Orchestration: Texts

From Young Composers
Jump to: navigation, search
Orchestraheader.png A YC Tutorial
Justin P. Tokke
This page is a part of the Orchestration Masterclass. For other related articles, see Category:Orchestration masterclass

Several texts were referenced in the creation of this masterclass along with my own personal composition experience. Any orchestration study is not complete without a two-pronged approach to learning:

  • The raw technical skill from text and score study
  • Sonic learning through real-life composing and performance

This course will provide most of the first but not all. Indeed, no book or set of articles is complete on its own. With such a massive topic as Orchestration, there are bound to be omissions and errors in any text. Also, since instruments and their use change over time, it is wise to have a variety of texts to reference from many time periods to showcase historic orchestration practices. Any student, therefore, should have several orchestration texts available and use them all in conjunction with each other to develop a holistic and comprehensive knowledge base on orchestration.

Below is a list of texts that I have used in the past and can recommend for the student. Some are better than others, some with their own quirks, some with their own favorite composers and techniques, but they all bring something valuable to the table.

  • Adler: The Study of Orchestration - the most commonly referenced book these days. It is the most "modern" text usually used but doesn't go into "modern" techniques very well. However, as a reference book for instrumentation it is very good, and I recommend it just for that alone. It's orchestration section is rather lackluster and weak compared to other works, however, it will suffice for those tight on a budget.
  • Berlioz/Strauss: Treatise on Instrumentation - probably the most famous book and also one of the oldest. Berlioz's original work has several older models of orchestration but is a great resource. Richard Strauss' revisions bring the work up into the 20th Century. You might be able to find this for free online on IMSLP or other places because it is in public domain.
  • Forsyth: Orchestration - This is probably my favorite text because of Forsyth's unabashedly truthful wit. He holds no punches at the problems of the orchestra and idiotic composers who do things stupidly. The book does, however, take on a very optimistic tone (albeit sometimes sarcastically) and really gives the student a solid and more in-depth grasp than most other books. It also has some lovely historical narratives that give a great context regarding many instruments. It also has some great "systems" by which the student can understand certain parts of orchestration like violin fingering or multiple stops. Dover publications has done many reprints of this book so it is easily accessible.
  • Kennan: Technique of Orchestration - A good college text. It goes into much more practical things compared to other texts and doesn't dwell in the details or finer things (which in some ways is a drawback). Like the Adler, it has a great instrumentation section, but better orchestration stuff.
  • Piston: Orchestration - The classic "American" text for orchestration. This one is a must-read if you're getting into the finer details and more advanced concepts. Piston goes into things that no other text goes into (he also leaves out some things that almost every other text has). This is the "source" for most of Adler's text however, so if you have both, you will notice redundancy. The Piston is like a good "Adler 2.0" which goes further than Adler does. For those of you who refuse to buy it, I have a full scan of the book and will give it to those who request on an ad hoc basis.
  • Rimsky-Korsakov: Principles of Orchestration - Another famous historical text. This one uses exclusively examples from Rimsky-Korsakov's compositions. It is, however, somewhat too mathematical for my tastes (i.e. 2 horns = 1 trombone in volume), but is a good text to broaden your library. It's in public domain so find a free copy somewhere.

Next tutorial: Introduction to Strings