I have been looking for some time now, for a chart of all the different register tone qualities of all the instruments played in an orchestra. If you have a hard time understanding what I mean by that, I am sorry that I do not know the proper term. I was watching an Orchestration Tutorial online, and the tutor shows part of such a chart in one of his videos:

namely at 2:05.

If anyone has such a chart and knows where to get it, or can find one online it would be much appreciated.

Thank you!

  • Go to a public library and ask for a book on orchestration. – user1044 May 4 '13 at 1:33

Normally questions concerning material solicitation are shut down, but I think in this case, since it applies to orchestration, which is musical practice related to composition pedagogy, it is pertinent to this forum.

First, there are two great texts concerning orchestration: Alfred Blatter's "Orchestration" and Samuel Adler's "The Study of Orchestration." Adler's comes with a CD and DVD so you can listen to scoring techniques and see performers playing the instruments. Both texts contain registral characteristics within each chapter for each individual instrument. Blatter's text also include dynamic curves as well, which is extraordinarily helpful.

That said, there is no substitute for getting the sound in your ears and for talking with real musicians. Some musicians I have talked to disagree or laugh at some of Adler's registral descriptions. One of the wonderful things about orchestration is that it is equal parts technique and personal aesthetic.

So, books are helpful, but asking friends to play through sketches is exponentially more beneficial for the composer / orchestrator.

Good luck.

  • Ok, thank you! I think I know a way of obtaining a copy of Samuel Adler's book, and I will check out Alfred Blatter's too. If they contain what I am looking for then I will accept your answer. Also, good point at the end. I will do that too! – SuperMusicman May 3 '13 at 21:44
  • Glad it was helpful. I should add that you won't find a single chart with descriptive qualities, but rather small individual charts within each instrument section. – jjmusicnotes May 4 '13 at 0:57
  • Yes, I see that, and I tried to create my own chart with all combined. They must have something like that somewhere, but I will accept your answer. I will also add an answer of my own containing my attempt at combining the different instruments into one chart, but yours is the official answer :) – SuperMusicman May 5 '13 at 3:15

Here is my feeble attempt at combining the individual instruments Register tone quality into one chart. enter image description here

Note: Samuel Adler's Orchestration book did not have any of this for the Strings but that is not what I was looking for so I am satisfied. Also, I had a hard time getting everything in the image, so some instruments are placed rather randomly...

  • Yes, I should clarify that while Adler's book is very good, it is not without flaw. I gave my original answer with the understanding that no source in perfect. This little list is a good start! – jjmusicnotes May 5 '13 at 3:52
  • @jjmusicnotes Have you ever seen the Lange Spectrotone chart? I just found it and was wondering if it was worth the purchase. Cambria Music also seems to have it, and at a lower price. – SuperMusicman Jun 12 '13 at 2:27
  • No, I have never seen that chart before today. Personally, I wouldn't bother with the money as preference for timbre combinations varies greatly between composers. Moreover, the chart obviously worked fine for the creator, but in reading descriptions about the chart I would not categorize timbres in the same way, and therefore the chart is of little use. I would recommend that you find sounds that you like, find out how to write those sounds out, and then write your own sounds and hear them played back. Having your music played by real people is invaluably helpful feedback. – jjmusicnotes Jun 12 '13 at 3:10
  • I'll pick a minor nit: be very cautious writing tuba below A1 (nominally 55 Hz). In the hands of anyone but a skilled player those notes tend to resemble tuned flatulence more than musical pitches. – Dennis Jul 10 '14 at 5:39

The chart is from Principles of Orchestration, by Rimsky-Korsakov.

Here's a response from the video author:

OrchestrationOnline 5 years ago

Hi Anji! That is an excerpt from Rimsky-Korsakov's "Principles of Orchestration." Many orchestration manuals have indexes of instrument ranges, but since there are so many instruments that might be used, these charts cover far more than one page.

Online Source

Here's the full chart: Chapter I Table B Full instrument chart

  • Thanks! Good to know the actual source after all these years :) – SuperMusicman Feb 14 '20 at 18:25

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