Help on Orchestrating

• Aug 21, 2020 - 21:41

If someone knows a little about orchestrating, I need help me or direct me to a website that gives you pointers on orchestrating. I know this is a HUGE subject, so all I need is some pointers on notation technique for violins. In modern orchestras, there are at least 3 violin sections, 2 viola sections and 2 celli and bass sections. In MS, I notice when you choose an orchestral template it puts "Violin I" and Violin II", but only one line for Viola, Celli and C. Bass. So, I am thinking, V I and V II are for two violin sections (though most orchestras now have three).
First question: If you have 3 violin sections, do the second and third sections use V II?
Second Question: Do both Viola sections use the one Viola line (even if the music splits the sections). The same for Celli and C. Bass?
Of course, I am talking conductor's score, not individual parts. BTW: When you are finished with the conductor's score and want to explode it into individual parts (which, I think, MS does for you) how would you do it if the Cellos sections are on one line but the music splits the sections playing different notes? Same for the other string parts.
Thank you for the help.



Most modern orchestras have 2 violin and 1 each viola, cello and bass section. The modern trend is smaller orchestras rather than the huge orchestras of the late 19th century to World War I. Budgets today are tight and musicians believe they should be paid like brain surgeons. It is not unusual for any of the sections to be divided further either in half or thirds or even other ways.

There are two ways to divide any of these sections in the score. Put both split parts onto a single staff and write divisi (or div.) over the note where this starts then unis. (or unison) over the note where they are once again unified.

Another way is to temporarily divide a section's staff into two independent staves. This is usually because the rhythms are quite different or the music lines would cross and writing them on one staff would become confusing.

I will point out that I've seen scores with far more divisi than single staves, but this is no where close to common. The temporary methods I already mentioned are very common.

When you generate parts in MuseScore, you can assign multiple instruments to a part. I would put both violin 1 (or other) staves into one part because the split is ultimately up to the concert master rather than the publisher or even the composer. I would also make the extra staves invisible when their systems are empty, this is the norm in scores. Using "Hide empty staves" does this by default.

In reply to by mike320

Thank you. I have heard of div. and unis. but I forgot about it. I guess you would divide the staves if they played divisi for a lot of measures instead of just a note hear and there. You many be right about the viola, cello and bass sections (only having 1) but I know my hometown orchestra has 3 violin sections. Of course, they won't use them all for every concert. For a Mozart symphony, they will only use 2 sections, for the GREAT Mahler 9th, they will need all three.
Let me make sure I understand how Musescore works. If a cello part has a C4-E4 chord that you play divisi, when MS extracts the parts, it will know to put the C4 in one part and the E4 in another part? I thought it would only know if they were on different clefs.

In reply to by odelphi231

MuseScore's parts generator is not sophisticated at all. If you have a chord, it will not put the notes into two parts. The parts generator relies 100% on voices and instruments. Since you will only have 1 cello part, create the part with all of the cello staves and the orchestra will decide how to divide the staves among the instruments. Just make parts for Violin 1, Violin 2, Viola, Cello and Bass. This is very sufficient and the best you will get from MuseScore at the moment. If you run across a score with 3 violin parts, then add a part to the score. I advise that you not generate parts until the score is complete anyway, because this slows down the program. Improving parts generation is on my wish list, but I don't know if anyone who matters read it.

For the Mahler symphony of 1,000 or something similar, modern orchestras either have part timers or augment their normal crew to handle the extra parts. I do write in generalities so your local orchestra may have a different group of musicians than others. Mahler and his contemporaries often wrote for nearly 40 violins while modern orchestras generally have 15-20 (with about 60% playing violin 1).

In reply to by mike320

Ok, so MS will split it based on voice. Nice to know. You might be right. My home town orchestra might have 15-20 fulltime employed violinists, but they can quickly supplement it to 30-40 if they need. Earlier you mentioned about symphony players wanting to get paid like brain surgeons. I know you were just exaggerating, but when you think about the schooling and training they go through, I don't think they get paid enough (though they shouldn't get paid like a brain surgeon). I don't know why a kid decides to take up Oboe or Bassoon and dedicate their life to it, when they could grab a guitar and make a hell of lot more money.

In reply to by odelphi231

There are a lot more stable orchestra positions in the US than there are people making mega bucks playing the guitar. I had fun playing the sax and tuba growing up but didn't come close in the talent department to think about making it a career. Being able to play in a symphony orchestra would be my dream job, though I don't thinks it's more of a job than playing baseball. Both take work outside of the public, but the extra work is in large part doing more of what you do in public which almost everyone in the job enjoys.

My concern is that more cities will decide to eliminate the symphony rather than continue paying the musicians more. My exaggeration expresses my fear they will price themselves out of jobs.

From the musical point of view rather than the mechanics of using Musescore, I suggest "Teach Yourself Orchestration" by King Palmer to get the basics.

In reply to by SteveBlower

Thank you for the book. I had an orchestration book, written by Walter Piston (semi-famous early 20th century composer) in the 1950's or something. Read it from cover to cover. That is where I get my little knowledge about orchestration. Lent it to my brother 15 or so years ago and he lost it. It was a GREAT book. Have not been able to find it again.

In reply to by odelphi231

Not only to answer this question in particular, but also it's always handy to have an orchestration book next to you, not only to study it but also as reference for the future. My book of reference is The Study of Orchestration by Samuel Adler —I have the fortune of having an autographed copy of it ;-).

Yes, you need to do some orchestration study. And a lot of listening. And looking a scores. But all that means nothing if you don't write good music ( if it's composition you are after). Rather than see how big you can go, start by seeing how simple you can be. Mahler could go big because he knew how to write. You don't have to use 500 musicians to have effective big sound anymore. But you do have to write good music.

In reply to by bobjp

I am just orchestrating piano music (not trying to do a Mahler) and sometimes the music tells me that violins should be divisi - sometimes even three different sections. I know a few 20th c. composers (i.e.Charles Ives) would write divisi violins a lot. Great thing about Musescore, you don't have to worry about transposing instruments and the lower and upper registers, which is what I mostly needed an orchestration book for.

In reply to by odelphi231

Cool. But remember that just because something works on piano, doesn't mean it will sound good onany other instrument. While it's true that many composers compose at the piano, they do so bearing in mind what will happen with the group they are eventually writing for. If you are arranging for orchestra,you should be able to spread out chords so that div. is not needed enough to worry about. MuseScore will give you an idea of ranges, though a chart might be useful for starters. Personally I would stay away from extreme ends of ranges.

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