Orchestration 2: Writing Techniques for Full Orchestra


Authored by Ben Newhouse


Course Code: OCWPR-366

Next Semester Starts
June 27, 2022

Level 3

Level 3

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


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.

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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
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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


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Completion of Orchestration 1 or equivalent knowledge and experience is required.

Students must have:

  • an intermediate competency in using a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) and sampling library
  • an ability to record multiple tracks in their DAW and create an MP3 of the final mix

Required Textbook(s)

  • None required

Software Requirements

  • DAW/sequencing software suitable for orchestral mock-up production (Logic Pro, Cubase, Pro Tools, Digital Performer, etc.)
  • Orchestral sample library (Komplete, Vienna Symphonic Library, East West Quantum Leap, etc.)
  • Notation software such as Finale or Sibelius is recommended. Students who can produce scores in their DAW or by hand can use their current technique

After enrolling, please check the Getting Started section of your course for potential deals on required materials. Our Student Deals page also features several discounts you can take advantage of as a current student. Please contact support@online.berklee.edu for any questions.

General Course Requirements

Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in live chats. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course. 

Mac Users

PC Users

All Users

  • Latest version of  Google Chrome
  • Zoom meeting software
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection


Ben Newhouse

Author & Instructor

Ben Newhouse's commercial music has been used in more than 3,000 episodes of television, including projects for ABC, CBS, NBC, and most major cable networks. Newhouse's music is the soundtrack for the Disney DVD logo, several independent films, and Las Vegas stage shows. Newhouse was awarded the BMI Pete Carpenter Fellowship in 1999.

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The University Continuing Education Association awarded his Orchestration 1 course "Best New Online Course" in 2009, and Berklee awarded Newhouse a "Distinguished Faculty Award" in 2015. Newhouse has also guest lectured at Pescara Conservatory in Pescara, Italy and Sydney Conservatorium of Music in Sydney, Australia. He authored Producing Music with Digital Performer (Berklee Press), which has sold 15,000 copies, as well as the more recent Berklee Press book, Creative Strategies in Film Scoring. He has been quoted in multiple publications, including Electronic Music magazine and acousticmidiorchestration.com.

As a composer during his college years at Eastman School of Music where he received his bachelor of music degree, and graduated magna cum laude, 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 1990s and was premiered by the Eastman School Symphonic Orchestra. Newhouse is also a full-fellowship master's degree alumnus of the University of Southern California, completing an MBA and a Business of Entertainment graduate certificate program with the School of Cinematic Arts.

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What's Next?

When taken for credit, Orchestration 2: Writing Techniques for Full Orchestra can be applied towards these associated programs:


Contact our Academic Advisors by phone at 1-866-BERKLEE (U.S.), 1-617-747-2146 (INT'L), or by email at advisors@online.berklee.edu.

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