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Ali Jafari

some questions about orchestration

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Hello everybody. I'm trying to begin learning orchestration. My question is, how much do I need to know about counterpoint in order to write a good orchestral piece? Would knowing the few rules of part-writing be sufficient for writing an 'acceptable' orchestral piece?

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There is no better teaching tool than composing.  Go ahead and write something and you'll find that you start to have specific questions that you can research and then apply what you've learned.  If you wait to get started until you know everything you need to know, you'll never start, because there is always more to learn.  You'll write good orchestral pieces after you've written a lot of bad ones first as practice, not after you've read all the books.  

Just start.  And share, so you can get useful feedback.  But get rid of any expectations of it being good.  That's a great way to make yourself too fearful to write or to share.  Just write, and keep writing.  

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@pateceramics Actually my old pieces are all orchestral, and I've shared one of them here https://www.youngcomposers.com/t37439/nyctophilia/

I kinda agree that composing is a good teacher itself, but I mostly think that studying a lot before starting to compose again is really good. There were many great composers who did this, the best examples that come to my mind are Bruckner, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Borodin and Poulenc, who studied for several years before starting to compose their serious pieces, or at least starting to compose after some years of hiatus.

Edited by Ali Jafari

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I have studie music, but a whole lot of it has been, teach myself.. You could start by re-creating pieces that you like, When working on a piece outside of my usual area of knowledge,  I often write a very detailed critique of everything.  chord progressions, show instruments come on, how other instruments answer, respond,  Then at some  point, writ e piece in the style of a piece you like.. Try to discern the writing devices, and processes the composers used. Being very analytical about it is a very helpful tool. Once you have done this enough, it becomes a muscle memory, or subroutine, you do not have to consciously think about.  After a few years of writing out orchestral scores of my compositions, I can now edit, add, move notes on the staffs.  I do not have to listen to the note to know its right.. (well I still do once in a while, but a fair amount of time I just know where to put notes, on the staff.  without verifying them by ear. 

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@mark styles This is actually what I'm trying to do until the next year or the year after that. I think my main problem is that I haven't analyzed any of the masterworks yet, which I think is something that everyone who wants to become a composer should do.

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On 2/25/2019 at 7:15 AM, Ali Jafari said:

Hello everybody. I'm trying to begin learning orchestration. My question is, how much do I need to know about counterpoint in order to write a good orchestral piece? Would knowing the few rules of part-writing be sufficient for writing an 'acceptable' orchestral piece?

 

Most full orchestra pieces, especially in film music like Williams and stuff, are not polyphonic textures, at least not throughout. The ear quickly tires of that, and unlike a string quartet or piano where the ensemble is largely of equal timbre instruments, maintaining balance with a full orchestra is difficult. For example, balanced counterpoint between a trombone and flute, is so tough to sustain that you may as well avoid it. Because you'll be forced to either put one instrument in a weaker register and thus weight the counterpoint in favor of the stronger-register instrument, defeating the purpose, or put both in dull or strong registers and have too much spacing between them. 

Instead, you'd be best off treating one as the main line, the other as a secondary line, and putting background resonance (like a sustained harmony in the strings) behind it.

So the answer is "not much beyond the basics". You should know how to employ good voice leading in chords, basslines, and melodies, etc. but that's all that is truly necessary.

Here are some good orchestral pieces that I think demonstrate this well.

 

Edited by AngelCityOutlaw

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On 2/25/2019 at 4:15 PM, Ali Jafari said:

Hello everybody. I'm trying to begin learning orchestration. My question is, how much do I need to know about counterpoint in order to write a good orchestral piece? Would knowing the few rules of part-writing be sufficient for writing an 'acceptable' orchestral piece?

 

It's like this: Composing and orchestrating are two very different things. Do not confuse them.

 

The point of orchestration isn't to "write for orchestra," rather it is to adapt your ideas to any kind of ensemble. So, to that end, you can learn a lot from making transcriptions as well instead of just writing for orchestra. I'll give an exercise that helped me a lot (and addresses your counterpoint question.)

 

It's like this: Take one of Bach's 2 voice inventions, no matter which one, and arrange it for string quartet. You only need to really follow this rule:

You are not allowed to write more than two voices at the same time UNLESS you are switching instruments (so that means the first beat of the new measure can get played  across the old and new instruments so you don't end up with measures cutting off suddenly.)

 

Otherwise you're free to select freely which instrument plays what, in what order. Play around, see what feels better to you. You can repeat this exercise once you've done two 2 voice inventions with the 3 voice inventions, using the same rule as above (only 3 simultaneous voices are allowed.)

 

In fact, here's a thread where I work with others on this exact exercise!

 

So, to actually answer your question, only need as much counterpoint as you want, really. You can be all Brahms like and have tons and tons of counterpoint, or like Wagner and be very selective of it. It doesn't matter, it only matters if that's what YOU want. If you feel your counterpoint is lacking, I can help with you with that, but know it isn't then a weakness of your orchestration but rather of your counterpoint skill.

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Don't hold off composing until you learn enough! you'll never learn enough. Just do what the Greek goddess of victory said: 'it'.

 

Study, yes! But to inform you of what others have done, but don't put composition off. Sure it's a great excuse for not getting it done. Saddle the horse and ride in to the sunset. Your main problem is not, that you haven't studied any masterworks. Your main problem is that you allow yourself to use that as an excuse!

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@SSC

17 hours ago, SSC said:

It's like this: Composing and orchestrating are two very different things. Do not confuse them. 

 

The point of orchestration isn't to "write for orchestra," rather it is to adapt your ideas to any kind of ensemble. So, to that end, you can learn a lot from making transcriptions as well instead of just writing for orchestra. I'll give an exercise that helped me a lot (and addresses your counterpoint question.)

 

It's like this: Take one of Bach's 2 voice inventions, no matter which one, and arrange it for string quartet. You only need to really follow this rule:

You are not allowed to write more than two voices at the same time UNLESS you are switching instruments (so that means the first beat of the new measure can get played  across the old and new instruments so you don't end up with measures cutting off suddenly.)

 

Otherwise you're free to select freely which instrument plays what, in what order. Play around, see what feels better to you. You can repeat this exercise once you've done two 2 voice inventions with the 3 voice inventions, using the same rule as above (only 3 simultaneous voices are allowed.)

 

So, to actually answer your question, only need as much counterpoint as you want, really. You can be all Brahms like and have tons and tons of counterpoint, or like Wagner and be very selective of it. It doesn't matter, it only matters if that's what YOU want. If you feel your counterpoint is lacking, I can help with you with that, but know it isn't then a weakness of your orchestration but rather of your counterpoint skill.

 

Not really. You're speaking overly pedagogically. It's not so strict, even for a beginner.  Every novice has a vision, a sound. It comes in many forms. How to realize it? Don't read books or listen to teachers (unless he is sitting right next to you on the piano bench). Say this after me. My ears shall be my only guide. In other words, if you are in doubt which comes first, the chicken or the egg, choose the chicken and the egg.

Edited by Ken320

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7 hours ago, Ken320 said:

My ears shall be my only guide. In other words, if you are in doubt which comes first, the chicken or the egg, choose the chicken and the egg.

????

You could've as well said "Follow your heart!" or some nonsense, for all that's actually helpful. Instead of criticizing me, show you actually know something about the topic that can be actually helpful, or just stay out.

 

 

I did this 9 years ago based on that exercise I mentioned. This is probably a good read if you're curious how it works.

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On 2/27/2019 at 3:03 AM, AngelCityOutlaw said:

Most full orchestra pieces, especially in film music like Williams and stuff, are not polyphonic textures, at least not throughout. The ear quickly tires of that, and unlike a string quartet or piano where the ensemble is largely of equal timbre instruments, maintaining balance with a full orchestra is difficult. For example, balanced counterpoint between a trombone and flute, is so tough to sustain that you may as well avoid it. Because you'll be forced to either put one instrument in a weaker register and thus weight the counterpoint in favor of the stronger-register instrument, defeating the purpose, or put both in dull or strong registers and have too much spacing between them. 

Instead, you'd be best off treating one as the main line, the other as a secondary line, and putting background resonance (like a sustained harmony in the strings) behind it.

So the answer is "not much beyond the basics". You should know how to employ good voice leading in chords, basslines, and melodies, etc. but that's all that is truly necessary.

Thank you for your advice.

 

On 2/27/2019 at 4:53 PM, SSC said:

The point of orchestration isn't to "write for orchestra," rather it is to adapt your ideas to any kind of ensemble. So, to that end, you can learn a lot from making transcriptions as well instead of just writing for orchestra. I'll give an exercise that helped me a lot (and addresses your counterpoint question.)

 

It's like this: Take one of Bach's 2 voice inventions, no matter which one, and arrange it for string quartet. You only need to really follow this rule:

You are not allowed to write more than two voices at the same time UNLESS you are switching instruments (so that means the first beat of the new measure can get played  across the old and new instruments so you don't end up with measures cutting off suddenly.)

Thanks, I'll try it.

 

17 hours ago, bryla said:

Don't hold off composing until you learn enough! you'll never learn enough. Just do what the Greek goddess of victory said: 'it'.

 

Study, yes! But to inform you of what others have done, but don't put composition off. Sure it's a great excuse for not getting it done. Saddle the horse and ride in to the sunset. Your main problem is not, that you haven't studied any masterworks. Your main problem is that you allow yourself to use that as an excuse!

I personally think that studying until you can write new pieces systematically is very important. Even Beethoven stopped composing music for a couple of years before 1792, although he was composing since he was 12 or so (as far as I know, he even had a counterpoint teacher towards the end of his life). Bruckner and Poulenc did a similar thing too. Now don't get me wrong, I composed a new piece about two months ago, and I've also composed some new themes since then, but I still think I need to study more in order to write more mature pieces.

 

8 hours ago, Ken320 said:

Not really. You're speaking overly pedagogically. It's not so strict, even for a beginner.  Every novice has a vision, a sound. It comes in many forms. How to realize it? Don't read books or listen to teachers (unless he is sitting right next to you on the piano bench). Say this after me. My ears shall be my only guide. In other words, if you are in doubt which comes first, the chicken or the egg, choose the chicken and the egg.

I disagree, I think studying books really helps the way you write music and think about it. Even though I haven't studied much about form yet, studying Schoenberg's and Piston's books on harmony alone have changed the way I write music and think about it, very deeply. Well, that's just my opinion.

Edited by Ali Jafari

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I personally think that music that gets made is the best kind.

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7 hours ago, mark styles said:

CAN WE NOT GET NASTY  HERE PLEASE?

 

 

Huh? What nasty, Mark?

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