I want to improve two aspects of my orchestration:

(1) my use of "dynamics"

(2) feel of "force" in the combination of timbers at select points in my pieces to give them better accentuation. (eg when you use percussion to accentuate notes)

I have two books on orchestration. Rimsky-Korsakov's book. I also have The Technique of Orchestration by Kennan and Grantham. However, as Kennan states, "the terms instrumentation and orchestration are sometimes used synonymously." Both of these books are predominately about instrumentation and I'd like a book focusing on other aspects of orchestration besides just instrumentation. I don't really need info on that.


3 Answers 3


I've worked from the Rimsky-Korsakov before, but maybe you could also check out Samuel Adler's The Study of Orchestration. I don't think it's perfect by any means, but I haven't run across any better books in regards to contemporary performance and practice. It does cover instrumentation pretty heavily, but maybe take a look (you know, before buying it) and see if it covers anything you're interested in. I understand your lack of need for instrumentation information, but I think most orchestration books will probably cover that out of necessity.

IMO the two best places to improve your orchestration are 1. experience (read: screwing up and learning from it) 2. studying people who are really good at it. I'd say the bulk of what I know about how to orchestrate comes from these two areas, rather than any books. Ravel is a classic master orchestrator, if you're looking for somewhere to start studying -- especially since he orchestrated so much piano music so you can see the arranging decisions he's made and try to figure out -- orchestrationally -- why.

  • Do you have specific pieces you have found helpful to study in learning to orchestrate? I started with Beethoven's symphonies and I think that was a mistake. They are too complex for a beginner. I can orchestrate string quartets fine and concertos. Although pleasing melodically, I lack that "texture" for lack of a better word of the orchestra that you get from guys like Ravel, Britten, Beethoven, Hans Zimmer, John Williams Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 0:45
  • I shudder to think that Zimmmer is mentioned in the same sentence as Britten and Ravel - especially with respect to orchestration. The man doesn't read music. Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 6:20
  • I'll second jjmusicnotes on Zimmer, but as for your actual question pretty much I'd say go with Ravel. I love Beethoven but it's not generally for his orchestration so much as his structure and counterpoint. I like Ravel's orchestration of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, the orchestral version of the Mother Goose suite, and the orchestral version of Le Tombeau de Couperin. Those should provide you some fodder to get started at least.
    – acm_myk
    Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 18:17

In addition to also recommending the Adler, I'd also recommend Alfred Blatter's Instrumentation and Orchestration. Blatter teaches orchestration at the Curtis Institute, which if you know anything about the music world, is a pretty good school.

It's a good book because it gives you dynamic curves (read: "responsiveness") for each instrument, which helps you get a better understanding of which dynamics are appropriate for which instruments in which ranges. (Ex. Marking an oboe part "ppp" and having them enter in on C4. They will laugh and you will look silly.)

As others have mentioned, there is NO SUBSTITUTE for live experience. Write some orchestra pieces, get some readings (RECORD THEM) and take your lumps. Sit down with people you know that play those instruments well. Have them play their instruments in different ranges so you can hear how they respond to different dynamics.

Here is a big one that is not used often enough: TALK to the people that play the instruments. Ask them how their instrument responds. They know how to play their instrument better than you'll ever know, and they'll be able to offer more insight than any orchestration book has space for.


Norman Del Mar's *Anatomy of the Orchestra", perhaps. It was deliberately written to cover "things I haven't seen in other books".


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