In what way does matter for the overall sound of the orchestra that everyone is aware of how the chord is placed, more than just knowing their own part in it?

I play trombone in what I believe is called a concert band in English (don't quote me on that, though). We have brass, percussion and woodwinds. I started my music career in a school orchestra of the same base composition and played there for 11 years. In the school orchestra, we didn't get much of a theoretical background.

We worked on things like dynamics, and to a certain extent the fact that the same note need to have slightly different pitches depending on whether it's a third, a fifth or base tone. All this was relevant because every single musician being aware of this is directly linked to how the orchestra as a whole sounds.

As I got too old to play in the school orchestra I joined the orchestra I play in now. Suddenly things like the placement of chords across the instrument sections seem to be common knowledge and of common interest. They care whether the euphonia have the fifth and the trumpets the third or the other way around.

4 Answers 4


Some musicians are content merely to play the notes on the music in front of them correctly, and are not curious to learn anything about the notes that other people in the ensemble also play, or how those notes affect each other. Other musicians want to know the "big picture" and understand how the composer has constructed the entire piece that the ensemble is playing. Still other musicians want to go beyond playing one instrument and to become a conductor, arranger, composer, or music teacher. Conductors, arrangers, composers and music teachers need to understand how to construct an entire composition, not just how to read the notes in one part correctly.


As a trombone player, you are accustomed to being handed a piece of sheet music that only contains your part, a monophonic line. Your sheet music tells you nothing about the chord progression or the arrangement. The conductor of course has an orchestral score which contains all the parts of all the instruments laid out in parallel in a system. If you study the conductor's score, you can learn how to read the chord progression and see how the individual parts relate to each other.

I'm a chorister, and in almost all choral music, each member of the choir, along with the keyboard accompanist and the director, read from the exact same piece of music, which is like a conductor's score. Everybody reads from a score that has all the musical parts in a system, including all four vocal parts together with a piano or organ accompaniment, or perhaps a piano reduction of an entire orchestral accompaniment. Choral singers therefore get used to looking ahead and reading not only their own part but also everybody else's part. If they want to develop the facility, choral singers have the opportunity to analyze the chords and harmony, and to look for cues in other parts so they know how their next entrance fits in with the entire arrangement.

Once I tried to play in a classical guitar trio, and they gave me only one instrumental part in the sheet music. I just could not adapt to having only one part to read and not being able to see everybody else's part on my score at the same time. That would require a different skill set, one that I never acquired.

If you, as a trombone player, want to learn about the harmonic progression and the structure of a piece of orchestral music, then get a recording of the entire piece, borrow a conductor's score, and sit down and follow the conductor's score while you listen to the recording. Later on, sit down at a piano with the conductor's score and pick out the chords assembled from the notes of the individual instrumental parts, or analyze them on paper. It's a skill that takes quite a bit of study and practice.


A deeper learning of music theory and analysis will give you a better understanding of the music and the part you play in the larger whole. However, this isn't necessary if you just want to enjoy playing!

There are rules to writing music and orchestration that composers learn. This is really important in the early learning of someone who wants to write music.

By understanding, copying, and crafting music from different time periods in history (with different writing rules), you have a foundation of basic knowledge to work with.

With this foundation, you will eventually be able to find your own "voice" and write with your own originality.

In today's world, those specific rules of music writing can go out the window and be disregarded, but this is usually only after an aspiring composer has spent many countless hours honing their skills by first learning from the masters.


If you are just playing notes from the written music, it doesn't matter at all. But as a musician, if you want to be able to make your own music, to improvise, compose or any of the other wonderful things that come with being a well-rounded musician, then it's very important.


You are only playing YOUR notes correctly when they fit in with those around you - and they fit in with you. Which is why playing in an ensemble is so great! Whether you take an analytical approach or just listen-and-learn doesn't really matter.

Many of us now construct music in computer sequencers. There is a danger of adding tracks that don't "listen" to the other sounds, in phrasing, dynamics, tuning and even the basic "should I even be PLAYING here?" question! Hence all the discussion of "remedial mixing" in which people search for automated solutions to the sonic mud they've just created.

BTW, thank you for giving me "euphonia" :-)

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