I get many questions from the local students that I teach composition to that have to do with orchestration. Yesterday, I got a question about music transcription and how to orchestrate if you were to take a piano piece and put it in an orchestral setting. I told this individual that he can simply take the piano piece and use the implode and explode the various parts of the piano music into other parts of the orchestra. In fact, if you go to Finale -> Utilities-> Explode (or implode) instruments. Finale will surely put instruments in assignment to certain parts of the piano part. This is of course highly editable even after the fact.
But wait, no. That’s not the question that my student had. He was asking about how you orchestrate. I told him one word, “Color.” You hear often about orchestration is the color that you use to create the musical canvas. For instance, you will have a section with only high woodwinds, followed by a section of low brass, maybe silvery French Horns and trumpets. Then in the next section, you’ll have loud brass and percussion together, followed by a part where all instruments play together. There is also much knowledge taken into account in terms of knowing the different ranges of instruments from low, to mid to high ranges and what the tonal characteristics are of each of those ranges.
If you were to take some time to study the scores from famous orchestral scores (and by studying them I mean, listen to their audio recordings and also putting your copyist skills to use as a composer and copy the parts of the orchestral piece into an orchestral score template in your score editor), you would gain so much knowledge about the composer’s intent and color choices.
This also goes into what sort of sound effects that the orchestral instruments are asked to do to portray a certain scene or character. For example, in Dafnes en Cloe (sp) by Maurice Ravel, the composer uses high trilling flutes to accentuate the rise of the morning and the birds chirping and running about. Many works by Olivier Messiaen showcase different animal sound effects in his methods of instrumentation. Color and timbre are what orchestration is all about. In later blog posts, I will allude to more attributes of what constitutes good color balance in orchestral samples. I could even break down my orchestral composing process (preferably in videos) to help you understand more about this.