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It's going to be the first time I'll be trying to compose a piece to be played by an orchestra and I don't know much about orchestral strings numeration/disposition.

I just ran into this Composers initiative: http://patelconservatory.blogspot.com.es/2013/01/call-for-scores.html

and when reading the entry requirements, it's stated the following:

Scores should be written for the following instrumentation: 2 flutes, 1 oboe, 1 clarinet, 1 bassoon, 1 horn, strings (2.1.2.1.1).

What does the strings part actually mean?

Thanks!

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2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

This method of notation is in fact short hand. It saves on space and time both for the person putting the information down, and for the person reading. It is true that there is no critically-accepted standard, but there are general guidelines that composers follow when they use that shorthand method; which I will outline below:

  • Typically, dashes are used between numbers and dots are used to denote sections. For example: 2-2-2-2.4-4-3-1 looks a little bit tidier than 2.2.2.2-4.4.3.1. It is more of a matter of personal aesthetic - as long as denotation of sections is clear. For your example, if the composition is just for string orchestra, then using dots between numbers would not be confusing as only 1 section is involved.

    For a wind ensemble, it would be a little different if the instrumentation is other than the accepted standard. In those cases, it would be a good idea to include instrumental abbreviations. For example, here is the shorthand instrumentation of a piece that I wrote for a large wind ensemble:

    picc.5.2.6.bcl.bsn.2asax.tsax.bsax.4.6.3.btbn.2euph.tba-db-perc(6)-timp.

    As you can see, I mix both numbers and abbreviations in order to clearly define the instrumentation in a concise way.

  • This shorthand system is read in score order. So, if you were to see:

    2-2-2-2.4-4-3-1.timp.18-16-12-8-6

    Then you would read your score as having 2 flute, 2 oboe, 2 clarinet, 2 bassoon, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba, timpani, 18 Violin I, 16 Violin II, 12 Viola, 8 'Celli, and 6 Basses.

This notation always appears in that order.

You might also see the string numbers omitted since orchestras (especially today) can be quite variable in size. Instead you will see / write something like " timp + strings" after the wind notation.

Hope that helps.

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Thanks for your elaborate answer! –  ppareja Jan 31 '13 at 10:11
    
No problem - I remember the first time I wrote an orchestral piece and was confused by this very same thing. Good luck! –  jjmusicnotes Jan 31 '13 at 15:17

This seems to be shorthand for the number of instruments it's written for - unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a standard, and each publisher uses it's own notation.

According to Wikipedia, the strings notation 2.1.2.1.1 means

  • 2 first violins
  • 1 second violin
  • 2 violas
  • 1 cello
  • 1 double bass
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Thanks for your answer! –  ppareja Jan 31 '13 at 10:11

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