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Looking for Instrumentation resources

Discussion in 'Tips, Tricks & Talk' started by Sam Miller, Jun 23, 2018.

  1. I'm looking for recommendations on up-to-date sources for learning about Instrumentation. I've got a couple of books already: Adler's Orchestration (3rdEd.), Alexander's Professional Orchestration (Vol1).

    Any others I should look at would be appreciated!
  2. What are you trying to learn?
  3. Instrumentation generally refers to the ins-and-outs of a single instrument. Both those books should have enough to keep you busy.

    Anyhow, other standard text would be the Instrumentation book by Alfred Blatter, and then the extended technique book by Gardner Read

    After that..... look at the books the players lear from. There are so many etude books, and whole books dedicated to say "Clarinet Multiphonics"

    Of course score study too.

    In general it is better to dig a mile deep and two inches wide than two inches deep a mile wide
  4. What the instruments can and can't do. Topics like range, registers, tuning, articulations, considerations for performers etc. I was looking for an app to help me memorise this stuff and act as a quick reference, but there's none out there. So I've built my own. I'm looking for more sources so that I can mitigate inaccuracies in what I'm learning and what goes into the app.

    Thanks for the recommendations Doug, much appreciated!
  5. Go to your local college or university. Write a couple of short things and have students play them. They will do this for free or beer. Then ask their teachers if you can sit in on some lessons. Tell them you really want to learn to write well for their instruments. They will let you sit in.

    You will learn more than any book can teach you, in a fraction of the time. Bring an audio recorder if you want to keep as reference.

    This is what I did. This is still what I do.

  6. That's on the to-do list. I have some mental-health issues that make it difficult to go out and approach random people, but it's on the to-do list.

    Thanks David, I've added it to the list.
  7. #8 Sam Miller, Jun 24, 2018
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2018
    @David Healey. I'm in the middle of checking out VSL's data at the moment. I'm not sure how reliable it is. There's stark differences between the range they provide on the ensemble pages (woodwind, brass etc.) and the individual instruments' pages (Piccolo, Flute etc.)

    For example, on this page: https://www.vsl.co.at/en/Instrumentology/Woodwinds
    The Piccolo's range is B4-C8.
    However, on this page: https://www.vsl.co.at/en/Piccolo/Range
    The Piccolo's range is D5-C8.

    I've just finished going through VSL's info on the Woodwind section. For the nine Woodwind instruments they provide data for, five of them have conflicting ranges provided. Some of this is due to extensions that are available, but they haven't bothered to mention that, ie. a B-foot on the Flute. The Contrabassoon has three different ranges provided, all with different lowest-notes.
    There's similar problems with the Timpani page, with three different ranges.
  8. I couldn't find a decent range chart anywhere that wasn't cluttered with lots of other info, or had huge errors in it. So I made my own - https://vi-control.net/community/threads/orchestral-instruments-range-chart.61196/#post-4074699

    There are probably some errors in mine too but it's mostly accurate, I just finished sampling a full woodwind section and a brass section and I used this as my guide. There are some players who will be able to push the ranges further but it's best not to write anything too extreme unless you know which musician is going to be playing it and they can handle it.
    Sam Miller likes this.
  9. Some of that information (ranges, timbres, registers, tuning) can be found in (or inferred from) the Spectrotone Chart
    Sam Miller likes this.
  10. Thanks for the reminder, Mauro.
    Mauro Pantin likes this.
  11. I wholeheartedly endorse the texts and methods mentioned above. Listening to live players is hugely helpful as has been said as well.

    Two other good sources:
    1. Sammy Nestico's "The Complete Arranger" has good info (primarily jazz oriented, but it has some concert instrumentation and voicing info). There's a new-ish edition of it (don't get the one from the 90's).

    2. Audition Excerpt lists. These are 'the standards' that every professional will know and have studied. Some pose real challenges for the performer, and some are right in the sweet spot, but you'll learn how other masters wrote for that instrument. This kind of study is less of the range/tuning idea, and more about idiomatic use. The best way is to compile the list for each instrument, then track down the sheet music, a brief audio excerpt, and possibly a reduction of the score. Every major orchestra has these lists. Once you get your core library built, expand it to include: different genres, special effects, use in combination with other instruments, etc. Yes, much of this can be found in some of the classic orchestration texts, but you'll tailor your education to fit your needs, and probably retain it better than skimming through the material. Assuming you have a good recording to reference, write your notes/comments on the parts too ('blatty sound', 'strong', 'bright', 'lacks clarity', 'nasal', whatever.).
  12. I love that second idea, thanks Bradley. Are those lists purely for professional auditions, or are there different grades for different levels of difficulty?
  13. The excerpt lists are not graded, and they're not exclusive to the professional groups. You can search for 'youth orchestra audition excerpts,' or even 'university audition excerpts' to get a sense of more approachable repertoire. Some summer music festivals have audition lists too (student summer camps for musicians). In addition to orchestral excerpts, check out concert band literature (plenty of wind/brass/percussion excerpts there). Some of those lists are on professional band sites (Army Band, Air Force Band, etc.)

    Most instrumental literature that is graded is either for solos/etudes/chamber ensembles/or school groups. If you want to get pointed to those resources, send me a PM on here.

    If you get a chance to observe a private lesson at a university, the professors will have a lot to say about specific challenges of an excerpt and point you toward more resources. But please keep in mind that the academia is not the final word, just a very informed opinion within a scope of common practice usage. A typical conservatory clarinet/trumpet studio may NOT have a lot of jazz or pop influence (the students are there to try to be competitive for the ever elusive orchestra gig). So, those guys/gals can't play Dixieland, Klezmer, or improv over changes. In my career as a performer, I've seen people who can't play happy birthday without sheet music in front of them (conservatory trained), and some people that cut their teeth in bar bands never having gone to school that can rock, but not read notation worth a damn - there's a whole spectrum out there. Needless to say, there are innovative composers who use bass clarinet in jazz for instance that can be rewarding to study for instrumentation and outside of the typical orchestral excerpt/university approach. If you're looking for straight ahead orchestral usage though, then you're probably barking up the right tree.
  14. Thanks again @Bradley Boone. I think some of that is probably beyond where I'm at right now, but would be really useful in the near future. I'll send you a PM about the graded literature.

    As for the variety of musicians out there, I completely agree. I learned to read music while playing in a brass band, but also spent several years playing guitar without ever using sheet music. Both had their advantages and drawbacks.

    My local university had a strong emphasis on atonal work, but they've since picked up a new HoD (Ken Lampl). Incidentally, he's written some very nice chamber music! He's also a former colleague of fellow Redbanned member @Doug Gibson. Doug, how do you think Ken would feel if I approach him?
  15. @David Healey I've made a slight adjustment to your chart to improve readability.

    Attached Files:

  16. Ah I deliberately left out the note names because there are a few different standards with middle C being C3 or C4 (I've even seen it as C2 and C5). But it's always MIDI note 60 :)
  17. Go for it. He is a really nice person. I assume it would all depend on how busy he is, and simply logistics of when/where.
    He studied with John Williams directly, and he loves to tell the stories of what lessons were like with him.
    I know he is actively trying to build a film scoring program there.

    I say thumbs up.
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