I was checking the requirements for a score and saw this. ( - common woodwind doublings allowed

I still don't know how to read the shorthand for orchestra instrumentation. What does it mean?

  • 3
    Please add the title and composer of the score. Someone else may have the same question in the future.
    – Aaron
    Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 8:17
  • Also the publisher, as the notation isn't standardized, and varies by publisher.
    – Aaron
    Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 8:19
  • 2
    As a string player, I find it odd that it specifies the string forces. I'm used to seeing this notation in communication about gigs, saying for instance that we need 3 first violins, 3 seconds, 2 violas, etc., but unless this piece features three-way divisi for both violin sections and etc., it's unusual for the score to make specific requirements about the strings. Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 14:51
  • @AndyBonner - I'm picturing a union rep hiring personnel. He will want to know exactly how many string players he needs to hire. Commented Dec 14, 2021 at 6:38
  • @aparente001 What I mean is, barring either those divisi or some unusual piece with very specific requirements, the piece doesn't impose an expectation of how many string players. It's usually more up to the conductor (or more likely the budget). I mean, if you went 2-2-1-1-1 it might be too little to balance that many winds, but I don't know that you couldn't go much larger. Of course, I'm not used to seeing this code on pieces in general, just on gig materials, so maybe it's done as a matter of course and ignored as a matter of course. Commented Dec 14, 2021 at 12:41

2 Answers 2


This score appears to follow the Boosey & Hawkes shorthand for orchestration, which is of the form:

woodwinds - brass - percussion - keyboards - strings (Wikipedia: Shorthand for orchestra instrumentation)

1 flute
1 oboe
1 clarinet
1 bassoon

1 french horn

3 1st violins
3 2nd violins
2 violas
2 cellos
1 bass

  • 8
    for completeness, you might like to include that the zeros are for: 0 trumpets, 0 trombones, and 0 tubas. Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 9:34
  • I find it not a convincing approach, to have this answer with >90% overlap to my answer.
    – guidot
    Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 11:21
  • 5
    @guidot - I would not say your answer and Aaron's have 90% overlap or greater - yours currently proposes 5 woodwind slots in a row while his only proposes 4, and his names the shorthand used while yours doesn't. At any rate, my belief is that even answers with 100% overlap are tolerated; it's just that one of them won't get upvoted as much due to readers also detecting the overlap.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 13:27
  • Do you have an example of a publisher whose approach differs from Boosey? I've never seen one that differed in any respect important enough for me to have noticed. (The example of Phantom of the Opera, given in the Wikipedia article, does not count, because it differs on account of its being an example of a work from a different genre entirely with its own conventions of orchestration and notation.)
    – phoog
    Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 17:57
  • @guidot I believe that makes this answer at least 10% better. Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 23:01

Possible publisher deviations aside, a starting point may be here: Wikipedia

In your case it looks like: flute, clarinet, oboe, cor anglais (?), bassoon

Strings are easier, since the ordering is more intuitive:

  1. 1st violin
  2. 2nd violin
  3. viola
  4. violoncello
  5. double bass
  • 3
    Why would the bassoon be separated from the rest of the woodwinds by a dash? It makes more sense that it’s one French horn and zero of the other brass - and no number for cor anglais either way. Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 11:03
  • 3
    @ToddWilcox indeed, cor anglais is typically included with the oboes, as piccolo and alto flute are included with the flutes, various clarinet-family instruments with the clarinets, and contrabassoons with the bassoons, typically with some sort of explicit mention of the specific instruments required.
    – phoog
    Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 17:52
  • 1
    I don't buy cor anglais -- too unusual. Commented Dec 14, 2021 at 6:37

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