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ORCHESTRATION BASICS

1a

NORMAN LUDWIN

The instrumental makeup of an orchestra has varied a great deal over time and can
even vary significantly from piece to piece. Below is a list for four approximate
orchestra sizessmall, medium, large, and very large.The goal of these numbers is
to create a balanced ensemble for a live performance. As one section grows larger,
the others must grow simultaneously to maintain a balanced ensemble.

Several observations should be made here. First, the woodwind section


most commonly consists of single, double, or triple woodwinds. The
"small" instrumentation aboveone flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon
is a single woodwind instrumentation. The "medium"
instrumentation is two of each instrument, and so on.
In larger woodwind sections, the last player in a group typically
doubles on a related auxiliary instrument. For instance, with triple
woodwinds you may have three flute players with the last player
doubling on piccolo as necessary.
In the percussion section, a single player will play multiple instruments.
For instance, a score may call for three percussionists, who play a total
of nine instruments. The exception is timpani. The timpanist is trained
specifically in that instrument and should not be called upon to play
parts on other percussion instruments.

The string section is always made up of five sectionsViolin I, Violin II, Viola,
Cello and Double Bass. The smaller instruments generate less sound per
instrument, so they require increased numbers to achieve a balanced sound. As
a result, each violin section will outnumber the viola section, which will
outnumber the cello section, which will outnumber the bass section.
Notably, the string numbers are already reflected in most samples. For instance,
Vienna Symphonic Library has released string samples in three sizeschamber,
standard and appassionato strings. The numbers during each recording sessions
were: chamber (6 violins, 4 violas, 3 cellos and 2 basses; standard (14 violins,
10 violas, 8 cellos, and 6 basses); appassionato (20 violins, 14 violas, 12 cellos,
and 10 basses).
As an example, I played on the Oscar winner motion picture UP, that had 15
Violin I, 12 Violin II, 12 Viola, 10 Cello and 7 Double Bass players.
When notating an orchestral score, you do not need to specify string numbers.
Simply indicating Violin I, Violin II, Viola, Cello and Double Bass is sufficient.
On the other hand, specific numbers for woodwind, brass and percussion are
required.

Not all orchestral instruments are created equal. Some


are used quite sparingly, while others play nearly
continuously. Of course, composers preferences have not
been uniform throughout time, with some composers
heavily using instruments other composers essentially
ignored. The variation can be accounted for partly by
taste, both personal and those of an era, as well as the
gradual technical perfection of various instruments.
In general terms, the string family has always been the
center point of the orchestra. Over time, the orchestra
has gotten larger and composers have called up brass
and percussion more frequently.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart completed his


40th Symphony in 1788. The symphony calls
for:

1 Flute

2 Oboes

2 Clarinets

2 Bassoons

2 Horns in C

Violin I

Violin II

Viola

Cello

Double Bass

The graph shows the instrumental usage as a percentage of total measures. For instance, the
movement consists of 294 measures, and the Violin I section played in 98% of them.
Several observations should be made immediately. First, the strings perform nearly continuously
throughout the work. Second, the woodwinds are used extensively but less frequently than the strings.
Third, the brass section is very small and used comparatively infrequently. Fourth, Mozart chose to
bypass percussion entirely. Even if Mozart had chosen to include timpani (or trumpets), it would have
been used sparingly. All of the above trends are characteristic of Mozart's time period.

Peter Tchaikovsky completed his Fifth


Symphony in 1888. The symphony
calls for:

3 Flutes (3rd doubling on piccolo)

2 Oboes

2 Clarinets in A

2 Bassoons

4 Horns

2 Trumpets

3 Trombones

1Tuba

Timpani

Violin I

Violin II

Viola

Cello

Double Bass

Here, we can immediately see that the orchestra has expanded, primarily with additions to the brass and
percussion section. Below is a graph showing how frequently Tchaikovsky used the instruments in his first
movement.
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Next, let's fast forward to Gustav

Mahler's Symphony No. 6. Mahler

completed his sixth symphony in 1904.

The symphony calls for:

Bass Drum

4 Flutes (3rd and 4th doubling on


Piccolo)

Tam-Tam

Xylophone

Triangle

Hammer

Cowbells (off stage)

Glockenspiel

2 Harps

(3rd

4 Oboes
and
English Horn)

4th

doubling on

3 Clarinets (3rd doubling on Eb and D

Bass Clarinet

4 Bassoons (3rd doubling on


Contrabassoon)

Snare Drum
Cymbals

8 Horns

Violin I

6 Trumpets

Violin II

4 Trombones

Viola

1 Tuba

Cello

2 Timpani

Double Bass

Obviously, the orchestra for which Mahler writes is quite large. The woodwind, brass and
percussion sections have all expanded, and the numbers in the string section would have to expand
to balance the full ensemble.
Below is a graph showing how frequently Mahler used the instruments in his first movement.
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Here, some significant changes have occurred. The


strings remain the most frequently called upon
instruments, but they are not used as continuously as
the previous works.
In addition, the brass (particularly the trumpets,
trombones, and tuba) are now essentially equal to
the woodwinds and strings. The percussion, though
expanded, continues to be used sparingly.

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Last, we will look at an example from


a contemporary film score, the
Factory Rescue" cue by Michael
Giacchino from Mission Impossible 3
(2010). The instrumentation calls for:

3 Flutes (3rd doubling on Piccolo)

2 Oboes

3 Clarinets (3rd doubling on Bass


Clarinet)
3 Bassoons (3rd doubling on
Contrabassoon)

Snare Drum

Taiko Drums

Cymbals

Xylophone

Harp

Piano

Violin I

Violin II

Viola

4 Horns

Cello

3 Trumpets

Double Bass

3 Trombones (2 Tenor and 1 Bass


Trombone)

1 Cimbasso

Timpani

Bass Drum

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Here, the instrumentation most resembles that of the Mahler Symphony, with several
significant changes. Notably, a cimbasso is used in lieu of a tuba. The cimbasso is a
valved brass instrument with a range similar to that of the tuba but with a bore more like
a trombone. In addition, the percussion section has been expanded and includes several
ethnic drums. The taiko and shime daiko drums are both Japanese in origin, with the
taiko drum being the larger of the two.
Notably, the score specifies 26 Violins (presumably 14 Violin I and 12 Violin II), 10
Viola, 8 Cello and 6 Double Bass.
Below is a graph showing how frequently each instrument was used in the cue.

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As with the classical works, the strings are the instruments most frequently called upon.
Similar to Mahler, the woodwind and brass instruments are used extensively, but slightly
less frequently than the strings. The chief difference between this piece and the Mahler
Symphony is the extensive and nearly continuous use of percussion. The percussion is now
on par with the remainder of the orchestra.
The primary takeaway here is that the string section has always been the heart of the
orchestra. In the case of contemporary film and concert music, the string section remains
the primary focus of orchestral writing, though all instruments are used extensively with
the brass and percussion family being much more significant than in the past.

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Most orchestral instruments use either the treble or


the bass clef, the clefs that also appear in piano
music. The treble clef places middle-C on the first
ledger line below the staff.
The bass clef places middle-C on the first ledge
line above the staff.
Alto clef is the primary clef for Viola. It places
middle-C on the middle line of the staff. Tenor clef
commonly appears in bassoon and cello parts
when those instruments enter their upper range.
Tenor clef places middle-C on the second line from
the top of the staff.
The graphic at left shows the placement of
middle-C in treble, bass, alto and tenor clef.

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The flats and


sharps in the
key signature
for each clef
are placed as
seen on the
right:

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One additional clef appears commonly in


orchestral music, the percussion clef.
It is used for non-pitched percussion instruments
and is also known as the neutral clef or indefinite
pitch clef.
The percussion clef can be used on either a 5-line
or single-line staff. Generally, if the percussion
part calls for more than one non-pitched
instrument, a five-line staff is preferred with each
instrument on its own line or space. If the part is
only one non-pitched instrument, such as a snare
drum, a single-line staff is sufficient.
Pitched percussion instruments (such as Timpani
and Xylophone) use either treble or bass clef,
depending on the instrument's range.

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A significant number of orchestral instruments are transposing


instruments. A transposing instrument sounds at a different pitch
than the notation is written. For instance, a B-flat trumpet will
sound a major 2nd below the written pitch. When you write
middle C and hand the part to a B-flat trumpet player, you will
hear the B-flat beneath middle C when that written note is
played.
Note: The written pitch (middle C in the case above) can be
referred to as the written or transposed pitch. The sounding pitch
(B-flat in the case above) can be referred to as the sounding or
concert pitch.
Though the history and motivation for transposition varies,
transposed notation is used primarily to place the majority of an
instrument's range in the middle of the staff. This minimizes
ledger lines and increases legibility.

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In some cases, transposition also allows performers to more easily


switch between various instruments in a family. For instance, all
saxophones have similar written ranges and fingering, allowing an
alto sax player to switch to tenor sax with relative ease.
When referring to a transposing instrument the interval of
transposition is said before or after the instrument name, such as "Bflat Trumpet" or "Horn in F." The stated letter answers the question,
"What note will you hear when the written pitch is a C?" Instruments
that do not transpose are referred to as concert pitch instruments.
Some instruments (such as trumpets) come in both transposing and
concert form. It is always best to clarify when using a concert version
of the trumpet, such as "C Trumpet" or "Trumpet in C."

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In the
woodwind
family, the
piccolo, alto
flute, English
horn,
contrabassoo
n and the
most
common
clarinets are
all
transposing
instruments.

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In the brass
section, the
horn and the
Bb trumpet
are
transposing
instruments.

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In the
percussion
family, the
crotales,
glockenspiel,
xylophone
and celesta
are
transposing
instruments.

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In the string family,


the double bass is
a transposing
instrument.

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The score shows the

notated parts for all


instruments in the
orchestra. During a

rehearsal or live

performance, the
conductor will follow
the score (or memorize

it).

Score Layout

The orchestral
instruments are

arranged on the score


in the following order,
from top to bottom.
Piccolo

Flutes

Oboes

English Horn

Clarinets

Bass Clarinet

Bassoons
Contrabassoons
Horns I and II
Horns III and IV
Trumpets
Trombones
Tuba
Timpani
Percussion
Harp
Piano/Celesta
Violin I
Violin II
Viola
Cello
Double Bass

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You will encounter minor variations of this alignment.


When the 3rd flute doubles on piccolo, the piccolo is
often placed below Flute 1 and 2. I have also seen
scores placing the Piano above the Harp. Despite such
variations, the lineup above should be followed strictly.
Notably, each percussion staff accounts for a single
percussionist rather than a single instrument, as
percussionists can switch instruments throughout a piece.
Instrumental changes for percussionists should be
marked diligently throughout the score.

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Let's take a look at a blank page of orchestral score.


The left edge of the score is connected by a continuous
barline, with each orchestral family connected by a bracket.
When a single instrument requires two staves, such as piano
and harp, a brace is employed to connect the staves. When
a section requires two staves, such as Horn 1-4, a subbracket is employed to connect the staves.
With the exception of the leftmost edge, the barline is not
continuous from top to bottom, breaking between orchestral
families. This is an important cue to the conductor, helping
him locate instruments on the page quickly.
It is most customary to place a tempo marking above both
the woodwind and string family.

#
" !!

#!
" !

% #!
!

% #!
!

#!
" !

Trombone

% #!
!

Bass Trombone

% #!
!

% #!
!

% !
!

!
!

!
!

#!
" !

Flute

#!
" !

Alto Flute

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Allegro q = 120

Piccolo

#
" !!

Oboe

#
" !!

English Horn

#
" !!

Clarinet in Eb

#!
" !

Clarinet in Bb

Bass Clarinet
in Bb

Bassoon

Contrabassoon

"
!

#!
" !
#
" !!

Horn in F

Trumpet in Bb

Tuba

Timpani

Percussion

Harp

Piano/Celesta

Violin I

"

!&
"&

#
#

#
" !!
% #!
!
#!
" !
% #!
!

Violin II

#!
" !
#
" !!

Allegro q = 120

Viola

' # !!

Violoncello

% #!
!

% #!
!

Double Bass

"

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As long as it remains legible, multiple woodwind or


brass parts of like instruments (such as two oboes)
can be placed on a single staff. Below, two oboe
parts are indicated on one staff.

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Notably, if two parts are on a single staff and there is only one written note, some
confusion can occur. If you wish both players to play the part, mark the passage with the
term "a2". To indicate only player one should be playing, mark the part either "1." or
"1". Likewise, "2." or "2" indicates only the second player should play. If legibility
becomes a concern, it is best to place the parts on two staves connected by a subbracket.
As yet another alternative, you can place both parts on a single staff and break them
into separate voices. Voice 1 is placed at the top of the staff with stems upward and will
be played by player 1. Voice 2 is placed at the bottom of the staff with stems
downward and will be played by player 2.
As a result, the two notations below would be equivalent.

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Preceding the score must be a cover


page that details vital information.
This includes:
Instrumentation.
The instrumentation should include
both the number of percussionists
required and the instruments they
will be required to play.
Indication whether the score is a
transposed or C score.
Key to any special symbols used in
the score, such as percussion
mallets.
Approximate duration.

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In the score, instruments that are not "C instruments" can be notated at
either the sounding or written pitch, with the former called a "C
Score" (sometimes called a Concert Score, though this term is erroneous
as not all parts are written at their concert pitch) and the latter a
"Transposed Score".
Notably, not all instruments are written at their sounding pitch in a C
score. More specifically, instruments that are in C but transpose by the
octave (such as Piccolo, Double Bass, and Glockenspiel) are written at
their transposed pitch. This creates a score in C rather than a concert
pitch score.
In the case of a transposed score, it is customary to give transposing
instruments different key signatures to minimize accidentals. For
instance, if the piece is in C major, then the F Horn will be given a Gmajor key signature in a transposed score.
Given these considerations, the two scores below are equivalent.

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In the case of a transposed score,


it is customary to give transposing
instruments different key signatures
to minimize accidentals. For
instance, if the piece is in G major,
then the F Horn will be given a D
major key signature in a
transposed score.

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Notably, not all instruments are


written at their sounding pitch in a
C score. More specifically,
instruments that are in C but
transpose by the octave (such as
Piccolo, Double Bass, and
Glockenspiel) are written at their
transposed pitch. This creates a
score in C rather than a concert
pitch score.

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Certainly, there are pros and cons to both methods. In the case of a
transposed score, the conductor and players are looking at the same
pitches during a rehearsal, performance or recording session. Note:
Parts for the players are always written at the transposed pitch
and not the sounding pitch.
From the perspective of the orchestrator or composer, C scores are
easier to analyze harmonically, since no transposition is required
when deciphering chords.
Pros and cons aside, the vast majority of classical scores are
transposed scores, while C scores are generally favored by today's
film score industry.
Notably, the use of a C score does not relieve the orchestrator or
composer of a thorough knowledge of transposition. Individual parts
are always written at the transposed pitch and the orchestrator must
be able to quickly transpose parts when conversing with players.

Le Tombeau de Ravel
Norman Ludwin

36

Andante q = 70
7
#
& # 44

Flute 1

13

A part is given to each player in


the orchestra containing the music
that individual is designated to
play. At the top, the title, instrument,
and composer should be indicated.
Here is the 1st flute part for my Le
Tombeau de Ravel".
As previously noted, all parts are
written at their transposed pitch. If
you are using a C score, this means
the parts will differ from the score.
In cases where two parts are
included on one staff (such as the
case of two oboes in the previous
topic) in the score, two separate
parts should be written for each
player.

&

20

&

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Violin II

rit.!

# rit.

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n

rit.

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P espress.

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& #
41

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rit.

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&
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51
4
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65
rit. U
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Ludwin Music 2011 ASCAP

37

The overtone series is an acoustic phenomenon


that will be relevant at several points in your
study of orchestration. The overtone series
consists of a fundamental pitch and a series of
overtones above the fundamental.The
overtones come from an exact mathematical
relationship with the fundamental. For
instance, the wavelength that produces the
2nd overtone is as long as the wavelength
that produces the fundamental. The
wavelength that produces the 3rd overtone is
1/3 as long as the wavelength that produces
the fundamental. And so on...The overtone
series is a recurring theme in orchestration and
instrumentation. For instance, a trumpet player
can produce multiple pitches in the overtone
series without changing fingering. This is true
of all woodwinds and brass.
At this point, you need only know that the
overtone series exists and what the pitches are
relative to the fundamental. The first 8
overtones are the most important. Note:
Not all the overtones are perfectly in tune with
the well-tempered scale. Overtones 7, 11 and
14 are noticeably flat, and overtone 13 is
noticeably sharp. For the most part, this
variance won't have major implications in
orchestration.