachers to overemphasise the relationship between oboe and bassoon. Forsyth goes directly from chapters on the oboe and its auxiliaries to the bassoon, almost as if the bassoon were the next auxiliary in line (though to his credit, he admits that in their separate evolution the two instruments have “lost all affinity”). Adler takes this one step further by making the bassoon a member of the oboe family (p.. 153, 2nd ed.). Yet there are more differences than similarities between the two instruments. Lumping them together in the same category can sow confusion in the minds of developing orchestrators, and possibly put them at risk of composing bad passages. This must be avoided at all costs. Let’s be absolutely clear about this: families of instruments should share certain key features, the most important of which is playability by a single proponent of every member. A flutist should be theoretically capable of playing any member of the family, from piccolo to bass flute, as all share the same fundamental technique and overall fingering plan. Ditto for clarinets, and even more so for saxophones. But just ask an oboist to pick up a bassoon, or vice versa. The keywork is completely different, as is the approach to embouchure. The bassoon is in no way an extension of the oboe. The comparisons only continue to widen when we consider register and timbre. The oboe’s best register is in the centre of its range, and its extremes go from honking below to a gasping squeak above. Conversely, the bassoon’s richest notes are its generous low register, much of which is accessible through extension keys (see Tip 2), and it has a far wider range of usable notes than the oboe. Even more importantly, each instrument has a different pattern of harmonic resonance. The oboe’s timbre has a far more nasal sound, implying an emphasis on certain lower partials like the 3rd, 4th, and 5th. The bassoon’s spectrum is far more complex, with a tone that seems to vary from lower to higher partials. Also, its upper range resembles a male falsetto or head voice, with the same inherent strain and paleness of tone. No such parallel exists for the smoother oboe and its Fig 21: Pitch ranges of bassoon solo from The Rite of Spring (bar 1) auxiliaries,

except for perhaps a thinness of tone on higher notes. But once again, the timbral differences are quite pronounced. The plaintive opening bassoon solo of The Rite of Spring sounds nothing at all like the piping Daphnis et Chloé oboe solo at Figure 2 of the complete ballet score - yet both solos are at the upper extremes of both instruments. What’s especially revealing here is a comparison of auxiliaries. An English horn sounds nothing like a tenoroon (the mostly obsolete tenor-range bassoon). You can compare for yourself by watching various YouTube videos. A bass oboe in its lowest octave bears only the faintest timbral resemblance to a bassoon’s tenor register - otherwise, there would have been no need to invent it. The bass oboe’s middle register, however, grows in resemblance to the high register of the bassoon as it rises. This is because both instruments are overblowing nearly the same resonant length of tubing from the pitch of B 3: around four feet, give or take a few inches. Interesting to observe that an equal proportion of the bassoon’s length is dedicated mostly to extending the range down to a 9-foot B 2.



What’s less clear in our comparisons of auxiliaries is the heckelphone. As a hybrid instrument, it combines certain tonal qualities of both oboe and bassoon. In the hands of the average non-specialist bassoonist recruited to the task, it will tend to sound unremarkable - pretty much like the middle register of a bassoon with a slightly more nasal quality. A specialist heckelphone player will stress those nasal qualities, though, and evoke a richer, more sonorous tone. This underlines the differences even further. A conflation of the two fundamental characters of oboe and bassoon is humdrum, while their individualisation makes them both unique and remarkable. The consequence of these differences in timbres is underlined in a comparison of their ability to blend in similar registers. An English horn is more of a solo instrument in its low range than a support instrument, though it certainly can play background and doubling if appropriately scored. But how much easier it is to blend for a bassoon! The dynamic control, subtlety of tone, and timbral ambiguity make it the perfect partner in many different combinations, which we’ll study in the next tip. Could an English horn and a bass oboe alternate pitches in four-part harmony with a pair of horns and make it sound seamless and horn-like? I strongly doubt it. Perhaps this is all beside the point. Double-reed players can shape reeds, adjust voicing, and control their embouchures in ways that can bring oboe family members and the bassoon closer together, or widen the gap. But for me, what defines a family of instruments will always start with a universality of approach across all its members, meaning one player of each standard member may play all auxiliaries. Once again, this simply isn’t true for oboe and bassoon, and they don’t share any category other than that of double-reed woodwind instruments.

and oboe solo from Daphnis et Chloé (bar 2)



22. Bassoon Low Register Resonance The unusually rich sound of the bassoon’s low register is key to understanding its timbre and orchestral role. Sometimes what we hear and what we think we hear are two different things. Case in point: we’re compelled by the richness of the bassoon’s low register as orchestrators, but we seldom ask ourselves what we’re actually listening to. It’s definitely not the first partial - or at least, not very much of it. On my YouTube channel, Orchestration Online, I’ve uploaded a video titled “3 Vital Tips.” One of the tips mentioned in the title involves an acoustical experiment in which I isolate various frequencies of the harmonic spectrum from a single low contrabassoon note. The resultant deconstruction is anything but intuitive. The rich buzzing we associate with deep double reed tone is actually a function of the waveform which can be heard most clearly above the 10th partial, a good three octaves plus a major third higher than the fundamental tone. Other partials stand out quite clearly, like the 5th, 6th, and 7th in a little diminished triad; or the 3rd partial which seems to push at the 5th in a strong relationship.

Other low orchestral instruments also resonate with strong partials in these registers. The bassoon will tend to complement these overtones rather than overwhelming them, which is why it’s the able partner that we’ll see in the next tip. At the same time, when it’s isolated in the low register, these overtones work to fill in the gap and work alongside higher instruments rather than fighting them.

Fig 22a: Range of frequencies from the bassoon’s E2 note.

One last factor in all the questions of bassoon resonance is the style and training of the player. One has merely to compare two players like Arthur Grossman and Klaus Thunemann to see how wide the bassoon sound can diverge. Many factors both subtle and foundational define these differences: embouchure, voicing, reed thickness, breathing, etc. Remember, though, that what you’re hearing is the ability of the player to coax unique spectrums of tone from their instruments. That can make one bassoonist’s Telemann sonata buzzy and chuckling, and the other’s chesty and sombre. Listen to several soloists of different approaches and eras and hear where the emphasis in the tone lies.

What does the actual fundamental sound like, though? Like a somewhat colourless sine wave. When isolated, it lacks any richness whatever, and comes across almost like an electronic test tone. That’s because it’s almost an afterthought when combined with the entire spectrum in a single note. In a sense, all low orchestral instruments behave somewhat in this way. That’s essentially the meaning of the word “rich.” We listen to a full, vibrant low note and feel it as much as hear it. Without taking it apart like I did above, we respond to its quality by attributing to it a kind of wealth. Whether we know the math or not, that wealth is in the breadth of its overtones. Cellos and double-basses behave this way, as do trombones. Timpani are especially rich in these overtones. Bass and contrabass clarinet appear to have a cleaner sound, but in reality a smaller set of overtones is being emphasised - and yet those upper partials are just as powerful in their own way. It’s in the tuba that we hear the strongest fundamental, which is the source of its more ponderous, hugely projecting sound. The low-register bassoon is every bit as complex as the contrabassoon, except its range of frequencies is tighter. Those buzzy 10th and 12 partials ring out at around the range of the flute’s middle register, and the little diminished triad of the 5th-7th partials hovers around the clarinet’s break. The superbly resonant third partial lives in viola territory, right around Middle C. INDEX

Fig. 22b: Telemann, Bassoon Concerto in F minor, TWV 41:f1, Movement 2, bars 1-30


23. Bassoon Textural and Melodic Blending

Cello isn’t the only lower string instrument with which the bassoon blends well. They lend radiance to arco and punch to pizzicato for the double basses when the cellos are busy elsewhere. They also add breadth to the modest sound of violas, and a sense of purpose to violins sul G.

The potential of bassoon as a support instrument runs the gamut of possibilities.

I’ve mentioned the flute’s relationship with the bassoon above. Part of this affinity has to do with the complexity of the bassoon’s tone, and the character of its registers. There’s a little bit of everything in there, and bits of it can match up to elegantly enhance another instrument’s timbre. Oboes and clarinets become more reedy over bassoons in higher harmonies, or darker down low. And yet some of the edge gets taken off as well.

The opening line of this tip should seem obvious on the face of it. Bassoon is more of a support instrument than a soloist, despite the many fine solos composed for it. So it would seem only appropriate that composers at every stage would embrace those possibilities. And yet it’s rare to see a score from a developing orchestrator that truly exploits the scope of the bassoon’s many roles, or innovatively builds on them. Usually the bassoon is relegated to holding down the bass line, which it’s perfectly happy to do, often in conjunction with the cellos. Indeed, this role goes back to the introduction of the bassoon into the orchestral ranks, as a bit of a thickener to the low texture. It’s also pretty good on its own in the bass line role, leaving other instruments to fill in above it. On top of this, it’s a great all-round companion on holding down pedal tones, even occasionally with such unlikely partners as trombone if the dynamic is softer. But how limiting for your players, and how lifeless for your scores, if the bassoon never gets out of the basement. There are so many things it could do to make your life easier. Need a chestier sound to a tenor-register cello melody? Double with bassoons. Need to track flutes at one or two octaves below without swamping them? Bassoons are the way to go, just check with Haydn and Mozart. Need to mellow the sound of a soft lower brass chord? Add bassoons and you’re sorted. Or use two bassoons to stabilise an isolated low horn note, and much quivering uncertainty disappears.

Horn is probably the most able partner for bassoon out of the brass section. I’ve already mentioned how bassoons can steady low horn. The bassoon can also lighten the character of a horn line, while giving it a rounder tone. In soft passages, two bassoons and two horns can interlock in four-part harmonies with a wonderfully mellow sound. In lower positions, the bassoons should take the lower and lower-middle voices - but this can be reversed in the middle register for a lighter, more radiant affect. Rimsky-Korsakov warns against enclosing the horns inside octave bassoons, and I agree with him. There’s no denying, however, that the opposite works fine at lower dynamics, especially if the bassoons are in motion inside horn octaves. This subject is one of those in which the best guides, in the end, are your own openness to new ideas and study of previous models. If you can combine those two strengths, then your approach to bassoon scoring may become as personalised as any other aspect of style in your toolbox.

Fig. 23b: Combinations of bassoon with oboes, clarinets, and horns.

Fig. 23a: Mozart, Symphony no. 40, Movement 2, wind section bars 17-19. Note how the first bassoon doubles the flute and then the first oboe at two octaves below.



24. Bassoon High Register Usability The bassoon’s high register is quite usable under the right conditions. By the end of the Romantic era, an attitude had developed about the bassoon’s top notes, best expressed in Cecil Forsyth’s 1914 book Orchestration: “…though it would be easy to produce examples of the use of the [bassoon’s] extreme upper notes, they have little orchestral value.” He may very well have been referring to the 1913 London premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, fresh in the minds of orchestral composers who’d undoubtedly made it a point to attend. The opening bassoon solo, starting on C5 and reaching all the way up to D, set the tone for the modernist primitivism that was to follow, in which the entire vision of orchestral texture was subverted. Forsyth, of a more traditionalist mindset, probably looked upon such extensions of technique and approach as more experimental than evolutionary.

A complex, emotionally subtle solo may be easily swamped by even the lightest of accompaniments. Muted strings, perhaps ppp brass might prove delicate enough for the task. Stravinsky himself rarely scores more than two wind instruments alongside the Rite’s opening bassoon solo, most often bass clarinets whose overtones support that high register. As to melodic doubling, the strings are the obvious choice here at louder dynamics (though very delicately scored clarinets or flutes might well double as well). Have a look at the excerpt below from my Harp Concerto, in which I push a2 bassoons and tutti cellos higher and higher as the music prepares for the return of the final main theme restatement. This piece was composed for a semipro/ community orchestra, so I gave the bassoonists the option of sitting out the final few bars. During the premiere performance, however, the players walked all the way up to D5 without any problems. Such ease of playing is built right into the passage: approaching high notes by steps and small intervals is the easiest path.

We can’t blame him too much for taking the player’s side too much here. Those of Forsyth’s time felt that such high playing spoiled the embouchure. Now we know differently, and yet it still pays to be extra cautious about exploiting this very high register. Bassoonists are happy to play up there so long as the part is well-written. So it falls to the orchestrator to know how best to make the experience a rewarding one for the player, instead of a wearying embarrassment. The first is that the need for high playing must be justified by the context of the music, not merely the pet wishes of the composer. There must be a reason that the bassoon has to go up to high C and beyond, both integral to the music and implicit in the context as it relates to the bassoon’s unusually tense sound. As you’ll recall from earlier tips, I’ve compared that timbre to the falsetto range of the male singer. That quality is almost pure head voice, much more like a counter-tenor than an operatic tenor or a lounge singer. It’s a much clearer, less mixed or “husky” sound. Yet it has a strained, buzzy quality as well, as its thick reed is forced to overblow 4th, 5th, and 6th partials in a 9-foot tube. The main cautions up in the bassoon’s stratosphere are weakness of projection, possible imperfection of intonation, and tiring out the player. Let’s start with the first concern, which pretty much dictates what kind of part you can write. Chordal writing would be extremely difficult to tune, and even more to intelligently balance. The superb agility of the bassoon’s lower registers is also absent at the top, as it takes much deliberate effort to get a note to speak. What’s left is a type of carefully stated soloing, or melodic doubling. INDEX

Fig. 24: Goss, Harp Concerto, Movement 3, bassoon part bars 186-202

That leaves difficulty of intonation and tiring out the player. You must assume that if your high bassoon part is a solo, then the player should be of at least semipro ability if not greater. Don’t score up there for high school orchestras. Allow a measured ascent similar to the excerpt above, or at least a longer tacet during which the player may mentally and physically prepare. And just like Stravinsky in the Rite, give your soloist many bars of recovery time. It’s not unlike the care one might take in scoring an oboe solo, only more so. Once all this is worked out, compose a line that uses the unique qualities of that range to their full effect. What inflections may have more meaning, how may a slight change of pitch throw the the phrase in a whole new direction? In what way may the bassoon’s tone quality play off its accompaniment, and reference the passages that come before and after? How might the line be echoed and counterpointed by other solo instruments, particularly winds? And can the bassoon itself develop the line by descending into an easier range? All this and many more questions are worth pondering should you choose to use this exclusive tone colour. 32

25. Contrabassoon, Bass Clarinet, and Tuba Character & Differences

similar to the double bass: starting from up a 4th to a 6th from the lowest possible note, to an octave and a half higher. So for contrabassoon, that would be E1 or F1 up to written middle C; for F tuba (the standard), B 1 up to G in the staff; and for bass clarinet, written low G up to D in the (treble) staff. That’s really where the most function should be happening - not just the lowest possible notes all the time.


Orchestrators should know the difference between contrabassoon, bass clarinet, and tuba timbre, and score according to each instrument’s strength and character. So here are three low instruments at their simplest description: bass clarinet and contrabassoon as octave extensions of their predominant wind section counterparts; and tuba as a member of its own family, one out of a pack of five options (F, E , CC, BB , or B tenor). All three most commonly play the bottom note of a harmony, pattern, or bass line. Less often, they’ll play a solo, or double a featured line with other instruments (typically basses and/or cellos).




First and most practical of comparisons is range. The lowest dependable instrument of the three is the contrabassoon, with a low note of B 2 (the lowest B on the piano). The BB tuba can also go this low, but rather coarsely, and using this massive instrument has its drawbacks orchestrally. The lowest typical standard note for tuba is up a 3rd at D1 - still a massively low note, to be sure. The bass clarinet’s lowest note was once concert D, but this has been gradually expanded, so that many instruments now extend all the way to B 1, an octave above the contrabassoon’s lowest note.





But just because one instrument goes deeper than another is not a good reason to use it. Refer to the upcoming Tip 100 about the double bass’s lack of necessity to use its C-extension. The same thing applies here. As an experienced orchestrator, I rarely ask any of these instruments to hang off the bottom step of their ladder. Parts for these three that are exclusively scored in only their bottom octave are frankly annoying to play, and are often the mark of inexperience. The best register for each of these instruments is

This consideration frees us up to consider the character of tone from those ideal ranges - not just the narrow thinking of “who goes lowest?” In terms of flexibility of tone, the ability to blend, and ease of technique, the bass clarinet has got the clear advantage (as well as the widest usable range). It’s superb at discreetly supporting a naked wind texture, blending with lower strings, refining a lower brass line in unison, and many other roles. I see it as the handyman in my orchestrations - patching up a texture here, filling in a loose balance there. But its greatest strength in having a unique solo tone may also disqualify it for certain scoring needs. What’s more, it cannot support the low winds with the same solemnity and lower range as a contrabassoon, nor can it suffice to underpin the brass like the tuba. The contrabassoon part that has no overall relationship to the bassoons is usually just an unimaginative padding for the lower strings. Of course, contrabassoon is terrific at low doubling - but even here, it’s often strongest when it’s playing an octave lower than the bassoons, and both are doubling an octave played by the lower strings. The thing to remember about the contra is that it was specifically built to be the bottom note - and its lowest notes are generally secure, despite my cautions above. And yet these very low tones take a huge amount of breath, and speak very slowly. Another characteristic is a certain weakness of tone - contrabassoon solos must be carefully accompanied, and often have problems projecting over the sound of even a delicate texture. The tuba has no such difficulty being heard - quite the opposite. Its tone has a hugely energetic effect on pushing sound waves through a concert hall. It’s much more secure than the contrabassoon in agile passages, and can fill in as bass in a number of different contexts. In fact, I feel much of what’s possible for tuba has yet to be explored, simply because of inexperience with the instrument on the part of even professional orchestrators. That said, there are definitely places where its tone doesn’t quite fit. In the excerpt below from “Tane and the Kiwi,” all three instruments introduce the voice of the god of the forest. Note the scoring here, showing each instrument at its strongest range. The contrabassoon starts off from low E, rising to F in the staff, where it overlaps into the tuba part. This overlap, by the way, is very tricky to pull off convincingly, as the tones are so different. The bass clarinet picks up the phrase

Fig. 25a: comparative ideal ranges of contrabassoon, tuba, and bass clarinet.



from above, as the higher-pitched instrument; then all three finish off with tuba and bass clarinet in unison, with contrabassoon an octave below. The sound from these last four notes is huge - much bigger than I’d get if the tuba and contrabassoon were reversed.

Fig. 25: Goss, the Voice of Tane from Tane and the Kiwi, Appendix bars 767-770


TRUMPET 36. Trumpet Mute Classification 37. Trumpet Soloing and Doubling 38. Trumpet Chord Voicing 39. Trumpet Textural Support 40. Trumpet Auxiliaries

TIPS 26-50: BRASS TROMBONE BRASS SECTION 26. Brass Registers and Overtones 27. Brass Slurring and Articulation

41. Trombone Power of Projection 42. Trombone Legato and “Slurring” 43. Trombone Scoring Tenor Clef

28. Brass Transpositions

44. Trombone Extremes of Range

29. Brass Section Dynamic Balance

45. Trombone Roles and Relationships

30. Brass Section Seating

HORN 31. Horn Stopping Range and Mutes 32. Horn Lyrical Character and Slurring 33. Horn Textural Support

TUBA 46. Tuba Power of Projection 47. Tuba Tone 48. Tuba Breathing

34. Horn Key Signatures

49. Tuba Blending

35. Horn Part Scoring Order

50. Tuba Soloing 35

26. Brass Registers and Overtones

2nd or 3rd partial, and intensify from there as the pitch rises through the harmonic series. Unlike its cousins, the particular focus of intonation and tension of embouchure mean that this is one instrument that can’t happily play screaming notes above written High C.

The key to understanding each brass instrument’s unique character lies in how its resonance favours the harmonic series. Any note played by an orchestral brass instrument is essentially a position of the harmonic series generated through a tube. This harmonic series is changed to a different range of pitches by the use of slides, or valves and pistons opening and closing extra sections of tubing. Orchestrators often fail to fully absorb all the implications of this system, and what the natural structure of each instrument lends to its particular sound. It’s a grave mistake to think that brass instruments are all essentially the same, with variations of tone or range. This is as wrong as wrong can get. The behaviour of the harmonic series is different for each instrument, a distinction that’s determined by individual construction and technique. The tuba is the most different of all the instruments, as it is both a whole-tube instrument and it has a conical bore which runs nearly its entire length. As a whole-tube instrument, it’s built to sound its fundamental tones with much more ease than most other brass, and its bore gives those notes a certain wideness of tone and solidity. It also means that the range of most tubas is quite extensive, and fairly even in tone throughout. Some players can play very high overtones, making the tuba into a kind of clarino instrument. It must be said, though, that orchestrally these super-high tones are hard on the average player, and difficult to work into most textures.

Fig. 26b: Horn range, sounding pitches

There’s an odd notion that trombone and trumpet are essentially the same thing in lower and higher versions. This is a mistake. But the difference has nothing to do with slides vs. pistons, and everything to do with bore width ratios. The trombone is a whole-tube instrument, with a bore width that’s intended to favour lower positions in the harmonic series. For the standard tenor trombone, the fundamentals sitting on the first few slide positions are all playable if a bit flabby, and the F trigger makes this region more secure. The bass trombone is essentially the same thing, but its bore width ratio is even wider, allowing its fundamentals to speak much more clearly. The addition of an E- or D-key extend its range even further down with better clarity. This whole-tubedness of the trombone means that its upper register is going to behave differently than the trumpet - and its mostly cylindrical bore means that it will never be mistaken for a tuba. The overtones of the higher notes have a lower ceiling than those of the trumpet - and yet they’re far more penetrating and smoky than a tuba. This is what gives the trombone its unique tenor voice, dense and crashing, or subtle and menacing - or even calm and eloquent.

Fig. 26a: Tuba range Fig. 26c: Tenor trombone slide positions and partials

Next stop - the horn. This instrument is often mistaken for a whole-tube instrument because its bore seems so wide and flaring. In actuality, it’s a half-tube instrument designed for greater clarity of tone from the second partial upwards. Fundamental tones are really only playable from the B side of a double horn, and have a limited range of effectiveness. The truly distinctive characteristics of the horn start from the



The trumpet, on the other hand, is the very definition of a half-tube instrument. Its fundamentals are impossible, its second partials are a bad joke, and its 3rd partials a somewhat grungy start. From there, though, the trumpet gets stronger and ever more penetrating in tone, until it can really scream up to high C and beyond. 36

Fig. 26d: Trumpet range

Here’s the thing about those high notes, though, for both horn and trumpet. The actual basic tone at the bottom of each note’s spectrum is not really that high. What makes those notes scream are their overtones. Any note on brass contains a large number of overtones, giving each instrument their character, dictated as we’ve seen by their construction. In the case of trumpet and horn, though, these overtones have a lot of weight. As the player ascends, these tones get tighter and more piercing. This is why so many great orchestrators have thrilling trumpet and horn parts without constantly scaling the heights. Instead, they use those overtones to their best advantage for what they suggest, and build many compelling textures around them.



27. Brass Slurring and Articulation Use the best possible articulation for any passage of notes, being aware that slurs are less clear in some cases, as are lower register notes. Brass articulation is a similar process to wind articulation. The air is held back in the mouth, and then allowed to proceed into the air chamber by use of the tongue. A combination of airflow speed and stiffness of tongue shape the attacks of notes, whether in accents, staccato, tenuto, or simply the normal articulation of a plain note which is its own discrete type of articulation. But beyond this, the similarities diminish and the differences start to stack up. The mouth and tongue approximate the process of speech in a freer way for brass than for reed instruments. Articulation is also more flexible, in the manner of a flute player, with double- and triple-tonguing easily managed. The lips are the most flexible of all, far more sensitive and responsive than either reeds or flute embouchure, as they must easily and quickly play over the different partials of the harmonic series. Most winds rarely overblow past the 5th or 6th partial. A clarinet that goes up to the 7th or 9th partial is reaching the extreme limit of its usable range. But the horns go up to the 12th or even 16th partial as a matter of course. The heavy brass are perfectly at home past the 5th partial and can play up from there to the 9th or 10th partial, depending on the instrument. What they’re not so good at is playing their fundamentals, except for the tuba and some notes of the trombone. Of course, most standard brass instruments have longer resonant tubes than most standard wind instruments, meaning that the ranges of usable pitches tend to be lower. Likewise, the mechanism of brass embouchure isn’t designed for the same kind of linear elegance as that of the winds. Long slurred passages are out, though brass certainly have the ability to play legato in the sense of smoothly connected phrasing. As we’ll see later with the trombone, such playing need not be precisely slurred to sound smooth. But brass instruments use up airflow a great deal faster than the winds, even faster than the flute.

There’s another concern as well: passing from one slide, valve or piston position to another while slurring. When the change of these positions alters the length of resonant tubing, a differently-pitched harmonic series becomes available. The player’s lip must automatically move between two different levels of tension in order to slur two notes across a change of position. This is basic brass technique, and most players should be able to slur nearly any interval up to an octave and more in some cases but a long sequence of fast notes in one breath involves exponential effort and risk of poor intonation. This is why so many well-known passages of orchestral brass involve the fewest changes of position as possible, especially where slurring is involved. Even in shorter slurs, a mixture of approaches may result in the cleanest articulation. For instance, in a downward-slurring triplet followed by a note, it’s far easier and clearer to slur the first two notes than the full triplet.

Fig. 27b: Dukas, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, arr. Goss, Horn I part bars 356-362 A. As scored. B. With clearer articulation.

In the previous tip, I discussed how each brass instrument’s construction resulted in markedly different characters of timbre and register. The same applies here with the relationship of articulation to the size and shape of mouthpieces. Trumpet mouthpieces are perfect for quicker, more agile articulation of higher pitches, but become somewhat inarticulate on low pitches. Trombones mouthpieces speak with much more ease on lower pitches, but tend to fall apart at the high and low extremes. Tuba mouthpieces allow for superb control and agility on very low pitches indeed, but then the problem becomes one of tone-weight and comprehensibility of rapid low tones. All heavy brass mouthpieces are cup-shaped. But horn mouthpieces have a conical shape, and are optimised for a middle range of pitches. Within the range of around two octaves of written F3-F5, horns have enormous precision, speed of articulation, and grace. Going in either direction from this middle range the articulation either tightens or loosens, and either option becomes harder and harder to control as the extremes are approached. In a long string of deeply ascending or descending notes, the tension of the embouchure might need to undergo quite a few changes, which challenges accuracy of pitch.

Fig. 27a: Mahler Symphony no. 7, Movement 1, Horn I and flute parts bars 476-478



28. Brass Transpositions

Most of the above also applies to classical trumpet parts. They cover the same written range, except for the fundamental low C. Natural trumpets used crooks to change keys; but they couldn’t stop notes like a horn, so the bad B and F were corrected by lip pressure.

Score-reading transposed brass parts can be a great first step in developing the orchestrator’s abilities to easily identify the transposed pitches of all instruments.

If you only have to worry about reading eleven notes, most of them covering the structure of a major chord, then it’s simple to make sense of a classical score. If the piece is in E , and the horns are in E , then those eleven notes are playing mostly over the tonic chord. Written C equal E , G equals B , and so on. As you watch the horns emphasise the tonic and dominant chords, you start to notice certain patterns common to many different symphonic works.

One thing that holds a lot of score-readers back at first is the ability to score-read transposing parts. The brass section can appear especially confusing. In a typical score, the trumpets might be in one key and the horns in another, neither of which is concert pitch.







As a result, new score-readers often avoid following the brass very closely. They miss cues, visually pass over interesting passages, and focus mostly on the big splashy bits. When that score-reader composes their own orchestra piece, how will it sound? Probably the brass will only be playing parts that reflect what the composer has really absorbed while score-reading. And that’s a shame, because reading and mentally transposing the brass section in Classical period scores is actually not that complicated, if you know a little bit of approach and history. Let’s start with the horns. Originally, horns had no valves and could only play notes based on the harmonic series, with the occasional stopped note to go up a half-step. Horn players used a length of tubing called a crook in order to lower the pitch of their instruments, which would position the harmonic series in a different key. In order to cover all the notes that might be needed in a piece, a classical composer might have two pairs of horns in two different keys. But no matter what key natural horns were playing in, they were always reading the same notes: C and G below the treble staff, the triad of C, E, and G, and above that C, D, E, and G. The slightly out-of-tune notes of B and F were also available, corrected with the right hand in the bell. In other words, eleven notes. This range eventually reached all the way up to C above the staff -concert F6 for today’s modern horns.



Fig. 29b: Transposing the Eb natural horn - relating sounding and written pitches, along with examples of some typical harmonic writing.

Fig. 28a: The harmonic series, absent the fundamental first partial, unplayable on some instruments.


All the same, the best starting point will be several Classical-era symphony movements in C, with smaller scoring - perhaps only strings, oboes, bassoons, and timpani alongside the brass that we’re studying. Try for two trumpets in C at concert pitch, with two horns in C of the same written range but sounding an octave lower. Notice as you read how the brass are used to emphasise certain harmonies: the tonic, the dominant or dominant 7th, the II chord (aka V of V). You’ll start to recognise certain typical configurations in support of the harmony. Music of this period is often governed by fairly simple common-practice rules. In respect to your training, it’s good that these factors are straight-forward: you can build on them as you go. 39

Once you find yourself anticipating the upcoming passages, then move on to symphony movements in D, G, F, B , and E . Limit these selections at first to those in which horns and trumpets are in the same key. Keep a close eye on the harmonic development of each passage and how it relates to the customary scoring approach in the brass. When you run into a new configuration, take the time to understand what it means in terms of both pitch and harmonic support.



Once you’ve mastered this, expand the formula to four horns, with trombones perhaps. Try some minor-key movements as well. You’ll notice that often one pair of horns will be pitched on the minor third of the tonic chord, like E of C minor, while the other pair will be pitched on the tonic. Or perhaps the horns will sit on the minor third and the trumpets will sit on the tonic. You’ll see new relationships, but the challenge here will be to note which harmonic position the tonic instrument is taking, and how the minor-third instrument plays alongside it.


Once you’ve learned to think in three keys (concert pitch, tonic key, and mediant key), then score-read major-key symphony movements with natural brass positioned in different keys. Try later works from the 1780’s onwards. The second movement of Beethoven’s Symphony no. 1 in C is an easy start, with trumpets in C and horns in F. Haydn uses the same strategy in the second movement of his Symphony no. 102 in Bb. In later scores, using chromatic horns and trumpets, the transpositions become more complex, since the instruments are no longer limited to the harmonic series and can play any note in their respective ranges. Your answer to this challenge is to start focusing on quickly recognising the transpositions of B and F. This skill will prove amazingly liberating, as many instruments for orchestra and band will suddenly make sense. You’ll read clarinet parts like a pro, and immediately see where they lock into the harmony of a passage, or how their melodic statement fits the full score. You’ll look at a basset horn or English horn part and immediately recognise it as the same pitches as the French horn, the reading of which is now an open book to you. Once you add E and A to your bag of tricks, then you’ll have all the main orchestral transpositions firmly in your grasp. The only thing left to sort will be reading for D trumpet/D clarinet, and G for alto flute.



That level of competence may be far far ahead for you, or right around the corner. But reading natural brass parts is a very easy first step to mastery.


Fig. 28c: Beethoven, Symphony no. 1 in C, Movement 2, bars 58-65.Trumpets are in C and horns are in F. What is their tonal relationship in the passage above?


29. Brass Section Dynamic Balance

dynamics up or down to compensate, etc.). If the winds bridge between the strings and the brass, they help to move that zero line forward. Now the quite powerful brass may balance more easily with the rest of the orchestra. It’s really when the strings and brass interact that the most care is needed.

The orchestrator should consider colour as much as perceived equations of dynamic balance when scoring for brass.

This is all still the coldest of mathematical proportions. But music is a living art, and it changes from day to day and orchestra to orchestra. Beyond questions of balance, there’s the colour of the music to consider, which can and should have a much greater impact on the correct proportions. Endless calculations over which part should be louder or more tightly grouped may be completely disregarded in some textures.

There are some comparative dynamic values that orchestration manuals bandy about, which individually seem to make sense, but collectively don’t always add up. According to Rimsky-Korsakov, 1 group of violins = 1 flute. 2 flutes = 1 horn. 2 horns = 1 trumpet. If a composer were to adhere strictly to this math, it would be impossible to score anything. One would need eight groups of strings instead of the normal five in order to balance with the eight standard wind players, or even just a single trumpet. Fortunately that’s not the way things work, which one can easily see with the most rudimentary score-reading. The problem with this math is that it deals with all instruments purely on a perceived and constant level of volume. But there’s so much more to it that that. Most orchestral instruments can balance quite nicely at mp and under without having to consider this kind of math too much. Some instruments project far better than others, like the tuba. And of course, the players themselves are constantly adjusting to each other’s levels of volume, for the simple necessity of being able to hear one another if nothing else.

Fig. 29a: Calculating general dynamic balance and contrasts.

Here’s a far more useful general dynamic calculation. Treat the strings as the average weight of tone and projection. That is your zero line. From there, you must decide whether to augment that tone through support and/or doubling, or contrast it with interplay between groups of instruments. The winds are the usual partners in this, playing solos, interacting in different ways, or joining in on combined coloration. There will be greater potential weight in the winds, especially in terms of individual lines, but the sense of projection may lessen on harmonies as the winds spread out across a chord. Depending on the context of the music, the winds should be able to play alongside the strings without too much fiddling around dynamically (as in marking INDEX

Let’s consider the brass section as its own unique problem and set of variables - and really look at why some instruments appear stronger than others. A brass instrument mostly behaves like a wind instrument in terms of tone production. The embouchure creates a tone at the mouthpiece, which sets up a waveform through the bore of the instrument. The length of the bore and the harmonic frequency determine the pitch. These factors are all the same so far. Now for the differences. The walls of the bore are extremely thin compared to the winds, and made of metal which encourages greater intensity of vibration. Then there’s the bell of a brass instrument. Sounds are somewhat directional in projection, which is why the brass section sits in the back of the orchestra, pointing forward. These factors have a bearing on balance within the brass section as well as without. The horn, for instance, has a smaller mouthpiece than most other brass. It also has a wide bell that points behind the player, spreading the sound in the opposite direction to the listener. Though its range is around the same as a tenor trombone, its design is that of a half-tube rather than whole-tube instrument. These factors give it a more limited field of projection than its counterparts. Trumpets and trombones, on the other hand, are simple cylindrical pipes with a flaring bell in their last 1/3 or so of length. There’s an enormous advantage here in terms of projection, because a more penetrating tone with shallower resonance will come straight out the end of that bell. Finally, though tubas usually point to the ceiling, they have some of the most far-reaching projection of all with their large mouthpieces and widely conical bores. This has naturally led to a divide in the way the brass section is described. There are the horns and then there are the “heavy brass” - essentially everyone else. The horns interact with the winds and support the strings, and the heavy brass stand more on their own. But what happens when the horns stand with the heavy brass? The common wisdom as passed down by Rimsky-Korsakov is to treat the horns as half the strength of trumpets, trombones, and tuba. He has many charts illustrating full, rich chords, in which horns sit two to a note in chords of one heavy brass player per note. Undoubtedly these chords are quite full and satisfying - but they tend to suggest that the only way to bring a horn quartet up to strength is to double it to eight members. And indeed many scores take this approach. And yet this isn’t always the way. Rimsky-Korsakov himself admits that in wider-spaced chords, four horns may fill in the middle voice at one horn per note. I’d go further - the type of full-bodied chord 41

structures that he recommends are simply one kind of orchestral colour. They don’t serve as a guideline for what to do in brass harmonies all or even most of the time. Many full-bodied textures have been structured where all brass are more or less equal partners, as the strongest register of each has been scored. Still other chords are built which are lighter, darker, more menacing, or more placid, none of which involve the brute-force approach of 2 horns = 1 trumpet. So score-read for this detail, and compare the colours of the many different ways that brass textures are proportioned.

Fig. 29b: Different tutti brass chords (strings and winds not included).



30. Brass Section Seating The seating of brass players in a modern orchestra has some bearing on unity of the section, as well as cohesiveness with the other sections. As discussed in the previous tip, the brass line up behind the string and wind sections (though usually in front of the percussion). To the casual observer, the placement of the different players seems a bit arbitrary, as if the stage manager was simply looking at an orchestral score and seating them more or less in that order: horns to the left, then trumpets in the middle, trombones to the right of them, and then tuba on the far right. Furthermore, the section seems to lack the same grouped sense of togetherness as the strings and winds. So how do they manage to join together with such clarity and precision, and support the orchestra with such unified strength? The first answer lies in one of the last tip’s topics: projection. It actually helps the brass players to be seated side by side rather than in a knot. They can hear each other fine, and it helps to not have their bells pointed directly at one another. Strung out in a long curve behind the other players, their sound presents a fairly even balance in a tutti, which it would not were the players grouped like strings (see Fig. 30 on the next page). In Tip 35, we’ll explore the intricacies of horn seating, and why the seating positions of the 2nd and 3rd player are in order on the stage and yet reversed in a score. For now, though, let’s examine why they’re usually seated to the left. Imagine what it’s like to conduct an orchestra. 1st violins will be to your left, with perhaps the 2nds or violas more to the centre-left. Behind the centre ranks of strings, the flutes will sit to the left of the wind section, with the clarinets behind them. At this point, the left side of the orchestra is all middle-to-high register instruments, with much radiance and glitter from the winds and silkiness from the strings. There needs to be some warm, burnished tone in the middle to make them glow instead of sounding brittle. What’s more, as a conductor, you rely heavily on the horns to help connect all the sections together. They tend to stay on the job throughout the score, and may need a close connection to your cues. How great it is, then, that they’re sitting right behind the firsts, where you can include them in an emphatic gesture to the leading voice of the orchestra. The horns are actually seated in reverse score order, starting with the low 4th horn on the left and then ascending to the right. This puts the first horn player closest to the trumpets, and this is why horns and trumpets can surprise the listener with their occasional conjoined timbre. The orchestrator should consider that when horns are blended with such natural partners as bassoons, trombones, tuba, and low strings, INDEX

that their counterparts may be several metres away. The time lag between fast alternating notes with double basses and cellos on the beat and horns on the offbeat can lead to minor disasters (though it certainly can and does function most of the time). Likewise, listening to the finer points of each other’s tone and expression may be difficult in a complex texture. On the other hand, the flutes and especially the clarinets are at an elbow’s distance. The trumpets are usually seated right in the centre of the brass lineup, which also puts them in the centre of the orchestra. This can be skewed a little to the left or right depending brass numbers and stage size. The main point is that the 1st trumpet is in the middle, in a very natural position to get the conductor’s whole attention if need be. This puts the trumpets behind the winds, at times more to the left behind the flutes and clarinets. The orchestrator really needs to think about this placement in terms of acoustic balance, and consider how a trumpet melody or chorale might either complement or utterly ruin the sound of the nearby winds. That penetrating projection will cut right through the carefullyhoned balance and intonation of their neighbours, so often the best strategy is to just score them well out of the way of one another when both are exposed. The trumpets are seated, like the horns, with the principal player on the right, placing the leader of the heavy brass very nearly in the middle, with the principal trombone right next to them. This makes the two principals partners in a way, and very close, accurate teamwork becomes possible. Consider that the next time you’re scoring for only 2-3 voices for heavy brass. You may get a naturally wider range and more connected playing at the highest level in a duo with 1st trombone and 1st trumpet, rather than two trumpets or two trombones. The trombones start the rightward trend of the brass across the stage, which is also a downward trend of range, with the bass trombone at the far right and the tuba at the end. This is both a blessing and a curse in terms of the close proximity of bass instruments. The cellos and double basses are quite often to be found on this side, as are the timpani, bassoons, and contrabassoon. This helps the conductor to easily lead all low players with devastating unity. On the other hand, it can make that side of the stage too dominated by the low heavy brass. You should know that if you score an emphatic tutti passage with all the low players in octaves, the bassoons and cellos will feel the presence of the trombones most forcefully, and it may interfere with their idea of how a passage should be articulated and phrased, not to mention their sense of intonation. Bassoonists may or may not be the originators of the trombonist joke, but they certainly know a lot of them. Of course, the above information is only a very general view of how most orchestras are seated today, and shouldn’t be seen as the last word by any means. In some large configurations, eight horns may be seated in a row behind the winds, with the heavy brass behind them. This would give the brass a nicely centred sound. Or on some stages, the horns might be closer to the winds, with the trumpets off to the right, and the trombones in the far right corner where they’re apt to do the least amount of damage. Be that as it may, let the general proximity of brass seating at least inform if not dictate how you build and balance your orchestral colours. 43



31. Horn Stopping Range and Mutes

have a listen to this passage here, to hear how mutes sound when they’re used in the correct way, and also to hear the contrast there as the third horn plays a soft unmuted echo while the other players keep their mutes.

Orchestrators should learn the difference between stopped notes and muted notes on the horn, and also how to ask for mutes and give time for their installation. One bit of common knowledge in older orchestration manuals like the Piston is that composers don’t seem to differentiate between stopped notes and muted notes in scores, sometimes using them interchangeably. Yet there’s a definite difference between the sounds. Stopped notes have an urgent, crisper sound in attack - and a sinister, somewhat oozing sound in smoother passages. Muted notes have a different shade, similar to a muted trombone, with lower overtones more in abundance and a meatier tone - yet not so penetrating. In all things to do with horn, the composers to study are Mahler and R. Strauss, if you really want to know everything a horn can do - because they make a hornist do everything, and yet write for the horn so well that its players are happy to give it everything no matter what the risk. Both Mahler Symphonies 1 & 2 are full of areas in which both mutes and stopping are used, and the difference between the two is integral to the sound. Luckily for you, all copyright has expired on Mahler’s works, so these scores are available on IMSLP. Stopped horns can get very soft indeed - in fact, a lot of players will ignore mute markings on some passages and use hand-stopping instead. They will do this under two conditions. A.) They sense that the composer doesn’t actually know or care about the difference, which is actually a bad position for the composer - losing confidence from your players because of your incompetence is never good. B.) The composer simply has not given the player time to get the mute ready. No hornist wants to slam the mute into the bell and risk denting their instrument over and over, just because you couldn’t be bothered to set up the situation correctly. There’s a direction in horn technique called “hang mutes.” The horn mute has a little strap on its outer surface that may be hung off the player’s wrist. The right hand continues to shape the sound, then will reach down, grab the mute, and slip it into the bell. Often times, this direction will be written in parts by the players themselves, but an orchestrator should know about the option, and mark it when necessary (or at least be aware that the procedure will happen depending on how the part is scored).

Fig. 31a: Mahler Symphony no. 1, Movement 1, bars

In the excerpt below from Mahler Symphony no. 1, Movt. 1, the third horn player is being asked to first use a mute (“mit Dämpfer”), then remove it and play on. In this case, where the player really has only about three seconds from the end of the halfnote in bar 52 to the high E in bar 53, hanging the mute would be advisable. You should INDEX


Mutes may be a better alternative to stopping if the range of the part crosses a variety of registers, as the best stopped notes are inside the treble staff. The higher the pitch above top G, the greater the risk of cracking. The lower the pitch below middle C, the flabbier the tone. It’s interesting that neither Piston nor Adler (or most other texts) address this issue of range with horns, with the inevitable result that horn players are either snickering at or groaning about playing incompetently-written stopped notes. While it’s true that Tchaikovsky and others wrote very low stopped pitches, the truth is that even with today’s modern stop-valves and stop mutes, which produce a more reliable low register, such notes are extremely unsatisfying to play, and uncertain unless the player is of top rank. Here’s the truth about it - if you really want that snarly tone, that forceful, raspy effect at its very best, then write stopped tones between written G in the staff and top G. You may also descend as far as middle C with most orchestral horn sections, and still get a satisfying sound. Lower than that, the stopped tones gradually become weaker and weaker - so you can still write for them, and they can still be played, but don’t expect any fireworks. A stopped ff accent at written C below middle C will sound more like a sick cow than a blaring, sinister note. In the example below from the first movement of my harp concerto, note how the first horn line is right in the sweet spot for the first two bars, supported by horns II & III playing harmony. Then things get a little lower than optimum, but note that I’ve scored the descent into a decrescendo. The picture of danger flashing on the horizon then fading is complete. Meanwhile, look at this page’s simple (but I think very effective) scoring. The basses and cellos at mf, tone rounded slightly by the p. bass trombone, in contrary motion and varying the harmonic rhythm, then settling on a low B which starts the backbeat pulse of the timpani. The written B minor chord (concert E minor) in the fading horns folds seamlessly into the enharmonic D m chord in 2nds, violas, and divisi cellos as the harp drops glittering from the sky. Distant thunder from the percussion, then gentle rain on your face as you look out over the cliff.




Fig. 31b: Goss, Harp Concerto, Movement 1, bars 175-179



32. Horn Lyrical Character and Slurring If you want to test the effectiveness of a horn part, simply sing it all the way through. Be mindful that it’s much simpler to slur up on a horn than to slur down. Too many composers have the idea that horns simply are the chucks in a “boomchuck” - which they can do very easily. Or that horns are simply harmonic filler for greater ideas. Or even worse, that their job is to play little bits of inarticulate twiddles as counterpoint to other experimental twiddling going on in what is certainly a grand intellectual exercise (at least in the mind of the composer). But in the mind of the horn player, their instrument’s colour and expression is like the human voice - and they take great pains to emulate that character. When you compose against that grain the results are seldom effective, and they’re unlikely to be performed with consummate enthusiasm or conviction. The horn can whisper, hum, sing lightly, emote, shout, and even scream. The proportions with which you ask its players to perform these variations of force should be about the same as one might hear from an opera singer (or a Shakespearean actor). What’s more, the natural range of the horn is quite similar to an operatic baritone singer: uncertain bottom notes, a secure middle range, and a strained upper register, becoming ever more difficult and loud up to the top notes. The horn may reach higher than a baritone, but its progressive timbre is very similar. It’s not just tunefulness or breathing which must be evaluated, but also the question of stability of range. Try singing a leap of a 7th from the middle of the staff to a note above it, and see how in tune and clear that note is. Then you’ll understand why horn players find such passages treacherous. Also test for viability of articulation and phrasing. If your idea can’t be sung, it may also be something better suited for another instrument rather than the horn.

Note the following features in the excerpt above from the 1st horn part of my orchestral legend “Maui’s Fishhook.” The higher the music gets, the closer together the intervallic steps. Extremely high notes are carefully approached. The phrasing and articulation is all very natural to the way the horn speaks, and the dynamic proportions have a degree of variation. Finally, though there certainly are some very high notes, most of the part is within the natural range of the first horn, the notes inside the treble staff. Note how the slowly ascending passage is mostly composed in slurred pairs of notes. For a brass player to slur upwards, pressure must be increased and the embouchure tightened. This is fairly simple, as a natural muscular tendency combines with an increase of enforced control. However, it can be quite difficult both conceptually and physically to reverse this. The embouchure has to be loosened and pressure decreased, making it tricky to step down into while maintaining control. In the following sample from Richard Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben, the first horn slurs upwards over the span of two octaves plus a third - essentially, a 17-note span. Then it plays another leap of a 5th up to high F. That all seems pretty impressive, but your average first horn player can do this standing on his head. What he’s really dreading is that downward slur from high F to middle D. That is, to put it in musical terms, a bloody nuisance. It’s fast, it’s exposed, and it’s very hard to negotiate clearly. If the player isn’t giving it his complete attention, he will choke it miserably. But perhaps that was Strauss’s intention - he is, after all, writing a tone poem about a “hero’s life” - which one might well assume would require extraordinary effort from the musicians to portray effectively. A couple of notes here for score-readers: this part is written in “old notation” - so while the treble staff is transposing down a 5th, the bass staff is transposing up a 4th. Notes look ridiculously lower in bass staff, and are an octave lower than they’re written on the treble staff, which is why we all use “new notation” now. The other thing is that a low B in old notation is concert E a 4th higher - a very low note indeed for a solo horn, which is why Strauss makes the note more secure with the addition of the second player in the full score.



Fig. 32b: Strauss, Ein Heldenleben, horn I part bars 1-11 Fig. 32a: Goss, Maui’s Fishhook, horn I part bars 169-187.



33. Horn Textural Support The “horn pad,” once thought obsolete and to be avoided, still has possibilities for the imaginative orchestrator. From the Late Classical through to Romantic Periods, composers often employed what’s known as the “horn pad:” 3-part and 4-part harmony sitting softly in the background, while the strings or strings+winds dominated the texture. The ability of the horns to disguise themselves plus the prominence of the their overtones results in a rich, golden tone from the whole orchestra. You don’t actually hear the horns, but the action has a harmonic richness that wouldn’t otherwise occur. Gradually this idea fell out of favour - not that it was considered a cliché necessarily, more that it was old-fashioned. But recently it’s been making a comeback in certain scores. Probably the most prominent example would be the TV cues of composer Dennis McCarthy, who was lead composer for most of the Star Trek reboots of the 1980’s and 90’s. He evolved a certain sound that all orchestrators for those programs had to follow - prominent strings, 6-8 horns, and limited use of heavy brass and winds. In the cues from these shows, the composers would often set the horns softly behind the strings as they made a strong musical point. There are examples from other cues of composers like John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith - sometimes in recapturing the old Romantic sound, and sometimes in new and innovative ways. I myself use this trick from time to time. If you understand the basic principles, then you can vary it in different ways. In the following 2-page excerpt from my New Zealand legend “Maui’s Fishhook,” the music gently sloshes and murmurs, depicting a canoe that’s been swept out to sea, teetering uneasily on the restless waves. The strings are marked mf, and the horns sit behind their interweaving lines with a series of 9th and 13th chords marked at p. As the music progresses, they emerge from the texture momentarily, colouring the sound in a radiant way before subsiding again. This is only one of many examples - another thing I’ve done is to score the strings in widely spaced intervals of 4ths, basically forms of 11th and 13th voicings, and have the horns play the other parts of those chords. The overtones fill in the gaps between the strings, creating the illusion of clustered tones. So my feeling is that this is a texture that’s barely been explored. Don’t chuck it in the bin quite yet!

Figs. 33a & 33b (next page): Goss, Maui’s Fishhook, bars 124-133.

(but don’t overuse it either, ahem)





34. Horn Key Signatures Despite what several modern orchestration texts may claim, concert horn and trumpet players prefer not to have key signatures. I picked up the Alfredo Casella orchestration text in an English translation a while back. Some of the presentation of principles is truly original, and I can recommend it as a supplement to a more thorough book like the Adler. However, there are several glaring inaccuracies with regard to his writings about horns. One thing he states about horn I’ve never found to be true: “At one time in all music for horn, as in other brass instruments like the trumpet, accidentals were not put in the part, nor was there a key signature. Each note, therefore, had to be altered where necessary. Today, however, this practice no longer exists nor can it be justified. The key is given as in any other instrument.” (emphasis added) This rings false to all practical experience I’ve ever had with players. While band horn players may fall in line with the dictum above, concert hornists don’t appreciate Professor Casella’s hornsplaining, nor do they care for key signatures either. Yes, they’ll play them without complaining, especially if they are professionals. But if you ask them what they really want, you’ll get anything from a polite suggestion to a lengthy dissertation on why key signatures are irrelevant to horn. If you’re not convinced by this tip, then go check that key-signatured horn part that you got back from your premiere. If the music’s complex, there’s a good chance that the sharps or flats from the key signature have been marked on many notes - and that the horn player’s drawn silly cartoons and frowny faces over it as well.

The rest of horn repertoire is either modern with no key anyway; mid-Romantic to early Modern, in which the chromatic horn was under development; or Baroque to Early Romantic, composed for natural horn. Now imagine a horn player playing all of this repertoire without a key signature, and then receiving a part with a key signature, particularly one with many sharps or flats. Their impression may well be that its the work of a composer dipping their pinky toe into an idea and hoping the horns will fly with it. They’ll snort, or smile to themselves, or even think “whatever, let’s get it over with” - but they’ll seldom thank you for it. Trumpets get key signatures more often, but most players I’ve met are indifferent to them as well, and would rather see the accidentals marked on each note. No matter what possibilities of chromaticism may exist with trumpet or horn, both instruments are based on the harmonic series. They play over a set of overtones that add up to a chord plus a fragment of scale at the top. Valve and piston positions are basically moving that chord up and down, and intersecting the musical idea with the right partial of the appropriate tubing extension is what gets you the sound. On top of that, a key signature seems almost arbitrary. The 1st horn excerpt below from my orchestral legend Battle of the Mountains shows another advantage to no key signatures - the horn may phrase alternately with sharps or flats, playing whichever represent the simplest in sequence, thereby leaving out double sharps and double flats. More than a “justification:” it’s a great benefit in getting your piece played with accuracy.

There’s a greater issue here as well, in that many orchestral composers are abandoning key signatures, particularly in film. I still use them - but I’m a tonalist/populist, and am fascinated by the unplumbed depths that yet remain in the exploration of keys and modes. Most of you are not, and more power to you if so - we need a huge variety of compositions in a world with hundreds of thousands of times the concert music audience of the Classical Era. The bottom line is that you may be avoiding key signatures for anyone, so why not make the horn and trumpet the first in line in that case? As to Casella’s pronouncement that “this practice” can no longer “be justified” - let’s honestly and fairly look at the entire scope of concert horn repertoire. A very slim percentage of it has key signatures - perhaps only 5-10%, if that, and most of that will be by composers who are not experienced with horn, or are getting a student reading, or honestly believe things like this (and no one has been polite enough to point out the fallacy). INDEX

Fig. 34: Goss, Battle of the Mountains, horn I part bars 186-196.

One last thing: Sibelius notation software automatically assumes that you want key signatures on your horn and trumpet parts in its templates. Entry-level users don’t know how to change this around, or why they should - meaning that key signatures automatically become the hallmark of an inexperienced composer. So right there, with that one simple act, the problem is multiplied several hundred thousand times. 50

35. Horn Part Scoring Order The standard concert score layout of horns 1/2, 3/4 exists for some very good reasons. Inform yourself before altering these positions. One of the most frequently asked questions in the Orchestration Online Facebook group is “How should I score horns - 1/2, 3/4; or 1/3, 2/4?” This refers to the placement on the standard two-staff layout of horns in pairs. In other words, should horns be scored like the left sample or right sample below?

Fig. 35a: Sample passage scored with horns 1/2, 3/4 on left, and 1/3, 2/4 on right.

For more harmonic variety, horns were pitched in different keys. This led to the use of two pairs of horns, each with different crooks. One set of horns was pitched on the tonic, to give emphasis to the tonic and dominant, and the other would be pitched in such a way as to give ample room for modulation and underlining certain pitches like a major or minor third. Thus seating developed in which two pairs of players always sat side-by-side. The first and second players teamed up on one set of pitches, and the third and fourth on another. The first and third players played the higher notes of each pair, and the second and fourth the lower notes. These notes were bound to intersect, and when they did, it was much easier for the players to stay in tune. Eventually, the standard orchestral horn became a chromatic instrument pitched in F, but the seating arrangement and scoring philosophy were preserved. Horns 1 & 2 worked together as the primary pair, and horns 3 & 4 as the secondary pair, interlocking on three-part and four-part harmonies. There’s an overriding logic about this, which evolved serendipitously with the orchestral roles, having to do with intonation. Horn is essentially the trickiest instrument to tune - it’s a lifelong struggle, one which is beset by tinnitus, self-doubt, and nights on which one’s ear simply doesn’t want to work. To combat this, there are ergonomic and psychological structures built right into the seating of the section. First, the ergonomics: consider a row of horns playing the following chord in four-part harmony:

Short answers to this question bypass an essential amount of history, practice, and working knowledge of the orchestra. One could say “always the first,” or “always the second,” or even “whichever is convenient.” The question gets asked because a developing orchestrator needs an immediate answer to continue working on a score. Unfortunately, though, this is a situation where making a quick decision robs the question of its full context, and may even lead to a lot of uninformed scoring. Thus it behooves every orchestrator to take the responsibility of asking the question by educating themselves to the fullest about it. There’s a whole history to orchestral horn playing that’s led to its standard placement in a score of four horns on two staves. The first orchestral use of horns was in operas and cantatas, accompanying royal processions and hunting scenes. Eventually, this led to their use in symphonies. The natural horns of that time were limited to the pitches of the harmonic series: a perfect 5th in the first octave; a dominant seventh chord above that; and a diatonic scale in the top octave, becoming ever more difficult to play after the 5th step. Horns were tied to the keys of each movement, and could alter the range of available tones only by attaching a crook: a piece of tubing that lengthened the pipe downwards.

Fig. 35b: Bach, Brandenburg Concerto no. 1, Movement 4, horn II part in F from Trio bars 1-8


Fig. 35c: The ergonomics and psychology of horn seating.

Let’s assume that every player is playing their part in order of seating. The first player on the right is playing the top B, the second the G , the third the middle B, and the fourth the bottom E. This is actually far from ideal. It means that the fourth player is three seats away from the high note. The first pair of players is playing a high G 3rd, not difficult for them; but the other pair of players hangs off the bottom, isolated from the top notes. They’re tuning to each other in their own little world, and if things aren’t clear in the rest of the music, then the results can be less than perfect.




Now switch the middle two notes, so that the second player gets the middle B, and the third player the G . Now the first pair of horns are playing an octave on the same pitch, an enormously secure tone. From that tone, the third player sitting next to them can easily tune a G . Finally, at the far end, the fourth can hear the harmony much clearer, adjusting the intonation of that low note to the third’s middle high note, as well as the more distantly placed first and second players’ octave.



This arrangement works so well that even publishers take it for granted quite often. While players most often prefer to get individual parts (i.e. with only their notes on them), they may also get a part that’s extracted right out of the score, with first and second horn on one, third and fourth on the other. Sometimes, in a sweeping, complex score like a grand opera, it can actually help the players to see what’s on their partner’s part.

The historical and practical factors that I discuss above are the reason why nearly every concert score of the past contains horns arranged 1/2, 3/4 in the staff layout. Conductors rely on this a great deal, because they’d like to know who to cue, and rehearsal time is never enough. When the horns are set up in different configurations, it means more preparation time for the conductor if the horn section needs help, or there are essential cues placed in intricate order. The alternate scoring layout of 1/3, 2/4 evolved in band scores, contemporary music scores, and film scores. Not that it’s necessarily the default in any of these cases! But it still shows up in those genres so often that I’ll often read the claim that it’s the default. This new way of scoring seems to be based on visual convenience: if both high horns are playing the top line in unison, and ditto the low horns on the lower line, then why not just conjoin the high and low parts on their own staves? And so the approach crept its way into scoring, to the point at which it’s commonly accepted by many orchestrators, even defended with some heat. But the fact remains: if one is going to score 1/3, 2/4, it still means that the players are arranged in the seating order of 1/2/3/4. They will still be listening to one another and supporting one another in those pairs. Nothing on the ground has changed. So it behooves the orchestrator, no matter what approach they adopt, to think of their harmonies intersectionally, and to be aware of who is tying their playing to whom in reality. There are just so many examples of scoring in which this is not considered, like long passages of intervals played between the first and third players just because they happen to share a staff in this new arrangement. Or even worse, the second and fourth will share a long passage of intervals that dip lower and lower: neither player being a leader or having the most secure intonation can lead to disaster.

Fig. 36d: Donizetti, La fille du regiment, Overture, horn 1/2 part bars 89-114.

So for me, I’m sticking with 1/2, 3/4. I read it, understand it, think it, and score it. It’s what’s actually happening physically in front of the conductor, and aurally for the row of players. Choose what you will, but score in a way that makes the horn players love the score you give them, instead of saying “oh no, not again!”

And that naturally leads to the second factor, psychology. If the two high players were sitting on the right, and the two low players on the left, then the sense of security would also be eroded. Each pair of players has a leader and a follower. The first’s most intimate teamwork is with the second, pairing off in carefully-tuned intervals. Ditto for the third and fourth players. If the middle-high player sits next to the high player, then both low players lose their intimate bond. And consider this very important point commonly left out of both orchestration manuals and most discussion threads on this topic: psychological support is crucial for horn intonation. When players lose their confidence, the tuning goes to hell in a hurry. This is why conductors are advised not to glare at the horn section - it only makes the problem worse!



36. Trumpet Mute Classification Mutes should be classified according to their effect on the harmonic spectrum. Orchestration manuals have been more or less effective in describing the full range of mutes used by trumpets and trombones. Older manuals tend to be less aware of the eventual ubiquity of some popular music-style mutes in orchestral scoring, especially for film. Newer texts like Adler’s discuss mutes in admirable detail. Yet what’s lacking from the discussion is any kind of systematic description of how they work and what precise effect that has on the instrument’s timbre and technique.

The most common mute for orchestral playing is the straight mute. This name is a little misleading, as many “straight” mutes curve outwards along the inside of the trumpet’s bell, ending in a dome-like cover. But for concert music, you’ll generally see a simple cone of metal or fibreboard topped with a disc. Three evenly-spaced cork stubs hold the mute in position a couple millimetres above the surface of the bell, and wedge it securely in place through friction. The inside of the mute has a small opening which allows the chamber inside to act as a resonator, which along with the narrow passage of air around it alter the frequency of the timbre to be more penetrating. The lower partials are absorbed somewhat, while the upper partials are underlined. The resulting sound is anything but “muted” by the common definition. Rather, it’s unusually bright and cutting.

Though this tip doesn’t have room to fully enumerate all the variables, here are some general principles to help you more easily classify types of mutes, so you know which one to choose when scoring. Keep in mind that these decisions should always be backed up by hearing the mutes in action, so you have an instinctive as well as analytical foundation. Firstly, let’s define mutes: any device added to the operation of a musical instrument which alters its timbre and/or dynamic response. Some mutes truly diminish the loudness of an instrument; but these are actually far fewer than those intended more for altering timbre. For the most part, a somewhat softer tone acts as a side effect of the goal of limiting a certain spectrum of the instrument’s resonance. Brass mutes act through three acoustic principles: absorption, deflection, and interference. Absorption limits the frequency of a wave as it passes through or around a substance. In the case of mutes, this is usually some kind of deadening material through which some or all of the vibrations are forced to pass. Deflection is the effect of putting a wall between the highly directional sounds emitting from an instrument, and forcing it back, usually away from the listener. Finally, interference occurs when sound waves are forced through a chamber, in which they either cancel each other out destructively or amplify each other constructively. With those principles firmly in mind, let’s proceed with a quick classification of the most common mutes used by trumpet players (note as mentioned above that many if not all of these mutes are also used on trombone). Before naming each, though, it’s worth pointing out that the principle of absorption weighs heavily on the choice of materials used. Mutes constructed of fibreboard, softer plastic, and rubber will tend to absorb more of the sound, while those made of thinner, harder materials, especially metal, will tend to have a crisper quality. INDEX

Fig. 36a: Trumpet straight mute.

This is the default mute for concert music. If the trumpet section reads “con sord.” in a part, then they’ll use a straight mute used unless otherwise directed. In my experience, though, players are seldom satisfied in following this direction blindly for the performance of a new work. You’re quite likely to be asked for the exact meaning of the term “con sord.”, and if you act unsure then you may get a demonstration right before rehearsal starts. This happens particularly in instances of a jazz score that seems to ask for straight mutes, which may result in an inappropriate sound. So be warned. The straight mute is mainly an absorptive device. Deflective mutes are also quite common. Anything a player positions in front of the bell, including fingers, metal or felt derby hats, toilet plungers, and even music stands are all deflective. These tend to initially have the opposite effect on the timbre to an absorptive mute, as they limit the upper partials and let through more of the lower ones. But usually such mutes aren’t left on the bell for this timbral effect on its own, but quickly flapped on and off to create a “wah” sound. The wah represents nothing less than sweeping through the spectrum of a tone, from emphasis on the lower frequencies through to the highest as the mute opens. What’s less often used is the opposite of the “wah:” the scoop, in which the tone starts open and is then “scooped up” as the mute closes over the bell. 53


An important note here is that most such mutes have some gap that allows for free airflow, as a complete sealing of the bell would cut off the sound entirely. Plunger mutes have a hole cut out in the centre, for instance, which also allows for a different range of frequencies than a derby. Another thing worth knowing is that some players use the mechanics of the opening wah in the place of tonguing for a smoother sound, as a firmly tongued wah can feel too pointed.

Absorption and deflection combine in another way with the bucket mute. In this case, the bore of the trumpet is entirely empty of devices, but a half-open chamber or “bucket” clips onto the rim of the bell. The bucket is usually packed with foam or some other absorptive material. This results in a lower general spectrum of tone, with less jab to the attack. The clips are often adjustable for a more open tone.

Fig. 36b: Trumpet plunger mute.

Fig. 36d: Trumpet bucket mute.

The principles of absorption and deflection are both used by the cup mute, which looks rather like a straight mute with a plunger-sized disc over the end. This disc deflects the waves back toward the bell, while the straight cone absorbs some tone. The result is a moody midrange sound, in which both extreme upper and lower partials have been suppressed. The crispness of the tone may be encouraged on some mutes by dialling the cup into a more open position.

Perhaps the ultimate combination of the above lies with the pixie mute and the plunger. The pixie mute is a very small, somewhat tinny version of the straight mute that remains entirely within the trumpet’s bore. The player can flap a plunger mute over the end, and get very high-pitched, somewhat quacking wahs.

Fig. 36c: Trumpet cup mute.

Fig. 36e: Trumpet pixie/plunger mute combo.


In all of these mutes, interference plays some role. Some frequencies are coaxed into encouraging each other while other cancel themselves out. The ultimate combination of all three acoustic principles is achieved with the Harmon mute (which is a trade name - other manufacturers call this the “bubble mute” or “wah mute”). This mute differs from most others in that its cork wedge isn’t in separated stubs, but a continuous ring that blocks airflow around it. This forces the air and all of the sound waves through the mute. In the Harmon’s inner chamber, the timbre gains a distinctive character that’s mostly due to the cancellation of certain high and low frequencies. The result is a warm and yet brittle tone and attack that’s unlike any other mute. The 5th and 6th partials are enormously emphasised. The Harmon comes with a stem bearing a little cup on one end that may be inserted in its central hole, called a “cookie cutter,” which changes the entire nature of the tone. Certain partials are greatly amplified through constructive interference, especially the 4th, resulting in a lower general frequency of tone. This is perfect for wah effects, achieved with the application of the fingertips over the cup.

Fig. 36f: Trumpet Harmon mute with cookie cutter stem.

Fig. 36g: Trumpet Solotone mute.

The distinction of highest absorptive capacity belongs to practice mutes like the whispa mute. The sound waves are muffled by several layers of foam or other material. Here the mute is truly living up to its name, as the sounds will seem incredibly discreet and distant. A similar effect can be achieved by stuffing a handkerchief or sock into the bell. The caveat here is that if the airflow is significantly slowed or stopped by such damping, then the pitch of the instrument changes just like it does with horn handstopping. Now that you’ve got this information, listen to many examples of different uses of trumpet mutes. There are many demonstrations on the internet, and classic solos in concert music and jazz. Apply the information you’ve read here, and try to find the best mute for the job. Not all trumpet players own all mutes, but nearly all have a straight mute, a cup mute, a plunger, and a Harmon mute. Start with those. You’ll see that even amongst that handful, there’s enormous variety of use by players of different styles and periods.

Similar design is used for the Solotone mute, with similar results. The Solotone is used for a classic 1920’s jazz sound, with an extremely high spectrum of overtones. It has a cork ring that forces the sound into a cone, which itself has another smaller straight mute inside it. This absorbs or interferes with nearly all the lower partials up to the 4th, giving the trumpet a sound similar to being heard through the earpiece of an older model telephone. It’s similar to a stem-in Harmon mute, but with a little more body to the tone.



37. Trumpet Soloing and Doubling The trumpet is the leading melodic voice of the heavy brass. Use it wisely. Here near the start of individual brass tips, let’s briefly examine the melodic capacity of each instrument, starting from the bottom up. Tuba is largely a support instrument, and its occasional solos are mainly for effect rather than customary function. Trombone likewise, but with more passages of melodic support, especially joining in on a massive statement. Horns are a different story. Their melodic capacity is immense, and yet this feature is only one of many roles, and the upper limit of range is concert-pitch F5 (or really a perfect 4th lower at C5 for a controlled, tasteful sound). This leaves the trumpet as the leading melodic voice of the heavy brass, if not the whole section (of course, this also depends on the personal style of the composer). The trumpet is specifically built around the range of the treble clef, with a satisfying sound that’s clear throughout two octaves from C4 to C6. It can lend power to a combined tutti melody, or stand out on its own against a complex texture. This power is a double-edged sword. It will dominate any unison to which it’s added. In fact, in any melodic doubling in which the trumpet is involved, the partnering instrument should usually be seen as a way to amend the tone of the trumpet, usually mellowing it as when clarinets or horn play in unison. As for strings, the orchestrator has to carefully score-read different passages similar to those they intend to score, and ask themselves what doubling suits best. Trumpet + 1st & 2nd Violins is a extremely intense sound, not to be forgotten, but it’s more of a slap in the face than a sweeping arc. For sweep, the strings are better placed in octaves above the trumpet, tracking the melody, perhaps even themselves doubled by flutes and oboes to match the muscle of a trumpet ff.

Of course, the best instrument to double a trumpet is another trumpet. The endless parade of considerations that applied to wind instruments in Tip 3 are negligible when it comes to trumpets and brass in general. The brass family’s members sound excellent when doubled in almost all cases, either with two of the same instrument, or two separate instruments so long as the strengths of register remain consistent. In the case of the trumpets, a loud unison melody has a terrifically deliberate sound, filled with a sense of awesome purpose. It works the way a sledgehammer works, obliterating everything in its way. But with great power comes great responsibility. Use it judiciously, and don’t wave it at the winds or the strings, for they will not be amused. Interestingly though, doubled trumpets at softer dynamics tend to even each other out, taking the edge off each other’s tone. This strategy can serve to diminish the impact in a balanced texture, though it can’t submerge it. Unless there’s a careful combination of other soft brass, or perhaps similarsounding oboes at that level, then the trumpets will still stand out melodically. Then again, it’s only natural because that’s their job. When all is said and done, though, you’ll get the best melodic results from a solo trumpet. It has a unique sense of nobility in tranquil passages, and unparalleled qualities of urgency and determination leading to climactic moments. It’s also the most agile and responsive of the brass, capable of making technically demanding passages speak with greater clarity and incisiveness. It’s important to understand the parameters of register. There’s a similarity of the trumpet to the oboe, in that the best writing really makes use of the middle range of notes: from C4 to G5. Lower than this, the trumpet becomes ever more flabby and unconvincing in sound, though that range is certainly useful in textural support. Higher than this, and we get into a range that’s far too often used by inexperienced orchestrators. To return to what was said in Tip 26, there’s really no need to scale these heights most of the time, as the trumpet’s quality of tone sounds higher due to the strength of its upper partials. What’s more, it’s difficult to play up in the highest range, wearing out the player very quickly. The notes up there have an extremely penetrating quality that fatigues the listener as well as the player. In some trumpets that have less bracing in their construction, a screaming high note may even cause the bell to shake, pushing painful feedback back onto the embouchure of the player. Best advice - score to the trumpet player’s strengths, and you’ll get a performance that’s even in strength and commitment throughout, even in an hour-long work. Delay the expedition to Mount Everest until the climber has been fully provisioned and prepared, and make it mean something.



38. Trumpet Chord Voicing

chords may sound extremely out of tune, and require some work to smooth out during rehearsal. The horns are masters of this approach, as they’re constantly adjusting their tuning in a closely-knit group, often grounding an orchestral passage with 3-part and 4-part harmonies.

While trumpet chords may be scored in many different voicings, the most immediately effective harmonic relationships utilise natural principles of resonance.

The trumpets are somewhat at a disadvantage in this same regard, as the shortness of their bores and higher pitch narrows the precise centre of each note. Dissonant intervals, especially very tight relationships such as minor 2nds or their inversion of major 7ths, are tricky because each chord must be tuned with respect to previous notes played and to what the players can hear of the orchestra. There are fewer obvious reference tones, and those that exist don’t always support one another in resonance. To make matters even more tricky, trumpets are usually quite exposed in any loud passage, so any mistake they make may sound exponentially worse to an audience.

Before launching into this tip about trumpet harmony, I want to make it clear that professional orchestral trumpet players can handle just about any type of pitches that are thrown at them, and make them mostly sound the way the composer intends. The point of this tip is more about how these players listen to each other, and how different combinations can be either complementary or counterintuitive. The fact that an orchestrator can trust the player to perform difficult harmonies doesn’t release that same orchestrator from the obligation of knowing why their music is hard to play. Let’s start with what’s easy to play - consonances built into the harmonic series itself. If you’ve been score-reading natural horn and trumpet parts as prescribed in Tip 28, then you’ve seen the range of simple relationships covering a major chord: 3rds, 5ths, 6ths, and octaves. Not only is it simple to play across the natural positions in these chords, but the chords themselves are easy to tune for two to three players. The 3-member group of trumpets was developed in part so that positions of triads could be realised in orchestral textures and tuttis. These are enormously effective in scoring, and thus represent the most signature use of the trumpets even today.

What’s important for the orchestrator to take away here is not a sense of musical conservatism. Rather, that it pays to build certain things into one’s scoring that give parts more logic and workability for the players. These would include internal and external reference points when appropriate in dense or widely-spaced harmonies. If the players can hear the root somewhere in the orchestra or in their own part, it will help immensely. Another thing that helps is evenly spaced chord voicings, in which the intervals have a certain general centre of weight rather than being randomly assigned (of course, this doesn’t apply if trumpets are performing different functions). If the voicing of the trumpet harmony must be far apart, the use of certain consonant intervals really helps (such as 5ths and octaves). Remember that the quality and tone-weight of different registers plays a role here: any note in a weaker place will spoil the effect of a chord.


Fig. 38a: Ravel, Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, trumpets bars 1-3 of Fig. 7. Characteristic trumpet fanfare over inversions of an F major chord.

The close spacing of the triad was preferred by orchestrators and pedagogues of the late-19th century such as Rimsky-Korsakov. Their conception of orchestral harmony was to fill in every gap above an octave bass. From Debussy onward, however, harmonic spacing became wider in order to build more open textures, and trumpets often played a part. Even at this, chord voicings that built on consonances had the most dependable results.

Fig. 38b: Holst, The Planets, Mars, trumpets and trombones, Fig XII. A very discordant harmony, yet the root helps tune the dissonances.

Why? It has to do with intonation. For a pianist, all pitches have an equal relationship to one another because of the even-tempered tuning system. Dissonances and consonances are all alike in this scheme, with a kind of idealised sound. This isn’t the case for brass, who base their tuning on the harmonic series. A dissonant series of INDEX


39. Trumpet Textural Support The uses of trumpets in a support role offer the orchestrator a wide palette with which to colour their orchestral textures. This is basic. As is discussed in other tips, trumpets devolved from a soloistic role in the Baroque Period to a support role in the Classical. Parts from Classical symphonies often have the trumpets playing simple octaves, 3rds, and 5ths behind the music for harmonic and rhythmic emphasis - and little else. Melodic passages are necessarily simple, covering the 6th, 8th-10th, and 12th partials when they happen at all. Nevertheless, these passages are absolutely worth studying to show how an economy of resources may be used to terrific effect. Here’s a score-reading/thought experiment. Pick up any large-scale work with a wide variety of emotional and textural approaches. Score-read the trumpets, but ignore any melodic passages, focusing instead on support. With an imaginative orchestrator, you’ll uncover many ways the trumpets can colour a work, imbuing it with more vitality. Let’s choose a few passages from Holst’s Planets. In Mercury on p.. 56, Dover ed. (13th bar of Fig. IV), flutes, clarinets, and violins I & II are playing a soaring melody. Double reeds, bass clarinet, horns, and double basses are holding down an open B 5 spanning 3 octaves, while harps, violas, and cellos play harmonised patterns over a B chord. A very luxurious texture. But what makes it positively glow? The trumpets, sitting on the mediant of the chord in a D octave. They’re not loud at all - in fact, they’re marked down to mf under everyone else’s f. Yet they they bring a radiance to the passage that would otherwise be absent, particularly as their tied D turns from mediant to dominant four bars later in the G minor chord.



Another beautifully crafted passage comes at the end of Saturn on p.. 129 (13th bar of Fig. VI). Ignore all the flurries and the slowly rising melody in the strings. Focus instead on the harmony, a simple C major chord voiced as two stacked 6/4 chords. The English horn, bassoons, and trombones cover the G octaves, while four trumpets play stacked C 3rds, doubled in part by oboes and bass oboe. If this chord were scored in a loud passage, it would make little sense, as the double-reeds would be mostly superfluous. At pp, however, the effect is luminous, bringing a flavour of transcendence to the slowly ascending theme. Keep in mind that the trumpets aren’t muted, and this is proof right here that there’s little need of them for brass to play extremely soft in certain passages and registers. It also underscores the unique relationship between oboes and trumpets, also explored by French orchestrators such as Debussy and Lili Boulanger. INDEX

Fig. 39a: Holst, Mercury, brass and winds 13th bar of Fig. IV


Fig. 39b: Holst, Saturn, brass and winds 13th bar of Fig. VI.


Fig. 39c: Holst, Jupiter, brass and winds bars 12-16.


Check out Neptune for more examples of heavy brass playing extremely soft background harmonies. For this tip, let’s jump back to Jupiter for two more support ideas for trumpet. The first one is the trumpet’s entrance at bar 12. There’s a tutti orchestral hit in the middle of the bar, with the whole wind section plus trombones, bass tuba, pizzicato double basses, and trumpets III & IV. Holst approximates an fp < arc here by having trumpets I & II start a simple p. C5 3rd on the same beat, and then crescendoing greatly across the next 3 bars. By also dropping the level of the interweaving string pattern, and then building dynamically while adding wind doubling, the passage suggests a huge increase of strength, even though minimal change is actually occurring. The last example is textbook trumpet scoring, but it’s well worth looking at all the same. In the passage from Fig. IX-X, Holst brings the hymn-like section to a rousing conclusion. The trumpets come in on the pickup, taking over harmonic support duties from the horns on nearly identical notes, and marked down to the same blending dynamic of mf. Note how this part mutates into counterpoint with the returning horns four bars later, and then settles into a heavy emphasis on beats 1 and 3, as the strings, horns, and upper winds go all-out with an octave melody. Like many other passages in this work, the functional content is uncomplicated, but the balance and texture are stellar. INDEX

Fig. 39d: Holst, Jupiter, brass and winds 13th bar of VI.


40. Trumpet Auxiliaries

The trumpet family is similar to the clarinet family in some respects. Both have two main models that are tuned by one or two half-steps apart - in the case of trumpets, these are the B and C models. Both families have higher models (sometimes called “piccolo” but actually sopranino) in D and E . Both have specialty instruments that are true piccolos - the rare A clarinet and the B piccolo trumpet. And both have commonlyused bass models extending an octave down from the main models. There are even contrabass models for both instruments (becoming more common for clarinet but a somewhat pointless exercise for trumpet). Interestingly, one may still find some scores in which trumpet parts are marked “clarino” in a general sense, intimating a relationship between the two families, though this of course is one of perception rather than technique or construction.




“Clarino” also refers to a specific high register, one which trumpet players of the Baroque period made their specialty. On old-style natural trumpets, tuning was limited to the harmonic series; so in order to play melodic parts, a trumpeter had to train their lip to a tighter embouchure, giving the player complete control from the 8th to the 16th partial. This was the octave from written C5-C6 - usually sounding in a higher key such as F. This repertoire remains, but the technique does not (except with some period music specialists). The modern trumpet is scaled-down in size, so that its clarino register is now manageable using the 8th and possibly 9th partials, taking the player up to a usual upper limit of written D6. It takes a trained lip to go higher than this. Some jazz players can get any high pitch from their trumpets, pushing them up above C7, but this is hardly a concert music sound. The natural limitations of timbre make themselves felt even as high as a standard high C6. With this in mind, the sopranino and piccolo trumpets were designed, which can scale these heights with clarity. There’s a self-defeating range of descriptive terminology in many orchestration manuals on the topic of the high trumpets: “piercing,” and “shrill.” It gives the impression of a standard trumpet being pushed past its comfort zone. Nothing could be further from the truth. The D and E trumpets have a wonderful clarity of tone. I would called it “pointed” and “ringing” rather than shrill - at least from a professional player with a great instrument.





When scoring for auxiliary trumpets, be aware that considerations of tone are always more important that extensions of range.


In fact, that is the point. It’s not about the high range as much as it is about the tone. The D trumpet really isn’t a whole lot higher than the C trumpet in terms of available partials. The E is only a half-step higher than the D. The B piccolo, pitched a minor 7th higher than the C, peters out for most players at a written A6, sounding G6. If our three instruments only give the composer a ceiling of range that’s a few notes higher, then what’s the point?

Fig. 40a: The realities of upper range limits on high auxiliary trumpets.

The answer is to stop thinking of these high trumpets as extensions of range, and start thinking of them as extensions of register or tone colour. Though they’re not a lot higher in physical range, they take the best timbral qualities of the middle-high range of the standard trumpet and make them much more comfortable to play above G5. The orchestrator should be looking for ways to utilise the unique sound of these instruments, not just in their top octave. Their middle registers have a smaller, more intimate sound that has its own kind of charm, and a wide range of dynamic control. There’s another misconception in many orchestration manuals that’s worth clearing up. We’re assured by both Piston and Adler that the bass trumpet is essentially a valve trombone, played by trombonists. But this is not quite true. A trombone is a whole-tube instrument, with a bore of wider design to help lower partials speak with more clarity. The trombone slide covers seven positions, of which the top 3-4 can play down to the fundamental.



But that’s not how bass trumpets are designed. Whether they’re pitched in E , D, or even C or B , their lowest partial is the second, the same as all other trumpets. What’s more, they’re not wholetube instruments. Builders tend to scale bass trumpets to have a more ringing, less dense sound. A bass trumpet is unforgettably heroic in its middle- to middle-high register. One has only to hear the instrument in the hands of an expert player, such as the leader of Mnozil Brass, to note the differences. It’s all about tone - otherwise, there would be little use in building a bass trumpet to begin with.

Fig. 40b: Wagner, Die Walküre, Act III, bass trumpet in D part bars 12-34. Probably the most famous bass trumpet line in concert repertoire. Sounding down a minor 7th.


41. Trombone Power of Projection Instead of treating the trombone’s loudness as a cliché, look for ways to use it to its best advantage.

Here’s the answer: let them stick out. Orchestrate some passages using trombones as linear rather than textural elements. At a softer dynamic, the player’s tendency to use a great deal of control will result in an eloquent tone - not as clear as a horn, but somehow more earthy. Trust Debussy the master of nuance to get this right. In the following passage from La mer, the trombones dove-tail from a chorale in the horns, and then diminuendo as they continue descending. The natural tendencies noted above mean that the part will be heard clearly all the way down to ppp.

Endless are the jokes and complaining about trombone loudness. Some of the classics: “What’s the dynamic range of the bass trombone? On or off.” “How many trombonists does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Only one, but he’ll do it too loudly.” I’ve even seen Richard Strauss’s rule for young conductors “Never look encouragingly at the brass…” changed to substitute the word “trombone” for “brass.” There’s absolutely no doubt about it: the trombone is one of the loudest instruments in the orchestra (but not the loudest - that honour falls to the bass drum). Get past all the jokes, and look at the real consequences of what this means: a trombonist is always going to be pulling their punches. Imagine an instrument on which the player’s normal mode of performance is to underplay, 99.99% of the time. This leads to a type of thinking in which it doesn’t matter how a part is marked, a professional concert trombonist will always be holding back, because experience tells them not to believe that you actually want ffff from them. At an instrumentation lecture demo, I once asked a trombonist to play as loud as he possibly could, which he did with extreme reluctance. He pointed the bell straight at us and played an enormously forceful G3. The effect was shattering, paint-peeling. And yet for all that, I knew that he was still under by a notch or two. He didn’t want to hurt us. This extreme power of penetration is due to the trombone’s simple perfection of design - a mouthpiece, an extendable cylinder, and a bell. It’s got no fiddly valves to rechannel the airflow (unless the F trigger’s being used), and its bore and bell flare are optimised for a weightier and yet still cutting tone. It’s really this tone that’s behind the trombone’s evolution. Its ancestor the sackbut had a narrower bore and bell, and a far more delicate sound. It would be hard to imagine a sackbut holding its own against the forces of a modern orchestra. So now that we’ve established the potential hugeness of trombone projection, and the consequential tendency of pro trombonists to hold back most of the time, let’s stand all these presumptions on their heads. Turn the equation around - how might the dynamics of the situation be turned to their best advantage in softer orchestral textures? INDEX

Fig. 41a: Debussy, La mer, Movement 3, brass section excerpt from Fig. 52.

This quality can also be used in quite imaginative ways in support of other linear scoring. Once again, Debussy shows how trombones belie their reputation for brutality. In a passage from Iberia, the second movement of Images pour orchestre, the trombones track a wind chorale at an octave below. It’s extremely colourful, artful scoring. (see Fig. 41b on next page) This is not to say that the trombones shouldn’t blend in soft textures, because they definitely can. French composers of the late Romantic period often scored the trombones in super-soft background chords that seem to represent a pianist’s left hand. And of course, when the trombones are used to stand out against a texture, they can easily do so at any volume. It’s up to the orchestrator to make sure in these instances that the effect is undertaken with originality and not as a predictable cliché. 62



42. Trombone Legato and “Slurring” Certain types of slurs are technically impossible on the trombone, and the orchestrator should know how and why the player will simulate them.

But this doesn’t mean that legato is technically impossible on trombone. Far from it. Players have an uncanny ability to proceed between notes of different slide positions with extreme smoothness when required. When a slur is marked over a phrase, the intervening notes will be soft-tongued to simulate continuity of breath between pitches. In a sense, it doesn’t matter if the slur is marked or not, so long as it’s clear to the player that the passage is to be played in a legato style.

It’s often been said that the trombonist must hear the note that they’re about to play before they play it. There are no valves of any kind to guide in the process of pitch formation, merely the lip and the length of slide. There are some advantages to the slide over the piston, of course. The most obvious advantage is that the player can minutely adjust the intonation of each note in ways that other brass players can’t, using the slide to exactly proportion the length of tubing needed. In this way, a trombone bears some relationship to a string instrument like a cello, over whose unfretted fingerboard the player must instinctively determine the correct pitch. But there’s a limitation to this convenience: slurring. A true slur on trombone is only possible between notes of the same slide position. The airflow may maintain a constant stream while the lip simply adjusts between harmonic partials of the same series. This, of course, limits the available pitches mostly to consonances in the lower range: octaves, perfect 4ths and 5ths, 3rds, and 6ths. Higher up, the player can slur a diminished 5th, and even play major 2nd lip trills between notes above the 7th partial. The ultimate utilisation of slurring over a single slide position is the harmonic glissando, in which the player’s lip sweeps across a range of notes of the harmonic series.

Fig. 42b: Schumann, Symphony no. 3, Movement 4, alto trombone part bars 1-23

One last point to this simple but oh-so-fundamental tip. Unless the composer is a trombonist, or is working closely with one on a solo piece, it’s a waste of time to dictate the difference between a true slur and a legato. A passage might be scored with intricate calculations in an attempt to ensure that true slurs are used throughout - whereupon the composer will see the player move the slide around and ignore the slurs entirely. This is because not every partial in each slide position is in tune with relation to the others. Also, a note in one position may simply sound better and speak with more clarity than the same note in another position. For instance, the note of F 4 is available in slide positions I, IV, and VI. But in position IV, it’s the out-of tune 7th partial of G2. It’s much more secure as the 8th partial of F2 in position VI, or even better the 6th partial of position I’s B 2. Even if the composer were to add this level of calculation to the part, the trombonist still will be likely to do what’s most comfortable for them at the moment of performance.



Fig. 42a: Types of scoring playable as true slurs on the trombone, all in position I.

Any other intervals between pitches will be accomplished by adjusting the slide to a new position - and here’s where true slurring becomes impossible. If the airflow remains constant, then the slide between the pitches will be heard, adding an unintentional element of tragic humour to the proceedings. On top of this problem, the move from one slide position to another may also be accompanied by a change of lip tension for a higher or lower partial of the next harmonic series, which will sound even sillier if the airflow is uninterrupted. INDEX

Fig. 42c: Three different ways to play an F4 on trombone.

It’s ultimately better to expect most slurred passages to be performed with soft-tonguing, and to score in a way that maximises the effectiveness of that approach. 64

43. Trombone Scoring Tenor Clef A. The trombone is basically a tenor-range instrument, which only recently has been trending toward a lower spectrum of tones

Orchestral scores from this era usually show the alto and tenor trombones sharing the alto clef, with the bass trombone sharing a staff with tuba (as I’ll discuss in more detail in Tip 45). Of course, when extracted, all these instruments would receive a part with the appropriate clef for their range, with the tenor trombone usually scored in tenor and sometimes bass clef.

B. Any trombonist at the full-time professional level had better be able to read and play tenor clef instinctively and without complaining C. The tenor clef remains a useful resource for trombone, but it should be applied as an indication of register, rather than just to save ledger lines. Few topics on the Orchestration Online Facebook page have incited more controversy and strong feelings than the use of the tenor clef for trombones. Many professionallevel composers with band or semipro orchestra experience will dismiss it peremptorily, even suggest its use be abolished. The reasons cited for this point of view are usually a.) that the bass clef is good enough, and b.) the player isn’t bothered by a few high ledger lines. This viewpoint is sometimes backed up by personal experience as a trombonist - in their view, they didn’t need to use it; and when they did, it was a bother. Though I greatly empathise with these perspectives, I find them more revealing of the trombone’s recent evolution than necessarily useful advice. There’s a spectrum of history and craft that must be absorbed before one can honestly decide whether the tenor clef should be utilised or annihilated.

Fig. 43b: Rimsky-Korsakov, Scheherazade, Movement 1, trombone/tuba part bars 1-4.


Eventually the old F trumpets were made obsolete by today’s B and C trumpets, allowing for a dedicated second and sometimes third trumpet player with a more secure lower register. This obviated the need for the first trombonist to play such a high instrument. On top of this, it was becoming ever harder and harder for the first player to fulfil a leadership role on such a high instrument as the alto, right at the same time that composers were scoring more and more parts for two tenors. By the end of the Romantic Era, two tenors had become the norm.

First, let’s go back to the modern orchestral trombone’s beginnings. After some early introductions of the instrument into the orchestra by Baroque and Classical composers, the Romantics settled on a group of three trombones, alto, tenor, and bass. The construction of each of these bones was a perfect fourth apart (though the reading has always been in C, rather than transposed). The simple way to think of it is: what note is sounded by the first, second, and fourth partials when the trombone slide is in Position I? The answer is E for alto, B for tenor, and F for bass. This system put the sweet part of each range into a different clef, and they were notated accordingly thus:



Fig. 43c: Chart showing range of 4th through 8th partials in alto, tenor, and bass trombone.

Let’s examine the exact range and technique of the trombone now. With the slide closed, the fundamental (aka pedal tone or first partial) of the player’s harmonic spectrum is a B . This is Position I. The trombonist progresses downward in pitch by extending the slide, covering 6 more positions. This gives the player a full chromatic span from E2 upwards, plus a few pedal tones (below Position III, the pedal tones become rather poor in quality).


Fig. 43a: Chart showing range of 4th through 8th partials in alto, tenor, and bass trombone.



The standard chart above, used by trombonists and orchestrators alike, is very revealing. Notice that the bass clef register is completely covered by second, third, and fourth partials. This means that with a basic tenor trombone with no extra attachments, notes in this region that are next to each other on the staff might be quite far apart in terms of positions. This is the reason why the trombones section starts to really move their slides energetically as the music gets lower and lower. To go from F3 to G3 means sliding from Position I to Position IV; from A2 to C3, a simple skip upward of a minor 3rd, requires that the slide move from Position II to Position VI, sliding down a ways in order to go up a short distance in pitch. The crowning inconvenience is to go from B 2 to B2. These two pitches may be a semitone apart, but they’re a full seven positions away from one another! Scoring slurs between these two pitches in rapid succession might be seen as orchestrational incompetence if done unwittingly, or as a bit of legpulling (or slide-pulling) if done on purpose.


Let’s take another revealing look at the chart. Notice how the tenor clef has been used for pitches from the fifth partial upwards. In old-school scoring, this was the sweet spot for the tenor trombone, and it still is a great register. I have to use tenor clef here just to make it readable, as the lowest note in Position I is F4 (the treble clef ossia has been provided for score-readers unaccustomed to tenor clef). But look at it another way. This region is quintessentially built for the tenor register. All the pitches are fairly closely spaced, with a variety of positions from which to choose for many notes. The pitch of G 4, for instance, is available in Positions I, III, V, and VII.


This is why nearly all professional trombonists now use a trombone with an F trigger. This device essentially turns the tenor into a bass trombone, by opening an additional three feet of tubing. (Indeed, the bass trombone is the same instrument, except with a larger bore and bell size.) This trigger makes lower notes much more secure, filling the gap between B-flat1 and E2. But this step forward has come at a price, and that is the common understanding of what a trombone is good for. The notion that the tenor clef is simply a device for saving ledger lines is so pervasive that even orchestration manuals such as those by Adler and Piston mention this, stripping away a huge layer of historical context, not to mention setting the perception of the trombone as a bass instrument on an ever firmer path. The result is a preponderance of scoring so dedicated to the lower register of the trombone as to arouse anger towards the suggestion that the standard trombone is a tenor instrument in need of a tenor clef. And yet the fact remains that a vast quantity of orchestral trombone parts are scored in a variety of clefs: tenor, bass, and even alto. As many alto trombone parts seldom crack the ceiling, they’re often played by tenor trombones. This means that while we may argue over the need for tenor clef, the reality is that a professional concert player had better be able to sight-read it with aplomb, wearing it like a comfortable old shoe. So in conclusion, I’d recommend using the tenor clef, just as in cello and bassoon, as a sign of register rather than simply “to save ledger lines” (as Piston puts it). No, that clef is there for a reason, and that reason is built right into the instrument, for all the change of context and redesign. Use it wisely and use it well.

But the tenor register goes beyond mere convenience. The positioning of the fifth to tenth partials covers an ideal range for the tenor voice: G 3 up to D5. There are many superb trombone solos written for this tessitura, which ring heroically or make eloquent statements. They fit into the range of the tenor clef with perfect logic, and are not only readable for the player but also help the conductor to put the register into context with the rest of the orchestra in a full score. When you read a tenor clef amongst all the other staves in the brass section, it infers that a certain register is going to be wellsupported. An experience score-reader will get that immediately.


So why should there be any controversy? Why should professionals disagree vehemently about the need for tenor clef in today’s scoring? Well, with the liberation of the first trombone from the role of alto player, composers started scoring the trombones ever lower, pushing for big, crashing unisons and fat bottom ends. This naturally brought players up against the rather flabby notes of their bottom end. In the chart above, E2 is shown as the lowest second partial pitch possible, available in Position VII. The truth is that this note just sounds weak and gasping, a real surprise for composers expecting a Hollywood sound down there. INDEX

Fig. 43d: Goss, Maui’s Fishhook, trombone I part bars 69-77.


44. Trombone Extremes of Range

There’s a certain grisly comedy in the pedal tones in the Symphonie, and a sense of devastation in the Hostias section of the Grande Messe that’s not possible on the milder tuba.

The extremes of the trombone’s range go both higher than and not as low as is usually thought necessary by the developing orchestrator. This tip is a bit of an extension of the last tip about the use of tenor clef, in which the trombone’s range was laid out and analysed for its evolution. Now, let’s talk about the bookends of that range and their consequences in scoring.

One thing that these pedal tones absolutely are not is an adequate replacement for massive instruments that are currently fashionable in film scores: contrabass trombones and cimbassos. If the orchestrator wants a clear but cutting tone down there with a flexible range, then it’s better to use those auxiliaries if they can be hired and played well - or simply mute a tuba. Pedal tones, on the other hand, are blatting, uncouth, and primal. They take an enormous amount of air, and careful planning to execute. Even Berlioz gives his players time to warm into the task, and ample rests with which to breathe during the most demanding bars.

Let’s start at the bottom. In the previous tip, I discussed the F trigger and how it was used to fill in the trombone’s missing notes between B 1 and E2, as well as close the gap between certain lower partials. It also provides an alternative for playing the 2nd partial low E in slide position VII, probably the worst note on the instrument.


Fig. 44b: Berlioz, Grande Messe des morts, Hostias, eight simultaneous trombones bars 34-47.

Fig. 44a: F trigger pitches, filling in the gap between Bb1 and E2.

Below this extension lies the pedal tones, or fundamental first partials. Both Adler and Piston consider the highest pedal tone of B 1 in slide position I to be the lowest usable note, and say so in the briefest of terms before moving on, thus ending discussion on the usability of any other pedal tone. Berlioz, on the other hand, loved the wild savagery of these low tones, and used them precisely because of their imperfections. Richard Strauss is complicit with this attitude in his silence as editor of Berlioz’s Treatise on Instrumentation, in which the author goes into great detail about his use of pedal tones in Symphonie Fantastique and the Grande Messe des morts. English writers seem to be split on the subject with Forsyth saying of the latter work “It probably sounds very nasty,” Gordon Jacob observing “It does,” and Norman Del Mar unexpectedly defending Berlioz. Even some publishers of the Symphonie Fantastique score bow to the custom of Berlioz-scoffing by replacing the blaring low B ’s of the Marche au supplice movement with tamer notes on the tuba.



However, when these works are heard by conductors who respect the intentions of the performance practices of earlier eras, then the intentions of Berlioz become clear. INDEX

One thing that often catches student orchestrators off guard is just how well the trombone can sound in its highest register when played by an experienced professional. This has a lot to do with the gradual deflation of range that I refer to in the previous tip, with the alto trombone being abandoned and the lower register made more secure. As a result, many newer trombone parts rarely climb higher than G4 when they’re written at all in tenor clef. Adler considers B 4 to be the highest note possible on tenor trombone, though strangely Kennan marks a top note of F5 (!).


What’s an orchestrator to do? My best advice is to see this range as its own unique resource of colour, rather than simply a way to push the trombones higher arbitrarily. First should come the realisation that Adler’s B 4 is a good general place to stop. Notes above this become progressively tiring and fraught with peril for even top players. I’ve been asked to score up above this boundary by trombonists themselves, and then had the part played by bass trumpet in the final performance. An occasional C5 or even D5 aren’t out of the question, but their need should be justified and their approach secure.


Next, the orchestrator should be well aware of the flavour and intensity of the tone from F4 upward. There’s an increased sense of urgency as the pitch rises, which can be terrific for driving the momentum of a furious passage, or underscoring a higher fanfare of trumpets. The frantic edge of the higher notes adds tension to trumpets in octaves or harmonies above them. An exposed higher harmony can be effective, but don’t take the bass trombone too high along with it, nor expect it to sit comfortably up there amidst the strings and winds. 67

45. Trombone Roles and Relationships Trombones have an enormous variety of uses, which range far beyond obvious examples in modern film scoring.

Clear your mind of all other thoughts, and imagine the trombone in the context of film scoring. What immediately springs to mind? Usually two roles: either playing huge, menacing lines, or holding down the bass line in massive tuttis. More perceptive listeners may also think of its use in conjunction with the trumpets in a more heroic style.

The trombone tends to obliterate the strings and winds at louder dynamic levels, and dominate them at lower-to-middle levels. Nevertheless, carefully balanced textures can be devised to keep some of this under control. Like the trumpet in Tip 37, doubling with certain instruments is undertaken more to amend the tone of the trombone. Bassoons + bass trombone is great for the trombonist, though not so good for the bassoonists. Bass clarinet + trombone is a bit better, with a certain hollowness cleaning up the rougher characteristics of the trombone - yet the intonation may be tricky to sort. The safest relationships to the other orchestral sections, of course, are of complete contrast, joining in on a tutti bass line, or complementary harmony.

Of course, film orchestrators commonly use trombones in many different ways, but they’re rarely exposed in this context. This means that the student orchestrator’s got less context for its use than the horns or the trumpets, who are customarily given far more play as melodic resources in either film or concert music. What’s needed is some serious score-reading to fully understand the trombone’s flexibility, if not indispensability.

Tip 41 covered some of the latter ground already, mentioning the use of trombones as a background textural element. I’d add here that there’s a certain glow that the trombones seem to possess, or lend to a texture when they sit behind it - similar to a horn pad (see Tip 33), but more distant and glossy. They’re used in this way far more than the casual or even more informed listener might suspect (just score-read Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice to see what I mean).

It’s easiest to understand this through examining the orchestral relationships of the trombone. The most obvious place to start is in perceiving the trombones as part of a low brass section with the tuba. This association is so common that in older scores, trombones I and II are placed on one staff, with bass trombone and tuba sharing the other below. For those works, the two lower instruments are partners, often playing the same heavy notes at unison or octaves. This became a bit of a cliché with time, especially as more sophisticated orchestrators saw fit to separate the tuba out from this enclave due to its unique sonority. Nevertheless, the lower heavy brass continue to form a solid rank in some scoring.

What’s taken for granted in all these considerations (sometimes to the point of being ignored or neglected) is the trombone’s role as rhythmic component. Off-beats, cross-rhythms, and strange subdivisions of the beat are all fantastic for the trombones as a group or individually, as the crisp attack has a naturally percussive quality. This can relate very well to the percussion, and help them to propel the energy of a passage with greater conviction and solidity.

There’s a trap laid for developing orchestrators whose instincts are heavily influenced by film scoring. Following those instincts may very well limit the wider use of certain instruments, one of which is the humble trombone.

The next important relationship for the trombones is with the trumpets; in fact, in some types of scoring, this connection is far more important than that of the tuba. As noted in Tip 30, both trumpet and trombone principal players sit side by side, and often play duo or conjointly lead their groups. Though I personally reject the notion that the trombone is just a “big trumpet” (Italian: “tromba/ trombone”), there’s no question that the two timbres can work together seamlessly if each individual instrument is placed in its strongest range. INDEX

A less obvious relationship is of the trombones with the horns - and yet the two work beautifully together. A trombone can stabilise the low note of a horn harmony, or lend a sense of power to the top note. The two groups can easily interlock for an integrated, more widely-spread harmony; or double chords for a closer, more intense sound that’s incredibly dark. An immensely serious sound occurs with horns and trombones doubling at the octave or in octaves. Or call-and-response fanfares between the two groups can explore their similarities and differences.

None of these roles and relationships change the bottom line about the trombones - they’re exceedingly powerful in any combination (even with tubas and trumpets). And they require a great deal more breath than most other instruments, so any relationship must compensate when working synchronously on an extended line.

Fig. 45: Relationships of trombones with other instruments and groups.


46. Tuba Power of Projection

between the emphasis of the downbeat and its own position as part of the brass section. It wouldn’t be out of place to write a slight tenuto at the start of each note, to clearly bond the tuba with the other low players.

Never underestimate the tuba’s enormous powers of projection. Tuba is one of those instruments that gets overlooked quite often by beginning orchestrators, or added to a score as an afterthought - a little bit of extra weight here or there for the heavy brass. Actually, it’s quite a fascinating instrument, with great potential for interest in a score. The tuba has a different construction than most other brass. It’s a whole-tube instrument that truly utilises the maximum amount of usable bore, and it’s entirely conical. This means that it speaks rather easily, just like the bugle and the saxhorn (also wholetube instruments). This ease of tone is balanced by the huge amount of air needed to sustain a pitch. Try blowing out a match held at arm’s length - that’s the kind of focus of breath needed for effective tuba playing. Just for comparison, trumpets, trombones, and even horns are designed so that the first section of bore is cylindrical, and the second section flares. The extent of the flare, called “stepping,” determines the ultimate timbre of each instrument. As noted in Tip 26, the half-tube design of the horns and trumpets diminishes the playability of the fundamental harmonic position, while making the upper partials more secure. Even the fundamentals of the standard trombone are pitches you wouldn’t want to hear every day, and half of them are unusable. With a tuba, though, the fundamentals or “pedal tones” are the whole point - the lowest partials are emphasised because of the design. This also gives the tuba more power than you might realise. A tuba playing a prominent line fff can easily be heard over the sound of the rest of the orchestra. It’s easily the heaviest of the heavy brass in tone weight, and rarely needs help in emphasising a low note. In the following excerpt from the first movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 3, note how the dynamics are written for the bass instruments from figure 9. The cellos and basses are playing a fp articulation, sometimes with dim. This is doubled by contrabassoon for the double basses. However, look at the tuba. It’s doubling the cellos an octave higher than the contra and the basses, but it’s playing a simple backwards hairpin. This means that its tone will dominate the entire bass line. The reason why is simple. It’s dynamically matching the triple unison F trumpets right above it, who are essentially playing a “blue note” resolution from concert C to D. This would be up a 10th from the first tuba B . If the tuba were to play a fp articulation, it would rob the trumpets of harmonic support. So the tuba plays a balancing act here




Fig. 46: Mahler, Symphony no. 3, Movement 1, bars 1-5 of Fig. 9


47. Tuba Tone The tuba’s unique tone should be considered carefully when scoring brass chorales. In older scores, tuba is often placed on the same staff as the bass trombone. But don’t be fooled - these two instruments are nothing like each other. The fundamental wave-form of trombone or trumpet is sawtooth, whereas tuba is more of a square wave. Trombones have a more cutting frequency, while tubas are deeper, broader, more expansive sounding. This means that the orchestrator must have a keen ear for combining the tuba sound with the other members of the brass section. In combination with trumpets, for instance, a tenor or bass trombone may provide a more complementary tone as the bass of a chord. In a trombone chorale, tuba can be very effective as the bass note - but the overall effect may lose its edge. Three trombones will have a certain unity of tone that 3+tuba will not. On the other hand, 2 trombones in an octave unison with bass trombone + tuba is always an awesome, unified tone. The most complementary combination with tuba is with the horns, or their auxiliaries the Wagner tubas. In the excerpt to the right from my brass chamber composition Uriel’s Flame, note how the bass tuba supports the quartet of Wagner tubas (all in F transposition). The octave unisons have great solidity and evenness of tone, and the contrapuntal phrases and rhythmic gestures all balance nicely despite the bass tuba’s awesome strength. The premiere of this work featured tubist Peter Wahrhaftig on a CC contrabass tuba, whose rich, dark tone was the perfect partner for the horn section of San Francisco Symphony on tuben. Instead of shouting down the smaller instruments, the bass tuba’s resonance seemed to open up their sound beautifully.

Fig. 47: Goss, Uriel’s Flame for Wagner tuba quartet and bass tuba, bars 105-115



48. Tuba Breathing Orchestrators must be mindful of the amount of breath required to sustain a note or phrase on the tuba. Tuba can be a surprisingly agile, even delicate instrument, capable of great subtlety and range of expression. It’s in some ways the opposite of the bass trombone in the same lower registers. Some composers have used this to great advantage in solos that we’ll look at in Tip 50. One thing that a tuba player does not possess is unlimited amounts of breath. The louder the note, the more force is being applied to the embouchure, and the more breath being used. This brings the orchestrator’s plans for a low pedal point on tuba into immediate conflict with reality. A tuba player simply cannot hold down the same low note for minutes at a time, especially in very loud passages. As usual, the great masters can prove enlightening by their example. For instance, Rimsky-Korsakov’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bare Mountain” combines the tuba with trombones, low strings, and bassoons in a triple octave statement of the main theme. After the second iteration past Figure A, the tuba holds down a couple of pedal points at mf, which last only 6 bars at a fast tempo, and are divided into two groups of three bars. The tuba player can easily take a breath in the middle if needed.

Fig. 48a: Night on Bare Mountain, tuba part bars 49-67.

In the next excerpt from “Also Sprach Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss from fig. 16, the music is going full-bore, with a low C pedal point on bass tuba at ff for 10 bars. Strauss accomplishes this by breaking the ties into 2-bar sections, overlapping 2-bar sections with contrabassoon on the same note. After 6 bars he adds some doubling from the phenomenally low-pitched 2nd horn. With the timpani roll and 3rd horn on the next C up, the tradeoff becomes seamless to the ear. Even with frequent breaths, it’s not good to score pages and pages of this kind of playing for the tuba. That would be an unimaginative waste of a great instrument. INDEX

Fig. 48b: Strauss, Also Sprach Zarathustra bars 8-10 of fig.16.


49. Tuba Blending Despite the hugeness of the tuba, it still has the ability to blend with great subtlety, if properly scored. This relates somewhat to the role of the tuba in most scoring. While it’s a powerful bottom end in a brass chorale, and an overwhelming colour in a low brass unison, the average role of the tuba in most case is as a solidifier. Orchestrators add tuba staccato to double bass pizzicato, and get a firm, pointed articulation. Or a pedal tone will double the basses on an extended low note. In these and other cases, the tuba makes a perfect companion to the tone, not dominating unless asked. It’s best in these cases to have the tuba marked down a notch dynamically, to put it behind the sound instead of in front of it. Why is the tuba so compatible? It goes back to Tip 46’s point of the tuba being a whole-tube instrument. Its conical shape gives it a timbre that’s actually more similar to a horn than to the trombones. I’ll discuss that point more in a future tip. But for now, think of similarities in tone pointing to parallels of function. If a tuba sounds like a very big, low horn, then it may be used as such. In fact, in places where you might really want a horn solo, or a horn to support a line, but the pitch is too low to get that characteristic sound, then you are really thinking of a tuba, not a horn. In the accompanying excerpt from my legend for orchestra, Maui’s Fishhook, the tuba does some very delicate support of tremolo basses and cellos. Note the dynamic variance here - the tuba stays at pp throughout, while the lower strings start at p. and swell. It doesn’t matter, though - the tuba cannot be drowned out, though it will be felt more than heard. The effect is an ominous hollowness behind the tremolo, as if looking into a cavern. This is complemented by the distant horn pad above (see Tip 33). I remember scoring this, forgetting all about it, and then working with narrator at rehearsal and thinking “wow, those are some fat, freaky tremolos!” Fig. 49 (at right): Goss, Maui’s Fishhook, bars 49-52.



50. Tuba Soloing Use the tuba’s innate strengths of range and phrasing to craft an ideal orchestral solo. Solo tuba is a bit rare in the standard repertoire. The scarcity is due to several factors, like lack of opportunity for low-register soloing in the plan of a score; unfamiliarity with the tuba’s technique and solo tone; and the failure to think about it at all. There’s a tendency to pigeon-hole lower brass instruments into standardised roles. Trombones and tuba are rarely asked to solo, or even stand out in a progressive texture for their own sake.

Fig. 50: Mussorgsky/Ravel, Bydlo from Pictures at an Exhibition, tuba part bars 1-20.

However, there are some great composers who were quite fond of the tuba, and gave it a lot to do. One such is Prokofiev, whose tuba solos in his ballet Romeo & Juliet, his 5th Symphony, and several other works are exemplary models - so much so that they’re almost never left out of an audition list. When you’re composing your own tuba parts or solos, Prokofiev’s approach is well worth studying. Though I can’t excerpt it in this book, check out the first movement of Prokofiev’s 5th Symphony, from Figure 3 - it’s easy to find online. The tuba player is basically soloing, but with some doubling by lower strings to leaven the tone (one could always balance it the other way, putting the tuba behind the strings, but this is almost never done). Note how the first two expressive arcs match their respective melodic curves, putting the weight of the phrases into the upper middle register. Each phrase ends with some notes in the lower register, that flare as they finish downwards. For the rest of the part, note how it’s mostly pitched in the lower register, with heavily articulated notes, and one middle register slur. Prokofiev is scoring to the tuba’s strengths here. It’s far easier to slur in the middle register, and to separately articulate lower, more reluctant notes. For a different register of soloing, compare the above with Ravel’s orchestration of Bydlo from Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky. The tenuto marks imply a full, sustained but not slurred sound. The part climbs up into extremes of register with the G 4’s in bars 5 and 6. For a tenor tuba/euphonium, this part isn’t too difficult - and yet it’s still performed on a standard F or even a CC by pro tubists. The challenge here is to start at pp and then inexorably crescendo to a firmer dynamic. It’s quite difficult, because the notes either want to fizzle or to shout. Yet the tone quality is absolutely perfect as set by Ravel amongst the the trudging of the lower strings and winds.







51. Percussion Scoring and Parts Layout

58. Drum Types and Scoring

52. Percussion Roles and Changeovers

59. Bass Drum Resonance 60. Kit Drum Scoring

TIMPANI 53. Timpani Tuning Shortcuts


54. Timpani Pedal Changes and Notation

61. Tubular Bell Resonance and Overtones

55. Timpani Pitch Assignment

62. Mallet Instrument Technique and Limitations 63. Mallet Instrument Beaters

CYMBALS 56. Cymbal Resonance 57. Cymbal Technique and Limitations


51. Percussion Scoring and Parts Layout Think like a percussionist when scoring and preparing parts. Percussion represents a strange blind spot in the scoring of many a developing composer. On the one hand, there’s a huge temptation to overuse its resources, and throw in some kind of pulse or filigree in every single passage. On the other, the consequences of this kind of scoring for the players aren’t known - their physical limitations, technique, and stage positions - all of paramount importance. This is not to say that it’s an arcane subject that no composer can truly grasp. Rather, it’s better to remove obstacles between the player and a satisfying performance of your score. That’s what this whole part of the book is essentially about. Start from the formation of the musical idea, and its realisation as orchestration. One strong concern is differentiation of timbre and musical function. The percussion section has the most individual-sounding instruments in the orchestra without any doubt. Each of these instruments have been designed to give the player the maximum amount of effect for its size and projection. Yet many are the scores I’ve seen in which several players are all pounding away at the same rhythm on similar-sounding instruments, availing very little in the way of any improvement to the part. For instance, a bass drum playing the same rhythm at the same time as the timpani covering different pitches will tend to deaden those same pitches and rob from the general vitality of the timpani “ping.” Of course, bass drum may trade off with timpani strokes quite effectively, almost like a contrabass kettledrum; but this shouldn’t be done that often, because the differences in tone tend to subtract from the clarity of both parts, especially at a stronger dynamic. Another example of piling on would be to have xylophone, glockenspiel, and celesta all going at once on the same pitches. Unless the scoring is quite carefully devised, the effect may come off like a clumsy attempt to transcribe the right hand of a piano score - and often is. There’s a further consideration here, and that’s to make sure that the percussionists can actually hear each other, and interact intuitively during joint operations. Keep in mind that they’ll most often be stretched out in a line across the back of the stage, their eyes firmly fixed on their parts, which are usually composed of long tacets. They tend to communicate with each other with as little eye contact as possible, with gestures that can be picked up through peripheral vision. On top of this, they are just as prone to having their eardrums blasted by their fellow percussionists as anyone else in the orchestra, and may have to focus quite intently to play through loud passages or polyrhythms or whatever else the composer may throw at them. Whether the whole section is grooving along together, or each part has a markedly different function, a INDEX

sense of overriding logic is critical in giving the players some way of finding a musical relationship. Just watching the conductor is often not enough, in other words. To get natural-feeling rhythm from percussionists, there has to be something somewhere that connects them, so they can work together. Remember that this is a section - and not just a couple of women and men in the back of the orchestra banging on things. This view should be reflected in both the score and the parts. The arrangement of staves in the full score should indicate to some degree an awareness of the percussionists’ need to interact and change instruments (more on this in the next tip). A vision of staging is important as well, though different orchestras may have a huge variety of approaches in this regard when approaching the same work. Nevertheless, there are some general stage layouts that are reflected in most scores: timpani to the far right; traditional single-line percussion next to the timpani (bass drum, snare, cymbals, etc.); multiple-line instruments after that, including special visitors and “kitchen sink items” (like woodblocks, tam-tam, bongos, etc.); and finally to the far left, the mallet instruments. Just like the concertmaster takes responsibility for the bowing of the entire string section, the principal percussionist may devise stage layouts for his fellow players that ensure maximum amounts of elbow room and accessibility. It’s important to remember that such layouts are usually not your job to figure out. It’s better to keep them in mind than to attempt to impose them on the players, who know what they need to do far better than you in almost every case.

Fig. 51a: One possible stage layout, which suggests a practical top-to-bottom score layout for percussion - from right-to-left (see Fig, 51b): Timpani; Single-Line - triangle, suspended cymbal, cymbal pair, tambourine, tam-tam, snare drum, tenor drum, bass drum: Multiple-Line: - temple blocks, bongos, tom-toms, tubular bells; Mallet Instruments: - marimba, xylophone, glockenspiel; Kit Drums

If you look at certain orchestration manuals and notation texts, you’ll see all kinds of advice about score layouts. Some might suggest keeping all the highest-pitched instruments on top, lower-pitched instruments below that, and so on. This approach might organise things theoretically, but it has very little practical value to the players, who’ll divide things up in whatever way seems convenient. Generally speaking, it’s hard to go wrong in generally arranging staff layout the way I’ve outlined above and then letting the players work out the finer details. 75

most cases certain parts can serve to cue each other. This has the added benefit that each player can keep track of what the rest of the section is doing, and more intelligently synchronise their entrances. There are some exceptions to this rule, of course. Let’s assume two percussionists (not counting the timpanist), one of whom will be playing xylophone for the entire piece, while the other covers tamtam, snare drum, and bass drum. In this case, extract a dedicated xylo part, but make a combined percussion score for the other player.

Fig. 51b: A logical score layout, based on the above stage layout: timpani, single-line, multiple line, mallet instruments, and drum set.

There’s a greater issue here, and that’s how the parts will relate to the score, and to the needs of the players. The first half of my general rule goes like this: if the work is a single movement, and there’s only one percussionist to the same instrument for the entire duration, then it’s easiest to simply extract a separate part for each instrument. Classical and early Romantic-era scores rarely stray beyond these parameters. However, consider a part in which there are 4-5 instruments needed throughout the course of the music, but only 2-3 players. This means that some players will need to change over. If each instrument has a separate part, then its player will have to look from one sheet of paper to another, sometimes between two music stands which may be a few yards away from one another. In this case, then the second half of my rule kicks in, and I create a percussion score for the work instead of separate parts. Every percussion instrument (except the timpani player - they look after themselves) is represented in one combined part. All the instruments are shown on the first page, or listed somewhere at the top of the score. After that, the systems are reduced so that only the instruments playing are notated. This lets the players know exactly what’s coming up in the music without any distracting extra staves. If the entire section is tacet for an extended period, then cues should be added on a special cue staff to alert the players to an upcoming entrance. Otherwise, in INDEX

Fig. 51c: My own personal rule for extracting separate parts and/or a combined percussion score.


Norman Del Mar brings up an objection to percussion scores in his book Anatomy of the Orchestra, calling them “theoretically ingenious” but then pointing out than in a score “with complicated percussion [the result] can not only look horrifically complex, but may take up so much space on each page” that the page turns are too frequent. This is certainly true - but not a concern with most of the scoring I’ve personally done. If a work is truly as complex as Del Mar proposes, then of course each part should be catered toward an individual player, and the orchestrator would do well to consult with a first-class percussionist in such a significant work. Sometimes overplanning can have unintended consequences. In one of my extended works, I carefully worked out things so that each percussionist would have their own range of instruments to play, and their own score representing those instruments. Unthinkingly, I marked the top group in the score Percussion 1 and the bottom group Percussion 3. This had to do purely with simple stage layout concerns, as Perc. 1 covered single-line traditional instruments and Perc. 3 played mallets and drum kit. However, the Perc. 3 part contained all of the most challenging playing. I soon received the very fair question from the percussionists as to why the third percussionist was being given a first percussionist’s job. In this case, they just laughed it off and gave the parts to the appropriate players, but who’s to say that there mightn’t have been some procedural problems in orchestras with stricter protocols? This is one reason why I now abide by the rules I’ve set for myself above, and leave most of the planning to the players.

Fig. 51d: Goss, Give Me My Bone!, percussion score bars 66-90 (for 4 players).



52. Percussion Roles and Changeovers Provide ample time for changeovers between percussion instruments, with an awareness of the distances between stationary instruments and changing beaters. This has a relationship to the roles the instruments play, and the section members who play them as well. In my past role as the director of a performing arts academy, I once auditioned a young percussionist who showed enormous talent and enthusiasm. At 13 years old, she showed every sign of developing her musical pursuits into a career. There was something unique about her playing, an instinctive approach to inhabiting a bar with a groove. Her drum patterns had more than just energy, but personality and individuality, and the dynamic relationships of the strokes were always tasteful and well-proportioned. When she joined the academy, she proved her worth in carefully connecting the players of her ensemble, and helped them to become one of the leading youth groups at our academy. Now she’s fulfilled that early promise and gone on to a career overseas, making the most out of her gifts. I wish her well. I’ve included the anecdote above because I want readers to think about the set of parameters that go into shaping a rhythmic pattern. There’s much more involved than just playing steadily. The character of the music may require deviations within a bar of timing, giving it a flavour that departs from a mechanical realisation of a pattern. There are also subtleties involved in playing the individual strokes, with an organic-sounding variation to the force with which the beaters contact the drumheads. Add on to this the lag time that percussionists must deal with positioned at the back of the stage, and their need to synchronise within their own widely-spread section. Here’s an experiment that will help you understand these challenges more clearly. When you attend performances of your local orchestra, note which roles the principal percussionist undertakes within the section. It may surprise you to see that they may elect to play what sounds like a very simple snare pattern or bass drum pulse. As I observed, those simple beats are anything but simple. The principal player covers the snare line to give it a certain feel it might lack from the other players, or play downbeats on the bass drum because there’s a particular way this connects the music at this point which ties in to other sections. The part itself might have an effect of centralising the pulse of the whole section. Or the principal may simply be covering the part between changeovers of other, more demanding parts, and the apportionment of the parts results in playing a specific passage on that instrument. There are other considerations at work as well, like certain section members specialising in drum kit playing, mallets, and so on. Or a lower-ranked player may be encouraged INDEX

by other members to develop a particular aspect of their playing, to make the whole section stronger in anticipation of more challenging repertoire down the road. In a semipro orchestra, one player might well be the student of another, and given a harder part as a type of assignment. There’s even the simple element of staging to consider, with certain players wanting to remain in one position to more easily deal with changeovers. This might result in two snares set up on the stage in different areas, or even more likely a couple pairs of cymbals to be played by whichever player’s hands are free at that point in the music, no matter where they might be standing. With this peek into the intricate workings of the percussion section, look back over your own compositions. Is there a clear leader amongst the passages you’ve scored, that provides the section with linchpin of sorts? Or is that needed? If so, how could you improve the clarity of the part so that helps to connect the music with more vitality and intelligence? Once again, don’t fret too much over decisions that the percussionist should be making, as mentioned in the last tip. Rather, think about the role of each instrument, not just its interesting sound - especially if your music is trending toward the current style of interactive, propulsive patterns.

Fig 52a: Holst, The Planets, Uranus, percussion staves 4 bars before to 3rd bar of Fig. VII. Roles: cymbals/timpani pushing tutti crescendo; cymbals/bass drum punctuating opening of passage; timpani I/xylophone counter-rhythm; timpani II I-V marching rhythm.

Fig. 52b: Ravel, Daphnis et Chloé, full ballet, percussion staves bars 2-3 of Fig. 213. The first bar is a recurring pattern dividing each count of a bar of 5/4. Tambourine and Tambour de Basque each play the primary beat of each division, castanets the last. Cymbal and triangle play beats 2 and 4 respectively. Snare drum maintains a steady skipping pulse throughout, joining in on a crescendo with the Tambour de Basque in the second bar.


This naturally leads to considerations of changeovers between instruments. Some peripheral concerns have already been touched on by now, so let’s focus on the basic mechanics instead. In complex scores of extended length, a percussionist may have to change instruments several times.* While the percussionist is the ultimate arbiter of which instrument they’ll play if given the choice, the responsibility still lies with the orchestrator to ensure that the changeover is at least physically possible. There has to be time for the player to put down their mallets or sticks, move to the next instrument, position themselves while noting their part on the music stand, then pick up the next set of beaters and play. If the orchestrator has provided a conjoined percussion score as I’ve suggested in the previous tip, then there’s a great deal of inherent flexibility to changeovers. Any player may decide to cover any part, provided there’s a tacet for all players between passages. If there isn’t, this locks down one or more players to one part, leaving the rest to divide what’s left. Sometimes all players may be covering continuous parts, except for one who’s being asked to alternate between two or more instruments. If this is the case, then the orchestrator has to be especially mindful of the realities.

In conclusion, there’s a freewheeling attitude by orchestrators toward the percussion section. Some orchestration texts** imply that since the percussion section is so new to the orchestra, the players may be more willing to work with the composer to introduce new sound and techniques. This might give the impression that they not only can do anything, but also that they want to try everything, and aren’t held down by the same concerns as strings, winds, or brass. But the percussion is a section like any other section, with its own unique concerns and a similarly high level of artistry. You’ll get the maximum amount of effect out of a percussion section if you treat each entrance and changeover with care, with respect for the unique demands inherent in the technique, psychology, and placement of the instruments, not to mention the collective action of the players themselves.

Some tight changes simply aren’t feasible. Assume a stage layout for a symphony with mallets on the left and bass drum on the far right. Further assume that the glock simply has to be on the left, because in the third movement one player changes over quickly between mallet instruments. The bass drum also has to be on the left, because of the way things work out in the finale. Now assume a second movement in which all percussionists are fully engaged with no possibility of changing over during certain passages, except for the third player who’s being asked to jump quickly back and forth between glock and bass drum. Luckily for the players (and the orchestrator), it’s easier to just stick an extra bass drum over on the left side of the stage than to have the player frantically running back and forth between the two instruments. But imagine if this situation involved two instruments that couldn’t be so easily duplicated or stagemanaged, like concert marimba and timpani. Then again, there are some instruments which the orchestrator may assume a tight changeover, even alternating rapidly between the two, like snare and suspended cymbal. So long as both instruments are played by the same sticks, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the player could operate both simultaneously. If the part is truly integrated, however, then both staves should be placed right next to each other in the percussion score, or even on a two-line or five-line staff. *This is a good a time as any to underline what you should have read in your orchestration manual: separate the timpanist from the rest of the section in these equations, and do not ask them to change instruments! They have enough to deal with (but exceptions might be made with regard to small, semipro orchestras with more casual personnel rosters, especially in crossover concerts or variety programming). INDEX

Fig. 52c: Traditional orch. Goss, “Dead Man’s Chest,” percussion score bars 160-172. Two fairly tight changeovers. From bars 164 to 165, the bass drum player will have to change to triangle; not too hard if one hand picks up the triangle beater at bar 160. From bars 166 to 167, the suspended cymbal player changes to snare drum, easy enough as both use snare sticks.

**Samuel Adler, The Study of Orchestration, p.. 373, 2nd ed.: ‘Within reason, percussionists, being the newest members of the “orchestra club,” are usually most happy to oblige the composer.’ 79

53. Timpani Tuning Shortcuts

I myself tend to break this unwritten rule, and push my timpani lower a lot of the time - especially to get those D2’s and E 2’s. But that’s part of my trademark sound, arrived at by a certain approach to texture and balance. If you want to be able to depend on that pinging, booming response all the time, then think about those chords and what they mean.


Keep the boundaries of timpani tuning in mind with some easy-to-remember shortcuts as described below.


Here are two chords that I want you to remember when scoring for timpani: a B 6/3 octave chord; and an F 6/3 octave chord. This is a little shortcut I developed in assigning pitches in a timpani part, in an effort to be aware of what’s actually possible. *The B chord represents the lowest pitches possible for each of the standard four orchestral kettledrums; and the F chord the highest corresponding pitches. If you remember that each drum covers this span of a perfect 5th, then you’ll end up with a clearer picture of what’s possible when writing a timpani part.


Fig. 53a: Timpani tuning boundary shortcut chords.

But that’s not the only chord I want you to consider. Instead of thinking of the outer limits of each kettle, it’s important to remember that you get the best, most, characteristic sound out of a kettledrum when it’s tuned near the centre of its range. There are even some timpanists who’ll raise strong objections to any tuning that relaxes the membranes to any pitch lower than E2 or higher than G3. So remember this chord: an F minor/major 7. Each note of this creepy chord represents the optimum centre pitch of each kettle, from which you can think up or down a couple of half-steps. If you favour this range, then you’ll get the best possible sound and keep your timpanist happy.


Fig. 53c: Goss, Harp Concerto, Movement 1, timpani part bars 146-171. Kettle III is tuned at its lowest, I & IV are sometimes lower than ideal, and II is ideally centred.

Fig. 53b: Timpani tuning ideal pitches and shortcut chord.

*A little caveat here. Some orchestras possess lower kettles with ranges that go all the way down to C2. Likewise, higher kettle ranges may differ by maker. Nevertheless, the general principle of the above advice holds true. INDEX


54. Timpani Pedal Changes and Notation

of them in anyway - so why not be courteous and put them in? It’s just another mark of professionalism that helps the rehearsal and performance of your work flow as smoothly and trouble-free as possible. Attending to little problems like this gives everyone more time to work on the real issues.

When composing for timpani, mark the required tuning at the start of your piece, and indicate changes in the score.

In the excerpt below from the timpani part of my harp concerto, I write out the tuning of all the kettles at the beginning, even those that aren’t going to be used right away. Right after the last note of bar 18, I indicate the change of the B kettle down four semitones to F , and the E kettle up a semitone to E. Then I give the player seven and a half bars of common time at 72 bpm (about half a minute when you throw in the fermata) to tweak his tuning pedals.

One of the biggest problems that timpanists face is the carelessness by developing composers in allocating playable pitches within the scope of available instruments. A passage might contain five or six pitches to be played in a quick, repeating pattern when the player has only the standard four kettles at their disposal. Or just as bad, different tuning schemes are called for from passage to passage with little or no time to retune. Add to this the frequent misplacement of pitches out of range that the last tip cautions against, and you’ve got a list of perennial gripes to vent at the ceremonial post-concert pub shout.




It doesn’t take that much work to get these things right, and to have the timpanist walk up to you with congratulations on a well-scored part at rehearsal. In the first place, know how many timpani are available for the percussion section for which you’re scoring. The standard, once again, is four - those outlined in the tip above. Some composers make a little chart of the actual pitches in headless mini-notes - but I’ve found that it’s easiest just to write them out as technique text above the staff, in ascending order. Try to stay at or near the sweet spot of each kettle wherever possible (unless there are specific textural or stylistic reasons). Whenever the music requires a change of pedal, give the player plenty of tacet within which to retune. Try to work out which kettle will provide the best sound, and mark any changes from one tuning to another as they occur. Some pro orchestras now use kettles with tuning guides that allow for very quick changes indeed; but many timpanists dislike and distrust these mechanisms, preferring to rely on their own sense of pitch. They may be perfectly correct in this regard, as the tuning of the orchestra may sharpen or flatten due to many unforeseen factors, making any set reliability of pitch completely arbitrary. As this makes all the difference to the intonation of a delicately-scored passage, it’s on the composer’s own head if retuning time is thrown out the window. Need I mention as well that a score which has zero tacets in which to retune will have timpani playing constantly, which is pretty hard on both players and audience?

Fig. 54: Goss, Harp Concerto, Movement 2, timpani part bars 1-31.

Of course, not everyone uses these markings. Some less-kindly players may even scoff at the composer’s attempts to tell them which kettles to change. Fine, let them scoff - at least you’ve marked the score for your own sake, and provided the minimum insurance that pitches are not only timed well, but capable of being played on the available kettles. And if you do leave them out, your timpanist is going to write a version INDEX


55. Timpani Pitch Assignment Avoid needless tuning and retuning by having timpani sometimes play the mediant or dominant position of a chord, rather than relying on the root in every case.

For further study in this, you can’t beat Beethoven for sheer economy of timpani pitch assignment. His symphonies are full of great examples of timpani scoring using only two kettles at most. In the fourth movement his Symphony no. 7, he manages to use the timpani nearly constantly throughout all the adventuresome modulations. It’s a study in the tonal flexibility of timpani, and a great relief to the timpanist in not needing to retune throughout the performance of a very demanding part.

One of the most common quandaries in our orchestration forum is usually posed by a student orchestrator asking how quickly the timpani may be retuned. The source of their question lies in their approach to scoring a passage. They want the timpani to hit the root of every chord in a passage where the chords change eight times over four bars. Or they want the timpani to play a series of notes walking up or down by steps. The answer to their question lies in resonance and overtones. Timpani have a great capacity for playing pitched notes - and yet their great size and depth also lends a certain ambiguity to that same pitch. A timpani note may be off by one or two half-steps from the pitch of the rest of the orchestra, or it may be on the 3rd or 5th of a chord. But so long as the fundamental note of the overall harmony is well-emphasised by the low instruments of the orchestra, then that afore-mentioned note will be heard in its intended place. The complementary overtones, booming resonance, or both help the ear to shape the tone into the overall harmony.

Fig. 55b: Beethoven, Symphony no. 7, Movement 4, timpani part with string harmony bars 336-343.

In the first example below, the timpani are doubling a bass line ascending in diatonic steps from G2. The first note is the same in both the bass line and the timpani. The second note of A in the line is doubled by the same G in timpani, and the close proximity of the tones smooths over the difference in pitch (these closer compromises are not recommended above C3). At B 2, the timpani are still playing G2, not returning to a unison note until the final C.


In the second example, four timpani underpin an eight-chord progression. Note which position each kettle takes in each chord.

Fig. 55a: Various approaches for assigning different timpani pitches other than the root. Harmonic positions are indicated for implied harmony and given chords, not keys.



56. Cymbal Resonance The cymbals’ quality of resonance may work with or against that of the pitched instruments of the orchestra. The sound of cymbals is ubiquitous in modern music. Crashes, rides and hi-hats are fundamental to the rhythm patterns of popular music. Composers sprinkle splashes and crashes with abundance through their scores, and of course the use of cymbals in marching bands may go all the way back to their invention 3,000 years ago or more. In short, they’re everywhere. But what are they really doing to the music? The answer may be something that some composers and producers don’t want to accept (and yet sound technicians know quite well). The cymbal sound tends to dominate certain high- and midrange frequencies, often interfering or even blotting out the resonances of other instruments. What’s more, its hissing quality tends to work against the sense of fullness in a texture. It’s for this very reason that some popular music artists and producers have experimented with limiting or even omitting cymbals altogether in some recordings (Peter Gabriel’s 1980 “melting face” album is probably the best example, with no cymbals whatsoever). This sound comes from the mathematics derived from their construction. Bells, which tend to have clearly defined harmonic tones, are cast into solid cups whose thickness determines their pitch and timbral quality. Cymbals, on the other hand, are flat discs of metal which are annealed (heated to remove imperfections) many times before being shaped into their final form. A strike on the rim sends a vibration through the disc, causing the surface to deform slightly as the wave ripples across it. Their sound is thus intentionally inharmonic - that is, with a resonance that works against the selfreinforcing partials of the harmonic series.

Fig. 56aa: Spectrum analysis of a cymbal strike.

Fig. 56ab: Spectrum analysis of white noise, showing similarity of inharmonic resonance with cymbals.

Spectrum analysis is quite revealing: cymbals tend to produce frequencies that are all over the map. It’s essentially a chaotic system. What else has a very similar spectrum? White noise. Scientifically speaking, cymbals are a way of introducing chaotic noise into various frequencies of a sound picture. This means that they can prove both a boon and a blight to an orchestrator focused on texture. A carefully scored passage may use cymbals as delicate contrast to any number of ethereal sound paintings. Or the cymbals may be used as more obvious punctuation to a loud passage, or even in intentional opposition to the rest of the orchestra. As long as the orchestrator is truly aware of the consequences of the cymbals’ introduction, then the results can be positive. But there are also negative connotations. One example is the overture from Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio. The almost constant cymbal playing must be carefully balanced by the conductor lest certain parts of the orchestra disappear under its tishing - and I’ve heard more than one recording in which both caution and balance have been sorely lacking. INDEX

Fig. 56ac: Spectrum analysis of a tubular bell strike for comparison.


That isn’t to say that cymbals can’t work positively within a texture. There’s a phenomenon called stochastic resonance, in which white noise is used to boost a weak signal. The theory states that white noise’s multiplicity of chaotic frequencies includes some that work in support of harmonic resonance, which will in turn cancel out those frequencies that don’t agree. This would seem to support the boosting that a rolled cymbal produces when it’s placed below the dynamic level of an orchestral passage, and then slowly crescendoed. The music gains a tense quality not only in the background sizzling, but also in the overall colour of the surrounding pitches. Of course, once the cymbal passes the dynamic median of the other instruments and swooshes out over the face of the texture, this effect is lost.

Fig. 56c: Stochastic resonance boosting an audio signal.

I’d tend to advise caution around overuse of cymbals - not conservatism. Remember that in a live performance, there can be no mixing or equalisation to make the wilder sound of the cymbal fit into the sound picture. So the music itself has to have strong structural approaches for dealing with chaos. There has to be space in a vertical texture for the sound of the cymbal, and time in a horizontal texture for contrast. By all means use cymbals as widely as your imagination dictates - but temper that imagination with some considerations of the consequences.

Fig. 56b: Mozart, Overture to Abduction from the Seraglio, bars 103-115.



57. Cymbal Technique and Limitations The orchestrator must know that cymbal technique is unlike any other percussion instrument, and use that technique to its best advantage. Read any good orchestration manual, and you’ll see that the author has taken pains to enumerate the many ways in which cymbals may be played, and the consequences of each technique. The underlying tragedy: this advice is usually ignored. Despite such care, contemporary scoring directs some of the least attention to cymbal technique, so little that some percussionists may simply add certain techniques where they feel it might fit the music. Rather than repeat all that information here, let’s come at it from a different direction, by focusing on how the physical properties of the cymbal dictate both its possibilities and its limitations. The first element this equation is how the cymbal is being struck. In the case of the cymbal pair, one cymbal is striking the other in a swiping motion. Three phenomena are at play here; the density of the striking surface, the circumference of the affected area, and the motion of the air between the cymbals.

strike each other in passing will create a slight vacuum as they pull apart, which applies additional pressure to the surfaces. This, by the way, is also one reason why the cymbals don’t crash head-on like freight trains or battling Pachycephalosaurs: the air pressure creates a dead zone between the two plates, which kills the resonance as they close. These combined factors are what give the cymbal pair such a unique sound, from the most delicate pp ting to the mightiest ff clash. They also inform other techniques, such as swishing the cymbals for a whispery sizzling sound, or the cymbal pair roll in which the rims rub together in a circular motion. The second element in the grand equation of cymbal technique is resonance, with the n-factors of duration and cutoff. Because of the metal’s crystalline structure from the annealing process, combined with the wide, thin surface area conducive to vibration, the cymbal will continue to vibrate for a very long time compared to many other metallic idiophones, not to mention percussion in general. From a single isolated stroke, it’s quite easy to let the vibration die away into nothingness - though as most percussionists know, once the decay of the cymbal reaches a general threshold of perceived inaudibility, then the cymbal will be damped and put back on its stand. This is particularly the case in big, sweeping orchestral tuttis of which that threshold is higher. But what if the cymbal needs to cease its vibration very rapidly? Remember that we’re dealing with a metal instrument possessing timbral characteristics similar to white noise. A quick cutoff will produce a sort of envelope around the sound, a slight “shoop” as the vibrations deaden perforce instead of naturally dying out. A series of cymbal clashes in quick succession creates a sort of whiffling sound that you won’t hear from most sound sets.

Fig. 57a: First three images - the motion, clash, and vibration of a cymbal pair; last image - improperly clashed cymbals colliding head-on, deadening sound.

Let’s break those properties down even more. As we’ll explore throughout this section, the most significant factors in the character of a stroke are the density and mass of the beater. In this case, the cymbals are being struck by some of the densest, heaviest possible objects - their own metallic rims. The stroke is particularly effective as it covers a wide circumference of those rims, setting the vibrations resonating across the cymbals’ surface from nearly every direction. One has merely to compare that sound to a suspended cymbal stroke to hear a marked difference in character. It’s essentially the difference between the verbs clash and crash. But it’s not just because of the stroke. There’s the additional element of air pressure to consider. Two concave plates which INDEX

Fig. 57b: Beethoven, Symphony no. 9, Movement 4, bass drum/cymbal part, bars 912-940. A particularly vigorous and quickly repeating cymbal part (upper voice). Listen for the envelope as the cymbals cut off as they strike again, or are quickly damped.


Of course, a suspended cymbal has no such problem, as it can be struck again and again while it’s vibrating (though a quick cutoff can be achieved by damping the cymbal with the thumb). In fact, there’s a flexibility of tone and effect with suspended cymbal that makes it a worthy rival to the cymbal pair, so much so that it’s often more prevalent in textural scoring. This is due to technique and mallet choices. A percussionist may easily play a variety of intricate rhythms on it that would prove anywhere from clumsy to impossible with a cymbal pair. Two free hands holding beaters makes all the difference. But once again, the ship of contemporary composing often runs aground here, simply because student orchestrators are paying little to no attention to admonitions about beaters. If a suspended cymbal part has no specific marking, then a percussionist will default to snare sticks as beaters. Sticks give the cymbal the closest general sound to that of a cymbal pair, as they’re fairly dense (some sticks may also have nylon tips for added density). Metal beaters such as the triangle beater are even closer, but risk deforming the surface of the cymbal with regular use. Also, the weight of the sticks give the player a great deal of technical and dynamic control. Density doesn’t mean that the sound will always be pronounced. A very soft sound can be produced by sticks, provided that the context of the music is well-suited to the effect. Snare sticks are only one small part of the picture, however. Orchestrators need to consider the relationship of beater density to the resonance of the stroke. The denser the beater, the shallower the resonance - or more properly, the higher the overtones in the harmonic series. This applies to all percussion instruments, though the effect is most prominent in metallic and mallet instruments (which we’ll also explore in Tip 63). A metallic beater is probably the densest type, but as we’ve seen too damaging to cymbals which are actually quite soft by comparison to cast metal instruments. Hardwood and nylon are somewhat less dense, followed in degrees by rubber, felt, and yarn. A softer beater will bring out lower overtones, striking with a “boosh” instead of a “tish.” These variations of tone are an essential part of the orchestrator’s palette of colours, which may be further modified by dynamic shades and technique. A hard stroke by a medium xylophone mallet is quite unlike any other sound; likewise the enormous subtlety of soft mallets on a slow crescendo roll.

This vibration has a bit of inertia to it. A bicycle in downhill motion doesn’t decrease speed when pedalled more slowly - likewise, a rolling cymbal will carry forward its momentum of vibration even when the player is being asked to decrescendo. Often when a percussionist sees a reverse hairpin on a cymbal roll, they’ll simply stop playing and allow the decay to do the work, as the sound is almost exactly the same (especially if soft mallets are marked). My own experience is that a decrescendo cymbal roll is most effective when the player has ample time to slowly lessen the vibration level otherwise, the sound you get is a roll in which the cymbal flares in intensity followed by strokes that don’t do much to dampen the sound, especially at a stronger dynamic level.

Fig. 57c: Two versions of the same cymbal roll. A.) a very quick crescendo and diminuendo (not too effective) and B.) essentially the same intended sound, with more efficiency and better sound. C.) is a slower, more gradual crescendo and diminuendo cymbal roll, easier to control.

There are many techniques worthy of discussion that relate to the above points, but let’s focus on one of the most misunderstood aspects of suspended cymbal playing: the dynamics of rolling an extended tone. A percussion roll is essentially a tremolo: quickly repeated unmeasured strokes to create a kind of rumble, bustle, or buzzing effect. In the case of metallic idiophones like the cymbal, gong, tam-tam, or bell, the molecular structure of the instrument achieves a level of resonance where the vibrations feed back upon themselves in a state of accumulated energy. It may take a certain level of force to achieve that state, but once the metal is vibrating, then it takes only a little bit of maintenance to keep it going. INDEX


58. Drum Types and Scoring The category and construction of different drums has a direct bearing on their tone and usefulness to an orchestrator. On the face of it, drums would appear to have one of the simplest designs of all: a skin stretched over a frame, with variations of diameter, tension, and depth of frame. The skin is known as a membrane, giving rise to this whole category of instrument (including timpani) being given the somewhat creepy, sci-fi name of “membranophones.” It’s worth looking at the physics of tone production once again, because it’s quite revealing of how the instruments may be used most effectively in scoring. When objects collide, like knuckles on a door, the air transmits a vibration. The flexing of a membrane adds projection by literally pushing the sound toward the listener. This is why drums are used as signalling devices. Their sound carries much further than a shout, with much clearer meaning if played in specific patterns. In essence, then, their role is essentially concussive: a strike on a drumhead sets off a shockwave that strikes the eardrum in turn. That shockwave has an extremely different character from soundwaves emitted by the other orchestral families of strings, winds, and brass (and even of metallic idiophones like the cymbals above). It’s generally a sudden stab of sound, followed by a very quick decay.

From this information, one might assume that the only practical use of a drum would be in emphasising a beat, a series of beats, or a pattern. And there’s no question that many types of drum parts are chiefly scored this way, underlining the smoother, more sustained members of the orchestra with a rhythmic sound that’s all the more effective because it stands out instead of blending. But it would be a mistake to assume that there’s no textural component at work. There are some technical and physical devices designed to maintain the sound, such as drum rolls or snares, which can make a qualitative difference to the orchestral fabric. Most importantly, the design of each individual drum has a distinct tone with broad implications in defining the character of a passage. If the orchestrator is aware of these design components, then making the correct choice of drum becomes a simple one. At the top of this tip, I listed those design features as diameter, tension, and depth of frame. There’s a fourth as well, technique, but let’s set that aside for now. Some drums like the bodhran and tabor (not to mention the tambourine) are “frame drums,” in which the diameter of the drumhead is significantly wider than the depth of the frame around it. In some cases, the frame is little more than a hoop. This is the simplest and most ancient drum design. The limitation of resonance is part of its charm, with the tone carrying little else but the quality of the membrane. In an orchestral setting, these drums may easily be swallowed in larger textures unless their skins are very tight. One can surmise from this the importance of the role of the frame, or shell. The greater its length and interior volume, the greater the resonance of the membrane stretched across it. This size is usually optimised for depth of pitch. The snare has the smallest shell (and some snares specific to certain popular music styles have such small shells that they’re essentially frame drums). The tenor drum has a deeper shell and wider diameter, but you’ll often hear them tuned up closer to the same pitch as a snare drum. There are also orchestral tom-toms which can be tuned to various indeterminate pitches. The field drum is a bit of a hybrid, with a shell similar in size to a tenor drum but with a hardier snare system installed for a quite aggressive sound. The bass drum, of course, has the deepest shell and pitch of all - but its effect on orchestration is so unique that I’ll deal with it in the next tip.

Fig. 58a: Waveform comparison between bass drum above and oboe below.


Here’s where the significance of technique returns. Snare drums have the highest pitch, and are played with snare sticks, which as you’ll remember from the previous tip on cymbals have among the greatest density, meaning the highest-pitched overtones. So everything is designed for an extremely thin, distinctive sound. Add to this the snares, little corrugated wires sitting across the lower membrane on the opposite end of the shell. These give the sound a kind of white noise quality similar to the cymbals, but of course much less ringing. Through the use of rolls, ruffs, and other techniques, this inharmonic sound can become a textural device, though it’s essentially oppositional rather than additive. 87

Tenor drums also use snare sticks, but mallets can be substituted for a deeper sound, almost like a mini-bass drum. It’s a mistake to think of tenor drums as a type of tom-tom like that of a drum set. They really do have a unique sound, with a much more orchestral character, and can range in quality from subtle to ferocious. Today’s orchestrator has a dazzling variety of sound sets at their disposal, with all manner of midrange drums from different cultures from which to develop vigorous rhythms - but most of these can be handled in a live orchestral setting merely with tenor drum and orchestral tom-toms. Don’t assume that your orchestra has a kitchen sink of drums from all over the world (though don’t rule out access to these instruments either, until you’ve talked to the principal percussionist). There are certain cultural drums that have worked their way into the general orchestral percussion ranks: congas, bongos, timbales, and even taiko drums (which are used quite often now in film scores). The orchestrator should really learn about the techniques and character of each of these drums before scoring for them. Variations of beaters, hand strikes and slapping, the resonance of hide versus artificial drum skins, and many other subtle factors can affect a performance. Once again, though, the fundamental design features are the most general guide to which instrument will have the most ideal sound for an orchestral passage. Once you’re aware of the principles underlying the construction, then you can more easily define the variables (which in themselves can be a lifetime study).



59. Bass Drum Resonance The bass drum is an instrument which inhabits its physical space to a greater degree than any other in the standard orchestral complement. In Samuel Adler’s The Study of Orchestration, he pays homage to his predecessor Walter Piston by introducing the bass drum with a quote from one of his orchestration lectures: “If you you hit the bass drum hard, it does not make any difference what the chord is above it; if you roll fortissimo on the bass drum, the rest of the orchestra can quit playing.” But he doesn’t explain why. Once again, the physical properties are key to fully understanding how the bass drum works, and how best to score it.

the third percussionist covers four tom-toms. The second percussionist (“P.2”) gets the bass drum. For the most of the 38-bar coda, the bass drum is merely playing along right under the texture at mf, alternating mallet and brush strokes (the latter marked as “x” noteheads). From bar 722, the music picks up energy, and the bass drum increases to f and then rolling up to an accented fff. The bass drum’s dynamic (as well as the cymbal’s) is intentionally designed to swamp the rest of the orchestra, which is pulling back to an fp crescendo anyway. Yet I’ve rarely had a percussionist really take the bass drum to the limit here. They’ve got better judgment than I in this regard.

As discussed in the previous tip, a drum is simply a membrane stretched over a frame, and the proportions of design dictate its sound. In the case of the bass drum, these proportions are immense: a diameter of at least 40 inches, with a depth of 20 inches. Some orchestral bass drums are even larger than this, and must be played on their sides like huge kettledrums. To maximise the lower resonance of the drumhead, a large, soft beater is used with layers of felt or wool wrapped over a rubber core. This spreads the force of the stroke across a greater area. Smaller, denser mallets may also be used for cleaner-sounding staccato or rolls. But this is only one part of the instrument’s acoustical design. A drumhead of this size flexes mightily when struck, sending a massive concussive wave through the surrounding air. It’s so overbuilt for its task that it essentially takes over any closed space which it inhabits. Simply put, the concert hall is part of the resonating body of the bass drum. Any other sounds that are occurring alongside it will have to deal with the relationship of the air, the bass drumhead, and the acoustic reflectivity/absorption of the concert hall’s walls. This means that the instrument has the unique property of being felt as much as it’s heard. A very light stroke might actually be felt more than heard, depending on the texture - while a series of heavy strokes will push repeatedly against the listener’s whole body, undoubtedly one of the factors in the intensely emotional response of the premiere audience of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. But Piston’s advice is fairly accurate all the same, and it’s an instrument with as much destructive potential to your carefully constructed score as a bomb going off. Use it with care.

Fig. 59: Goss, Tane & the Kiwi, percussion score bars 719-727 (bass drum part on line “P. 2”)

A side effect of this power is the tendency of the percussionist, just like the trombonist, to be constantly pulling their punches when playing very strong bass drum dynamics. At the right is a good example: the closing bars of my legend for orchestra, Tane & the Kiwi. The first percussionist is playing an assortment of cymbals and tenor drum while INDEX


60. Kit Drum Scoring A simple approach works best when scoring kit drums. As the orchestrator’s job description widens ever further in the 21st century, the necessity of adding popular instruments to their scoring becomes greater and greater. Crossover scoring in film and concert music may be the bread-and-butter of many a professional arranger. This inevitably leads to questions about how to score kit drums, the rhythmic backbone of nearly every popular style for the past 110 years. Most notation applications have certain notational defaults built into their kit drum staves. Though initially these defaults met with some resistance, they’re now so prevalent as to become generally acceptable to most professional drummers. In Sibelius, F4 is a kick, C5 a snare, the other staff lines toms, and upper black keys are written as x-headed notes representing ride, crash, and hi-hat cymbals.

For most orchestral crossover scoring jobs, there are two usual situations. The first is that an established popular music group will be accompanied by an orchestra. In this case, the arranger need do nothing in the way of kit drum scoring. All that may be necessary is to indicate certain intros, cues, or flourishes which have a direct bearing on the whole score. These will be indispensable to the conductor, but are essentially cues rather than direct scoring. The second situation entails existing music to be adapted to a client orchestra, which will either hire a specialist drummer or use one of their percussionists (many orchestral percussionists have great skills as jazz and rock drummers). What’s needed here is a drum part that guides the player in the most general way, without obsessively notating every fill. Any drummer worthy of being hired should have the skills to supply the appropriate style, add the requisite finesse, and have an ear for the type of support required in most passages. Your job is to score out the basic pattern for each section of the song, indicate fills, setups, and changes of pattern. More than likely the drummer will take no more than a quick glance at the part, so you have to keep things as simple and clear as possible. In the case of film music or original charts, a lot of the above paragraph applies, except that the orchestrator may need to score out the part in greater detail, giving the drummer far more guidance. My advice is not to overdo this unless you’ve got some great chops scoring drum parts and you know you’ll be working with top session drummers - and even so, you run the risk of limiting the scope of what those players may have to add to your music if you put too many handcuffs on them.

Fig. 60a: Sibelius drum notation.

That’s good enough for most drummers (personally, I’d avoid scoring any tom lower than the snare except for the floor tom at A4). The question really is in how to write a meaningful pattern. There are two generally accepted ways of doing this, both involving two-part scoring. The first is more traditional, notating any part of the kit played with the arms as the top/first voice; and any part of the kit using the feet as bottom/second voice. This is is very clear in dividing the roles of the hands and feet, but it can look a bit clumped in the first voice at times. The solution for this is the second type of scoring, in which kick and snare work together in delineating a pattern in second voice, while the first voice is used for cymbal patterns and fills. This is also a very clear way of scoring, and in my experience drummers are happy enough with either.

Fig. 60b: Two approaches to drum scoring


Fig. 60c: Excerpt of a fairly simple drum part from a crossover score.


61. Tubular Bell Resonance and Overtones Use the psychoacoustic peculiarities of tubular bells to their best effect. So far in this section of tips, we’ve discussed the mechanics of timpani tuning, the inharmonicity of cymbals, and the sonic effects of drum strokes. There’s a somewhat miscellaneous quality to the information so far, matching in some way the perception that the percussion section itself is a miscellaneous assortment of instruments, unified only because the sounds they produce come from the application of percussive force. But the means of sound production is actually secondary. What relates most of these instruments to each other is the principle of transverse vibration. As an orchestrator, I rely on the harmonic series to differentiate tone, balance textures, and judge ideal proportions of functional elements. However, what we call “the harmonic series” is really only one way that sound waves operate: a standing wave along a linear dimension like an air column or string. Percussion instruments vibrate in a number of different ways, chiefly across or through a surface, so that the sound waves arrive at a variety of times, strengths, and resonances. This means that the harmonics are quite complex, and the nodes tend to position themselves in three dimensions rather than just two. This is the science behind the rich inharmonicity of the cymbals and the resonance of the drums and timpani. Bells possess some of the most complex resonance characteristics, combining transverse and longitudinal vibration. Instead of the neatly-wrapped package of the harmonic series, bells resound in a series of mathematical modes, the proportions of which go beyond simply dividing a line into equal fractions. Let’s avoid lists of numerical ratios, though, and just look at what this means in terms of recognisable pitches. A standard church or clock tower bell is likely to have the following tuning: a “hum” tone subharmonic that drones about an octave below the “strike” tone, which is considered by our ears to be the sounding fundamental. This strike tone forms the root of a minor triad, and an octave above this sits a major triad. But this is all just an illusion. Try this experiment. Record the sound of any large, resonant bell from an internet video with an audio capture application and drop it into a sound editor like Audacity. Find the strong harmonic frequencies with a spectrum analyser, and then isolate each bandwidth with a graphic equaliser. What you’ll find is that the strike tone doesn’t actually exist - your ear is manufacturing the sensation of hearing it under the influence of the strong harmonics above. Many were the attempts to replicate this sound orchestrally. At first, a saucer-shaped gong was used, but could only be recognised as bell-like because they were undoubtedly INDEX

metallic in sound. Then stretching piano-like wires over resonator boxes was attempted, which looked (and probably sounded) like an unsuccessful attempt to cross-breed a piano with a pool table. Various bell-like orchestral combinations of winds, brass, and strings have been scored to striking effect, but of course these solutions once used can’t be imitated for fear of obviously quoting a classic. Actual pianos have been employed, with a number of them going off at exactly the same time, or even just a single grand piano playing deep octaves capped by an augmented 4th (devised by Russian conductor Vassily Safonov, as quoted by Forsyth). The problem with most of these solutions is that they rely on the standard, linear-vibrating harmonic series, in a sense domesticating all the wildness of the bell’s odd tone right out of it. They also take away that odd twist that the ear feels as the mind pretends that it hears the strike tone. The ultimate solution came with the invention of the tubular bells. Their length ensures a strong presence of longitudinal harmonics along with the transverse vibration of their metallic composition. Capping the top end of each tube drops the pitch an octave, parallel to a closed-pipe instrument like a clarinet (see Tip 16). The vibration of a perfect cylinder is somewhat different than that of a true conical bell, compromising the wildness of conflicting overtones while preserving the hum tone and those overtones involved in implying a strike tone. The final result is an instrument that can supply a clear, relatively consonant sound within an orchestral texture while still sounding pleasingly “off.”

Fig. 61: Conical bell overtones; bell substitute on piano; strike tone derivation for tubular bells.

Yet those very imperfections and compromises provide ample room for subversion. Listen to some isolated tubular bell notes, focusing on the tail end of each note. Notice how the overtones take over the sound more and more, while the strike tone’s imaginary presence weakens further and further. Any overlying orchestral harmony that matches these pitches will reinforce the oddness - especially if the orchestrator has taken pains to underline the very strange partials high above that seem to cut out at the top of one’s hearing. Another subversive effect is to score tubular bells at pitches unrelated to the harmony of a passage. The strangeness of the bell tone suddenly leaps out at the listener instead of chiming tamely along. This is psychoacoustics at its best and most perverse, using an imaginary tone to underline the realities of acoustic imperfection. In short, bells betray the antithetical nature of transverse vibration to the overall agreements inherent in the rest of the orchestra’s approach to the harmonic series. Or they can if you’re willing to drive the point home. 91

62. Mallet Instrument Technique and Limitations Mallet instruments look like big keyboards, but they don’t play like them. Mallet instruments seem like very simple instruments to play. A percussionist simply holds a mallet (or sometimes two) in either hand, and strikes pitches as indicated by the score across the bars of the instrument. What could be easier? Well, it’s not so simple. To begin with, the player must decide how many mallets are required per hand. One mallet per hand might be more common in playing glockenspiel, but two mallets per hand when playing the larger mallet instruments is so ubiquitous as to almost be considered a default. On rare occasions, three or even four mallets per hand are scored, but such passages require much preparation, and are considered outside the normal scope of concert music technique.

wrist is rotated outwards. The distance between the two mallets is adjusted by spreading the distance between the thumb and the other fingers. Alternating strokes between the two mallets of a single hand are accomplished by rotating the wrist, and this rotation tightens as the distance between the mallets increases. The above paragraph describes the traditional cross grip. The Burton grip uses a lateral grip for the fingers in spreading the mallets, while the Musser-Stevens grip holds both mallets in completely separate positions at opposite ends of the hand. But that’s just where the fun begins. The interaction of both hands comes next. The playing of scales, arpeggios, and tremolos involves the alternation of strokes between the hands, the placement of which can be quite rapid and complex in certain passages. Gestures which involve a kind of back-andforth motion are the easiest to play, like broken octaves or tremolos, as they fit right into the physical separation of the hands.

Once that’s established, the player must decide how to hold the mallets. There are a series of different approaches to gripping two mallets in each hand: a traditional cross grip, the Burton grip, and the Musser-Stevens grip. Each of these grips suggests a different form of motion for the wrist; for instance, the Musser-Stevens grip attempts to limit the amount of energy used by the player to only that which is needed for each stroke, without any wasted motion.

Fig. 62a: How to hold two mallets: l. traditional cross grip; ctr. Burton grip; r. Musser-Stevens grip.

Fig. 62b: Alternating strokes between hands. The diagram illustrates the last bar.

Consider a hand holding two mallets suspended laterally above the bars of a marimba. The mallet which is most likely to be used in a single stroke is that which is being held by the inside of the hand, projecting out from under the thumb. This requires that other mallet be positioned slightly higher than the plane of motion, striking when the INDEX


Scales are next in difficulty, the paths of the mallets crossing slightly as they walk right or left. This is a basic technique for mallet percussionists, often heightened to virtuosic levels in concert music and modern jazz.

Fig. 62e: Various examples of impractical scoring for marimba. Fig. 62c: Playing scales and runs.

After this comes arpeggiation. If the pattern involves fairly regular back-and-forth triplets, it may actually be played over the span of two hands each holding two mallets. This is not too difficult, but very quick variation over many more notes requires a great deal of practice.

The main take-away from this tip should be that keyboard technique and gestures don’t always translate well to mallet instruments. This is illustrated in the quandary which many orchestral mallet percussionists face when performing certain works which are scored for that curious invention, the keyboard glockenspiel. A typical notorious passage is shown below from Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. To a keyboard glock player, such quick arpeggiations are sight-readable and easily covered by the span of one hand. However, many orchestras don’t possess this instrument, nor can they afford to hire one out (and there may not even be a model available locally or even in the entire country). Thus it falls to the percussionist (usually the principal) to perform the passage, one of the most difficult in the established repertoire on mallet glockenspiel. The faster the conductor pushes the music, the more insane the proposition, and there are several videos on YouTube that illustrate this quite clearly

Fig. 62d: Dividing arpeggiation across four mallets.

Another technical consideration is the sheer size that mallet instruments can reach. Marimbas, for instance, can be nearly as wide as a player is tall. A wide, sweeping gesture that crosses the entire 5-octave concert marimba range may be literally asking the player to physically move several feet from one side to another in the span of a second. A player of smaller build may object to such balletic choreography. Likewise, quickly alternating strokes between extreme pitches on very long marimbas, vibraphones, and xylophones are difficult to reach, and nearly impossible to visually guide. INDEX

Fig. 62f: Dukas, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, glockenspiel part bars 1-10 of Fig. 22.


63. Mallet Instrument Beaters The relative mass between tone bar and mallet in mallet instruments is the fundamental factor in establishing tone for a passage. Indicate the appropriate mallet and articulation style. From Tip 57, I established the basic principle of beater (aka mallet) density and mass for determining the tone of a percussion instrument. But there’s much more to it than that, especially when scoring for mallet instruments. The mass of both the mallet and the instrument play a role. The greater the mass of a mallet instrument, the greater the density of the mallet must be to compensate. Of course, this isn’t the only factor. The tone bars of mallet instruments are idiophones that vibrate throughout their singular structure just like a cymbal or a bell. Since this once again is transverse vibration, there are places on the bar where the waves form a harmonic node, which has less capacity for resonance if struck. Indeed, this spot is so useless on glockenspiel that it’s an ideal location through which to bolt the bar to the frame of the instrument, forcing the player to strike the middle of the bar.

enormously expressive, from the punchiest and crispest ting to the smoothest of brushing motions across the bar, from the same weight of mallet in some cases. The flexibility of the mallet’s shaft may also play a role in how much spring it produces - for a solider stroke, the percussionist may have to hold the mallet halfway up its shaft. But let’s set aside those factors for now, and just refer to them where appropriate. In essence, they’re simply ways of manipulating the basic structure of both mallet and tone bar for a more precise and expressive effect. What’s more important are how the resonant properties of each mallet instrument differs, and how that in turn affects the choice of mallets the orchestrator may indicate for the most effective scoring. Let’s categorise these instruments and their properties in order of mass and density. A good place to start is with the glockenspiel. Alone of all the standard orchestral mallet percussion, it often has no resonator tubes beneath its frame. Nor does it really need them (though some models have them). The tone bars are forged and cast in such a way as to produce overtones high above the range of our sense of pitch, not to mention hearing. This gives the glockenspiel an unusually penetrating tone quality, for all its sometimes sentimental connotations. The orchestrator can help decide just how penetrating with a mallet marking. The densest mallet possible will produce the most pronounced overtones, in this case brass. There’s also a slight punch to the sound, which can be moderated by using plastic or hardwood heads. A very soft, somewhat dull tone is achieved by the use of rubber mallets. Brass and rubber will have to be marked to be used - otherwise, the orchestral percussionist is likely to default to plastic or wood, or use their own judgement on how penetrating they feel the sound should be. The next instrument in mass and density is xylophone, with hardwood bars mounted on a frame over resonating tubes. These bars have very small arches carved into their undersides to help moderate the tone and perfect the intonation, but otherwise are solid rectangular pieces of wood. The default mallet for xylophone is usually very hard rubber, which give the sound both firmness and a characteristic shallower tone. Synthetic materials like acrylic may also be used. Mallets of softer rubber or yarn may be used, but with caution - if the orchestrator is attempting to evoke the feel of a marimba, then it’s better simply to score for marimba. A soft mallet on xylophone does not result in that same singing, glowing tone. What’s more, unless such a mallet choice is well-justified by the context of the overall scoring, the percussionist is likely to question it or even ignore it. Remember that for all its supposed dryness, the xylophone is actually quite a resonant instrument, and that resonance has been finetuned by the resonator tubes. As softer mallets evoke lower overtones, there might not be the requisite length of tubing to fully support them.

Fig. 63a: 1st transverse mode on a glockenspiel bar.

Other factors include the articulation style of passage, and the bounce of the mallet. Some percussionists characterise these factors simply as determining the exact amount of time the mallet contacts the bar. Another way of thinking of it is as fine-tuning the relationship of mass and density between beater and bar. Articulation styles can be INDEX

Before moving on from xylophone, it’s worth mentioning that a wonderfully light, tuneful tone occurs when hardwood mallets are used. These mallets also tend to have a nice bounce to them, as their composition is closest to that of the bars themselves. The last two instruments in density and mass are the marimba and vibraphone. Though the sound, bar composition, and resonance of these instruments are quite different from each other, their similarities are betrayed by their mutual use of yarn mallets and closely related technique. Here the resonator 94

tubes of both instruments have been designed for a full spectrum of tone. Tone bars are wider, with large arches cut away from the centre of each bar. This allows for enormous variations of tone simply in choosing which region of bar to play. A dead centre stroke results in a clear, annunciated tone, while the more common off-centre stroke sounds deeper and fuller. For a muted sound, the node may be struck.

these bars - therefore, a player might hold a series of graduated mallets across both hands, with the softest to the left and the hardest to the right, which may also equalise the perceived attack of all the notes across the range. Here is where the constant use of sound sets puts the media composer at a disadvantage. Nearly every marimba and vibe sample uses medium mallets with a standard articulation. This often results in the most unimaginative, plain-jane scoring for instruments that are some of the most flexible and subtle in the orchestra. The way I see it: using these instruments imposes an enormous responsibility of self-education, so that they’re not misused or arbitrarily scored. An artistic tool of huge possibilities should be painted wide on a generous canvas, and not used to play tic-tac-toe.

Fig 63b: comparative thickness and mass of typical mallet percussion bars: (from l. to r.) marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, and glockenspiel.

From those basic points of similarity, the two instruments depart into the specialised technique inherent in their divergent construction. The vibraphone has a number of techniques of great variety and subtlety derived from its origins as a solo jazz instrument, extended by its eventual adoption by concert composers. The marimba has techniques that are based more upon its use as a folk instrument, though the concert version of the instrument is capable of a wide range of nuances and special effects. Nevertheless, both instruments use the same basic mallets: rubber wrapped with yarn. The rubber core’s density is adjusted for an array of hard, medium, and soft mallets. For the vibraphone, there isn’t really a default mallet as with glock and xylo, but the player may start with a medium hard mallet and then adjust to their own perceptions. The marimba, on the other hand, has a variety of densities throughout its range. The high pitches are nearly solid bars, while the lowest have very deep cuts underneath, resulting in an ever-increasing thinness of striking surface. A hard mallet might damage INDEX

Fig. 63c: Goss, Maui’s Fishhook, marimba part bars 81-92. Note changes of mallets and articulation.



TUNING 64. Harp Pedal Shortcuts 65. Harp Fixed Tuning of Extreme Strings 66. Harp Resonance of Flat Keys

TECHNIQUE 67. Harp Hand Position Ranges 68. Harp Multiple Harmonics 69. Harp “Stomping” Notes 70. Harp Idiomatic Scoring


64. Harp Pedal Shortcuts Composers should be aware of the limitations of the double-action mechanism and work out which pedals need to be changed at what time, ensuring that the tuning is compatible within the landscape of seven strings, each with a range of three semitones.

The old-style DCB/EFGA marking is now somewhat obsolete. Most modern harp parts now use a harp pedal diagram showing the layout of the pedals under the feet. It’s a very clear representation of the position of each pedal: up for flat, middle for natural, and down for sharp. This diagram is usually placed at the start of the piece, at the top of pages, and also around rehearsal marks. After all, when the conductor lifts the baton, and says “everybody back to figure F,” the harpist had better know how to set the pedals instantly for that section of music. It’s also mandatory for glissandos, even if the music isn’t changing tuning.

In the second edition of Adler’s epic text on orchestration, he mentions a formula for remembering the order in which pedals are arranged at the base of the concert harp: Did Columbus Bring Enough Food Going (to) America? Or in other words, DCB, Did Columbus Bring under the left foot - and EFGA, Enough Food Going (to) America under the right. This corresponds neatly to the old standard pedal marking composers have been using since the double action harp was invented a couple of centuries ago.

Fig. 64b: Modern pedal diagram: up for flats, middle for naturals, and down for sharps.

Incidental changes of pedals should not be indicated by a full pedal diagram. It’s too many things to read at once, when really what’s needed is just one or two alphabetic signs indicating which minor changes to make. When a harpist decides to write out the tuning for all strings, they like to do this: write two lines, with the top line given to the right pedals, and the bottom line to the left pedals, but in reverse order. Fig. 64a: Harp pedal markings showing layout of pedals as DCB/EFGA.

Harpists require more preparation than most other orchestral players. It’s very difficult to sight-read effectively in an orchestral rehearsal, as so many factors need to be worked out in a part. Checking tuning, positioning the hands, assigning fingerings, and deciding where to muffle the strings, all these things and more are written out on the part before the harpist can dedicate themselves to the task of learning a new piece. This is especially true for contemporary music, with all its unusual demands of tuning, phrasing, and technique. INDEX

Fig. 64c: Harpist’s correction to an old-style marking from a harp part.


Pedal marks may also indicate which feet are being used in what order. In the excerpt to the right, the harpist is setting up the change with G under the right foot, and D under the left, then moving her right foot over to A as the music starts. Since her foot is still resting on the A pedal two bars later, it’s paired with the D pedal, and then moves over to change back the G pedal. Note the pedal diagrams above each phrase, also showing the layout. In a place like this, the harpist might want to see both sets.



I’ve composed and arranged hours of orchestral music including the harp, not to mention some chamber and solo works as well. Even so, I still find more to learn about how to score for harp, and competently prepare their parts to save them as much time as possible. My advice for the beginning orchestrator is to actually not go overboard with the markings, until you really have a firm grasp of what you’re doing. The most important thing is to make sure all the pedal changes work, and that you’ve marked every one of them as you go along. Like timpani pitch notation, this is something you should be doing for the integrity of the work as much as for the player. When you get your parts back from the harpist, really look over them to see what you missed, and edit accordingly if the corrections were made by a professional or semi-professional.

Fig. 64d: Goss, Harp Concerto, Movement 3, solo part bars 181-187.



65. Harp Fixed Tuning of Extreme Strings



Some harps don’t possess a high G string, and both bottom strings of C and D may need to be tuned by hand.


The double action of the modern harp has limitations, as each pedal simultaneously applies or relaxes tension on 6-7 strings of varying lengths. The one or two lowest strings are just too much for the action to handle, creating a problem by their extreme length and mass for the tuning mechanism. Orchestration manuals tend to be unclear about this. Some manuals say that only the lowest C needs to be hand-tuned - others claim that both C and D are stationary strings, but don’t mention that in quite a few harps there is no top G string. The truth is, it depends on the harp. These extremes are somewhat flexible, as that top string is almost never called for, and the bottom two are needed mostly for resonance (and tend to strongly cloud the tone if played frequently throughout a phrase).





The thing to remember is the old joke, which actually contains a germ of truth: “harpists spend half their time tuning, and the other half playing out of tune.” Because of the vagaries of temperature, moisture, flexibility of strings, and construction, harps need extra care in approaching tuning - and tuning 47 strings is quite a chore. The bottom two strings must be tuned by the harpist in advance of performance. That sounds obvious, but it’s not unheard-of for a composer to ask for a low C in one movement, then obliviously insist upon a low C in the next. This is clearly impossible for the harpist, who must then decide which of the two notes is more important, and which should be left out. The composer has only themselves to blame.



Also remember these two words: “sympathetic vibration.” The lush, generous sound of the harp results from all of the strings responding to a plucked tone or series of tones. The extreme outer strings’ purpose is less to be played than to supply a sense of timbral space. Developing composers raised on perfectly sampled sound sets are often surprised by how ineffectual and slightly off-key the top octave of strings actually sounds. The best sound is always in the middle four octaves - most easily understood by the listener’s ear, and characteristic to the technique and sound of the harp.

Fig. 65: Goss, Harp Concerto, Movement 1, solo part bars 34-42.

In the excerpt to the right from my harp concerto, I take the harp up to the highest possible strings - but notice how they’re supported by octaves from below. Also, see how that top G in bar 38 is bracketed, showing that it’s an optional note. If it doesn’t exist on a particular soloist’s instrument, then it should be left out. The overtones will carry the phrase in any case.




66. Harp Resonance of Flat Keys The most resonant sound from the harp occurs when the tuning is set to flat keys. Because of the double-action harp tuning mechanism, the most relaxed, resonant sound from each string occurs when the harp tuning pedal is in the up, or flat position. To get a natural, the harpist tightens the string by pressing the pedal down to the middle notch. The sharp notes are even one degree tighter, and slightly less generous in sound. This is the reason why a wise composer will set harp solo works in flat keys, the flatter the better. C is best of all, with all strings at their loosest (though this limits the directions in which the instrument may modulate).


Have a look at the excerpt to the right from Pierné’s Konzertstück for Harp and Orchestra. The key signature for the whole orchestra (except for the transposing instruments) is set in G major. Pierné is giving the harpist a very agreeable key in which to do her soloing, and making the orchestra do all the work. There are definitely risks to this approach. For one, in six flats, you can only modulate down one key to C , so most of your adventuresome tonal shifting has to go counterclockwise around the circle of 5ths. The other concern is the extreme heavy lifting that the orchestra must do to accommodate such a thorny key signature. Yes, a pro orchestra will handle it, but with a semipro/youth orchestra, the results are iffy. The key requires a higher level of focus on intonation than the average amateur player may be used to.



Therefore, Pierné set himself a trap. His piece is the ideal work with which a young virtuoso might easily win a contest, or take on the road. Yet find the community orchestra that really wants to play it! While its key signature doesn’t entirely take it off the menu, it still adds to the general reluctance of smaller orchestras to feature harp soloists. INDEX

Fig. 66a: Pierné, Konzertstück for Harp and Orchestra, bars 9-10 of Fig. 10.


I faced the same quandary with my harp concerto but solved the problem enharmonically. The biggest concern was to have a firm relationship between the string section and harp soloist - then to build on that with the other sections (especially the winds). So I conceived of the two outer movements being written in C major for the harpist, and E-Lydian for the strings. In the excerpt below, you see the harp staff bearing seven flats, meaning all harp strings are at their most luxurious and resonant. Meanwhile, the strings are in four sharps (E major), occasionally playing an added fifth sharp on A. E major is a great key for strings, and no big stretch for the winds, especially with an A clarinet player reading G major. The only concern I had was whether the strings would tighten their sharps a little too much, resulting in two different types of intonation between orchestra and soloist. But this proved not to be a problem during the premiere performance.


Fig. 66b: Goss, Harp Concerto, bars 43-45.



67. Harp Hand Position Ranges The range of a harpist’s hands is not unlimited across all the strings. This is also something that orchestration manuals barely touch on, but is essential to know. The right hand cannot reach far below C in the bass staff, nor is it practical for the left hand to play complex lines around the very highest strings (due to visibility issues). If you’ve ever really watched a harpist do a full glissando, from the highest to lowest strings and back, you’ll see both hands move across the range of strings - with one hand or the other picking up the sweep as it enters the respective territory. This limitation varies from player to player. A harpist with shorter arms is at a particular disadvantage when asked to use the wrong hand at extremes of the wrong register - and there are quite a few harpists of slighter build to consider. One can’t assume that every player will have the longish arms it takes to accommodate two-handed patterns or tremolos below the bass staff, for instance (not that THAT would sound that great anyway - see Tip 69). The excerpt below from the very last bars of my harp concerto comprises a good illustration of concerns of reach: in bar 200, the left hand reaches over to grab the lowest D in the centre of the bar, even though it’s perfectly accessible by the right hand. Why? Because that low D will speak better as a single note from the left hand at that speed. Then in bar 201, there’s that full glissando I mentioned above - from highest C down to D and back. Somewhere around middle C, the gliss will change hands. Then in the very last phrase at bar 206, the triple octave is divided so that the right hand gets two notes and the left only one. A harpist with a bigger reach might want to throw the middle note to the left hand - but with the average harpist, it’s safer to score it like this, especially at 126 beats per minute in 9/8 time. Besides, the arpeggio sets up the octave for the right hand better than the left.






Fig. 67: Goss, Harp Concerto, Movement 3, bars 200-207.


68. Harp Multiple Harmonics Left hand double harmonics are only practical up to C5, and triple harmonics up to E4. Higher than that, the hand position prevents them from speaking with ease. This is a tip that I’ve not seen in ANY orchestration manual anywhere, period. Most manuals tell you that the right hand may only play a single harmonic at a time, whereas the left hand may play two to three - so long as the spacing is not too far apart. This has to do with the position of the hands in relation to the strings - since the harpist has the body of her instrument leaning against her right shoulder, her reach on that side is somewhat limited, and the position of the wrist does not allow for more than one harmonic. The left hand has a great reach, and a better angle to create harmonics, so it may play more at once. But here’s the thing. In order to get into a proper position for multiple harmonics, the left hand must be a certain distance away from the player. Too close, and the hand gets into an awkward position (though the left hand may easily play single harmonics in a closer position as well as the right). There’s a further level of complexity at work here: two harmonic notes at once, though a bit tricky, is a common technique. Three at once is very rare, and one can’t just assume that every harpist is experienced with playing harmonic chords. What’s more, the greater the amount of simultaneous harmonics requested, the shorter the available range (and the more preparation time required to find the correct nodes). Single left-hand harmonics are good across their entire viable range: C3-A5. Double harmonics are playable in any configuration from C3 to G4, above which 2nds and 3rds are most practical up to C5. Triple harmonics have a functional span between C3 and E4 - not very large, admittedly. Pushing multiple harmonics higher than these limits risks having them fall apart due to the awkward position of the palm against the string. Going lower is problematic as well, as the harmonics become increasingly unstable and difficult to distinguish from normally-plucked strings.

A little related bonus tip: every harpist I’ve every worked with prefers to read harmonics at the pitch to be played by the hands, sounding an octave higher. It’s a far better system for the player, who instinctively moves her hands to the correct position on the strings without having to work things out. Some orchestration manuals seem unclear about the consensus on this issue, and to make matters worse some notation software programs default to harp harmonics written at sounding pitch. This presumption has added hours of annoyance to every harpist’s life. The confusion has become so pronounced that there is no longer a default approach, and composers must indicate which system they’ve scored.

Fig 68b: harp harmonics at pitch played and pitch sounding.

Here’s an additional bugaboo regarding multiple harmonics: the nodes shift vertically depending on the position of the pedals. In the flat pedal position, the exact centre of the string is a bit higher than in the natural position, and even further away than sharp position. To make things even more confusing, there’s a slight upward curve across the whole range of central node positions, following the rising sweep of the harp’s neck. In order to play an G minor root triad, for example, a harpist might elect to tune the chord enharmonically to A minor, so that the node positions line up straight. Even in double harmonics, this strategy may need to be used.



Fig 68c: node positions and enharmonic tunings of a harmonic chord. Fig 68a: range of left hand harp harmonics: single, double, and triple.



The simplest option? Don’t write harmonic chords for the harpist’s left hand. It’s usually quite enough to write one harmonic for the right and two for the left. Any more than this might be swallowed up by the glowing resonance of the overall tone. You may even be able to get a glowing tone if the right hand plays normal intervals or chords which are played above but sound below the left hand’s harmonic note. It all depends on the register and context of the music.

Fig. 68d: A harmonic chord, with practical solutions to simplify the technical demands.

Fig. 68e: Ravel, Valses Nobles et Sentimentale, harp part bars 1-4 of Fig. 5.

To the right are a few staves for 1st and 2nd harp from Ravel’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentale. Note how Ravel disregards the rule by asking the first harpist to play G5 3rds with the left hand, and the second harpist to play G4 3rds. There’s a notational issue here. If Ravel is asking for the sounding pitch instead of the played pitch (which would be an octave lower), then those harmonics are easily playable by the second harpist, but quite tricky for the first. If, on the other hand, the notes are intended to be played at the notated pitches, then the second part is very hard, and the first part is essentially impossible. Perhaps in all cases, the harpist may simply split the harmonics between the two hands, as they’re easily playable.



69. Harp “Stomping” Notes Rapidly repeated notes on harp will result in a buzzing sound as fingers touch already vibrating strings. Some harpists call this “stomping.” This simple, incredibly important fact is not in any orchestration manual I own, and it’s especially true with the lower, more widely vibrating strings. The orchestrator may score a harp part where a low octave is supposed go bum BUM! What they will get is a bum-ZZZBUM. Unfortunately, sound sets complicate the problem, because you can repeat a sound as fast as you like without hearing any buzzing. That can get you into heaps of trouble during rehearsal. There’s a further problem - a quickly repeated note effectively kills the resonance of the first pluck in an unfortunate way. The composer may wish to hear two beautifully articulated notes played in rapid succession: dun-DUN! - but what actually happens is more like dutt-znDUN! This is why harp tremolos are often tuned in enharmonic pairs, like the right hand on D -F alternating rapidly with the left on E -G . That way, there is just slightly more time for the string to stop vibrating before being plucked again.


Fig. 69aa: Stomping notes.

b b

Fig. 69ab: enharmonic tremolo, reducing stomping.

I fell into this trap myself recently while working on my concerto. The example to the right contains two excerpts. In the upper excerpt from the first draft, you see the problem right away - I’m asking the harpist to repeat the upper and lower notes of each arpeggio. As cool as this sounds in my head, it doesn’t work on harp strings. After working with the harpist, I came up with a better solution, more idiomatic to the harp (and frankly more interesting musically). In the excerpt from the second draft, you can see how I dovetail around the end of each arpeggios, to set up the strong first note of the next arpeggio as it changes direction. My harpist liked this a lot, as it made the music sound spilling over rather than punctuated. INDEX

Fig. 69ba: Goss, Harp Concerto, Movement 1, first draft bars 144-145.

Fig. 69bb: Goss, Harp Concerto, Movement 1, final draft bars 144-145.


70. Harp Idiomatic Scoring The harp is NOT a piano! Do not assume what works on a piano will work on harp - much of the time, it won’t!

which to span the part. This is one of several samples that harpists will quote when they point out that Wagner for all his greatness didn’t know beans about scoring for harp. He himself admitted as much, telling the harpists for the premiere. “You know what I want gentlemen, play that!” - in other words, fake it - which harpists have been doing ever since.

This is the biggest error I see in early attempts at orchestration. The composer writes out a very complex, hard-to-play part for the harp, which is essentially piano music. In order to learn it, the harpist would have to spend long hours of work, and probably cut a lot of the notes. Then the orchestrator will likely as not bury the part in the texture where it can’t be heard - not much of a reward for the harpist’s sweat and toil! Many techniques are so natural for pianists that they don’t imagine how exceptionally hard they are for a harpist: arpeggiated left hand where the position changes frequently while the right hand plays an intricate melody; intensely contrapuntal music, like a fugue in 3 or four parts; or music where both hands shift position frequently. Harp is a naturally arpeggiated instrument. Things that work very well are strummed chords, patterns, big sweeping arpeggios across the strings, and harmonics. Writing in which the hands share melody and accompaniment is always the most effective for harp solo, rather than having these elements in separate hands. As to harp in the orchestra, never include it in more than 20-30% of the piece, and even within that limitation make much of the part sparing - bits of colour, stray plucks and chords, and odd support of punctuation of a phrase. Overuse of harp is such a danger for developing orchestrators that Rimsky-Korsakov mentioned it in his manual of over a century ago as one of the predictable phases for most young composers. DON’T be predictable! Harpists have gotten extremely jaded about contemporary music, mostly because composers don’t seem to appreciate the work it takes harpists to prepare a piece, and even worse, that often the harpist gets little in return for such efforts. This situation is made worse by the enormous amount of contemporary scores which have no shelf life. A harpist would like to put her star over a piece that she’ll be able to play for a lifetime, not just in one obscure concert which will never be repeated nor remembered. So study the best of harp music, and develop new instincts about what makes for a great harp part that harpists will want to support and play many times. The two excerpts that follow illustrate that even the greatest orchestrators with the deepest understanding of the craft (for their times) could still make very clunky errors. The top sample is the infamous bit of harp torture from the end of Wagner’s Das Rheingold - such a complex part that the full score puts it in the back as an addendum. Here, the harpists are being asked to change back and forth over two positions over and over again, as they do not have the five fingers (the pinky finger is never used) in INDEX

Fig. 70a: Wagner, Das Rheingold, harp parts, Addendum to page 317.

The other example contains the first few bars of the Mozart Flute and Harp Concerto. Mozart almost never used harp in any of his music, so he had little experience with it. To make matters worse, he composed this piece for a novelty harpist who specialised in performing piano-like figures to intrigue her audience. The result is a piece that’s often very hard for harpists and not always rewarding on a bar-by-bar basis - in other words, some very difficult passages don’t have the most startling and enchanting effect on the audience. But since it’s Mozart and it’s a concerto, harpists have to learn it. 106

The first few bars show exactly what I’m talking about - an Alberti bass pattern in the left hand while the right does a little fast melody. It sounds incredibly cute, but it’s not very comfortable or idiomatic for the harp. In that way, it’s the opposite of Mozart’s usual approach, which was to get into the soul of the instrument and then make demands that increased the definition of what the instrument meant. That’s not what happens here. Mozart actually gets it right a lot of the time. In most of the rest of this excerpt, look at the way the hands share the music, playing melody off of pattern. That’s first-rate harp scoring, and probably one of the reasons harpists haven’t tried to quietly bury this piece - despite stretches of extremely aggravating clunkiness, there are Mozart-perfect passages like these.

Fig. 70b: Mozart, Flute and Harp Concerto, Movement 1 solo part bars 58-75



VIOLA 83. Viola Limitations of Range 84. Viola Acoustical Compromises 85. Viola Character of Registers 86. Viola Capacity for Blending 87. Viola Capacity for Patterns


88. Viola As Bass



71. String Bowing and Marking, Part 1

89. Cello Registers as Defined by Clefs

72. String Bowing and Marking, Part 2

90. Cello Extended Fingering Range

73. String Melodic and Rhythmic Bowing

91. Cello Unison with Double Bass

74. String Finger Positions

92. Cello Triple Stops

75. String Skips of Position

93. Cello Harmonics

76. String Shaping Phrases Vocally

94. Cello Wolf Tones

77. String Mute Changes 78. String Special Effects and Limitations

DOUBLE BASS 95. Double Bass Limitations of Range


96. Double Bass Bowing and Articulation

79. Violin Strength of Lower Register

97. Double Bass Acoustical Compromises

80. Violin Uniqueness of Dexterity

98. Double Bass Carrying the Bass Line Alone

81. Violin Orchestral Roles Part 1

99. Double Bass Resonance and “The Vivaldi Problem”

82. Violin Orchestral Roles Part 2

100. Double Bass Fifth String and C-Extension 108

71. String Bowing and Marking, Part 1

like? In this case, the violins will be using a specific type of bowing called detaché. It’s not a legato, and it’s not a staccato, but somewhere in between. The bow will be placed at centre of its span, and moved briskly back and forth. Keeping the bow centred keeps the tone even, and agility at a maximum.

The orchestrator should learn to automatically envision what type of bowing is to be used in every orchestral passage, and mark those passages as needed.

This passage could be interpreted so many different ways. If the marking were pp instead of ff, the players might use the tip of the bow, called “a punta d’arco.” It could also be played with the bow bouncing back and forth off the string in saltando bowing. And if Schubert was really trying to be excessively ferocious here, he might mark the passage “al tallone,” using the heel of the bow exclusively.

This is one of those steps on the road to mastery for a professional orchestrator learning all the different types of bowing, and indicating the appropriate style in the score. But it’s not just putting in the words; rather, it’s *knowing* with certainty that your marking will be the right thing to do at that point. It’s the mark of a composer at the beginning of their development to leave these markings out - often, to leave out any kinds of slurs or even dynamics. Surprise your orchestration coach by learning all about them and putting them in.

But since none of these markings are indicated, and no slurs are written in, the players automatically play detaché. That’s the big point here - the absence of a mark is also a kind of mark. The character of the music dictates the bowing style. The composer should be completely aware of the implications.

In my orchestration training series, I call the violin “the basic building block of the orchestra.” I also state “All the other members of the string section are either constructed along its model, or adapted to its parameters.” I’m noticing that a lot of early efforts are obsessed with grandiosity, or with the more percussive, motoristic possibilities of orchestral scoring. Well and good. But the greatest, grandest, and most propulsive music in the repertoire was orchestrated by composers who knew their stuff about strings. No matter how wild their music may have gotten, the string section was scored so its efforts weren’t wasted. In the excerpt below, from Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony, the violins and violas are playing a passage of 16th-notes at ff with no slurs. If a beginning orchestrator composes such a passage, are they aware of the consequences? What will it sound

Fig. 71: Schubert, Symphony no. 8 (“Unfinished”), Movement 1, violins and viola bars 76-81.



72. String Bowing and Marking, Part 2 Study bowing by looking at marked string parts, and look over your own orchestra parts once they’ve been rehearsed and performed. This can be enormously educational for an orchestrator trying to get their head around how bowing works. Even a very experienced composer will occasionally score a phrase with certain assumptions about bowing, and then find those assumptions were inaccurate. What’s more, different concertmasters will mark different bowing schemes for the same work, based on many different factors: the experience of the players, the sound of the hall, the style of the orchestra, and their own personal take on the piece and its period. This is not to say that you should be marking bowings in an attempt to dictate to the string players how to play. Far from it (see Orchestration Question no. 10). Rather, you should learn to structure your phrasing in a way that makes it easier for playable bowings to be assigned. This is particularly important with regard to slurs. Composers often quite unthinkingly score any kind of slur over a passage, heedless of the length and strength of the bow or the character of the different strokes. String players are quite used to such clumsy scoring, and often compensate by dividing up the phrase in a way that preserves the intent of the music while addressing their simple need to play with an intelligible, unified sound.

Fig. 72a: Liszt, Dante Symphony, Movement 2 (Purgatorio), 1st violin part bars 95-110.

The solution is to use the dynamics inherent in the phrasing to reimagine Liszt’s arbitrary markings. The pickup notes crescendo, fitting the gathering strength of the upbow. The following accents are best played downbow. From there, the bars are easily divided into a regular pattern of down and up bowing. Despite all of Liszt’s yearnings for some kind of superhuman legato covering those long slurs, the end result is somewhat conventional.

Liszt is notorious for scoring huge, unplayable slurs for the strings - in essence, pianotype slurs that are intended to indicate a continuous legato throughout their length. Undoubtedly the maestro left all details such as actual bowing to the concertmaster in these instances, but to a more experienced orchestrator that seems like negligence. The composer is allowing the players to make any sort of decision they like about how to play the work, and such playing may end up not agreeing with the spirit of the work. Even worse, a certain cohesiveness with the phrasing of winds and/or brass may be sacrificed. It really is the responsibility of the composer to work out what’s playable in their scores, and at least give the concertmaster a sensible basis from which to start when assigning bowings. Of course, Liszt’s longish string slurring is a stylistic decision, not necessarily incompetence. But that still puts the burden on the concertmaster and conductor to make sense of passages like the one to the right from his Dante Symphony. At the start of the second movement, the tempo is marked Andante, then più lento, and after that a further a poco meno mosso. By the excerpt below, the music has slowed to around mm=60 or slower. If the first violins attempted to play the passage as slurred, they’d be constantly running out of gas, and the final long phrase is clearly impossible. INDEX

Fig. 72b: the same excerpt as above, showing actual bowing and phrasing. Dashed slurs represent original phrasing.


If you get a chance, try to borrow some parts from a violinist friend, and see how their parts have been marked. Or better yet, after your own work is performed, get the string parts back from the orchestra librarian and see how your own music has been marked. In the excerpt the the right from my arrangement of a crossover score, look over how the bowing has been marked. At the start of the excerpt, the pairs of slurs in each bar fit well with a simple pattern of down and up bowing. At bar 89, note that the whole note has been divided into two bowings so that the following bar can start with a downbow. This pattern is repeated at bar 93, but all that’s needed as a reminder is a downbow mark at the start of bar 94. Possibly the most interesting bowing pattern is marked at bar 98: upbow at the start of the tenuto mark going into the following accented staccato, a slight downbow on the staccato, then upbow on the final slur to set up the heavy downbow in the following bar. From there, the catchy rhythm is played as all downbows, giving the strings some solidity against the amplified band. One last detail to note - as you can see, there are hardly any bowing marks in the part. This is because most of the time they’re superfluous. The strings will all expect to follow a simple pattern of up/down bowing throughout. Many crossover scores will have hardly any markings, some none at all, as what’s needed is obvious to everyone.

Fig 72c: The Philosophers, “King of the Golden Hall,” arr. Goss, marked 1st violin part bars 82-107.



73. String Melodic and Rhythmic Bowing Learn to recognise the the standard approach of bowing as applied to typical rhythmic and melodic gestures.

The simplest and most basic phrasing in bowing is a quick breath in, followed by a strong breath out - or, up on the pickup note, and down on the downbeat. The excerpt to the right, from Beethoven’s 5th piano concerto, is scored perfectly for this bowing approach. Up-down on beats 6-1 at the start of the passage. The slurring of the pairs of notes thereafter allows the bow to fall into a natural up/down pattern, so that the sf note in the third bar may be hit hard on a downbow.

One thing that orchestrators come to understand is that bowing is a lot like breathing, or like waves on the beach. The bow goes up and down - what a simple way of explaining the process - and yet that binary motion has enormous implications for phrasing and inflection. Downbow is like breathing out, or waves coming in: the greatest amount of force is applied at the beginning, after which strength gradually decreases. Upbow is the opposite: it increases in potential intensity as it gets closer to the end of the stroke, like lungs filling up, or the surf flowing back on itself into the next push. Think of it as wind instrument breathing in a way, but with a bidirectional flow of air. This means that certain types of phrasing will tend to favour set approaches to bowing. If the composer has different ideas, then those ideas had better be justified. I once recorded one of my string quartet works at a very slow tempo - 38 beats per minute. Since the soloist was to be added on later, the violist became the leader of the section (as the most experienced musician and with the most central part). Listening to the tape later, I heard that he was actually synchronising his very slow breathing along to the flow of the phrasing. It was a devastating lesson in how close a musician can get to the music that they’re playing. The proof was in the recording - superbly synchronised with no lag anywhere, despite the glacial tempo.

Fig. 73b: Beethoven, Piano Concerto no. 5, Movement 3, 1st violin part bars 16-33. Bowing has been marked on every change for reference. An actual part would far less markings.

Here’s a recommended exercise for beginning orchestrators: take well-known passages for first violin, and mark your own bowings. Then watch the same works in a live YouTube video recording and compare your markings to what the players actually do. The results are hugely instructive in learning the basic ergonomics of bowing and phrasing.

Fig. 73a: Goss, Ocean Beach, Prologue, viola part bars 1-26



74. String Finger Positions A working knowledge of finger positions for string instruments is essential to a working orchestrator. This is another big hole in the perception of many beginning orchestrators. It’s that section at the beginning of the string section chapter that gets skipped on the way to reading the interesting bits about tremolo, or even ignored entirely while drooling over the percussion chapter (I’ve been there, I know). Two basic points. The first is simply that it’s the navigation mechanism for pitch on the strings. Period. An orchestrator not being aware of how string fingering works is like an automobile designer not understanding the internal combustion engine. The very first thing that I want you to do after reading this tip is to go and dig out your orchestration manual and look it up for all four orchestral string instruments and notice the differences. There are certain practicalities of slurring, skips, inflection, and doublestops, the confident scoring of which depends on a knowledge of finger positions. What you’ll discover as you look through Chapter 1 again is that different string family members have different spacing of finger positions. The lie of the fingers across the strings on a violin favours a simple diatonic scale. On a viola, this stretches out a bit, making it a more comfortable instrument for larger fingers. On the cello, the fingers naturally rest in a chromatic position, while on the double bass a semitone can be as far apart as the span of two fingers in 1/2 position or 1st position. As each position rises in pitch, getting closer to the bridge, its span contracts. So certain types of passage are more natural than others. A cello may play more naturally in a higher position where diatonic notes fall easily under the fingers, while an extreme position on the violin in a chromatic scale is so condensed that some tiny adjustment of fingertip may be all that’s required to change pitch. The implications of these differences are most noticeable in passages like the excerpt below, the very last page of Tchaikovsky’s Marche Slav. It’s typical passagework for a frenzied coda, material at which the composer excelled. Look at how the most active repeated notes are all placed rather high for each instrument playing semiquavers. These last few bars will sound terrific, and they’re very well-placed for all instruments. This is not to say that any string instrument will have any problems playing at any speed in any given register; rather, that knowledge of positions is what makes this passage have a driving unity and sparkling accuracy. Fig. 74: Tchaikovsky, Marche Slav, string section bars 230-240.



75. String Skips of Positions Use caution in wide skips of position, especially where a slur is involved. This is another common error for a beginning composer, related to the past two tips. Let’s review quickly: a set of finger positions dictate the pitches to be played; and bowing must be worked out for each passage, if not each note. Now, let’s apply that to slurring a wide skip. Any skip with an interval greater than an octave is likely to have an intervening string. For instance, if one is skipping from first-position E on the D string directly to second-position C on the E-string, then the A string will definitely interrupt the slur.

octave node of the A string. What’s especially interesting here is that the violinist must eventually slur forward on the A string from E-flat to get the A harmonic. That must be done in fourth position, with the first finger on the E-flat, then relaxing the pressure and touching the octave node lightly. That’s a lot trickier than it sounds if an effortless slur is to be played.

Fig 76a: Reger, A Romantic Suite, Movement 2, 1st violin part bars 7-17 of Fig. 15.

Violinists have several ways of working this out. The first and most effective is to not play the works of composers who don’t understand the first thing about how their instrument works. That’s the default reaction right there. However, a number of great pieces of repertoire do have awkward skips, which are worth playing because their jobs and reputation depend on it. So the second strategy is to fake it - create the illusion that the notes are connected. This usually works when the line in question has a little bit of cover to it, like a busy orchestral texture, or some doubling by the winds. The third strategy is to slur up to a very high position on the next string where possible, or an even higher position on the same string. There are definitely risks of poor intonation involved here, not to mention a double-helping of portamento as the fingers slide up to reposition themselves. The same thing can work in reverse, starting from a very high position on an adjacent string and then sliding downward. But sometimes, as in the well-known Mahler passage below, there’s simply no recourse other than to just fake it, and make it feel like the music has connected, even if it’s clearly impossible (especially as Mahler asks for the final note to be play sul G!).

Fig. 75a: Mahler, Symphony no. 4, Movement 3, 1st violin part bars 72-76.

In the next example, from A Romantic Suite by Max Reger, the problem of a wide skip has been solved very simply and elegantly with the use of the natural harmonic on the INDEX


76. String Shaping Phrases Vocally Use slurs and articulation in a vocal, flexible way for a convincing style of string phrasing.

Look at the cello part in the first three bars. That is absolutely brilliant scoring. The low G will be played as an open string, allowing the cellist to play double stops off of it with the comfortable reach of a 6th, all within a tone or semitone of each other. I really like the slur followed by three staccatos - that’s a nicely even bowing pattern, allowing the cellist to hit the ff slur at the end of the third bar with a strong downbow.

This point is similar to those made for winds and brass. A common approach for beginning composers is to use one type of articulation throughout a passage, or one type of slurring across a vertical texture, or to have all instruments rhythmically and expressively in sync at all times. This leads to overly homogeneous scoring, simplifying and blunting the edge of what might have started as a great idea. It also exhausts the listener, or makes them suspicious that the composer is just filling in a passage without much point. The answer lies literally right under your nose. It’s called your “mouth.” Instead of just slapping a slur on top of something and having done with it, try this instead: sing it. Or, listen to your own speech patterns, and those of someone you know very well. How do words and sentences work? I’ve touched on the relationship of language to the intellectual content of musical phrasing - now, let’s go one further by paying attention to the actual sound and flow of speech. What you’ll start to notice is that speech isn’t all a bunch of slurs, or a string of staccatos. Even when someone is making a point with a very repetitive or emphatic tone of voice, there are still skips, drops, inflections, and accents, all geared to transmit the meaning of the words with not only precision, but the speaker’s personality. Now slide on over to your level of musical literacy. What great works do you know well? Score-read them, paying close attention to the variety of articulation and slurring in the phrasing of the string section. Also look at how the strings support each other with different types of expression and phrasing over the same passage. Tchaikovsky was a master of expressive, vocal phrasing. Even his throwaway bits sing well. In the excerpt below his Serenade for Strings, a wide variety of articulation and slurring are present. The violins and viola are united in slur grouping at first, but those slurs syncopate, allow a staccato note, then slur into the downbeat, followed by rising staccatos. From there on, pay close attention to the viola part - which notes get slurs, which don’t, and why? The lack of slurs in middle instruments of the last bar is entirely intentional - Tchaikovsky wants the 1sts and the basses to slide away from each other, but he also wants to stress the rhythm from the centre. These unslurred notes would probably be marked 2 upbows/2 downbows to match bowings across the section. INDEX

Fig. 76: Tchaikovsky, Serenade for Strings, Movement 1, bars 67-74.


77. String Mute Changes

time you have to get back to bowing. Now give yourself an extra couple of beats. If the the previous passage ended with an upbow, and the following note starts with a downbow, that’s ideal (but don’t intentionally score that way - that’s a little too obsessive!).

Always make sure that that your string players have plenty of time to put on and take off their mutes.

Generally speaking, a full 4/4 bar or bar-and-a-half of moderate tempo is a good minimum time, but it’s generally better not to operate on minimums. Giving the player plenty of time to change the mute will also allow them to prepare themselves mentally for the next passage, not to mention their fingering and bow position. And they’ll need time look back to where they are in the music, perhaps even casting a glance over the upcoming passage to remind themselves of any tricky bits. How much better the results will be with that kind of space in the part!

Yes, this is a standard caution of orchestration manuals, but there’s more to it: you also have to provide some cover for the minuscule bustle as the players go about the process. In the good old days of Berlioz, Forsyth, and even up to Piston in the 1950’s, mutes were clumsy wooden forks that had to be picked from music stands and clamped onto string instrument bridges. They worked great at limiting a certain level of resonance, but the process involved in applying and removing them took precious time. If that time wasn’t provided in the score, the players might just ignore the marking. In any case, there was always some kind of noise involved in grasping these clunky devices off stands and then returning them afterwards. The larger the instrument, the more the clatter, especially with double bass mutes which were essentially the size and shape of a large gardener’s fork.

The sample below from my harp concerto illustrates a change that would have been a little tight, perhaps even clattery, with the old-style fork mutes. At mm=84 in 4/4 time, six-and-a-half beats is more than enough time with the new rubber mutes.

There arose a kind of equation - the less time that a composer gave the players to apply and remove their mutes, the more clatter would likely occur. This represented a strange non sequitur, as passages of extreme sensitivity and subtlety would be introduced and epilogued by rattling noises from the strings. This represented a somewhat fatal obstacle for the growing field of film score recording, and limited what an orchestrator could ask the strings to do over the course of a longer cue. Various gizmos were invented, like spring-locking mutes that looked rather like mousetraps and worked about as well. Nowadays, nearly every professional orchestral string player has a rubber mute sitting below the bridge of their instrument, laced into position by the two middle strings. This mute may be applied almost instantaneously simply by grasping it and sliding it into position, then removed with a flick. Some of these mutes double as wolf tone eliminators as well (see Tip 94). This essentially solves the problem of tight changes in scores - within reason. But we composers have to remember that this innovation is for the players’ convenience, not necessarily for ours. They’re trying to cope with many examples of careless scoring, but it’s not a license to kill for the rest of us.

Fig. 77: Goss, Harp Concerto, Movement 1, string section bars 134-139.

To get this right, imagine bowing a passage of music that you might be working that requires a mute change. Hold an imaginary bow, moving it back and forth in a manner that you imagine the player bowing. At the intervening rest, go through the motion of grabbing the mute, sliding it up, and hooking it over the bridge. Then see how much INDEX


78. String Special Effects and Limitations Sul ponticello and sul tasto are both extremely useful effects. The orchestrator needs to know why they work, how to use them, and their limitations. The basic approach to dynamic bowing calls for the player to bow closer to the bridge when the music is more forceful, and further away when the music is gentler. There are two reasons. The first is that the bow grips the string more firmly when there’s less give to the string, and vice versa. The second is a subtler point: various positions on the string excite different levels of the harmonic spectrum. Closer to the bridge, higher partials ring out more clearly. Further away, those same partials are somewhat muted, resulting in a chestier tone.

This lovely effect comes with some caveats. It loses its effectiveness if accompanied by too many other types of timbre, and is easily covered over in a thicker texture. In these situations, the tone simply becomes unremarkable and discreet. The orchestrator should also be aware of the practical upper limits of finger positions playing sul tasto on the violin and viola. If the fingers climb too high on the neck (above 5th position, say), then they get too close to the bow. Aside from possibly bowing one’s fingers, the player also finds the elevation between the string and its neighbours gradually shrinking. There’s a real risk of inadvertently playing double-stops. Add to this the impossibility of playing a true sul tasto on the top E string of the violin. The upper lobe of the violin body gets in the way. At best, the player can get close to the fingerboard, in an effect more correctly called flautando (which may be played in other positions, as it’s more about attitude and pressure of bow).

When you take this principle to its logical extreme, you end up with sul ponticello and sul tasto bowing. Sul ponticello’s glassy sound is due to the resonance of extremely high partials right next to the bridge, which makes it ideal for eerie passages, especially upper-register tremolo notes. The rigidity of the string at this point also makes this effect ideal for harmonics, which speak with superb ease because the string wants to break into a higher partial anyway. Yet that tendency is also a weakness in a way. Not only does the string want to break into a harmonic in sul ponticello, it may try to at the wrong moment. A slight variation to the pressure and velocity of the bow may suddenly yield an overtone in the wrong place, almost like a teenage boy’s voice cracking. What’s more, sul ponticello isn’t just about the presence of high partials, but the absence of lower partials. This means that when sul ponticello strings are doubled by certain instruments with a similar spectrum of overtones, like flute or clarinet, they’ll tend to disappear. The presence or centre of the tone isn’t around to lend the necessary fullness of tone. Sul tasto’s bowing position over the fingerboard results in the opposite kind of sound, a subtle yet sometimes striking effect. It’s a slightly unearthly, distant tone that still has a bit of soul to it. As noted above, the middle of the string speaks with far fewer high partials, and the fingerboard adds to sense of muffling by blocking a bit of the resonance. This makes sul tasto perfect for soft, floating passages such as those scored by Debussy and even more so Ravel. In fact, sul tasto is so useful for softer tones that string players may automatically bow in that position when they see a pp or ppp marking - in which case, there’s really no need to mark it as such unless the music climbs up to p. or higher. INDEX

Fig. 78: Chart showing stronger and gentler violin bow positions, from sul ponticello to sul tasto.

I’ve actually done this myself - scored very high violin notes with the marking sul tasto - and I have to admit that the players faked it admirably without complaining. Sul tasto is almost like an attitude that can be insinuated without too much difference in bow position - almost. But a true sul tasto is unmistakable, and truly worth if you can score it accurately. 117

79. Violin Strength of Lower Register The intensity of the violin’s G string is a powerful colour in the orchestral palette.

The violin’s fourth string, though it’s tuned a whole step lower to G3, is resonating in a body many times smaller than the cello’s. What’s more, its scale length is less than half that of the cello’s: 12.8” (327mm). The result is that the notes will be much richer in higher partials, while lacking some of the deeper resonance. This gives the violin’s lowest sounds an edge that’s quite unlike the cello, though the lower notes of the viola bear some resemblance.

There’s a general rule in the violin family that the lowest string of each instrument has the thickest sound. The C strings of both cello and viola certainly bear this trait, and their use in this regard is dictated by the roles of those instruments in lower and middle support. But even experienced orchestrators sometimes miss the opportunity to utilise the parallel lowest string of G on the violin in similar ways.

There’s a trap built into this timbral resource, however. The oh-so-powerful G string is an immediate neighbour to the gentlest string of all, the D string. As much as the G string is used for its generosity of tone, the D is used in the opposite way, to limit the projection to gentler statements. The solution, therefore, is to indicate sul G, telling the player to only play on the G string. This helps certain phrases to maintain the same level of intensity throughout.

This is often because of a locked-in perception of how the string section should work, with the first violins always playing higher, and the seconds always playing middlehigh. The viola and tenor range of the cello might get used automatically to perform an intense passage around middle C, when in actuality those notes would speak much more powerfully with both violin groups engaged in that area on their lowest strings.

Sul G has both strengths and limitations. One of its strengths is that the violin’s superb control of both expression and technique can be brought to bear here. Artificial harmonics have a pearly quality to them not found on the higher strings. Very soft sul G passages can also be enormously effective and individual in character, rich and yet subtle. On the other hand, superbly nimble passages may not speak with the same clarity, as the looseness and resistance of the G string work against lightning-fast articulation. What’s more, there’s a certain strained quality that the tone takes on as it climbs higher, becoming quite prominent above G4. It sounds more alarmed than lyrical. Of course, that can represent yet another kind of resource, but the orchestrator needs to be clearly aware of the consequences of such scoring.

It’s a register that also blends well with instruments that often double with viola, like clarinets and horns, and it was a favourite melodic resource of Romantic composers. The violin G string can speak with gruff ferocity or a rich yearning rivalling that of the cello. And yet it’s nothing like a cello, having an unusual, sometimes unsettling sound. This is due to the acoustical compromises at work. The cello’s first string is tuned to A3 and has a scale length of around 27.4” (695mm), resonating in a cavity with a cubic capacity around the size of a human torso.

Fig. 79b: Limitations of violin sul G: comparative lengths of G string with cello A string; problems of clarity at very fast tempos; character of sul G range.

Fig. 79a: Tchaikovsky, Symphony no. 5, Movement 2, 1st violin part bars 109-127.



80. Violin Uniqueness of Dexterity

registers are an exaltation of the soprano voice: rich and husky at the bottom, gentle and suave in the middle, then soaring at the top. Orchestrators well-versed in the peculiar characteristics of the human voice may use many of the same approaches with strings to great advantage.

As the template for its family and the basic building block of the orchestra, the violin is perhaps the most flexible, expressive, and technically fluent instrument ever constructed.

Of even greater moment are the mechanics of violin playing. The shorter neck of the instrument positions available pitches in very close proximity, making lightning-fast fingerings easier to negotiate than on cello and viola. Add to this extremely responsive strings under a light, springy bow, and you’ve got an instrument that can play challenging passages for indefinite periods, rarely running out of gas.

All too often, I’ll review scores in which the violins do almost nothing - or at least nothing compared to that which they’re capable. Simple melodies, bluntly stated: for a pianist, this would come off as a piece from a basic lesson book. Here’s what some developing orchestrators don’t realise. It’s the same for a string player, especially a violinist. It’s like asking a cordon bleu chef to fix you a hamburger and a side of fries. You’ll get the best possible hamburger, but it’s still hamburger. You could have had a gourmet meal for the same price. No, your violin parts should lead the orchestra. That is their chief purpose. The strength of a symphonic idea lives or dies depending on how it’s realised by the strings, and of those strings the violins lead for a reason. Added together, the 1st and 2nd violins constitute half of the players in the string section, and around 30% of the players in the entire orchestra. They’re the fundamental element in orchestration, and should be lavished with intriguing ideas, challenging passages, and heartfelt emotion. The violin was actually developed within a generation of the viol family, probably by taking the new design principles of the viol and adapting it to a shallow body similar to the brighter-toned rebec. However the viols’ discreeter tone was somewhat more apt for the time period’s aesthetics, and their tuning in 4ths and fretted fingerboards made them easier to play as an entry-level instrument. To play a violin was to draw attention, and to be a specialist in order to manage its technical demands. There was also a perception of violin is as a folk instrument, while viols were for the gentry. As a result, the violin languished for a century or two until Cremonese luthiers perfected its form, and set guidelines for the proportions of its family members the cello and viola that are followed to this day.

Here’s where the study of scores is at a premium in terms of value of information. You as an orchestrator want to build an approach that scores strings and especially the violins in an intuitive, imaginative, and technically apt way. The best strategy, then, is to study works by composers who were themselves expert violinists and violin teachers. The works of Corelli, Vivaldi, Paganini, Viotti, Spohr, Kreutzer, and many other violinist-composers are still in repertoire and available in the public domain. You should score-read them to see how certain technical passages and emotional arcs are scored, and how these are part of a solid approach upon which you can build. Also study the works of great composers who worked closely with violin virtuosos of their day to adapt their often groundbreaking technical ideas: Brahms with David, or Tchaikovsky with Auer and Brodsky. Of course, you can’t go wrong by starting with Haydn and Mozart string scoring, especially in their quartets, some of which take the perfection of form to its highest level. Rather than sitting there agog as you score-read, however, look at each composer’s presumption of the technical ability of their players. What are they being asked to do? What position is that, and what register? What’s the velocity? What’s the articulation style, and how coherent is it? Then ask yourself the same questions as you score your own orchestrations.

The violin finally flourished when culture was ready for the profession of the specialist musician whose instrument takes a lifetime to master, and yet is so compelling that it’s its own best argument. So the very nature of the violin insists on dedication of a very high level, even from beginners. And yet for all that requisite commitment, the violin is designed to ideal proportions. The body of the instrument and tension of the strings result in great powers of projection, in a sense dictating that concert halls should be designed around its range of audibility. Its INDEX

Fig. 80: Viotti, Violin Concerto no. 23, Movement 1, solo part 123-132. Tempo allegro.


81. Violin Orchestral Roles Part 1

With the strings section in a more harmonic role, the first violins play the top note of the chord, lending brilliance and projection.

The 1st violins bear the greatest responsibility for stating the thematic content of an orchestral work. (adapted from Orchestration Training Series, Course 101: The String Section available from macProVideo and AskVideo) To really understand the two different violin sections’ roles, it helps to know the people playing in them. Generally speaking, the most accomplished violinists make up the first violin section. In the top professional orchestras, the difference in level of playing between the sections is essentially indistinguishable. In regional orchestras, the levels widen somewhat, while in semipro and amateur orchestras, the difference is liable to be fairly pronounced. This is just one more reason why an experienced orchestrator takes pains to find out exactly what kind of orchestra is going to play a specific commissioned work, and compose with foresight. 1st violins are the most likely group to introduce a motive, bridge a development, or drive home a cadence. They serve not only as the “face” of the string section, but of the orchestra as well. The first violins also excel at leading imitation and countermelody between the strings and the other sections of the orchestra. The orchestrator should keep in mind that in contrapuntal passages with the other strings, the firsts will have a tendency to dominate, even if scored with care. This is due to slightly greater numbers and to more advantageous seating - not to mention a psychological tendency to lead dynamically.

Fig. 81b: Tchaikovsky, Romeo & Juliet Fantasy Overture, string section bars 86-94.

This can also be used to advantage in more subtle scoring, for ethereal effects. Even in the most wispy of backgrounds, the first violins help define the harmonic texture in the clearest way.

Fig. 81a: Beethoven, Symphony no. 9, Movement 2, string section bars 15-29.



One of the key features of the first violin section is its leadership role in the orchestra. As much as all the string players may be following the conductor, they are also focused on the bowing of the concertmaster, who should be visible in clear line of sight from every chair. In a passage of complex rhythm or integrated lyricism, in which many players contribute, it’s always the strongest when the first violins play. They are closest to both audience and conductor; they dictate the bowing; and their sound is the most unifying.

Fig. 81c: Holst, The Planets, Uranus, bars 222-230

The specialty of the firsts is in very high playing, which they are expected to pull off without problems of intonation. Notes of extreme range are plentiful in first violin repertoire, and must sound effortless, no matter what contortions a player might go through to get it right on the money.

Fig. 81d: Brahms, Symphony no. 3, Movement 4, 1st violin part bars 211-216.



82. Violin Orchestral Roles Part 2 The first violins are nothing without the seconds, who provide both support and contrast in a variety of ways. (adapted from Orchestration Training Series, Course 101: The String Section available from macProVideo and AskVideo) In the last video, I mentioned that the first violins tended to have anywhere from slightly more to greatly more accomplished players than the second violins. Even though it’s important to be mindful of this distinction, an orchestrator shouldn’t play it safe to the point of complete boredom for the seconds. It’s always good to give these players some challenges, and by examining their roles and parts from the best orchestral repertoire, build your own approach for satisfying the needs of this very capable section.

Fig. 82b: Brahms, Symphony no. 1, Movement 4, 1st & 2nd violin parts bars ?.

The seconds also play unison with the firsts to produce an extremely forceful sound. Or they may be scored in very close proximity to the firsts, and trade off lines with them in complex passages.

There’s also a bit of grey area here. The leader of the second violins has to be a player who’s quite gifted and capable of a degree of leadership. This also counts for the co-principal who shares their desk, and perhaps for the second and even third desk as well. These front players are sometimes better musicians than the last few desks of the first violin section - so never limit the possibilities of your scoring simply on a presumption that all firsts are better than all seconds. Be aware, though, that even with the best possible players in either section, the roles are not the same at all. Seconds are necessary, not just to support the firsts, but to help ground them. It’s worth examining this relationship in detail. The first and most obvious is in providing a solid base upon which the firsts can play an octave higher. This is a very potent melodic sound.

Fig. 82c: Holst, The Planets, Jupiter, 1st & 2nd violin parts bars 235-240.

There’s a tendency amongst some composers to feel responsible for the seconds, and to give them parts with more interest. This is commonly called “keeping the seconds busy,” and is an admirable goal - so long as the orchestrator doesn’t overdo it, and give the seconds far too much music for their own good. Fig. 82a: Brahms, Symphony no. 3, Movement 1, 1st & 2nd violin parts bars 71-74.

Seconds also commonly play closer harmonic intervals with the firsts in melodic scoring, especially 3rds and 6ths. In these cases, the intonation must be flawless and the combined tone seamless. INDEX

It’s better to ease off on the seconds a bit, but allow them to shine here and there. Quite a few great scores will have the seconds cover many of the melodic duties. The advantages here are that their seating will give that line a slightly more distant sound, and give the firsts a chance to rest. Also, different groups of musicians play somewhat differently even within the same orchestra. 122

Fig. 82d: Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique, Movement 3, string section parts bars 131-133.

When the firsts are handling the melodic duties on their own, the seconds will often lead the rest of the strings in the accompaniment, or combine with the violas. Patterns are often a feature of this support.

Fig. 82f: Mahler, Symphony no. 7, Movement 5, string section parts bars 134-139.

Fig. 82e: Debussy, La mer, Movement 2, string section parts bars 178-182.

Even when the firsts aren’t playing the melody, the seconds may prove better suited to some types of support playing. They’re more confident in the lower range, and usually seated closer to the violas and cellos than are the first violins. This allows them to combine their tone and rhythm with more intimacy than the firsts. But a lot of the time, the second violins are simply providing a middle voice in a larger orchestral texture. Here’s where the importance of good part-writing is at a premium, especially as it creates a more compelling relationship between the seconds and the other strings. INDEX


83. Viola Limitations of Range The alto clef is used on viola for a reason: it helps to delineate the ideal playing range for the instrument, which is built right into its very structure. The violin may be perfectly suited to the general physical shape of the human body as noted in Tip 80, but the viola bends or breaks many of the same rules that led to such perfection. The next two tips explore the acoustic and tonal ramifications of the viola’s structural compromises. This tip focuses on the ergonomics, often left out of even the best orchestration book. There’s a kidding observation amongst string players that violists are second-rate or even third-rate musicians who couldn’t make it into the violin section. Viola players themselves like to kid around about this, and often have the best viola jokes. Part of this comical stigma comes from the realities of student and amateur orchestras, where the most inept violin players are recruited to play viola out of the hope that it will keep them out of trouble, and because no one else can be convinced to play the instrument. But for actual pro viola players, there’s of course a quite different scope of reasons. One is simply that more scholarship and audition opportunities are available for this vastly understaffed instrument than for the much more popular violin and cello.

arm. For a taller player, this isn’t as much of an issue, but it’s still tiring if the music is nothing but first position playing for pages and pages. At the other end of the neck, the fingers run up against the broad shoulders of the viola. Where the hand of a violinist can easily reach across the entire upper range of their instrument, the violist’s wrist will tend to catch against the viola’s body. This is not to say that very high notes are impossible - merely that once again, they can be anywhere from awkward to extremely uncomfortable. This is especially true for very high notes sul C or sul D, where the wrist must not only stretch over but also across a large expanse with far less natural support. If playing very high is a challenge, and playing very low a potential burden, then what remains is an ideal range of fingerings from second to fifth position. This range is nicely framed by the alto clef itself, starting from the E-space below the bottom of the staff. A scale in second position will take the notation all the way up to the B-line above the staff. Without even playing the first string of A, the player has already covered the notes within the alto clef staff. Continuing on in second position to the A string, the player finishes on an F5, the third ledger line above the staff. If the player continues up the string to fifth position, the top note of B sits in the space atop the 4th ledger line, a natural limit of reading for the player. If the notes of a passage range higher than this, they should be scored in treble clef, which indicates that you’ve departed from the most comfortable and ideal region of fingering.

The biggest reason may be practical. Next time you take a look at the viola section in a live performance, note something about the stature and reach of the players. You may observe that there’s a higher proportion of broader frames and longer arms and fingers. The viola is about 15% larger than the violin, meaning that it’s better suited to a taller player. Of course, smaller players can and often do play the instrument professionally, but they have to deal with a more physically demanding process than average. Short or tall, all violists have to deal with some of the same physical realities. One is the greater weight of the instrument. Just like the alto flute, the viola is an instrument that doesn’t feel like much of a burden the moment it’s picked up, but then weighs heavier and heavier on the arm after hours of playing. Its ancestors in the viol family were perhaps more wisely designed to be played like little cellos, bowed in a reverse position with the tail of the instrument in the violist’s lap and the scroll near the left shoulder. But the violin family’s redesign principle put the viola on top of that shoulder so that its technique would be more accessible to a violin player, and the compromise has stuck (to everyone’s discomfort). Probably the most difficult aspect to this is that extra 3-5 inches of reach required to play in first position. For a player of shorter build, playing out to the end of the viola neck on a constant basis is fatiguing, overextending the natural balance position of the INDEX

Fig. 83: The juxtaposition of ideal viola fingering range with the natural limits of the alto clef.

Once again, these parameters aren’t boundaries by any means. Violists may not even think of them as such, at least not until the composer drives home the distinction with extended passages of lessthan-ideal scoring. First position is a breeze - unless the player has to hold a low C 3 for many long minutes. Solos above the treble staff? Also a breeze if they’re well-written and set up in the music for best effect, and they don’t go on for too long. And yet I’ve had student violists report the claim by their teachers that the C6 I scored was impossible on the instrument (it’s not, but perhaps the teachers felt it was impossible rather for the players in question). So once again, get savvy about finger positions and what they say about the range of the different members of the string section. In this case, the implications are clear.



84. Viola Acoustical Compromises

chesty midrange sound that relates well to the gentler G string. The acoustic limitations become very obvious when high passages are played on the A string, and the ceiling on higher overtones results in a sound that’s been called “nasal.”

The unique character of the viola’s sound originates in its less-than-ideal proportions.

And yet there would be little point to building an instrument that sounded exactly like a cello down below and a violin up above. Such an instrument would have no real centre, and centrality is what’s greatly needed between the markedly different poles of violin and cello. The viola mediates the potential divergence so well that the string section is regarded as a homogeneous entity, capable of timbral unity across the range of differently-sized instruments. The viola is the instrument that makes this possible more than any other element, because of its acoustical compromises rather than in spite of them.

In Tip 79, I contrasted the ideal length of the cello’s A string with the violin’s much shorter and whole-step-lower G string. One might suppose that the viola’s somewhat more extended length would make its lower strings more ideal than than the violin’s. Actually, the reverse is true. While the viola’s G string may be approaching a better length, its C string is even more foreshortened proportionally than the violin G. The timbral consequences are illustrated in the following tip. To make things even more confusing, there is no set scale length for the viola. The violin’s scale length is 12.8” and the cello’s is 27.4”, both established by early virtuoso builders such as Amati. Yet viola sizes may range anywhere from 15.5” to 17”. This flexibility of scale is actually quite necessary in order to address the concern in the previous tip, that the viola should be manageable by players of different builds, not just tall musicians with long arms and fingers. The consequence is that smaller-scale violas are less than three inches longer than the standard violin, not representing much of an increase in string length. Along with string length, there’s an equally significant compromise at work: body size. An instrument that’s about two-thirds of the way in range between cello and violin (with a lowest string one octave higher than the former and a perfect 5th lower than the latter) should be much larger in size to be proportionally correct. Perhaps the ideal scale length is closer to 21”, along with a body size of half the cello’s cubic capacity. This would give it a body design closer to a treble or tenor viol (or even a violoncello piccolo), necessitating a lap-playing position. Even though these changes might have solved some acoustical problems, the ancient instrument builders knew well what they were doing when they designed the viola. An instrument of idealised length and size might be more deeply resonant, and yet lack the ability to compete with the cello’s rich midrange. Likewise, it might be too individual in tone to blend with the violins or provide an integrated middle voice. Essentially, it’s the compromises that give the viola its unique character: a low register that can be all the more forceful and biting because of shorter strings and a reduced resonant cavity. This scaling-down of size becomes more ideal on higher pitches. The D and A strings are far denser in tone that those of the same pitch on violin, with a INDEX

Fig. 84: Visual comparison of string family sizes, with hypothetical larger viola size. Note: I am not a luthier nor an expert on acoustics, the above is merely a speculation.


85. Viola Character of Registers The character of viola registers is key to understanding the unity of the string section. Now that I’ve delineated why the viola sounds the way it does, let’s explore the character of its registers in that light, starting with an analysis of the sound of each string. There’s a general pattern of string quality that’s consistent for all members of the violin family.* For each member, the fourth string is the gruffest, having the greatest weight and the most solidity. The third string tends to be gentler and more discreet, and is often used for subdued lyrical passages. The second string is where the upper register starts, and is seen as both starting point and bridge to the highest first string, the tension of which gives it the most carrying power.** For the viola, this means that the fourth string of C will be the fiercest and most generously lyrical. The third string of G is more subdued, while the D second string provides the bridge for the very penetrating A first string. This is all basic instrumentation - the orchestration begins with the comparisons between the instruments, and how one compensates or complements the other. For instance, the viola’s C string can do everything for viola which its counterpart the G string does for violin. Orchestrators often neglect that violas can play from the heart on a sul C passage, and move an audience with just as much energy as violin sul G, but deeper, richer, and darker. Looking in the other direction, the character of the viola C is quite different from its close neighbour, the cello D which represents the foundational string of that instrument’s tenor register. When both cello and viola play in unison in this register, the line can be powerfully emotional. *The double bass isn’t included here, as it’s a member of the viol family and its strings don’t exactly have the same relationship to one another. **It’s important to note in this generalised analysis that these characteristics may be easily disregarded or even subverted according to the context of the music - say with a hugely passionate passage on the third string, or a discreet passage on the fourth. But the best effect is usually reached when working with the natural tendencies of the strings rather than against them. INDEX

Fig. 85a: Tchaikovsky, Symphony no. 6, Movement 1, viola/cello combined part bars 8-14 of Fig. Q. This passage is evenly divided between the G and C strings in 4th position for lower divisi violas, and the A and D strings in 3rd position for cello. This an intense combination.

Moving up, we arrive at the point where all three members of the violin family share the same open string pitch, or nearly: the violin and viola both have a string tuned to G3, with the cello tuned to A3. The inequalities between violin and cello have already been noted in Tip 79: now let’s see how the viola acts to even things out and make the string section more cohesive. The viola G is a gentler string than its own C string, but also gentler than the violin G. This is because of a greater length and different type of winding, though the weight is similar. The gentler sound is also due to its resonance within a larger cavity. This means that if a sul G-type line needs to be scored with a less intense, more suave character, then the viola’s a better choice than violin.

Fig. 85b: Beethoven, Symphony no. 7, Movement 2, viola part bars 27-36.

Up another 5th, the contrast between violin and viola reverses in a way. The violin D is the gentler, subtler string, while the viola D is the point at which its instrument starts to gain in power and projection, like the cello D or the violin A. Sul D on the viola leads into the tenser sound of the A string, and it also has a more alto-like character due to the larger body. It should theoretically be stronger than the violin D - and yet in an orchestral setting, where the violins so thoroughly outweigh the violas, this isn’t the case. Violins also have the greater projection due to factors mentioned in Tip 80 and elsewhere. So really the orchestrator must score more for tone than power when favouring the viola in a passage of this range. 126

Now let’s make a summation of these factors. The viola’s first octave starts powerfully rich and dark, yet with a more trebly sound than cello in the same register. This sound becomes tenser if pushed up the C string, or gentler if crossed over to the G. The character of the middle register of the viola is generally more discreet, starting from the G and crossing over to the D. A sense of greater purpose and mounting intensity occurs from the D string upward to the A. These registers are evened out by the player, who is constantly smoothing over some of these inequalities between the individual strings, as well as helping to balance the weight of their part within the whole string section. Yet if scored and marked correctly, these natural tendencies can be enhanced to great advantage.

Fig. 85c: Brahms, Symphony no. 3, Movement 1, viola part bars 40-44.

The top A of the viola is the strongest point of difference from the violin. Where the violin really starts to open up with brilliance of tone, the viola has a more restricted sound. Yet I feel that terms from some orchestration manuals are a little too off-putting: “piercing” and “nasal,” as both Adler and Piston remark. Perhaps Piston’s further description of “unduly prominent” is more accurate, and yet this doesn’t contain an explanation. The violin A is actually quite strong in its own right - what makes the viola A seem out of place is that its tonal characteristics start to pull away so sharply from that of the violin. This is because, as observed in the previous tip, the body of the viola doesn’t project the same high overtones as the violin. But here’s the important point: the viola body projects lower overtones that the violin doesn’t emphasise. Under the pen of a master orchestrator, this difference in tone can be exploited to its full advantage. If you want a solo above the treble staff that has all the soul and yearning of a cello but without the steely glitter of the violin, then give it to the principal viola.

Fig. 85d: Ravel, Ma Mère L’oye, Le jardin féerique, viola solo part bars 30-34.



86. Viola Capacity for Blending

The paler sound of the bassoon’s second register folds right into the gentler character of the viola G string, while the strained falsetto of the bassoon’s high register is well-matched to the viola A string’s odd ceiling of tone.

The viola’s capacity for blending with other instruments is perhaps the greatest in the orchestra.

The horn blends for different reasons, equally intriguing. There’s a certain roundness of tone with a slight buzz to it when the horn is playing the octave of concert C3-C4. This matches quite well with the throaty alto of the viola’s lowest octave, and the radiant darkness of both instruments can prove cumulative when doubled. Above this, the lower arc of resonance is very similar between the two, and can underline the limitation to good effect, provided that this is the sound the orchestrator really wants. Violas are often doubling horns in middle harmonies as it is, so it’s a good thing that they’re so sonically compatible. A caution, though: a single prominent horn note can completely devour a whole army of violas, so some balancing is definitely in order.

Throughout this collection of tips, you may notice that certain instruments have been noted for their ability to double with other instruments, and that the viola crops up nearly every time as one of those “other” instruments.” Let’s turn that around and look at it from the perspective of scoring for strings, judging why the viola can be doubled by so many instruments. First, look at the general tasks of the viola. These are: filling in the harmony or central contrapuntal motion; joining in with the lower strings on thematic gestures and bass lines; and underpinning activity in the upper strings. This last category has several subcategories of its own: unison or octaves in melodic passages, bottom note of threeand four-part harmonies, interactive patterns, and so on. Occasionally, the viola also takes the lead, or bridges between cellos and violins in connective phrases. There are hundreds of ways the violas may be used, but most of them are variations on the above. Such may be the typical role of any alto voice/instrument in any ensemble, whether choral, brass, or wind. Now let’s review those instruments that have been prominently mentioned as partners for the viola, in doubling and textural blending. You’ll notice that they’re largely midrange instruments or those with a useful midrange register: clarinet, bassoon, and horn. Their resonance may have some similarities that are parallel to the viola’s structural compromises. In the case of the clarinet, the chalumeau register covers nearly the same range as the viola’s bottom three strings. The throat tones sit around the pitch of the viola A, and from there each instrument gains in power and pungency. The clarino register is a kind of parallel to the viola’s high register. Of course, the clarinet will tend to outshout the viola above the treble staff, but for most of the range of both instruments, the capacity of blending can be very fine indeed. This affinity is often used in severely downscaled arranging, where the orchestrator is anticipating far fewer violas than ideal.

Violas can blend well with these instruments and several others. A carefully balanced pp trombone harmony could work well with viola doubling. I’ve blended English horn with violas from time to time, and I’m sure violas might also work well with bass oboe, especially in its middle register. Middle-toupper-register bass clarinet blends very well with violas on softer upper-register flute-like tones, and there’s no reason basset horn/alto clarinet wouldn’t work the same or even better. Combinations with higher winds can also work, depending on the context of the scoring. In conclusion, the middleman of the string section is also a bit of an everyman, capable of mixing it up with quite a few different types of instruments - so long as its companion isn’t too boastful, blaring, or in love with itself.

Fig. 86: Goss, Give Me My Bone! bassoon and viola parts bars 262-265

The bassoon blends with many other instruments of every family (including percussion - just try doubling bassoon breath pizzicato with marimba or xylophone), so it’s only natural that it would find a seamless partner with viola. But this depends on the context of the doubling. If the intention is to partner a searching tenor line, then bassoon is better off doubling with cellos, especially as the line climbs higher. But for very fine midrange textures, the bassoons and violas can virtually disappear into one another. INDEX


87. Viola Capacity for Patterns The violas have a natural affinity for patterns, an essential resource for orchestrators. It’s sad to look at an ingenious new score by a developing composer and note that the viola part is dull and lifeless. This may simply stem from timidity due to a lack of reading skills with alto clef - but just as often it’s due to unfamiliarity with the role of the middle voice in four- and five-part writing. One of the biggest mistakes in this regard is when an orchestrator assigns pianolike patterns to the cellos throughout, forcing a ten-fingered, two-handed keyboard approach onto the five staves of the string section. Of course, cellos can be fantastic at realising these patterns, especially in pizzicato scoring. Yet often their role really belongs elsewhere: providing a strong inner voice or countermelody, or holding down the bass line. If you’re getting started as an orchestrator, and the above rings all too true to your efforts thus far, then why not try something else? Give the patterns to the violas instead. With a low note of C3, they can emulate piano-like back-and-forth arpeggiation, alternate between the upper and lower sides of a triple- or quadruple-stop, or simply play little central patterns between the lower and upper strings. There are countless examples of this approach, from Haydn and Mozart through to Stravinsky and Ravel. Wagner was notorious for this, seemingly throwing patterns to the violas when he couldn’t think of giving them anything else. Luckily, the viola is wellsuited to this technique. The lower-to-middle register fingering is far less of a spread than that of the cello, and yet less cramped-together than the violin. The viola’s less insistent tone helps these patterns to work into the fabric of a texture far better than the cello as well. This is a technique in which clarinet doubling can work very well, as both instruments share a facility and tone more evenly matched than some other partnerships. The clarinet can lend a certain shape to the phrasing, clarifying the arc of a slur, or helping to punctuate its endpoints. The best feature, of course, lies in adding more weight to the middle. The pattern can gain the prominence it needs to drive other functions within the texture. But don’t overuse this doubling - it can become a cliché for the listener and a bore for the players after a while. INDEX

Fig. 87: Viola patterns. From top to bottom: Mozart, Symphony no. 40, Movement 1, bars 1-5. Ravel, Piano Concerto in G, Movement 1, bars 318-321. Rossini, Barber of Seville, Overture, bars 223-227. Wagner, Das Rheingold, Overture and Act I, bars 23-26 of Fig. 3. Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique, Movement 4, bars 8-11 of Fig. 54. Debussy, Nocturnes, Movement 3, bars 5-8 of Fig. 2.


88. Viola As Bass The violas can serve as bass, or work with double basses when needed. I was once commissioned to score an all-viola arrangement of Benjamin Britten’s Lachrymae - a string orchestra of violas, plus viola soloist. Obviously, this was for the International Viola Congress, where a few hundred violists would be on hand for the task. It was an exceedingly tricky project. I disregarded the existing string arrangement of the composer, and went back to the piano score as my source. Two problems presented themselves: the first, to ensure that the soloist’s part remained prominent amongst all

88b: Mozart, Symphony no. 40, Movement 3, viola/cello combined part bars 19-33.

the other violas. The second, to supply some sort of meaningful bass. The addition of even a single cellist would have solved many problems. But the limitation forced me to be more resourceful, and somehow I made sense of it all for the performers. The experience made me much more aware of all the times in which composers have scored the viola as the bass voice in an orchestration. There are several different ways to do this; but let’s give each way its own paragraph instead of just listing them in a single sentence. 88c: Haydn, String Quartet Op. 20, no. 1, Movement 3, viola/cello combined part bars 19-33.

This naturally leads to the second way to score “viola-as-bass”: for the viola to completely assume the role (as it does in my Lachymae arrangement) in order to free up the cello for tenor-range solos or other duties. The general approach here in quartet scoring places the viola in its lowest octave, forcing 88a: Viola as bass - Britten, Lachrymae, arr. Goss, bars 1-16.

The first way is within the contrapuntal function of a crossing voice. Mozart did this from time to time, sending his violas lower than his cellos, as in the example below from the third movement of his Symphony no. 40. Of course, this doesn’t exactly count, as the


the cello part into a register well above middle C, and the violins even higher. Or the violins can serve as the middle voice, the viola as bass, and the cello higher still. In an orchestral setting, the viola might be doubled by bassoon or clarinet for more solidity. The final method of assigning viola to a bass role is to score it in octaves with the double-basses, just like the cellos. One might wish to do this simply for practicality’s sake: the cello section may be

cellos are doubled an octave below by the double basses, so essentially the violas

playing a thematic passage, which needs greater support below. Another reason might be for the quite

are encompassed briefly within an octave rather than strictly taking the bass. A purer

unusual sound of this combination. The viola will naturally be playing most of its part on the C string,

example is the companion excerpt from the third movement of Haydn’s String Quartet

with the double bass an octave below on its A and D strings. The tone of this octave will be intensely

Op. 20, no. 1: the viola crosses the cello line several times in the normal course of a

solid, yet with quite a bit more sheen to it than when cello is used the same way. I wouldn’t recommend

passage, sometimes as counterpoint, other times simply to hit the root of the harmony.

making this a regular rendezvous, as it ultimately becomes unconvincing with repetition. 130

88d: Tchaikovsky, Romeo & Juliet Fantasy Overture, string section bars 21-27.

One last word of caution here: the viola’s penchant for blending can have a destructive effect on the double bass if the two are scored in close proximity. This is the bane of bass solos and bass concertos, by the way: the violas may simply absorb the gentle tone of upper-register bass right into their own, leaving little to hear.



89. Cello Registers as Defined by Clefs The three different clefs used by the cello serve as natural boundaries to its three essential registers. The cello has three main registers, which correspond quite well to both vocal ranges and their respective clef signs: bass, tenor, and soprano (actually treble clef). A wise orchestrator recognises that these clefs do more than just setting a comfortable range within which pitches may be written and read. Rather, they convey a certain sense of location, from which a specific type of sound, not just pitch, may be executed.

Finally, there is the soprano range in treble clef. Just a quick word of warning here - the treble clef in older scores from the mid-Romantic and before show soprano clef as transposing down an octave, so watch out if you’re reading a very old engraving. With treble clef, notes from C in the staff and up are a general benchmark for justifying its use. To play these notes, a cellist must either be very high on the A string, a tight, but sweet tone with the right application of vibrato and bowing; or playing natural and artificial harmonics, a more glassy, distant tone. In both cases, the voice of the cello ascends to a new level of range unlike that of either the bass or tenor. So next time you’re scoring cello lines, consider the clefs not just as pitch markers, but more so as guides to different registers - areas of the cello with their own unique sound and possibilities.

Let’s start with the bass clef. In essence, the range of the notes following the bass clef in the example below are those of a bass-baritone: from C below the staff to E above it. Though the cello is of course stronger and more secure throughout all the notes of this range than the average baritone singer, there are still many similarities: an ability to force the tone in ascending phrases, as well as a complex timbre created by rich vibrato on lower notes. There’s also a sense of solidity that parallels a lower vocal range. In the cello, this is because the notes are all being played in lower positions, no note needing to be played any higher than a 5th above any open string. Consequently, the strings can be at their greatest possible length and resonance for any given note of a phrase. Now jump up to tenor clef. The range here is somewhat smaller. Adler mentions this clef as being useful essentially for reducing ledger lines - but that is a mistake. The tenor range is actually a unique register that has its own logical range or tessitura. It’s not merely notes played higher. In the example below, I show the lowest note of this range as being the bottom D line of the tenor clef. This is not because it’s simply the lowest note of the staff - actually, it represents both the pitch of the open D string, and the first note of fourth position on the G string. One has to assume in tenor clef that either notes will be played only on the top two strings, or that notes will be played in higher finger positions on any string that fits a certain arc of phrasing and bowing across three strings. Either way, the sound will have a more intense character, very much like a tenor voice, due to a smaller average string length and greater tension. If the part one is composing uses all the notes of this register, occasionally going up to the high B and beyond, then this clef should be used throughout the passage - not just stuck in here and there when the ledger lines get too high.

Fig. 89b: Mahler, Symphony no. 4, Movement 1, cello part 7 bars before to 13 bars after Fig. 15. Note how the scoring brilliantly utilises all three clefs - not to reduce ledger lines, but setting each phrase in its ideal register.

Fig. 89a: The three registers of the cello as defined by clef: bass, tenor, and soprano.



90. Cello Extended Fingering Range Sul tasto has less limits on cello than it does on viola and violin, and may also be used quite effectively on its two lower strings in combination with tremolo. Tip 78 addresses the reasonable upper limit on sul tasto, pointing out problems of fingering too close to the bow, and the impossibility of a true sul tasto on the highest string due to the upper lobe of the violin body getting in the way. Regarding the cello, I’d like to point out a few differences, especially in how well sul tasto is suited to the cello’s design.

One texture that every orchestrator should add to their bag of tricks is the use of sul tasto bowing in combination with bowed tremolo on the C and G strings. The sound is hard to describe - a very unusual, edgy yet floating quality, unlike any other bowed tremolo on any other instrument. A good example of this is shown in the excerpt below from Debussy’s La mer, about 3 minutes and 20 seconds into the third movement, “Dialogue du vent et de la mer.” Score-read this to the music, and look how superbly the texture has been laid out on this page. The contrabassoon doubles the basses, while the cellos play a diminished 5th higher, magnifying the complex overtones of the contra. The low end stands out easily without further need of support, simply due to excellent timbral proportions.

The cello’s action is significantly higher. This allows two things - the first, a more acute curve to the bridge and fingerboard. The practical effect for this is that the bow may play over the fingerboard with the fingers in higher positions - so the composer may indicate a sul G tastiera, for instance, with less risk of accidental double-stopping (though 5th position is a safe upper limit).

Fig. 90b: Debussy, La mer, Movement 3, 2 bars before to 6 bars after Fig. 52.

The second consequence is that with a higher action, the bow doesn’t crash into the upper lobe of the cello body when playing sul tasto on the high A string. Put together with the more pronounced curvature of the bridge, the cello’s effective range of sul tasto becomes much greater than the violin or viola, easily by an octave or two - or even three, if sul tasto is combined with the plentiful amount of possible harmonics.

Fig. 90a: Action height differences of cello vs. violin (from Orchestration 101: The String Section).



91. Cello Unison with Double Bass Cellos need not always play octaves with the basses. A very powerful sound can be achieved by doubling the instruments in unison. In most classical scores, double basses in cellos get a single line, and are expected to play that line as written - which means that the basses will be playing an octave below the cellos most of the time, unless the composer writes “senza bassi” in the score to indicate that the cellos should play alone. This perpetual octave fills in a lot of harmonic space, especially as the cellos essentially become the 2nd partial to the bass’s fundamental note. This means that the 5th and octave above the cellos will be felt by the ear, even if not exactly heard.

In the sample below, from my legend for orchestra “Battle of the Mountains,” the cellos and basses are playing a unison fp crescendo on A. Here they are doubled by rolling timpani, tuba, and bassoons. This unison could have been stretched out across an octave by all the instruments, but by joining them together, the central brass chord is brightened in tone and pushed more strongly in crescendo - especially with regard to the sudden down-sweeping gesture at the end. The result is a splashy beginning that rips at the listener and knocks them off-guard rather than sounding too profound.

However, in general I only score bass+cello octave about 30% of the time or less. About 40% of the time, the parts are independent, and the rest of the time the basses are either absent, or playing in unison with the cellos. A double bass/cello unison has a decidedly different tone the standard octave approach. In a sense, the basses are really adding to the cello tone, rather than the other way around, because the brighter sound on shorter strings will dominate (unless the bass section is truly enormous). This is also a good way to “keep the basses up,” as is so often recommended in orchestration manuals. There are many ways to double - not just with both sections playing exactly the same notes. The basses could play sul ponticello, or tremolo, or even pizzicato, while the cellos play with regular bowing. In this case, I feel that it’s better to have the basses contribute the specialised technique, as their greater size will give those effects a richer sound (especially pizzicato). But a firm, loud low note played in unison has a markedly different quality that an octave, because the single tone is stronger and more complex, while the overtones are more open. You’ll feel the second partial more than the third and fourth, and actually higher partials may stand out more depending on the resonance of the hall and the pitch of the note. Fig. 91b: Goss, Battle of the Mountains, bass instruments excerpted from tutti bars 3-5.

Fig. 91a: Brahms, Symphony no. 1, Movement 2, cello and double bass parts bars 55-60.



92. Cello Triple Stops The cello’s construction makes triple stops a far simpler proposition than on violin and viola. Most orchestration texts contain a blanket warning about triple- and quadruple-stops for all string instruments: because of the curvature of the bridge, these chordal gestures will have to be broken. The bow cannot simultaneously play all three or four notes at once, so there has to be a slight rolling of the notes. This may be a full arpeggiando, with each successive note playing slightly after the one before it, or the first or last note slightly isolated. There can even be a kind of rocking effect with triple-stops, with a double stop being alternated on either side of the middle note. In fact, the impression on the careful listener may very well be that these multiple stops are essentially just double stops with a bit of extra ornamentation from adjacent strings. All these variations of approach are usually dependent on the style of the composition, its exact notation, and the taste and judgement of the performer.

Another problem is dynamic variety. In order to achieve this effect, the bow is required to apply more pressure to the strings. This means that the lowest possible dynamic is probably mf, perhaps mp. The middle string may be somewhat more pronounced than the outer strings, because it’s receiving the most pressure. There’s probably a time limit involved here as well, with these notes lasting a bit shorter than the average extended note, due to a more intense bow-stroke. Though I’ve heard several cellists play this way while warming up, I’ve rarely heard them perform full, unbroken triple-stops as a matter of course. Some cellists may never even have tried this, especially semipro players. It’s just one of those odd bits of information that I’ve picked up while working with professional cellists, so use it at your own risk.

Fig. 92: The exact ways a triple-stop is likely to be played.

Here’s what the orchestration books don’t tell you: the cello doesn’t always need to arpeggiate a triple stop. They can easily play all three notes at once without any break or roll, though they rarely do it because it’s rarely scored that way. The reason for this is that strings are so very long proportional to the curvature of the bridge. If the player bows in a somewhat higher position, approaching sul tasto though not quite as high as the fingerboard, then a little added pressure on the bow will make all three notes sound simultaneously. This is particularly effective with the lower, marginally looser strings. When this approach is added to the cellist’s uniquely expanded fingering technique using the thumb as a backstop, then quite a few three-part chords are possible and a bit easier to negotiate than on violin and especially viola. There are a few caveats to using this technique. Triple-stops in very high positions are impractical as non-arpeggiando, because as the fingers approach the point at which the strings are bowed, certain variations in distance caused by fingering may prove problematic. INDEX


93. Cello Harmonics Because of lower-pitched, longer strings and a different fingering scheme, the cello has a fuller range of usable natural and artificial harmonics. One principle that I find essential for teaching orchestration is that of rising pitch creating narrower and narrower tone, and greater tension for the playing technique of strings, winds, and brass. A piano-based composer is often unaware of this simple fact, and has a tendency to score high notes as if they were of no great difficulty to play. Yet it’s not just tension, but precision that’s at stake up in the musical stratosphere. For a string player especially, the notes may be the tiniest distance apart, but each may represent a devastating difference to the shape of a line or texture. There’s a corollary to this principle: the lower one goes in pitch, the more relaxed the technique. In the case of the cello’s generously proportioned strings, harmonic nodes are easier to find and to centre accurately. Natural harmonics have a somewhat more generous tone on the cello than on violin or viola, clearer and silkier than the sometimes squeaky alternative. The 5th-partial node is extremely playable. A good solo cellist may even be able to use the 6th-and in rare cases the 7th-partial harmonic, which might prove impossible for higher string soloists. Though most orchestration books don’t recommend the 6th or 7th partial in a tutti part, it’s sometimes scored by contemporary composers - probably unnecessarily. Such notes are far more securely expressed as artificial harmonics. But it’s illustrative that they’re playable.

Consider the general advice for strings that artificial harmonics are really most usable up to about a perfect 5th or so above the pitch of each open string. For violin, this would give a high note of B7, the next-to-highest note on a piano. A half-step higher to C8 is probably no problem, but to climb higher than this puts a progressively greater strain on the player’s ear and sense of pitch. What’s more, the bowing and setup of each note may become ever more precarious. Such limitations are less onerous for cellists, for two reasons. First, because they’re starting from a lower register, the range of functional harmonics is greater. In other words, they have more potential space to fill in than a viola or especially a violin. Second, consider the position of a cellist playing a harmonic up a fifth from the pitch of any open string. At this point on the fingerboard, there’s still an open viola-string’s length of pitch remaining between the thumb and the bridge. This means that the cellist can easily play an octave and more above the open string’s pitch. The end result is that even though a cello is pitched an octave-and-a-fifth below the violin, its top usable note in artificial harmonics is only an octave lower, C7. A warning about this note, however. Since it’s played on the brighter A string, it may be harder for the cellist to control. Such a high range, though easier for the reasons stated above, is still an exceptional effect, and shouldn’t be tossed around as if it were of no concern.

Fig. 93b: Range of artificial harmonics in violin, viola, and cello.

In the example below from my Sonata for Alto Flute, Harp, Cello, and Marimba, the cellist plays the main theme in artificial harmonics. The arc of the melody covers a mere 4 pitches over the span of a perfect 5th. The first bar-and-a-half is positioned over E3 and F#3 on the D string (sounding 2 octaves higher), essentially first and second position. When the cellist slides up to A3, the following D is played in fourth position on the G string, followed by E in 5th position. The entire passage ends with F# in 6th position, an entirely secure and clear sound.

Fig. 93a: Harmonic positions for the cello G string on the 5th, 6th, and 7th partials, showing preferable touch-four positions for the last two harmonics.

Speaking of which, the cello has perhaps the most effective of all approaches for producing artificial harmonics. The cellist merely positions the thumb on the fundamental and touches the fourth node above that. The wider spacing of the strings makes the exact placement easier to find, and the upper usable range far greater. INDEX

Fig. 93c: Goss, Sonata for Alto Flute, Harp, Cello, and Marimba, Movement 1, cello part bars 25-32.


94. Cello Wolf Tones The principle of wolf tones is key to understanding the resonance characteristics of the cello (and the double bass). The body of every string instrument represents a resonant cavity in which tones may be naturally amplified and moderated. The shape and construction of these bodies has a huge effect on the quality of tone produced - compare the difference between a guitar, a cello, and a piano on the same note. That brings up a point orchestration manuals don’t seem to mention: the body itself has its own resonant pitch, just like the pitch of the string. String body resonance characteristics are more similar to that of percussion instruments than the strings themselves, and may respond at inharmonic frequencies just like a cymbal or a woodblock. But one pitch dominates the response characteristics: the fundamental tone. In a sense, string bodies are tuned to certain frequencies determined by their volume and density of materials. When the pitch of a vibrating string matches the resonance of the body, a wolf tone is created. The effect combines a sudden reinforcement of the pitch played, along with an overtone whose off-tuning creates a kind of warbling or trembling stutter. It sounds rather like a slightly skipping bow playing an artificial harmonic. Because of the shallowness of violin bodies, wolf tones are rarely an issue. Violas occasionally develop wolf tones, though not enough to be a huge concern as they can most often be corrected through sound post adjustment. The phenomenon is most evident in cellos and double basses, where it happens often enough to present a constant challenge to instrument builders and players. On most double basses, the wolf tone appears around the concert pitch of G-G 1. For cellos, wolf tones occur between Essentially, E-F 3. these are the pitches to which each body is Fig. 94: Common wolf tones for cello on left and double bass on right. tuned.


an attenuation device that essentially tunes the frequency right out of the resonant spectrum, exactly like turning the dial on a radio. The most common strategy is to add a metal clamp with a rubber core to the offending string or strings called a “wolf tone eliminator.” Another solution in the case of the basses is to simply add another string - the open fifth string of low C usually absorbs the frequency a 5th or augmented 5th above it. Instrument builder Kevin Krentz has taken the principle even further by inventing a small deadening device that clamps to the underside of the belly (the top of the body, facing the strings) by means of a magnet which may be easily moved around by the player. This is a brilliant strategy, because it uses the same principle of isolating nodes in percussion instruments. The device may also be repositioned to give lower notes more power and control. So what does any of this have to do with orchestration, other than being a tasty instrumentation nugget? Well, some composers have coaxed cellists to remove their wolf tone eliminators, and composed pieces that exploit the eerie sound in its own right. Éliane Radigue’s Naldjorlak I is probably the best known. This technique might be problematic in tutti orchestral scoring, as every cello has a different wolf tone and some cellos have little or none (the instrument builders having made some internal adjustments to eliminate them). Yet the potential for spooky mass howling remains. What I find instructive about wolf tones is that not only do they reveal how sound works for these instruments, but they also underline an important fact: all resonant chambers to one degree or another are tuned to specific frequencies, and therefore possess some potential for acoustical phenomena akin to a wolf tone. I once heard a violist play an open C in the very resonant drawing-room of a Victorian mansion, and felt my ears flex as the pitch hit one of the nodes of the room’s frequency. In this case, four chambers were resonating in sympathy: the viola body, the room, and my two ears. Architects have to deal with some of these principles of resonance when designing theatres and concert halls. The open space between the audience, the back wall, the ceiling, and the stage forms a type of instrument body, capturing and mediating the resonance of the performance. The term “reverb” that sound engineer toss around is short for the word “reverberation,” which in an acoustic space is more than simply the reflection of sound waves from the walls. It also includes the resonant potential of the chamber, which may encourage a whole spectrum of frequencies rather than just a single pitch - like those of the human voice or the the string section. Think about that the next time you add “large hall, medium saturation” to your mix.

As many instrument technicians know, the absence of a wolf tone may actually prove more disturbing than its presence. A wolf-less instrument may symptomatic of dull resonance brought on by poor craftsmanship and lower-quality materials. But a very prominent wolf tone may also make a cello or bass useless if not addressed. Sometimes, it can be corrected simply by adjusting the sound post. If not, then the solution is to add INDEX


95. Double Bass Limitations of Range The double bass has a phenomenal range due to the length of its strings, but there are some limitations. The strongest register, of course, is the first octave and a 5th - the instrument was essentially built specifically to access those notes. The next octave is not so strong the effort involved in playing higher notes in tune, plus the obvious superiority of cellos and violas, makes that register a rare one for basses, though not unheard-of. However, it’s actually a quite effective, ethereal range for a soloist. The notes from written middle C and up reveal the character of the double bass very strongly as a member of the viol family. Therefore, any notes played by a soloist must be very carefully accompanied, especially by the violas, whose tone will easily swallow the bass’s whether they’re playing solo or as a section. As a section, the basses can range up to G above written middle C safely, if the rest of the strings are absent or are in a higher register - but use caution, and ensure that this makes sense timbrally. Also, approach this register by step rather than leap for the best results. The double bass’s range can be pushed even higher by harmonics - not artificial harmonics, which the string length makes mostly impracticable - but by natural harmonics, very abundant and easy to access.

Fig. 95: Goss, Double Bass Concerto, solo part bars 1-19.

Now, even though these higher registers are admittedly weak by comparison to the other, more forceful members of the string section, there’s no doubting that the resonant cavity of the bass’s body lends a certain unique projection and presence to such tones. The bass can be very effective as a solo instrument, and more concertos should be written for it. As for bass solo or basses soli within a general orchestral piece, sparing use is the key to enchantment, rather than aggravation for the listener. In the following excerpt from the solo part of my double bass concerto, I cover the full possible range of the bass, ascending from bottom open E all the way up to B above the treble staff. Note how the approach maximises the lyrical potential of each register: widely-spaced intervals in the bass staff; more circular lyricism in tenor clef; and slow, deliberately placed harmonics at the top. It’s an approach that allows for a very dramatic arc, one that can be developed and magnified. INDEX


96. Double Bass Bowing and Articulation The orchestrator needs to understand how difficult it is to make the double bass speak well, and to what lengths players go to get the ideal sound. There are a number of different considerations, but I’ll touch on the three most important here. The first is what choice of bow. The most common bow that players use is the German bow, which is shorter and capable of a powerful attack. It gives the player the kind of sound that’s perfect for big, aggressive Romantic playing. The bow can hit the strings more securely in accents, staccato, and saltato. But there’s also a price - the bow’s limited span means that it’s hard to play loudly on long notes, or to sustain those notes. What’s more, it’s not ideal for expressive legato playing (though some soloists like Garry Carr seem to manage with few problems). Some bassists therefore favour the French bow, which is longer and lighter. This bow gives the player a more natural, lyrical feel, which you can observe in quite a few videos uploaded to YouTube of bass concertos, particularly the Bottesini concertos. Then again, the French bow doesn’t have the sheer power of the German bow. The next consideration is rosin. There are several different types of rosin, each with a different level of hardness or stickiness. A player may have to choose their rosin carefully, depending on the moisture and temperature of the hall (and perhaps even depending on the nature of the work to be played). In general, double bass rosin is stickier than that of other strings, because the bow really has to grip what’s essentially a low-tension cable, and get some kind of sound out of it. The line scored by a composer may be dependent on whether the bassist can get the string to speak, and there are certain passages in the repertoire that represent real challenges in this regard.

Fig. 96: Goss, Double Bass Concerto, solo part bars 167-196.

The last major consideration is the composition of the strings. There is a reason why bass parts sound so tubby on old 1950’s recordings, and so smooth on 1980’s recordings. The reason is that players have changed from gut to steel. Gut strings have a twangier, “thumpier” sound, and are set higher above the fingerboard. With steel, however, the strings may be set much closer to the fingerboard, enabling the player to have a more natural sound over a much greater range. In the sample to the right from my bass concerto, the solo part soars over a floating, pulsing accompaniment from the string section. There’s no way of making this sound generous and silky with gut strings - I’m relying on that sound for the best effect. INDEX


97. Double Bass Acoustical Compromises The double bass body is an acoustic compromise, smaller than optimum for its range. This also affects the tone. The Wikipedia double bass article as of 2014 contains a charming bit of misinformation: “Despite the size of the instrument, it is not as loud as many other instruments due to its low range.” Actually, because of the (smaller than relative) size of the instrument, it is not as loud as many other instruments. Attempts to match the size of a stringed bass to a mathematically accurate body size are legendary: huge, bull-like contrabass viols, some of which required two players, or had so many open strings so that a player rarely had to use their left hand. Today’s double bass instrument design is similar to the viola’s - scaled far down in size, with a bit of an unnatural ceiling on the resonance of lower tones. The situation is made even more complex by the very many 3/4-size instruments used by professional players of shorter stature. It’s difficult to reach first position (next to the nut) and bow sul ponticello on a full-sized instrument if you’re under 5’8”. What does all this mean? As I mention in Tip 100, rock-bottom notes are not as effective as you might think. We’re accustomed by our ear into thinking that they’re awesome, but after a while, an experienced orchestrator will start to perceive the limitations of tone, and recognise the problem. We have to face the fact that instrument builders for the last two and a half centuries have been adapting the resonance of the double bass to make the string section sound good - and that’s affected the development of the instrument more than concern for its individual solo sound. This is the root of the dictum to keep the basses up, and to not overuse them over the course of a longer orchestration.

Fig. 97: Goss, Double Bass Concerto, solo part bars 66-83.

At the start of the excerpt below from my double bass concerto, the bass is playing in the register which is optimum for its body size. This is a great place for a soloist essentially, the first octave or so of the cello’s range, but speaking with less grind and darkness than the cello’s C-string. The music progresses to the third octave of the bass’s range, where such fluency and speed are more reasonable technically and aurally. INDEX


98. Double Bass Carrying the Bass Line Alone Double basses can carry the bass part alone, but the tone of their part will be different from cellos alone, or doubling with cellos. One of the great boons of orchestration since Beethoven is the liberation of the double basses from doubling the cellos exclusively. Basses can easily hold down the bottom end while the cellos play a featured line, rhythmic patterns, accompaniment figures, or harmonic support. The orchestrator must be aware, however, that the timbre of double basses as the unaccompanied bass voice is quite different from that of the usual symphonic positioning of basses playing octave unison with cellos. The reason for this: the double bass is not a member of the violin family. The mathematical proportions of the violin/viola/cello shapes would not work at that size - the wrong overtones of the strings’ resonance would be emphasised (or rather, different overtones would be emphasised - look into experiments in building a true “bass violin” mentioned in the Bibliography). Therefore, as the sole remaining member of the viol family, the bass has a different sound. It’s darker, more brooding, and yet capable of surprising transparency and fluidity as a solo or section soli. That is the family characteristic of the viols - why music written for them celebrates that essence, and why instrument makers broke away from that sound to create the stronger, more voluptuously-toned violin family. In the excerpt to the right from my harp concerto, the double basses play a passage soli under tremolo strings and three-part harmony of horn, bassoon, and bass clarinet, all supporting the solo harp coming out of its cadenza. The basses are doubled by the second bassoon, just to help solidify the tone slightly. The rising line provides contrapuntal interest to the passage, and increases the sense of growing expectation. The understated tone of the basses helps to not overwhelm the delicacy of harp line.

Fig. 98: Goss, Harp Concerto, Movement 1, bars 245-247.



99. Double Bass Resonance and “The Vivaldi Problem” An overly-resonant low note on double bass can reinforce the upper partials of a major harmonic, with good and bad results. This is especially true if the bass is playing an open string a little too loudly. What will happen most often is that the 5th partial (a major third+2 octaves above) will sound out strongly. If the composer has written the major third in, then this can actually be an interesting effect. If not, then you have the “Vivaldi Problem” (my term). I used to listen to an old bargain-quality cassette of Vivaldi on headphones about 30 years ago. In a slow minor movement, there was a moment when the double bassist sounded a bit too loud, while the ensemble was coming to the end of a cadence on a long minor chord. The result was that the minor third was completely wiped out by the major third partial from the bass overtones. In the sample below, the note marked red may sound as a natural, not a flat with this phenomenon. Nevertheless, bassists play open strings far more than other string players, especially in the case of pizz and harmonics. The Vivaldi Problem usually doesn’t occur with a whole section of basses playing - in fact, most bassists probably haven’t even noticed the phenomenon (which is probably why the bassist in the recording fell into the trap). Six or seven basses on a single note, even an open string, tend to spread the tone through phasing, which tunes out the ringing of the subtler harmonics while underlining the more obvious ones, especially the second harmonic an octave above the played pitch. A vigorously played note by a whole bass section may also create a kind of a “buzz tone” similar to that of the contrabassoon, as noted in the section of this book on winds, but nowhere near as pungent. This effect won’t have the same properties as the Vivaldi Problem because the harmonics being excited are up around the 6th and 7th partials, not the 5th.

Fig. 99: The Vivaldi Problem.



100. Double Bass Fifth String and C-Extension Neither the C-extension nor the low-C fifth string are needed most of the time, and are even uncharacteristic to the double-bass in a way.

The excerpt below, from movement one of my harp concerto, shows my approach to double bass writing. There are a few rock-bottom notes, but the centre of gravity is an octave higher for the most part. At bar 153, I hit the open E’s hard. Notice the descending passage from K - at the end of bar 161, I jump up a 7th from low E to D - this is a typical compromise, to keep the illusion of a descending line going. At bar 152, the bass ascends to written F 4. As mentioned in Tip 92, this is quite an effective range for bass, and adds tension and impetus when scored correctly.


It’s a common tendency for beginning orchestrators to fall in love with the basementscraping abilities of the double bass, and score much of their early efforts with that instrument playing almost exclusively in its lowest octave. Along with this, it’s also typical for such parts to make free use of the double bass C extension, a little widget that attaches to the base of the lowest E-string, giving the bass a range down to the lowest C on the piano. Or the composer may simply assume that all their players are outfitted with 5-string basses bearing a low C-string, perhaps even tuned to B0. But here’s the truth - a well-written bass part is higher than your ear thinks. Because of the overtones favoured by the shape of the bass’s frame, a note can feel lower. There’s also a generous amount of presence across the first two octaves of the bass, and the second octave is essentially clearer in pitch. “Keep the basses up!” say most orchestration manuals, and it’s a very good rule of thumb to use until you’ve fully developed your own individual orchestral sound (of course, pizzicato notes are better the lower they get - don’t hold back if it fits the character of your arrangement). The orchestrator has to really know - what are the basses doing? Holding down the bottom end solo, or in unison or octaves with the cellos? What kind of support does the rest of the music require? How loud or soft is the music, and how will the texture be affected therefore by a higher or lower pitch? Do you even need to add the basses at all? Your piece may be all the lighter and more vigorous for leaving the basses out some or even much of the time. And do your players even have C extensions or 5-string basses? In many orchestras, some bassists will, and some won’t - meaning that low D or C may either end up sounding as an octave (a bit thick) or with only half the projection.

Fig. 100: Goss, Harp Concerto, Movement 1, bars 146-164.

I almost never feel limited by the standard lowest pitch of open E. In fact, I rarely score below G at the bottom of the staff. Not by design, just because that’s where my signature sound needs the bass to be. I sometimes find it surprising when I’m scoring a low F# or F - then again, I’ll occasionally use the resonance of an open E string for a particular effect. So, in the final analysis, the C extension is there because of grand, huge scoring by orchestrators taking a maximalist approach. You should use it with caution, and indicate a higher note in brackets as an alternate for bassists without it. INDEX




101. Shaping a Phrase

108. Blank Staves and System Reduction

102. Communicating a Theme

109. Layout Traps

103. Instrumental Colour Dictating Thematic Development

110. Rehearsal Mark Placement

104. Deriving Texture from Instrument-Driven Development

111. Proofing by Instrumental Section

105. Inflection 106. Technique and Execution


107. Niente

112. Assigning Cues 113. Ideal Cue Material


101. Shaping a Phrase

play. Not just the speed - also managing a softer dynamic on the lowest notes. I recommend scorereading this whole movement, and really looking at how the phrasing fits all the instruments, and how that phrasing is supported by the orchestral texture.

The ability to shape a phrase orchestrally should be one of the primary concerns of a developing orchestrator, not just thinking vertically. Something I’ve observed in many early orchestrational efforts is the concept that orchestration is mostly about combinations of sound and colour. Developing orchestrators tend to think about the big picture a lot, and so many times their early sketches are like big, empty landscapes with only a tiny thread of actual function trickling through. Conversely, I’ll see a score which is almost all about function, with little development of texture - but that function is often arbitrary: ideas that don’t necessarily fit the instruments very well, and don’t lead them in different directions. As I’ve been working on my macProVideo Orchestration Training Series scripts, outlining everything the instruments can do, it’s bringing home to me just how strong an orchestra can be. What I really want to say to orchestrators is: “Know your instruments for what they can do horizontally, how they can really express something over the space of time. What are an instrument’s sweet spots, and how may they be approached for the maximum impact? How does its range of expression open the possibilities for you as a composer - not just an arranger? Have you composed any chamber music that allows you to explore the instruments more individually, more intimately?” It all comes down to phrasing. “A phrase is a musical thought or sentence,” says a child’s piano course book - but that has such deep implications. Once I saw a comic impersonator’s impression of David Duchovny doing classic quotes from plays and films - all in his very controlled monotone. And that’s what I feel is happening in some scores, even some professional ones. The wrong actor is being asked to say the wrong sentence - and sometimes that sentence has iffy grammar, an awkward choice of words, and unclear thoughts. So set aside the grand ideas for sweeping vistas of sound, and think from the inside for a change. Take the time to compose a phrase with a lot of impact, and build that phrase over the shape of a specific instrument. Make the inflections and expressive arcs of that phrase say something about the way the instrument is played, and give the player a chance to inject their spirit into the proceedings. Ravel was a consummate master of phrasing - his ideas work so well, and make so much sense on the instruments, that they’re often key audition excerpts, as they reveal the artistry of the player immediately. In the excerpt to the right from the oboe/cor anglais part of the Prelude from Le Tombeau de Couperin, the piano line is transcribed to oboe nearly verbatim. It fits the instrument perfectly, though it’s incredibly hard to INDEX

Fig. 101: Ravel, Le Tombeau de Couperin, Prelude, oboe/cor anglais part bars 1-22.


102. Communicating a Theme A great orchestral theme should use certain precepts of communication for maximum emotional impact. The previous topic addresses the importance of shaping a phrase orchestrally to fit the appropriate instrument. This tip takes that further - not merely shaping a phrase or musical sentence, but an entire theme that’s more like a paragraph - composed of several distinct phrases. I highly recommend a specific study of thematic exposition to complement your daily score-reading (you’re score-reading every day, right?). Select works that are paragons of melodicism - grand opera, romantic symphonies, piano concertos, etc. Listen to the first entrance of the main theme for an act, section, or movement. How does it fit its instrumentation? What kind of scope for development does it represent? How does it push at the possibilities of the orchestration? Now break it down. What is the overall harmonic structure, and how does that effect the progression of the theme? What methods are used to push the emotional contours, and what is the overall melodic arc? How does the composer get there? You see here that a great orchestral composer can’t just be well-versed in orchestration, harmony, and counterpoint - putting those things together must infer a degree of calculation mixed with inspiration. Let’s return to the metaphor of melody with grammar. In some sense, a paragraph is a kind of argument. It starts with a proposition and ends with a conclusion. That is the way our ape-like brains work - in some way, all communication is an extension of our curiosity. We want our interest to be captured, then enlightened, and then satisfied. Usually, this is a process so natural to us that we barely if ever notice that it’s essentially creative - we invent what to say next all the time, from the obvious to the subtle, from the plain truth to a bald-faced lie. Occasionally, we allow someone to go on and on about something, because they’ve got something very involved to say, and/or they are a great storyteller. Eventually people started writing stuff down, and we ended up being a literate culture, with rules about verbal and textual construction. That is a direct parallel to being a composer. We have our own specific genre of noisemaking, but it’s still essentially communication. The audience that we are speaking to is motivated by all the same things as an avid reader. But more than just having the same basic expectations, the form in which those expectations are provoked and fulfilled is universal, I feel. INDEX

So first shape your phrases to the instruments. Forge those initial phrases into a proposition, a suggestion, an insinuation. Then take it further - inform that phrase with an emotional arc. Give it someplace to go, whether it’s conflict, or anticipation, or a reversal of expectations. Don’t screw around - if you’ve got our attention, then prove you deserve it by holding onto it. Then resolve that arc, or don’t - the beauty of communication and storytelling is that it’s as flexible and various as the life that inspires retelling. You can bring things to a crashing finish, or a dignified conclusion, or a momentary pause, or a bridge to another idea. Now forget about the meaning of what I just wrote, and read that last paragraph again, this time looking at its shape. Observe how the idea is introduced, developed, and concluded. That’s what I’m talking about right there. That is a self-contained theme within the structure of a paragraph - just as this paragraph itself serves as a coda - an afterthought which drives the point home with the same determination as the last few pages of a finale. The Russians were masters of this kind of thematic exposition, especially Tchaikovsky. In the excerpt below from the 1st violin part of his first piano concerto, the strings make the first complete thematic statement, the type of extended, sweeping melody that was germinal for future composers like Scriabin, Rachmaninov, and Prokofiev. Score-read this movement, and other late Romantic-era works, and analyse their structure, asking the questions above. In this example, note how the composer matches the point of stress in each phrase to the peak of the melodic arc. That is an element of Tchaikovsky’s style that was highly criticised as being too obvious, though admittedly it also contributed to his eventual public success. Also, watch how he recycles a small gesture over the course of the long passage. The interest derives from the placement of that phrase in different harmonic and thematic context actually descending bit by bit at first, only to hook back at the end of the first half of the exposition. The second half is a more deliberate development, and soars to predictable heights before stepping down dramatically. Essentially it’s two paragraphs describing the same idea.

Fig. 102: Tchaikovsky, Piano Concerto no. 1, Movement 1, 1st violin part 1-29.


103. Instrumental Colour Dictating Thematic Development The qualities of instrumental colour should dictate the development of thematic material in a orchestral score. This, I feel, is one of the hardest things for a beginning orchestrator to grasp. Very often I’m seeing beginning scores where thematic development is very pianistic, and of course that’s natural as most composers nowadays are pianists or have learned about form in the context of the piano sonata. Well and good. Here’s the problem - name one piano sonata in the standard recitalist’s repertoire that has been successfully adapted to become standard symphonic repertoire. And of course, there aren’t any. The reason why is not just because of scope or placement of harmonic elements.

In the excerpt below from the first movement of my harp concerto, the harp is echoing the third theme, which was just introduced by the horns. This leads back to a short development section in which the first theme works its way through several different settings, to a rising harmonic accompaniment, starting with the first violins at bar 70. This is echoed by the bass trombone at mf in its most secure register, with the phrase completed by the first clarinet in its pungent third octave. Note how at this point, the strings crescendo up a bit to meet the new dynamic level, while under them the horns and bassoon start to back them up with a pad. Finally, the timpani doubled by bass clarinet make the final statement, with a little swell under the upper wind commentary as the rest of the orchestra fades. The cumulative result is that this little section of imitation explored the theme over various ranges of instruments and modalities, bringing the introduction of the third theme to a close, and bridging to a further exploration of the first theme in the solo harp, about to start on the next page. This was definitely a case of letting the instruments decide what to do next, rather than forcing an unnatural scheme onto them.

Pianistic writing assumes that the same basic timbre is being used throughout the piece. Therefore, aside from certain variations of dynamics and register, the composer must engage us intellectually to hold our interest. That great strength of solo piano composition turns into a great weakness in orchestral scoring. It all goes back to my general theme: a well-written orchestral phrase must fit the instrument like a glove, and reveal the potential within it. Otherwise, your musician is just playing an arbitrary line of music that might work on any instrument, but not work very well. You cannot count on a pianistic phrase being successful on a different instrument - sometimes it works, like with Bach or Ravel - but most often not. In the previous tip, I wrote about thematic exposition having the form of a paragraph, or short narrative. Now I want you to think of orchestral thematic development as a conversation, in which those who pick up the subject make the most sense of it within their own frame of reference and strength of expression, rather than just blockheadedly repeating whatever they’re told. That’s the essence of function. I define the separate elements of orchestration as texture, balance, and function - function being the linear element, that is, what is actually happening. In an orchestral setting, musical function has to be tied to the tonal and expressive possibilities that are unique to its performers; but more than that, function must be driven by the instruments. The development of thematic material must be opened up and explored, even dictated by the interactions and contrasts. So stop telling the instruments what to do - and start allowing them to tell you what they need to do. INDEX

Fig. 103: Goss, Harp Concerto, Movement 1, bars 66-79 (cont. below).


Fig. 103: (cont.) Goss, Harp Concerto, Movement 1, bars 66-79.



104. Deriving Texture from Instrument-Driven Development Thematic development driven by the character of the instruments should determine the nature of the accompanying orchestral texture. I’ve explored the role of instrumental colour in determining the shape of phrasing and the development of themes, empowered by obeying the basic rules of linguistic communication. Now, let’s examine the full implications of this approach - these elements are what decide, more than any other factor, the progression of orchestral texture.

The following 2-page excerpt from my harp concerto is a huge, sweeping texture composed of the following elements:

It’s rather like painting. The theme is like a painting’s subject, and the orchestral texture is like the landscape. A flaw that I see in many beginning orchestral efforts is that they’re all landscape, no subject. Of course, there are great landscape painters, and there’s a parallel here with film composers, but in both cases the strongest efforts of either always have at least the germ of a subject or theme - a part that shines very brightly in the centre of the image, that guides the eye or the ear.

• arcing phrases of winds playing in stacks of 4ths

Another problem I’m seeing is the imposition of a texture onto a theme that may not fit. The orchestrator has a terrific textural idea, but it wasn’t arrived at by suggestion of theme - rather by imitation or extension of another idea. But the effort has not been expended to find continuity through musical function, i.e. the natural outcome of thematic development. This means that the melodic content can feel pasted on. Or, in order to fit certain parameters of the accompanying texture, the melodic content ends up not really sounding natural on the instrument to which its assigned. I personally feel that the process should be organic. The shaping of orchestral themes opens the door on new horizons of texture and coloration, and the way in which these two elements interact leads to the simultaneous, organic development of both. I rarely start with a textural idea to which a theme must be added - but when I do, that theme seems to leap logically and expressively out of the landscape, determining its essence, and dictating its evolution over time.

• a descending bass line in low strings, bass clarinet, and bass trombone • widely-spaced upper string harmonies

• cymbal splashes and swooshes • swooshing timpani and snare drum underpinning the harp phrases • arcing phrases of harp punctuating the winds • a high flute pattern that connects the upper strings to the texture • and last, most important, a horn chorale right in the middle of everything This entire, intricate construction derives directly from the horns. I wrote the chorale first, as a release to the building tension of the previous section. Then I added the bass line and upper strings, with the flutes breaking up the overtones, yet helping to keep the upper strings secure. That was the boat, the sky, and the sense of being. Finally I painted the waves - percussive gestures accompanying winds and harp in overlapping pulses. So the harp actually came last of all in my conception, even though it’s in some ways the most prominent part; and the horns are what gives this section both its meaning and the foundation of its warm, engulfing colour.

Fig. 104 (below): Goss, Harp Concerto, Movement 3, bars 127-133.





105. Inflection Inflection is often key to matching a thematic phrase intuitively to an orchestral instrument or section. Once again, we have a parallel between language and music. In speech, inflection is defined by a certain shaping of vocal tone to reinforce the meaning of a sentence. The most obvious of these is a rising voice for a question mark; a little hook to the voice followed by a pause for a comma; and a settling of the voice for a period, especially at the end of a very blunt statement, like “I wish my readers would ‘like’ these tips on Facebook more often.” One can also have a pause and a stress, as in the word “like” above, denoting quoted word with an added context. If we didn’t have these cues, we’d all sound like robots - unexpressive and disinterested. And yet, often in early compositions, some thematic material appears just that way, as if spoken in a monotone, devoid of slurs, articulation, or dynamics. But that’s where the music is, at least for me. Music is primarily about expression - and that is the benchmark for professional orchestral musicians as well. They spend their lives trying to get at the heart and soul of music, and they’re not too interested in music that has none. Cautioning about expression is just the beginning, though - let’s get back to the word “inflection.” The technique of playing a series of notes changes depending on the instrument to which they’re assigned. I’m not talking purely about timbre here, but more things like register, ease of bowing or melisma, a natural break of continuity or shift in tone between certain notes, and the pungency of articulation. That is the key to the magic that many composers seek, when inspired by the examples of the great orchestrators.

Fig. 105: Debussy, Syrinx for unaccompanied flute, bars 1-10.

The example to the right from Debussy’s solo flute piece “Syrinx” is a masterwork of inflection. Score-read this work, noting how effortlessly expressive and suggestive it is, with phrasing that reveals a number of key elements of the flute’s character. There’s a certain suppleness to the middle-register, and a warm, floating radiance on the lower notes that has been emulated by every composer since, including me. The harmonic ambiguity helps to underline a certain type of hollowness to the flute’s resonance, while the articulation punctuates the phrase grouping with a type of breathy push that no other orchestral instrument can emote. After this, look through other samples of Debussy’s flute scoring in Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun and La Mer.



106. Technique and Execution

But the truth is that the winds don’t need to - the entire two-bar phrase could be eloquently stated in one breath. In fact, about 80 bars later (past figure G), the winds are quoting this theme in much more direct single breaths, and the strings are asked to echo this phrasing to keep in line.

The parameters of technique and execution must be considered in scoring a phrase to an instrument or section. Here’s one last tip about orchestral phrasing. The easiest way to say this is: “one size does not fit all.” But this goes past character, timbre, inflection, and other factors I’ve written about, right to the heart of how music is played on different instruments. It’s just one more reason to emphasise the concept of craft for the orchestrator. For instance, a long slur over several bars of many notes may be quite simple for a good wind player, but technically impossible for a string player. Or, a diving phrase that sounds terrific on strings may be a train wreck for the horns. What helps is an almost instinctive feel for the basics - how bowing works, or how tonguing starts a note for winds and brass. How long can an oboist hold a note, and how does that differ from a bass trombone or tuba? How punchy can a note get, and how does a punchy attack effect what remains of a player’s bow stroke or breathing? In the first example below from the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony, the cellos introduce the main theme, which is then echoed by the winds. Note the phrasing of the first measure. The cellos start each triplet with a separate bow, rather than just playing the whole bar with one bow stroke. This gives a clearer shape to the phrase on the one hand, and results in even, down/up bowing. The winds imitate the cellos continuity’s sake seven bars later.

Fig. 106b: ditto, bars 89-94 (brass & percussion omitted) strings playing wind phrasing.

Fig. 106a: Tchaikovsky, Symphony no. 6, Movement 2, opening phrasing echoed by winds.



107. Niente Limit the use of the “niente” marking to only those instruments which can truly play right at the smallest level of audibility. Niente is an incredibly alluring musical effect - the concept of starting a note, as it were, from nothing, and then gradually insinuating it into the listener’s consciousness little by little - or the opposite, dwindling away until the ear isn’t even sure if it can hear that same note anymore. Unfortunately for many developing orchestrators, it’s one of those markings that’s like a ten-dollar word someone picked up in a vocabulary course, and now works into every sentence possible. Composers sprinkle it into their scores with abandon, assigning it to any instrument, any passage, and then assume the musician will work it out. The outcome is that many musicians will look at the marking as a sign of naïvety, or simply ignore it and play something more practical, deciding what they think is best for you. While this may certainly save your score, it’s the exact opposite of the concept of craft. Orchestrators need to have a deeper understanding of what niente really means, what it sounds like, and what instruments can truly achieve it. Then the effect can be used with much greater accuracy and judiciousness - and perhaps we can rebuild a bit more trust with players as well. First of all, let’s define the word. “Niente” literally means “nothing.” Musically speaking, that translates as a tone which seems to have no attack or release, and very little to excite sound waves if it’s a sustained tone. Some orchestral instruments are quite discreet, capable of incredible subtlety, while others are intentionally built for projection and volume. Understanding why that is goes to the very root of the concept of tone creation, and is fundamental knowledge for orchestrators. Know this, and you’ll never misuse niente again. Let’s take the oboe to begin with. While it’s certainly not the loudest of instruments, all the same it’s incapable of a true niente attack or release. In fact, that kind of articulation is antithetical to the ideal to which oboists strive. As is typical with wind instruments, the oboist initiates the attack of the note by tonguing the front of the hard palate, right behind their upper front teeth. This kind of tiny jolt is what’s required to initiate the vibration of the double reeds. Without it, there’s very little control or precision. This is true for bassoonists as well, who work very carefully on a clear, well-defined attack that breathes life and meaning into each tone. And in fact, it’s the general goal of wind players to carefully shape their notes. This is something that’s not instinctive to the average composer who comes from a pianistic INDEX

background, where pressing a key makes a hammer strike a string, and then releasing cuts the sound off almost immediately. Instead of this, wind players strive for clear annunciation at the start of an ordinary note, followed by a sustain with an excellent quality of tone, and then finishing with a nicely rounded cutoff, so that the sound comes to a natural-sounding end. The last thing a player wants to do is to fizzle out or suddenly end - unless the music is specifically composed that way. Brass instruments have the same general aesthetic about the shapes of tones, and they have to be just as precise and clear in their attack as oboes and bassoons. Nevertheless, double-reeds and brass are capable of playing extremely softly. If you mean triple ppp for these instruments, then simply mark it as such, and you will get very delicate, distant tones. But they won’t be niente by any means, because these instruments simply don’t work that way. Strings are a different story, though. The action of the bow across the strings can be quite subtle, and create a tone that barely vibrates in and out of audibility. There are, of course, practical hazards to this type of playing, as the bow risks unintentionally exciting a harmonic node increases as the pressure decreases. But a good player should manage this for the most part. It’s worth pointing out here that mutes make no difference here - string players can dwindle down into invisibility with or without them. This is true for nearly all orchestral instruments that use mutes: they’re really more for tonal adjustment than volume control. The instrument that’s truly the master of niente is the clarinet. Any subtle effect of micro-volume can be achieved by an accomplished player in the lower register, including the very ethereal subtones, notes which barely seem there and yet insinuate themselves psychologically into a very fine texture. The reasons for this flexibility are once again built right into the instrument itself. As the upper section of the clarinet mouthpiece, called the beak, is a rigid surface, airflow can excite a barely audible tone, seeming for all intents and purposes without an attack. This can fade in and out with ease, allowing the composer to make use of the effect in many ways. There’s a natural upper limit to niente on the clarinet. As the pitch rises above the chalumeau register, greater and greater force is required to manipulate overtones with the embouchure, hence a greater need for clear, incisive tonguing by the player. There’s a similar situation with flute playing. In the first octave, the flute is playing the fundamental of its scale. Since its tone production is one of the simplest of all instruments, the splitting of an air passage over an opening in a chamber, the lower tones can be easily faded in and out with breath control or even just slightly rotating the instrument. And yet as the notes climb higher, more precision and force may be required to correctly reach a specific pitch. All manner of soft, subtle effects may be available with overtones, but they probably won’t be a true niente. One last thing is worth discussing: the time element. For any orchestral player, a quick niente attack or release is pretty much indistinguishable from any sudden crescendo attack or shaped release. There’s really no point in scoring it, unless you want to test the exact degree of scornful looks you can elicit from an orchestra. No, it’s an effect that requires time in order for the player to accomplish and the listener to process. It’s a very special effect, worthy of respect - but only if you treat it that way in your scoring! 153

108. Blank Staves and System Reduction

The ultimate goal is a score that’s extremely clear to read, uncluttered by extraneous information. However, sometimes things that appear to be useless can often act as visual aids in complex layouts. For more on that topic, check out the next tip.

Concert music scores often use reduced systems for greater readability and less wasted space. Unless you compose nothing but nonstop tuttis, you’re likely to have moments in your music where fewer instruments play. The fewer that play, the larger the expanse of blank staves. Imagine a section of music where only two instruments are playing, and the rest is just a sea of nothing. That’s why there’s a common layout technique of reducing the combined orchestral staves, or systems, down to only those staves which are undeniably necessary. Before going any further, let’s define exactly what genres of music allow this, and which don’t. Concert music, including instrumental works, ballet, and opera, allows this technique - in fact, it relies on it for mass publication, for without it the expense would be clearly unmanageable. On the other hand, film, theatre, and crossover scores are better left without system reductions. Further, don’t reduce systems in any orchestral music which is a.) likely to remain unpublished; b.) rehearsed and performed with hardly any preparation time; and/or c.) mostly intended to be recorded (like a film cue). Also, chamber ensembles like string quartets, wind quintets, etc. should always maintain the same amount of staves throughout, unless one instrument is playing an extended solo like a cadenza. But if you can reduce systems in which instruments are dormant for long stretches, then you should. Shedding blank staves helps the conductor’s eye to define the relationships between instruments and groups. It’s a much more realistic portrayal of what’s happening in your score - essentially, you’re scaling things back to a subset of the available corps, which may even show the music settling on a particular location of the orchestra’s seating arrangement. That’s so much clearer when the blank space has been removed. The percussion section in particular is often removed entirely when inactive, as are harps, keyboard instruments, choirs, and soloists. Anything to relieve vertical pressure on the page is welcome. However, try not to disrupt the integrity of the string section. It’s better left alone. Remove it entirely if it’s inactive, reduce it to only the lower or higher strings, or even single staves if you must. But try not to have a layout where one string instrument is missing from the middle. That is extremely confusing to the eye, and bound to engender errors during rehearsal. INDEX

Fig. 108: Goss, Harp Concerto, Movement 1, bars 140-142 system reduction.


109. Layout Traps The layout technique of reducing staff systems has certain natural implications, and built-in traps. In the previous tip, we examined the reasons why staff systems were reduced. Now, let’s look at the natural outcomes. If a few extraneous staves are removed (especially those with peripheral roles such as harp, percussion, etc.), then the spaces between each staff will expand slightly, increasing the legibility of the score. However, in the case of extreme reductions in which more than half the instruments are removed, then the layout may format to two systems or more per page. If this is the case, try to look at these reduced systems as representative of smaller ensembles, and maintain the visual integrity of those ensembles throughout the relevant passage. In other words, if an instrument comes and goes, leave its blank staff in the layout between appearances if you can. Sometimes, when a page of score can’t be reduced into divided systems, it’s good to leave some blank staves alerting the conductor to instruments about to make an entrance. Also, as noted above, leave blank staves on a page if the instruments are going in and out of being used every 2 to 3 pages. This way, the conductor can slot the instruments into his vision as he turns the page, instead of hunting for the abbreviation on the left side. In the top example to the right, Percussion 1 is changing from a triangle to a snare. A notation application like Sibelius will blithely omit the blank staves if commanded to, preserving only those instruments in use - but the conductor’s eye may glance across the page and think that the triangle should still be playing. That’s why I’ve indicated the change of instrument with text and then with percussion symbols. In the bottom example, note that I’ve left the blank cello staff amongst the strings. Why? Because in the staff system before, there were no basses. The conductor may read along, peripherally keeping track of the bottom cello staff, and then see the basses take their place in the next reduced staff system without noting the instrument change. Now, some may argue in both cases that a truly attentive score-reader who took the time to really learn the score would not a have a problem here. After all, don’t other classic orchestral works break these rules all the time? The answer is that your work (and mine) is not a classic - yet. You cannot count on getting the same amount of focus on your work, and it’s foolhardy to rely on it. Besides, anything you can do to make the conductor’s job easier is always appreciated. If you think you’re overworked, try picking up a baton. INDEX

Fig. 109: Goss, Harp Concerto, layout traps from various locations in full score.


110. Rehearsal Mark Placement Rehearsal marks are far more than just section dividers or musical measuring notches. Rehearsal marks are so commonplace that they’re often taken for granted by scorereaders. When the time comes for those readers to compose an orchestral work, they may apply rehearsal marks sparingly, or abundantly, or even arbitrarily. But the truth is, there’s an art to rehearsal mark placement that maximises the usefulness of your score for both players and conductors.

mark). If you’re not sure what a trouble spot looks like, then attend a few rehearsals and watch where the conductor has the orchestra start several times. If they often say things like: “okay, start at...nine, ten, eleven, TWELVE bars before Figure K…” that means the composer or engraver picked the wrong places for marking. In the example below from the second movement of my harp concerto, Figure F is actually placed halfway through the episode - right before the brass starts a chorale in a lot of sharps. It’s a fairly delicate texture, with the strings adding touches of harmonic colour, the cellos and bassoons pulsing, and the timpani providing a bridge between the two elements. The challenge for the conductor here will be to balance all those colours effectively under the harp solo. So the mark goes here instead of 8 bars back, or four bars forward on the upcoming tutti.

The first thing to decide is what system to use, and there are several: Roman numerals, bar numbers, sequential numbers, and alphabetic. Of all of these, Roman numerals are probably the most dated and useless, surviving mostly in late Romantic and early 20th-century scores like Holst’s The Planets. Imagine a conductor saying “Everyone go back to Vee Eye Eye…” or worse, “Everyone go back to Figure Seven…” and having to wait while everyone works out how that translates into Arabic numerals. What that leaves are essentially two different systems: sequential characters vs. bar numbers. They each have their pros and cons. Sequential characters include either numbers or letters of the alphabet, which proceed to the next character with the following marking. I tend to use alphabetic markings myself, especially in shorter pieces. Sequential numbers can be confused with bar numbers, especially if the conductor neglects to use the word “figure” before the number in question. “Please start at twentyfive…” may mean something entirely different to an orchestra than “Please start at Figure twenty-five…” Then again, different cultures have different alphabets. Any score I send to a country that uses a Cyrillic alphabet had better use numbers of some sort. This is why, more and more, today’s copyists gravitate toward rehearsal marks that are essentially nothing more than highlighted bar numbers. No matter what the conductor says, with the word “Figure” or not, the players understand where to go. I use this style of marking for film cues, theatrical works, and generally any concert work that’s enormously long, like over 300 bars or so. I like to avoid rehearsal marks that use up the entire alphabet and then start in on “AA, AB, AC…” That’s a strategy that’s almost guaranteed to produce confusion in rehearsal. But that’s just the beginning. The real craft is in know where to place the markings. The most critical need for these marks is in places where the conductor will need to fix things - not necessarily always delineating sections. My rule of thumb is trouble spots/ intricate textures first; changes of tempo, key, and meter second; and beginnings of sections last (these criteria often overlap, with two or even all three satisfied by one INDEX

Fig. 110: Goss, Harp Concerto, Movement 2, bars


111. Proofing by Instrumental Section When finalising an extended orchestral project, proof each instrumental section for careless errors. This is a tip that’s especially adaptable for users of notation applications. With Sibelius, for instance, you can use Focus on Staves to isolate your screen view to a subset of the available instruments. Once these staves are selected, proof them for missing slurs and dynamics, incomplete technique directions (forgetting to end a passage of sul tasto with “norm.” for instance), places to indicate a breath mark in winds and brass, possible problems of bowing in the strings, and many other minutiae that are harder to sort when the eye is searching through a full page. Of course, if you’re working with a pencil score or ink on vellum, you can still pore over the relevant sections on your hard copy. Part of the benefit here is that sections tend to have their own logic. String parts will require slurs that reflect unified bowing in many passages; on the other hand, wind and brass parts may have longer slurs, but a need for closer attention to breathing spaces. And then there are marks that are unique to certain sections, but may have crept into places where they don’t belong though copying and pasting (I have even seen this in ink scoring). You may need to delete a “divisi” marking from a flute part, or an “a2” from a string part. When all is sorted for each section, return to a full page view and compare dynamic and thematic flow, rhythmic support, and relationships between functional elements. Orchestrators are naturally obsessed with texture - but a bit less with balance, and often very little at first with function (i.e. what is everyone really doing on the page, what are their roles?). We tend to define an orchestral masterpiece as being a seamless aural experience, but in reality it’s the result of tens of thousands of informed decisions, much of them made in second and third draft, or even while editing the publisher’s proofs. Read Beethoven’s letters for an example of this last point, where he tears his hair out over engraver’s mistakes in letter after letter, then decides to add his own changes, vastly complicating things (but the result is perfection).

Fig. 111: Goss, Phoenix Concerto for erhu and orchestra, Movement 2, isolated wind parts bars 31-42



112. Assigning Cues

113. Ideal Cue Material

When extracting parts, assign cues sparingly to a pro or semipro level work.

When choosing a cue, select material from a player in close proximity to where your musician is seated, and/or the most prominent thematic gesture or musical element.

It’s not necessary to pepper your score with cues after every tacet. Pro orchestra players are used to counting, and will make their own marks as needed. In fact, they will tend to ignore or become impatient with too many cues, as if you think that they’re high school band musicians. However, be aware that certain players may require more cues, as they traditionally have limited parts and do a lot of waiting and counting. These would be percussionists/timpanists, bass trombonists, tuba players, and so on. The best places for cues occur after: a.) long stretches of over 30 bars b.) extended passages of metric complexity, and/or changes of meter and tempo

In a massive orchestra, certain players might not hear the main thrust of the music clearly from where they are sitting. Sections other than their own may be interacting in a way that’s hard to follow. The music from players in their own section, however, will be unmistakable - particularly from one desk away. So when the clarinet is doubling the violins, make sure that the bass clarinetist’s cue mentions the clarinet. And when lines are in counterpoint, pick the line from a player of the same section (unless it’s buried in the texture). But of course, always pick the most obvious thing happening from any instrument group anywhere as your first rule in assigning cues, no matter where they are sitting in relation to the musician playing the part. The following example is excerpted from the bass clarinet part of my harp concerto. In both cues, there are lines from strings or winds, or even the soloist, that happen right before the entrances.

c.) a very long cadenza. These guidelines really apply to professional-level concert music. For student/community band or orchestral works, more cues may be needed, especially in conjunction with major landmarks in the music. In the example below from the 1st bassoon part of my harp concerto, I’ve inserted a cue after a very long passage, which references both the bass trombone and clarinet lines coming right before the entrance. Note that I’ve kept bar rests running beneath the cue, indicating the player’s continuing tacet. Also, the cue is written in mini-notes. Just one more tip below, no. 113, to examine why I picked those instruments, and what type of material is ideal for cuing.

Fig. 113: Goss, Harp Concerto, Movement 1, bass clarinet part bars 43-83. Fig. 112: Goss, Harp Concerto, Movement 1, bassoon part bars 43-79.



20 ORCHESTRATION QUESTIONS The following questions are taken from the hundreds I receive personally and as moderator of the Orchestration Online internet community. I’ve collected those that are asked most frequently and are the most fundamental to understanding both the craft and lifestyle of the working composer. There are many more than this that have already been answered in the tips of this book. My answers here are entirely my own, but you may find a certain consensus on these issues with many other professional composers. Then again, you may not, nor may you agree with anything I’ve said below. Still, it’s the part of the elephant that I can feel. I’ve limited the answers to around 500 words - half a page of information upon which you can build and take the information further if you choose.

01. Must I be conversant in traditional music theory, like common-practice harmony and counterpoint? 02. Should I study at a university? 03. What are the most essential areas of musical development needed for an orchestrator? 04. How can I gain more confidence about my composing? 05. What’s a good way to start composing and orchestrating? Should I try to write a symphony as my first piece? 06. What’s the exact difference between orchestration and arranging? 07. What kind of schedule should I have to be productive and creative? 08. How many hours a day is it possible to compose and orchestrate? 09. How quickly does a professional composer score an orchestral work? 10. Why do I have to read transposing instruments? Why can’t publishers and orchestrators simply score in C? Furthermore, why don’t all instruments just read and play in C, and adjust how that fits their instruments accordingly?

11. How many bars of rest do I allow before restating the dynamic in an instrumental part? 12. What paper size should I use for an orchestral score and parts? 13. Should I always use the same key as the original work in orchestral transcription? 14. Should I mark the bowings myself in the string parts? 15. Should I mark all the articulations in every bar of my score and parts? 16. I’m composing a film cue in 4/4 time, and one of the bars needs to be a couple of beats longer to fit the action. Should I just make it a bar of 6/4 time? 17. Should I use 8va for high double bass parts? Or 8va bassa for low tuba parts? 18. When do I need to copyright my music? How can I protect it? 19. How can I get unstuck? 20. How long will it take to make a career out of composing and orchestration? Will I ever get there?


01. Must I be conversant in traditional music theory, like common-practice harmony and counterpoint? This is one of those topics that’s sure to rouse much debate on internet comment threads. Many composers feel quite intimidated by music theory. Part of this derives from a sense of seniority. If someone understands music theory better than another, doesn’t that make them a superior composer? And if so, isn’t that something to rebel against? There are other anxieties: a DIY composer may feel that knowing too much about theory will limit the quality of their inspiration, forcing them to compose a certain way. From the other side comes the perspective of the contemporary music scholar, who may see common practice harmony as old rules for outdated music that shouldn’t be taught anymore. This all makes perfect sense if you treat the principles of music theory like laws and theory teachers like policemen. That makes every composition a trial and every performance a court case. But this is all a bunch of societal paranoia. If you’ve felt the tension inside you ratcheting up just reading the beginning of this answer, then take a deep breath, relax, and start over. Throw the rulebook away and think of it like this instead. Musical tones are resonances applied with intention. They occur simultaneously, in sequence, and in motion. Their relationships to one another form recognisable structures and patterns, and these can be named and categorised. Once these names and categories are understood, they form a powerful set of tools that may be applied in any way that the composer wishes. They’re not rules by any means, much less laws. Once they were used that way, with such unanimity that we now call them “common practice” - but those days are gone. Now these patterns and relationships are merely pieces of information that serve the imagination of the composer. So it’s really up to each composer to decide how much of that information is essential to their work, and why. Certainly a fundamental understanding of pitch relationships and musical motion is essential in order to orchestrate music, wouldn’t you say? Well, those principles are also known as harmony and counterpoint. But you don’t have to be a professor by any means to effectively compose a passage of orchestral music. Beethoven had a lifelong obsession with counterpoint, with elegant part-writing but often bruteforce fugal treatments. Both approaches were uniquely individual, for all the so-called “rules” that they may have bent or broken. Mussorgsky’s harmonic language shows every sign of an unlimited imagination that worked by its own set of rules. But he needed constant assistance with his craft, to the point where it really would have been simpler to read a book or two on harmony just clear up a few points. So my ultimate answer is that you should use theory as a tool, rather than be used by it. Your inspiration should be guided imagination, not rules. Theory is not practice.

02. Should I study at a university? Just like the previous question, it’s up to each composer to decide this for themselves after carefully and honestly looking at the parameters. A few generations ago, this would have been a simple question to answer. If one was planning a career as a concert music composer, there would be no other option than to get a degree in music. In today’s self-invented, multimedia world, there are as many options as there are people to create them. Sometimes the degree is less important than the experience of attending a series of courses in which contacts, training, and performance opportunities are the touchstones. The institutions themselves have a wide variety of approaches, some of them even building courses using video training resources from sites like YouTube, or building free public courses out of their own audiovisual materials. Even such universities as Harvard and UC Berkeley have been doing this for years. Then there are trade schools, Berklee College chief among them (no relation to UC Berkeley). Their focus is on music as an industrial profession, so composition and orchestration is going to centre around film and theatre. Conservatories are a type of trade school as well, though for concert music. Both kinds have more aggressive and useful connections to the professional world than your average university (with the exception of places like UCLA and USC), and yet the competition is much higher between individual students. If you’re very gifted but somewhat non-confrontational, then it’s sometimes better to be a big fish at a smaller university, where there’s more room to be yourself and more resources to go around. There are some terrific teachers at those little schools. The best way of deciding where to attend, or whether to attend at all, is to talk to people who’ve studied at the various universities to which you might apply. Along with their advice, listen to how they see the world, and look at what kind of person they are. Someone might rave about one school that wouldn’t suit you at all, because what they wanted out of their degree isn’t what you need. In the end, what really matters is how you learn, rather than where you learn it. Education should be a lifelong habit, rather than a temporary enlistment. If you’re a teenager reading this, then you should already be developing your capacity to learn, like taking notes, doing research, and mentally organising the information you absorb. You should be finding out everything that’s useful to know about a topic from one source, and then comparing the perspectives of sources from other periods and authors. And you should be learning how to learn, whether it’s individually, in groups, as part of a team, or in the course of being creative. Then you can decide how a university education fits your needs, rather than you just being a cog in their system. And at any age at all, you can learn to judge your deficiencies not as weaknesses, but as gaps to be bridged in your understanding. Then take a course or a degree, or train yourself as need be.


03. What are the most essential areas of musical development required for an orchestrator?

04. How can I gain more confidence about my composing?

To be completely theoretical about it: absorption, retention, identification, association, and imagination.

Part of this question has already been answered above: by learning more about the structure of music, developing your inner ear, and saturating your imagination with the huge breadth of works through score-reading. That will at least give you a baseline of reference from which to compare your efforts and develop them with more assurance.

Let’s break all those terms down into something practical. Absorption and retention could be translated as perceiving and remembering musical content and texture. You can accomplish this with daily practice of listening and score-reading music on the one hand, and memorisation on the other. Try scorereading in two different ways: studying the same work until you know the work well enough to read it and hear it internally without a recording playing; and studying new works daily or weekly, building on your store of knowledge of repertoire. That knowledge becomes your storehouse of influences and references. Speaking of which, instead of just memorising pieces of music on the instrument you play, try memorising whole passages of orchestral music that you hear and score-read. Then play them back in your mind, calling up the sound of the whole orchestra. The next two factors, identification and association, deal with recognising musical elements and their relationships. The way to develop that ability is through rigorous ear-training. Seeing a series of pitches and singing them back to yourself (solfege) is merely the beginning of this awesome discipline. There’s also rhythmic dictation, recognition of chords and chord voicings, identifying tempo markings, transcription by ear, and many other facets. The eventual result is a highly-trained ear that’s a hugely decisive part of your musical toolkit. All that’s left is for the imagination to take these facets and play with the wealth of information that they provide: rearranging music, deconstructing it, reassociating it, and pulling it out of thin air. The accumulated memories of hundreds, even thousands of hours of orchestral music provides a sure guide to the development and arrangement of an orchestral idea, and the discipline provided by ear-training enormously informs and accelerates the process of discovery, development, and transformation of your inspirations. Add to that some practical knowledge about musical relationships and structure, and you’ve got a composition. The more powerful the engine driving the process, the more confident and well-crafted the execution. The fact that these abilities will take years to fully develop shouldn’t fill you with dread, but with a sense of resolution and anticipation. If you were suddenly granted all this development at one stroke, there would so much life that you’d be missing out on. The process of improvement may be a challenge, but it’s also a superb way of growing into a career musician. It shapes you just as you shape it, and the time it takes gives you the chance to really think about what you’re learning and where you’re headed. And that perspective when combined with life’s changes can be a source of enormous inspiration. The more you’re open to learning and growing, the longer that inspiration may stay fresh and vital.

But that’s only the beginning. If music is a language, then the way we grow more confident in using it is through communication. It’s not enough to simply compose a work, listen to the MIDI playback, and then store it in a file and forget about it. That’s simply talking to yourself. Your music can’t grow until it’s been shared with another set of ears, or many many sets of ears. What you really need is a community of listeners who can give you feedback and show you which threads in your works really shine. From there, choosing those threads that determine your individual voice is less of a muddled, self-congratulatory process. That doesn’t mean that you’re expected to spring onto the scene like a fully formed god or goddess of composition. In our imaginations, we may be the next Mozart, but we don’t have to proclaim that necessary arrogance to the world. All we need to do is share its wonder, in which we’re all created equal. Start with that, and find those whose remarks are helpful to your growth. They may be supportive or very critical - but it’s always up to you to decide the value of their comments, not them. No one’s authority is more important than yours in shaping your own artistic voice, and respect does not equal obedience. Otherwise, we end up with carbon-copy composing, and art becomes limited to the imagination of a few minds rather than many. One of the most helpful voices in building your confidence is that of a performer. They can advise you on perfecting the technique, expression, and character of your music in ways a music professor can’t. They’re also creative artists, developing a work of art called “a musician.” That term may have a completely different definition from yours: a person who builds on a set of artistic experiences and interactions to create a part of themselves that functions within a mutual flow of musical information. That ultimate creation of a professional orchestral musician may be just as monumental a work of art as any great musical composition. They’re experts, geeks, jocks, scientists, craftsmen, actors, and communicators. To have one of these musicians give you feedback is a blessing. To have them eagerly perform your work is a benediction, especially if they work with you to help make it an ideal vehicle for their instrument. To have a long-term relationship as composer to a great performer is a gift like no other, and should be treasured and honoured by rising to the heights of your capabilities in craft and imagination. When they perform your work and ask for another, you’ll know that you’re on the right track, with something worth sharing with the world.


05. What’s a good way to start composing and orchestrating? Should I try to write a symphony as my first piece? Absolutely not. A symphony is the musical expression of a community or a society, written by one of its chief artistic voices. You are just starting out, and already you’re setting your goals so high that you’ll never be able to reach them. So what if Mozart wrote a symphony when he was eight? He was one of the leading performers of his age. Come down to earth, and spare yourself the heartache of putting a huge amount of effort into a piece that you’re going to regard as juvenile in 10 years. What you need as a composer is the experience of developing your voice in a free, open manner that doesn’t have huge expectations or responsibilities. Compose fun little sketches, spoofs, songs, and other miniatures. Try out many different ideas with intentionally small parameters - it’s better to quit while you still have much much more to say than to go on and on after you’ve used up an idea. After a while, you’ll learn to craft and develop material in a way that keeps an audience’s attention for longer and longer spans of time. But that’s just composing. How should you start as an orchestrator? By getting to know each instrument’s possibilities before you put them all together. Compose short pieces for musicians that you know (and if you don’t know any, then go find some), and see what the results tell you about how their instruments work. Yes, you’ll probably make embarrassing mistakes, and frankly I hope that you do - otherwise you’re never going to grow and develop. Think of all the pieces you could be composing: unaccompanied works, sonatas for solo instrument and piano, trios for different groupings, and so on. Then there are the set ensembles that are a great stepping-stone to orchestral arranging: piano trio/quartet, string quartet, wind quartet/quintet, brass trio/quintet. If you’ve proven yourself locally with shorter inspired works, and built a reputation among players for supplying new pieces that fit their abilities and sensibilities, then you may well get commissioned to compose something for an established group. Think of the above as taking several years. If you’re attending a university, your curriculum may actually include a version of the above progression. Meanwhile, you should be sketching your orchestral ideas. Once again, start small. Transcribe short segments of piano works, eight bars here, sixteen bars there. Try scoring for chamber orchestra at first, and then more standard numbers. Don’t take on Wagneriansized legions just yet. Take the same approach with your chamber composing as with your orchestral composing - small but potent steps in which a wide variety of approaches are explored. Otherwise, there’s a huge danger of locking yourself into the student you are right now, instead of developing into the artist you’re meant to become. The huger that an early musical work is in scope, the more likely it is that its composer will lose interest, motivation, and inspiration long before it’s completed (not to mention self-confidence). Always move forward from a position of strength, even if each step is small. That way your progress can be sure-footed, yet open to the change necessary to approach mastery.

06. What’s the exact difference between orchestration and arranging? Though this question may seem naïve on the face of it, the answer is actually quite profound, cutting to the heart of what orchestrators do as a profession. The simplest answer is that arranging is the craft of taking an existing musical idea or work, and scoring it to a specific set of performers. Within that definition, orchestration is just a kind of arranging - quite intricate and glamorous, but arranging all the same. Obviously, that’s not the whole story, so let’s break things down a bit more. There are many types of arranging. Transcription is the act of taking notes of a manuscript and applying them to other instruments, with few or no changes. This is the bluntest, most fundamental form of arranging. Adaptation is a much freer approach, which can be anything from a transcription that adds textural elements, all the way to a reinterpretation that bears little resemblance to the original. In a sense, most first-quality orchestral transcriptions (like those of Ravel from his own piano works) are adaptations, as many musical features must need to be reworked in order to sound orchestral. Without such careful handling, a note-for-note transcription may well sound like a clumsily-orchestrated piano. Then there are two other tasks to consider - reduction and expansion. Taking an orchestral work and rewriting for one or two pianos is a reduction - especially critical for the rehearsal of ballet, opera, and theatrical scores. There’s a skill to this that goes far beyond pressing the “Arrange” button on a notation application. The music must fit the hand of the player, and have a natural pianistic flow as well as adequately express the emotion and context of the original score. Since piano/vocal scores are often performed at auditions and recitals (and even command performances), it’s essential that these reductions have the same amount of artistic commitment as an orchestral score, even if the scope is admittedly far smaller. What we do as orchestrators is largely expansion, going the other direction. Whether we’re scoring our own original works or adapting others, the product of one person’s creativity and ingenuity expands to engage many other musicians in a mass performance. That carries huge amounts of responsibility, and yet the possibilities for a fertile imagination are limitless. A couple of last thoughts about this. Aside from orchestration, there’s a huge variety of arranging going on: student versions of pop and film music, adaptations for marching and concert band, any number of standards for jazz combos, and so on. Some of these fields of arranging are every bit as specialised as orchestration, and deserve a huge amount of respect. You may be fortunate to someday combine many arranging styles into one work if you get a crossover scoring job. Since this last type of project is becoming ever more essential to the financial survival of professional orchestras, it’s a genre that we orchestrators should also embrace. Remember that the next time someone sacrifices popular music on the altar of concert music. 162

07. What kind of schedule should I have to be productive and creative?

08. How many hours a day is it possible to compose and orchestrate?

Every artistic personality is different. Some find it necessary to take a huge bite out of the world to get their creative juices flowing. Others are quite happy to be left to themselves for hours, days, weeks, and months to get the job done. One composer might bounce out of bed, ready for a day’s work, while the other treasures working in the afternoon, or even into the late hours.

The answer, once again, is dependent on many factors: the level of craft and knowledge of the composer, the amount of physical energy and mental focus, and the quality of the available time. Your ability to pursue a meaningful career as a composer may well depend on the sum of the above parameters.

The two biggest scheduling factors for productivity are in knowing when your mental facilities are at their best, and then ensuring that you’ll have the privacy and composure to get your work done. If you’re an evening person but your roommates are always up until the wee hours with the television blasting, then get new roommates or better headphones. If you’re a morning person, then you might want to get a day job that starts with the lunch rush. Privacy and composure are hugely important. Ravel never allowed anyone in the same room while he composed (though he didn’t mind company while orchestrating). Shostakovich, on the other hand, had the ability to ignore everyone while composing works of enormous complexity straight onto staff paper no matter what ruckus might be going on around him. In a sense, both composers were doing the same thing - creating a private world within which they could freely create something of their own without disturbance. But privacy isn’t enough - what’s also necessary is a frame of mind that’s open, focused, and eager to express its inner musings. That’s a state that seems difficult to developing composers at first, but can eventually become a tap that turns on and off at will. Career composers generally have schedules that use the optimum available time to its best use over any other consideration. Beethoven and Schubert both got up and got to work first thing in the morning, and composed straight on to the early afternoon. After that, they socialised, stretched their legs, taught some lessons, and took care of business. Early evenings might see them back at their writing-desks, composing until the ability to stay awake departed. All the same, never limit yourself to a rigid schedule if there’s a chance of getting work done at some other hour. When I’m working on a project, I may commit every available scrap of time during the day, sorting some little problem here, doing a bit of busy-work there, and keeping my mind constantly involved, even if the pot is simmering on the back burner from time to time. I myself am not particularly a “morning,” “evening,” or any-other-time-of-the-day person. I simply love to create in any time that I’m allowed. Nevertheless, as a family man, I’m well aware that the best time to work is when everyone else in the house is predictably unconscious, so I’m often up hours before the dawn, at work on some project or other. This makes me a rather sleepy and dull dinner guest at times, and often hopeless at evening soirées, but the world of my own creativity is so personally diverting and entertaining that I find it well worth missing a few late-night adventures.

A developing composer needs to accept that creativity is like a muscle, and the act of creativity involves the vigorous flexing of that muscle for an extent of time. The first time one uses that muscle, it may feel fantastic, like the exuberance of an infant whose balance and leg strength suddenly add up to the ability to walk freely. But just like that infant, the realisation will eventually dawn that using the muscle is work, and hard work at that. The simple ability to concentrate needs to be developed - what’s more, the perception of time itself. Time is a parameter in which an idea may emerge and grow, and how it’s spent can often play a huge role in that idea’s fermentation. There’s a flow to time, a rhythm, and a shape. Working with the form of time takes a while to master, sometimes years. Then of course there’s the store of practical knowledge. In the first question above, I talked about knowledge of theoretical concepts as being a huge time-saver. It’s also an energy-saver and a focussaver in a way: the time one spends in a state of frustration and doubt is anything but productive, and drains enthusiasm away from one’s creative arc. What’s more, it’s physically exhausting. The ultimate meaning of the above stipulations is simple. The ability to devote long hours to composing and orchestrating takes time to develop for most musicians. Demand much from yourself - that’s both your right and prerogative as master of your own soul - but don’t expect miracles. That’s the surest road to disillusionment. Set sensible goals with your time at first, with work sessions in which your focus, commitment, and output are all at optimum levels. Then you’ll know exactly what the ideal state of creativity should be. Once those results have merited you with greater creative responsibilities, then increase your time commitment, always being aware of the degree of quality and concentration available. When you feel used up, take a break to recharge and reboot your system. Time away from work is sometimes just as important as time spent at the desk. Eventually, you can expect that the quality of focus, energy, and creativity will become fairly consistent throughout the course of a day’s work, with the occasional break. You may find yourself capable of working many hours at a stretch. I often work 10-hour days, sometimes 12, and occasionally 14 or more. Such a schedule can prove gruelling at times, but it’s common for film composers and orchestrators, and you should know what awaits you in that field. 163

09. How quickly does a professional composer score an orchestral work? This is one of those questions that has a different answer, not only for each composer, but also for each individual project. In the history of composing, there have always been stories of great mental focus, in which the entire day’s work might be dedicated to a single bar. These stories might even be true - but certainly every single day couldn’t have been devoted to only one bar, or the composers involved would never have gotten anything finished on time. What we do know of the working habits of the great full-time freelance composers is that they worked as hard as they could, using their time with great efficiency aided by a high degree of craft. This allowed them to accomplish as much as possible in the least amount of time, just like any other profession. All the same, there’s no set gauge on creativity. The only thing you can count on is that the faster you can intelligently and brilliantly score music, the more of it you can accomplish professionally. This means that film composers often work at a furious pace, scoring hours of cues over the course of a year. Some of this is accomplished with the assistance of a team of orchestrators and copyists, but even so, it’s still very quickly done. This is not to say that you have to be a fast worker in order to be a professional composer, but merely that there are certain realities that apply to certain genres. One of the great things about orchestration is that it’s a craft as well as an art - meaning that once you understand the process, you may well be able to score many bars a day. Of course, it can take years to get to that point, but every step along the way can prove fascinating and well worth the wait. In fact, that sense of fascination is critical, because without it there isn’t enough space in your imagination to drive the passion you’ll need to make this a life path. As for me, I tend to tear along as fast as I can go for more reasons than just professional necessity. By this time in my career, I’ve developed a pace that I naturally gravitate towards. It keeps the process intriguing and rather breathless, like falling out of an airplane with a parachute-building kit, putting all the parts together in time to float to the ground. But that’s just the way I work - it’s not a rule or even a guide for other composers. But it does mean that I can compose and orchestrate rather quickly. An original 10-minute work might take anywhere from a week to a month. An hour’s-worth of original music may require three months to a year. Pure orchestration is much much quicker: I can score out several minutes of score in a day or two, like a crossover score, film cue, or adaptation. This speed depends on the complexity of the music and the ease of the process. What slows me down the most? Adapting a work by ear while having to score elements in the music that are unclear due to a bad mix. That’s extremely annoying, especially when the composer can’t supply MusicXML files, a notation reference, or some sort of breakdown. And yet somehow the work gets done.

10. Why do I have to read transposing instruments? Why can’t publishers and orchestrators simply score in C? Furthermore, why don’t all instruments just read and play in C, and adjust how that fits their instruments accordingly? I’ve addressed this topic somewhat in the tips on winds, but let’s work backward from the last question. Let’s assume a wind instrument tuned in concert C, like an oboe. The player will learn to strongly - very strongly - associate different regions in the treble staff with certain registers, fingerings, and embouchure adjustments for overblowing. Now let that player pick up another member of the oboe family, say the oboe d’amore. If the player attempts to read in C, then all those instincts developed by associations are thrown out the window, and the player has to basically re-learn everything. Every time they pick up another auxiliary, the same story is true. Rather than playing three aspects of the same approach, they’re truly playing separate instruments with an entirely different look to everything. For another example, let’s look at the french horn. As we studied in Tip 28, the original natural horn could only play a limited range of notes over the harmonic series. To change keys, the Baroque/ Classical hornist used crooks to change the length of tubing. Eventually, the two best-sounding lengths of F and B were combined with valves into the chromatic double horn that almost all players use today, reading in the key of F. But what if they had to read all their parts in C? The result would be what you see in a C score: notes hanging below the staff with so many ledger lines that the part would be better off written in alto clef (and indeed such concert-pitch scoring is often in bass clef).


A further point here is that many players in orchestras and concert/marching bands change instruments frequently. Not only that, but classroom teachers and bandleaders often must have a passing level of competency on many of these instruments. Imagine the chaos if every instrument had a different set of assumptions built into its reading and playing, all to suit people who dictate that everything must be read and written in C. No one would want to play an auxiliary instrument, because the further the difference between the reading and the key of the instrument, the less things would seem to make sense. How much easier on everyone involved just to transpose their parts, knowing that the notes that they read will have the same fingering no matter what version of the instrument they’re playing, or what tuning they’re in. Once that’s established, I want to see what they see, and score for the way that they perceive a phrase should flow across the staff. I’ll know how things sound and play, no matter which version of a trumpet I’m scoring, which register is going to be used in what way, and how it’s going to affect the player. If I had to score everything in C, it would force me to do far more mental mathematics than just reading in B or D or whatever.


So finally - why do you have to read transposing? So that you can compose for the appreciation of those musicians who already have a system that works fantastically well. So get to it.


11. How many bars of rest do I allow before restating the dynamic in an instrumental part?

12. What paper size should I use for an orchestral score and parts?

This is a very good question. Suppose that the whole orchestra plays a ff tutti at the start of a passage. The strings drop out for about a few bars, then join in again. This happens several times. Should the strings be marked ff in the parts after each compound rest, to remind them of the prevailing dynamic?

You should judge for yourself based on a number of factors: density of information, staff size, orchestral numbers, and convenience to the conductor. There are also some standards at work in various fields which you should be aware.

My answer to this question is “no, not unless there’s a need to restate the dynamic in the full score as well.” If the music has changed dynamically while the players are counting bars, then they might well be wondering how loudly to play when they rejoin the orchestra. But if they can hear that the music has maintained its level, then they’ll just assume their part will continue at that level. Their ears and brains don’t turn off when they stop playing (except for the irresistible temptation to check social media on their cellphones - but that’s what cues are for). You have to trust that they’ll be aware enough to do what’s right.

For most large-scale international scores, the preferred paper size is A3, 297mm wide by 420mm high (11.7” x 16.5”). This allows for quite a few staves per page - around 40 staves at a 3.5mm (.16”) staff size, 35 staves at a 4.0mm (.14”) staff size, or 30 staves at a 5.1mm (.20”) staff size. In North America, the paper sizes are different. Large-scale scoring is usually printed on US Ledger-size paper: 11” x 17” (279x432mm) - similar proportions to A3, but with enough height to squeak in an extra staff or three. This is the current standard for film scoring and very big concert scores.

However, this brings up the question of when to restate dynamics in the score itself. There are two determining factors, the first and most important of which is context. If the flow of the music is such that a few bars of rest are immaterial to the meaning of a bar, then dynamic markings aren’t needed, and in fact they’re a distraction. A musician might even take the frequent restatement of stronger dynamics to mean accents rather than passage markings. Conversely, if the new entrance of the music is a completely different type of flow, timbre, or technique, then a dynamic really should be supplied. One example might be changing from arco to pizzicato, or adding mutes. Another might be changing from legato patterns to neatly articulated rhythmic punctuation. If thereafter the context changes back and forth predictably at the same dynamic level, there’s probably no need to continue marking every following entrance. The other factor is visibility, another way of describing “how many bars of rest” or “horizontal continuity.” If a certain amount of pages go by in a score, or if certain instrument staves drop out and then return in different staff systems, then the conductor is understandably going to want a reminder of the players’ dynamic level, even if the context seems obvious. There’s no definite rule about this, like “20 bars of rest” or “3 pages of full score.” The composer simply has to use their best judgement, based on the look of the score and how obvious the music seems to be. One last point - certain articulation markings can take the place of restated dynamics, especially accents. This goes back to the point about context. If a certain passage of accents, staccato, marcato, or tenuto markings returns, then the marks themselves may be enough of a clue to let both player and conductor determine the dynamic level. Add this question to your list of things to score-read. Which scores restate dynamics with every single entrance, which leave things alone, and why in either case?

Opacity and weight of paper are considerations for both A3 and US Ledger. Lightweight standard paper (20 lb/80gsm) will flop around and show through the music printing on the reverse side of the sheet, so a minimum weight of 24 lb/100gsm is recommended. Keep in mind, though, that in many cases your clients will be the ones to print out scores and parts. I myself prefer the 5.1mm staff size, as it’s easiest to read by the conductor and prints the clearest with the less expensive home printers that many of us self-employed composers must rely on. However, if the music is towering, then that puts pressure on the score vertically; and if it’s extraordinarily complex, horizontally. If I don’t want the conductor to turn pages every two bars, then I reduce the staff size. On the other hand, if the staff size gets much smaller than 3.5mm, then not only is it extremely hard to read, but also it requires a professional-quality printer to truly be legible. True laser (as opposed to laser-jet) printers which can handle A3 sizes and larger are usually quite expensive. If my scores are smaller in size, say 20-24 staves maximum (not unusual if the orchestra is standard concert size), then I tend to use smaller paper. I’m not alone: international orchestra librarians are using B4 (250 x 353mm) paper more and more, and many North American concert composers use US Legal-size paper (8.5” x 14”). Most smaller home printers can handle these sizes as well, making them more economically reasonable (especially if hard copy is required for the proofing stage of a project). One last note - certain paper sizes are designed to scale up or down to the same proportions. All International Standard Paper sizes, for instance, have the same ratio of 1:1.4142, which when halved remain the same. An A3 image can be reduced to B4, A4, A5, and so on, making miniature scores easy to set up. US Paper sizing isn’t so universal in ratios, but there is one useful formula: the ratios for Legal and Ledger paper sizes are nearly the same (1:1.6471 vs. 1:1.5455). A huge 11” x 17” score may be printed out on 8.5” x 14” paper for proofing and reference. That may save quite a bit of money for a work in progress.


13. Should I always use the same key as the original work in orchestral transcription?

14. Should I mark the bowings myself in the string parts?

A great deal of hay has been made over the mystical significance of key signatures, and the deep associations of meaning that they hold for composers. Such considerations are beyond the parameters of this book - however, there are quite a few practical ones. For instance, we’ve already seen that the harp sounds best when its strings are at their most relaxed, in as many flats as possible. It’s also true that pianist composers of the Romantic Era started gravitating toward keys with more flats and sharps. This was the result of the ultimate dominance of even-tempered tuning, coupled with the realisation that the fingers more instinctively and accurately positioned themselves with relation to the five upstanding black keys as opposed to the blank, level white keys.

Not unless you yourself are an experienced string player - and not even then. It’s the responsibility of the concertmaster to assign bowings to any work that the orchestra is to perform. They bring the weight of their experience and leadership to the task of sorting out how to mark bowing so that all the members of the string section play with unity, or differentiation in contrapuntal passages. But beyond the simple mathematics of making the bow strokes all come out evenly in the end are artistic considerations. Which series of bow strokes will most efficiently realise the expression of a gesture? What are the particular strengths of each section, and how will they affect the energy of the delivery?

Many other instruments have different relationships to keys that are stronger or weaker depending on their technique and manner of sound production. Clarinets and saxophones are usually pitched in flat keys to begin with, as are many brass instruments (especially those used in marching bands). Oboes and flutes, on the other hand, have a home fingering of D, bassoons of G. Strings gravitate toward the right-hand side of the circle of 5ths, with the strongest keys (minor or major) having tonics of F, C, G, D, A, and E. Finally, there’s the consideration of range or tessitura. Certain keys may fit better than others simply because of the placement of the general scope of phrasing and articulation. This necessity is most evident in vocal scoring, in which the change of even one half-step in key may make the difference between a mediocre performance or a stellar one. Anyone looking for mystical significance in the keys of Schubert’s lieder, for instance, will be immediately brought up short by the many editions in different keys for various vocal ranges. As a professional orchestrator, therefore, I weigh the practical implications of any decision when transcribing a score - especially piano music to orchestral. Sometimes the same key will work fine, both in playability and optimum register. Or a slight change of pitch, say from D to D, opens enormous possibilities for natural harmonics and open-string pizzicato otherwise absent. I might even drop or raise the pitch by much wider intervals, like 3rds, 4ths, or 5ths.


I was once commissioned for an overnight rush job by an orchestra to transpose Mussorgsky’s song “The Field Marshal” from the Shostakovich-orchestrated key of C minor back to the original key of A minor. It was a thrilling exercise to see how far down I could push the key, opening up lower, darker possibilities of colour while carefully balancing the sonorities. When the bass-baritone sang it in rehearsal, with the whole orchestra supporting the breadth of those deep sonorities, I could tell I’d gotten it right by his hugely positive reaction.


Part of the definition of leadership entails knowing the capabilities and style of everyone whom you’re leading, and how to make the best use of those factors. Since this differs widely from orchestra to orchestra, there really can be no standard edition of marked parts for any work, though certainly the typical orchestra can make do with any decent set of bowings on short notice. Concertmasters frequently take a set of existing marked parts, make a few adjustments, and leave it at that. What does that mean for you? Since your original work or new orchestration is going to be a premiere, then the chief way you can help with the bowings is to submit your score and parts on time so that the concertmaster has a chance to look them over and mark bowings. Your services aren’t required for marking bowings, and in fact can be a very annoying hindrance. As little time as the librarian may have to copy out all the parts, they have even less time to go through every page of every string part with white-out, blanking out your directions so the concertmaster can start with a clean slate. There are exceptions, of course. If there’s a passage that specifically needs to be bowed a certain way for a musical effect, then you should mark it. Most commonly, this would be a row of downbows for extremely emphatic articulation. A series of upbows may also be used to help set up a particularly devastating downbow with leaping anticipation. You might also want to indicate what shouldn’t be done; you may wish that a passage be played strictly detaché rather than with a bouncing ricochet approach. In that case, mark a couple of up/down bowings and leave it at that. In fact, if there is a particular bowing approach that you want string players to take, it’s best to mark its first and maybe second instance, and then trust them to get it right the rest of the time. For more on this, see the next question…

So what I’d recommend is putting the practical far in advance of the mystical or the reverent, and picking the key which produces the most useful, compelling result.


15. Should I mark all the articulations in every bar of my score and parts? The answer to this question is “no” - but it’s not as simple as that. There are two opposing forces at work, which complicate what should be a basic approach. On the one side, you have the needs of the musicians. What they want to see in a passage are clear markings. But “clear” ≠ “detailed.” Assuming a section of music with constant staccato articulation, all that’s required is one bar of marked notes. It’s the equivalent of putting the word “pizz.” on the first bar, or “molto tenuto.” If it’s not required to put those words in every single bar, then it’s also not necessary to mark staccato over every single note. In fact, it’s damn distracting. What’s more, some musicians take it as a patronising attitude on the part of the composer, as if you can’t trust them to understand that the articulation is constant. On the other side, we have new technological steps built into the process of composing. Nearly every composer uses notation software, relying on playback of their scores as part of their everyday work of proofing. There’s often pressure on the composer to try to get this playback to be as exact as possible, for their own sense of accomplishment if nothing else. On a production level, playback demos might be needed for approval by musically illiterate clients, or as reference by singers and presenters, or as mockups for cues. In this case, the playback may rely heavily on the most precise sound possible.

16. I’m composing a film cue in 4/4 time, and one of the bars needs to be a couple of beats longer to fit the action. Should I just make it a bar of 6/4 time? This is a situation that crops up because of the use of technology. The pacing of a musical cue is tracking the action nicely, leading to a hit point. But that point happens at an irregular place in the music, say, two beats after the end of a full bar. The media composer’s instinct will be to simply lengthen the bar to include the extra beats, so the hit point can have its own downbeat. This approach only messes things up for the conductor and the musicians. The problem is this: each time signature, or more properly, each meter has its own type of pulse and conducting pattern. The emphases of a bar go in different places depending on that meter. Simply adding beats on the end messes up the rhythmic continuity. Let’s take the example of the question above. 4/4 time has a strong 1st beat, a clear division at the 3rd beat, and an upbeat on the 4th. But 6/4 time isn’t 4/4 with two more beats - instead, it’s a way of organising 2 groups of 3 quarter notes in a bar; a form of compound time just like 6/8 or 9/8 time. If you score your extra two beats on the end, the conductor is going to put the division on the 4th beat, not the 3rd and 5th. This could throw the natural emphasis of the bar all out of whack.

Logistically, this means that every bar in a score might need to have its articulations marked in order to achieve this effect. Furthermore, many composers might not even know a reason not to mark every note (up to the point where they read this or talk to an orchestral musician, of course). And if those notes are all painstakingly marked, then can the composer be trusted to unmark them for the convenience of the musician? Will there even be the time? From the standpoint of quick turnovers and constant deadlines, the answer may very well be “no.” But that’s still no excuse for not doing what’s right, and giving in to the inevitable.

The problem is sometimes that these mistakes can’t be fixed by us copyists and orchestrators. The music might have been mapped out by the time we get it from the composer, and that map might be used for reference in the recording session. Twiddling with bar numbers may lead to a train wreck of communication between the conductor and the director, wasting precious session time. If the conductor sees the problem, they might have to tell the orchestra that they’ll conduct the last two beats separately or some other way, but then that’s another waste of time, where minutes cost hundreds of dollars.

As always, there are always exceptions. In passages of mixed articulation, where the odd note here or there is staccato or whatever, then you definitely should mark all those which apply. And then there are always exceptions to the exceptions: if your mixed markings have a predictable pattern that’s closely tied to note lengths, phrasing, dynamics, and/or a rhythmic pulse, then you may only need to mark a few bars of it.

Here’s the rule: if you need any extra beats after a regular series of bars, then score them separately. Write a bar of 2/4, 3/4, even 1/4. The conductor knows what’s what. They’ve probably dealt with far more intricate time changes - just take a look at Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring to witness many little compensating bars that help the music attain a particular rhythmic shape, or catch up to a crossrhythm, or even just change unexpectedly.

One last little bit of perspective from the musician’s point of view. Beyond all considerations of aesthetic annoyance and hurt pride, there’s also the very real danger of disconnecting the player from the music with so many instructions. Once a strategy for expression has been established, then the musicians can dig in and apply their skill and engagement to performing. A constant stream of staccato or accent marks tends to separate the player’s sense of unity and surrender to the music, forcing their thoughts to constantly obey rather than flow naturally.

This rule holds for any style, not just film music. Extra beats should always equal extra bars, not extra bar length, unless the subsequent altered emphasis of meter is an intentional feature of the music. That extra bar helps in more ways that just keeping the beat consistent. It also can provide a natural boundary for the performer’s eye to help them narrow in on the specific part of the music that’s irregular. They’ll be much more prepared for the change, and aware of the timing of the transition. 167

17. Should I use 8va for high double bass parts? Or 8va bassa for low tuba parts?

18. When do I need to copyright my music? How can I protect it?

These two questions tend to arise from different directions, but with similar motives. The first is mere inexperience. A student double bassist may be taught in a class where the director despairs of ever getting the lower strings to read tenor clef, and finally hits on the notion of simply using 8va for the basses. The result is that they’ll grow up to leave comments on videos assuring a fellow composer that 8va is standard, and that you shouldn’t write a lot of ledger lines for tenor clef. Maybe they’ll even suggest throwing the tenor clef away.

No one but you can really answer that, but there are some things to avoid. On one hand, a sense of over-protectiveness can seem comical and amateurish, such as blaring a verbal announcement at the start of every piece in your YouTube showreel. That won’t interest anyone serious if they happen to watch your uploads. On the other hand, spreading your unprotected music far and wide across the internet isn’t the key to success unless you’ve got a very big following and are finding alternate ways to monetise your CC license material.

The other reason is usually over-helpfulness, along with the assumption that what’s hard for the composer is also hard for the player. This is akin to composers who feel that adding key signatures to French horn parts is helpful, which as we saw is decidedly not the case for concert players in Tip 34. Constant low ledger lines in tuba parts are hard to read, so why not score ottava bassa (8vb) for them? The original questions are soon settled by cracking any decent orchestration book. But they often lack the necessary context to help defend the orchestrator from the scourge of bad advice. So here it is. Question 1: you should never use 8va for high double bass parts in concert music, or indeed any kind of part with a bass clef. Tenor clef should be sufficient. If you go higher than that into treble clef, then I hope that means that you’re only doing it very occasionally, or that your piece is a double bass concerto.

The first thing you have to understand: copyright law was not developed to protect the fragile egos of creators. It’s not about giving you complete control over every word out of your mouth, nor every good idea you’ve ever had. Communication may be attributable, but it’s public domain because you are part of the public. What’s more, if you’re asking the above questions, then you’re looking ahead at the professional arc of your life in music. You’re at the stage where getting a Library of Congress Copyright Certificate in the mail has a lot of powerful emotional meaning. You’re not at the other end where you can’t remember where you stored all of them and you keep putting off filing the latest batch.

In fact, you should seldom need to go into tenor clef for the double bass, because that’s not where it’s at its best. As I mentioned in Tip 95, a general upper limit is G above written middle C, sounding G3. The orchestrator had better have a damn good reason for taking the double basses higher than that, where it will compare poorly to the strength of the cello’s tenor register and the violin’s G string.

When is the exact time to file a copyright? When there’s a real chance that what you create will have a lasting monetary benefit to you and your family. If your work is likely to be performed, published, distributed, and broadcast, then you have the right to license it and collect royalties. You get to define what “likely” means in the above sentence - whether it means that you know that your work is entering that monetary stream, or whether you just really, really believe in it.

Question 2: though the occasional great composer may have scored 8vb from time to time, tubists would actually prefer that you not do that. There’s a very good reason. Despite the tuba’s ability to play notes way down there, the most comfortable and characteristic range is generally the centralised region of B 2 to F3. Notes outside of this are all well and good, but shouldn’t be done to death. And if they’re not being overdone, then it’s far more useful for the player to read the lower ones with multiple ledger lines, because those elongated notes convey an appropriate degree of weight to the part. The player has associated those pitches with fundamentals and 2nd-partial overtones, and is quite used to reading them.

In some countries, the act of creation automatically grants a copyright to the creator without the need for copyright certificates, but this still doesn’t automatically grant protection. Confirmation of authorship may be required in any dispute, some sort of trail that’s easily followed. Lodging a work with a musical archive (like SOUNZ here in New Zealand), self-publishing, or yes, even uploading a work for public consumption are all ways of establishing your ownership. Then there are also moral rights, which give you a voice in the disposition of a work even if you’ve relinquished your ownership (as in a work for hire). These aren’t fully recognised under U.S. law, but aspects are incorporated into related statutes.

“Ah,” but the over-helpful non-tubist composer thinks, “the rhythms in my tuba parts are all very complex, jumping around all over the place on the lowest notes, and it goes on for many pages. It doesn’t seem reasonable to ask the player to read all that.” The answer to that is in the complexity of the part - you may well have composed something unplayable or impossible to aurally distinguish down there. Maybe you should start over instead of inventing new systems.

I’m not a copyright attorney, and I’m not giving anyone legal advice. Consider the above merely as the perspective of one working composer, and decide for yourself how thoroughly you need to protect your works. Check out some of the resources quoted in the Bibliography, and consider joining a performingrights organisation such as ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, APRA, PRS, or AEPO. They’ll help you to collect royalties, especially for things like radio and television broadcasts.



19. How can I get unstuck? Sometimes, the work just doesn’t seem to want to flow. You can’t think of the next logical step, or none of your ideas feel right somehow. Perhaps you find yourself putting off working until the lightning strikes, but it’s striking less and less. Maybe you’re even dreading sitting down at your desk and getting back to work. After a career of observing not only my own progress but also that of thousands of other creative artists, I’ve come to some general conclusions about the above phenomenon. The main reason for creative barriers is anxiety. Something in your creative process is afraid, and it’s obstructing the free flow of ideas. For a developing composer, this is often the fear of failure. You’re treading into unknown territory, filled with unique terrors and ecstasies. You don’t know if you’re good enough, smart enough, inspired enough, and so on. The critical voice can take on the whole weight of everyone else’s accomplishments, and constantly question any inspiration at the very moment it occurs. There are even some cultures where people are encouraged to be self-critical to the point of sheer masochism, which then gets rained on anyone else with a good idea in development. The way to deal with this is to root out the source of the anxiety. What are you so afraid of? Often the composer is unwilling to face the fact that they’ve taken on too much. This is a symptom of something touched on in Question 5: “symphonitis,” an ailment that afflicts developing composers who attempt enormous works before achieving command of their craft. Or perhaps the creative environment has changed with exposure to other composers who are quite serious about their work, and there’s a fear about living up to the collective artistic level. Some of these fears can also be associated with the identity of the composer as well, a sense of reality trying to assert itself as a balance to all the unfettered dreaming. Another cause for getting stuck is simply exhaustion, whether creative or physical. You’ve done as much as you could do for the day, or week, or even month sometimes, and the field of your imagination has to lie fallow for a time. You’re running on vapours instead of rich fuel, and you may be punch-drunk from the force of your own ideas. This can lead right back to anxiety, as many creators don’t realise they’re simply tired, and start questioning their ability to continue. But often all that’s needed is a good night’s sleep, or even just stretching one’s legs. What’s the essence of the problem you’re really having? Your creativity represents a relationship in your life that for some reason or other you’re not respecting. You need to think about what it needs from you to support it: patience, understanding, time off, easing up on being judgemental, laying off the unreasonable expectations, and letting it grow by feeding it with stimulation and training. It’s like being married or raising a child. If you really want to make a life path out of music, then you’re in this relationship for life, and it’s going to shape you as much as you shape it. So stop hurting it with doubts and start healing it with a little self-knowledge.

20. How long will it take to make a career out of composing and orchestration? Will I ever get there? Here’s the paradox. What’s great about a successful career in the arts is that it’s different for everyone, because it fulfils the essence of each artist’s individual potential. It’s literally impossible for anyone to have the same exact path. That is actually its charm and attraction. And yet those who pursue that life are often looking for a method or a system by which that path to success is assured, or at least clearer. You have to resist such thinking in order to be your own person. If you don’t, it’s as much to admit that you are surrendering to someone else’s idea of whom you should be as a mature artist. Of course you’ll have lots of advice, as much as you care to accept, if you’re truly serious about your career. Here’s a bit of advice from me: someone telling you that you should go in one or another artistic direction is just as worthless as someone telling you that you should quit because show business is a heartbreaker. In both cases, the person is projecting their own notions and anxieties about the future onto you and anyone else that will listen. One thing that’s pretty much universal, though, is that a professional artist at the height of their career bears little resemblance to the person they were when starting out. It’s a given that your path will change you, not only in artistry and craft, but also in confidence and perception. There are some things regarding the world of which you won’t be able to remain innocent. But innocence is less precious than you may think - in fact, it’s a place where a lot of developing artists think they can preserve their individuality. Bin that notion - what you need is integrity, not isolation, in order to be recognised as a unique voice. The simple fact is that we as artists tend to apply all the processes and forms of our art to our dayto-day existence, whether consciously or not. The end result is that step by step, year by year, and work by work, we change ourselves into ever more keen and capable people - both at creating our art and (hopefully) at developing our professional lives. If we’re extremely fortunate, such a slow transformation also applies to our emotional lives, and we’re able to shape the types of relationships we need in order to find fulfilment. But here’s the catch: the person on the other end of that ideal artistic state isn’t you - not yet. In fact, they’re going to see life in a completely different way, and want things from it that you can’t even imagine yet. If you were to suddenly achieve complete artistic success and recognition tomorrow, that would actually rob you of the opportunity to learn from life. The quality of your information would be far less than that of your colleagues at the same level, and there’d likely be far less staying power for your meteoric attainment. How long will it take, then? A well-lived lifetime. Will you ever get there? Yes, if you’re willing to let the world and your art change you into the person you need to be, and if you can make your own opportunities and build on them. I hope you do, and I wish you joy. 169

Thanks, Acknowledgements, and Afterword Any writer who embarks on a project like this owes a debt of gratitude to those who must abide the long sessions of writing, the swings of mood, and getting enlisted into the effort in various ways. Even allowing for the absences are a way of helping the writer, and I look forward to closing those gaps and thanking each of my close friends and family in person soon for their patience. My biggest love and appreciation goes to my wife and son, who put up with a lot while I tried my best to perfect the shape and content of this book. Thanks so much Erica and Charlie! This book was written in two stages. The first started in early 2013, when I began uploading offhand tips both in text and via video on a daily basis. After a couple of months, other projects brought this stream of advice to an end, but over the ensuing year and a half, I continued to write the odd tip as certain topics came up in the Orchestration Online community. The second stage commenced less than 90 days ago, as I brought all the materials together, rejecting some tips, rewriting others, and writing many many new ones. All the tips written up to that time added up to about 25,000+ words. 12 weeks later that’s expanded to 101,243 words, and growing ever longer as I type these last few paragraphs. But thankfully, that writing and editing (and the preparation of hundreds of images) is nearly at an end. Another reason to be grateful: in the clarification of many points, I undertook many many hours of research, and found myself delving into topics that I’d previously taken for granted. Unwinding the intricate reasons for why things work, I feel, has deepened my understanding of the craft of orchestration, and made these tips stronger and more comprehensive. I’m ready to test many of these new discoveries in the forge of creativity. But I’d never have acquired a scintilla of this specialised knowledge without the patience and indulgence of many great professional musicians, including including Erica Challis, [Christina Kopriva,] Merran Cooke, Lisa Riley Fogler, violinists Yasushi Ogura, Terrie Baune, Lisa Riley Fogler, Donald Armstrong, Annie Tracy, Nathaniel Morrison, Sophie Gooch, Jenny Diaz, and Justine Cormack; violists Linda Ghidossi-DeLuca, Katie Wreede, Kurt Rohde, Peter Barber, and Sophia Acheson; cellists David Chickering, Monica Scott, Ruth Lane, and Eunice Shin; double bassists Gordon Hill, Maggie Simpson, Victoria Jones, Louis Van Der Mespel, and Joan Perarnau; flutists Esther Landau, Kimberly Hickey, Janet Kutulas, Jen Vaughan, and Karen Batten; oboists Merran Cooke, Louise Cox, Madeleine Sakofsky, and Laura Reynolds Chrisp; clarinetists Richard Radford (R.I.P. my old friend), Andrew Uren, Philip Green, James Freeman, Dominic Teresi, and Moira Hurst; bassoonists Miranda Johnson, Steve Paulson, Ben Hoadley, and Penny Miles; hornists Bob Ward, Kimberly Wright, Bruce Roberts, Jon Ring, Ed Allen, William Melton, Nicola Averill, Erica Challis, Helen Burr, Simon Williams, and Emma Richards; trumpeters Barrett Hocking, Huw Dann, Chris Clark, and Cheryl Hollinger; trombonists Matt Alison, Mark Close, Doug Cross, Tim Sutton and Peter Maunder; tubists Don Basham, Floyd Cooley, Peter Wahrhaftig, and Zachariah Spellman; percussionists Lenny Sakovsky, Jeremy Fitzsimmons, Grant

Myhill, Takumi Motokawa, Chris Froh, and Luanne Warner; harpists Erelah Gafni, Helen Webby, and Christina Kopriva; and all the conductors with whom I’ve been privileged to work, especially Eugene C. Shepherd and Marc Taddei. I’d also like to acknowledge the orchestras and ensembles who’ve played my works and taught me an enormous amount thereby, in particular Orchestra Wellington, Santa Rosa Symphony Young People’s Chamber Ensemble, Auckland Philharmonia, San Francisco Symphony Chamber Ensemble, Citywinds, and ACE Brass. In addition, I was directly assisted by quite a few readers who looked over my tips and manuscript in progress, including Erica Challis, Merran Cooke, Lisa Riley Fogler, Kim Hickey, Barrett Hocking, Penny Miles, Mary Scott, and especially Tim Davies and Alan Belkin. They caught quite a few blunders, brought me down to earth, and surprised me by letting me know how much I hadn’t gotten wrong. This task force was assisted by an army of readers and viewers of the original tips, whose corrections, suggestions, and support was crucial. They’re responsible for much of what’s right about the facts in this book, along with the many musicians and ensembles listed above - I’m the guy you should blame if something is wrong. The great composers, conductors, and orchestras of the past created the entire craft that we exercise today. I’m grateful for their legacy, and for the friendship of those whose works reflect so many of their lessons, such as Eve de Castro-Robinson, Carolyn Yarnell, John Psathas, Alexis Alrich, and Gareth Farr. Thanks so much for not giving up on me whenever I mentioned that I should write a book about all this stuff. Several key figures have gone above and beyond in their support of this effort. Chief among them is the Orchestration Online webmaster Sammy Hayman, who gave me invaluable feedback and showed me how all of this could be possible if we just gave it a try. Deniz Hughes was also there from the beginning, giving me much encouragement and moral support. I’ve already mentioned the assistance above of Alan Belkin and Tim Davies, and I can’t mention it enough. Peter Alexander, to whom this book is dedicated, gave me a lot of behind-the-scenes advice, and rallied a lot of interest and support in many online communities. Now all I can do is feel thankful to his memory, and regret that he’ll never read the book that he helped bring to life. Rest in the arms of Ravel and Stravinsky now, Peter. I’ve saved the deepest, most meaningful thanks for last. This book was made possible by you. You were one of those voices telling me to go ahead and write it, and when I let you know what it would take for me to make the time, you stepped up and made the contribution. For the past few months, I’ve lived a charmed life indeed, in the pure and exalted state of a writer whose readers have looked after him directly, and who has no other responsibility than sharing intricate perspectives on the subject he loves most. All that I can offer in repayment is the hope that this book will prove to be useful, even vital to the development of your craft. Thanks so much. I’ll never forget your gift to me of these precious months. Thomas Goss, Friday 10 April 2015, Wellington, New Zealand 170

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Jonas Frederik Nørager Nils Johan Ødegaard Peter R. Pagett Giordano Pagotti George Palmer Steve Parsons Matthew Parunak Christopher Paul Graham Plowman Mauricio G. Pinho William J. Polk Autumn M. Reed Matthew E. Reed Johannes Repka Jose G. Rivero Lyn Ritz Darren M. Rockhold Gus Rogers Christopher Roppola Brett Rosenberg David J. Rouillard Ed Rugman Hildigunnur Rúnarsdóttir

Mark Saltman Matthew O. Sanders Filipe de Lima Santos J. Schmidt-Hambrock Helmut Schuster Curtis Schweitzer John Shaughnessy Nikolas Sideris Nick Smeenk Stepan Sobanov Thiago Gobet Spada Christoph Splittstoesser Jan Steele Christian Storcks Shiki Suen Vincent Tardrew Kuan Teoh Brandon Theriault Daniel Tirado Max Tofone Nathanael Tronerud R.D. Uzzell Anthony K. Valley


Colin van der Lei Frans Vermeerssen Willy-Els van Vliet Anders Wall Marco Dominique Weber Bryan Whitehead Jamie Whitmarsh Brendon M. Williams Gerald Williams Timothy Williams B.R. Woods Sharma Yelverton Donations Laurie Amat Henry Cooper M.J. Mynarski Ken Himura Rodrigo Furman Ingmar Devos Simone Lontano Tony Matthews


Internet Articles and Resources (linked) Belkin, Alan. Artistic Orchestration.

Orchestration Texts and Courses Adler, Samuel. The Study of Orchestration, 2nd ed. W.W. Norton, 1989. Berlioz, Hector/Strauss, Richard. Treatise on Instrumentation. C.F. Peters, 1905. Casella, Alfredo/Mortari, Virgilio. The Technique of Contemporary Orchestration. Ricordi, 1950. Del Mar, Norman. Anatomy of the Orchestra. U. of California Press, 1983.

Daino, Eric. The Double Bass: A Technical Study of Timbre. U. of Delaware. Davies, Tim. Jazz Notation - Chords and Drums. deBreved blog, timusic.net Greathouse, Robert. Different Models of Trumpet Mutes and Their Effects. U. of Illinois. Hyperphysics. Bar Resonances. Georgia S.U.

Forsyth, Cecil. Orchestration. Macmillan, 1935. Dover reprint 1982.

IMSLP (International Music Score Library Project)/Petrucci Library: Free Public Domain Sheet Music.

Goss, Thomas. Orchestration Training Course 101: The String Section. macProVideo/AskVideo

Kiebles, Steven. Effects of a Trumpet Mute. U. of Illinois.

Kennan, Kent Wheeler. The Technique of Orchestration. 2nd ed. Prentice Hall, 1970.

Kirkby, D. The Physics of Music, Lecture 14. U.C. Irvine.

Piston, Walter. Orchestration. W.W. Norton, 1955.

La Favre, Jeff. Position of Mallet Blow on Bar - Effect on Bar Timbre. J. Carroll U.

Rimsky-Korsakov, Nikolai. Principles of Orchestration. Ed. Russe de Mus. 1922. Dover reprint 1964. Also see Garritan Interactive Principles of Orchestration.

Pan, Jie/Bergmann, Sören. An Experimental Study of Acoustical Properties of Tubular Tower Bells. U. of Western Australia. Powell, Meredith. Acoustic Analysis of the Viola. Department of Physics, UC Davis.

Books on Instruments Camden, Archie. Bassoon Technique. Oxford University Press, 1962. Cox, Trevor J./D’Antonio, Peter. Acoustic Absorbers and Diffusers, 2nd ed. Taylor & Francis, 2009 Galway, James. Flute. (Yehudi Menuhin Music Guide) Macdonald, 1982. Goosens, Leon/Roxburgh, Edwin. Oboe. (YMMG) Macmillan, 1977.

Zevin, Michael. Resonance and Harmonic Analysis of the Double Bass and Bass Guitar. U. of Illinois.

Orchestration Online Community (linked) Main Website - Resources, Tips, Training, and Advice for Developing Orchestrators YouTube Channel - Training and Career Guidance

Gregory, Robin. The Horn. Faber and Faber, 1961.

Facebook Group - Interaction with over 10,000 composers

Hoeprich, Eric. The Clarinet. Yale U. Press, 2008.

Twitter Feed - Updates, Announcements, and Stray Thoughts 173


13. Be aware of the problems of dynamic control represented by the oboe’s lowest register.

Each item in the following index links back to its relevant tip.

14. Use the oboe’s seemingly endless ability to phrase to its best effect in constructing powerfully phrased episodes, but never take it for granted.


15. The best, most characteristic sound of the oboe comes from its middle octave-and-a-half: from F4 at the bottom of the staff up to B 5 above. The optimum registers of other oboe family members lies at the bottom of their ranges, with implications of a wider separation from the oboe than one might expect.



Breathing for wind instruments is cyclical, not inexhaustible.


Woodwind registers conform closely to the harmonic positions at which the range of pitches are blown and overblown.


Be aware of the consequences of scoring a2 unison for winds.



Sometimes, it’s better that a wind player stays on their auxiliary instead of changing back to their principal instrument. Auxiliary instruments are useful as part of the general fabric of a composition, not just as soloists or as extensions of their sections.

16. Clarinet registers conform the closest of all wind instruments to the harmonic positions at which the range of pitches are blown and overblown.


While orchestration manuals discourage their use, extreme auxiliary instruments can be quite common in film scores.


The flute’s capacity of breath should be considered while scoring.


Neglecting to exploit the flute’s technical prowess is the chief error in many composers’ efforts.


The lowest octave of the flute is tricky to balance, but effective if handled correctly.


Think of the bigger picture when scoring flute and piccolo as the top voice of a harmony, in how their timbre fulfils the inherent spectrum of overtones.

10. The alto flute is stronger and more usable across its range than some orchestration manuals admit.

17. Use extreme caution when scoring octave melodies for clarinets, and be aware that the overtones reinforce each other with great potency. 18. The clarinet is an excellent resource for supporting and colouring harmonic and melodic texture.


19. The E clarinet extends the range of the clarinet family upwards to a degree that feels and sounds much higher than actually scored. 20. Never underestimate the usefulness of the bass clarinet: perhaps the most flexible of all auxiliary winds.

BASSOON 21. The bassoon is not a member of the oboe family, but its own category. 22. The unusually rich sound of the bassoon’s low register is key to understanding its timbre and orchestral role.


23. The potential of bassoon as support instrument runs the gamut of possibilities.

11. Be aware of the process by which oboists vibrato, and how the variability of speed thereof affects musical expression.

24. The bassoon’s high register is quite usable under the right conditions.

12. Use the extreme precision of oboe articulation to its best effect.

25. Orchestrators should know the difference between contrabassoon, bass clarinet, and tuba timbre, and score according to each instrument’s strength and character. 174

INDEX OF TIPS (CONT.) BRASS SECTION 26. The key to understanding each brass instrument’s unique character lies in how its resonance favours the harmonic series. 27. Use the best possible articulation for any passage of notes, being aware that slurs are less clear in some cases, as are lower register notes. 28. Score-reading transposed brass parts can be a great first step in developing the orchestrator’s abilities to easily identify the transposed pitches of all instruments. 29. The orchestrator should consider colour as much as perceived equations of dynamic balance when scoring for brass. 30. The seating of brass players in a modern orchestra has some bearing on unity of the section, as well as cohesiveness with the other sections.

HORN 31. Orchestrators should learn the difference between stopped notes and muted notes on the horn, and also how to ask for mutes and give time for their installation. 32. If you want to test the effectiveness of a horn part, simply sing it all the way through. Be mindful that it’s much simpler to slur up on a horn than to slur down. 33. The “horn pad,” once thought obsolete and to be avoided, still has possibilities for the imaginative orchestrator. 34. Despite what several modern orchestration texts may claim, concert horn and trumpet players prefer not to have key signatures. 35. The standard concert score layout of horns 1/2, 3/4 exists for some very good reasons. Inform yourself before altering these positions.


38. While trumpet chords may be scored in many different voicings, the most immediately effective harmonic relationships utilise natural principles of resonance. 39. The uses of trumpets in a support role offer the orchestrator a wide palette with which to colour their orchestral textures. 40. When scoring for auxiliary trumpets, be aware that considerations of tone are always more important that extensions of range.

TROMBONE 41. Instead of treating the trombone’s loudness as a cliché, look for ways to use it to its best advantage. 42. Certain types of slurs are technically impossible on the trombone, and the orchestrator should know how and why the player will simulate them. 43. The trombone is basically a tenor-range instrument, which only recently has been trending toward a lower spectrum of tones. Any trombonist at the full-time professional level had better be able to read and play tenor clef instinctively and without complaining. The tenor clef remains a useful resource for trombone, but it should be applied as an indication of register, rather than just to save ledger lines. 44. The extremes of the trombone’s range go both higher than and not as low as is usually thought necessary by the developing orchestrator. 45. Trombones have an enormous variety of uses, which range far beyond obvious examples in modern film scoring.

TUBA 46. Never underestimate the tuba’s enormous powers of projection. 47. The tuba’s unique tone should be considered carefully when scoring brass chorales. 48. Orchestrators must be mindful of the amount of breath required to sustain a note or phrase on the tuba.

36. Mutes should be classified according to their effect on the harmonic spectrum.

49. Despite the hugeness of the tuba, it still has the ability to blend with great subtlety, if properly scored.

37. The trumpet is the leading melodic voice of the heavy brass. Use it wisely.

50. Use the tuba’s innate strengths of range and phrasing to craft an ideal orchestral solo. 175




61. Use the psychoacoustic peculiarities of tubular bells to their best effect.

51. Think like a percussionist when scoring and preparing parts.

62. Mallet instruments look like big keyboards, but they don’t play like them.

52. Provide ample time for changeovers between percussion instruments, with an awareness of the distances between stationary instruments and changing beaters. This has a relationship to the roles the instruments play, and the section members who play them as well.

63. The relative mass between tone bar and mallet in mallet instruments is the fundamental factor in establishing tone for a passage. Indicate the appropriate mallet and articulation style.



53. Keep the boundaries of timpani tuning in mind with some easy-to-remember shortcuts as described below.

64. Composers should be aware of the limitations of the double-action mechanism and work out which pedals need to be changed at what time, ensuring that the tuning is compatible within the landscape of seven strings, each with a range of three semitones.

54. When composing for timpani, mark the required tuning at the start of your piece, and indicate changes in the score.

65. Some harps don’t possess a high G string, and both bottom strings of C and D may need to be tuned by hand.

55. Avoid needless tuning and retuning by having timpani sometimes play the mediant or dominant position of a chord, rather than relying on the root in every case.

66. The most resonant sound from the harp occurs when the tuning is set to flat keys.

CYMBALS 56. The cymbals’ quality of resonance may work with or against that of the pitched instruments of the orchestra. 57. The orchestrator must know that cymbal technique is unlike any other percussion instrument, and use that technique to its best advantage.





HARP TECHNIQUE 67. The range of a harpist’s hands is not unlimited across all the strings. 68. Left hand double harmonics are only practical up to the C5, and triple harmonics up to E4. Higher than that, the hand position prevents them from speaking with ease. 69. Rapidly repeated notes on harp will result in a buzzing sound as fingers touch already vibrating strings. 70. The harp is NOT a piano! Do not assume what works on a piano will work on harp - much of the time, it won’t!

58. The category and construction of different drums has a direct bearing on their tone and usefulness to an orchestrator. 59. The bass drum is an instrument which inhabits its physical space to a greater degree than any other in the standard orchestral complement. 60. A simple approach works best when scoring kit drums.





83. The alto clef is used on viola for a reason: it helps to delineate the ideal playing range for the instrument, which is built right into its very structure.

71. The orchestrator should learn to automatically envision what type of bowing is to be used in

84. The unique character of the viola’s sound originates in its less-than-ideal proportions.

every orchestral passage, and mark those passages as needed. 72. Study bowing by looking at marked string parts, and look over your own orchestra parts once they’ve been rehearsed and performed. 73. Learn to recognise the the standard approach of bowing as applied to typical rhythmic and melodic gestures.

85. The character of viola registers is key to understanding the unity of the string section. 86. The viola’s capacity for blending with other instruments is perhaps the greatest in the orchestra. 87. The violas have a natural affinity for patterns, an essential resource for orchestrators. 88. The violas can serve as bass, or work with double basses when needed.

74. A working knowledge of finger positions for string instruments is essential to a working orchestrator.


75. Use caution in wide skips of position, especially where a slur is involved.

89. The three different clefs used by the cello serve as natural boundaries to its three essential registers.

76. Use slurs and articulation in a vocal, flexible way for a convincing style of string phrasing. 77. Always make sure that that your string players have plenty of time to put on and take off their mutes. 78. Sul ponticello and sul tasto are both extremely useful effect. The orchestrator needs to know why they work, how to use them, and their limitations.


90. Sul tasto has less limits on cello than it does on viola and violin, and may also be used quite effectively on its two lower strings in combination with tremolo. 91. Cellos need not always play octaves with the basses. A very powerful sound can be achieved by doubling the instruments in unison. 92. The cello’s construction make triple stops a far simpler proposition than on violin and viola. 93. Because of lower-pitched, longer strings and a different fingering scheme, the cello has a fuller range of usable natural and artificial harmonics. 94. The principle of wolf tones is key to understanding the resonance characteristics of the cello (and the double bass).

79. The intensity of the violin’s G string is a powerful colour in the orchestral palette. 80. As the template for its family and the basic building block of the orchestra, the violin is perhaps the most flexible, expressive, and technically fluent instrument ever constructed. 81. The 1st violins bear the greatest responsibility for stating the thematic content of an orchestral work. 82. The first violins are nothing without the seconds, who provide both support and contrast in a variety of ways.

DOUBLE BASS 95. The double bass has a phenomenal range due to the length of its strings, but there are some limitations. 96. The orchestrator needs to understand how difficult it is to make the double bass speak well, and to what lengths players go to get the ideal sound. 97. The double bass body is an acoustic compromise, smaller than optimum for its range. This also affects the tone. 177

98. Double basses can carry the bass part alone, but the tone of their part will be different from cellos alone, or doubling with cellos. 99. An overly-resonant low note on double bass can reinforce the upper partials of a major harmonic, with good and bad results. 100. Neither the C-extension nor the low-C fifth string are needed most of the time, and are even uncharacteristic to the double-bass in a way.

PARTS 112. When extracting parts, assign cues sparingly to a pro or semipro level work. 113. When choosing a cue, select material from a player in close proximity to where your musician is seated, and/or the most prominent thematic gesture or musical element.

ORCHESTRATION 101. The ability to shape a phrase orchestrally should be one of the primary concerns of a developing orchestrator, not just thinking vertically. 102. A great orchestral theme should use certain precepts of communication for maximum emotional impact. 103. The qualities of instrumental colour should dictate the development of thematic material in a orchestral score. 104. Thematic development driven by the character of the instruments should determine the nature of the accompanying orchestral texture. 105. Inflection is often key to matching a thematic phrase intuitively to an orchestral instrument or section. 106. The parameters of technique and execution must be considered in scoring a phrase to an instrument or section. 107. Limit the use of the “niente” marking to only those instruments which can truly play right at the smallest level of audibility.

SCORE PREPARATION 108. Concert music scores often use reduced systems for greater readability and less wasted space. 109. The layout technique of reducing staff systems has certain natural implications, and built-in traps. 110. Rehearsal marks are far more than just section dividers or musical measuring notches. 111. When finalising an extended orchestral project, proof each instrumental section for careless errors. 178

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