Understanding Orchestration



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What is Orchestration?


Orchestration is basically adapting musical ideas to the sound of an orchestra.

So far, that is the short answer. This is the answer I give to all the piano students who are interested in knowing, but if you are among piano tutors like me that receive questions from eager students, well, here is this short article.


In order to orchestrate, firstly, we have to know all of the instruments that play in the orchestra. Usually, people remember the strings first, maybe the percussion instruments because they are big and loud. Still, they are instruments of the brass family and the woodwind family that almost no one knows, like the bassoon, for example.


Knowing their existence is not enough, but we have to learn the capabilities and limitations of each instrument; these are classified into families.

We have four families: Strings, woodwinds, brasses and percussion.

Let’s start with the string family. We find the violins as the highest-range instrument (usually they have the leading melodies), then the violas (they look like a big violin), the cellos (this instrument became very popular within the last years’ thanks to groups such as Apocalyptica, 2 cellos, etc) and last but not least, the double bass; This instrument is considered to be part of the strings but this is a half-truth as it is related more to the guitar family than to the string family! The Double Bass (yes, the gigantic “cello” that is usually played at the back of all the strings), obviously, is the lowest of the instruments.


To know what the instruments can or can’t do is only the beginning, sometimes called “instrumentality”, after which we will see what proper orchestration is all about when we combine the different families.