Orchestration 2: Writing Techniques for Full Orchestra

Author: Ben Newhouse   •   Course Code: OCWPR-366

Writing for the orchestra brings immense credibility in the musical world. Not only is this ability used to measure a composer's skill in concert, academic, and many other musical communities, a successful career in orchestration can afford significant financial rewards as well.

Building on the techniques presented in Orchestration 1, which primarily covers the individual orchestral instruments and families, Orchestration 2 equips students with advanced strategies and approaches to writing for full orchestra. Each of the weekly lessons addresses a common issue in orchestra music, from making orchestration choices based on the tone color of the various instruments, to voicing chords and progressions. The course also presents an in-depth look at orchestrating from single layer material such as solos and homophonic statements, to complex textures of four or more layers - music that is too complex to fit into a traditional melody/countermelody/harmony format.

Examples are first presented as simplified sketches, allowing students to compare a passage for full orchestra with a simpler, piano-only version. This process allows students to see the process the composer took from start to finish. The musical examples from the first ten weeks of the course are pulled from classical literature, including Ludwig Van Beethoven, Igor Stravinsky, Bela Bartok, Gustav Holst, Peter Tchaikovsky, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Examples from the final two weeks of the course are pulled from film score literature, including scores from John Williams, Aaron Zigman, and Marco Beltrami.

The course materials are delivered in the form of reading assignments, musical examples, and interactive activities. The musical examples are framed in an engaging interactive interface, which combines the notation with the audio. All material is supplemented with hands on guidance from the professor.

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • Sequence and notate music for full orchestra
  • Create a full-length piece for full orchestra
  • Analyze full orchestral scores
  • Demonstrate their understanding of traditional and contemporary orchestration techniques

Lesson 1: Color Choices

  • Course Structure
  • Grouping Instruments by Color, not by Range
  • Approaching Color Choices Systematically
  • Alternative Organization—Instrument Structure
  • Waveform Structure
  • Color Choices in Appalachian Spring
  • Simple Gifts Summary
  • Listening and Discussion: Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5
  • Doubling and Its Effect on Tone Color
  • Orchestral Mockups: The Two Circles
  • Workshop: Feeling Blue

Lesson 2: Orchestrating Dynamics

  • A General Framework for Dynamics
  • Orchestrating Accents I
  • Orchestrating Accents II
  • Orchestrating a Crescendo or Diminuendo
  • Orchestral Mockups: Battling Computing Limitations I

Lesson 3: Orchestrating Lines

  • Dovetailing Dictated by Range
  • Dovetailing Dictated by Playing Limitations
  • Lines for Single Instruments and Doublings
  • Segmenting a Melodic Line
  • Pointillism and Beyond
  • Orchestral Mockups: Battling Computing Limitations II

Lesson 4: Orchestrating Harmonic Material

  • Voicing Chords for Full Orchestra
  • Combining the Families
  • Using Woodwinds to Extend the Brass Family
  • Examples of Chord Voicings
  • Inversions
  • First Inversion
  • Second Inversion
  • Sustained Harmonic Accompaniment
  • Moving Harmonic Accompaniment
  • Extended Harmonic Passages
  • Orchestral Mockups: Combining Samples

Lesson 5: Orchestrating Single-Layered Textures

  • Tutti Statements
  • Variety in Tutti Statements
  • Flight of the Hornet Toad
  • Homophonic Statements
  • Inexact Doubling
  • Orchestral Mockups: On-Velocity

Lesson 6: Orchestration in a Two-Layered Environment

  • Creating Separation
  • Maintaining Balance
  • Focus—Guiding the Listener's Attention
  • Separation, Balance, and Focus in a Two-Layer Texture
  • Orchestral Mockups: Continuous Controllers and Dynamics

Lesson 7: Orchestration in a Three-Layered Environment

  • Foreground, Middleground, and Background Material in Tannhauser
  • Create a Three-Layered Orchestration
  • Foreground, Middleground, and Background Material in Bolero
  • Foreground, Middleground, and Background Material in Tchaikovsky
  • Orchestral Mockups: Fine-Tuning Rhythm

Lesson 8: Complex Textures of Four or More Layers

  • Limits to Human Perception
  • Stravinsky's Fireworks
  • Extreme Complexity: The Rite of Spring I
  • Extreme Complexity: The Rite of Spring II
  • Controlled Chaos Textures
  • Orchestral Mockups: Horizontal Placement

Lesson 9: Horizontal Relationships I

  • Horizontal Relationships
  • Horizontal Relationships in Tchaikovsky 5, Part I
  • Horizontal Relationships in Tchaikovsky 5, Part II
  • Varying Tone Color and Focus over Time
  • Horizontal Relationships in Tchaikovsky 4, Part I
  • Horizontal Relationships in Tchaikovsky 4, Part II
  • Orchestral Mockups: Reverb Background

Lesson 10: Horizontal Relationships II

  • Horizontal Balance
  • Horizontal Balance in Beethoven
  • Horizontal Balance in Orff
  • Horizontal Balance in Tchaikovsky
  • Orchestral Mockups: Reverb Routing
  • Review of Key Concepts

Lesson 11: Hollywood Textures I

  • Sustained String Cues
  • Rozow
  • Mystery and Magic Cues
  • Theme Cues I
  • A Williams-esque Phrase
  • Orchestral Mockups: Vertical Placement

Lesson 12: Hollywood Textures II

  • Theme Cues II
  • Jesse's Bridge
  • Bouncy Comedy Cues
  • Action Cues
  • An Action Sequence Orchestral Mockups: Mastering

Ben Newhouse

Author & Instructor

Ben Newhouse has worked as a music supervisor and composer on dozens of television shows, films, and stage productions for media corporations including ABC, FOX, MTV, and Disney. He has arranged movie themes, sixties pop music, Broadway shows, and scored for several full-length feature films using Digital Performer.

In addition, as an assistant professor at Berklee College of Music, he taught music technology and production and authored the book, "Producing Music with Digital Performer," which is a required textbook at Berklee and other music schools.

As a composer during his college years at Eastman School of Music where he received his bachelor of music degree, his music was performed primarily by Eastman groups and groups along the East Coast. "Heat", a relentless overture for orchestra, received the Howard Hanson Award in the late 90s and was premiered by the Eastman School Symphonic Orchestra.

Presently, in addition to pursuing a MBA in Entertainment from USC Marshall School of Business, Ben works as a freelance music composer and post-production specialist for the music industry in Los Angeles, Boston and New York City.

Learn more about Ben Newhouse at www.bennewhousemusic.com


Completion of Orchestration 1 or equivalent knowledge and experience is required. You must have an intermediate competency in using a sequencing program and sampling library. You should be able to record multiple tracks in your sequencing software and create an MP3 of the final mix.

Required Textbooks

None required

Software Requirements

  • Sequencing program such as Digital Performer, Logic Pro, Cubase, SONAR, or Pro Tools
  • Sampling library such as Kontakt, any Vienna Symphonic Library, East West Quantum Leap, or Garritan collection
  • Notation software such as Finale or Sibelius (full version) is recommended. Students who can produce scores in their sequencing (DAW) software or by hand can use their current technique

Mac Users

  • OS X 10.9 Mavericks or higher (click here for system requirements)
  • Latest version of Google Chrome

Windows Users

  • Windows 7 or higher (click here for system requirements)
  • Latest version of Google Chrome

Hardware Requirements

  • 2 GB RAM (4 GB recommended)
  • 500 MB hard drive space
  • Speakers or headphones
  • Webcam
  • Internet connection with at least 4 Mbps download speed (http://www.speedtest.net to verify or download the Speedtest by Ookla app from your mobile app store)


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