I am writing an orchestral track and so far I have written the melody of strings (violins and such) and I want to add trumpets and here are 3 things I consider.

1) Have the trumpets play the same melody as the violins at the exact same octave, is there any reason I should consider this?

2) Have the trumpets play a counter melody to the violins,

3) Have the trumpets play the same melody of the violins an octave apart.

Does 1 sound good at all? Which of the above generally will give the best result?

  • 2
    Is there a reason you can only pick one? Does time permit variations on a theme?
    – corsiKa
    Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 1:21
  • 3
    Not if one of them is the violas! //typical insult Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 14:01
  • You absolutely can. The only possible issue is one instrument drowning out the tone of the other. Just take care of dynamics, etc.
    – user50691
    Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 17:31

7 Answers 7


All three would be viable options.

Doubling the parts in unisons or octaves normally would be for bending a unique timbre. Obviously doubling by unison/octave does not create a harmonic change or counterpoint so the main point would be the timbre/tone color.

Can I have..?

If part of your concern is about the counterpoint rule against parallel octaves, that doesn't apply to instrumental doubling as an orchestration technique.

  • 1
    I remember reading that Rimsky-Korsakov suggested that consistently adding a flute to double a string section creates a more solid timbre, or something along those lines. Definitely a valid option! Trumpets and violins sound a little rarer, but might as well try it out. Commented Nov 19, 2018 at 18:54
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    And there are differences between real instruments and players versus a DAW. Real trumpeters eventually run out a breath and DAW strings will never miss a note! I imagine quite a few orchestrations created in a DAW that would be difficult to pull off with a real orchestra. So there is latitude to experiment more in a DAW. Commented Nov 19, 2018 at 19:24
  • In an average non-professional orchestra, having the violins play the main melody and a trumpet a counter-melody is asking for trouble (and for a professional orchestra, you still might want some sort of marking in the score so the trumpeter knows they are not playing the main melody). Commented Nov 19, 2018 at 22:19
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    @AlexanderWoo, I think it would be interesting and helpful to elaborate about why it could be trouble in an answer. Commented Nov 19, 2018 at 22:33
  • @AlexanderWoo As someone who played Trumpet in an orchestra for a few years I agree with your point, and would add that I think often composers give these parts to a solo 2nd or 3rd trumpet rather than the principal if they are intending to complement a violin section rather than overpower it. It's also pretty common for these parts to go essentially unheard so that doesn't always work - the skill of the instrumentalists is very important in making your decision and the conductor may have to use his or her own judgment in assigning the parts to get optimal results. Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 18:46

There is nothing theoretically wrong with any of your ideas. Making these types of orchestrating decisions is what an arranger does. Each of these options will create a different effect on the listener. I would recommend creating three different versions, listening to them, and then decided which works best for the situation.

You could even use all three ideas by repeating the melody with a different orchestration each time.

  • 1
    Just to build off this answer a bit, three different version could be incorporated into some repeats in the score. Commented Nov 19, 2018 at 17:58
  • @MichaelCurtis Good point. I've modified the answer to include your suggestion.
    – Peter
    Commented Nov 19, 2018 at 18:02

Take a listen to Bolero by Ravel.

You can think of it as a study on varying instrument combinations while maintaining the same the rhythm and melody. You can really start to hear the effect at minute 6:20.

See also: http://theidiomaticorchestra.net/parallel-dobling/

  • Drat. You got there first.
    – nigel222
    Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 14:09
  • Note that some of the most striking effects in Bolero are due to parallel writing in intervals other than octaves. For example, the "pipe organ" effect has one piccolo a perfect fifth above the melody, and the other piccolo a major tenth above. Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 17:17

Think of combinations of instruments playing in parallel unisons, fifths, and octaves as though they were kinds of composite instruments. Then an arranger writing for violin, flute, and cello wouldn't have just three instruments at his disposal, but also many more like the univiolinflute, the octaviolinflute, the suboctaviolinflute, the univiolincello, the octaviolincello, the doubloctabiolincello, the octaflutecello, the doubloctaflutecello, etc.

The reason for the rule against parallel octaves or unisons is that having groups of two or more instruments play parallel octaves or unisons will often make it sound as though one has switched to using a different set of instruments. This can be a good thing if done at places where such a switch would make musical sense, but bad if such switches seem to occur willy-nilly without rhyme or reason.

The goal of music theory is not to identify things that are "good" or "bad", but rather to allow composers to identify how things are likely to be perceived. If a composer wants part of a phrase to sound as though it's produced by a univiolinflute while other parts are played by a distinct violin and flute, great--use parallel intervals to achieve that effect. The music theory rules against parallel intervals doesn't say such things are "bad", but rather say that parallel intervals are likely to create such an effect whether the composer wants it or not, and composers should avoid them except when that effect is wanted.

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    The reason for the rule against parallel octaves etc. is to achieve independence of voices for a polyphonic texture. Other than that there really isn't a problem with parallel writing. Commented Nov 19, 2018 at 21:23
  • @MichaelCurtis: One could use the term "texture" to describe the effect I attribute to "composite instruments"; places where voices move in parallel unisons, fifths, or octaves will have a different texture from places where they don't. The same principle I've alluded to will apply: changing textures when it makes musical sense is often good, but changing textures arbitrarily generally isn't.
    – supercat
    Commented Nov 19, 2018 at 22:19
  • I'm using 'texture' in the academic, musical sense: monophonic, homophonic, polyphonic, etc. - not in the generic sense like 'smooth' or 'rough' - only to clarify the point about a "rule" Commented Nov 19, 2018 at 22:30

All your proposed schemes are viable, on the surface. Without seeing what the violinists are playing, having the Trumpet double them is possible given that the parts are not unplayable by a trumpeter. If it's too high in the range, your option of doubling at the octave is possible. If you don't have space for the trumpet to breath you might consider trading lines between members of the trumpet section. If you write in a key that is not particularly trumpet friendly and approachable a professional will certainly tell you. As for melody counter melody.... Go for it, it might work, it might not.


Way outside your context, but in Simon & Garfunkel's "The Boxer", the instrumental break is doubled cornet and pedal steel guitar. There are points where brass aspects stick out, and times where it sounds more steel. I really like it.

Unless you're is a situation where you can't change the orchestration when you get to the practice point, I'd give doubling the melody a shot.


Yes, of course you can, and composers/arrangers do it all the time.

  • 1
    It may also be helpful to add an answer to the "Which of the above will give the best result" part of the question. Commented Nov 21, 2018 at 19:49

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