How do I change the mood of my pieces with orchestration?
Many people want to write for the orchestra. I would imagine “compose a symphony” is on quite a few bucket lists. But the fact is, you have to be ready for it.
To start off, I’ve done a podcast episode on the topic, which if you haven’t listened to, I recommend.
There are a few pre-requisite questions you need to ask yourself before :
- Are you able to compose effectively for 1 or 2 instruments? Many people move from writing a simple piece on piano, to immediately attempting to compose their first piano concerto. It is a recipe for crashing and burning.
- Do You Really Understand How an Orchestra Works? Knowing the playing characteristics of an instrument is necessary, but to write effectively for orchestra, you need to understand how players actually play in them. The best way to learn this? Join an orchestra. There is a good chance, somewhere near you, there is a community college, amateur orchestra, or school band you can join. You’ll learn a ton doing this. You can also go to live concerts, but it’s not quite the same experience as actually being in the orchestra.
- What is my reason for using the ensemble that I am choosing? Is there a reason you are writing for a 120 player orchestra? How about starting with a small chamber orchestra. Beyond monetary reasons (large orchestras cost a lot of money, so they are very selective on what they play), small ensembles are more manageable, and you can learn all the fundamentals with them. This will translate to good orchestration.
These are important questions, because they dictate how you go about learning to orchestrate. Once you know these, the way I like to teach and think about orchestration is through orchestrational models.
Models are basically ways to copy the orchestrational style of master composers, but in a logical way that makes it easy to customize on your own.
The models effectively look at a few different aspects:
- Arrangement functions. These are things like the primary element, secondary elements, melodic fills, pads, rhythm, and so on.
- Timbral functions. These are ways of distributing the available timbres across the different arrangement functions.
- Formal functions. They also show us how to use orchestration to illuminate our form.
I don’t want to give away too much here. I’ll be explaining these over the next few weeks in emails, so be sure to add me to your contacts. That way, you don’t miss any emails.
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