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Do you orchestrate a piano improvisation or go straight into orchestral writing?

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I thought I would ask this because there have been several times, including right now where I thought:

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You know, what I improvised on the piano there might sound even better with an orchestra than solo piano.

Currently, I am thinking about whether to write this piece I improvised on the piano for orchestra or to stick to a smaller ensemble. On the one hand, I feel more comfortable writing for a quartet than an orchestra. On the other hand, the piece I improvised does sound orchestral in nature, like it could easily be taken from piano to orchestra and then added to and tweaked until I find the perfect orchestral sound. With the orchestra, I also have to think things like:

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What's the key of my piano improvisation? Should I transpose it to an easier key for the orchestra? Should I use an A clarinet here? Or should I use the Bb clarinet I am more comfortable writing for?

Do I want trombones? Do I want heavy brass(trumpets, trombones, tuba) at all? Or will 4 horns suffice? What about the ending chords? Are they going to be full enough with just horns and maybe trumpets in the brass?

When is the tympani going to come in? Is it going to add tension in those moments when the tension doesn't release completely and lead to a loud outburst? Is it going to simply accent a preexisting harmony?

Would a fortissimo dynamic in the original piano improvisation be better stated as a forte dynamic in the orchestra, given that there is the dynamic of volume and the dynamic of mass both at play in orchestral dynamics?

This piece that I have improvised, I'm calling it for now Escape from the Minor Trap, since I have the piece start in a minor key and it escapes that minor landscape. A minor chord does show up in the final cadential progression, the minor tonic even, but, it doesn't trap everything back in the minor key, the tonic major immediately following it surpasses the minor tonic. Like there is a glimpse of minor on the horizon and then its gone. This piece has quite a bit of emotional development in it, having all of these emotions in it:

Lamenting(Beginning C minor arpeggio and quiet melody) -> Dramatic(Loud, Beethovenian outburst) -> Hopeful(Relative major followed by modulation to parallel major) -> Joyful(C major at last, the music breaks free from C minor)

All those emotions and the way the piece develops from this sorrowful lament in C minor to a joyful ending in C major is part of what is swaying me towards writing it for orchestra.

Anyway, there have been times where I went from piano to orchestra and there have been times where I dove straight into writing a piece for orchestra. I find that for me, it is easier to adapt a piano improvisation for orchestra or even to improvise short little motifs on the piano that I then develop in the orchestral score(which is what I'm doing for my second attempt at a symphony) than to just dive straight into writing a piece for orchestra without the piano as a starting point. Without the piano as a starting point, I get overwhelmed very fast by just deciding how to begin the piece. With motifs or an entire piece improvised on the piano, I have something to look at and listen to when I get to the point of feeling overwhelmed about what to do next in the orchestral score.

What do you do for your orchestral compositions? Do you start straight away with the orchestral score and simply write the piece with no adaptation steps? Do you improvise as a soloist, either a significant portion of the piece or the motifs you want to use, write them down, and have it handy when writing the orchestral score? Do you write the entire score for a piano duet or a string quartet or some other chamber ensemble and then expand it out to the full symphony orchestra?

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Why don't you upload the recording of the piece here in solo piano version, then we can help you?

41 minutes ago, caters said:

What do you do for your orchestral compositions? Do you start straight away with the orchestral score and simply write the piece with no adaptation steps?

Yes, I do. I don't usually make a sketch of the piece for any combination before orchestration fully. However, I plan the work carefully beforehand writing down motives and using words to describe what will be happening.

42 minutes ago, caters said:

What's the key of my piano improvisation? Should I transpose it to an easier key for the orchestra? Should I use an A clarinet here? Or should I use the Bb clarinet I am more comfortable writing for?

Do I want trombones? Do I want heavy brass(trumpets, trombones, tuba) at all? Or will 4 horns suffice? What about the ending chords? Are they going to be full enough with just horns and maybe trumpets in the brass?

When is the tympani going to come in? Is it going to add tension in those moments when the tension doesn't release completely and lead to a loud outburst? Is it going to simply accent a preexisting harmony?

Would a fortissimo dynamic in the original piano improvisation be better stated as a forte dynamic in the orchestra, given that there is the dynamic of volume and the dynamic of mass both at play in orchestral dynamics?

These are all good questions to be asking yourself before starting a score.

1. Unless it's in something horrendous like Eb minor (not that that has stopped me before chuckle chuckle) you might want to transpose this. There is absolutely no distinction between writing for Bb and A clarinets, but the A clarinet has a slightly darker, warmer sound. Whichever key leads the clarinets to be closest to C major is the best to use for a big resonant sound. You wrote out a list of keys, and really, you could choose either clarinet.

2. Heavy brass bring a very different sound. If you don't want it to be bombastic, write little for them. You could also use cornets or flugelhorns instead of trumpets.

3. I can't answer this one

4. If it says fortissimo in the piano part, keep it fortissimo in the orchestra, else what will you do in the quiet bits?

I understand that you weren't asking me to answer those questions, being ones you were thinking about yourself, but I hope I have given you some reasonable ideas moving forward.

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Not sure what you mean here.

Improvisation is composing on the fly. At the piano, there are times when a nice sequence turns up and with luck you remember it. Often it's elusive and you'll never play it the same again. Not sure how that ties in with orchestration. Occasionally an idea comes to mind and I score it (write down what it seems to sound like in my head) but it rarely stays in the same shape if I keep it. (I often touch the notes on the piano to see if things are as I hoped.) I have a reasonable ear but still like to try out harmony/sequence and things. It's got easier with daws. I can try things out with the instruments.

I used to record improvisations of "standards" for hours on end so that I could try to replicate bits I liked. Cheating, because it's no longer improvisation.

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12 hours ago, aMusicComposer said:

Why don't you upload the recording of the piece here in solo piano version, then we can help you?.

Okay, I will upload the solo piano version, and I think I will upload both the audio and the score of the solo piano version, possibly with some text describing what I am thinking will instrumentally fit certain moments. So it will take some time for me to have it ready to upload. Where should I upload it when it is ready? In the Composers' Headquarters?

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Whether I start with a sketch or not depends whether I'm writing actual music or not.

Though I never use piano for the former; guitar instead.

The thing about a lot of purely orchestral music, past and especially present (definitely where film scores are concerned) is that it's a lot more — to use a euphemism — "textural" in nature. For such purposes, a piano sketch or something would not be accurately able to portray most of what's going to happen in the music, so it's better to just go straight to the orchestra or samples of. 

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10 hours ago, caters said:

Okay, I will upload the solo piano version, and I think I will upload both the audio and the score of the solo piano version, possibly with some text describing what I am thinking will instrumentally fit certain moments. So it will take some time for me to have it ready to upload. Where should I upload it when it is ready? In the Composers' Headquarters?

Perhaps the Incomplete Works section?

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6 minutes ago, aMusicComposer said:

Perhaps the Incomplete Works section?

 

Yeah, maybe that would work, because, while I might have the entire piece that I improvised written out for solo piano in a few days, the orchestration, taking the solo piano version and expanding it out to an orchestra, that is going to be what takes the majority of the time with the piece. 

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I record myself so I'll have it later. I put in on my computer as "Works in Progress".   I then go back later to finish it.

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On 2/8/2020 at 10:32 AM, maestrowick said:

I record myself so I'll have it later. I put in on my computer as "Works in Progress".   I then go back later to finish it.

 

That's very similar to what I do for my piano and duet scores.

@aMusicComposer I have finished the piano score to be orchestrated. I put it in the Incomplete Works section as you suggested. If you want to listen to the piano score and look at the orchestrational comments on the PDF here is the link to the thread:

 

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