Orchestration 2: Writing Techniques for Full Orchestra


Authored by Ben Newhouse


Course Code: OCWPR-366

Next semester
starts June 24

12 Weeks

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 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
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


  • No textbooks required


  • DAW suitable for scoring to picture and/or orchestral mockup production, such as Logic Pro, Cubase Pro, Pro Tools (Studio or Ultimate), or Reaper
  • Students are required to produce scores and submit them in PDF format. Options include:
    • Notation software (recommended option), such as Finale (full version), Sibelius (Artist or Ultimate), Dorico (Elements or Pro), MuseScore (free), etc.
    • Handwritten notation captured by a digital camera or a scanner can be used in lieu of notation software.
  • Deeply sampled orchestral libraries covering all standard families, such as Orchestral Tools Berlin Orchestra Created with Berklee


  • One of the following studio monitoring options (both recommended):
    • Studio monitors (pair), such as JBL 305Ps or better, as well as an audio interface and necessary cables
    • Over-ear studio headphones, such as Sennheiser HD 600, Sony MDR-7506, Philips SHP9500, Audio-Technica ATH-M50x, etc.

Student Deals
After enrolling, be sure to check out our Student Deals page for various offers on software, hardware, and more. Please contact support@online.berklee.edu with 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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Phillip Sheeran


In his 30-year music career, Phil Sheeran has been a composer, guitarist, and recording/mixing engineer, but composing and producing world music–inspired compositions has always been the heartbeat of his work.

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Phil established himself as a renowned Brazilian-Latin jazz guitarist, co-leading the Seattle-based Brazilian jazz group Beija Flor with vocalist Samia Panni.

Phil has recorded 10 internationally released albums and two Latin House Club Mix LPs. His albums have hit No. 17 on Billboard's Contemporary Jazz chart and charted top five in the nation for airplay. On the jazz side, he has shared the stage with Bela Fleck, Andy Narell, Gregg Karukas, and worked in the recording studio with Tommy Brieklein, Brandon Fields, Harvey Mason, and Brazilian musicians Nico Asumpçao and Carlos Goméz, just to name a few. He has also received NAMA nominations for Best Jazz Artist, Best Jazz Recording, and Best Electric Guitarist.

Arranging and orchestrating music for film trailers, television, and multimedia projects, Phil’s work can be found in numerous productions by Miramax/Disney, A&E, Fox Sports, Warner Brothers Entertainment, Super Bowls XLV and XLVIII, Sci-Fi, Biography, MTV, and Telepictures. He holds a BFA in music from Cornish College of the Arts. Read Less

Vicente Avella


Pianist and composer Vicente Avella has been writing and performing internationally since 1998. Born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela, he has scored numerous independent films, orchestrated and worked on music production for major network television shows including Family Guy (FOX) and American Dad (FOX), and written music for worldwide advertising including Intel (Saudi Arabia), Red Bull Air Race World Championship (Brazil), and official branding for FPC Sports Channel (Colombia). Avella also performs regularly as a piano soloist, accompanist, and in chamber groups.

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In 2013, Avella released his debut album, All the Days of My Life, produced by Grammy Award winner Will Ackerman, founder of Windham Hill Records. The record received multiple awards including Best Solo Piano Album from One World Music Awards and an Award of Excellence for Instrumental Performance Solo from Global Music Awards. The single "Bridal March" charted at no. 1 on iTunes; it is also the no. 1 "Bridal March" on YouTube.

In addition to teaching at Berklee, Avella is an adjunct professor at Antelope Valley College in Lancaster, California, where he teaches music theory, musicianship, and piano performance. He is the recipient of a fellowship from Eastman School of Music, where he completed his master's degree in music composition; he received his bachelor's degree in piano performance from Indiana University. Avella currently resides with his wife and children in Los Angeles. Read Less

What's Next?

When taken for credit, Orchestration 2: Writing Techniques for Full Orchestra can be applied towards the completion of these related 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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