The Guide To Orchestration. Part II: Panning And Melody

We will be talking about usage of space/placement/reverb and the most important principles of melody distribution amongst the instruments.

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1. Panning

Panning, also called Seating is a crucial concept that has to be taken seriously in the orchestration process. There have been many different ideas and ways of positioning the players, but we will cover the basic classical ways of doing it. If you are not planning to create a real orchestra, but only a digital one, you should still read this part, because track panning and reverb is directly connected to the seating. 1.1 Brass To make it short and sweet I will use images like the one above. The red color indicates the positioning of the brass instruments used in the classical symphonic orchestra. 1.2 Percussion It is is very crucial to position the percussionists in the back (or make the percussion track reverbed or panned far away) to let the sound get the power while travelling and resonating from the back of the hall. 1.3 Strings During the history there have been literary hundreds of ways of placement for string instruments. But this one has proven itself to be one the most efficient ones. 1.4 Woodwinds It is also nice to place the woodwinds a bit further in the back so the sound can grow in power and add that extra punch, just like the percussion.

2. Melody

2.1 Melody in Violins Usually the if the melody is in the higher registers (alto-soprano or higher) the most suitable instrument for it is the violin. And since there are usually 2 sections of violins, you can use harmony, resonance or even a blues-style "question-answer" type of approach. Also the violins are great for doubling the woodwind parts or playing it an octave higher - it adds a really dramatic effect to the melody, which is defied by the ongoing resonance of the both sections - the sounds will become thicker and more dense. 2.2 Melody in Violas Violas are not that great for usual classical melodies, mostly because of the tone it produces. But if you are planning to play something more contemporary or even weird, you can always rely on the violas to produce a really distinguishable and unique sound. It is usually a good idea to make a "dialogue" between violas and violins or woodwinds. Viola is a really good thing to experiment with and it can do some amazing things with your compositions. 2.3 Melody in Cellos Cellos are usually played witin the tenor-bass range and are always good for both passionate and dramatic melodies. The tone of the Cello is very rich, that's why it can be used as a solo instrument too. But usually in the orchestra some parts of the cello melody are better to be doubled by woodwinds or, even better, violins. The synergy between cellos and violins is great, so use this melodical potential wisely! And don't forget about stunning staccato possibilities, which will make you lines and runs surely more dramatic and powerful. 2.4 Melody in Double Basses (DBs) DBs, due to their very low register, are not often used for melodies. However, in a jazzy or bluesy kind of piece it can shine in all its brilliance, playing the best of the solos and all kinds of interesting things. So don't be afraid to use DBs, but be careful, the muffled tone and the low pitch can ruin the composition, if it is not used wisely! 2.5 Melody in woodwind instruments Writing and orchestrating for woodwind instruments is usually hard because of the tones. Woodwind instruments can't be explained like the strings, however, some common methods can be distinguished. Woodwinds have some great sustain and legato possibilities, so it's convenient to use them in both quick runs or slow passages. It is advisable to use woodwinds in the octave or unison groups (i.e. playing octaves or in unison with different instrument). But it is interesting to experiment with solo woodwinds too, especially in oriental or folk music, as the flute-like instruments are rooted in folk culture. Also you can distribute the melody in, for example, fifths, thirds and sixths between the woodwind instrument sections. However, this takes serious practice and it is advisable to try different combinations on your own. 2.6 Melody in brass instruments Like the woodwinds, brass instruments are also very hard to explain melody-wise. But the most important things everyone should know is that the brass section is incredibly powerful in its sound. So you have to use it carefuly, as the brass can dominate every other instrument easily. The tone of usually a piercing sting-like sounds, so it will cut through even in the toughest and tightiest orchestration even. But you should always keep in mind that the power will come only with the correct usage. So consider investing the time in checking out different combinations of tone and staccato/legato possibilities. You can expect to fail a lot in the first stages of the learning, but don't be afraid, it's okay! :)

3. Conclusion

This was the basic information about the panning and melody. Next time we will talk about how to group the instrument together for the best melodic possibilities and tonal options!

18 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Most_Triumphant
    I don't think many people on UG are ever going to use this bud. Though I find switching the basses to behind the violas allows their sound to spread through the orchestra, and in to the concert hall a bit more.
    Most_Triumphant
    Most_Triumphant wrote: I don't think many people on UG are ever going to use this bud. Though I find switching the basses to behind the violas allows their sound to spread through the orchestra, and in to the concert hall a bit more.
    Sorry for the double post, but I don't agree with the taking away the melody from the violas too much. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No.6 gives the main melody to the violas, and it sounds quite good.
    pailoong
    For someone who uses orchestra a lot in their recordings, this is invaluable. Thank you!
    Vortegne
    GameSkate wrote: Ah, forgot to ask - where is piano?
    Since we are talking about a classical orchestra, the piano is not often used there. But, however, there 2 main ideas about the piano : you can place it with the percussions in the back or, if the piano is doing some solo work and the orchestra is accompanying it, it is places right in the front of the whole orchestra.
    Vortegne
    Most_Triumphant wrote: Most_Triumphant wrote: I don't think many people on UG are ever going to use this bud. Though I find switching the basses to behind the violas allows their sound to spread through the orchestra, and in to the concert hall a bit more. Sorry for the double post, but I don't agree with the taking away the melody from the violas too much. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No.6 gives the main melody to the violas, and it sounds quite good.
    I didn't mean to say that you should take the melody away from the violas, but you just better be careful with it, since it is a great, but pretty hard to use instrument! Thanks for the feedback!
    YngwieLi
    What would be a good software to use for making orchestration tracks? I was thinking about getting FL Studio. It looks complicated to use, but I'd be willing to learn if it can produce some cool orchestra sounds.
    Vortegne
    YngwieLi wrote: What would be a good software to use for making orchestration tracks? I was thinking about getting FL Studio. It looks complicated to use, but I'd be willing to learn if it can produce some cool orchestra sounds.
    It doesn't really matter which Audio Workstation you will be using, because the plugins and virtual instruments are something that matters. However, you should always try to get Avid Pro Tools first and then try to consider other software. But FL is a good choice too. I don't use it myself because I'm just not familiar with it, but it's good. And get some high-quality orchestra plugins - like Native Instruments Vienna Orchestra, EWQL Orchestra or Edirol Orchestra. Feel free to ask more or send me a PM if you want to know something more!
    dogmax
    YngwieLi wrote: What would be a good software to use for making orchestration tracks? I was thinking about getting FL Studio. It looks complicated to use, but I'd be willing to learn if it can produce some cool orchestra sounds.
    To my knowledge, all those kind of programs are equally good, it's just a matter of where you prefer the buttons to be located. For me it's Logic because i learned that first. I really recommend you choose the most popular program over the cheapest, because of supported plug-ins and help/support, and tutorials on youtube . And btw, get a MIDI-Keyboard! Otherwise you'll be shooting yourself in your feet.
    swordsofplague
    Most_Triumphant wrote: I don't think many people on UG are ever going to use this bud. Though I find switching the basses to behind the violas allows their sound to spread through the orchestra, and in to the concert hall a bit more.
    I recorded a solo album in which I used programmed strings/orchestral instruments for a few tracks, and I wish I had known this. For that epic symphonic metal sound, this could make it sound huge. Great post from an engineer's view.
    Mehtabb
    dogmax wrote: YngwieLi wrote: What would be a good software to use for making orchestration tracks? I was thinking about getting FL Studio. It looks complicated to use, but I'd be willing to learn if it can produce some cool orchestra sounds. To my knowledge, all those kind of programs are equally good, it's just a matter of where you prefer the buttons to be located. For me it's Logic because i learned that first. I really recommend you choose the most popular program over the cheapest, because of supported plug-ins and help/support, and tutorials on youtube . And btw, get a MIDI-Keyboard! Otherwise you'll be shooting yourself in your feet.
    Popularity is irrevelevant, Reaper supports almost all VST's and some VST's require wrappers to be used with a certain very popular DAW
    stubs.milligan
    dogmax wrote: YngwieLi wrote: What would be a good software to use for making orchestration tracks? I was thinking about getting FL Studio. It looks complicated to use, but I'd be willing to learn if it can produce some cool orchestra sounds. To my knowledge, all those kind of programs are equally good, it's just a matter of where you prefer the buttons to be located. For me it's Logic because i learned that first. I really recommend you choose the most popular program over the cheapest, because of supported plug-ins and help/support, and tutorials on youtube . And btw, get a MIDI-Keyboard! Otherwise you'll be shooting yourself in your feet.
    Midi keyboards are great,but there are great programs that make it easier to do note input notation without one without shooting yourself in the foot. So, if cash is a problem, or if you're a poor working class ranch-hand like me, there are other ways.
    Most_Triumphant
    swordsofplague wrote: Most_Triumphant wrote: I don't think many people on UG are ever going to use this bud. Though I find switching the basses to behind the violas allows their sound to spread through the orchestra, and in to the concert hall a bit more. I recorded a solo album in which I used programmed strings/orchestral instruments for a few tracks, and I wish I had known this. For that epic symphonic metal sound, this could make it sound huge. Great post from an engineer's view.
    I'm not an engineer, I'm a 16 year old kid, who has played in an orchestra for 10 years.
    thf24
    In terms of a digital orchestra, how would you simulate instruments' position in terms of front-to-back? Does that have to do with reverb?
    Vortegne
    Yes, it has a lot to do with reverb. For example, there is a great tool named Altiverb, which simulates space and position in 3d space by using complex reverb algorhythms (
    ) Also it has a lot to do with panning, both right/left and front/back - especially if you are mixing on a 5.1 or 7.1 system. Or even good headphones. Invest some time in this concept of panning and reverbing and you will have your records sounding much better in no time!