Double Basses – Carrying the Bass Line Alone

Double Basses – 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…
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Harp – BAD SCORING – CAUTION!

Harp – BAD SCORING – CAUTION!

(Tip no. 70 from “100 Orchestration Tips,” Part 4: Harp) (and if you tl:dr this tip, it’s on your own head) (*ahem*) 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! This is the biggest error I see in…
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Harp – Range of Hand Positions

Harp – Range of Hand Positions

(Tip no. 67 from “100 Orchestration Tips,” Part 4: Harp) The range of the hands is not unlimited: 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). This is also something…
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Harp – Fixed Tuning of Highest and Lowest Strings

Harp – Fixed Tuning of Highest and Lowest Strings

(Tip no. 65 from “100 Orchestration Tips,” Part 4: Harp) Some harps do not possess a high Gb string, and both bottom strings of Cb and Db may need to be tuned by hand. The double-action of the modern harp has limitations, as each pedal will essentially create tension on 6-7 strings of varying lengths…
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Harp – Resonance of Flat Keys

Harp – Resonance of Flat Keys

(Tip no. 66 from “100 Orchestration Tips,” Part 4: Harp) The most resonant sound from the harp occurs when the tuning is set to flat keys. This is because of the double-action harp tuning mechanism. The most relaxed, longest tuning of each string is when the harp tuning pedal is in the up or flat…
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Harp – “Stomping” Notes

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 is a simple, incredibly important fact which 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…
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Video Tip of the Week: Timpani Tuning

Video Tip of the Week: Timpani Tuning

A video installment in my daily series of tips. Please follow me on Twitter for the Orchestration Online Tip of the Day at @OrchestrationOL, or join the Orchestration Online Facebook group for feedback, resources, and advice. Tip of the Day for this week: Monday, December 31: Proofing by Instrumental Section Tuesday, January 1: Where to…
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Timpani – Marking Tuning

Timpani – Marking Tuning

When composing for timpani, mark the required tuning at the start of your piece, and indicate changes in the score. Some composers will even 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…
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Flute – Lowest Octave

Flute – Lowest Octave

The lowest octave of the flute is tricky to balance, but effective if handled correctly. The conventional wisdom is to avoid using this 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…
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Bass Clarinet – Most Flexible Auxiliary Wind

Bass Clarinet – Most Flexible Auxiliary Wind

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…
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