37 votes

What are overtones?

What is an overtone? When you pluck a guitar string, there are a variety of ways it could vibrate1: Each vibration will produce a different pitch, because they have different frequencies. For ...
user avatar
  • 11.1k
34 votes
Accepted

Which instruments to physically familiarize with to become a better orchestrator?

I would strongly advise you NOT to buy any instruments. You don't need to. Do you imagine composers play lots of instruments? They don't. The only instrument Berlioz played was a guitar - tolerably - ...
user avatar
22 votes

Does the difference in harmonic series between instruments have a significant effect on the consonance of the sound?

Is it an important thing to consider in Orchestration? You have in fact stumbled onto the very foundation (and art) of orchestration. Orchestration is about not only knowing how each instrument ...
user avatar
  • 25.2k
21 votes
Accepted

Impossibly long flute note

The handover is feasible. The circular breathing thing would be classed as a #special skill' I think! But how long do you need? A good flautist might give you 30 seconds without special technique....
user avatar
21 votes
Accepted

Trumpet type or technique?

Vent. is an abbreviation for Ventil, which is the German for valve. Ord. probably denotes ordinary, for non-valved trumpets, i.e. bugles. If you look through the Vent. parts, they do feature ...
user avatar
  • 9,597
18 votes
Accepted

Duplicate instruments in unison in an orchestra

Since the different instruments are not producing the exact same waveforms perfectly phase aligned, there is not nearly a 6 dB boost when the number of instruments playing the same part is doubled. It’...
user avatar
  • 51.6k
18 votes
Accepted

What are the typical trumpet parts in classical music?

I'm a trumpet player who's played in many orchestras. The first thing to understand is that historically, the trumpet is a relatively new addition to the orchestra. Before the mid-19th century, ...
user avatar
  • 21.3k
17 votes

How to distinguish between different instruments in a classical orchestra?

You begin by listening to individual instruments, to learn what they sound like, and the variations in their sound. Solo pieces, quartets, etc. are one way to do this. Searching Youtube for instrument ...
user avatar
  • 1,066
16 votes

Double basses in Beethoven's Eroica

Beethoven wrote those low notes even though he knew they were not playable on the instruments available. The subject of Beethoven's disregard for the range of the bass has been much discussed. Stephen ...
user avatar
  • 15.5k
15 votes

How to distinguish between different instruments in a classical orchestra?

There are several compositions written in purpose to present the orchestra, the instrument sections and the single instruments to the audience and especially for children like Peter and the wolf (...
user avatar
15 votes

Does the difference in harmonic series between instruments have a significant effect on the consonance of the sound?

Other answers so far make good points -- matching timbres (and sound spectra) is actually essential to orchestration, and composers have been noticing these patterns (and using them in orchestration) ...
user avatar
15 votes

Voicing in the Finale of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 "Pathétique"

In the 19th century it was standard to have the first and second violins on opposite sides (i.e. the second violins would sit where the cellos now normally sit). This kind of voicing would give a sort ...
user avatar
  • 15.5k
14 votes
Accepted

In classical music scores we often find French horns of different pitches. Why is that?

I'm not entirely certain of whether this is providing information that the OP doesn't already have. Apologies if this is a repeat of known knowledge. In the early evolution of the horn as an ...
user avatar
  • 258
14 votes

What are "horn 5ths"?

More specifically, a horn fifth is a form of direct fifth that occurs when two parts moving in the same direction progress through a fifth. So called because: it is characteristic writing for natural ...
user avatar
14 votes

How to distinguish between different instruments in a classical orchestra?

Get an idea, how each instrument sounds separately (as covered in other answers) Train to read scores of ensembles with increasing number of instruments while listening. For orchestra pieces like ...
user avatar
  • 10.1k
14 votes
Accepted

What is the largest number of parts (divisi) an instrument should have?

Brass and woodwinds are always one player per part, so you write as many parts as there are players. Four horns is standard for a symphony orchestra. Strings are nearly always multiple players per ...
user avatar
  • 15.5k
14 votes

Blondie's Heart of Glass shimmering cascade effect

To my ears, that's a synth filter sweep. It's a whole bunch of high harmonics of a midrange synth chord, with a resonant filter sweeping through them. You could approximate that sound with a large ...
user avatar
  • 199
13 votes

What are "horn 5ths"?

Horn fifths are not parallel fifths. Rather, they are the characteristic sequence of intervals that occurs when two horns play their natural scale with an offset of two notes. Since the notes of ...
user avatar
  • 6,903
13 votes

Voicing in the Finale of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 "Pathétique"

I discuss this conundrum in my book 'Musical Illusions and Phantom Words' (Oxford University Press, 2019). Apparently Artur Nikisch tried to persuade Tchaikovsky to amend his scoring. There's no ...
user avatar
13 votes
Accepted

How quickly can a [skilled, professional] percussionist switch between tam-tam and bass drum?

Just a measley college freshman, but I think in this very specific instance that this would be perfectly OK. I've played parts doing this in much worst circumstances. My only concern would be what is/(...
user avatar
12 votes

Orchestral Composition Process

Well Hector, I'm a composer who's written for orchestra several times, and I'm happy to tell you how composers typically wrangle that beast. There are 3 primary ways composers work, depending on ...
user avatar
  • 25.2k
12 votes
Accepted

Partially-optimized orchestra scores?

Would such a score cause confusion or turn away conductors? Absolutely not. Especially if it's the whole movement, nobody is going to be confused. But really, it's such a common practice, as is ...
user avatar
  • 14.1k
11 votes

Does the difference in harmonic series between instruments have a significant effect on the consonance of the sound?

Does the difference in harmonic series between instruments have a significant effect on the consonance of the sound? Absolutely - and not only between instruments. Different ranges of the same ...
user avatar
11 votes
Accepted

In what ways does (late) Romantic-era orchestration practice differ from contemporary film orchestration?

As already noted by the OP, the question is indeed very broad, and this answer obviously takes a very subjective approach to what is being asked, so I'm mostly going to address music about the cited ...
user avatar
  • 5,780
10 votes
Accepted

Fundamental and In-Depth Music Theory for an Absolute Beginner

No textbook is flawless. Even ignoring the occasional typo, every student is different and learns in a different way, so the best textbook for one student might be just "eh" for another. (And don't ...
user avatar
  • 79.4k
10 votes

Are there "left-hand" pianists that keep time with their right hand?

By "keep time in the right hand," I'm assuming you mean "play something other than the melody in the right hand." And quite a lot of composers have done this over the years! There ...
user avatar
  • 79.4k
9 votes
Accepted

Incorporating the piano into the orchestra - when and why?

From an article by Ralph Wood entitled The Piano as an Orchestral Instrument (which is dated 1934, so maybe there's more recent scholarship): So far as I know, the earliest composer to add the piano ...
user avatar
9 votes
Accepted

Will characteristic acoustical properties of real instruments also be observed when using high quality digital samples?

In general, yes - a high quality sample is essentially a high-quality recording, and will capture the overtones/harmonics, as well as other 'unstable' noises, that would be heard when simply listening ...
user avatar
9 votes
Accepted

Double basses in Beethoven's Eroica

I would strongly advise against Solution #2 (tuning the string down). Especially if this is a school/amateur orchestra (as you say), this could wreak absolute havoc. I have enough experience giving, ...
user avatar
  • 79.4k

Only top scored, non community-wiki answers of a minimum length are eligible