ORCHESTRATION STANDARD RULES

One of the biggest misconceptions about orchestration is that people who just start to learn it think there is a definite set of rules to follow like “If situation x then always do y.” There are no such things as “Top orchestration advices” or “Do’s and Don’ts about orchestration.” There are of course a few specific limits and things to follow by considering things that are possible or impossible on indivdual instruments. But just knowing them doesn’t make you a great orchestrator in an instant.

The most important thing to know is that orchestration is massively depending on context. The very same decision that works great in one context may be disastrous in another one. So you shouldn’t ask questions like “How does one orchestrate for Brass?”. A more appropriate question would be “How do I orchestrate for Brass if I want to create something that feels like the first 8 bars from the Star Wars Main Theme?” Applying the concepts of Brass orchestration from this passage to general Brass orchestration will simply not work as orchestrating the Brass like this in a sweepy love theme or a delicate drama cue will simply not work.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Following that road there would of course also be a difference of how to orchestrate that beginning Bb major chord of the Star Wars Main Theme if it was G major instead. Orchestration is a series of microscopic decisions that are picked according to context and not by following a list that has all the general rules on it.

The essence about this is to understand that there unfortunately is no shorter way to learning orchestration than gaining years of experience to simply know or have a feeling for what to do in which context. It’s fine to memorize all instrument ranges, playing techniques etc. but this is just a fraction of what makes a good orchestrator.

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