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Details in orchestral transcriptions

Discussion in 'Info, Requests, etc.' started by JP Beveraggi, Feb 23, 2019.

  1. When focusing on orchestral pieces, I find instruments that are prominent in the mix easy to transcribe but the instruments in the supporting role can be really difficult to pick out. Some come out so weak I did not even know they were in use i.e. the bassoons doubling the celli at the beginning of the 1st movement of Beethoven 5th.

    I would then have 2 questions:
    1. Which level of details in transcribing an orchestral audio recording can one reasonably aspire to?
    2. Is this statement true: The more time spent in figuring out the details, the more valuable the transcribing becomes?
    Rohann van Rensburg likes this.
  2. You transcribe as precise as you can hear and then you look at the score. Do this a 1000 times and your ear adjusts each time to "oh THAT's how bassoons/celli sound like and THAT's how celli alone sound like". Don't be discouraged by not nailing everything just absorb as much as possible.
  3. Thanks Thomas, so in summary:
    1. Put in as much effort as possible but always check for accuracy
    2. Yes
  4. #4 Doug Gibson, Feb 26, 2019
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2019
    Thomas gave a really good answer. That said, I don't think you can really carve this in stone as take away commandments.

    It's a little "horoscope"-ish. You know how you read "this is a good week to start on that project you have been neglecting"

    That's always a good thing to do. So is putting in as much effort as you can.

    Each of these can be whole topics in and of themselves. Umm.... ok ....briefly to comment on your 2 examples.
    (before reading this, know that Thomas has given you the most practical advice.)

    It's because you simply don't hear them. Listening to recording is truly very wonderful.....but it is not the same as being live. (that is a whole topic)
    Transcribing is also an intellectual exercise too. Meaning as you learn both frequent doublings of instruments, and standard practice of the era, the more logical guesses you will make.

    For example: In orchestration there is a general rule "If it's low it's slow". Basses often need doubling for this reason. That said bassoon or contra bassoon blend so well together that in full passages it simply all sounds like the bass.

    You did not mention the clarinets in the very opening. It would be a very interesting experiment to have are version with or without them. Personally, I don't think any one would ever notice them not being there. I have many times orchestrated a part that is not heard.

    No one hear would actually get the first 2 minutes of Beethoven 5th 100% correct. We are just in a different world, and what you hear today is not what (99%) Beethoven intended anyway. The horns are in Eb and don't have valves. Check out this beast for you

    Listening to these works as historically authentic can be very interesting. This would have been more the size of the groups in his day on period instruments. (my fav condutor out there today. This guy is off the charts)

    (didn't those players look happy ? Some serious mommys little helper time)

    Now contrast with how we normally hear it today (I still don't hear the clarinets at the opening. I hear the bassons though--- you're deaf :))

    (Interesting side note: From about 30 seconds to 35 seconds the conductor makes the same gestures I do when my wife nags me. Get outta here bitch, leave me alone)

    (I personally love the modern versions)

    Which brings me to point 2:

    I would say you can have two categories for the music you transcribe. (Perhaps 3)

    For the music you really, really love and wished you wrote that.........yes..... take that approach.
    The second category is more like sight-reading.

    It's important to have both IMO. This way you don't always face a daunting task, and can do 20 minutes of learning a simple song. This will really help with the frequency in which you practice.

    The goal with this second category is to increase your overall skill. Your talent.

    If you take your original question about transcribing, and look at typical questions about say learning classical piano
    there are a lot of similarities. Some memorize everything and only work on one or two pieces a year.
    Others put their energies into accompaniment, and can sight read pretty much anything at a ridiculous level.

    So your goals matter...... Both approaches are valid. Just make sure you keep on doing it. Of course post here when you run into problems

    Make sure you apply this in combination with learning an instrument, and singing. Also sight reading. People massively under estimate the benefits to transcribing and improvising from sight reading.
  5. #5 JP Beveraggi, Feb 26, 2019
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2019
    Thanks Doug for the pointers, great stuff.

    I would intuitively agree that it is probably the case for any large orchestral work.
    Contrabassoon is the canon they used to shoot signed T-Shirts of the orchestral players to the audience?

    Poor hearing could explain a lot actually... as I seem to be very deaf for woodwinds in particular. Beethoven probably kept them there assuming someone could hear the damn things.
    I think the conductor is fighting off a couple of flies from his podium. He needs to swap the baton for a fly swat.

    I have been reproducing music using Audio or Midi for a long time, but only recently started looking into actual scores and classical style orchestrations. Direct transcription was a huge struggle at first, but I have clearly noticed benefits already e.g. pinning down the rhythmic structure of a melody faster or identifying some flaws in voicings by sight for example. I am proficient on guitars and regularly play, I can sing and even enjoying laying down a vocal track (of very average quality) once in a while, so I would consider the pursuit of the instrument craft covered. I just wished my keyboard playing was more fluid to get into piano improvisations, but it is not a priority at present.

    P.S: I had never heard of the "When it's low, it's slow" rule, is there a document that lists all the empirical rules in orchestration?
  6. Hmmm...... Well the thing is so much is context dependant. There are not many absolute "laws" in orchestration outside of writing notes within
    the proper range.

    It's as much an art as a science.

    That said, while it is daunting ........ the books published on orchestration are very, very good.

    Truthfully, if you are really looking to do this as part of your professional I would read as many of them as you can.
    Sometimes reading, or hearing, the same thing by another person makes things click. Same with reading them again.

    It's just a really dense subject.

    Also, in addition to transcribing: Copy out scores by hand, and attend live performances when you can.

    As far as "quick-guides": The Spectrotone chart can be a handy reference. It's like 5 or 10 dollars.

    If you don't know it, The Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra by Britten is fantastic.
  7. Awesome !
  8. The BBC have just made a documentary about it. I had never heard about it before, so I will give it a thorough listen.

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