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I was reading an article on the Internet and saw this notation:

3*3*3*3* – 4331 – tmp+3 – hp – cel/pno – cds (14/12/10/8/6)

Then, searching on Google, I could see that this is a shorthand for orchestra instrumentation. But even reading this Wikipedia article, I could not understand all the parts of this statement.

What do all of these things mean? Mainly the final parts...

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I would recommend consulting the source where you found this. If it was a publishing company, they may have their own system of shorthand that will clarify this.

Otherwise, this all seems relatively standard:

  • 3*3*3*3* indicates the wind grouping with three performers each: three flutes, three oboes, three clarinets, three bassoons. The asterisks indicate that one of the players is playing another instrument of that family; one flute is also playing piccolo, one bassoon is also playing contrabassoon, etc. Contrast this with 3d, where the third player is doubling on that instrument.
  • 4331 indicates a standard brass grouping of four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, and a tuba.
  • tmp+3 indicates a timpanist and three other percussionists.
  • hp indicates harp.
  • cel/pno indicates a score for celesta/piano.
  • (14/12/10/8/6) indicates the number of strings: 14 first violins, 12 second violins, 10 violas, 8 celli, and 6 double basses.

My only confusion is with the designation cds before the last entry. My guess is that this indication is in another language—perhaps French?—and this tells us that the following numbers pertain to "strings" (cordes in French).

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    I believe the asterisks mean that the third player isn't playing the "normal" instrument, so probably one piccolo, one English horn, one alto or bass clarinet, and one contrabassoon. I think you're right about cds being French cordes. – phoog Mar 28 at 19:24
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    I think specifically "cel/pno" means "celesta or piano". It would be a little unusual to have both, though I imagine it's not unheard-of. – Darrel Hoffman Mar 28 at 21:01
  • I don't agree about cel/pno. I think it would normally be celesta and piano, but with one player taking both instruments (perfectly feasible if the instruments are never playing together and there is a little time to change seats). – David Mar 29 at 4:59
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    @Richard phoog is definitely right about the asterisks - I think it would be helpful if you included this in your answer. Also another remark: you will sometimes see something like 3d3*3d3* where d stands for doubling. So for the flutes, 3* means the third is playing piccolo, whereas 3d means the third is playing both flute and piccolo. – David Mar 29 at 5:01
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    Wouldn't the second 3* refer to oboes, and the third to clarinets? (Does it not follow standard score order?) – Ben I. Mar 29 at 13:00

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