Weca Posted September 17, 2009 Share Posted September 17, 2009 Instruments don't sound the same throughout their ranges. Tone color is a product not only of the instrument's timbre but also the specific pitch it's playing. Many orchestration texts show instruments, and especially the woodwinds, divided into tonecolor ranges. Here is Rimsky-Korsakov's analysis of the flute: For the purposes of orchestration (creating good blend and balance) the flute in these 3 octaves might as well be three different instruments. For example the flute in its third (bright, clear) octave blends well with the oboe, while flute in its lowest (breathy, soft) octave will be swamped by the oboe's sound. And so on - the same principles apply to the brass and (somewhat) to the strings. I recently got in the mail the Lange Spectrotone Chart. This is a chart devised by an LA orchestrator/arranger in 1943. Simply put, it's genius. Lange takes this basic idea and runs with it - all the way down the football field. He takes each pitch of each instrument (even each string of the stringed instruments) and assigns it a basic color. For any ONE instrument this analysis is not much of a breakthrough. For example Lange divides the flute into three main registers (BLUE, GREEN, and YELLOW) whose ranges are exactly as Rimsky laid them out. What's cool is that you can see what OTHER instruments have "blue" registers, where they are, and so on. Lange calls his chart a "thesaurus for orchestral tone-coloring" which is a pretty neat metaphor. He identified two main kinds of tone-blending. The first is: Perfect: two instruments in the same tone color, e.g. both playing "blue" notes. This could be unison doubling, harmony, octave doubling, doesn't matter - the notes have the same tone color so they will blend nicely. The second kind of match is: Close: a blue instrument plus a green or purple instrument. But there's one more kind of match. Lange also gives you COMPLEMENTARY colors along the range of each instrument in addition to the "main" tone color. This allows a third kind of pairing: Complementary: an instrument whose complementary tone color is the same as the MAIN tone color of another instrument. ---- To give you an example, I've put part of the chart into Finale. The actual thing is a very pretty bar chart (spanning the range of a piano keyboard) but I find this arrangement easier to read. The top line shows all instruments which have "Green" registers sketched out together (and the same for "Blue," "Orange," and so on). The bottom line shows the instruments which have ranges COMPLEMENTARY to Green, or complementary to Red, Orange, etc. Here's how you use the chart. Let's say we have this melody for Flute: (the "Mission" theme from NBC Nightly News) We can see that this fits very nicely in the Green register of the Flute. What other instruments should we add? With a glance at the chart, we can make: Perfect doublings by looking for other instruments with Green notes in this range. The Clarinet and Violin would work nicely in unison. Putting the Bassoon one or two octaves below would also work. Close doublings by looking to neighboring colors (namely Blue and Yellow). For example we could have the Clarinet play an octave below the Flute, or double the Flute with Viola. Finally look at the bottom Green row for Complementary doublings. These include the Oboe and the Harp. --- To be honest, studying this chart was kind of like being struck by lightning. There are so many "dos and donts" that you pick up from orchestration books, from score study and from trial & error in your own pieces, that are all united by one grand theory on this single chart. The affinity of oboes and trumpets, or of horns and cellos, pops out at you. The soundness of octave doublings like Flute/Clarinet and Trumpet/Trombone is clearly evident. The fact that Flutes, Clarinets and Oboes create an homogenous sound above the staff but blend quite poorly in the low range, is obvious from a glance at the colors of their ranges. The fact that Lange dissected the strings down to EACH STRING is just icing on the cake. I can't believe this thing is being sold for 12$. My orchestration textbook cost 95$. What's REALLY weird is that it's not well-known & widely-published given the obvious utility. I actually had this idea myself a long time ago, and made a similar chart (but mine only covered the strings, which I know well, and it used descriptive words instead of colors). Now some caveats: if you do NOT know instrumentation this chart will be worth much less to you. If you ONLY go by the color-pairings you will run into trouble as the chart makes no allowance for dynamic/intensity differences (that would be a third variable that would make the chart much more complicated). I think you have to have instrumentation and probably some orchestration under your belt before you can "grok" this chart. But for me, this handy tool is invaluable. I'm taping it right above my computer :) For me, the trouble in orchestration always comes after I've decided that this gorgeous melody will be played by horns. Then the question is - what can I double it with in that range that will still sound good? What instruments should carry the harmony to have a contrasting sound? Will this sound clear or muddy? With a glance at this chart (actually, my Finale version of the chart which is more readable for me), those questions are answered. It's pretty amazing. Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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