Jump to content

General rules


Peter_W.
 Share

Recommended Posts

So, I just had a chat with a buddy of mine. We'll be performing a couple of duets which I've loosely arranged for trpt + violin + piano for a recital I'm putting on. I say "loosely" because the pieces are Hora Staccato and Czardas, both of which are written for violin and piano already.

At any rate, he was mumbling a bit about technical difficulties in Hora Staccato, most of which came from the original piece anyway. But it prompted me to ask him what he was talking about so as to educate me a bit on what makes a line difficult for a string player.

Which brings me to the topic of this thread.

What are some of the most important general rules regarding the idiosyncracies of particular instruments (or families) that composers really should know?

I'll give the violin example.

A line becomes difficult on a string instrument when he has to shift multiple times within the line. You basically need to be aware of this when playing lines on the top string and the line moves upward (or down) more than four notes, the number of fingers available on the fretboard. After four, the player has to shift in order to reach more notes on that string. Difficult, not unplayable.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"On violin beginning with the D on the third string all intervals of a second, a third, a fourth, a fifth, a sixth, a seventh, an octave are practicable. But they get more and more difficult in proportion as they advance on higher strings"

That's a quote from Berlioz's treatise on orchestration and it covers pretty much all the instruments you could want to write for and instruments that I don't think are used any more.

It's a good book and I've learnt a lot from what I've read however I have a 261 page pdf and he does use some instrument names that weren't familiar to me i.e hautboy (called an oboe now-a-days).

However if you want a copy that only talks about instruments that are still in use and is condensed to state things in a shorter easier to understand way there are condensed versions on the internet.

http://www.hberlioz.com/Scores/BerliozTreatise.html Heres one condensed version I used before finding the whole thing in pdf

Hope I've been some help

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

"The hautbois quickly spread throughout Europe, including England, where it was called "hautboy", "hoboy", "hautboit", "howboye", and similar variants of the French name."

I assume then in my copy its called hautboy as it would have been translated into English by someone who called it a hautboy

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I would call it a toughboy.

But seriously: Nice topic! So, in case you were wondering what's difficult on a guitar:

a: playing fast (but I guess that is true for most instruments :P, do not underestimate it though, the guitar ís very agile)

b: Having multiple difficult fingerings after each other (consider open strings of the guitar, cause open strings are (DUH) easy to play(from low to high): E-A-D-G-B-E, you can choose to tune the lowest string down to a D giving acces to the o so famous power chords :P).

Ok this last one is I think difficult to understand if you don't play the guitar. Think of it this way: playing notes in a logical chord is very easy, and can be done VERY fast, since it all requires only 1 chord. Pay notice to the fact, if you want to let the guitar player let the strings ring or not. If you let them ring this mostly gives that nice guitar sound, but sometimes it is hard to keep your finger somewhere to keep to tone, so to make it easy, don't let strings ring for too long (unless it's an open string ofcourse).

c: chords are easy

d: A guitar player can play a bass melody (thumb) and a melody in the higher strings (other fingers) with not much trouble, don't make the bass melody tóó difficult, though. You can use this also to make the player accent a note, it is very useful to notate the stem of the note downwards, so the guitar player will play it with his/her thumb. Any other fingering necessities can be written in the score. You can use "pima" for that, p(ulgar) for thumb, i(ndice) for index finger, m(edio) for middle finger and a(nular) for ring finger.

If you have any questions, just ask! But I guess the guitar has never really been seen as an orchestral instrument. Only a few composers have written guitar concertos.... :(

Link to comment
Share on other sites

http://www.hberlioz.com/Scores/BerliozTreatise.html Heres one condensed version I used before finding the whole thing in pdf

Oh, MAN, that's a sweet reference! Thanks. :cool:

However,

I'd also like to hear specific issues from specific people. It's one thing to have a reference/reading material, it's another to hear what us and our colleagues have personally discovered through experience. The personal touch makes the learned material much more deeply engrained.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Oh I can expand on guitar, in guitar you can have touch style tapping were usually right hand taps out a bass line and left taps out melody on higher strings, using this you can play the main theme of tubular bells bass and all among other things. However while the bass can be more complex than if you used thumb on left hand to play bass while fingers do melody like JijGaat mentioned its harder to mute the strings so because of this the player needs to be very precise and some acoustic master like andy mckee or a crazy shredder like buckethead to play faster lines. However its fun to play and guitarists will love you if you write some nice lines like that.

Also higher frets on most acoustic guitars don't work well although there are brands that make their acoustics to have the ergonomics/anthropometrics of electric guitars meaning you can sustain volume and the actual notes on the higher ranges.

Also open tunings are very useful for slide guitar and slide guitar allows microtones to be played.

Also that link I gave is pretty sweet isn't it. I've got it bookmarked and Berlioz now has a special place in my heart :P

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 months later...

one thing ..when composing for guitar..

when you put a solo that requires a drop D tunning (or a drop D variant or a drop E whatever .. ) don't expect after/or before/ that we can play "regular shaped" chords .. so be easy on the shifting .. sometimes I find my self obliged to transpose the whole thing ,just so that i't can be "playable" ..

and another thing .. PLEASE don't over estimate the Spanish guitars "sustain".. sometimes from hammering on and pulling off .. the note get faded away ..

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Instrumentalists wish that composers thought of THEM when orchestrating. Think about that ONE player that has to play the part. Think of how it physically is to play. How it works to put mutes on/off. Who do the person sit next to/behind. Think of how it is to do pedal change on harp or timpani, how long time it takes to switch between sticks etc....

ALL of these logisticals should be in the composers mind when orchestrating. It will make the players happier.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 4 months later...

Instrumentalists wish that composers thought of THEM when orchestrating. Think about that ONE player that has to play the part. Think of how it physically is to play. How it works to put mutes on/off. Who do the person sit next to/behind. Think of how it is to do pedal change on harp or timpani, how long time it takes to switch between sticks etc....

ALL of these logisticals should be in the composers mind when orchestrating. It will make the players happier.

Definitely. Although sometimes, the composer might really need that one part, just because a player can theoretically play a tied whole note the entire piece, switch between different effects, for wind players play on their high range the entire piece with little to no rests, doesn't mean they should.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Instrumentalists wish that composers thought of THEM when orchestrating. Think about that ONE player that has to play the part. Think of how it physically is to play. How it works to put mutes on/off. Who do the person sit next to/behind. Think of how it is to do pedal change on harp or timpani, how long time it takes to switch between sticks etc....

ALL of these logisticals should be in the composers mind when orchestrating. It will make the players happier.

Yes, yes, YES! Somebody else who understands this most important of principles! I can't tell you how often I have to play music from even the great composers that has been written with no thought for or ignorance of the performers. And if you do write good parts people are more likely to like and perform your music.

This doesn't mean that rbasilio is wrong though, because I also hold that if something difficult is artistically justified then you can write it, just as long as it is clear to the player why you had to, and as long as the effect created is worth it.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I guess I can add a couple things....

For Strings: One difficult element I think most string players struggle with that most composers don't realize are chromatic passages, namely scales. A string player has only 4 fingers, and if there are 8 notes to be played on the string there's an issue. :/ Go easy on those. Also, for the most part it's not necessary to write bowings in, as the orchestra will mainly have each first desk monitor bowing. Someone previous said to avoid jumps of more than four notes, but I think that's false. If there's a jump of more that four notes, the player will just go on the next string... What you want to avoid is jumps of octaves and higher, because that would either involve a really awkward fingering, or to jump over one string and go to the next, which just gives people anxiety and often sounds bad when played fast.

Regarding Horns: I'm a very amateur horn player, but I'm going to try and give some advice. Mainly: Horns are not bass instruments, don't treat them as such. Those are called trombones. Horns are also not soprano instruments, and you shouldn't expect them to be very happy if you write long melodies in the upper register (concert Bb/written F (top line of the staff) and higher is usually considered the "normal limit" and notes above that should be used sparingly. Don't expect them to be very agile up there, however. At that point, it literally matters very little what fingering you use, changing notes is almost all embouchure adjustment, and very subtle ones at that. Stick to the tenor/alto range, and use the rest if you feel it is necessary. (Maybe I'm just being wimpy, but those are my thoughts.)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Regarding Horns: I'm a very amateur horn player, but I'm going to try and give some advice. Mainly: Horns are not bass instruments, don't treat them as such. Those are called trombones. Horns are also not soprano instruments, and you shouldn't expect them to be very happy if you write long melodies in the upper register (concert Bb/written F (top line of the staff) and higher is usually considered the "normal limit" and notes above that should be used sparingly. Don't expect them to be very agile up there, however. At that point, it literally matters very little what fingering you use, changing notes is almost all embouchure adjustment, and very subtle ones at that. Stick to the tenor/alto range, and use the rest if you feel it is necessary. (Maybe I'm just being wimpy, but those are my thoughts.)

Yes they are... Listen to some Mahler. They're definitely brasses. Horns are incedible instruments, just don't overuse them. Unison horn lines are amazing.

To the topic: For trombones: Don't write as if they're a low trumpet, because despite the name, they really aren't. Trombones are also great as group instruments. While a trombone solo can occasionally be the epitome of awesomeness (Mahler 3 anyone?), the trombones really shine as a group, especially in a chorale style. A technical thing that many composers don't realize is the jumps from 7th to 1st position. Sometimes these can be gotten around with triggers, but more often than not, don't make fast passages between them. Also, learn your gliss possibilities! Don't just write glissandos in the trombones and hope that we can play them. We're limited by the length of our slides.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My turn. Obviously, Ima talk about the trumpet.

There are basically two kinds of trumpet players: we call them "legit/classical" versus "commercial and/or lead."

Range. On any key for any trumpet, the lowest note you can play is a low F#. A true low F can be attained with an unusual technique, but it's very awkward and very rare. Pedal tones and notes lower than F# which aren't pedal tones are known as false notes. Unless you have an unusually talented player, these are not real notes and you shouldn't write them. And by unusually talented, I mean even more than a typical professional.

On just about any typical keyed trumpet, the highest note you should write is a written D above the staff. Any legit/classical player should be able to access it. I've had to play a high Eb on Bb trumpet in many classical settings, but it's almost always the result of me playing a part meant for a higher keyed trumpet.

The exception is piccolo trumpet. In addition to a unique sound, piccolo trumpet is never asked to play higher than the A above the staff. Of course, that is REALLY high. You do find Gs reasonably frequently. F is usually the cap.

And on the low end, with the fourth valve you have access to the notes below low F# and the pedal tones. You hardly ever see anything other than a low F, though. It's not a compensating instrument, so tuning suffers lower than that.

But! Unless you're writing for orchestra or chamber ensemble, it is very out of place to write for non-Bb trumpets. So don't write for an Eb trumpet if you just want trumpets to be able to play higher in a concert band piece.

Now. If you are writing for jazz band, it's different. You can ask for Gs above the staff easily.

And if you are writing for a specific PERSON who you know is a lead trumpet player, you can ask for higher ranges, obviously, and they can make a full-toned sound above the ranges I've stated. But treat those as special circumstances, and realize that it may not sound as "classical" as you'd like. You won't get a characteristic trumpet tone outside of these guidelines. It'll either be squirrely or like a big band trumpet.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

For Strings: One difficult element I think most string players struggle with that most composers don't realize are chromatic passages, namely scales. A string player has only 4 fingers, and if there are 8 notes to be played on the string there's an issue. :/ Go easy on those.

Well...yes, a reasonable rule-of-thumb. But what is specifically difficult is if the passage involves many changes of position or is in a higher register. Playing a chromatic scale - any scale, for that matter - in sequence is actually quite easy because the fingering patterns repeat in all the neck positions. Some non-sequential chromatic passages are also practical - again mostly those in the neck positions - because they can be played with very few changes of the hand position. So chromatic writing isn't necessarily difficult by default.

What you want to avoid is jumps of octaves and higher, because that would either involve a really awkward fingering, or to jump over one string and go to the next, which just gives people anxiety and often sounds bad when played fast.

This is good advice. Some leaps of more than an octave are alright if they involve two notes on the same string; however, these are mostly found in solo parts or at least section solo passages where the player(s) can take some time and can hear the note they are moving too. This is another important point: if the player has to find an odd or wide interval that isn't 'under the hand' and the rest of the band is banging away at full whack, it makes it much more difficult to find it accurately.

Range. On any key for any trumpet, the lowest note you can play is a low F#. A true low F can be attained with an unusual technique, but it's very awkward and very rare. Pedal tones and notes lower than F# which aren't pedal tones are known as false notes. Unless you have an unusually talented player, these are not real notes and you shouldn't write them. And by unusually talented, I mean even more than a typical professional.

You're absolutely right. However, just to be pedantic, this only applies to modern valved trumpets. Mozart wrote pedal notes that are unplayable on modern instruments, but which a natural trumpeter could reach, one being the low C in bass clef (ie the same note as the c string of the 'cello) in the first movement of the 'Jupiter' symphony. Natural horns can do the same sort of thing. Obviously your advice applies if you don't have a period band to write for.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

siwi: right, of course alto/tenor/bass trumpets are a bit different in that the pedal register is designed to be playable (like that low C you mentioned: it's the first pedal tone). As you say, the rules for period music is a bit different. Unless you're writing period music for a period ensemble, though, the idiosyncracies of LOWER keyed trumpets (below Bb) don't apply, because no one uses them for modern music, obviously.

...and I don't know much about them. :P Past what I just shared.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

To all composers and arrangers of band music who like to add string parts:

- Don't copy and paste the bass guitar part into the cellos. We can't play the low B as you seem to think we can.

- Please don't just write long notes for us all the time. It's boring and we feel like you can't be bothered to give us anything interesting.

- On the other hand, please don't write any stupidly rapid wide leaps that we can't do either. Do you ever read orchestration books?

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

As a violinist, I have a message for a few composers (you know who you are, probably, I dunno)...

It's easy to reach up to the G or so an octave above the E string (6th pos.) Unless you have a beginner, there is no problem with using that register (and even beyond that).

In fact it would be very fun if you could use it more often.

Please? I don't see enough use of the violin's upper range on the forums these days... :santa:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...