#1
Hello everyone. I have song skeletons saved in my DAW and know that once i get working on developing them further I want to add strings and horns to certain parts of different songs. I plan on using kontakt to put these in. My question is, other than using my ear (which I will for the most part) where can I learn certain "guidelines" for arranging orchestral pieces. I'm assuming this is related to voice leading in general, in which different tombral instruments with different ranges are playing notes similar to the instruments within their range? Thanks for any help.
#2
The basic "rule" of voice leading is avoiding big leaps in the different voices. So for example if you have a C major and F major chord, this is not what you should do:

C -> F
G -> C
E -> A
C -> F

Look at the common chord tones. Both chords have a C in them. Big leaps in bass don't matter because bass defines the inversion of the chord and you may not want to use inversions all the time (they have a different kind of sound to them and they can change the chord function a bit). But keep all the other common chord tones the same. Also, many times you want the bass to move.

C -> C
G -> A
E -> F
C -> F

This is the most basic "rule" and by just following this "rule" you can make pretty decent sounding arrangements. There are other "rules" like avoiding parallel fifths and octaves and augmented intervals and that kind of stuff. But it also depends on the music style. On some music styles parallel fifths and octaves sound fine, on other styles they need to be avoided.

Of course use your ears. If you think it sounds good, ignore all of the "rules". But sometimes these rules can help you write good sounding harmonies.

Your melody is usually the highest note. So you may want to write that first. Then come up with a bassline that fits it (I would say melody and bass are the most important voices) and write the other voices by following these rules (keep common chord tones the same). Of course you could write four (or more) independent melodies but that gets a bit more complicated. This is just the simplest way.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
#3
Generally you want to voice your chords according to the overtone series, which basically means big gaps in intervals on the bottom and close voicings on the top. Having close voicings on the bottom frequencies results in a muddy chord.

And yes, voice leading is important. No big jumps in the tones when moving between chords. The rule about parallel fifths and octaves only applies if you want to write real counterpoint, i.e have 2 or more independent voices. You can even go up to 6 or 8. If you're a serious composer I'd at least learn the basics of counterpoint, starting with Fux Gradus Ad Parnassum's (be prepared to use more than a month for this) modal counterpoint and then moving to tonal.

Having parallel fifths/octaves causes one voice to blend in with another. So if you have 4 voices and there's a parallel fifth/octave between two of them, the number of voices will temporarily be reduced to 3, which is what you don't want in counterpoint.
Last edited by Elintasokas at Oct 8, 2014,
#4
This might not be quite what you're asking, but the thing that helped me the most in regards to composing was learning about form. Try to get a copy of Wallace Berry's Form in Music from the library. It's what to do with voiceleading and counterpoint. You could also look at scores of horn parts you like and see how they were voiced.
#5
Quote by Duaneclapdrix
You could also look at scores of horn parts you like and see how they were voiced.

Yep, this is also great advice. Do a lot of score reading. Analyze the parts, even play them on piano.
#6
Thank you. My guitar teacher is kind of giving me help on this but he is not trained in composition so it's hard to get exactly what i want from him. But one thing he told me was that in almost any given piece of music, there are 4 types of voices ranging from bass, baritone, tenor and something else.

So if he's right then I look at what maggara wrote and see the C chord going
C
G
E
C ...which would make me think that those notes are arranged in the order I just said. (C=bass, E=baritone, G=tenor and C=something else).

And if I were to put strings on it I would put the violins with the high C, Viola's with the G or E and Cello's with the low C? And try to make the high voices move as little as possible through the chord progression by doing inversions of the chord (which would affect all other voicing decisions of other instruments). Is that right or totally wrong?
Last edited by tyle12 at Oct 8, 2014,
#7
Well, basically, yes. But you don't really need to use inversions. Inversion is when the bass is some other tone than the root of the chord (usually the 3rd). It doesn't matter what order the upper three voices are. As long as the bass is playing the root you chord is NOT in inversion.

You minimize the movement in the voices by having them play the nearest chord tone. In the first chord, your soprano (highest voice, fourth voice) could be playing the fifth. In the next chord it could be playing the 3rd of that chord and in the next fifth again, etc.

Generally you want to have as much contrary motion as possible between the bass voice and highest voice.

This is a huge subject that requires some deeper study. For example, chord tones have tendencies to resolve in a very specific way. Avoiding parallels, etc.
Last edited by Elintasokas at Oct 8, 2014,
#8
Is layering multiple instruments with similar voice characteristics usually avoided, or not a big deal? Ex. using 4 soprano voices.
#9
Using multiple voices in the same frequency range can get very messy very fast if everyone if doing something different. Relative dynamics can help a bit, but you should experiment with it yourself
#10
^ Yeah. It gets confusing if they cross each other all the time.

I'm a beginner in orchestration as well so I'm kind of wrestling with this same thing. Like how do I make it sound big but not completely drown out the melody under the brass(and how to make brass chords sound good to begin with) , etc.
Last edited by Elintasokas at Oct 8, 2014,
#11
that's what I thought, it's pretty much like mixing then.

I guess my last question for now would be...(this was minorly looked at but I just want to go more in depth)
How do you perceive what you will do with your other instruments when you play an open G chord voiced
G
D
G
D
B
G...

You have the root both in bass, tenor and soprano voicing. And two D's in different octaves. What would you do if you are writing parts for lets say, guitar melody with soprano sax counter point, and viola's, cello's and tuba?
#12
I'd say Bach Chorales are a good place to start. The voice leading in them is great, and the harmonies work together seamlessly too. If you want to study voice leading, learning theory is a very helpful as well- it's hard to know what you can and can't do if you don't know why (at least I think so).
It sounds like you are also asking about orchestration. For a realistic orchestration, you might want to know something about the guidelines of what instruments sound like where (so you can balance them appropriately) as well as what range they can play in the first place. It's also good to know what sort of passagework is possible. For this, I'd suggest getting an orchestration book- the Adler and Blatter are both great resources, among others.
#13
Also yes, what Elintasokas said about counterpoint- in addition to the Fux, I'd suggest the Jeppesen (that's what I'm learning it from). For tonal counterpoint (Fux is modal), I'd just suggest going through Bach fugues and seeing what he does, as well as looking at various fugue treatises.
#14
And, to add to all of this, practice studying and learning to create a good Cantus Firmus. The basics of counterpoint, might be a better initial first step. Work with all the species. Fux,'s book is a great place, and I think explains it well.

I'd also second the Chorale studies, and try writing some of your own.

Best,

Sean
#15
Damnit i had the Fux book in my possession but gave it away like an idiot...oh well. To the library.

Is there anyone who could possibly shed light on my post #11?
#16
For post #11, I wouldn't get myself into that situation the first place. You have to take a lot of things into account, like timbre, rhythm etc. Before you even think of harmonizing.
Don't over orchestrate! Even in Big Band shout choruses, there's only 3 textures max + rhythm section. Same for orchestral writing, a common mistake is to have too much happening at one time. Keep it simple, less is more - more is less. If adding a bunch of other instruments, keep your guitar voicings nice and simple, 3 or 4 notes.
#17
^ Yeah.

Also, not every instrument has to do their own thing. Many times there are many instruments that play the same thing. There may be only 4 or 5 different voices in the piece but there could be a whole wind band playing it. Writing many voices just for the sake of it isn't going to sound that great. Write as many voices as the piece needs. Also, don't forget to use rests. Not all instruments need to play all the time.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
#18
^ Indeed. One of the best aspects of orchestral music is how dynamic it is. In my opinion it would be wise to emphasize that. By having some softer parts in between, that climax will sound much bigger in contrast.