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  • Writer's pictureFilipe Leitão

7 Secrets to Flawless Orchestration

Orchestration is a delicate art that involves not only choosing the right instruments but also blending them in a harmonious and balanced way. Whether you're an experienced composer or someone who's just beginning to explore the world of orchestral music, these tips will help elevate your orchestration to a new level of excellence.



1. Avoid Closed Position Chords

When orchestrating for string instruments, especially in the lower register, avoid closed position chords. This helps maintain clarity and resonance, ensuring that each note is distinctly heard.


For example, when writing a C major chord, instead of stacking the notes C, E, and G very close together, we choose to distribute these notes across different octaves: C, G, E, considering notes from low to high. This creates a more open and spacious chord, which helps maintain clarity and resonance, ensuring that each note is distinctly heard, even in the lower register of the cellos and double basses.


This approach not only improves the sound quality of these lower instruments but also contributes to the overall sound of the orchestra, creating a solid and well-defined foundation for the music.


2. Decide Who Plays the Melody

It's important to define which instrument will be responsible for the main melody and which will be the accompaniments. This helps create a balanced sound space, allowing each instrument to shine in its role.


Let's say we're writing a piece for solo violin accompanied by a string section. In this case, the violin would be the instrument responsible for the main melody, while the string section would be responsible for the accompaniments.


By clearly defining these roles, we can ensure that the violin has sonic space to shine with its expressive melody, while the strings provide a suitable harmonic and rhythmic support. This creates a sound balance that allows each instrument to play its role effectively, without competing for prominence.


For example, the violin can play a lyrical and emotive melody, while the strings fill the harmony with a pizzicato accompaniment. This creates an interesting musical texture, where each part contributes to the beauty and expressiveness of the composition as a whole.


3. Plan the Articulations

Before writing your parts, think about the articulations that will be used in each instrument and at each moment of the music. Experiment with different textures and combinations to add depth and interest to your orchestration.


For example, we start with a soft and ethereal texture, using long notes in the violins and pizzicato in the cellos and double basses to create a mysterious atmosphere. As the music develops, we add varied articulations and textures, such as majestic fanfares in the brass and trills in the woodwinds. At climactic moments, we use a dense and powerful texture with the entire orchestra playing in unison.


4. Use Modulation and Velocity

In your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) program, use features like Modulation to add dynamics to long notes and Velocity to add expressive nuances to short articulations. This helps bring life and emotion to your compositions.


For example, in a section where we have a solo violin playing a long and expressive melody, we can use Modulation to add dynamics to the notes. In another part of the composition, where we have a string section playing a short and articulated passage, we can use Velocity to add expressive nuances. Velocity controls the intensity with which a note is played, allowing you to create subtle variations in volume and attack between notes. This helps bring more life and realism to the string performance, making it sound more like a live performance.


5. Less Is More

Avoid overloading your orchestration with all instruments playing at the same time. Sometimes, a more minimalist approach can be more effective and impactful.


In a section of the music, we decided to create a moment of tension and suspense. Instead of using all the orchestra's instruments at once, we opted for a more minimalist approach. We start with just a set of string instruments playing a smooth and sinuous melodic line, while the other instruments remain silent.


As the section progresses, we gradually add additional instruments, one at a time, creating layers of sound texture progressively. For example, we can gently introduce the woodwind instruments, followed by the brass and percussion at strategic moments to increase the intensity and drama of the music.


This more minimalist approach allows each instrument to have its moment of prominence and contributes significantly to the overall auditory experience. Additionally, it creates a sense of space and clarity in the mix, making each element more discernible and impactful to the listener.


6. Vary Tempo, Dynamics, and Texture

To maintain the listener's interest, vary the tempo, dynamics, and texture throughout your composition. This helps create an engaging and captivating musical narrative.

For example, at a climax moment, we speed up the tempo to a fast and exciting pace, with a fortissimo dynamic. In this section, the texture becomes denser, with multiple layers of instruments creating a powerful and impactful sound.


7. Give Importance to Each Voice

Finally, give due importance to each voice in your orchestration. All instruments used should contribute significantly to the overall auditory experience, creating a rich and engaging experience for the listener.


Imagine a composition for a full orchestra, where each section of instruments plays an important role.


We start with a gentle introduction, where the violins play a sweet and smooth melody, accompanied by the cellos and double basses providing a soft and steady harmonic foundation. The woodwinds add a touch of warmth and softness, while the brass sustains long notes to add depth.


As the music develops, each section of instruments has the opportunity to shine. The violins take on the main melody, with the cellos and double basses providing an interesting counterpoint. The woodwinds and brass add color and texture, alternating between harmonic support and melodic highlight.


At a climax moment, all instruments play together in a powerful and emotional unison. Each voice of the orchestra contributes to the intensity and emotion of the music, creating an engaging and exciting auditory experience for the listener.


By giving due importance to each voice in our orchestration, we ensure that all instruments contribute significantly to the overall auditory experience, creating a rich and engaging experience that captivates and moves the audience.

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