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Orchestration 101

This series on writing for churches was created when I taught orchestration at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary when I was an adjunct professor.  Orchestration textbooks are excellent resources for the aspiring writer, but I wanted something that would cover the basics of orchestration to help beginning students take their first steps in arranging. Thus,...

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The Orchestrator

Orchestration is a specialized skill. An orchestrator for a film score may have difficulty explaining their job. They don’t necessarily create an original melody nor do they write lyrics. However, both melodic composition and arranging are essential skills of an orchestrator. Composers like Beethoven, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and Mahler all were orchestrators. They created...

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The Brass Family

The brass family consists of the trumpet, trombone, horn, euphonium (baritone) and tuba. They have a homogenous sound and blend well with one another. They provide a substantial amount of volume to the modern orchestra and are often used for their "brassy" timbre that is created at the loudest dynamics. The modern brass family...

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The Woodwind Family

The woodwind family has a greater variety of color than both the string and brass family. Each woodwind has a different timbre that makes it distinctive to the ear, although the instruments still work well as a homogenous group. With the introduction of the woodwinds, transposition becomes a significant focus. The Bb Clarinet sounds...

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The String Family

When marking bowings, less is more. The example to the right is an extreme example. For your final project, you will rely primarily on slur marks to indicate phrasing and only use upbow and downbow markings for musical emphasis. String instruments control their pitch by shortening the length of the string.  By holding a...

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The Saxophones

The saxophone family is a recent addition to the woodwinds. Modern traditionalists may even omit them from their orchestrations. In church music, the alto sax often doubles the french horn while the tenor sax doubles the euphonium or  trombone. The Bari Sax doubles the tuba. The soprano saxophone is rarely included in church orchestrations....

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The Bassoon

The Bassoon, like the oboe is a double reed. It has a unique characteristic sound that blends with many instruments. It works especially with cello due to it's similar color and can bring out the "grainy" sound out of the cello timbre. It's dynamic spectrum is not as pronounced as the oboe, but it...

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The Clarinet

The clarinet has a unique dynamic spectrum in that its middle register is softer than both the lower and upper register. It has a wide range, with solo repertoire extending an octave above the printed range above. The lower register is very dark, and is effectively used in mysterious passages. The brightness of the...

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The Oboe

The oboe has a characteristic sound that can often sing through an orchestra, due to it's unique timbre. Unlike the flute, the lower notes are louder, and it loses volume as it ascends. It's highest notes are very thin in quality and will not cut through an orchestra. Compared to the other woodwinds, the...

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The Flute

The Flute has the purest tone of all the woodwinds, nearly a sine wave. It is very agile and often plays rapid scales and trills with great ease. The lower register is characterized by a dark sound and cannot project through a thick orchestration. Tones below the notated D will likely be lost within...

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