Orchestration Blogs

There are many great blogs about music on the internet. For the purposes of this website, I’ve restricted my selection to those that specifically address orchestration, or touch on it often. All of these bloggers give dependable perspectives and accurate information on the craft of orchestration, and they’re all pros.

Please feel free to contact me if you have some suggestions of other orchestration-focused blogs that you feel might also be helpful to orchestrators.

Tim’s one of those rare film industry orchestrators that actually has time to keep up a blog. He tends to focus on the practical approach, and discusses the realities of working on a daily basis with both producers and orchestral musicians. He’s also a very active member of the Orchestration Online Facebook group, and often helps keep discussions on track by sharing his experience in the field.

As Tim writes in his Introduction:
“I am very passionate about notation and find the relationship between notation and orchestration fascinating, but neglected in most discussion. When books use examples from the common repertoire they focus on range and color and how so-and-so voiced a chord, but they usually leave out mention of performance practice considerations. This is a critical error as any given excerpt will be performed much differently if presented to the orchestra to read in isolation, with no information about composer or time period. In short, performance practice governs interpretation of notation. Understanding this, and thus understanding the difference between necessary details in the score and wasted ink will help you notate pieces for a quick and accurate performance in the absence of any historical performance practice.”

In the rest of his posts, Tim delivers on this promise, covering topics like divisi, tremolo, harmonics, pizzicato, and over-notating scores. He also includes interviews with top session players like Endre Granat and Jim Thatcher. A weekend spent reading every blog might very well change the course of a developing musician’s career.

Brilliant, detailed analysis that takes apart great orchestration in an extremely knowledgable, readable style. Before you realise it, he’s taught you a few indelible facts about the craft and shown you a window into his powerful perspective. As Matthew himself puts it…

“…there are the less systemic parts of an orchestral piece that few would notice if the score were changed. Inner string parts or perhaps brass section voicings are much more subtle. Nevertheless, the composer – or in some cases, the orchestrator – still makes a decision on which instruments play what notes. This blog selects a topic for each post and examines some of the choices made. This is not an academic exercise. It’s simply one view of the infinite variety of choices made by composers active mainly in the latter half of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”

Spot on. Highly recommended reading in every post.

Peter’s been on the internet guiding composers through the process of orchestration for quite some time, and his training is a good counterweight to mine and those of others in our resources pages. He’s very well organised, doesn’t assume you’re an idiot, and yet doesn’t hold back on many different subjects, all of which have a direct impact on craft. And – a man after my own heart! – he makes the distinction between “orchestration” and “instrumentation,” which is often ignored even by the most essential and classic texts on the subject. Worth a read, and he updates frequently, so go check out his latest insights and advice.

Ben Newhouse comes at orchestration from a different direction than Tim Davies above. His origins are more that of a music supervisor and composer, not to mention a teacher of music tech and production at Berklee College (and in fact his blog is hosted by berkleemusicblogs.com). Ben’s focus is delightfully scattershot, his seemingly random interests all building towards an overall picture of insatiable curiosity about music and orchestration. He’s got topics about parallel motion, Tchaikovsky’s chord voicings, orchestral music production, workflows, music business, and many other areas of interest.

One warning: though Ben’s an excellent writer and teacher, he’s not as prolific as some other bloggers. Lately, he’s been adding a new blog every few months rather than weeks. But it’s absolutely worth waiting for, and a good starting point for composers who come from a reference of MIDI composing.

Bret’s focus is on the main constituents of band music: winds and brass. His site is a cornucopia of valuable information and insights about these instruments, as relevant to orchestrators as it is to band arrangers. He’s got an approach that is reminiscent of the taxonomic approach of Norman Del Mar’s “Anatomy of an Orchestra.” From his section on clarinets:

“It is possible to think of the clarinet family as we would the taxonomy of living species.  The genus Clarinet has many species, and several of those species have further subspecies.  Just as in wildlife, the true taxonomy of some of these beasts is debated.  Many of these species and subspecies, again like our wildlife, are in danger of going extinct (and six members of the family already have expired). Genus – Clarinet.”

Bret’s got some great introductory writings on the heavy hitters of the winds and brass, along with their neglected cousins, like the lupophone, the contraforte, and the ophicleide. I appreciate not only how he gives these auxiliaries a fair shake, but even goes on to propose a revitalization to the orchestra through the addition of new members. Bandestration is more than just a blog or a reference site: it’s really its own philosophy about understanding the roles and relationships of brass and wind instruments.

Don’t let the technical-sounding title of Brent’s “MusicCompTech” put you off. What you’ll read there will be anything but a series of dry, pedantic lectures. Rather, it’s a grab-bag of delicious, bite-sized miniatures that help even the moderately literate musician grasp the essence of a fascinating, progressive musical trick. Multi-triadic distribution? …a crunchy peanut cluster. Median modulation? …a creamy-centered nougat. Each post is essentially a short introductory statement accompanying a no-nonsense screenshot of the topic at hand. And don’t miss his incredibly useful series on Theoretical Sketching, indispensable for composers in development as they start to tackle major works.Common-Tone-Voice-Leading

Alongside this, you get a musical thinker who’s fascinated as to how this bag of tricks applies to very well-known cinematic music, and will get you thinking about your own scoring if you’re in the industry, or on your way there. Brent’s also an active voice in the Orchestration Online FB group, and has helped to lead a lot of conversations in the right direction with his characteristic brevity and knowledgeability.

 

I get asked all the time about MIDI orchestration, what sound sets to buy, how to make things more realistic, and so on. But Graham’s really the one with a lot of those answers, and he orchestrates with sound sets for a living. He’s got great, clearly written advice on how to make the most out of your MIDI orchestrations, accompanied by a healthy respect for the source sounds as played by real orchestras. Addressing some of the problems associated with sound sets, he writes:

“For realism of sound, obey the laws of each instrument. A bass or cello can not achieve the same rapid bow movements that say, a violin can. And when plucking strings, they can only be plucked about 4 times a second, roughly, and fast repeated notes can sound very fake (known as the machine gun effect) unless your library has ‘Round Robin’ samples, or other ways to vary repeated notes. This means that in rapid succession, the sample of the same note changes, so as not to repeat the exact same sound every instance. Vital in keeping the instrument sounding real.”

Like Ben Newhouse, Graham is not the most prolific blogger, but he’s got enough advice to keep you busy for a few days, checking over your work and improving it with his suggestions.

I’m bending some of my own rules above, as to limiting blogs to those dealing mainly with orchestration. In the case of Brandon Nelson, it’s worth it, because many of the topics he covers either deal with things that any orchestrator might find interesting or even essential information. Recently, Brandon has posted items such as a commissioning template, and a list of things to consider when sitting down to compose a new piece. No, the latter isn’t a touchy-feely nightmare of breathing exercises and new-age affirmations, but a sensible checklist that any pro might want to run through to make sure nothing is left to chance. Brandon is both a composer and a conductor, and his perspective covers a great deal of territory. May he soon increase his postings exponentially!