Creating The Most Engaging Orchestrations For Musicians

Leandro Gardini

Become a better orchestrator by creating meaningful inner lines.

There are many levels of ability to orchestrate. Usually, the academic syllabus teaches us that we should start orchestrating for small ensembles like string or woodwind quartets, and only after some experience should we proceed to larger groups. Even though it is a good strategy, with the advancement of technology and the facility it provides to get access to big ensembles, more and more young composers start orchestrating for big ensembles right from the beginning.

Be it the academic or the self-pursuant process, one of the most neglected forms of advanced orchestration is the one that creates engaging lines for all musicians.

There's nothing more uninteresting for a musician than playing beautiful music where they are requested to play no more than long inner notes.

Richard Strauss was one of the first to state that we composers and orchestrators should be concerned about writing engaging lines for every musician. By doing so, all musicians in the group will be more excited to play your orchestration or arrangement.

We all know that the most exciting part of music is the melody. Additionally, musicians tend to like more the arrangements where they are assigned to play the melodies. But, arrangers and orchestrators have to take care of other elements like harmony, bassline, and countermelody.

Then comes the question:
How can we give the entire group exciting things to do since not everyone will play the melody all the time?

There are many techniques we can use to achieve such a result. They will all be thoroughly discussed in the upcoming The Orchestrator course. For the moment, I want to share with you a simple exercise that, with little practice, can start shifting your mind to become a better orchestrator.

The following video is a string arrangement I've made for Save Me - one song of the new album of the metal band Area 55.

As the arranger, I was concerned about fitting the strings to the song's original meaning. On the other hand, writing long pads wouldn't be the best I could do as a professional orchestrator.

 Thus, I created engaging and meaningful inner lines for every string ensemble.
Now that you have watched the video, go back to the beginning and choose one string ensemble. Using your preferred instrument, play the lines along with the string ensemble from beginning to the end.

In none of those parts, none of the strings will be playing the original melody of the song. However, every inner line is more than just plain long notes that compose a static string pad.

How excited would you feel if you were one of the musicians playing this piece?

Now, go back and pick another ensemble. Repeat the same exercise until you have played with the five groups (VI, VII, violas, cellos, and basses).

This assignment is one of the most rewarding exercises for learning orchestration. Upon completion, you will have started the process of thinking as a better orchestrator.

For a more effective result, apply it regularly.

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